In this 23-issue collection produced by a variety of creators (with multimedia material available via app), two of Marvel Comics’ premier superhero teams wrestle for control of a young mutant messiah linked to the infernal Phoenix Force.
As the Avengers track the fiery approach of a nigh-omnipotent cosmic entity known as the Phoenix, they’re surprised to find a matching energy signature already here on Earth, in the X-Men’s island base of Utopia. Years ago, the Phoenix had possessed, corrupted and led to the death of founding X-Men Jean Grey. But feeling he’s matured since his wife’s fatal genocidal turn, Cyclops now plans to harness the Phoenix and restore mutantkind, which had recently been decimated by gone-mad Avenger the Scarlet Witch. The fulcrum of Cyclops’ plan is new pupil Hope Summers, a powerful young mutant with the ability to channel the Phoenix Force. When the Avengers arrive en masse at Utopia, insisting on protective custody for Hope, Cyclops refuses, and the fists, shields, lightning bolts, adamantium claws, repulsor rays and optic blasts fly. The book paints the entire story in broad, workmanlike strokes in 12 straight issues of Avengers vs. X-Men, then punches in texture with six straight issues of AvX:Vs, a series of one-on-one-battle vignettes that roughly follow the main arc’s chronology, featuring standout “How We Roll,” which winningly parodies the whole affair. Ordering the collection by story, not series, would have allowed for a more organic appreciation, as Marvel treads similar ground of morally ambiguous conflict in Civil War (2006). AvX does take an appealing twist, with a handful of X-Men reborn as the Phoenix Five, who rule as benevolent global tyrants. But the Phoenix always goes dark, and the finale marks the apotheosis of Cyclops’ recent trajectory from his stiff and bland original incarnation to flawed and fragile in Morrison’s 2001 New X-Men and, now, to villain, à la Green Lantern in Emerald Twilight (1996). Artist Olivier Copiel, who illustrates a third of the Avengers vs. X-Men issues, stuns with his sleek redesigns of the Phoenix Five X-Men, particularly the avian Cyclops’ Robocop-like visor. The digital material available via Marvel’s Augmented Reality app offer some insider looks, with video creator interviews and animated step-by-step recreations of panels, but it seems underutilized in terms of dynamically connecting the story to the decades of Marvel cannon.
An uneven must for fanboys.