With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: John Romita Jr., Adam Kubert, Olivier Coipel
Issues: Avengers vs X-Men #0-12
I also read the following tie-ins: Avengers: X-Sanction #1-4, Avengers #25-30, Avengers Academy #29-33, New Avengers #24-30, Secret Avengers #26-28, Uncanny X-Men #11-20, Wolverine & The X-Men #9-18, X-Men Legacy #266-270, Avengers Vs. X-Men: Versus #1-6, Avengers Vs. X-Men: Consequences #1-5
Avengers Vs. X-Men was a massive event. Most Marvel events are big, but they tend to balance smaller events with a few tie-ins with larger, world-spanning events that completely take over all the comics. AvX was definitely the latter in 2012.
It’s also very gimmicky, and staged almost like an empty-headed Summer blockbuster. Even the title doesn’t exactly evoke a lot of mystery. Yet it gradually evolves from a vapid smackdown into a dramatic story that deconstructs Cyclops’ recent worldviews and mutants’ place in the world.
The plot boils down to the return of the Phoenix – that cosmic firebird that has caused the X-Men many headaches in the past.
The Phoenix is returning, and everyone believes that Hope is its new target. Hope represents the mutant endangered species arc that you can trace as far back as House of M in 2005.
She was first introduced as a baby McGuffin in Messiah Complex – the first mutant child born since Scarlet Witch said “No More Mutants,” dooming the entire mutant race and coloring X-Men comics for the next decade.
Since then Hope has evolved from a child under Cable into a young woman who has returned to our timeline to figure out who she is. Her destiny was part of the reason Cyclops and Wolverine split in Schism, and Cyclops becomes increasingly militant when it comes to defending mutant rights.
Unfortunately the story of AvX leans too heavily on Cyclops rather than Hope. Cyclops has become a far more interesting character in this era, almost taking on Magneto-level qualities when it comes to mutant defense (and seeing how Magneto has joined the X-Men for years, he constantly points that out).
With the Phoenix arriving the Avengers want to take Hope into custody to try and prevent disaster, while Cyclops rallies the X-Men to defend her, believing that it’s her and the Phoenix’s destiny to restore mutantkind.
Both sides are pretty dumb. The Avengers essentially bringing their entire force to knock on the door of Utopia is classic Marvel hero bravado/stupidity. And Cyclops and the X-Men believing that the Phoenix won’t eventually screw them over is incredibly naive – and Cyclops should know more than anyone.
Thus Avengers Vs. X-Men starts off on shaky ground. If you like fight scenes between super heroes, get ready for Civil War part 2: “this time X-Men are involved.” It also doesn’t help that I’ve always detested John Romita Jr.’s excessively cartoony art style.
But then something funny happens. It gets a hell of a lot better. The writing picks up, the plot gets more interesting and the art gets a hell of a lot better with Adam Kubert and Olivier Coipel.
After the initial silly skirmish that beats the “superheroes would rather fight than talk” trope to death, the Phoenix arrives.
Hope balks at her destiny as its new host. Iron Man builds a device that dissipates the Phoenix force, and it ends up being absorbed into five X-Men: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik, and Namor.
The Phoenix Five as they’re soon known as, gain god-like power and begin turning the world into a better place. Terraforming, eradicating famine and disease, free energy, and establishing world peace (mostly through violently destroying gangs, regimes and dictators).
This creates an interesting dilemma for the Avengers and the other X-Men. The Phoenix Five are technically doing good work. But the Phoenix has been established countless times as an unpredictable force that no one can contain. Splitting it up between five people seems to help, but eventually things begin to fall apart.
The plot turns the Avengers into the plucky resistance and the X-Men as unwitting pawns. As someone who vastly prefers mutants to Avengers, I was consistently irritated by the way the lines were drawn. Thankfully, eventually the rest of the X-Men finally turn away from phoenix-powered Cyclops and company as their powers corrupt them. Which should have been a painfully obvious outcome to every character in that universe.
It starts when Namor invades Wakanda. The Avengers stage a daring raid to kidnap/rescue Hope to try and protect/train her. I’m a bit confused on the details of their plan, which mostly involves waiting and seeing what Tony Stark can come up with.
When the X-Men find out they’re headquartered in Wakanda, Namor stages a one-man invasion, wrecking the entire country in a large battle. It takes all the Avengers to stop him. When they do they realize that the remaining four become powered up from that portion of the Phoenix. You can probably see where this is going.
Eventually the others fall. Drama-filled sibling duo Colossus and Magik are cleverly turned against each other by Spider-Man, while Cyclops later turns on Emma Frost as he officially becomes Dark Phoenix. We knew all this was going to play out badly for them.
At the climax the Avengers and X-Men join forces against the full Phoenix-powered Cyclops, and only the combined might of Scarlet With and Hope can defeat him.
The ongoing B story is Hope coming to terms with her destiny as the vessel of the phoenix force. This should have been the primary tale. It would’ve made for a more compelling character-driven arc with a really great character and far more heroic tone than the tragic culmination of Cyclops’ militant views.
Hope eventually joins up with Wolverine, who at first is convinced he has to kill her. Their little adventures together are far too short, and eventually they’re all taken to K’un-Lun, AKA Iron Fist headquarters where she can train.
Eventually everything comes to a climactic battle. Dark Phoenix Cyclops is defeated, and Hope absorbs the Phoenix force. Together with Scarlet Witch’s deus ex machina powers they wish it away (after Hope magically fixes everything). It gets dissipated and spread all over Earth, reigniting the mutant population.
So Cyclops was right, it did save his species. But he lost his soul. He’s defeated and arrested.
In the epilogue series Avengers Vs. X-Men: Consequences, he has Magneto break him out of jail, and together with Danger and Magik they become a pseudo-villain group out to protect mutants. It’s quite the dark path that Cyke has been on, and does at least make his character far more layered.
Oh, and he killed Professor X during the Dark Phoenix climax. I found this incredibly lame. First, it’s dumb that Marvel feels the need to kill off one character in each event to make it serious. Second, these deaths range from completely meaningless to “well, I guess we won’t see them for a year or two.”
Nothing will ever be as crazy as Captain America’s death after Civil War – and even that lasted three years before they brought him back. Professor X was already used as an event-death back in Messiah Complex, and he came back within months. Since then he also became completely and utterly irrelevant to any comic or story. Like when he popped up near the end I was like, oh right, Xavier is still around I guess.
There were an extensive amount of tie-ins for AvX. Nearly every ongoing comic tackled the event for at least several issues, some for over half a dozen. Like any tie-ins they range from awful to great. The Avenger-related ones are generally the worse of the bunch – though I do freely admit my bias for mutants.
Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers and Uncanny X-Men all mostly show fight scenes and a few behind the scenes fluff. For example, there’s a whole issue with prisoners of war Hawkeye, Luke Cage and Spiderwoman on Utopia, and it’s super dumb. Uncanny X-Men spends two issues dealing with Mister Sinister’s incredibly goofy underground Victorian world of Sinister clones.
Secret Avengers is especially egregious, sending heroes like Beast, War Machine, Thor, and Captain Marvel out in space to try and stop the Phoenix before it arrives. That sounds cool but it’s very much not, as our heroes utterly fail and then become embroiled in a pointless story involving Captain Mar-Vell and the Kree.
The best tie-ins focus on the younger generations of Avengers and X-Men: Avengers Academy and Wolverine & The X-Men (and to some extent X-Men Legacy which also takes place at the Jean Grey School). Wolverine & The X-Men shows the kids at the Jean Grey school having to deal with these events, including Phoenix-powered Colossus showing up to court school master Kitty Pryde.
Avengers Academy is easily the best of the tie-ins. It’s also one of the best overall comics from this entire era (2010-2012). The AvX story has a bunch of kids from Utopia, including several former New X-Men, arriving at the Academy as pseudo-prisoners/protection.
Tensions flare deliciously between the two young factions. Pour in a mind-wiped Sebastian Shaw causing trouble and Phoenix-powered Emma Frost showing up and you’ve got a fantastic series that elevates the entire story.
In terms of far-reaching effects on Marvel continuity, Avengers Vs. X-Men is a pretty big deal. Despite the bloody war the two factions patch things up quickly, and the Avengers later include some X-Men into a new ongoing Avengers series. Cyclops becomes a villain (I guess?), Xavier is dead (again), and mutants are sprouting up for the first time since the end of House of M in 2005 (not counting Hope and her “Five Lights” – which interestingly were hinted to be the original Phoenix Five before Iron Man screwed it up).
AvX acts as a major milestone in Marvel continuity. Several ongoing comics ended and new ones began under the new Marvel Now banner. I like this approach quite a bit as it makes for a good jumping in point for new readers. It seems Marvel did as well, as they would pull of another major shift with their 2015 event, Secret Wars.
Avengers Vs. X-Men lacked the political punch of Civil War and the connective tissue of Secret Invasion, Dark Reign and Siege. At twelve issues it’s too long and the first third is pretty bad. But it steadily improved, and succeeded in making the X-Men and mutantkind relevant in the wider Marvel world once again.