When a comic book company creates a complex outer space portion of their universe, one of the questions that must be answered is: “Why are humans so important?” In the DC Universe, this was answered in Blackest Night by making Earth the home of the life-creating White Lantern Entity. Marvel decided to take a more cynical approach -- it’s not Earth itself that's so important, but that humans keep butting in to the dealings of the rest of the universe. As seen in Avengers Forever and the unfortunately uncollected Avengers Infinity, this eventually leads to humans conquering planet after planet. So what are the other Marvel space species to do?
This is where Kurt Busiek, Chris Claremont, Jerry Ordway and other creators got very inventive when they put together Avengers/X-Men: Maximum Security. Most crossovers tell the main story in one central title, but if you only read the four Maximum Security core issues (the “Dangerous Planet” one-shot and the three central books), the story would feel hollow. Instead, plot threads were spread out among a variety of books, all of which are collected in this paperback.
Some were expected titles, such as Avengers and Uncanny X-Men. But a core plotline runs through issues of Bishop, X-Men and X-Men Unlimited, which non-mutant fans wouldn’t have thought to look at. An issue of Gambit adds another crucial element. Maximum Security forced the reader to check out unusual books, and with the hope that they might end up liking them. (Fabian Nicieza even uses the event to explain a plot point of the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover.) Because of the rising costs of books, the degree to which this crossover-storytelling method is used has lessened.
The kickoff of the storyline is brilliant. Professor Xavier has gathered a group of Skrull mutants, called “Cadre K,” to prevent genocidal “cullings” of other mutant Skrull children. When Xavier’s actions are brought up to the galactic council, headed by Empress Lilandra Nerimani (Xavier’s wife), an argument ensues over what to do about the humans. Then they’re attacked by Ego the Living Planet. (For the uninitiated, Ego is like Mogo, but with a mustachioed face and an evil disposition.)
Professor X and Cadre K save the day by summoning the psychic strength of the assembled aliens to defeat Ego, with help from the Silver Surfer and an enigmatic new alien race, the Ruul. The “gathered psychic energy” trick is a fairly standard superhero maneuver, especially amongst the telepath-rich X-Men. However, they do this just as the alien council is in a furious discussion over how humans keep intruding in their affairs.
As a result, the aliens punish our solar system by making it a penal colony. That way, the prisoners keep the human heroes so occupied with mayhem that the humans can’t leave Earth to do anything else. Busiek neatly covers a plot hole -- why not put the prisoners on the other planets in the solar system? -- with this “constant combat” element. The imprisonment is aided by long-standing Avengers foe Ronan the Accuser and a system of forcefield-projecting space watchtowers. The plot gets a little more complex after this point, involving a reborn Ego absorbing the Earth and the machinations of the Ruul, but I’ll leave those unspoiled.
There are lots of “blink and you’ll miss them” appearances from Marvel’s various races, from the well-known Shi’ar and Skrulls to the obscure Axi-Tun, Badoon, Technarch and Kymellians. As always, Busiek has done his research when it comes to the history of Marvel’s space adventures; “Dangerous Planet” alone brings up the Kree-Skrull War, Operation Galactic Storm and the Dark Phoenix Saga as major reasons for Earth’s imprisonment. Maximum Security is billed as both an Avengers and X-Men book, and while I got it for the former, the latter really got me intrigued. Mind you, this is late 1990s X-Men, infamous for being rather impenetrable, but having the interconnecting issues all in one place brought everything together.
The individual issues mostly involve fighting various aliens and hunting for McGuffins which can be used to stop the alien plot and free humanity. U.S. Agent, a.k.a. the replacement Captain America from Captain America: The Captain is a key character, representing the interests of the United States while wearing a new helmet based on Judge Dredd. A notable costuming quirk is that Iron Man is in his classic 1960s costume; this is because Maximum Security took place right after the story where his armor became sentient due to Y2K and nearly killed him. (It was actually Ultron, but at the time, Y2K was the reason given.)
The individual issues have solid creative teams with many major players. Other writers in the crossover include Fabian Nicieza and Frank Tieri; Dan Jurgens does the writing and art for issues of Thor and Captain America. Notable artists include Yanick Paquette, Georges Jeanty and Salvador Larocca. For me, it’s strange seeing Larocca’s old, non-computer-aided art style, which is gorgeous nonetheless. The weak link is the X-Men Unlimited issue by Joe Pruett and Brett Booth. Pruett has a hard time connecting the X-Men and Avengers sub-plots and his German is terrible (“freunds” is not a word). Booth’s art looks like an Image book from five years previous. However, the stories around it keep the crossover moving along.
Though not for everyone (especially since the trade is somehwhat expensive), Avengers/X-Men: Maximum Security is a major event in the cosmic side of the Marvel universe, paving the way for Annihilation and Secret Invasion, and this collection is rare in including both the main story and the tie-ins. Busiek, Ordway and Claremont do an impressive job of keeping such a complex story moving, and the tie-ins are well-executed.
In my review next week, Warren Ellis delivers a pseudo-Global Frequency Volume 3 ... if you replaced the normal human agents of Global Frequency with a team of Avengers, that is. Tune in to see what I mean.