By Edward Gambichler (Follow Ed on Twitter @EFG72)
As we come to the end of March and the beginning of April, we close the door on Winter and open the door to Spring. And although April showers bring May flowers, it also brings with it this season’s most highly anticipated comic book events: “Avengers Vs. X-Men”. The plot centers around the return to Earth of one of the most powerful and destructive forces in the Marvel Universe, the Phoenix Force. This alien entity, which holds both the power of Death and Rebirth, cuts a swath of devastation through entire worlds and galaxies until it finds a host it feels a kinship with. One of its former hosts was the late Jean Grey, a former member of the mutant superhero team X-Men and the wife of its leader Scott Summers, Codename: Cyclops.
When issue # 1 opens, most of the X-Men have settled on the remains of the mutant Magneto’s former base of operations, Asteroid M. This island, off the coast of San Francisco and rechristened by Cyclops as “Utopia”, serves as a haven for the mutant population. As a result of the fallout from the House of M ( specifically the actions of the mutant Scarlet Witch ), the majority of the mutant species have been stripped of their powers. Among the remaining “one percent” is Hope, a mutant with the ability to mimic and manipulate the X-Factor gene responsible for mutation. There are some, like Cyclops, who believe that Hope is a “mutant Messiah” ( since she was the first mutant born after the decimation ) and may have the potential to save the mutant race. There are , however, those who doubt this prophecy and see her as a potential threat. She has also, in the past, shown signs of having manifested the Phoenix force. With the imminent arrival of the Phoenix entity, this makes Hope it’s targeted host. This possibility doesn’t escape the Avengers, in particular Captain America, and they fly to Utopia with the intention of taking Hope into protective custody. Cyclops, however, has been training Hope in order for her to be able to harness the Phoenix entity and wield its power (in the hopes of restoring the depowered mutant population to its former glory ). Sensing Captain America will not leave without Hope, Cyclops hits him with an optic blast from his visor, thereby firing the opening salvo in the two teams inevitable conflict.
First off, the artwork. You cannot ask for a better penciller than John Romita Jr. There are few artists that can fill a panel with as much information and not let their pencil lines overpower and confuse the action for the reader. As much as I am impressed by Jim Lee’s draftsmanship, there are times where I would like to just take in the art without having to unconsciously have my eyes focused on every button on a suit or every rivet on a ship or a weapon. Sometimes less IS more and it is the better for it. In this issue, Romita is inked by Scott Hanna instead of longtime collaborator Klaus Janson. And tho Hanna’s inking style is well suited for Romita’s pencil, I would have liked to see Hanna experiment with a different style of inking such as cross-hatching or feathering.
The one thing I have against the start of this series is that I expected to be more conflicted on whose agenda I would agree with. As hard as I tried I could not understand Cyclop’s reasoning behind his stance. This is a man who has a history with the Phoenix entity and it has been responsible for a great deal of the tragedy that has defined his Life. How he can think the Phoenix force can be harnessed and used for good is beyond me. The only thing that would make sense to me is that he’s become unhinged due to the decimation of most of the mutant population. Also on the cover, I see Namor fighting on the X-Men’s side. Although Namor is the first mutant in the Marvel Universe, he has always been defined as a loner and only had allegiance towards his city of Atlantis. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what made him such an interesting character. True, Utopia was intended to be a half mutant/ half Atlantean retreat…..how he can’t see through the folly that is Cyclop’s agenda for the Phoenix is a mystery. This applies as well to Magneto and the rest of the X-Men who are fully aware of the threat of the Phoenix force. How the writers can have them blindly follow Scott Summers on this path is an insult to the intelligence of the characters as well as the reader’s who have to buy this scenario. Hopefully the next issues will rectify the plausibility of the storyline.