Writer Christos Gage has said in interviews that he intends “X-Men Legacy” to be the quiet player in the “AvX” event, a place for slower, more character-driven stories. To this end, he is successful in “X-Men Legacy” #269 as he explores the motivations that lure and retain the non-Phoenix-Force-powered Rogue to place her loyalty and belief with the Phoenix Five. Under aggressive opposition from the Avengers, the Five have responded with more aggression and less tolerance for dissent. They and the supporting X-Men have become self-righteously invested in their right to use the Phoenix Force for their own ends. Those ends are worthy: survival and service. But what of the means?
“X-Men Legacy” #269 is a strictly linear, superhero vs. superhero matchup, so it flows clearly. David Baldeon’s pencils enhance the pleasurably smooth storytelling. He leads the reader around the fight landscape clearly and his action scenes are dynamic, if not especially beautiful in composition. Weirdly, all of Baldeon’s women have heart-shaped, slightly knobby or pointy chins. Ninety percent of the story is a reunion showdown between Ms. Marvel and Rogue, so it’s unfortunate that the two women don’t look more distinct from each other. Inks by Jordi Tarragona’s preserve the detail of Baldeon’s backgrounds and the colors by Brian Reber are particularly well-judged. The storm-like greens and grays and blues he uses suit both the setting of New Orleans and the grim themes.
There’s a lot of material in this issue about power, society and the individual, belief and doubt, self-interest vs. virtue. With Rogue, Gage paints a convincing portrait of a believer trying as hard as she can to ignore unpleasant feelings of doubt about the Phoenix Force, after it has indirectly given her the acceptance among normal humans she has wanted all her life. It makes sense that this dilemma would be powerful for Rogue, who has a darker history than the average mutant. She struggles with perpetual guilt for both her past and present. Her powers are part of who she is and her value as a fighter, but her main ability is “borrowing” the power of others. To fight and even to teach, she has to take without taking too much.
Gage doesn’t have Rogue hold back in wartime, though, so when she feels ambushed by Ms. Marvel has come “just to talk,” Rogue quickly becomes hawk to Ms. Marvel’s dove. This casting choice by Gage seems a little manipulative. Rogue and Ms. Marvel’s painful shared history is an easy way to add resonance to the fight. It’s also fan-service-y. It works, though. These two women really do know each other too well.
All of this storytelling is competent. Yet upon reflection, it disappoints. The grandeur and grimness of the overarching story is its greatest weakness. “X-Men Legacy” #269 reads like a piece of a less subtle version of Orwell’s Animal Farm or much of Alan Moore’s oeuvre, but with our favorite Avengers and X-Men punching each other out instead of real horror or commentary. What will “X-Men Legacy” #269, or “AvX” as an event, add to any number of tales about people or movements that promised a Utopia, but delivered a Dystopia?
All signs in “X-Men Legacy” #269 indicate that the Phoenix Force will again be too dangerous for the X-Men to contain. I’d like to believe that Gage has some plot twists and subversion of expectations up his sleeves. Like Rogue, I have my doubts but I must hope for the best.