Though “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS” #3 is an improvement, Rick Remender still struggles to juggle this many characters, actions and emotions. Artists Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan are similarly overtaxed, with art that’s successful when it has room to stretch — an unfortunately rare occurrence. The result is a rushed, cluttered story that doesn’t have time or space to give its events any sense of impact.
To be fair to the creative team, I couldn’t imagine anyone executing this issue well. Magneto arrives in Genosha with a sizeable army of villains, all of whom need at least a passing introduction before joining the already crowded fray. The two Stark Sentinels need to be taken down, the Red Onslaught himself needs to be defeated, and the escalating tensions between the X-Men and Avengers need to be addressed. The script is so cramped that even when Evan appears as a seemingly full-grown Apocalypse, the X-Men don’t have space to bat a collective eyelid. By the time I got to that scene, it was clear that the story had structured itself into a corner and didn’t have the page space to get out of it.
The structural problems are compounded by poor prioritization. For example, Carnage is given a surprising bounty of lines, almost all of which simply emphasize that he’s a hillbilly psychopath. It’s a strange use of such limited page space. The other villains’ one-liners don’t always land, and their methods for taking down the Sentinels are bland and smash-heavy.
Other characters fare better, though. Quentin and Genesis, huddled away from the action, have a touching conversation about being good and saving the world. Remender’s Deadpool is weirdly endearing as he drags Tony Stark to an energy source, hugs Evan and asks to join the Avengers. However, because the action is so condensed, the funny lines come right up against the dramatic scenes, and it does make for an odd tone. In one panel, I’d be giggling at Doom, and in the next, Havoc would be having an emotional confrontation with his friends and family.
Yu and Alanguilan are just as overwhelmed as Remender. They have so many characters to introduce, and they don’t have the room to artistically establish them all. Many of the new villains arrive in the back of the entourage, and the reader doesn’t see them in any definition until many pages later (if at all). When Enchantress appeared for her confrontation with Red Onslaught, I’d nearly forgotten she was in the issue. That confrontation, though, is quite well-done.
The layouts add to the problems. The fight scenes are all centered on a number of average-sized heroes fighting a very large threat, but Yu and Alanguilan don’t get to zoom out and give the reader a sense of perspective. Instead, most of the pages feature many panels, so Red Onslaught is often reduced to the back of his head or his shoulder. This narrowness could make it difficult for me to orient and scale the action. In addition, Alanguilan often inks too heavily, which obscures the differentiation between the Red Skull and the Stark Sentinels.
With the artists and writer this busy, it’s unsurprising that letterer Chris Eliopoulos also has a full plate. He does a nice job of making it clear who’s saying what, but sometimes he’s forced to rely on fonts rather than placement. He makes clever use of the Asgardian and Iron Man text treatments to squeeze the dialogue in.
All told, “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS” has too much going on. This is turning out well for the tie-in titles, but it leaves the main book overly busy. That said, with Red Onslaught out of the way, I’m hoping that “AXIS” will improve as it dives into its far more interesting ‘inversion’ implications.