avengers vs. x-men

And so another year, another Marvel crossover event. For those who don’t know much about Marvel (and that’s more people than you’d think), every year Marvel has one or two big events that draw just about all of their comics together in some huge event where everyone in the Marvel Universe has to come together to save the world from a stick of giant cosmic broccoli, or something like that. There’ll usually be a main limited series chronicling the overall battle with the cosmic vegetable or whatever, and then individual issues dealing with the different individual heroes’ perspectives on it. This means that there’s a hell of a lot of comics to deal with there…

This year’s crossover is Avengers vs. X-Men, which is fairly self-explanatory as to the premise. To expand a bit further, the Phoenix Force, a cosmic god-entity that’s heavily associated with Jean Grey, is heading to Earth again and the Avengers and the X-Men have differing ideas as to what this means. Of course, if this were the real world they would sit down around a table and work it out but as they all have superpowers the answer is obvious: beat seven shades of shit out of each other. And judging from the previews I’ve seen, that’s exactly what we get.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and I picked up Avengers vs. X-Men #0, the first issue last week but because I was away for a few days I haven’t had much of a chance to blog about it, so here we go…

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The first thing I’d like to say is: I love the art in this issue. Frank Cho’s artwork is beautiful, expressive and wonderfully clear and I’ve seen very few better-looking comics recently. The action in the book is really brought to life by it, and really draws you in when compared with some other books I’ve read recently (one that I shan’t name here has a bit of a problem with melty faces) and several panels, especially one with Scarlet Witch on a white background, are stand-out.

AvX #0 is really a scene-setter and focuses on two central characters: Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers. Scarlet Witch’s section of the story is pretty decent, and sees her do battle with giant-head MODOK as he attempts to assassinate an ex-AIM scientist before getting some help from some of her ex-teammates from the Avengers. Hope Summers, meanwhile, is living out a frustrating existence on the X-Men’s island Utopia and subsequently enjoys taking that frustration out on a bunch of super-powered bank robbers in nearby San Francisco.

I’m not really going to talk too much about the rest of the plot because a) I’m trying not to be a spoiler-hound for anyone who hasn’t read it yet and b) quite a bit of it would require me to elaborate on a lot of Marvel history. That’s what I consider to be the main flaw of this issue: a lot of the dialogue references past continuity, some of which happened over eight years ago such as the Avengers Disassembled and House of M events.

Bendis and Aaron’s writing is good (in the case of Bendis as always as I’m a huge fan of his work… don’t know so much about Aaron) but the problem with having Scarlet Witch being the focus of the “Avengers” section of the issue is that she comes loaded with a heavy backstory that I’m not quite sure new readers or those who’ve kind of tuned out from the Marvel universe for a while will be able to get. The former event, especially, is needed to understand quite a bit of Scarlet Witch’s interaction with some of the other characters.

I think the “X-Men” section with Hope Summers is more successful in this regard: a lot of the dialogue explains why she’s important and what she means to the X-Men, and really you can just enjoy the action without having too many questions raised as to what’s going on and why someone acted in the way that they did. Hope flies over to San Francisco, and beats up the Serpent Squad, and that’s really it – no moments that would confuse a new reader. It’s markedly more successful in setting up the coming conflict.

Skip ahead a week, and we get to the true inaugural issue Avengers vs. X-Men #1:

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AvX#1 sees Bendis take up sole writing duties, and also a change of artist towards John Romita Jr. Compared with Cho’s art, which leans more towards realism, Romita’s work is often more stylized and I feel generally suits the tone of the crossover (i.e. superheroes lamping each other senseless) perfectly. It’s big, expressive, and exciting and matches Bendis’s writing perfectly.

We open with the Avengers in New York who see a comet… or something collide with a passing plane and then leap into action to save it. This is a pretty decent action sequence, and gives the story a pretty effective opening. Some of Bendis’ other books, such as Ultimate Spider-Man can be a bit slower-paced, but it’s fairly obvious that this will not be the case here.

The Avengers end up receiving a warning about the return of the Phoenix Force and we move over to Hope on Utopia being given a bit of a hard time in training by Cyclops, causing her to have a firery (and possibly Phoenix-powered) outburst which brings Utopia to the attention of the Avengers, who head over to Utopia to take Hope into “protective custody” to prevent her from unintentionally destroying the Earth should she end up being possessed by the Phoenix Force. The issue ends with an opening broadside by Cyclops against Captain America, and the battle is indeed on…

Unlike the previous issue, I think readers whether familiar with past continuity or not can come in and enjoy it perfectly. Things that might confuse new readers such as the history of the Phoenix Force are explained, and there’s not much need for people to go and google up previous events just to figure out what the hell is going on. The one thing I wonder about at this stage is how the Avengers plan to stop the Phoenix Force from being able to do anything – all we’re given is that “protective custody” is their plan – whereas the X-Men’s idea of the return of the Phoenix representing the rebirth of the mutant race is pretty clear cut. Of course, that could be explained later, but sometimes things can get swept away under a desire to see superpowered people hit each other…

Oh well. Overall, it’s a good read and worth checking out, and it’s going to be interesting to see where they take this although hopefully they manage to avoid the arseholeification that Iron Man suffered during Civil War, the last time two groups of “good guys” started kicking the shit out of each other…

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