Winter 2014/15 has been a big season in the Marvel universe, with two ambitious story lines playing out and catching my attention. There’s the nine issue limited series, ‘Avengers and X-Men: Axis’, and the Spider-Man event, ‘Spider-Verse’, contained primarily in the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man title. Both events have multiple tie-ins from other titles, though the main storyline could be read in the primary titles. I personally have enjoyed both events despite not reading the vast majority of the tie-ins, and it’s just those central issues that I’ll be reviewing here.
WARNING – SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU WANT TO FIND OUT FROM THE COMICS WHAT HAPPENS!
Avengers and X-Men: Axis
When I saw that Axis had been released, I was curious. Since I started collecting comics monthly last April, the only major crossover event had been Original Sin, which I was interested in but ultimately ignored. I don’t know what it was that made me pick up Axis #1, but I’m very glad that I did. Written by Rick Remender, one of my favourite writers thanks to his work on Venom, Axis is one of those Civil War/Secret Invasion level events that really shakes up the Marvel Universe. The basic premise is that, in stopping a monstrous Red Skull/Xavier fusion from destroying reality, Dr Doom and Scarlet Witch cast an inversion spell in an attempt to reverse the personality axis and allow Xavier to take over from the Red Skull. What they didn’t foresee was that this would invert the personalities of everyone in the immediate location, meaning that heroes became bad and villains became good.
Some brilliant characters were born out of this. Superior Iron Man (who escaped the final reversion back to normal) now stars in a fantastic ongoing series, it was disturbing, but entertaining, to see a fascist Captain America run riot for a while, Deadpool the hippie was particularly memorable and predictably hilarious, and the inverted Sabretooth (who also escaped the reversion), forced to face the horror of his past crimes, was particularly affecting in the final issue.
Those character inversions all came together to produce a storyline that saw the X-Men supporting Apocalypse in his attempt to set of a ‘gene-bomb’ that would destroy everyone without an X-gene, the Avengers pursuing their own private vendettas, and Dr Doom forming a new Avengers team of former villains in order to stop the chaos. What more could you want from nine issues? Despite the scope of the project, I felt that Remender and his team pulled it off spectacularly. It was believable (for a comic), gripping, and when one issue finished I couldn’t wait for the next to be released.
Are there negatives? Probably, but I wasn’t looking for them. Perhaps you could say that the events of Book 1 (issues 1-3) got a bit repetitive before the Red Skull’s eventual defeat, but I didn’t notice or mind at the time. Also, I know that some people are getting a bit sick of heroes fighting heroes now, but I thought that the inverted personalities spiced that up sufficiently to differentiate it from the likes of Civil War and Avengers vs X-Men.
All in all, I loved this event; it was one of the best that I’ve read.
Taking place over a meaty 6 issues, with countless comics featuring build-up, aftermath and tie-ins, Slott et al. hit readers of Amazing Spider-Man with ‘Spider-Verse’, an event that promised the inclusion of ‘every Spider-Man ever’. Now I don’t know about that, but they certainly brought in a lot of Spider-Men –Women and –Pigs – a cast of characters that flowed out beyond the central 6 issues into other ongoing titles and limited-series tie-ins, the number of which baffled and frustrated some readers. Personally, I didn’t read anything other than the central AS-M issues, and whilst that meant that I missed out on some of the finer points of the event, I never felt like I was missing anything major. It’s hard to call the scale of the event a negative, because with the ambition of the task it’s clear that the writers needed more space, but for those of us without wallets, it did make for a more noticeably reduced version of the storyline (whereas with an event like ‘AXIS’, though I didn’t read the tie-ins for that, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything really).
I have to say, as a relatively new AS-M reader, I was sceptical when I initially heard about the event. I wondered why they were bothering doing something so big when the new Amazing series wasn’t even a year old and there was still a lot that could be fleshed out with the character. Now that the series is finished, I’m still not convinced that it really achieved anything for the character’s development (Peter Parker’s a natural leader and saved the day again…who knew?), but I have to say that, on the whole, I did enjoy the storyline in itself.
Some great characters popped up, from the humourous Peter Porker (The Spectacular Spider-Ham), to the god-like Enigma Force Spider-Man, to the brilliant British Spider-UK of the Captain Britain Corps. Although you didn’t get a lot of depth to these characters in the 6-part series, you saw enough to like them and to root for them, and this was adequate for the story.
One of the major elements in the AS-M books was the clash of the time-displaced Superior Spider-Man and the present-day Amazing Spider-Man. This made for great tension and dramatic irony, with everyone but Superior knowing that he would lose, and that the present Amazing Spider-Man being the future of his timeline. The two predictably clashed over leadership, and Otto’s cold, clinical, efficient approach made for a nice contrast with Peter’s more emotional, heart-felt approach. I feel that Otto’s Spider-Man was an essential element in the story, as without him, I think the Spider-Team could have felt too happy, cheesy and one dimensional.
The villainous Inheritors – unkillable vampire-things that fed on ‘spider-totems’ (the Spider-People) – made for powerful villains, and the problem that they established for the Spider-People was a believable one in the context of the Marvel Multi-verse. That said, they were pretty one-dimensional as far as villains go, and the strands of prophecy that they drew on, coupled with horrible rituals, did nothing but add to the sense of their archetypal evil. The personalities of the different Inheritors were, however just about differentiated, but only along different lines of evil, with Jennix’s dispassionate, scientific evil juxtaposed with Daemos’ more passionate, hungry evil. If nothing else, the Inheritors made for almost undefeatable foes, which is what an event like this needed.
On the whole, Spider-Verse was good, but underwhelming. I would have liked to see more made of the ending, which I haven’t mentioned for spoiler reasons, and the characters could have done with having more depth, though for the number of them that there were and the space the authors had to write their stories, they weren’t too bad. I would recommend it to other fans of Spider-Man, but probably not to someone approaching the comics for the first time.