Wednesday, October 3, 2012

AVENGERS vs. X-MEN #12 of 12

(W) Jason Aaron
(P) Adam Kubert
(I) John Dell, Mark Morales, and Adam Kubert

So that's it. Avengers vs. X-Men finally comes to a close after six months of nearly non-stop melodrama, crazy battles, cosmic death gods, and general mayhem. And while the event - as a whole - had its missteps along the way, it managed to right the boat and finish strong with Scott Summers' ascension as the new Dark Phoenix, the death of Charles Xavier, and the incredible new developments contained in the pages of Avengers vs. X-Men #12.

It's do or die time at the opening of the issue: Cyclops has totally flown the coop and has become the Dark Phoenix, corrupted by absolute power. Flash back 72 hours, and Tony Stark is giving one of the most candid (yet still somehow snarky) speeches of his life because he finally doesn't know what to do. Science, in all it's know forms and manipulations, has failed, and now the Iron Man cites 'faith' as the next step for the Avengers. I'm usually critical of religious overtones bleeding into mainstream comics, mostly because it's often done clumsily and awkwardly, but Jason Aaron's decision to give THE man of science a sense of belief in a higher power is spot on. The Avengers have been waging a literal war against a cosmic god (in whichever of it's forms) with no real plan, no way of actually knowing what they're doing, of if it will work at all. In a world where a mortal man (however evolved) can make decisions that could literally change the face of the planet, faith doesn't seem like such a nonsensical idea. But is it Tony's faith in his plan? Or his faith in Hope Summers and Wanda Maximoff? Perhaps it's faith in faith itself.

The first big moment of the issue is when Hope and Wanda attack Dark Phoenix directly. Wanda's chaos magic is the only thing that can harm the Phoenix, and Hope can mimic that power, meaning that for the first time since the Phoenix came back to Earth, the Avengers have a fighting chance. Soon, Scott breaks through the Phoenix power, begging the Avengers to kill him before he's consumed once again. It doesn't happen, and the Scarlet Witch and Mutant Messiah go H.A.M. on Dark Phoenix until it leaves Scott. Of course, it immediately sets its sights on Hope. For the short amount of time Hope wields the Phoenix force, she undoes all that Cyclops has done to ravage the world, setting out fires, calming volcanoes, extinguishing the ocean, and generally making sure the entirety of humanity wasn't swallowed by it's own planet. It's remarkable, even in it's inevitability. This is when the second big moment hits.

Hope is in full control: she's seen what the Phoenix is capable of in the wrong hands, and with the life she's had, Hope understands the need to keep the power of a death god on a tight leash. "No. That wasn't why you were chosen," explains Wanda. "It's because you're the only one with the strength to let it go." Hope's destiny, ironically, is completely shaped by the events of Avengers vs. X-Men, as opposed to being the cause or the result of. Without seeing what the Phoenix could actually do when it's host is corrupted, Hope would never have had the strength or the wisdom to withstand the power. In the end, she let's the Phoenix force go. Then, as the fire bird dissipates into space, Hope and Wanda take things one step further. They send the bits and pieces of the Phoenix down to Earth and use it to create new mutants all over the globe.

While I usually see these things coming, I'll admit I was taken aback by "No More Phoenix". It shocked me before it made complete sense: Avengers vs. X-Men is the bookend to an era at Marvel that began with House of M when Wanda declared "No More Mutants", decimating the homo-superior population down to less than 200. And while I seriously enjoyed this issue from beginning to end, I felt a bit unsatisfied by the event as a whole.

My main issue with Avengers vs. X-Men - one I've had since it started - is that the Avengers are the real bad guys here, and no one wants to admit it. What if the Phoenix Five were right? What if Captain America had just laid off a little bit, watched what happened with unbiased eyes, and seen the beauty that came from the power of the Phoenix? Instead, Marvel was content with making Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Namor, and Magik all out to be mastermind criminals who simply decided that they would become dictators. Nowhere is there underlying subtext that hints at the Avengers being the symbolic destructive force that unleashed the literal destructive force.

If Marvel had made more of an effort to include layered meanings throughout Avengers vs. X-Men, the entire event would have been damn near perfect. In reality, it's still one of the best crossovers of the past decade, but without more than surface-layer meanings and forced misunderstandings, everything just seems silly in the end. But I try not to think like this. I try to see this story for what it was; a narrative intended to bring years of resentment and anger to a close with a conflict that tore them apart, both literally and symbolically.


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