What happens when two of the greatest teams in comic book history clash? You get Avengers vs X-Men! In a storyline to remember, Marvel pits the two iconic teams against each other as the fate of mankind hangs in the balance.
The story revolves around the Phoenix Force (a cosmic energy that once possessed Jean Grey of the X-Men and caused her to go evil before she died) returning to Earth to seemingly seek a new host. Both the X-Men and the Avengers believe that this new host will be Hope Summers, a young woman who is seen by many as being a ‘Mutant Messiah’ due to her being the only mutant born after the Scarlet Witch lost control of her powers and reduced the mutant population to near extinction levels. Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, wishes to keep Hope safe in his custody and train her for her destiny of accepting the Phoenix and bringing about a great rebirth. Fearing the Phoenix’s power, the Avengers confront Cyclops in an attempt to take Hope into their custody, thus leading to an inevitable clash.
Lines are drawn in the sand as rivals, teammates and even families face each other for what they believe to be the moral high ground. The Avengers team boasts perhaps one of the largest rosters they’ve ever had including Nova, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, The Thing and even Wolverine and Beast who are former members of the X-Men. Meanwhile, Hope’s powers begin to intensify as the Phoenix Force draws closer to Earth, leading Wolverine to believe that the only action to take is a lethal one. This is a great portrayal of Wolverine’s character as it shows that even in a battle amongst two teams he has personal connections with, he still maintains an objective view and is able to make hard decisions, even if they are drastic. Hope’s power proves too much for Wolverine to overcome however, and she manages to slip the grasp of both teams.
Later on, Hope manages to find Wolverine and convinces him to hold off on trying to kill her unless the power becomes too much for her to handle and he agrees to also help her evade the two groups that are pursuing her. Eventually, all three parties end up on the moon, ready to confront the Phoenix Force before it reaches Earth. As a clear demonstration of the Phoenix’s power, it manages to not only bulldoze its way through Thor (a hero often referred to as ‘The most powerful of the Avengers’), but it survives a blast from a custom made suit from Iron Man, resulting in the Phoenix Force splitting into five pieces of energy. Rather than being absorbed by Hope as everyone assumed, the power of the Phoenix is absorbed by Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik.
Within days of receiving the power, the Phoenix Five set about changing the world for the better. They begin setting up renewable sources of energy, bringing life to uninhabitable parts of the planet and even providing food for people who need it. An interesting moral dilemma is presented to the Avengers and the rest of the world as they begin to debate whether or not they should do anything to stop the X-Men. Whilst it’s true that they are making the Earth a better place, they are still acting without accountability and possess a power that could prove to be unstable in the future. Realising that they need to stop them, the Avengers mobilise to attack the X-Men at their headquarters so that they can bring Hope back with them and study her to better understand the Phoenix Force. This results in a brutal retaliation by the Phoenix Five as they attack Wakanda and start taking Avengers members prisoner. The story does well to drive home the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Charles Xavier, the man who founded the X-Men, eventually voices his disgust at what Cyclops has gotten up to. This makes for an interesting perspective as up until this point in the story Magneto, a long time enemy of the X-Men, has been on Cyclops’ side but even he sees that the Phoenix Five has gone too far and reaches out to Charles for aid. The fact that Cyclops’ actions have pushed away two pioneers of the mutant rights movement should be enough of an indication to prove he is on the wrong track but he fails to heed this warning. The point is reinforced further in what is arguably the most shocking element of the story: the death of Charles at the hands of Cyclops!
Hope is taken to the mystical land of K’un Lun, the birthplace of kung fu. Here, Iron Man discovers that the key to stopping the Phoenix lies within the powers of Hope and the Scarlet Witch. In an interesting twist, the writers of the book chose Iron Man to bridge the gap between science and mysticism. Given his fascination with technology and the future, this is a nice piece of character development to see in him without completely overhauling everything he stands for. With this new information in mind, The Immortal Iron Fist sets about training Hope to channel her power in the same way that he does.
Over the course of the book’s events, Cyclops has come to obtain the full power of the Phoenix Force and transforms into Dark Phoenix! His new power brings about catastrophic events across the planet including meteors, tidal waves and earthquakes. Whilst the rest of the Avengers and X-Men prove ineffective against him, the combined powers of Scarlet Witch and Hope succeed in knocking the Phoenix Force out of him. However, with nowhere else to go, the Phoenix Force flies straight into Hope, as everyone originally assumed it would. With the help of the Scarlet Witch, Hope maintains her focus and disperses the power of the Phoenix Force. This causes strands of energy to fly around the world and cause a spontaneous increase in the mutant population, thus fulfilling the rebirth that the X-Men had come to expect!
I really enjoyed this story. The action scenes live up to what one would expect from a story of this magnitude and the writers did a good job of keeping the tension from beginning to end. Whilst there is a resolution, it is clear that there are still consequences for the characters to deal with on an interpersonal level which adds an extra layer of reality to the story.