So, here we go. Marvel's 2012 event has begun with the arrival of the hotly anticipated Avengers vs. X-Men #1 (if you don't count AvX #0). The story has five credited writers – Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction – and Bendis is scripting this first issue, with art from John Romita Jr. in that 'you either like it or you don't' style of his (and it should be noted that in general, I like it, and in specific, not always). Will this be an issue of too many cooks spoiling the broth, or will it be the humdinger we've all been waiting for after last year's unpleasantly turgid and sprawling Fear Itself?
Well, the jury is still out.
We open with the Phoenix destroying a world – something similar to what we saw in Marvel Point One, although this time it just kills nameless innocent aliens instead of Terrax The Tamer. Then we see Nova, fresh off his "epic fail" to save Terrax's planet from complete death and rebirth, crash-landing on Earth, while the Avengers scramble to save the airplane and the Chrysler Building he destroyed on his way to impact. This is likely not Richard Rider, who was dead last time we saw him, but Sam Alexander, a character they coincidentally just introduced on the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon show. Either way, he just says "it's coming" and drops into a coma.
Cut to Utopia, home of the X-Men, where Cyclops is being a psychotic drill sergeant to Hope Summers, who everybody believes is the next host of the Phoenix Force, but nobody ever TELLS her about this, which is part of why the jury is still out on this whole exercise, as we're once again having characters make choices that don't make any sense in order to force this conflict into being. We'll get more of that later. Then, Hope reacts with anger and frustration at Cyke's relentless demeanor, and then flares up with the Phoenix Force. Although it seems like the first time to her, which it's NOT, for anyone who read Avengers: X-Sanction #4. But this IS Bendis we're talking about. He does not enjoy continuity, past or present.
Cut back to Captain America and Iron Man informing the President of the United States about the impening Phoenix Force threat – which Tony Stark has figured out, and which they've apparently been on the lookout for since "The Jean Grey Incident." As if there's only been one. It seems to be intimated throughout this book that The Dark Phoenix Saga was the last time the Phoenix has been heard from, which I'm sure is ignoring a goodly number of X-Men stories that have happened in the last 20 years since – those Phoenix: Warsong and Endsong stories come to mind. But again, continuity is a shackle, and big event books only want the bullet points. Not worth getting clenched up about. Anyway, Hope's flare-up registers on Iron Man's Big Flaming Space Bird-O-Meter, and it soon comes time for a face-to-face between the two teams. Not, however, before Cap makes a pitstop at The Jean Grey School of Higher Learning, where Wolverine mopes about the past, about how Cyke will be nursing a grudge over this thing and will have an agenda about it. Then we see how conflicted the ol' Canucklehead is, unable to answer whether or not Cap will be able to count on him.
Then, Cap goes to Utopia, and still no one is telling Hope what the deal is. Sure, they're probably trying to spare her from having to learn the Terrible Secret of Space, being a teenage girl and what-not, but it feels like A Dumb Thing.
The crux of the disagreement is that Cap wants to take Hope into protective custody (which feels kind of stupid, because she already IS in protective custody of the X-Men, so why not just try to work with them?), while Cyke wants to handle mutant issues among mutants and, perhaps surprisingly, he seems to think there's something to the 'rebirth' angle of the cosmic force that killed his wife, and maybe Hope hosting the thing can jumpstart the nearly-extinct mutantkind again. Cap wants to stop the Phoenix from killing the whole Earth, Cyke wants to risk trying to harness it for the good of his people. And Cyke is the jerkwad that decides Cap is a jerk and has always been a jerk he would rather shoot than talk to. Out of relatively nowhere. Then the Avengers Assemble, and it looks like #2 will be The Frisco Fracas.
Again. It feels forced. How do we get our two big superteams to fight for 12 goddamn issues when they're supposed to be the good guys who only fight when fought? Make them dumb enough to get into a pissing contest when the fate of the world is at stake. Cyke says "where were you for us? For the mutants? Except now when you need something?" Does the damn Civil War ring a bell? How about the fact that he was DEAD until recently? And his response to "we need to figure out a way to stop it" is "get the hell off my island." So. Damn. Forced.
But who cares, right? Fans always want to see who would win these big fights between various superheroes, and now they're going to get 12 issues of nothing but fisticuffs and snikt-bubs, and it should be reasonably fun. Never mind the fact that, just like in Civil War, you can't help but watch all the good guys punching each other while bad guys go unchecked and just shake your head at your favorite characters behaving like idiotic children – a point made well in Avengers: The Children's Crusade, when the children were more mature than the adults. But as we saw in AvX #0, it's debatable whether or not Bendis read that book. And, to be fair, its crazy, erratic publishing schedule made it hard for anyone to read that book.
Anyway, the fight has started, and if you're a fan of big crazy fights, you'll enjoy the heck out of this. There's always the chance the motivations will become more clear and reasonable as the story wears on (and the fact that Emma Frost tries to tell Scott it's Hope's decision and he hastily overrules her might seem to indicate that the rest of the X-squad isn't on board with Cyke's hardline stand), so the rest of us will hold out hope for that, and just enjoy the action in the meantime.
Avengers, assemble. To me, my X-Men. Zapt. Snikt. Klangg. Yee-haw!