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Best Comics in May Part 1: The Big Ol' Crossovers

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Once a month the amazing staff at 8th Dimension Comics selects a pile of the best new releases for us to peruse and judge. This month we'll feature our usual breakdown, but first let's look at the two big crossover events going on in comics right now.

Avengers vs. X-Men

Let's start of in the Marvel universe, shall we? I've frankly been avoiding covering the battle between the Avengers and the X-Men because, well, it seemed like a ham-fisted excuse to draw a bunch of completely predictable and pointless battle scenes for most of a year. Having taken this month to absorb the story arch across multiple books, I still think that that is 75 percent what it is.

The catalyst of the book is the imminent return of the Phoenix force, which longtime X-Men readers will remember as the cosmically powerfully entity that possessed Jean Grey and drove her to genocidal madness. Only her suicide prevented the Phoenix from taking complete control and ending life in the universe as we know it to pave the way for rebirth.

Now, it's headed for Earth, destroying whole planets in its wake. The popular belief is that Hope Summers, who is considered the mutant messiah having been the first mutant born after the Scarlet Witch depowered thousands of Earth's mutants leaving roughly 200 left in the world, is the host that the Phoenix is seeking. Cyclops, who currently leads a West Coast version of the X-men featuring some of the most powerful people on the planet is banking on the Phoenix jumpstarting the mutant race and allowing them to take their next step as the future of human evolution.

Meanwhile, the Avengers see only destruction coming, and seek to take Hope into custody... or kill her. So begins pages and pages of punching. I can see what Marvel is going for here. This is supposed to be all the disagreements and differences between its heroes being worked out in one giant group therapy session, as well as a chance to settle a million games of "Who Would Win in a Fight?" For what it's worth, that aspect of the story is as fin as a Roland Emmerich film. It's particularly fun to watch Wolverine and Captain America go at it.

Still, the character development across the arc is not stellar. It mostly hinges on Hope, and she just isn't that interesting. She's a sweet girl with enormous power in a dangerous situation. That's a great setup for a comic, but it doesn't really work well when you're distracted by every single character in the whole universe fighting around you.

Besides, I don't think the Phoenix is even coming for her anyway. I think the Phoenix is seeking the Scarlet Witch. Overall, it's a somewhat overblown affair that seems to be playing on caricatures of the combatants rather than really exploring them. Only in the tie-in books, particularly Secret Avengers and Wolverine & the X-Men, does true drama shine. Beast owns every inch of whatever book he is featured in, and the tragedy of Brian Braddock's flaws as a hero is something that could definitely be explored in the future for fantastic results.

I'll stand by and see what happens because it will undoubtedly be important, but frankly I'm just wishing Marvel would get it over with.

Night of the Owls

Initially, I viewed the Night of the Owls with the same annoyance I had for Avengers vs. X-Men because it was needlessly interrupting my favorite books. The new DC universe is just a little too Batman-heavy, and you can only imagine how much Batman it takes to make someone like me say there's a bit too much.

The series involves a legendary group of assassins and shadowy figures that have haunted Gotham since it's founding. In the past the Court of Owls operated in complete stealth, using a single assassin at a time to accomplish their goals. In modern Gotham, they use Mr. Freeze's technology to revive all their fallen assassins in order to take out the ruling elite of Gotham in one fell swoop, including the mayor, James Gordon, Bruce Wayne, Oswald Cobblepot, and many other powerful figures.

The assassins, called Talons, have incredible regenerative powers, and initially are more than a match for Batman, Desperate he summons all allies of the Bat to come to Gotham's aid.

Night of the Owls succeeds where Avengers vs. X-Men fails. Each Talon forces a hero to confront hia own dark mirror, exploring the origins of the attackers from a first-person point of view while at the same time establishing the exact place where each hero stands. Red Hood sees how he might've turned out without learning to let go of the rage that his murder filled him with. Catwoman recognizes the damage that disgrace and exile can do to a human heart. Nightwing faces his ancestor, and learns the value of living his own life instead of to the expectation of others.

Each fight is a brutal, take-no-prisoners brawl. The war is for the soul of Gotham. Will the legend of the Owls and the darkness they bring be the legacy of the city, or will the legend on the Bat, and the army he created define the world? That's what's going on, and each issue shows writing of startling depth and brilliant interactions.

In the modern DC world, Batman remains the most competent hero, outclassing people with a hundred times his powers. But in the end it still comes down to a battle about what it means to be the night, to inhabit the darkness without becoming it. Night of the Owls looks into the abyss unflinchingly, and may be the best Batman story ever.

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