And here it is, the beginning of Marvel’s summer event, Avengers Vs X-Men. The focus here is on the two team associates set to be at the centre of each side’s ire: Scarlet Witch, who removed the powers of thousands of mutants, killing many; and Hope Summers, the teenager able to jump-start new mutants, and presumed future host of the Phoenix Force. When mutant messiah meets mutant destroyer, expect fireworks.
But don’t expect them here – they’re together on the cover, but our protagonists don’t meet. In the first of two solo stories, Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, her sanity newly restored and blame for numerous atrocities shifted to Dr Doom, takes on MODOK. The Machine Organism Designed Mainly For Killing (or whatever the acronym stands for this week) is out for revenge on a Wakandan diplomat who betrayed the big-headed baddie’s scientific cabal, AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics, that one never changes). Wanda’s not doing at all badly when old Avengers colleagues Ms Marvel and Spider-Woman happen along, and help finish the fracas. Ms Marvel – Carol Danvers – persuades Wanda to accompany them back to Avengers Mansion … Scarlet Witch is understandably slow to accept the offer, even if she is off the hook some for the Avengers Disassembled and House of M incidents.
And her instincts prove spot on, via a very uncomfortable run-in with the Vision, the husband she had She-Hulk tear in two during Disassembled – even an android can die, it seems (happily, after years of ‘death’, he was recently repaired by Iron Man Tony Stark, though in a decidedly undramatic offscreen afterthought). The story ends with Carol flying the distraught Wanda away.
I rather liked this. Writer Brian Michael Bendis gives us a still slightly confused, but emphatically heroic, Scarlet Witch, not entirely convinced she deserves anyone’s forgiveness. Being welcomed back with open arms by Ms Marvel and Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, makes her rejection by the Vision all the more painful. The fight with MODOK and his genetically engineered cronies is fun (Wanda even manages a decent gag) and there’s a final panel that will resonate with fans of classic Marvel.
Frank Cho illustrates with his usual bombastic flair – it’s good clean superhero art, and though figures are occasionally awkward in the smaller shots, overall, a very good job. His Wanda is as statuesque and regal as she should be, though her hair’s a tad slick – the girl has curls! The only time art fights script is when MODOK mocks Wanda (click on image to enlarge):
Never mind the fact she has to be at least 30 in Marvel time, no woman drawn by Cho could ever be accused of looking like a little kid.
The exact same quibble applies to the equally nicely drawn Hope story, in which Serpent Squad member Anaconda quips: ‘Boy, the superheroes just get younger and younger these days, don’t they? What are you, the new kid from Power Pack or something?’ I’d say this is more writer Jason Aaron’s fault than Cho’s – yeah, Hope looks about 25 but even if she looked her 16 years or whatever, that’s a tad old for anyone to accuse her of looking like a mini-hero.
As I said, though, it’s a quibble. Otherwise, this is a decent enough primer; as with the Wanda short, we’re given a bit of background before the story gets going. Events begins with Hope asking Cyclops to explain what it would mean for the Phoenix Force to connect with her but, being an idiot, he says nothing, so she blasts him with his own powers. She’s a hothead, y’see, as further evidenced by her running off to San Francisco to take on the Serpent Society, a police radio having told her of their in-progress robbery. Despite their snake-based abilities and years of experience, Hope’s mutant mimicry, viciousness with a knife and proficiency at head-butting allows her to do plenty of damage before Cyclops and Emma Frost arrive to provide back-up and lectures.The story ends with Hope announcing that she’ll welcome the Phoenix Force, and an outer-space shot of said fiery bird heading Hope’s way.
As pre-game entertainment goes, this is fine, building a sense that something big is about to happen. The story’s failings are Cyclops’ frankly insane refusal to prepare Hope for the coming of the planet-killing cosmic entity that destroyed his life, and Hope’s equally bonkers announcement that she wants communion with something that scares everybody witless. I really hope the writers of the crossover don’t just let these moments lie; sure, they open the way to the coming theatrics, but they don’t half make major characters look like idiots.
Frank Cho’s cover is pretty darn stunning, it’s a shame that a good 40 per cent of it is covered by the massively intrusive trade dress for the crossover.
Early numbers suggest Avengers Vs X-Men is already a hit, whatever the quality of the coming series and tie-ins – with luck, the rest of the story will be as good as this issue and, hopefully, far better. Come on Marvel, show us what you can really do.