"Avengers Vs. X-Men" #0 by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis and Frank Cho finally kicks off the most hotly anticipated Marvel event since "Civil War" (according to the order numbers). Can it possibly live up to the hype? Are we just glad that the hype's almost over and the story can finally begin? Is this zero issue actually the story beginning, or simply one last piece of hype?
For the jaded masses that make up the bulk of comics fandom, it's tough not to judge zero issues, preludes and prologues as anything more than gimmicks. Typically, they're used as a chance to give a story two "first" issues and are either completely disposable ("X-Men: Prelude to Schism") or deceptively essential (the "Spider-Island" prologue in "Amazing Spider-Man" #666) -- but with "AvX" #0, Marvel has found the right middle ground.
"Avengers Vs. X-Men" #0 contains two stories: one starring the Scarlet Witch with the other starring Hope Summers. Both are used to succinctly introduce the characters forming the center of the crossover, explaining who they are and their current status quos. Rather than being simple recaps, these stories also move their stars forward, offering a piece of new information or new development in their lives you can't get anywhere else. Whether you're a fresh reader or an existing fan, you should feel equally satisfied with this issue.
As two of Marvel's "architects" with fingerprints on both the Avengers and X-Men lines, Bendis and Aaron are a smart choice to get the story moving. Both are in top form, writing solid, entertaining character pieces that deliver a lot of exposition in a reasonably natural way while making us feel for the characters. We aren't simply told to feel sympathy for the Scarlet Witch or to worry about Hope -- the story gives us no choice but to do so. Even the tone is surprisingly consistent considering the two writers have such distinctive voices.
Frank Cho draws and it's probably no shock that his artwork looks fantastic. The writers ask him to draw a wide range of material, everything from emotional subtlety to widescreen action, and he handles every scene masterfully. It's clear Bendis has written his piece with Cho in mind, as it contains several prominent female characters and a gratuitous dinosaur appearance, but that's arguably a smart move: if the artist is having fun, usually the readers will as well. Again, as an introduction, the choice to use Cho works well: he's a safe pair of artistic hands whose pages look beautiful with refined and straightforward storytelling.
In fact, the one thing this issue doesn't do is actually pit the Avengers and X-Men against one another. They don't meet or even speak on the phone. We simply see the problems both are dealing with and are invited to draw our own conclusions over how that will set both families on a collision course with one another -- and why not? This is, after all, the prologue to the story. Still, if it's representative of the quality of the crossover to come, then Marvel should soon have some very happy fans on its hands. Fingers crossed, everyone!