Avengers Vs X-Men (Brian Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker and Jonathan Hickman with John Romita Jr. Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert)
I remember as Avengers Vs X-Men came out finding it a really slow, drawn out event. The whole thing is 13 issues in length if you count the zero issue and it felt that a lot of what was happening was just padding. Filling in space until they could get to the big final issue. So I was a tad apprehensive about sitting down and reading it all again from start to finish in a shorter amount of time. Thankfully I am glad to say Avengers Vs X-Men is better the second time around, read in a more focused format. This is mainly down to the basic but brilliant core of the event. The Avengers and X-Men hitting each other!
Marvel is often criticised with having their heroes fighting each other all the time rather than bad guys but hey hero versus hero fights sell and this is as big as they get. This fight however is slightly different. What starts out as an overblown fighting game in a comic book from slowly gives way to a universe shaking everything on the line type deal. An event with little else to it at the start becomes a “nothing will ever be the same” story and at least in this case the fallout is largely positive.
The other thing that really needs mentioning at this point is that this isn’t your usual one big name writer and artist team. This is a who’s who of Marvel’s biggest writers and artists giving us a who’s who of the Marvel Universe. You would think that with five different writers and three artists inconsistency would be the buzz word for the book but each writer’s work flows into the next’s effortlessly and the art is always amazing that it is great to see everyone on the top of their games.
So sit yourself down with a cup of tea and prepare yourself for the biggest fight in Marvel history.
At the heart of the event are two characters, one a big deal for both the Avengers and X-Men the other a potential big deal for the X-Men. The Scarlett Witch, the fallen Avenger and the person who decimated her own species at the end of House of M several years ago (also IMO the point the X-Men as a franchise went off the rails for a long time). Hope, the mutant messiah and their best chance to get things back on track. All that’s needed is the Phoenix Force, Marvel’s very own sentient cosmic energy that always throws a spanner in the works whenever ti shows up. The Scarlett Witch takes up the bogey man duties as her very presence inspires anger in many an X-Man and fan’s heart. Her reality altering powers make her a major threat and also conveniently it turns out they are a perfect counter to the Phoenix Force in a Yin/Yang deal. So after the initial fighting over who gets Hope as the Phoenix Force approaches and the Force is split into the Phoenix Five the Scarlett Witch becomes the focus of their attentions while Hope is made ready for the big finale.
The story has a clear beginning middle and end with it being broken up into distinct acts as the creative team shifts and changes. Romita Jr is on the art block first giving it a big punchy opening and the first half of the tale a big scale. Then you have Coipel and Kubert tag teaming the second half. Kubert for the big stuff Coipel for the more character focused issues. It works well and all the artists are a good fit for the issues they are on. We also get treated to some of their best work as Romita’s art look bright and colourful, Coipel’s full of detail and Kubert’s just being mind-blowingly amazing.
The central theme of the story is one of death and rebirth which is something the Phoenix Force personifies. The stakes get raised constantly as things move from fighting over Hope, to fighting the Phoenix itself, to having to deal with five Phoenix powered X-Men, to finally a Dark Phoenix Cyclops threatening to end everything. There is a steady build up and suitable pay off in the end as Cyclops kills his father figure, Professor Xavier and the mutants are given the salvation they have been seeking for years. The Scarlet Witch and Hope work together to re-purpose the Phoenix Force into the being the spark for the creation of new mutants. Boom! Death and rebirth!
The length also means that the writing team found the time to include some brilliant character moments. Such as Spider-Man taking on the role of Hope’s emotional trainer and words of wisdom teacher. Explaining what it means to be an Avenger and that everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. Which he does, brilliantly. You also get Tony Stark turning to faith in order to come up with a solution to everyone’s problems and Black Panther seeing his country destroyed by the people he thought were allies. His marriage to Storm destroyed in the process despite Storm trying to mend fences. Lots of little moments like these say something about the characters and help move the story along. It is simple and effective story telling that gives us many memorable moments.
It’s not all smooth sailing however. The sudden switch from Avengers Vs X-Men to Avengers on the run from evil cosmic mutants is a bit jarring particularly as the event was billed as this big epic fight for the ages. It can also be confusing if you are not versed in all things Phoenix Force and trust me the Phoenix Force gets confusing, fast! The nature of the Phoenix Force in the Marvel Universe is to appear, make everyone run around trying to deal with it preemptively, then it arrives and then crazy cosmic shit happens. Then some quasi-spiritual and/or personal revelation in one or more characters allows them to pacify the Phoenix and send it on its merry way ready to come back in 5-10 years. Avengers Vs X-Men is a Phoenix story on a large scale with the Avengers taking part alongside the X-Men who usually have to deal with it on their own. It has all been done before but this time we have Cap throwing his shield around alongside Wolverine popping his claws.
The death of Xavier just seems to be something thrown in there to make the event have a lasting impact for people who haven’t read an X-Men comic in five years. Xavier has been of the grid for a loooong time and his death also hits Marvel’s kill someone every six months quota. It also acts as the moment Cyclops turns from hero to tragic villain. Something that I am currently enjoying in the pages of Uncanny and All-New X-Men but it could have been handled better here. Despite the event’s length things are wrapped up very quickly in the last two issues. As a result the closing chapters are muddled and confusing as suddenly Hope and the Scarlett Witch working together seems to be the answer which no-one thought of until this moment despite it staring them in the face since the first issue. I can accept predictable storytelling when it is done well but when you have twelve issues of Tony Stark agonising over what to do and failing to come up with the answer until the last moment and that answer is the most obvious one? Well that is a diservice to the character and makes the reader feel like a chump.
The main purpose for the story becomes clear after it is all over though. It was a big, epic way to get the X-Men back to a form of their classic status-quo that everyone knows and loves. Hated and feared with the mutants being divided into two camps. Interestingly this time with Wolverine and Cyclops taking on the Xavier and Magneto roles respectively. For me it made the X-Men interesting again. As for the Avengers nothing really changes for them, all we get is a new Avengers and X-Men hybrid team and everyone, for the most part, forgiving the Scarlett Witch.
Everything has changed once again but to a form of the older way of things. Which is both a good and bad thing. Avengers Vs X-Men is an enjoyable read and it is worth checking out, it’s just the rough edges that let it down a tad.