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Avengers vs. X-Men #6

Review by Paul Bowler

 

Still believing that she would be able to control the Phoenix Force, Hope Summers enlisted Wolverine’s help to steal a rocket and intercept the cosmic entity on the blue area of the moon before it reaches Earth. Hope is horrified to find the Avengers already waiting for her on the lunar surface, and is even more shocked to learn that it was Wolverine who betrayed her. Fortunately Emma Frost has telepathically intercepted Wolverine’s intentions with Cerebra, allowing Cyclops and the Extinction Team to teleport and intercept the Avengers on the moon before they can take Hope into custody.

As the Avengers and X-Men slug it out, Iron Man flies into the path of the Phoenix Force in his gigantic Phoenix Killer battle suit, unleashing a volley of powerful disruptor beams that seemingly disperse the Phoenix energies – sending a devastating shockwave over the blue area of the moon that brings the conflict between the two teams to an abrupt end. The Avengers regroup and are horrified to see that the Phoenix Force has somehow been fragmented by Iron Man’s super weapon, and that Cyclops, Magik, Colossus, Namor, and Emma Frost are now possessed with the cosmic energies of the Phoenix itself! The Avengers can offer no resistance and are forced to watch helplessly as the Extinction Team take Hope and fly back to Earth.

The second act of Avengers vs. X-Men begins in earnest as writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Olivier Coipel take the helm of AvX #6, picking up the story some 10 days after the Extinction Team (Or Phoenix Five as they are now known) have returned to Earth. Having rebuilt Utopia as a vast gleaming metropolis, Cyclops, Emma, Namor, Colossus, and Magik have now used the vast power of the Phoenix at their disposal to change the world at will: removing famine and drought from the Horn of Africa and the Taymya Peninsula, drawing new springs of water up from the Aleutian Trench to end water shortages and irrigate crops, and even harnessing a clean and limitless power source in the Gobi Desert to provide free energy for the whole world.

Professor X arrives by shuttle craft at Utopia and is greeted by Magneto. Together they stand in awe of what their former students have created, before Xavier meets with Cyclops to discuss the effects of his actions. The Professor is astounded by what Cyclops and his X-Men have done, he does his best to try and make Scott see how the actions of the Phoenix Five have robbed humanity of its right to choose its own destiny – but he is rebuked by Cyclops who states that what they have done is merely strived to make Xavier’s lifelong dream a reality.

We join the Avengers some days later at Avengers Tower were Captain America receives a communiqué from Iron Fist and his team, who have just been dispatched to deal with The Electric Legion in Helsinki. However, the conflict they were engaged in abruptly cease when Colossus suddenly teleports in from a Siege Courageous and stops the battle by using an electric language to persuade the Legion to function as a power grid for Eastern Europe. Resigned to the Mutants relentless interference in global affairs, Captain America meets with Iron Man, Beast, Wolverine, and the Black Panther to formulate a plan of action. Logan naturally favours a more proactive approach, but Iron Man is reluctant to use the Phoenix Killer again in case it divides the Phoenix Force into even more Mutants. Sickened by what he hears his fellow Avengers planning, the Beast walks out of the meeting in disgust, suddenly no longer sure whether he wants a place on either team anymore.

As Hope struggles to come to terms with her rejection of the Phoenix Force, and the growing alienation Cyclops seems to have towards her, she begins to realise that there can be no reasoning with the Phoenix Five and their desire to reshape the world into a global Utopia. Meanwhile in Kun Lin, Lei Kung demands to see The Book of the Fallen. The elderly keeper brings him the ancient volume, and reads out a transcript of a much earlier account of the Phoenix Force: one where the Crimson Hand and the Iron Fist repelled the Phoenix of Life and Death.

The Avengers meet with the President at the White House after the Phoenix Five have stripped the world of its weapons and appeared before the United Nations; declaring that no more war or violence will be tolerated towards mutant or mankind, and that the world is now Pax Utopia. In a last-ditch attempt to restore some semblance of control, the Avengers make a covert attack on Utopia to capture Hope, but Cyclops and Emma Frost easily fend them off – making short work of even Thor and Iron Man. It is at this moment that the Scarlet Witch enters the fray – having witnessed a vision of the Phoenix vaporizing the original Avengers in the past – teleporting in to whisk Hope and The Avengers to safety. Hope says she wants to leave as Cyclops attempts to stop them by grabbing the Scarlet Witch, but he recoils in pain when his hand burns as he touches Wanda’s arm. The Scarlet Witch teleports everyone away as Cyclops realizes humanity will never accept them; coldly stating that it is time for change: “No more Avengers…”

Writer Jonathan Hickman opens the second act of Avengers vs. X-Men with a character driven opus that perfectly captures the tenuous state of unease that now stands between the people of the world and the Phoenix Five. In the space of a few short weeks Captain America and his fellow Avengers have had to stand idly by and watch as the Phoenix Five imposes its will upon the world. After five issues of relentless combat Hickman really begins to get to the core of the story, placing the characters front and centre, and making us hang on their every word as the global situation grows steadily worse.

One of my favourite scenes this issue is when Hope confronts Cyclops in Utopia. Although Scott says she is free to leave at any time, Hope tries to get him to see reason, that the Phoenix is a force that he can never hope to ever control. Cyclops then seems to taunt Hope with the Phoenix Force, tempting her with its vast power, only to cite her rejection of the cosmic entity as the reason why he deems her unworthy of claiming her birthright. Having been at the centre of the story for so long Hope now finds herself an outcast by those who sought to protect her, leaving her increasingly isolated, and perhaps even a little afraid for her own safety. It’s a marvellously understated scene, one that causes Hope to reassess her role, and which culminates with the young mutant seizing her chance to escape with the Avengers when the Scarlet Witch intervenes.

This issue also delves deep into the legends foretold by the Book of the Fallen. These long-lost legends give significant credence to the reasons why Iron First’s hands burn when he is near any member of the Phoenix Five, and the fact that Cyclops was unable to touch the Scarlet Witch without burning his own hand. Not the most subtle of plot devices I’ll grant you, but with it Hickman further fires the imagination when Wanda has a vision of the original Avengers being destroyed by the Phoenix – an act that Cyclops vows to make a terrifying reality.

For many John Romita Jr‘s artwork has been something of a deal breaker when it comes to Avengers vs. X-Men. Personally I have really enjoyed Romita’s run on AvX, but I think there will be a lot of people who will welcome Olivier Coipel debut on the series. Copiel effortlessly captures the majesty of the gleaming towers of Utopia and the worldwide scope of Pax Utopia. Laura Martin’s colours and Mark Morales inks are a perfect match for Copiel’s work, easily lifting the artwork in this issue of AvX to a whole new level of excellence.

Avengers vs. X-Men #6 delivers a fantastic new direction for the series, giving the characters a fresh impetus, and allows the plot to take some time out to deal with individual stories on a more personal and emotional level.

If that wasn’t enough Avengers & X-Men action for you, the digital version of AvX #6 includes Avengers vs. X-Men Infinites #6 In a Handful of Dust – a brand new tie-in that utilises the full potential of the digital medium. This small, yet insightful little tale by Mark Waid, Yves Bigerel, and Carlo Barberi shows the difficulties Cyclops encounters as he tries to block out the thoughts and feelings of everyone in Utopia. Struggling to screen out the bustling community, Cyclops makes in impromptu visit to the blue area of the Moon, wandering aimlessly until he finds himself in the ruins of the ancient alien city where his first love, Jean Grey, sacrificed her life to prevent herself reverting to Dark Phoenix.

Scott uses the Phoenix Force to recreate Jean’s essence from his own psyche, animating the moon dust where she fell into a physical construct, and together they discuss the true nature of the Phoenix. This story might also give credence to the much rumoured return of Jean Grey herself, as she, more than anyone, understands the true nature of the Phoenix. In a Handful of Dust is a wonderful aside to the overall story, offering a rare chance for Cyclops to cast off the shackles of leadership and express his innermost feelings, as well as providing a showcase for this new format – and enhancing the story with understated flourishes of animation.

Avengers vs. X-Men #6 is by far the best issue in this series to date. The story really seems to be evolving into something much bigger than its original premise, add to this the extra value offer by Infinites #6 and you have a first class package that is shaping up to be one of Marvels best crossover events in recent years.

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