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ComicsAlliance Vs. AvX Round Eleven: Charles In Charge

This is the eleventh and penultimate installment of ComicsAlliance Vs. AvX, our unofficial scorecard for Marvel’s big summer publishing event, Avengers Vs. X-Men. This issue we welcome back writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Olivier Coipel, the same creative team that started much of this madness with House of M all the way back in 2005.

The story so far: The Phoenix Force was coming back and Cyclops said, “Yay, this will fix everything,” and Captain America said, “Boo, this will destroy everything.” The Avengers stole Hope, the Phoenix host, from the X-Men and disrupted the Phoenix’s arrival, forcing it to split its power between five X-Men. They used that power to repair the world, but with great power comes great crazy-crazy. Namor, Colossus and Illyana were stripped of their power, leaving Emma Frost and Cyclops at the top of the crazy god food chain. Now the X-Men and the Avengers have joined forces to bring them down.

Round eleven! Are you ready, Steve? Uh-huh. Tony? Yeah. Chuck? Okay. Well all right, fellas! Let’s go!

Avengers Vs. X-Men #11
Story: Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin

Opening Score: Avengers 241 / X-Men 170

Brian Bendis has been the architect of the Avengers side of the Marvel Universe for the better part of a decade now, and with AvX he’s essentially handing over the reins of that book so he can take on the new flagship X-Men title, All-New X-Men.

Of course, his favorite thing to do on the Avengers book was to make a big hullabaloo about collecting new Avengers even if he didn’t have stories he wanted to tell about them, so it’s fitting that he gets one last shot at that, as this issue opens with Captain America approaching the Hulk and saying, “Look, you’re in the movie. We really need you in the main Avengers title or people coming in to stores are going to be confused and might accidentally pick up Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld. Do me a solid, bro.”

Part of Cap’s pitch to the Hulk is that he’ll join because of “our history together.” Hulk does not at this point look over Cap’s shoulder at Iron Man and say, “You mean the history where that guy put me in a rocket ship and fired me into space?” He’d be fully entitled to bring that up. In fact all the Avengers in the Illuminati voted in favor of Hulk’s exile, while all the X-Men in the Illuminati voted no or were absent. So, yeah, the Avengers totally seem like the people he should hang with.

Namor and Charles get awarded ten points each retroactively for never ejecting Hulk into space.

Current Score: Avengers 241 / X-Men 190

You may recall that after last issue I said that I was no longer counting Cyclops and Emma as X-Men. Cap makes the same distinction this issue, and the roster page itself places the Phoenix Five separate from the X-Men, so I consider that motion carried. The X-Men will no longer be punished for Cyclops’ thong.

Now, on with the business. Southern belle Sookie Stackhouse is standing in a field calling on the fairies to open the portal to their secret sanctuary where… sorry, no, crossed wires. Southern belle Rogue is standing in a field calling on the Avengers to open the portal to their secret sanctuary where Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow, etc. spend their days wearing cute little outfits and learning dance routines. (I’m extrapolating here. If you’re not up to date on True Blood this will be meaningless. Lila Cheney: for or against?)

Charles Xavier, the last reasonable man in the Marvel Universe, is there to welcome Rogue and the other X-Men to the sanctuary, leading to superheroes coming together on a hillside in a weird reconstruction of the 1971 Coke ad, “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.” Except, obviously, there are more women and visible minorities in that ad.

This also gives us a panel of Bobby Drake saying Scott has been “like a brother” to him, while Scott’s actual brother (and Bobby’s occasional rival) stands awkwardly behind him, possibly wondering if this would be a bad time to smack Bobby upside the head for being a dick. I’m going to give the X-Men five points here for having more interesting intra-team dynamics than the Avengers. The X-Men are all friends on Facebook; the Avengers are all connections on LinkedIn.

Another ten points to the X-Men for being the bigger team and stepping up to extend the olive branch. I think this is the first time the two teams have met in this series without starting a fight, and credit for that goes to the X-Men for coming in peace, and to Xavier for being the voice of conciliation whose mere presence seems to stop Tony Stark running to the lab to make Psylockebuster armor, Gambitbuster armor, Cannoballbuster armor, etc. The Gambitbuster armor would probably just involve putting Pepper Potts in lingerie. (And yes, I know I just said Cannonballbuster.)

I want to give special Kudos to Coipel at this point because his every group shot panel is a masterclass in superhero body diversity. This is a guy who really understands how to distinguish one silhouette from another.

By the way, which tie-in book do I read to explain how Spider-Man is able to stand up and walk around after being beaten to jam by Cosmiclossus two issues ago?

Current Score: Avengers 241 / X-Men 205

Over on the sprawling sugar cube city of Utopia, Emma and Scott are heading for an inevitable break-up. It’s basically the “do you want to see other people?”; “No, but the fact that you’d even say that tells me that you want to” conversation, but with cosmic powers and the temptation to destroy the world and remake it in their image. Just as things get really heated (Emma is actually on fire), Scott gets an incoming call from Charles Xavier. In his head.

Charles and Scott have a chat on a beach, and Charles says he has the power to shut Cyclops down. If I’ve understood correctly, he’s already inside Scott’s head and has shielded the presence of the assembled Xvengers from him. I’m not at all clear on how it’s possible for even Charles to dupe a Phoenix, but this is how these Marvel events tend to go. They throw everything at a problem. They fail. They do it again. They succeed. House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion, Fear Itself; the heroes always fail and fail until the end of the story approaches and then they succeed, and it’s never really clear what turned the tide other than narrative inevitability.

Captain America, the great tactician, calls on the heroes to “keep the fight on Summers and Frost,” which is inspired leadership considering Summers and Frost are the only ones there they can fight. Now I’m picturing Cap in World War II yelling, “Punch the Nazis! Everybody punch the Nazis! I’m pretty sure the Nazis are the bad guys!”

On the next page we learn there’s something Storm has always wanted to say to Emma, and it’s “Krakka-Boom.” Great one, Storm. Maybe she didn’t have time for, “Do you know what happens to a headmistress when she gets struck by lightning?”

Then Scarlet Witch frags Cyke, and Emma frags Scarlet Witch, and Hulk pounds Emma, and Magneto stands up to Cyclops and gets set on fire, and then Hawkeye shoots Cyclops in the neck with an arrow.

So… OK, we’ll give the X-Men ten points for Storm’s substantive blow and Magneto’s last stand, and the Avengers get five apiece for Scarlet Witch and Hulk, and a bonus ten because Hawkeye actually shot an arrow at a cosmic force, and that’s hilarious. And a month ago it would have been pathetic, but the new Hawkeye ongoing series is so good that it suddenly seems kind of cool.

Also, the arrow made a prophetic sound effect. That’s not something you see every day.

Current Score: Avengers 261 / X-Men 215

Iceman gets his kicks in next, and we all already know that Iceman is secretly one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe — the mutants’ own Hulk if he would only apply himself — so it’s actually a nice moment to see Iceman go up against a Phoenix. I’d like to have seen more of that. This buys Charles the chance to get back into Cyclops’s head, and Scott is not a fan, so he decides to take Emma’s half of the Phoenix Force in a story beat so inevitable that they just straight up put it on the cover of the book.

And then the other inevitable thing happens: Scott Summers kills Professor Charles Xavier. With, apparently, a very bright light bulb.

I’d love to give Charles some points for heroic sacrifice here, but this wasn’t one. Charles didn’t die making a triumphant last gesture that turns the tide in his people’s favor. He was already out of Scott’s head because Scott had just leveled up. In fact, Charles dies because he yells at Scott, which leads Scott to petulantly reply, “You are not my father” and then cold-bloodedly murder him.

You might wonder how we know he’s dead given that he’s one of four characters to end up on their back after being consumed in Phoenix flame. The answer is we know he’s dead because Marvel put out a press release. That’s how it works.

I find myself largely unmoved by this death, not just because it didn’t feel like a profound sacrifice, but because Charles has been off the board so much recently that until he showed up in this series I had actually forgotten that he wasn’t dead already. Xavier has been AWOL, dead or dead-ish so many times that it’s reasonable to be confused. Dying is a thing he does, like turning evil, losing the use of his legs, and regaining the use of his legs. Bendis says that Charles isn’t really needed anymore in the current Marvel universe, and I think that’s true, but that makes this feel like a personnel shuffle rather than a big story beat.

So, sorry Charles. Your death doesn’t move the needle on the scoreboard.

But Iceman gets ten points.

Current Score: Avengers 261 / X-Men 225

In the immediate aftermath of Charles’s death, Wolverine gets the Hulk to throw him at the Phoenix.

Yes, he gets the Hulk to throw him at the Phoenix.

So Wolverine ends up a bug on the windshield of the cosmos, which… well, he’ll live, but maybe when he goes back to the Jean Grey School he should think about enrolling in some classes? Do they have a course that teaches children not to get the Hulk to throw them at the Phoenix?

And the issue ends with everyone’s worst fears realized, as Cyclops becomes… The Dark Phoenix!

Because up until this moment he had been a good guy, right? That’s why everyone was fighting him. That’s why they threw all that firepower at him. That’s why they recruited the Hulk. Because he wasn’t Dark Phoenix before, but he is now. He’s evil now, as opposed to whatever he was before. He has a different costume and his word balloons are black. Ooooh, evil.

Yeah, no. Guys, I don’t think that’s how this works. Dark Phoenix isn’t Charizard to Light Phoenix’s Charmeleon. Dark Phoenix isn’t a power-up; it’s a moral alignment. Dark Phoenix is Phoenix, but evil. Either Scott has been a Dark Phoenix for a while now, or the Avengers have been huge douchebags. Though it’s possible both things are true. The Avengers have basically been poking at Scott and asking, “Are you evil yet? How about now? If I shoot you in the face, does that make you evil? How about now?”

I’m blaming all of this on the Avengers. They lose 30 points for waging all-out war on someone they evidently didn’t think was evil. The X-Men also lose five because Wolverine got a Hulk to throw him at a Phoenix, and they regain the same five points because Wolverine got a Hulk to throw him at a Phoenix. I can’t stay mad at you, Wolverine.

Final Score: Avengers 231 / X-Men 225

MVP: Joint honors go to Hawkeye and Iceman, the Zeppos of their respective teams. They may be dorks with boyband haircuts, but they’re dorks who never quit.

Analysis: Technically the Avengers and the X-Men are on the same side now, but I think the X-Men are just outperforming the Avengers, both in terms of common sense and awesome action moments. I fully expect that the two teams will end up fighting each other again next issue, because we were assured from the start that “one team will lose,” and that can’t really happen if they’re all on the same side.

With just six points separating the teams on our scorecard, there’s everything to play for! Well, not everything. But something. Well, no, not even something. Not anything, when you get down to it. It’s just a story, you guys.

Come back in two weeks time for The End, in which Hope Summers presumably gets to do something more than just stand in the background as an awkward reminder that this story used to be about her.

Graphics by Dylan Todd.

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