Marvel's big event officially takes off this week with Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.'s "Avengers vs. X-Men" #1. One of the publisher's most anticipated crossover events, this 12-part series pits X-Men against Avengers as the Phoenix force heads toward earth.
The issue is nicely written, as I've come to expect with Bendis. He has a good handle on most of the character's voices despite the large cast and his sense of humor is just funny enough that I don't care if everyone seems slightly Bendis-ized. The story moves rather effortlessly between the Avengers and the X-Men and some time is devoted to which side Wolverine is going to find himself on -- seems like Avengers, though that makes little sense to me. The Avengers mostly spend time quantifying the Phoenix force threat and working with the government, as well as saving New York City from a "minor" disaster. The X-Men story is much smaller with Cyclops training Hope and pushing her to her limits. The contrast between the two is nice and creates interesting arguments for why each team and leader feels the way they do.
The biggest stumbling block of the issue is that it's still not clear what the Avengers' position actually is. The X-Men (or at least Cyclops) clearly hopes the Phoenix force is going to possess Hope and become a powerful ally that will help get mutants back on top. Cyclops is choosing to see the Phoenix force as rebirth -- which it is. However, considering the opening pages of this issue show the Phoenix force destroying entire inhabited planets as it simply flies by, it's still also about death and so his position seems naïve at best. At least it's a clear position, weak or not.
The Avengers don't seem to have taken a position, except that they want the X-Men in line with whatever they decide. They don't suggest killing Hope to stop it (yet) but want to take her into "protective custody." I'm not sure why anyone would think either of those things would work. It's clearly laid out in the opening pages of this book that the Phoenix force can lay waste to an entire planet without inhabiting a host, so it seems only logical that allowing it to inhabit a host, as it did with Jean Grey, while problematic, might stop it from just killing everything outright on arrival.
So far the Avengers seem to think they're going to muster a force to stop this planet killer, but it seems silly that they wouldn't want the X-Men's take on things given how much more familiar they are with the threat. Considering that a big chunk of the Avengers heavy hitters spend about seven pages saving New York City from something as simple as Nova crashing through a plane above the city, I'm not sure how they think they're going to stop a planet killer. Again, this is just the first issue, so maybe this will all be fleshed out expertly with nice surprises; there is certainly time and opportunity. However, considering by the end of this book the first punch has effectively been thrown and lines have been drawn, it's starting to feel a little unlikely.
Romita's art is unfortunately a bit inconsistent. The storytelling is good and he handles the large cast very well, but there are places where the art feels very thin on detail. In fairness, there is a lot to draw and many characters to represent faithfully and for the most part Romita succeeds. But there are mistakes -- like a bizarre panel in which Cyclops shoots Hope with his optic blasts that somehow shows the mutant messiah both behind and in front of him. It's the kind of error I wouldn't expect from an artist of Romita's caliber and a book this high profile. It lends weight to the idea that these pencils may have been a bit rushed as the sometimes-skimpy details imply. The expression work on the whole is quite good though -- from Hope's varied emotions throughout to the steely determination of both Cap and Cyclops -- even down to the conflict in Wolverine. The colors from Laura Martin are quite good, appropriately bright and energized, lending much needed pop to the book.
There are a lot of quality creators involved in "Avengers Vs. X-Men," enough that I find myself intrigued even though the concept is not one I'm wild about. This first issue was a good example of the creative talent managing to rise above the concept and leaves me hopeful they'll be able to bring something even more interesting to the table as the series progresses.