That's what massive, intrusive blurbs on Marvel covers have been telling us for months, and now it's here. The Phoenix Force is at the centre of Marvel's big 2012 crossover, in which Earth's Mightiest Heroes fight the Children of the Atom. The prize is Hope Summers, supposed mutant messiah, the woman expected to kickstart the fortunes of Homo Superior following their decimation by a maddened Scarlet Witch.
The opening chapter gets off to a pleasingly flashy start as the cosmic entity arrives on a planet far from Earth, its bird-shaped energy signature enveloping all, erasing all. On Earth, a member of the intergalactic Nova Corps crashes down, wrecking a passenger jet and knocking the top off the Chrysler Building. The Avengers manage to save hundreds of lives in a convincing display of power. 'It's coming' is the Corpsman's only cry before passing out, but the distinctive taint of the Phoenix Force tells the Avengers what 'it' is. Captain America and Iron Man brief the President of the US on the threat level - the devastation of New York doesn't merit a mention, apparently - and assure him they're throwing their big guns at the problem, hopefully intercepting the entity before it reaches Earth.
And there you have it. Lots of sound and fury, and a great comic if you ignore one or two things.
- Such as the rewriting of Marvel history to ignore all the manifestations of the Phoenix Force since the Dark Phoenix Saga, meaning Rachel Grey, the living mutant with the most experience of the entity and a teacher at Wolverine's school, doesn't get so much as a mention.
- Such as the retcon that the Phoenix never inhabited Jean Grey, but created a duplicate body and left an injured Jean at the bottom of Jamaica Bay for months. It's back to Jean having been taken over, corrupted and killed by her own hand.
- Such as the idea that rather than simply wipe out a world, the Phoenix creates something new. Here, Cyclops plucks out of the air the notion that the Phoenix will somehow re-seed the mutant 'race' rather than raze the planet and every last person on it.
- Such as two teams who have worked together many times, and shared several members, confronting one another with super-testosterone rather than simply making a phone call and suggesting a round-table pow-wow.
- Such as the cliffhanger of the Phoenix, apparently welling within Hope - she already manifested its image and power in Avengers: X-Sanction #4. And, oh, in this very issue. Is it coming, is it here? Danged if I know, but I am at least trying to care.
I expect Marvel would say ignore these points, relax and just enjoy a blockbuster adventure, but the company crows about how, unlike DC, it's never done a big reboot of its universe. Yet here dozens of stories are wiped away, and character arcs erased. And this in an 'event' co-written by Marvel's 'Architects', the writers supposedly so much better than the rest of the company talent pool. Could the combined wit of Brian Bendis, Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and Jonathan Hickman really not give us a story using the Phoenix that acknowledges the past, without getting smothered by it?
The script is by Bendis, and it'll likely please his fans. Sure, the Avengers come across as pretty childish when not in battle, but that's Bendis' Avengers for you. His Cyclops, while a nutter, is at least in line with the more extreme end of Scott Summers' obsession-fuelled bonkersness of recent years. On the other hand, Wolverine is terribly mopey at the prospect of a Phoenix return, rather than the feisty fella we know him to be. But I do like Bendis' Captain America, he's firm but fair, withholding his sledgehammer until convinced Cyclops is a nut needing to be cracked.
John Romita Jr is a good choice for penciller, having experience drawing both the X-Men and Avengers series. The big moments, such as the Phoenix manifestations and arrival of the heli-carrier, suit his bombastic style, and the pages as a whole are decently inked by Scott Hanna. There's thought been put into the body language of Hope, and in just two panels the pair makes an alien child's recognition that the End is Nigh almost unbearably poignant.
Kudos, too, to Laura Martin for a bold colouring job, and Chris Eliopoulos for some fine lettering. A minor demerit, though, to whoever decided to letter the story title over the fold, making it look as if we're reading AVENGERS VE RSUS X-MEN,
A far bigger annoyance is the regular appearance of a distracting AR flash over the artwork. Get to the end of the book and a house ad tells us it's Marvel's way of signalling the spots at which we should direct our phones and tablets in order to experience Augmented Reality. Really? We're going to be thrown out of the story regularly in order to be reminded that there's a new technical gimmick in town?
Find another way, Marvel.
The cover by Jim Cheung uses one of comics' classic layouts, the two teams rushing one another, but it's too crowded to be effective. And it looks as if the opposite sides are having a sing-off.
All in all, this is OK so far as marketing-fuelled crossovers go, but awful if you care about Marvel continuity. And hasn't Marvel spent 50 years training us to care about such things?