Long before the mega-event Avengers vs. X-Men would usher in the age of Marvel Now, the two most iconic teams of the Marvel U went head to head in a similarly titled series: The X-Men vs. The Avengers. This crossover series was published in 1986, and written by Roger Stern with art by Marc Silvestri and inks by Josef Rubinstein. It was published during a time when on-again off-again villain/hero/mass-murder/etc Magneto was allied with the X-Men, having left his life of crime and genocide behind… mostly. This is basically what brings the X-Men to blows with the Avengers, but the comic itself is a lot twistier and strange than that.
What sort of threw me off with this one is that, even though it’s a #1, it’s a bit mired in continuity that I’m honestly not very familiar with. It has a ton of editor captions that seek to clear things up, but it references more previously published material than I’ve ever seen in a comic. It’s a strange dichotomy, because while it is a bit confusing, it also seeks to explain even the most elementary of the mythology – Thor says “Midgard” which gets an asterisk leading to an editor caption that clarifies: “Earth.” This mixture of relying on the old while attempting to explain even the most basic aspects of continuity was jarring, but once you get into the meat of the story, it’s fairly smooth sailing.
Especially considering how badass Thor looks here:
It starts with the Avengers clearing out a K-Mart (with some snide and frankly pedestrian commentary on consumerism thrown in – yergh) from some strange meteors they’re trying to prevent from causing mass destruction. They find that the meteors are strangely magnetic – which leads them to discover a connection to… you guessed it… Magneto. We then transition to a quick and cool scene with the Soviet Super-Soldiers, a Russian team of heroes who have a freaking talking bear on their team.
Comics, you guys!
Okay, so we move from the awesome Soviets to probably my favorite scene in the issue. The X-Men are hanging out at the beach, joking around, annoying each other, and essentially just being people. The comic’s action scenes were very expository, giving us snapshots of movements with heavy captions explaining what was happening, but the story seems to find its voice when it slows down and lets the characters live and behave as people. Because of this, and because we establish the X-Men as a family rather than a team of what seems almost like super police (both the Avengers and even the Soviets give that vibe off in this), I instantly relate more to these more down-to-earth underdogs who just want to splash each other at the beach.
So, even though he’s allied with the X-Men now, Magneto is kind of doing his own thing. He finds out about the asteroid, which was originally part of something that was going to allow him world domination. And what does he do? He goes off to find it. Not the most trustworthy guy. Wolverine, worried about his motivations, leads the X-Men to find him, unaware that Captain America and the Avengers have kidnapped Magneto – taken him into “Avenger custody,” that is – so he can stand trial for his crimes against humanity.
The X-Men are instantly ready to scrap for Magneto, which makes me a bit unsure about who is right. They clearly think they have a handle on Magneto, but Cap is right… kind of as usual. Magneto shouldn’t be let off easily, and mutants can’t expect to be above the law. It’s a really interesting and layered dilemma…
…which gets way more interesting when the Soviet Super-Soldiers show up and demand to arrest Magneto themselves.
The first half of this issue was a bit underwhelming, but once the real conflict of this series is introduced, I’m won over. I mean, the X-Men and the Avengers trading blows over their concept of justice is fun enough – but a team WITH A FREAKIN’ BEAR is about to fight them both to make Magneto pay.
And that? That can only happen in comics.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Charmed: Season Ten, Azure) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He loves comics, cats, and clearly anthropomorphic bears.