Paul Bettany Talks "Age of Ultron," Working with James Spader & More
This wasn’t the halfway point I was expecting. When it comes to summer events, it’s kind of an unstated rule that there’s going to be a bigger focus on spectacle rather than content. When a giant cosmic force of life and death barrels toward your planet, you expect all the heroes to get some new costumes, maybe pick up a couple of new skill sets and give it all they’ve got to battle the Big Bad of Summer 2012. Not a philosophical comment on the nature of man and their relationship and understanding of the future.
Of course, that’s awesome, but unexpected.
It’s like getting a box of Fruit Loops, and about halfway through the box you find the answer to life, the universe and everything (to borrow a phrase). Sure, it’s not the most reliable answer, as it came out of a box of Fruit Loops, but how astounding is it that it’s even here? Does it give the answer more or less weight considering where you found it?
Let’s talk a little thematic philosophy and also kicking and punching in this week’s Avengers vs. X-Men Round 6, shall we?
All right, the issue at hand shifts gears incredibly fast, and we can all thank Jonathan Hickman and Olivier Coipel for steering things in a whole new direction and in a whole new gear. You see, after the moon debacle where the Avengers probably did a little more bad than good, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magik, Colossus-onaut and Namor all get imbued with Phoenix Force powers, leading everyone else to call them
Fox Force Five the Phoenix Five. At the start of the books, seven days have passed and I promise you haven’t missed an issue and there isn’t really a tie-in book that gets you through that gap in time. But suffice to say, the Phoenix Force Five have been busy; within that week they have created food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and sustainable energy (“the very key to modernity,” says Cyclops), all in plentiful amounts for the entire globe. Utopia now looks huge and … floaty? They have a bunch of reflective platforms hovering around; it’s futuristic. The Phoenix Five (at least Emma and Scott, whom we see the most) seem to be calm and rational and in complete control of their powers. All in all, everyone else on Utopia seem very happy.
The United Nations gets all of this information through … well, an ultimatum makes it sound like there ever was a choice. The Phoenix Five come in an dictate how it’s going to be in the wake of all this “modernity”: An end to war is declared, and violence will no longer be tolerated by this New World Order.
Small aside: Cyclops ends his declaration with the phrase “Pax Utopia,” which is very telling. If you use your AR scanner on the previous page, Siobhan Beasley shows up in your pages to talk international criminal law with the you in reference to what’s going on with the Phoenix Five’s declaration. She mentions a similarity to Pax Romana in a rather vengeful context (attack our citizens and we’ll attack you) rather than a broader and honestly more telling explanation. Pax Romana refers to a specific period in Roman history where there was internal peace throughout the empire because there simply wasn’t anyone strong enough to oppose them.
While all of this Pax Utopia is going down, the Avengers are digesting all of this information and trying to figure out a way to take it all apart. Let’s face it, godlike powers in the hands of mortal men never work out for anyone (much like sentient computers or moving into spooky houses). Camped out in Avengers Tower (drawn wonderfully dark and claustrophobic by the wonderful Coipel), the Avengers are trying to make sense of all this and devising ways to stop the Phoenix Five before the inevitable happens. Confronting them head on would be ridiculous considering they had done that twice before to no avail (and that’s when they didn’t have cosmic power), so again gaining control over Hope is their key.
They suit up in some snazzy new armor (yay, action figures!) and go to grab Hope from Utopia, which is starting to fail spectacularly when the Scarlet Witch arrives. She calls olly olly oxen free on the whole fight and invites Hope to come with her. When Cyclops, now given the powers of death and rebirth and the order of nature, comes in contact with Wanda, who’s recently had control over things like the Life Force energy (Avengers: Children Crusade) and Chaos Magick (Avengers: Disassembled) and just her natural mutant powers to alter probability, Cyclops recoils from her and whatever feeling she gave a nigh-omnipotent being.
This is the point in which my head had fully rotated because Rounds 1-5 seemed like, well, business as usual. But even though this will most certainly continue in character battles and power comparisons, we’re firmly in Act 2 territory, and a larger moral choice is at hand.
The X-Men have traditionally been about the future, based on the idea of evolution and mankind’s adaptations toward a new era. They have dealt with the hate and fear that come with the unknown and have fought against ignorance and tried to promote understanding between who we are today and what we might become. Mutants are more real to us when they are balanced in character and fleshed out in emotions, so that we can learn what it’s like to embody that future. If we were to give the Avengers a broader theme, you could say they have been and were founded on reactivity. Come on, it’s in the name. It’s even a common trait among superheroic teams that something bad has to happen to rally that much power to oppose it. It is a fine example of mankind at the worst of times; that in times of crisis, those who step up to confront it are heroes.
And this, I suppose, is what it’s like when themes collide. Maybe this is why there’s a whole book just for characters squaring off in AvX: VS. — to make room for the broader philosophy at work when the future arrives and our finest must sort themselves out to a moral dilemma. If the future is given to us, should we accept it? How does a hero avenge peace? Can order exist without a chaotic element and is that chaos where life truly belongs?
I mean, the list can go on. Avengers vs. X-Men has turned a very important corner in getting the reader to think in broader concepts and philosophy and that is so weird for a summer event book. Then again, just because we find the answer to life, the universe and everything in a box of Fruit Loops doesn’t mean we don’t still have a lot of sugary cereal to munch through.