I've been wanting to talk about the Avengers/X-Men crossover Axis for awhile now. It has a great hook, as the morality of heroes and villains has turned on an "axis", and are now flipped for certain characters. Rick Remender has that old-school bombast to his writing that makes this kind of outrageous concept possible; it's so far outside the idea of "realistic" storytelling that it becomes more believable. If you're going to have a Nazi steal a telepath's brain to create the ultimate evil across the globe, why not go all the way and explore some character traits? It's fun, and I can't wait to see how it resolves.
In fact, my only real problem with the event involves what else is going on around it. It has some major continuity issues outside its little bubble that make it difficult for voracious Marvel readers like myself to place it in context with the rest of the series. I know Superior Iron Man is directly related to Axis, but will All-New Captain America be as well? I'm not really sure introducing the world to an angry, possibly morally flipped Falcon as the new Cap is a great idea. Hopefully, his solo book will remain unfazed by this big problem occurring to his left.
It's easy to compartmentalize with team books and solo books, but what if you're Storm? In Axis, she's been morally compromised and is standing next to one of the X-Men's greatest enemies (read Avengers & X-Men: Axis #4 to find out who), but in X-Men, she's possibly dead, and in her own title, she's still alive and mourning the loss of Wolverine. Doctor Doom, a big player in Axis, is possibly morally flipped, but he just announced plans to take over the multiverse in Fantastic Four and possibly has already done so in New Avengers. I could even be wrong about his current whereabouts and motives, because keeping track of all this is starting to get complicated!
With so much going on in the Marvel Universe, context is beginning to feel ridiculous. This week's Legendary Star-Lord just kicked off the pre-story to the next X-Men crossover with Guardians of the Galaxy, The Black Vortex, which comes out in February. Not too much of a head start, but when you think about the fact that Jonathan Hickman has been possibly leading up to next summer's Secret Wars since starting on the Avengers in 2012, that's volumes to read ahead if you want to keep up.
Event-book complications are nothing new, and I have some usual advice I give out when a customers come to the counter with a handful of tie-in books and no idea why they have them: The easiest thing to do in this kind of situation is to pick a character or a storyline and follow that one thread. When new readers look at Civil War, they'll see a host of other tie-ins, and feel the need to read all of them to get the whole story, which isn't exactly the case. Sure, if you want to know more about what happens to Iron Man, I'd read the main series and his tie-in books, but if the event is done right, there should be no reason to seek out tie-ins unless you want to know something specific. If you're not reading the event book but are starting to feel a little obligated to because a character you like is involved, I'd still recommend sticking with the title you usually read them in. It requires a little suspension of disbelief to know that the world is coming to an end in one book and coming to an end in a completely different way in another; however, you get to choose your reality and, if the event was really important, wait for the resolution to come to you.
Now, technically, my advice is starting to sound like "read fewer comics." Considering my living revolves around getting people to read more, I'm shocked and appalled. Read fewer comics? MADNESS! How could I say such a thing? Where does the real problem lie?
Believe it or not, I just can't bring myself to blame the event books. Yes, there are a lot of them this fall. Yes, a lot of them involve multiple characters and titles; it's daunting. But events are not the enemy. They bring in new readers, as they get the biggest bang for their buck in a series with multiple characters that has a clear beginning, middle and end. Plus, events always promise a big change, so new readers can feel as if they're on the cutting edge of the Marvel Universe. Longtime fans also benefit, partly for that same "bang for your buck" theory but also because we are the most invested in change, as we've been following the characters for while. There's a progression to the larger story that die-hard fans can appreciate more than the casual reader. Event books serve so many purposes and do a lot of good for both storytelling and the market. Perhaps they are a little too useful?
Avengers & X-Men: Axis is great, but I can see why some might wait for the trade, or skip it entirely. There's a lot going on this fall, and it bumps into too many other stories and world-building for next summer's event, seemingly without much impact. If you read a lot of comics, sometimes you're not more informed, but rather over-informed. Everybody loves candy, but if you eat too much, you'll get sick. But I still can't blame the event format, nor can I be too mad at Marvel for trying to give us so much in the final few months of 2014. The publisher has a lot to set up for next summer's Secret Wars, which is closer than it seems. Could the current run of major storylines have been spaced out better? I have no idea, as I'm not an editor, nor do I want to armchair-quarterback a company that seems to be doing just fine without my input.
My advice remains the same: Find a story you like and run with it. Suspend some disbelief and pretend you're in a Spelljammer game and every comic is its own crystal sphere. As the reader, you are in charge of what's important and, no matter what's printed, you are the ultimate judge of what the story means to you. It's your universe, after all.