Have you been reading Uncanny Avengers? You’ll want to catch up on that before reading AXIS. I guess you probably ought to catch up on Magneto, too. Maybe the other Avengers titles, maybe not. I’m not remotely current, so I was scratching my head at a lot of the things going on in this comic. Now, Beat columnist Brandon Schatz said that “delicate flowers” would need more background material to enjoy this. Spoken like a man with a large order to sell and one who’s been reading all his Marvel titles. For me, this was like coming in on the last book of a trilogy and I’d only read half of the first book.
Here’s the deal, the first two pages give you the briefest of recaps. Essentially Red Skull stole Xavier’s brain, kidnapped some of the Uncanny Avengers cast, Magneto tracked the Skull down and killed him, but that just turned the Skull into Red Onslaught. (Red Onslaught?) And with that, you’re ready for the fight scenes, but none of the character bits.
For starters, there’s no real explanation of what an Onslaught is. Is the Red Skull actually dead or transformed? Is Red Onslaught a separate entity and the dead Red Skull’s voice is still somehow around? Is the Red Skull in control of Onslaught? I have no idea. I guess if I’d read the Onslaught X-Men comics back in the mid-90s, I might know, but I dropped those like a brick before the lead-in to outsourcing the core books to Image happened. That wasn’t really covered here except a line about Onslaught being a construct of pure hate, which didn’t exactly enlighten me. Still, the character (characters?) has multiple voices which seem to be dominant at different times and it wasn’t exactly clear storytelling. The story reads like everyone is supposed to know what an Onslaught is. If the characters were confused, I might not feel like I’m missing out on something.
The problem with this book is that there really are a lot of character bits in the comic that need a little background. In “Red Onslaught’s” quest to… take over the world/kill all the mutants/just make everybody fight each other, there are a multitude of psychological attacks on the heroes. I’m assuming they’re meaningful if you knew what they were. There’s a key bit about a child that doesn’t really get an explanation about halfway through that had me utterly baffled in early scenes. Especially since I didn’t know two of the characters were now a couple. I suspect the initial sequence involving the child is wrenching and affecting if you know what’s going on, rather than wondering what they’re talking about. For that matter, in the opening sequence, I was distracted by the first appearances of the hammerless Thor and his new outfit, elderly Steve Rogers and Falcon as Captain America and the Vision being back. Did I know Thor was losing his hammer and the Falcon was taking over as Captain America? Sure. But have those issue been out over a week? First time I’d seen the new versions. It’s a minor thing but given not knowing much of the backstory, it sure didn’t ease me into the questions of “what’s with those two as a couple and that kid” and “what exactly is an Onslaught?” (Plus, if Marvel runs true to form and Thor is hammerless for ~18 months and the Falcon is Captain America for a similar length of time, it’s going to be a “huh” moment for the reader in a couple years. Similar to reading anything with Superior Spider-Man guest-starring as you pause and wonder why Spidey is so out of character until you remember the time period the book was published in.)
Now, you can certainly jump in and read this book as “the big bad is messing with and trying to control the heroes minds” and “everybody hit the big bad.” It looks to me like there’s some ongoing character arcs coming to a head and that’s what you’re missing out on if you come in cold. I’m of the camp that thinks the character arcs are at least as important as the boss monster at the end of the level. This just didn’t work on the level of something with #1 on the cover where you have the expectation of a starting point. This starts in media res and never backs up to a starting point. Or to put it another way, this feels like the next chapter of a serial, not the beginning of a book. Then again, book collections are such a secondary concern these days.
If you’ve been reading Uncanny Avengers, I suspect this is a must read for you. I suspect you might want to read the last 2 or 3 issues of Magneto, too. Especially if it explains what an Onslaught is. But if you’re current with those tales, I suspect you’ll like this quite a bit.
If you’re not current, you’re picking up the last volume in what appears to be a long saga. It’s certainly better than what I saw of Original Sin, but that’s not exactly a great feat. (Killing demon kings with gamma-bullets. Riiiiiiight.) If you want to check in on the latest Event, sure. Go ahead. It doesn’t seem like appointment reading to me after the first issue, but there’s some potential and there’s certainly a twist on the last couple pages with interesting implications. On the other hand, you might be better off going back and reading the previous installments and then catching this in book form. I’m of two minds on that recommendation. I’ve read the collected editions of the first two Uncanny Avengers arc. The first arc, which is the beginning of this storyline did not work for me at all. The second arc, which was more of a Remender X-Force arc, did work for me. I’m not so sure the one sentence summary of the first arc isn’t better than the real thing.
Recommended for people who are already grooving on Uncanny Avengers and will look at this as that title with the rest of Avengers and X-Men guest-starring.
Mildly recommended for people who haven’t been following Uncanny Avengers, but might like a crossover or are into following Events that theoretically change the course of the Marvel universe’s plotline. (I’m waiting on the library for Infinity, but with that one out of the equation, this does seem to have a little better characterization and direction than a lot of the Marvel Events of late.)