The Phoenix Force has touched five members of the X-Men, giving them the power to change the world. It’s a week after the end of last issue, and Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik and Colossus have spent the intervening time doing good. They’ve fed the hungry, stopped wars, ended the energy crisis and they plan to do more. But before they go on, leader Cyclops demands that the people of the world pledge to live in peace, accept his Pax Utopia.
It’s hard to argue with success, and even their recent enemies, the Avengers, can see that the mutants are doing a lot of good. Captain America has his team watching the ‘Phoenix Five’, but a grudging admiration is beginning to emerge within some members. President Barack Obama, though, has no doubt – while a heaven on earth is being created, the beings behind it are answerable to no one but themselves. And he’s not having it: ‘Something has to be done.’
The Avengers decide that means grabbing Hope, supposed intended Phoenix host, from Utopia island in a hit and run mission. But if they think they’re going to get away with it, well, Cyclops and Emma actually know what they’re thinking. Things look bad for Cap and co until a wild card appears – the Scarlet Witch. Her chaos magic can hurt Cyclops, allowing her to teleport the Avengers, and Hope, away. Cyclops decides he’s had enough interference and utters three little words: ‘No more Avengers.’
Which makes him either the wickedest, or stupidest, man on Earth. Given that he saw the tragic fallout after a deluded Scarlet Witch demanded ‘no more mutants’, to do the same thing is madness.
And intriguing. This event story is finally running full steam ahead, with big things happening and big stakes to play for. It’s good that, finally, not all Avengers are blindly following Captain America, with Beast and Black Panther both going their own way. It’s likewise good that Cyclops is seen as something other than lunatic aggressor (even if it’s just until the end of this chapter).
Writer Jonathan Hickman adds some fine touches, such as Cyclops’ reason for continuing to sport a visor, even though his new powers make it unnecessary; a surprising conversation between Colossus and an army of Zzzaxes; and a side trip to K’un Lun. More worrisome is his characterisation of President Obama as a hawk, ordering the Avengers to step in the minute US interests are threatened – the Phoenix Five have turned a SHIELD base into a school.
He talks fine words about self-determination, but it’s clear where he’s coming from. This impression is emphasised by Marvel’s head-scratching habit of apparently instructing artists to have sitting presidents hug the shadows of any room they’re in. Here it makes Obama seem rather sinister.
I doubt that’s what Hickman, penciller Olivier Coipel, inker Mark Morales and colourist Laura Martin intended. I do believe the positioning of Cyclops, during an inconclusive chat with a doubting Charles Xavier, is deliberate (click on images to enlarge).
Tell me that’s not classic ‘would-be benevolent despot in secret headquarters’. While the X-Men are doing good, it seems we’re meant to be of the same mindset as the President. Well, it’s comics’ default position, when someone with immense powers is improving the world in the blink of an eye. Rather than ask ordinary women and men, especially those in the developing world, how they feel about being able to forget the fundamental worries of daily living, the superheroes always decide that self-determination is more important than progress. That’s Professor X’s position here, as Cyclops asserts that all men will eventually accept the ‘future’ he’s imposing: ‘It’s cheating … it has cost nothing.’
This issue costs the regular $3.99 but comes in at a meaty 36pp of story, which is far better than Marvel’s usual deal for this price point. And rather good pages they are, with plenty to enjoy, and much to ponder before next issue arrives. I blow hot and cold on Hickman, but I’ve no major qualms about this issue; he balances big, daft superheroics with intriguing philosophical issues. The only thing I’d change would be the raid on Utopia, which has the Avengers donning stealth costumes more wacky than cool. If there’s an action figure range on the way – and what other reason could there be for such silliness? – some kids are going to be giggling.
Jim Cheung and Justin Ponsor produce a heck of an imposing cover – again, is there much doubt we’re meant to find the Phoenix Five more scary than heroic? I do know I find them interesting enough to be back here next time.