Well…this is a bit awkward, isn’t it? This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced the phenomenon of knowing about a major character death before reading the comic in which the death occurs. But this is the first time I had to wake up to a press release in my inbox announcing the death in the headline. That made me sad, as I’d deliberately avoided the spoilers the night before. I’m a comics reporter, so it’s my job to know these things, but I’m a comics reader too, and I wanted to read for myself. Instead I went into this issue knowing how it would end before I knew how it started, and that’s never any fun. Still, I’ll do my best to review it without too much fanboy angst.
What started as Avengers vs. X-Men has basically become Avengers & X-Men vs. Cyclops and Emma Frost. The Phoenix Force has corrupted them both to the point that not even their fellow mutants can sympathize anymore. The Avengers and the X-Men have all retreated to ask Charles Xavier for help in bringing down Cyclops, who is now so mad with power that he’s even considering wiping the Earth out just so he can build a new one in its place. From there, things get bad.
SPOILER ALERT: If by some strange coincidence you HAVEN’T found out who dies in this issue yet, I’m about to talk about it. So, if you managed to stay in the dark and want to remain there, look away now.
Flush with power and convinced that he’s standing alone on the side of right, Cyclops faces off with Professor Xavier. When the fight (which also includes Avengers and X-Men on the side of Professor X) proves too much for him, he takes out Emma and absorbs her power. With the full weight of the Phoenix Force behind him, Cyclops kills Xavier and transforms fully into Dark Phoenix.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to spend time trying to guess who’s going to die and who’s going to live, no matter what medium I’m experiencing. Therefore I wasn’t expecting Professor X to die (because I try not to expect anything), but I can’t say I was surprised. In fact, it makes a terrible kind of sense. Ever since the mutant population was decimated throughout the Marvel Universe a few years back, we’ve been building toward something like this, some kind of transformative moment that would alter the course of Mutant history. Scott Summers, after years of wrestling with his fate, came to see himself as the facilitator of that transformation, and the arrival of the Phoenix Force was supposed to be the pinnacle, the thing that would transform Hope Summers into the savior of his kind. But as we near the end of this journey, Hope has fallen by the wayside in Scott’s mind (though she may yet still have a role to play). All of Scott’s frustration, all of Scott’s rage against what the world has done to him and his people, and even all of his anger at his inability to ever be the wise man Charles Xavier, has combined with the power of the Phoenix Force to create something perhaps more dangerous than Jean Grey ever was.
The great tragedy here, of course, is that Charles was always grooming Scott as his successor. He was always supposed to be the next leader of mutantkind, the next beacon of hope, but things never turned out that way. Now, Charles must face the heartbreak of stopping a surrogate son, and Cyclops kills him for it without any real understanding of what he’s done (yet). You can see it as a stunt, or as a plea for attention, or a cliched climax to another big superhero event. I call that a damn well-structured tragedy. My only complain is that the story seems to have become for more about the X-Men than The Avengers, but perhaps their great tragedy is still to come.
As we head into the final issue of Avengers vs. X-Men, we’ve yet to see how the new Dark Phoenix will be stopped, but after a better-than-average event book with some truly novel twists, I’m confident in a solid ending.