Who’d win? It’s a question that you’ve pondered more than once as you stared at the ceiling into the wee hours of the night. In a no-holds-barred throw-down on a neutral field, who would persevere – Hulk or Thor? Spider-Man or Iron Man? Captain America or Wolverine? This nagging question defines you as a comic book fan. Admit it. Embrace it. – The AvsX Program Guide
Totally. I love this question. The “who would win” speculation will suck me in hours. Warning – don’t ever ask me something like “who would win, Ms. Marvel or Storm?” or “Cyclops or Captain America” at a bar because we won’t be going home until after last call, I assure you. (ps, Storm and Cap. Hands down.)
First off, if you haven’t received your free copy of AvsX Program Guide, be sure to stop by your local comic store and request one. A) It’s free. B) It’s an extremely useful tool to keeping track of series, issues, and characters that will be involved in the upcoming event. Additionally, this information guide also provides two previews.
But aside from the drooling allure of a good slug fest, what is the plot behind the upcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men event? Essentially it comes down to one of the primary driving plot lines of Marvel Universe since the 1970s – The Phoenix Force. The Phoenix Force has been both a saving grace and one of the greatest enemies to humanity throughout the years. The question is, which side of this line will the Phoenix Force be on this time around as it embraces its new host, Hope Summers? The Avengers have a firm belief that this return will spell doom for humanity, but the X-Men, who have been protecting and fostering Hope, believe that she is the prophetic savior of their race. Both sides are willing to enter battle over their convictions.
According to the Program Guide, the following regular-series issues will be part of the AvsX plot progression beginning in April with a preview issue, Avengers Vs. X-Men #0, at the end of March:
New Avengers #24 & #25
Uncanny X-Men #11
Secret Avengers #26
Wolverine and the X-Men #9
The following Marvel events are ones that have all contributed to the progression of the plotlines leading to the AvsX event from the X-Men point of view. Let’s take a run-through to freshen up on many years of stories that have all been building upon one another.
The Dark Phoenix Saga – If you know X-Men at all, you are more than likely familiar with Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga (even if you only saw the 1990s cartoon). While the Phoenix was actually introduced in 1976, all hell didn’t break loose until 1980 when the Hellfire Club, including Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost and Mastermind, began tampering with Jean Grey’s mind. Jean, as the host to the Phoenix force, experienced intense emotions when she saw the psychic image of her lover, Cyclops, die before her. The image released the full potential of her power and she turned into “Dark Phoenix.” Drunk on its own power and the intensity of feeling human emotions, the Phoenix Force propelled itself into the universe and in a distant galaxy and it dove into a star to feed itself on the energy. The star went nova, creating the mass genocide of killing an entire planet of aliens. After much drama to contain the force, Jean eventually decided to “die a human” as opposed to live as a god and killed herself. Throughout the years the Phoenix Force has been back, mostly attached to Jean Grey (who, of course, always comes back to life somehow) but also separately. Other important Phoenix-related reading includes Grant Morrison’s New X-Men as well as Phoenix: Endsong and Phoenix: Warsong.
House of M – According to the hints and teasers, AvsX will not only just see the return of the Phoenix Force, but also the return of Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. This is important because it was the Scarlet Witch’s insanity-driven actions in House of M back in 2005 that have influenced every single X-Men event since then. In this X-Men/Avengers crossover by Brian Michael Bendis, the Scarlet Witch is out of her mind in grief over losing her children. With a little prodding from her brother Quicksilver she is convinced to use her reality-manipulating powers to create a world in which everyone is granted their greatest desires to make them happy. In this new world Spider-Man is married to the long-dead Gwen Stacy, Cyclops and Emma Frost are married and living a normal life, Steve Rogers is an aged veteran, Hawkeye is alive again, and Wolverine has gained back all of the memories that he has lost (which is vital because he is one of the very few to remember the original world and to realize that something is very wrong). While realities are questioned, rights for humans and mutants are debated, and violence is breaking out, we find the Scarlet Witch in this reality enjoying the presence of her sons. As she witnesses all the violence around her, Wanda comes to the conclusion that mutants are freaks who cause only pain and suffering. Completely losing her mind, she utters the three reality-warping words that will alter the Marvel Universe and the life of mutants everywhere: “No More Mutants”. Back in the real world, the mutant population instantly dropps from millions to a few hundred and the species is now endangered – which has since been a focus of the X-Men series up to present day.
X-Men: Messiah Complex – Quickly after the events of House of M, a spark of optimism ignites for mutants everywhere when a child is born with an active X-gene. This child was Hope and she became the most coveted human being on the planet. The X-Men, the Marauders (Sinister’ s group), the Purifiers (William Stryker’s anti-mutant group), Predator X, and Cable are all at each other’s throats to get to this kid. This is an incredibly convoluted event, so let me sum it up briefly as much as possible – while in the future timeline that Bishop has originated from, Multiple Man and Layla Miller find out that a mutant girl has caused the genocide of over one million base-line (normal) humans, causing mutants everywhere to be persecuted and put into detainment camps. The child that everyone is fighting over in the present day is the one to has caused this mass travesty in the future where she is viewed as the “mutant anti-Christ”. Unfortunately, things aren’t black and white about Hope’s place in the world, though. While she might on one hand be the cause of the death of millions, she is also reported by Cable (also from the future) to be the savior of the world – saving both baseline human and mutant races from an unspecified threat. And so begins the long debate of whether or not Hope is the savior or the doom of humanity. At the end of Messiah Complex, Cable takes baby Hope into the future and vows to protect and raise her. For further reading of what happens in the future, see X-Men: Messiah War.
X-Men: Second Coming – Second Coming was the third installment of Cable’s battle to keep Hope safe (primarily against Bishop) continuing from Messiah Complex and Messiah War. Cable returns back to the present time with a teenage Hope in tow. They are still being followed and hunted by the big guns of the anti-mutant movement – Bastion, Stephen Lang, Bolivar Trask, William Stryker, Graydon Creed, and Cameron Hodge. The X-Men quickly move into action to protect the girl and the battle over Hope begins once again. Internal strife complicates matters though, as several X-Men casualties are felt deeply and the mutants have to wonder if this one girl is worth their pain and struggling when in the end she might actually be the doom of both mutants and humans alike and not their savior after all. To add to their tension, hints are dropped that Hope will be the next host for an incarnation of the Phoenix to return. Beast, in particular, is fed- up with Cyclops leadership and the consequences of his actions. He leaves the X-Men, which ended up being a foreshadowing of more mutants to follow in the Schism event. Meanwhile, the X-Men are fighting against an army of Nimrod-level sentinels and in the process of cutting off their portal entry point to this world, Cable must sacrifice himself. When Hope witnesses Cable’s death, who she thinks of as her father, she begins to step into her power – manifesting various abilities of the other mutants – she defeats Bastion in a pinnacle battle. Post-war, we learn that due to Hope’s presence, five brand new mutants have been detected by Cerebra as having come into their powers. (For more information on these new five mutants, known as the “Five Lights” read Uncanny X-Men #526-529 and Generation Hope.)
Currently, the various series involved in this event are working through other plotlines until the upcoming April event is here. Generation Hope, in particular, has been tossing hints towards the progression of Hope’s manifestation of the Phoenix powers. To read what’s most recently been going on in this series, check out my review of this week’s Generation Hope #16. Otherwise stay tuned for a similar event lead-up summary from the Avengers point of view next week. Until then, enjoy the preview images and start that lovely daydreaming of answering the question – who’d win?