Review: Avengers/X-Men: Maximum Security trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

[Guest review by Doug Glassman]

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.
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6 comments:

  1. It was around this time (late 99-early 2000 that I stopped collecting comics for 6 or 7 years, so this era is a bit of a blackhole for me. I've gone back and picked up collections from this time, but stayed away from anything x-men related since the claremont/milligan era doesn't seem to be well received. I did pick up the Busiek Avengers run in hardcover though. Your review has made me interested in picking up this trade, but do I need to know much of what was happening in the x-men comics at the time?

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  2. Most of the complex stuff is just asides in the dialogue. This was also thankfully at the point where Uncanny and Adjectiveless were more or less one bi-monthly book, so there's really only one team. Additionally, this was before editors were told to stop putting cross-reference editorial notes to other titles in their books, a position which has thankfully been reversed.

    The only really important thing is that Apocalypse had just been defeated thanks to Cyclops' sacrifice. Cable is on the X-Men as a result. They're also based out of New Orleans. Yeah, that surprised me too.

    Milligan's run isn't too horrible... but I've got a review of Chuck Austen's Uncanny X-Men coming up. Then you will witness the true power of the dark side.

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  3. @doug: You're reviewing Austen's X-men run? *shudder* You're a braver man than I!

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  4. I liked the first few trades of the Uncanny X-Men by Chuck Austen good enough.

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  6. The first two trades, "Hope" and "Dominant Species", aren't too horrible. Back to back afterwards, though, are:

    "Holy War", in which Nightcrawler learns that his priesthood is false and he's part of a plot to rapture the world with poisoned communion wafers despite Catholics not believing in the Rapture;

    "The Draco", in which Nightcrawler learns that his father is a demonic mutant who teleported out of Hell to father a bunch of children... who could teleport him out of Hell;

    And "She Lies With Angels", in which a lame Romeo and Juliet plot plays out while Archangel and Husk have sex mid-air in front of Husk's parents.

    What's really weird is that "The Draco" is actually hard to find for a decent price. I'll probably end up reviewing "She Lies With Angels" because Linkara already reviewed the issues at the climax of "Holy War". Still, the Uncanny review isn't until next month, so I'll keep hunting.

    EDIT: I didn't mention this in the original comment, but I should explain that I read these stories the first time around from my friend's trades a few years back. It made me sound like I'm passing judgment without having read them at all.

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