Marvel Comics’ biggest release of the year is without a doubt Avengers versus X-Men, this year’s big summer crossover. Not only is it a massive crossover, but it’s also a series bringing together the company’s two largest franchises, and pitting them against one another. What surprised me about this issue, however, is that it actually had some really entertaining story beats to set-up the inevitable slugfest between the two teams. When this book was first announced, I couldn’t help but wonder how even the portrayal of the two sides would be, especially after what happened with Civil War, where it quickly became a fairly one-sided affair, especially with writers constantly writing Tony Stark in a villainous fashion. Sure, only one issue of this series has been released thus far, but already the lines are drawn fairly quickly, with various different plot elements set-up for exploration throughout the entirety of the storyline.
Once I allowed myself to let go a bit of my predilection for being a continuity stickler, the initial premise behind the book became much more enjoyable, what with the Phoenix Force having risen once more, and approaching Earth at breakneck speed, putting the Avengers on high alert. Bendis does a great job with the script, as he positions both teams well for the storyline, in that they believe in the jobs they have to do, and in their beliefs, and yet are directly opposed to one another. In a book like this, it’s so important that characters are respected and written correctly, and it’s definitely a difficult, thankless task, but somehow Bendis pulls this one off. His portrayal of Steve Rogers is quite strong, as he’s a man who wants to save the world, and doesn’t feel like he has time for discussion that would derail him from his goal. He’s not looking for a fight, he’s just trying to do the very best he can to protect Hope and the rest of Earth from the destructive force of the Phoenix. Cyclops, on the other hand, is so married to his belief that Hope is the Mutant Messiah that he can only see it through ruby-quartz lenses, so to speak, instead focusing on how the Phoenix is also a force of rebirth after destruction, and what this could mean for the mutant race. Reading their brief confrontation in this issue made me realize that this is what was missing from last year’s X-Men: Schism. That series felt like it didn’t hinge on enough of a solid argument to really split apart the unity that the X-Men had had up until that point, and that the argument wasn’t big enough. Here, though, the reason for Cyclops to take a stand against the Avengers is a strong one, as he’s trying to do what’s right for his race, and won’t allow anyone to get in his way. He believes wholeheartedly that the Phoenix represents the rebirth of the mutant race, and nothing can stop him from believing that. It makes the inevitable fighting feel more worthwhile, because there really isn’t a compromise that makes sense for these characters, given who they are, and how steadfastly they adhere to their ideals and beliefs. Steve Rogers is a man who’s been fighting for the greater good for years, and Cyclops has trained since he was a teenager to lead mutant kind, and protect it from humanity when need be. Captain America is the outcome of ideals, whereas Cyclops is the outcome of reality.
Bendis sets up the threat quite well, as well as sets up other moving parts, so that the storyline isn’t JUST the Avengers showing up at Utopia to take Hope into protective custody. There’s far more than that going on, as the Avengers send a contingent into space to try and intercept the Phoenix Force prior to its arrival on Earth, plus there’s the case of the newest Nova, who crash-lands in New York after racing to Earth to warn the Avengers of the Phoenix Force’s arrival.
The artwork by John Romita Jr. is fairly good, although I would argue that it’s not some of his best stuff. There was a period in his career where his characters were extremely large and blocky, but since his work on Amazing Spider-Man in the 2000s his characters have been far more slender, almost too much so when it comes to certain superheroes. His rendition of Cyclops is almost too slim (pun intended), and there are a few places where the artwork just feels a little rushed. The use of Scott Hanna as inker instead of Klaus Janson also gives Romita Jr.’s pages a different tone, and it may not have been the best one for this series. The artwork is enjoyable, but it’s not his best work, and considering how big this series is supposed to be, I found myself a bit underwhelmed by the artwork.
Readers who purchase copies of Avengers versus X-men #1 also get a code to download Avengers versus X-Men #1: Infinite, an all-new story only available on digital devices. The story, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Stuart Immonen, features the new Nova as he races towards Earth to deliver his ominous warning to the Avengers, before it’s too late. It flips the perspective from what you see in AvX #1, as we get Nova’s own perspective on how he arrives on Earth. Infinite Comics is a new initiative coming from Marvel, and this is the first actual release under the Infinite Comics imprint. I was sceptical when I first heard about Infinite Comics, but having now read an issue, I can see the value in it, and also see what makes it so cool. It’s not simply having a comic on a digital device, but the way in which the story is presented, and the images utilized, is unique and different from what I may have expected. There’s a great sense of pacing, as it’s almost a cinematic feel, which is helped enormously by the Immonen/Gracia artwork. Garcia’s colours are absolutely phenomenal, and truly make the artwork pop right off the screen; it’s so vivid and full of life. Immonen’s on top of his game as well, as he shows the strain on Nova as he speeds across the cosmos, trying to get to Earth in time to warn the Avengers of the Phoenix Force’s imminent arrival. The script is handled by Mark Waid, who does a fantastic job at really getting into this new Nova’s head, and characterizing this brand new character who’s doing everything he possibly can to help save his world.
I’m really interested in seeing what other future Infinite Comics releases will look and feel like, because this one just knocked it right out of the park. The actual physical comic release of Avengers vs. X-Men didn’t blow my socks off, although it had some solid moments, but Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite was a true eye-opener, and most definitely worth reading.