When I was finished reading Avengers vs. X-Men #9, I closed the issue and slapped myself in the face with it a few times in frustration. Between this and last week's Wolverine and the X-Men, it's become quite clear that Jason Aaron does not like Colossus. This is a problem because Piotr Nikolievitch Rasputin was always my favorite X-Man, and it bothers me to see Aaron treating my favorites poorly (see current issues of Incredible Hulk).
This is not to say it's a bad issue. As with most issues in this series, there are annoying things and there are cool things. It has struck me now why Marvel decided to split this whole event up and let five different writers rotate in and out – if we don't like one issue, the next one will be written by someone else, so it stands a chance of improving, or at least changing from what you didn't like. Thus, you can't check out early. If you don't enjoy one writer, you still can't dismiss the whole event, because he's not the only contributor, and no one writer takes all the blame if it winds up sucking (not that Matt Fraction seems to be suffering much in the aftermath of Fear Itself). It's like five guys weaving their own safety net, and it helps disconnect the story from the writer, thus trying to mitigate any prejudices loud critics might have against particular scribes. Kinda smart. It's kept me checked in to see what happens.
Of course, sometimes what happens is Aaron taking a bit of a runny dump on Peter Rasputin. This is where those prejudices AvX is trying to forestall come into play, because this has been going on for a while. In the aftermath of his X-Men: Schism, the longstanding Joss Whedon-solidified relationship between Peter and Kitty Pryde was abruptly (and somewhat nonsensically) torn asunder, and given the fact that Aaron's post-Schism series Wolverine and the X-Men had Iceman trying to hit on Kitty only a few issues in made that seem to be exactly what Aaron wanted. Last week's WatX solidified that by having the Phoenixed-up Peter try to woo Kitty back to him, only to come off as an entitled dictator trying to force her to love him against her will, thus driving her to push the issue with Iceman out of spite.
We might be able to write that off as 'oh, Phoenix corruption makes jerks of us all,' and that does seem to be the central theme of AvX #9, as we explore the aftermath of Namor's attack on Wakanda and the eventual defeat of the Mad Sub-Mariner by the devastated Avengers. We could use that excuse for the end of the book as well, when Piotr does the one thing he would never do – turn on his little sister Illyana. If I'm fair, he may have just defended himself from Illyana turning on HIM. She's had… some issues. No, the truly telling moment is when we check in on Colossus to see how he's using his free time as an omnipotent god-thing.
"I thought the whales might like it if I gave them legs, but I'm afraid I forgot they weren't very good at breathing on land."
Yeah, Jason Aaron thinks Colossus is an idiot tool. Hence, he's the perfect candidate to use as the foil for somehow allowing Spider-Man a valiant 'last stand' against both the Rasputins without having one of them simply god-blink him unconscious before he can pit them against each other. While it's a cool, dramatic and valorous moment for Spidey, it doesn't really make a lot of sense if you actually ponder it for a few moments. But this is Avengers vs. X-Men, the summer blockbuster for Marvel Comics. We're not supposed to think about it very long.
The other hugely significant development here is the very abrupt end to the marriage of Black Panther and Storm. Namor has destroyed Wakanda in the name of the X-Men, and as such, X-Men have been declared enemies of the state. As such, T'Challa has made his own sacrifice as high priest of the Black Panther Clan, instantly annulling their union. Once again, this is Aaron handling one of my favorites in T'Challa, but in this instance, I can appreciate what he's done here in the one page devoted to it. T'Challa is angrier than he's ever been, and he's still relatively polite in his distance maintained from Ororo when rebuffing her offers to help rebuild the shattered nation. It may help that she then defers the talk of personal matters to later (meaning likely to some issue of AvX: Consequences or something where there is more time to treat this development with the attention and respect it deserves) and just offers to help the Avengers instead. Thus, on the next page, we get T'Challa venting his anger by heaping it on Tony Stark and his "rigid little pebble of a mind" – a man he's had a tense relationship with in the past. Later still, T'Challa and Ororo are still fighting side by side.
So I'm cautiously optimistic that it will be handled well eventually, and I'm not going to say that Aaron hates marriages, too. That seems to be a Marvel-at-large thing. You just KNOW they've considered ways to break up Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, too.
There are other cool things in this issue, though – particularly Emma Frost succumbing to her own brand of Phoenix corruption – that being hunting down every bastard who's ever harmed a mutant and killing them on the spot. True, we only see one, but it's a random guy who apparenty hit-and-run a young mutant back in 1987 and thought he got away with it. She just walks into his family's dining room and detonates his brain, before turning and walking away – and artist Andy Kubert (whose work in this issue is really densely-packed and stunning) and his cololrists Laura Martin & Larry Molinar do something very interesting with that panel. Either it's a trick of the "evil red lighting," or Emma is looking more and more like Jean Grey.
It's mostly Spider-Man's story, though, and when Aaron likes a character, it shows. Peter Parker, for the longest time a loner, is now the guy who defines what it means to be an Avenger, and it's actually pretty moving when he gives that speech to Hope, and when he stands up to the Rasputins' bloody beating, no matter how contrived that moment is.
Once again, Avengers vs. X-Men splits the difference between event-book frustration and doing something new and interesting, which means it's just cool enough to keep us reading, and not going off on endless vitriolic Fear Itself/Flashpoint rants like last year.