(SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR "AVENGERS VS. X-MEN" #12, IN STORES NOW)
When you're a hero in the Marvel Universe, you're expected to save the world on a regular basis. Luckily, you're not expected to do it alone. Groups like the Avengers and the X-Men routinely face off against the threats that no solo hero could tackle alone, but sometimes threats arise that are too big even for one hero team to face on their own. In those "all hands on deck"-style situations, heroes must band together to prevent our world -- and many others -- from ending.
That was the case in Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert's "Avengers Vs. X-Men" #12, the final chapter in the long-running, globe-spanning epic. In the issue, the titular teams had to put aside their differences to take down the X-Men leader Cyclops, who had been transformed into the malevolent and destructive cosmic being known as Dark Phoenix. The resulting battle raged across the planet, and when it was over, the Marvel Universe had changed dramatically.
In the final installment of CBR's AVX COMMENTARY TRACK, we look at that battle and some of the other pivotal sequences in "AvX" #12, with Aaron joining us to provide commentary and inside info. Plus, in our Making Of feature we'll look at a scene that turned the tide of the story. And if that's not enough, we have a special speak peek at some of the titles spinning out the issue's final pages!
CBR News: Jason, there are a couple interesting things going on in this double-page spread. The first thing is the layout of the page. It's very interesting and dynamic, and it isn't the only sequence in the book with a unique layout. Were these layouts arranged by you, Adam, or was it a joint effort?
Jason Aaron: I don't really remember if it was Adam or me. We had worked together a few times before, and I know he likes to do big, dynamic double page spreads like that. I would never write them for him, though. He would just create them. So I'm not sure -- I may have written this one knowing he likes to do those. Working with somebody like Adam makes that easy. I'm never trying to dictate camera angles or set up shots or anything like that. That would be utterly foolish of me to do.
The second interesting thing we have in this sequence is Tony Stark announcement that he's operating on a bit of faith in the mystical and spiritual world. What's it like for him to make this kind of admission to his friends and colleagues? The way he closes his eyes when he mentions faith suggests that he's a little embarrassed or pained.
It's certainly new ground for Tony Stark. One of the things that really excited me about "AvX" was trying to meld the mythologies of these two big parts of the Marvel Universe. Mixing up the Phoenix mythology of the X-Men with the Iron Fist mythology of the Avengers was something I really liked. Then we got to put Tony Stark in the middle of that.
Whatever the answer was going to be to saving the day, it couldn't come just from the X-Men or just from the Avengers. It had to be a melding of the two. It had to be Hope, Scarlet Witch, Iron Fist and Tony Stark all mixed-up in this together.
Back in issue #5, Tony puts on a suit, shoots the Phoenix, -- and actually makes things worse. So I like the idea that he would be forced to find a completely different answer to this problem. We've seen him pushed in that direction by Black Panther, a guy who is already in that position of being a man of science and a man of faith in that he's basically the head of his own religion in his country.
In this scene, Cap is informed of just how much danger the world is in and gets to make a brief and rousing speech. It's a reminder of the stakes of the story, which had me wondering if you've ever written a story of this scope and scale before.
No, I don't think I've written any stories with this kind of scope. "X-Men: Schism" was probably the biggest story that I had previously written in a lot of different ways. I haven't written a lot of stories with this many characters involved, or this much at stake.
What's it like to write this kind of grand story where the fate of the world is at stake?
I wouldn't want to do it every month, but it's fun to play with a large cast and those kinds of stakes. I certainly had a lot of fun working on "Avengers Vs. X-Men," but something this big obviously comes with more headaches and more challenges than my normal monthly workload. It's worth it, though, to play on that grander stage.
To borrow a sports metaphor, for a football fan like you, this was sort of like playing in the Super Bowl.
[Laughs] I guess so, yeah, or at least going far into the playoffs.
Here we get a real good sense of how global the threat of Dark Phoenix is. We see heroes reacting to a worldwide crisis, but we've also got a fight that's gone global, too. What made you choose the world as your arena for this final battle between Cyclops and the Avengers and X-Men instead of focusing on one locale?
It makes it bigger, in one sense. We've got so many characters on stage at this point, it would seem a little ridiculous to see them all standing around trying to fight one guy. Being able to break up that cast a little bit and show that the world is really at stake here and is blowing up right before our eyes is nice. We began with the Avengers fighting X-Men in the first few issues of the story, and here we see different pairings of X-Men and Avengers around the world trying to save the day. I liked that as a bookend.
In this double-page spread, you get to have a brief bit of fun with the new Nova. What was it like writing him?
It was fun. Nova makes a small appearance, but it's an important scene, and he gets another significant scene at the end of the issue.
I like the character and Nova is a good entry point into this world. I'm looking forward to see where that character goes from here. We don't really know much about him just from this story. This is a different guy. He's not the Nova we know from the past, and he seems to be a pretty young guy, but obviously he's not afraid to jump right in there with the big boys. I would expect big things from Nova, coming up.
Cyclops experiences a brief moment of clarity and asks to be killed. What brought on this moment? Is this Scott trying to reassert his will over the Phoenix?
Yeah. I didn't want Scott to get lost and become this completely unsympathetic and unrelatable madman. He's still the same Scott Summers. We saw Jean Grey fight back when she became Dark Phoenix and beg Wolverine to kill her; this is that same sort of moment with Scott.
Here we've got a scene where I don't think you'll want to say definitively what's happening, but what are some ways of interpreting what's going on here with the vision of a fiery woman that apparently causes Scott to let go of the Phoenix?
Well, either it's Jean Grey or it's not Jean Grey. I'm not going to say one way or the other. He sees Jean, or maybe he sees Hope? Who knows? Some things are best left ambiguous.
Absolutely. My take was he either saw Jean, a construct of his memories of Jean, or perhaps it was even the Phoenix itself realizing that it might have gone wrong and it's appearing as Jean to convince him to let go of the power?
Sure, it could be any of those. The stories I like to read are the ones that don't have easy answers and don't lead you by the hand. There were no right or wrong answers. It was up to you.
This is an interesting conversation between the Scarlet Witch and the Phoenix-empowered Hope. What does it mean for Wanda Maximoff to have this moment with Hope and talk her down from the ledge of ultimate power?
Those two characters were always at the heart of things whenever we talked about "AvX." Several months ago, we did a #0 issue focusing on Hope and Wanda. They are characters who have been through a lot and still have something to prove. Wanda, in a lot of people's eyes, still needs to make up for what happened with "House of M." Hope, of course, was still looking for her destiny.
So I like that those two arcs come crashing together here in the heat of battle. We see Wanda step forward and we see, that because of everything she had been through, she was the one person who could convince Hope to make the right decision -- and Hope was the only person who could make this decision.
Does this help relieve Wanda of any of the guilt she felt over "House of M?"
I think so, but that doesn't necessarily mean everyone else is going to see it that way. The mutants of the Marvel Universe certainly aren't going to embrace her with open arms.
For me, this is an end of an arc that started way back in "House of M." It should be obvious when we start to see the blips pop up later in the issue.
In this scene, is it just Hope rejecting ultimate power, or is Wanda giving up some of her power as well?
No, I don't think Wanda is giving away any power here, as far as I'm concerned. Somebody could write things differently. It's the two of them holding hands and sending that Phoenix power off with words that obviously echo Wanda's utterance of "No more mutants" from back in the day.
It's the Phoenix power that's blasting out and reigniting the mutant race, which was the whole reason Hope was born in the first place. She was born in that explosion of energy. On the first page of this issue, I break down something we had always talked about internally, but I'm not sure it had been represented in a story; how Hope and Wanda were connected.
When Wanda said, "No more mutants," the Phoenix Force countered with, "More mutants," and Hope was born. She grew up a mutant messiah and was heralded as the rebirth of the mutant race. There was this idea that these two opposing forces were battling each other, via their representatives in the form of Wanda and Hope.
The Cuckoos discover what the Phoenix Force did as more and more mutants are being activated. As one of the chief X-Men writers, why bring back mutants in a big way like this?
We talked about a lot of different things. This seemed the most natural and, really, the fulfillment of everything Hope was supposed to do. Of course, it's also an ending that echoes all the way back to "House of M," where this entire story really started.
That doesn't mean that you'll pick up an X-Men book the month after this and there's going to be hundreds of new mutants running around. We're not looking to splurge and overload the X-Men universe with new characters. We'll be very precise and methodical about the new characters that we do roll out.
I think it's been fun to chart this course for the X-Men, where they stood on the brink of extinction. But there's always something missing from X-Men and mutant stories if we can't do the stories where new characters pop up. We've had very few of them over the course of the last few years, so it's fun to get back to that where we're occasionally able to bring in a new mutant.
So we're not seeing the mutant population suddenly increase to the size it was before M-Day?
No. We're being much more careful. We're not going to introduce a bunch of new character in one fell swoop.
I assume that, as the writer of an X-book revolving around a school, the activation of this many mutants has immediate repercussions for your book, "Wolverine & the X-Men."
Most definitely. The young girl we see in "AvX" #12 who suddenly grows wings will show up very soon in the pages of "Wolverine & the X-Men." In our first couple of issues post-"AvX," we'll start to deal with some of these new characters.
I forget the exact issue number, but Steven Sanders draws an issue of "Wolverine & the X-Men" focusing on Angel that introduces another brand-new female mutant. We'll come out of "AvX" with about three or four new brand-new mutants that I'll add to the cast.
Going forward, Wolverine has set himself up as the head of the pre-eminent mutant school in the world. Now you've got more mutants popping up worldwide, so he's very involved in this. He's going to go out and try to recruit new mutants, but of course they're not going to be the only people looking to do that.
A lot happens on this page, so let's start with the conversation between Cyclops and Captain America, which starts to wrap up in the top panel here. What exactly was Cyclops saying in that conversation? Because it sounded like, "I'm sorry for the death and destruction I caused. I take full responsibility for that -- but ultimately it was worth it."
I think you could argue different sides of the conversation that they're having, which is the whole point. I didn't want the answers to be easy. Coming out of this issue, I think you can see that there are no clear winners and losers.
In some sense, Cyclops has murdered the man who was like a father to him. Now he's sitting in jail, so he would seem to be the loser -- but he's also got a point in that he was right about Hope. He obviously took some missteps along the way, but he got what he wanted. The whole point all along was to bring mutants back from the brink of extinction, and that happened. Not exactly in the way he envisioned it or wanted it to happen, but it happened. There's that last line of the book about how the Phoenix is a cycle of destruction and rebirth, but before you can get to the rebirth, you've got to have the destruction. "AvX" certainly had plenty of both.
From Cap's perspective, if Cyclops is the loser, then he should feel like the winner. Cap also takes some responsibility for what has happened, though. It's not just finger-pointing at Cyclops. Certainly there is some of that. He realizes, though, that he's partly to blame for how this turned out as well.
This was a big war story, and in my mind if you do one of those, there shouldn't be easy answers. You could make arguments for either side in this situation, and that's kind of the point.
I think Scott is being very sincere in what he's saying here. Certainly he's made some mistakes, but in his eyes, in the grander scheme of things, it was worth it.
After that panel, you cut to Storm and Black Panther, and it appears that for them, the wounds of "AvX" are still very raw. Are they in Wakanda in this scene?
Yes, they're in Wakanda. Their whole situation will be partly addressed in "AvX: Consequences," the Kieron Gillen miniseries that starts after "AvX." Then, Storm is becoming a part of "Wolverine & the X-Men," so we'll see her there. As you can imagine though, after Namor destroyed most of Wakanda, mutants aren't very popular there right now. And on top of that, we have everything that's gone on between Storm and Black Panther.
Speaking of which, clearly there's a bit of anger on his side, but I'm curious about Storm. Is she angry with the Panther at all? Or is she more upset and frustrated? Who does she blame for their situation?
Anytime you're in a relationship that falls apart, there's always anger, hurt and you probably blame both yourself and the other person. Just like how we were talking about with war, when love falls apart, there shouldn't be any easy answers. There's a lot of blame to go around, here. They're both to blame, and so is the situation. Wakanda being attacked by Namor had huge ramifications for their marriage. They were forced apart by a lot of different factors, and that's something we'll continue to explore going forward.
I also want to talk about the reaction shot with Cap, here. What bothers him the most about this conversation with Cyclops? What he feels Cyclops became or how everything happened?
He's bothered by all of it. I think for Cap in particular, he's thinking about what he could have done and what he should have done. He feels like he should have done more to stop this from happening in the first place, which leads us into Rick Remender's "Uncanny Avengers" series.
Cap is perfectly justified in saying what he says here, and I think Cyclops is justified in some sense for thinking it is a win. If you're leading your people to the Promised Land, not all of them may get there. Scott was always willing to be the one. He was fine with getting everyone else there, even if he didn't make it. Unfortunately, it was actually Xavier who didn't make it
Finally, in the bottom panels there's a newscast on in the background. The newscaster looks a lot like Adam's late father, the legendary Joe Kubert. Is that a deliberate homage?
I would guess so. It certainly does look like Joe, and I certainly want to mention the job Adam did to finish this issue. His father died right in the midst of this. The true professional he is he plowed through and did an amazing job. I think he did amazing stuff on all his issues, but he certainly deserves huge credit for finishing this series in such a fantastic way while going through such a hard time personally.
AARON'S FINAL THOUGHTS ON "AVX" #12
We talked a little bit earlier about writing a story of this scope and scale, but I'm curious what was it like writing this issue as the anchor leg of a writer relay team?
There certainly was a lot of pressure to tie everything up and put a bow on it. I was happy to do it though. I had a lot of fun writing this issue. One thing that we always talked about was that we were setting up a lot of big dominoes and the story needed to end. I had to bring some of these arcs to a resolution. I always wanted this issue to feel like it had a real ending.
You certainly want to lead into and tease some of the stuff that's coming after and you get some of that in that last scene. Hopefully it does feel like an ending to not just to "AvX," but a lot of the stuff that's gone on with Hope and the X-Men universe for years, as well as the stuff from the Avengers side of the fence, which goes all the way back to "House of M."
That kind of clears the deck for some of these characters. So now we can watch them go in an all new direction.
Were there any scenes you had to cut from the script because you couldn't fit them in?
I think I managed to cram in everything. Certainly, if I had another 12 pages we could have more of the big fight scenes and more of Hope as the Phoenix. I did like the idea that after all this build up, after she's waited so long and been told it's her destiny to become the Phoenix, ultimately she only does it for five minutes. That was the whole point. She was the only person who could be the Phoenix for five minutes. She was the person with the strength to do what needed to be done.
This series was a long, crazy, ride, but it was a lot of fun. I'm grateful to the fans and retailers who supported it, and I've never been more excited about working with Marvel than I am right now. I think coming out of "AvX" and moving into Marvel NOW!, it's a real exciting time to be at Marvel. These last few retreats we've had where we all sit around and talk about our new books have been amazing. I've never been more anxious to get home and get back to work than I have after those retreats. I'm looking forward to a solid winter and moving into next year.
AARON LOOKS AHEAD TO THE MARVEL NOW! ERA WHICH BEGINS ON OCTOBER 10 WITH THE RELEASE OF "UNCANNY AVENGERS" #1, AND "AVX: CONSEQUENCES" #1, WHICH ALSO HITS STORES OCTOBER 10
Obviously, this has big ramifications for the X-Men Universe. We'll see that play out in "AvX: Consequences" and how it leads into what we'll be doing in "Wolverine & the X-Men," Brian Bendis' "All-New X-Men" and of course "Uncanny Avengers."
Plus, we'll see the place that Tony Stark is at play out in "Iron Man." Nova is obviously a character of note. So I would expect to see him popping up soon. I think everybody knows he's in the "Marvel NOW! Point One" issue coming up. So there's big things happening for all these characters.
That includes Hope. We'll see more of her going forward as well. She's done the thing she trained her whole life for. So what's next? I think that's a big question and I'm excited to see where it leads her.
For our final making of feature, we're going to look at a scene that helped turn the tide of the battle against Dark Phoenix and change the direction of the Marvel Universe. Readers will have to decide themselves what exactly Scott Summers saw, but here we look at how his vision of a fiery red headed woman came together at the script, pencils, and inks stages.
Cyclops explodes with Phoenix fire. Volcanoes erupt from the ground all around them.
Tight on Cyclops. He’s enraged and mindless, like a rampaging Hulk. There’s nothing but fire all around him.
DARK PHOENIX: GGGGRRRRGGHHH!!!
VOICE (from off): Scott…
A figure is coming toward him through the fire, the figure of a woman.
FIGURE: Scott, this has to stop.
DARK PHOENIX: Hhggh?
FIGURE: Scott, please.
We glimpse the figure emerging from the fire. She has red hair. Cyclops becomes himself again, dropping his guard, staring at her, wide-eyed.
FIGURE: It’s all right. I’m here now.
CYCLOPS (small text): Jean?
FIGURE: It’s time now. It’s time to let go.
Scott is beginning to cry as the red-headed woman comes toward him. We don’t see her face. It’s just the figure of a red-headed lady.
CYCLOPS: Jean, I…
FIGURE: I promise… it doesn’t hurt.