Avengers versus X-Men #5 was a pretty enjoyable comic book, right up until the ending of the issue, which felt cheesy and absurd. Not only that, but it made me cringe a bit because it felt like Marvel suddenly leaned FAR too heavily on making the X-Men the clear antagonists of the piece, instead of both sides being fair and equal in their opposition to one another. It felt reminiscent of Civil War, where it became clear that Captain America’s side was full of saints, and Iron Man’s side was far more nefarious and duplicitous. Matt Fraction handles the scripting for this issue, and for the most part he does a good job of quickly cranking up the tension level for the confrontation that ensues in the issue. Last issue’s cliff-hanger wasn’t nearly as desperate as the rest of this issue becomes, but I give Fraction credit for trying to make the end of Act I big and loud, with lots of fireworks.
This issue gives readers exactly what they’re paying for, as the X-Men and Avengers throw down on the moon, as the Phoenix Force arrives for Hope. In terms of pacing and drama, this issue has it all in spades, as the final fight on the moon is extremely tense, and well executed in the script. Hope’s realization that it’s more than she realized, and that she doesn’t think she can handle it, is extremely powerful characterization by Fraction. Hope as a character has at times lacked a definite sense of character throughout her short existence, and yet here Fraction punches through her bravado and false-confidence, instead showing that this girl, who has been prepared her entire life for this moment, realizes it’s too much for her to handle, and she wants out. Wolverine, re-living history, knows it’s up to him to end this for her, whereas Captain America merely wants to get her away from there, and Scott Summers wants to see it all through, to make sure the Phoenix gets Hope. Cyclops is desperate and pretty much fanatical here, but it makes perfect sense given the past few years of development for his character. He’s been forced to make the hard choices/decisions, and seen some of his closest friends and teammates desert him, as he strives to do what is best for his people, culminating in this moment, when he hopes it will prove to all be worth it. He’s already given everything; he just wants to see that it wasn’t for nothing.
However, despite most of the issue being immensely entertaining, it all kind of goes off the rails once Iron Man tries to stop the Phoenix himself, and instead ends up disrupting the Phoenix Force somewhat, leading to an unforeseen complication. Fraction’s script does a terrible job capturing the moment once it has occurred, and it really threw this issue off its game, as it felt forced and heavy-handed.
John Romita Jr. once again handles the artwork in this issue, and although he does a fairly quality job on the whole, particularly the Hope/Wolverine/Cyclops/Captain America moments on the moon, the rest is not nearly as strong. In particular I found his work on Iron Man pretty atrocious, specifically the Phoenix Armour he built, as it was clunky and ugly. His portrayal of the X-Men after the issue’s climax felt weak to me as well, which wasn’t any help considering how the script by Fraction fell short at that particular moment as well.
This issue is a great example of a book that started strong, kept going strong throughout, and then fumbled the pass in the end zone. The artwork wasn’t all that special, and it didn’t hold up until the end of the issue either. Hopefully the second act of this storyline will start off better than act one ended.