For months now I’ve been touting Avengers vs. X-Men as an ambitious comic that stands to be something more than another predictable event comic, a merging of superhero badassery and truly big ideas that could have truly big consequences in the Marvel Universe. Clearly that’s what Marvel’s hoping everyone will think, but it’s up to the book to deliver on the promise, and honestly I keep waiting for something to underwhelm me. I keep waiting for the ambition to level off, for the elements to fall into a predictable place. But then the Marvel Architects deliver a comic like issue 10, and I’m even more convinced we’re heading for a truly heavy conclusion.
Against seemingly impossible odds, The Avengers have managed to eliminate three of the members of the Phoenix Five. Trouble is, that leaves Cyclops and Emma Frost angrier, and more powerful, than ever. While Emma lords over the X-Men in Utopia, Cyclops has stormed the mystical city of K’un Lun looking for Hope Summers. In a fit of desperation, the Avengers have no choice but to hatch a not-yet-ready plan to bring the leader of the X-Men down, and Hope is at the center of it all.
Ed Brubaker returns to script this issue, and brings the same intensity and inventiveness that he used to transform Captain America back into a major Marvel power. It’s one of the most action-heavy issues so far, but it’s full of strong character moments and dialogue, and every panel counts toward some kind of character development. The key, though, is how he treats Cyclops, Emma and Hope.
It was pointed out to me this week that, if it succeeds, Avengers vs. X-Men could end up one of the great studies of the nature of power in modern superhero comics. The heart of the struggle, since the beginning, has in many ways been Cyclops’ quest to save the mutant species, but since absorbing the Phoenix Force it’s become about more than salvation for Scott. It’s become about dominance, about taking the superiority of mutantkind and using it to be truly superior. He’s literally led a remaking of the world. That kind of quest isn’t new to the Marvel Universe. It’s been a central part of many Magneto stories, after all. But the implications this could have for the future of these characters are sort of staggering. You’ve got Cyclops and Emma crumbling internally with all this external dominance. You’ve got Hope just beginning to learn the real implications of what she can do. You’ve got Captain America and Iron Man scheming both with and against these beings that are more powerful than either of them could ever hope to be. You’ve got Magneto and Xavier struggling as peripheral figures, groping for influence they may no longer have. Roles are reversed, egos are flipped and the Marvel Universe is, as Iron Man says in the midst of this issue, at a “turning point.” I don’t know where this is going yet, and I’m not trying to guess because, frankly, that spoils the fun for me, but if the architects deliver on what they’re building here, we could see something more than just a good event. This could be something really important, and it could up the ante on every event book we see from here on out.
Lastly, I have to say something about Adam Kubert’s art again. Of course, I can’t think of Adam this week without thinking of his father, Joe. The Kubert brothers were likely the first students of the ultimate comics art teacher, and they continue to both produce outstanding work. Kubert’s pencils in #10 are the best he’s done for AvX so far, and they reminded me yet again how important Joe Kubert was to this industry. Because of him, we get to see generations pass along greatness like this, and that’s immeasurably wonderful for comics.