When Avengers vs. X-Men was announced a few months ago, cynicism was a rather common reaction. “Oh look, it’s more of Marvel’s superheroes vs. superheroes schtick.” And yes, when I heard about it, my brain immediately went back to Mark Millar’s Civil War, but I didn’t react with the same degree of instant pessimism that many of my comics-loving brethren did. Of course I didn’t want to see a virtual carbon copy of a past storyline, but dammit, I still love a good epic superhero brawl. I’m a sucker for event books, even if they do seem a little less than original. Now Avengers vs. X-Men is upon us, and it’s time for me to find out if I’ll eat those words, one issue at a time. Today, we begin our adventure with the prelude, issue #0.
The fighting hasn’t begun yet, but internal tensions are rising in both the X-Men and Avengers camps. Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Aaron split the writing duties in half for this issues – with Bendis tackling the Avengers story and Aaron taking on the X-Men – while Frank Cho pencils the whole issue with coloring by Jason Keith. Both stories focus on a woman who’s not sure where she belongs anymore, and both are action-packed, but in the end the stories are not evenly matched.
On the Avengers side, Scarlet Witch appears to take on MODOK in the middle of Washington D. C., and finds her welcome from the rest of the team is less than warm. On the X-Men side, Hope Summers – the so-called “Mutant Messiah – is trying to find some sense of identity even as Cyclops does everything he can to shelter her from the world she wants to fight for. As the issue ends, we see hints that the force that will drive the event is on its way, setting us up for issue #1 next week.
Though the Avengers story isn’t bad, it does end up the weaker of the pair. Bendis is building on the story he started years ago with Avengers Disassembled (a story I still like in spite of the chiding I get for it), setting up the tension within the team that will doubtless continue to haunt Scarlet Witch’s return. The story works well enough, particularly when it reaches its apex as Scarlet Witch is confronted by Vision and Cho really stretches the emotional punch of his art. The problem, for me, was the dialogue. As with most event books, the story is designed to allow readers of any comics experience level to enjoy it. But with Scarlet Witch on the scene, that means readers have to be brought up to speed somehow. Bendis succeeds in getting all the necessary details across, but sometimes it feels clumsy, and it takes you out of the story. It’s a stumble, but the good news is he saves it by the end.
Aaron also has to bring readers up to speed on just why Hope is so important to mutantkind, and he achieves the catch-up much more gracefully, couching all the backstory in the midst of a spirited conversation between Hope and Cyclops. To be fair, he has the advantage of telling his story last, and setting up the bigger tease that leads into the first issue of AvX proper, but he just seems to have things better in hand than Bendis.
The real star of the book for me, though, was Cho. His art is unquestionably slick and clean, but he actually managed to hit a lot of key character moments in these panels. There’s a power to them, particularly where Hope Summers is concerned, and it adds weight to the whole “Hey look, we’re doing a big event with ALL these characters” thing. My only complaint is Cyclops. He looks freakishly skinny and long-necked and I’m not sure why.
Expect bigger and better things next week when issue #1 drops, but Avengers vs. X-Men #0 is strong enough in its own right. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a fun read, and it definitely serves as an effective teaser for what’s to come.
Check back next week for a review of AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1.