Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Avengers Versus X-Men / Holyfield Versus Loika

Summer is here, and with it, comic book event season. If you're a super-hero comic fan, you have come to expect that summertime brings around a bunch of high-octane, epic event books with tie-ins in numerous titles. Marvel's offering this summer is Avengers Vs. X-Men, pitting arguably the two flagship teams of the Marvel Universe (sorry, Power Pack), against each other.

Since issue one, I have been cheerfully bickering with my beloved friend, and host of the LOIKAMANIA Pop Cultre Podcast, Mr. Pat Loika. Pat is fully on the side of the X-Men, whereas I am absolutely Team Avengers. Now, a third of the way through the event, Pat and I got together to have it out, mano-a-mano!

(Spoilers for AvX abound, particularly issue one, but they're honestly not as spoiler-y as I thought they'd be. We also spoil little bits of the Avengers: Children's Crusade series and basically nerd up the joint. So you've been warned.)


Pat Loika: First, let’s talk about - how are you enjoying it so far?

 Travis Holyfield: I’m enjoying it very much so far, actually. I really, really am. I think it’s been a cool concept, I think it’s been executed really well, I’ve had lot of fun with it, and I’m enjoying where it’s going.

PL: It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a good, old-time comic slobberknocker, you know? You’ve got two opposing teams who are usually friends and they’re fighting over something that could be potentially dangerous to them. It’s not something that’s set in stone. The Phoenix Force, right?

TH: Right.

PL: I guess for the audience who maybe don’t read X-Men or X-Men vs. Avengers, the main concept is that the Phoenix Force - which is this all-powerful cosmic force for life and death - is returning to Earth, and it’s heading for the so-called ‘Mutant Messiah’, Hope Summers. The reason for the conflict is that the Avengers basically want to take her in, because in their eyes they’re keeping her safe from the Phoenix. Whereas Cyclops and the X-Men (well, his crew of X-Men, anyway), they’re thinking, “Leave her alone, this is part of her destiny”, and that maybe she can control the Phoenix and restore mutantkind. And that’s where the conflict comes from.

TH: And this, right here, is why I don’t get how you can be Team X-Men in this.

PL: Well, here’s my thing...

TH: Wait, just for a second. Separating out the fact that you like the characters, separating the fact that these characters are cool or whatever - when you really, objectively look at the two positions, the Cyclops position is just nuts.

PL: I don’t think so! Because the Phoenix Force has not only taken over Jean Grey, you know. It has also taken over Rachel Summers, and she did fine, for example. To a certain extent Quentin Quire was taken over. The Cuckoos. And for a brief moment, even Emma Frost, if you read the Greg Pak Phoenix books (which they have acknowledged as part of the continuity), and it’s not always bad! There’s only one major case where things go bad, and that’s whole Jean Grey thing - and that’s because she was manipulated by the Hellfire Club!

TH: But if we are going to look at the continuity - in all of the cases that you’ve cited - the Cuckoos, Emma Frost, Quentin Quire - even Rachel - none of them were dealing with the entire Phoenix Force. All of them were dealing with only a fragment of that power. And even within those contexts, there were problems and there were complications. Like when Rachel was first taken over by the Phoenix, and she first got those powers, she was doing a lot of stuff that was making the X-Men very nervous. She was going after the Beyonder, she decides she’s going to kill Selene (of the Hellfire Club), she ends up pulling Wolverine into this loop of psychic nightmares and he eventually stabs her through the heart - it’s not always been a situation where, “Yes, these characters have things under control”. And even under best of circumstances, they have not been dealing with the full-on Phoenix. The only example we have of anyone dealing with the full-on Phoenix is Jean Grey, and -

PL: - and it wasn’t even Jean Grey, it was the Phoenix Force masquerading as Jean Grey.

TH: Exactly. And I’m not sure how they even address that in continuity at this point, because - yes, that’s historically true, but reading Avengers vs. X-Men, it definitely seems like they’ve glossed over that, and they’re kind of just pursuing the “Well, yeah, you know - it’s whoever it is” kind of thing.

PL: Well - here’s the thing. When they were dealing with those previous instances of the Phoenix Force, they didn’t have the knowledge that they now have. You see, you learn with each encounter - and I would think that they have protocols and countermeasures to deal with the Phoenix Force if ever it resurfaced.

If you read Uncanny X-Men, you know that Cyclops has a contingency plan for every contingency plan. He knows what he’s doing. And it really shows you how splintered the Marvel Universe was for a time, because when New York was being attacked by Magneto, where was everybody? When Genosha got destroyed, where were the Avengers? Nobody was there! Nobody cared! And now, they’re getting in the X-Men’s business.

TH: But you can flip that around, too. During Civil War, the X-Men were completely sitting that out.

PL: You know why they sat that out? Because - “Where were you when our people were getting blown up?!?”

TH: I’m just saying - you can’t chicken-and-the-egg this. First of all - there is that aspect. But this is a tough argument, because one of the things that comes up is us, as fans, intellectually going, “Well, why didn’t this happen? Why didn’t this happen?” - and the reality is, the reason it didn’t happen is because the writers want the X-Men to take care of their own stuff. Because it’s too easy to have the Avengers - or the Fantastic Four - it’s too easy to have everybody show up every time.

PL: That’s understandable -

TH: So you’ve got to just keep that in mind. But I’m just saying that within the context of the different events that happen and things like that, the X-Men have done their share of sitting on their hands while the Avengers - or the Fantastic Four, or whoever - have dealt with major things. So it’s just not as simple as, “Well, where have you guys been when all this stuff happened to us?”

PL: The thing is, it’s already ingrained there as far as the Universe, so you can see why they’re kind of mistrusting - that’s why they don’t want to let the Avengers do it their way. They would rather deal with it themselves, because they’re so used to being at a point where they are isolated, and they are left to their own devices. And now these guys are getting in their way, and the only reason they are getting in the way is probably because of the influence of a ‘certain person’ who is both an Avenger and an X-Man (and a race traitor!) - Wolverine.

TH: Yeah, the Beast! I know you’re talking about Wolverine, but the Beast is just as much on both sides of this. He’s been an X-Man, he’s been an Avenger, and he is very firmly on the Avengers side here - and I haven’t seen a lot of the ‘traitor’ label leveled at his fuzzy blue ass!

PL: That’s mainly because Beast really hasn’t been seen in the whole battle. He’s been in space. They’re trying to contain it from out there. And you know what? I thought that was a more noble thing to do, rather than going after the kid, who is probably confused and trying to deal with all of this stuff that’s being laid on her head! This could possibly even scare her more - and it could possibly lead to her - if she does end up with the Phoenix Force - her being as screwed up as Jean was at first.

TH: Let me break down a couple of things, though. The first thing is, let’s not ever refer to Hope Summers as a scared kid. Because it’s the exact opposite of how she is portrayed in 99.9% of her appearances. That character, from the jump, has just been a little, tiny, red-headed stone badass. And there’s very little - especially post-Messiah Complex - with her where she has been anything except a little tough chick. So suddenly saying you’re going to scare her -

PL: Well, that’s me trying to rig the argument to my side.

TH: Exactly! And that’s bullshit. Because if you want to rig the argument to their side, just opening pages of Avengers vs. X-Men 1, you’ve got the Avengers trying to save the city from a crashing airplane. The first time you see the X-Men, Cyclops is repeatedly kicking this ‘scared girl’ of yours in the stomach. So if you want to talk about who comes out better in this - the super team who is trying to save a whole bunch of innocent people, or Cyclops, who is just - repeatedly pummeling this teenage girl.
For me it’s an argument of scale, and the X-Men argument makes no sense. Because the X-Men are hinging everything upon this incredibly ethereal idea of “Oh, it’s gotta be coming here for a reason - maybe it’ll help out mutantkind” - but so far, all it’s been shown to do is destroy every planet that it’s gone across. So from the Avengers’ perspective, it’s like, “Alright, well - it’d be nice if it kickstarted all of the mutants the way that you’re talking about, but odds are good that what it’s really going to do is annihilate all life on the planet”. And that, to me, seems like a hell of a gamble to take. Cyclops is rolling all the dice on, “Hey, maybe this redhead can handle it”, as opposed to the previous redhead.

PL: Well - you have to understand also that Cyclops is kind of in desperation mode right now. Everything they’ve done - it’s been a hard life for them, and he has the burden, basically, of being the ‘Chief’ - the high Chief - of mutantkind. And he is in charge of that entire shrinking race of people. Now, if you were in that position - and you knew what that thing is capable of - just put yourself in his shoes, and you would probably think, “You know, this may be it”, and you’re going to put all of your hope (for lack of a better term) into this Phoenix Force. Because you’ve seen what it can do - you’ve seen the good and the bad. And of course he’s not aware that it’s been destroying stuff on its way to where it’s going right now.

TH: He’s witnessed it before, though! He’s witnessed Jean Grey - as Dark Phoenix - destroying an entire planet full of people.

PL: Well, he also knows that the Phoenix is capable of compassion. And capable of doing what needed to be done - when it allowed itself to be killed.

TH: But remember - at the time, it was not the Phoenix doing it. That was Jean Grey’s persona bursting forward - momentarily - from this all-powerful thing to do what needed to be done. So that has nothing to do with the Phoenix having compassion. That has to do with Jean, all of a sudden, having a moment of clarity.

PL: That’s why it’s looking for its host, remember? That’s why it’s looking for someone to inhabit. And maybe when it possesses Hope, it will exhibit the traits, and the feelings, and everything that makes Hope a good person. So they’re banking on that, and hoping against all hope that they can restart their race. From there. Because his plight is - they really don’t have much of a choice! Everything they’ve tried - you’ve read Messiah Complex and Messiah War and Second Coming - you’ve read all the stuff since House of M , and you know they’re pretty desperate. There’s almost nothing left, and they’ve tried everything, even looking through alternate timelines. And there’s even Children’s Crusade, where they had a glimmer of hope in the Scarlet Witch! But they don’t have that.

TH: But if you’re reading Children’s Crusade, Cyclops spends most of Children’s Crusade looking to kill the Scarlet Witch.

PL: Well, yeah - look what she did! And also, that was before he found that she restored Rictor’s powers! And she has a role in this thing too that we don’t even know yet. So -

TH: Yeah. I don’t not understand the X-Men’s side of the argument, I just feel like it is a very dangerous gamble, and one that gambles, essentially, with every single person on the planet. It gambles for the life of an entire planet, for something that there’s no evidence of - it’s basically just a gut-hunch for Cyclops, whose gut-hunches lately have been fairly shitty and self-destructive.

PL: I will disagree that he’s been pretty shitty with his decision-making lately. They were able to stand up to Celestials. And the Celestials were like, “You’re alright, so we’ll leave you alone”! The Celestials were showing them respect! And what particularly bad move has he made? Just - name something.

TH: I can give you a whole bunch. But I will give you the crux of my argument - which is just that Cyclops no longer stands for any of the things he was supposed to stand for. The X-Men’s charter was always to attempt to promote peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, and to defend the world that hates and fears them.

PL: They’re still defending the world that hates and fears them -

TH: That’s secondary, though. They’re not doing that to defend the world and promote peaceful coexistence. If you look at Cyclops’ entire X-Men team - he calls it the ‘Extinction Team’ - it’s all made up to basically be a nuclear deterrent. Cyclops at this point has pretty much all the mutants under his umbrella, under his control, and all of the actions he’s making are to basically build up WMDs for them. And the worst decision that I can see is the decision during Fear Itself that leads to Colossus being possessed and becoming the embodiment of the Juggernaut. That right there - you are juggling nitroglycerine with that. And it’s just a matter of Cyclops - this incarnation of Cyclops that we have now - no longer standing for Xavier’s dream, no longer standing for that peaceful coexistence, and just continually looking for the bigger gun. That’s what the guy’s after all the time.

PL: Well, that’s the thing. You don’t have the luxury to follow that dream anymore. Look at what happened to their people - 60 million mutants murdered in Genosha. The rest of them depowered. Down to less than 200 mutants on the planet. And sure, they got lucky - they got five new ones that came out after Hope. What else do you do? First of all, he wanted to show a united front - he was willing to put aside differences with other mutants because, “Hey! There’s not much of us left. Let’s all band together, let’s all stay here on this island and protect each other.” Granted, that’s not Xavier’s dream - but Xavier’s dream just doesn’t work anymore after M-Day. Things just got worse for them. I mean, look what happened with the Purifiers, for example. They went after those kids at their school. All the stuff that happened after that. I mean - you have to take a stand. And even though it’s not the best thing - and even Cyclops realizes what he’s doing - bur he doesn’t have the luxury anymore; you can’t do things the way we used to. The stakes are even higher, and there are so few of them left - he wants to protect his people.

TH: I absolutely get that! And I’m saying - that is awesome, if you’re one of the 200 mutants left in the Marvel Universe. If you’re one of those 200 mutants under his umbrella, then yeah, his decision is pretty awesome. But if you are anybody else living in the 616 Universe, you basically are screwed. And the other thing is, let’s not forget that as soon as Captain America - as soon as Steve Rogers - gets the position as “top cop” of the Marvel Universe - as soon as Osborne’s out, Cap is in, Cap can run things his way - one of the first things he does is go to Cyclops. And be like, “We want you guys to be on board. We want you to be part of the group.” And Cyclops basically tells him to fuck himself. He basically says, “No, we’re just taking care of our own shit.” So to then turn around and have the whole argument against Captain America and be like, “Well, where were you here?” - it’s not like Cap hasn’t tried to get in there and bridge some of these gaps, and make it more - you know -

PL: Yeah, I give him credit for that - he tried, and that’s admirable. Good on him for doing that. But I don’t think they wanted to be - first of all, I don’t think he told him to go fuck himself in that way.

TH: You throw your medal from the President into the ocean, there, and that’s kind of a “Go fuck yourself”.

PL: He didn’t do it in front of Cap.

TH: Alright.

PL: You do that in front of Cap, that’s one thing. You do that when you’re on your own -

TH: He didn’t take a runny dump on the shield or anything like that. I’m not saying that.

PL: Yeah, exactly!

TH: But again, some of this isolationism, some of this “Where were you at the time...” stuff, is totally nobody’s fault but Cyclops’. So I’m just saying - I don’t not see the X-Men’s side of this. I don’t not get that. However - every time somebody’s like, “Oh, the Avengers are being fascists”, I was just like, “Really? Because all they’re doing is sticking up for everybody on the planet who is not one of these 200 mutants.” That’s the only thing that the Avengers are doing, is trying to protect the planet, as opposed to these 200 people that happen to share a genetic code with them. They’re trying to protect everybody including those 200 mutants.

PL: The way they handled it, though - they show up on the island - they show up with Cap - and you hide the Helicarrier. If you want to be honest about things, you would have tried to call the guy and have a conversation with him. And then go from there, and see what needs to be done. The way he approached things in Issue 1 - where he just showed up, and was like, “We need to take Hope”; that’s not cool. That’s not.

TH: I don’t know, I think it’s pretty cool - what’re you gonna do, call the guy? That’s like breaking up with somebody over the phone! it’s a big conversation, you have it with the guy face-to-face.

PL: No. If you called him and said, “Hey. We need to get over there, we need to talk about something really important regarding this.” And the way he approached it is, they brought - if he came in by himself, that’s okay, because hey, those are friends. I mean, let’s be honest, they’re all friends. To a certain point. They’re all friends - and he shows up there with his army of Avengers and the Helicarrier and all that, and that’s kind of messed-up.

TH: I’m not - you know what, maybe I can give you that - I don’t agree with it, necessarily - but let’s also say, who throws the first punch?

PL: Cyclops did!

TH: Exactly!

PL: Because he’s the one who’s going, “You guys are coming to my home and you’re telling me what to do.” And he did what he felt he had to do. Was it an overreaction? Possibly. But he’s not doing it because he’s being an asshole.

TH: He’s doing it because he’s being a little bit of an asshole.

PL: No he’s not.

TH: I’m sorry. You can’t. excuse Cyclops for doing shit like blasting Captain America just because he’s pissed off at him and then be like, “Fuck you, Cap. You had a whole Helicarrier full of people.” The dude’s the greatest soldier who ever lived, of course he’s not just gonna show up with his shield and his dick in his hand. He’s gonna show up and be like, “Look, I’d like to talk this out, but I’m prepared to go the next step”, because that’s what a good soldier does.

PL: If he had approached Cyclops differently, and Cyclops had done something else, because of that, I’d be more than willing to admit that one side kind of overreacted over the other. However, just the way this whole thing was approached, I wasn’t too thrilled. He showed up barking orders. I really have a problem with that.

TH: You really feel like it’s barking orders? Because I don’t. I read that conversation completely differently. I read that conversation as him trying to talk to Cyclops man-to-man about what the situation is and having Cyclops basically get in his face, honestly, just like a spoiled kid, and be like, “Here’s the laundry list of complaints I have about shit that, you’re not directly responsible for, or shit that I did.

PL: You have a point, to a certain degree,

TH: If you’re just Joe average guy in the Marvel Universe, what are you going to want? Are you going to want the Avengers to do their job, and watch out for you and everybody you’ve ever met against potentially an extinction-level threat, or are you going to be like, “Well, there’s only 200 mutants left, so let’s see how this plays out.” Like, if an asteroid were headed for the planet, and somebody was like, “Well, there’s a chance that when the asteroid hits, all the mutants will come back.”

PL: There’s a difference, though, come on.

TH: There’s NOT! The difference is the asteroid isn’t sentient.

PL: EXACTLY! The Phoenix Force is sentient.

TH: It’s sentient, it has will, and it’s many times been proven malicious.

PL: Not all the time. It can be controlled. It’s not perfect. But do you think Cyclops is like, “This is the best idea we can come up with.” I’m sure there’s part of him that thinks, “This is a bad idea, BUT this needs to be done.”

TH: I actually don’t. I feel like this is where his head has been going since she showed up. Since the first time they find the baby and the baby’s a redhead.

PL: I don’t think he’s thinking the Phoenix, though. I don’t think he can even account for the Phoenix at that point. The Phoenix thing didn’t show up until the beginning of ‘The Five Lights”. There’s no guarantee just because someone’s a mutant and a redhead... Cyclops is not that psychotic.

TH: YES HE IS! This is a guy who married the identical twin of his dead girlfriend.

PL: Well, did he KNOW it was a clone?

TH: No, but she was an IDENTICAL TWIN of his ex-girlfriend!

 PL: He fell in love with a girl who reminded him of…

 TH: She didn’t REMIND him, she looks EXACTLY LIKE HER.

 PL: What can you do? He has a type.

Be sure to check Loikamania for an upcoming episode featuring the full conversation. Thanks to Pat for nerd-bickering with me, and a million thank yous to my beautiful wife, Jenny Langin, for transcribing most of this.

Hugs and Kisses,

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