Last week Avengers vs. X-Men stepped away from being a simple battleground and became a kind of quest story. This week that quest continues, and the Marvel architects face the challenge of keeping us hooked on their story without relying on superhero vs. superhero spectacle. With heroes on both sides scattered, and the tale shifting from slaughter to search, can Avengers vs. X-Men stay strong as it moves beyond the simple premise its title implies?
The short answer is yes, in part because the battle is still going on in these panels even when it’s not coming to blows. With issue #3 things shifted from dual displays of brute force to dual displays of strategic thinking, and this week that deepens and broadens. It’s #FF and Fantastic Four writer Jonathan Hickman’s turn up to bat, writing a good many characters he’s never touched before, and facing the challenge of turning this shiny superhero battle into a more intriguing, broader superhero war.
Both the Avengers and the X-Men have dispatched teams to five different locations around the world to hunt for the so called “Mutant Messiah” Hope Summers. Wolverine is trapped in Antarctica after a tangle with Captain America. In outer space, an Avengers away team led by Thor hopes to stop the Phoenix Force before it reaches Earth. And Hope, in a stolen X-Men jet, has a plan.
Hickman’s one of Marvel’s most gifted writers, and he manages to portray the increasing scale of the story in an elegant, clever way. The problem is it feels rushed. The point to convey for the middle portion of this issue is that the Avengers and the X-Men are still fighting each other, but now the fight’s gone global. The way that’s conveyed – in a montage of panels seen through the mind of Emma Frost – is neat on the surface, but it doesn’t quite give the depth that a fight like this should have. The clash feels flippant. It didn’t feel that way in earlier issues. It felt like clash everyone was questioning, a reluctant battle that was tearing everyone apart inside as well as out. Fortunately, the other side of the issue – the dual strategies of Cap and Cyclops and Hope’s determination to fulfill her destiny even as the other heroes clash around her – packs a much greater punch. That part hits home, and sets up what’s next in the story with great effectiveness. Sadly, it too feels rushed, thanks to all those battle panels lining the middle section. For the first time in the series so far, it feels like a single issue tries to do too much. The result is a hurried pace and less depth than the last two issues managed.
But even with that, Hickman kept me entertained. His dialogue is great, his plotting instincts are strong (it’s the pacing that’s off), and his ending is solid. If this week’s conclusion was any indication, issue #5 has the potential to take this series from intriguing to downright badass.
In Three Weeks: ROUND FIVE