And so it goes. Another Marvel event ends, this one with several bangs and the odd whimper. The bangs, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, come as the Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers join forces to attack Cyclops. He’s turned Dark Phoenix and is popping up across the globe to rain fire from the sky, cause tidal waves, birth volcanoes – in his eyes, it’s a cleansing. In the eyes of the Avengers and X-Men, it’s possibly the end of the world … and time to try something different.
And that’s Faith. Faith in Hope, the presumed likely landing point for the Phoenix Force if they manage to knock it out of Cyclops. Maybe she’ll become as corrupt as the Phoenix Five did, and Jean Grey before them. But maybe, just maybe, she can chart another path.
And when the time comes, and the combined power of witch and mutant have knocked Cyclops to the floor, the cosmic entity does indeed target Hope. A fiery angel, she zaps around the world, repairing the damage wrought by Cyclops and co. Filled with the power of a god, Hope announces that she will be White Phoenix, ‘the saviour of all’.
And she means it. But the Phoenix Five – Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik – started off with good intentions, and were soon dropping naysayers into a Hell on Earth. Wanda persuades Hope that the best thing to do with the Phoenix power is give it up – something no one else has had the strength to do. Hope and Wanda join hands and say: ‘No more Phoenix’. The cosmic hex sends the Phoenix Force away from Hope and across the world, activating new mutants, undoing damage caused by Wanda’s own madness, years previously.
Afterwards, Captain America and Cyclops face one another across the table of the latter’s prison cell. Cyclops wants to take full responsibility for the terrible things he did, while asserting that killing his mentor, Charles Xavier, was worth it because it brought them to the point at which mutants are appearing once more. He believes he has won. It’s a twisted reading of events, indicating that while the power of the Phoenix has left Scott, it’s dark influence lingers.
Other codas see the new Nova offered Avengers membership for attacking Cyclops; a depowered Hope returning to the shattered Utopia; Emma, Colossus, Magik and Namor wanted for their crimes; and the announcement of a new Avengers team to promote the acceptance of mutants.
It’s a busy issue, with several winning moments in Jason Aaron’s intense script – Cyclops’ echoing of Dark Phoenix Jean’s long-ago plea to end her life; Cap’s ‘non-speech’ to rally the troops; the imagery of Cyclops seeing blood on his hands due to his naturally reddened vision.
And if at the end it doesn’t feel as if the world has changed – well, it did, but it’s changed back again – is anyone surprised? Avengers Vs X-Men succeeded as a big, flashy six-month-summer blockbuster, selling lots of comics. It can’t be said to have wrecked Cyclops as a character because he’s been acting like Magneto for at least a couple of years. And to me, he stopped being an admirable man the minute he abandoned his wife and baby, when Jean came ‘back from the dead’, decades ago. If anything, this issue signals the first steps on his road to redemption – his madness peaked and now, something of a broken man, he can heal and become a hero once more. This series caps almost a decade of Marvel events, beginning with Wanda’s unconvincing, murderous descent into lunacy at the hands of Brian Michael Bendis. Now Wanda is OK once more, and Scott becomes the Marvel Universe’s new hate figure.
There’s a new bit of information here. It’s presented as speculation, but it seems we’re meant to go along with Iron Man’s guess that Hope was born a mutant because the Phoenix Force was mighty peeved by Wanda’s ‘No More Mutants’ proclamation back in the day, intended to remove the powers of every single mutant in the Marvel Universe. It decided to rectify the matter, and soon other mutants were popping up, beginning with Hope.
OK, that would comics-explain why Hope is suited to being a Phoenix host, if not why other people were always so sure of it. But later this issue Wanda has her own bit of speculation, alluded to above (click on image to enlarge).
So the Phoenix Force created the perfect host, but she’s the perfect host because she can reject it? Or was Iron Man wrong, since Wanda seems to be right? Or were both correct, and the Phoenix wanted someone who could send it back into space after using its energy to repair the damage done by the Phoenix Five? But if the Phoenix Force wanted to repair the damage, why enter Cyclops and chums – and corrupt them – in the first place?
It all makes about as much sense as Cyclops’ initial belief that the Phoenix Force wanted Earth’s mutant population to be reborn – his own experience showed the entity was a devourer of worlds, not a creator. It turns out he was correct, but it took the thing long enough to fix Wanda’s damage, especially if it was indeed fussed enough to engineer Hope. And there’s still no foundation for Cyclops’ assertion.
It all makes about as much sense as that initial ‘No More Mutants’ meaning ‘Oh All Right, No More Mutants except the 198 Mutants that are useful to the X-Men line’.
So basically, the story is predicated on nonsense premises. Maybe that’s why I don’t really care that AvX is wrapped up in a similarly ropey manner. That, and the fact that Marvel’s marketing machine has spent the last several weeks hitting us with Marvel NOW! information, implying that the actual ‘now’ of Marvel doesn’t matter – we’ve even had comics published that are set after this supposed game changer, in which it seems nothing much has changed. What we’ve had is a big daft ‘event’ with no compelling consequences – Cyclops is addled (for NOW) and Professor X is dead (for NOW). Marvel has made a lot of money. I’ve had moments of entertainment – more a question of anticipation than Hope – and the combined plotting skills of Marvel’s ‘architects’ – Aaron, Bendis, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and Jonathan Hickman – prove rather dodgy.
We should probably move on.
Adam Kubert more than does the script justice, producing page after page of packed panels and sumptuous splashes, without once sacrificing clarity for flash. Rather awesome moments include: a world tour of Cyclops’ rage; Cyclops routing all opposition; the attack on Cyclops by Wanda and Hope; and a tear from Cyclops on seeing the ghost of Jean. But my favourite visual is a quiet scene – a bird’s-eye view of the Avengers discussing their chances of a win. It’s a tricky perspective to pull off but Kubert just about does it.
Kubert inks some of his work; otherwise, he’s well served throughout the issue by inkers John Dell and Mark Morales. There’s a pleasing clarity of finish, leaving plenty of room for colourists Laura Martin and Justin Ponsor to work their own magic. Jim Cheung and Mark Morales’ cover is well rendered, and coloured with verve by Ponsor, though the prominence of Iron Man makes zero sense. The Augmented Reality pages failed to work with my iPhone app and I can’t be bothered to lift up the iPad.
So it’s goodbye Avengers Vs X-Men, a would-be Marvel milestone that’s never to be repeated – until, of course, someone realises that they could flip the title and do it all again. Anyone care to bet against X-Men Vs Avengers within the next five years?