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This week sees the release of Avengers & X-Men Axis #4, which is the start of “Book Two” of the miniseries, subtitled “Inversion.” Issues #1-3 of Axis are “Book One: The Red Supremacy.” It is probably useful to discuss the first three issues together, as they really form the first arc of the story. Overall, the issues have some strong moments but are hampered by story beats that feel familiar and inconsistent art.
With three issues to discuss (including a plus-sized first issue), I’m not going to cover the entire story. The main events of Axis “The Red Supremacy” spin out of Uncanny Avengers #25, with Magneto, Scarlett Witch, Rogue and Havok facing off against the Red Skull, who possesses the brain of Charles Xavier, now turned into the Red Onslaught, a version of the monster that was formed from the consciousness of Xavier and Magneto. The Avengers and The X-Men come to battle Onslaught, but he has some tricks up his monster sleeve.
Red Onslaught reveals some Iron Man Sentinels that Tony Stark produced. This traumatizes a guilty Stark and quickly overwhelms the assembled Avengers and X-Men. However, just as Red Onslaught’s victory seems assured, Magneto – who has previously fled, in apparent cowardice – returns with a team of super villains, including Dr. Doom, Loki, Mystique, Carnage, Hobgoblin, Sabretooth, Enchantress, The Absorbing Man, and Jack O’ Lantern. Deadpool is also in the group, though he humorously tries to assure Tony that he’s not really a villain.
With the combined forces of the heroes and villains, Red Onslaught and his Iron Sentinels are defeated. When the rowdier villains turn, they are defeated as well. The vanquished but living body of the Red Skull poses a problem since it contains Xavier’s brain. The X-Men want to take the body to see if they can resurrect Xavier while the Avengers feel the Red Skull is too dangerous and must be immediately imprisoned. After extended arguments that cause previously forged bonds between Havok and the Avengers to be frayed, the X-Men leave without Skull/Xavier and they are again at odds with the Avengers.
I have to give writer Rick Remender credit for fitting a lot of story into three issues of Axis “The Red Supremacy.” I feel that previous event stories may have padded this plot into six issues and called it a day. However, this is just the first part of Axis. It’s also unexpected to see the big villain, Red Onslaught, defeated so early (though it’s possible he’ll be back as a threat). Finally, the presence of a mismatched team of villains is a nice change of pace from regular stories like this. The villains, who have incentive to beat a too-powerful Skull, have a defined strategy supplied by Dr. Doom and work together to defeat Red Onslaught.
At the same time, there are elements of Axis that are not working so far. To have the X-Men/Avengers feud heat up so quickly at the end of an intense victory is a letdown. I get tired of seeing the same viewpoints from the teams. For the X-Men, it’s “You don’t understand, and you’ve never been there for us.” For the Avengers, it’s “We’re doing what we think it’s right.” The characters are drawn staunchly in their positions that it eliminates more subtle character shading. Falcon/Captain America comes across like a jerk, aged Steve Rogers seems like an uncaring bureaucrat, and Havok acts like a whiny teenager. I hope this adversarial relationship between the teams is made more complex and interesting as Axis advances.
Similarly, the art is a mixed bag. Adam Kubert draws the first two issues, and he frames the action well, leading to some tension and excitement. However, his characters sometimes look quite unlike other versions, often younger and more round-shaped. Axis #3 is drawn by Leinil Francis Yu, who has a style that’s not my cup of tea. He’s definitely smoothed out his scratchy drawing tics, but his faces, especially on women, still have an oddness that is distracting. I also found the colors, done by Laura Martin, Matt Milla and Edgar Delgado (issue #3), to be really dark and monochromatic in a way that made the issues look muddy.
Overall, the first arc/three issues of Axis have been solid. It’s a pretty good story, takes some unexpected turns, and utilizes some characters you don’t normally see in a big series, like young X-Men Quentin Quire and Genesis. At the same time, it’s not a title that screams “must have!” There are some fights, some strategy and some tiresome hero squabbles. I’d like to see Remender and crew make the story more focused on character in the “Book Two: Inversion” sequence.