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ComicsAlliance Vs. AvX Round Five: A Twist & Shouting

Return your seat backs and tray tables to the upright position; it’s the fifth installment of ComicsAlliance Vs. AvX, our unofficial scorecard for Marvel’s big summer publishing event, Avengers Vs. X-Men. The Avengers led at the end of the first round and held on to a diminished lead in the second. The X-Men slipped ahead in round three, but lost their advantage in round four. Now writer Matt Fraction takes the wheel with the score almost neck-and-neck with Avengers at 49 and X-Men at 48.

The story so far: The Phoenix Force is (still) coming. Don’t worry, it’s nearly here! It’s close, guys! It’s really close! It’s issue five, and it’s totally almost nearly reached our planet. Not quite, but totally almost! The X-Men want to protect its likely host, Hope Summers, and the Avengers want to lock her away in a safe location, and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure there is a safe place to keep a cosmic entity, but they are fully invested in that frankly hopeless idea. The two teams fought on Utopia, they fought in Wakanda, they fought in Latveria, they fought in the Savage Land and they fought in about a dozen tie-in books. Now they’re on the moon. I wonder what they’re going to do there?

Round five! Are we nearly there yet?Avengers Vs. X-Men #5
Story: Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction
Script: Matt Fraction
Artists: John Romita, Jr., Scott Hanna, Laura Martin

Opening Score: Avengers 49 / X-Men 48

Let’s talk for a moment about the roster pages. Every issue of Avengers vs. X-Men opens with a recap and a rundown of who’s on the two teams. It reminds me of the Madballs comics I used to read when I was a kid. Remember Madballs? They were rubber balls with faces on them. Apparently we didn’t expect much from our toys back then. Every Madballs comic would start with shots of all the characters in that story. I know Madballs isn’t the only comic that ever did this, but it’s the one I always think of. Of course, with Madballs the heads of the characters were in fact the whole of the characters. Because they were balls, you see? Mad ones.

So whose balls are we looking at this issue? According to the roster page, the Avengers have 14 members, the X-Men have five. Wolverine and Hope are straddling the line, and each side has a couple of unexpected dingleberries; Scarlet Witch and Lei Kung the Thunderer on the Avengers side, and Professor X and Legion on the X -Men side.

I looked at the roster page and naturally thought that this meant these characters would all be doing something important in the story this issue. Apparently I have learned nothing — nothing -- from the previous four issues of this series. These roster pages have misled me every time without fail. They don’t show everyone on each side, and they don’t show everyone who actually does something in the issue; they just show almost everyone (not quite, but almost) whose face appears in the comic. To what end? I don’t know! Is it to warn me so that I’m not taken by surprise? The images of Lei Kung and Scarlet Witch on the roster page are literally cropped versions of the only panels they appear in throughout the comic! It’s mad. And it’s balls. It’s madballs.

Anyway; this issue, you will be shocked to learn, is mostly a fight scene. Hope is on the moon. The Avengers are there to arrest her. The X-Men are there to stop the Avengers. We’ve been here before, only now we’re on the moon.

The initial fight is short-lived, at least in this comic. Heaven knows how long it’ll be in other comics. It could be a three-issue arc in another comic. It probably has sub-plots in one comic and monologues in another. Red Hulk probably has a character moment over in an issue of Power Pack: Dark Forevers: Frontline where he learns that maybe he’s ready to forgive his childhood piano teacher for what happened that day at the lake.

But in this comic Hope stops the fight with a boom and asks Wolverine to kill her because she can’t control the power, only for Cyclops to blast him. I think. I was distracted, because Black Widow had her hair in some sort of updo, and I was thinking how nice it looked. Was it a chignon? I don’t know much about hair. But it was nice. Three points for the chignon.

Current Score: Avengers 52 / X-Men 48

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the moon, Hank Pym and Tony Stark put the finishing touches to their anti-Phoenix weapon, which turns out to be another red and gold suit for Tony to wear. Tony is one of the great innovative minds in the Marvel Universe, so how come his solution to absolutely everything is a red and gold suit? Can you imagine being at a party where no-one can find a bottle opener? Hawkeye will try the slam-the-table trick, Nick Fury will try to do that thing with the cigarette lighter, and there’ll be Tony Stark in the corner, building the Iron Man Armor Mark 72: Bottle Opener.

This latest effort looks like a Duplo Gobot. I guess it’s an upgrade on the Hulk Smasher armor. The Phoenix Smasher armor? It’s not as stylish as a chignon, but you have to respect the ambition, and the merchandising potential.

Current Score: Avengers 57 / X-Men 48

And then, more fighting. Much of it is fighting we’ve seen before. Look, Namor and the Thing, again. Red Hulk and Colossernaut, again. Wolverine and… so sleepy. Just going to close my eyes for a moment. Leave me here. You go on without me. I’ll be OK. I just need to rest.

While I have a nap, the comic shows us more glimpses of things happening in other comics. You remember the Spacevengers, and how they had been sent on a suicide mission to punch a fire? Well, they’re not dead. Beast looks a bit tired, and I think War Machine has a cough. Charles Xavier and his dangerous psychopath son are in Ibiza, the clubbing capital of Europe, for reasons that beggar all understanding. Scarlet Witch is upset that she dropped a contact lens. Read every comic Marvel publishes this month, and maybe you’ll learn some of the stories behind some of these things!

Captain America calls on Cyclops to stop the madness, because even he now realizes that five issues of fighting is not… what’s the word? … interesting. It’s time for a twist, and we all knew that a twist was coming. Having the Phoenix Force choose the Scarlet Witch instead of Hope Summers was always the obvious swerve. That’s not what happens. When I saw that Legion was in this issue I thought it might go to him instead, as wildly out-of-the-blue as that would be, but Legion really isn’t in this issue in any meaningful way, so that’s not what happens either.

Instead, Iron Man’s Phoenix-Smasher armor turns out to be more of a Phoenix-Tickler armor. Maybe a Phoenix-Approacher armor. Iron Man built a cool cosplay and got to stand next to the legend that inspired it for just a second, and they had their photo taken together, and it was a big moment for Tony, who will put the photo on his Facebook wall and talk about it to everyone he meets for the rest of his life, but the Phoenix does this sort of thing every day, and she won’t even remember his face. That is the ultimate tragedy of AvX. That and the planet she devoured in issue one.

Current Score: Avengers 58 / X-Men 48

Phoenix does not get smashed, nor does she merge with Hope. Phoenix gets dispersed, and merges with the other present X-Men: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik. Apparently the Phoenix Force is drawn to pomposity. Excitingly, the Phoenix has brought new clothes for all of them. Namor comes out of it best, because the Phoenix Force appreciates a great set of abs. Cyclops comes out of it worst because he’s been dressed to look like Darkhawk. Not even the real Darkhawk; he looks like the Ben Reilly of Darkhawks. Emma Frost is so embarrassed by this that she makes a last-minute switcheroo with Moonstone of the Thundervengers.

These five Phoenices declare that they will take Hope home to heal until she’s ready to be their host. In the meantime they will do the work of evolving the world. There’s a lot of talk about “tomorrow,” and every Marvel fan reading this is probably sharing the same terrified prayer: Please don’t reboot the universe. Please don’t reboot the universe. Please don’t reboot the universe. That sort of nonsense is reserved for other, less confident superhero universes; universes that don’t know what they want to be when they don’t grow up.

Cap dismisses all this as, “pyrotechnics and scary voices,” because apparently Cap has never seen a person possessed by a cosmic power before. Is this your first day out of Camp Hammond, Cap?

The X-Men haven’t scored a point all issue, but now they have five Phoenices. That’s got to be worth five points per Phoenix.

Final Score: Avengers 58 / X-Men 73

MVP: Though the X-Men have retaken the lead, I have to give the MVP crown to Iron Man, because he actually tried to do something new, while everyone else just repeated their positions from three issues ago. I appreciate your ambition, Tony. When everyone else was scrapping over a little girl, you tried to punch a god.

Analysis: Well, the Phoenix Force still hasn’t actually reached Earth. Maybe in issue six? We can’t spend a whole issue just watching Cyclix, Frostix, Submarinix, Colossix and Magix zoom towards the big blue marble, can we? Even Marvel can’t pad this event out that much, can it?

Hopefully we’ve now concluded the portion of our programming where two teams run at each other in exotic locations, and the series will spend some time exploring the potential of, say, a demon girl and her Cyttorak-infused brother wielding the powers of the Phoenix. Because that sounds like it could be cool, you know? But realistically that will happen in another comic and this comic will just move the punching to Madripoor.

We’ll be back in two weeks, when Jonathan Hickman retakes the writing reins and the great Olivier Coipel takes over the pencils.

Graphics by Dylan Todd.

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