Robot 6

The Fifth Color | AvX Halftime: the future versus our place within it

This wasn’t the halfway point I was expecting. When it comes to summer events, it’s kind of an unstated rule that there’s going to be a bigger focus on spectacle rather than content. When a giant cosmic force of life and death barrels toward your planet, you expect all the heroes to get some new costumes, maybe pick up a couple of new skill sets and give it all they’ve got to battle the Big Bad of Summer 2012. Not a philosophical comment on the nature of man and their relationship and understanding of the future.

Of course, that’s awesome, but unexpected.

It’s like getting a box of Fruit Loops, and about halfway through the box you find the answer to life, the universe and everything (to borrow a phrase). Sure, it’s not the most reliable answer, as it came out of a box of Fruit Loops, but how astounding is it that it’s even here? Does it give the answer more or less weight considering where you found it?

Let’s talk a little thematic philosophy and also kicking and punching in this week’s Avengers vs. X-Men Round 6, shall we?

All right, the issue at hand shifts gears incredibly fast, and we can all thank Jonathan Hickman and Olivier Coipel for steering things in a whole new direction and in a whole new gear. You see, after the moon debacle where the Avengers probably did a little more bad than good, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magik, Colossus-onaut and Namor all get imbued with Phoenix Force powers, leading everyone else to call them Fox Force Five the Phoenix Five. At the start of the books, seven days have passed and I promise you haven’t missed an issue and there isn’t really a tie-in book that gets you through that gap in time. But suffice to say, the Phoenix Force Five have been busy; within that week they have created food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and sustainable energy (“the very key to modernity,” says Cyclops), all in plentiful amounts for the entire globe. Utopia now looks huge and … floaty? They have a bunch of reflective platforms hovering around; it’s futuristic. The Phoenix Five (at least Emma and Scott, whom we see the most) seem to be calm and rational and in complete control of their powers. All in all, everyone else on Utopia seem very happy.

The United Nations gets all of this information through … well, an ultimatum makes it sound like there ever was a choice. The Phoenix Five come in an dictate how it’s going to be in the wake of all this “modernity”: An end to war is declared, and violence will no longer be tolerated by this New World Order.

Small aside: Cyclops ends his declaration with the phrase “Pax Utopia,” which is very telling. If you use your AR scanner on the previous page, Siobhan Beasley shows up in your pages to talk international criminal law with the you in reference to what’s going on with the Phoenix Five’s declaration. She mentions a similarity to Pax Romana in a rather vengeful context (attack our citizens and we’ll attack you) rather than a broader and honestly more telling explanation. Pax Romana refers to a specific period in Roman history where there was internal peace throughout the empire because there simply wasn’t anyone strong enough to oppose them.

While all of this Pax Utopia is going down, the Avengers are digesting all of this information and trying to figure out a way to take it all apart. Let’s face it, godlike powers in the hands of mortal men never work out for anyone (much like sentient computers or moving into spooky houses). Camped out in Avengers Tower (drawn wonderfully dark and claustrophobic by the wonderful Coipel), the Avengers are trying to make sense of all this and devising ways to stop the Phoenix Five before the inevitable happens. Confronting them head on would be ridiculous considering they had done that twice before to no avail (and that’s when they didn’t have cosmic power), so again gaining control over Hope is their key.

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They suit up in some snazzy new armor (yay, action figures!) and go to grab Hope from Utopia, which is starting to fail spectacularly when the Scarlet Witch arrives. She calls olly olly oxen free on the whole fight and invites Hope to come with her. When Cyclops, now given the powers of death and rebirth and the order of nature, comes in contact with Wanda, who’s recently had control over things like the Life Force energy (Avengers: Children Crusade) and Chaos Magick (Avengers: Disassembled) and just her natural mutant powers to alter probability, Cyclops recoils from her and whatever feeling she gave a nigh-omnipotent being.

This is the point in which my head had fully rotated because Rounds 1-5 seemed like, well, business as usual. But even though this will most certainly continue in character battles and power comparisons, we’re firmly in Act 2 territory, and a larger moral choice is at hand.

The X-Men have traditionally been about the future, based on the idea of evolution and mankind’s adaptations toward a new era. They have dealt with the hate and fear that come with the unknown and have fought against ignorance and tried to promote understanding between who we are today and what we might become. Mutants are more real to us when they are balanced in character and fleshed out in emotions, so that we can learn what it’s like to embody that future. If we were to give the Avengers a broader theme, you could say they have been and were founded on reactivity. Come on, it’s in the name. It’s even a common trait among superheroic teams that something bad has to happen to rally that much power to oppose it. It is a fine example of mankind at the worst of times; that in times of crisis, those who step up to confront it are heroes.

And this, I suppose, is what it’s like when themes collide. Maybe this is why there’s a whole book just for characters squaring off in AvX: VS. — to make room for the broader philosophy at work when the future arrives and our finest must sort themselves out to a moral dilemma. If the future is given to us, should we accept it? How does a hero avenge peace? Can order exist without a chaotic element and is that chaos where life truly belongs?

I mean, the list can go on. Avengers vs. X-Men has turned a very important corner in getting the reader to think in broader concepts and philosophy and that is so weird for a summer event book. Then again, just because we find the answer to life, the universe and everything in a box of Fruit Loops doesn’t mean we don’t still have a lot of sugary cereal to munch through.



I’d put the philosophy contrast slightly different, in that I’d say that the X-Men are about change (Mutatis mutandis!) and the Avengers are about maintaining a stable status quo. I hadn’t really thought about this as being a significant chunk of the conflict of AvX, even though I really should have (“Let the Phoenix come remake us!” “No, it will destroy everything that we have now!”). It’s an interesting lens and Hickman is surely the best writer they could have used to shine a light through it.

Jake Earlewine

June 22, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Carla, that was a great article! You give good column.

I doubt it’d go over well, but I bet it would at least be interesting if Cyclops turned out to be right and the Avengers meddling stopped a utopian future from coming about. Could be that, yeah, we’d fight less wars, but we’d use all that energy to instead explore as man was born to do.

living planet

June 23, 2012 at 1:29 am

AvX is more stale cornflakes than fruit loops.

I haven’t read the AvX issues in question, but this is kind of striking me as a bit of a double standard for Cyclops – considering when Cable, his own son, did a similar thing (albeit on a smaller, if still enormous scale) near the beginning of Cable and Deadpool, he lead an X-men team in against it to try and stop it. This is probably partially that that happened in a peripheral title several years ago, but the fact there are major similarities and Cable is knocking around utopia somewhere, it would be worth acknowledging it…

Wow. What does this make Colossus, now?


An interesting perspective, and probably the reason why Hickman was given the middle chunk. Traditionally, events fall apart in the middle, between the opening explosions and the closing bell. Getting Marvel’s, arguably, best current writer to handle the down period was a good call on Alonso’s part. This series seems to be Marvel finally pulling the trigger on Scott as a super-villain. It’s easy for him to say “no more war” when he’s got the biggest stick, but really, motivations aside, he’s not really offering anything substantially different from what Doctor Doom has been peddling for decades: peace, order, stability, on his terms and his alone.

Definitely sounds like fruit loops to me. But keep hope alive, true believers.

FEH! This event was unnecessary. Were I the one writing this, I would’ve just had BOTH SIDES lose, revealing that the Phoenix doesn’t care for either.

Craig Forshaw

June 23, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Comics always return to their status quos, The Avengers have just had a movie out and the DVD should be released around the time it ends. The Avengers have been set up as reactionary agents of the status quo in this series. Does it take a genius to figure out how this will end? Tedious event, tedious issue.

I just don’t understand how Marvel could write something that just ignores really obvious things…

The Phoenix force is coming back to Earth – The Avengers want to stop it! Um… why? The Phoenix can be dangerous, but they didn’t go after Jean Grey the last time she showed off that particular skill set. Why are they doing so now?

Then Wolverine swears he’s going to kill Hope. Wolverine is a killer – “the best there is!” And so what does he do? He has a chat with her and gives her more than enough time to convince him not to. Pretty sure that “the best there is” at killing wouldn’t do that.

The Avengers confront the X-Men and immediately resort to a violent confrontation. This, of course, being the group who gather together to stop threats start off by attacking their potential allies. It is no wonder Scott Summers would want to kick their asses.

Then there is the fact that if the Phoenix is returning to Earth, where is Jean Grey? At the end of Grant Morrison’s run on ‘New X-Men’ she was alive and in possession of the Phoenix force. If she wasn’t, then how come Scott and Emma are together, given that it was Jean’s intervention that pushed them together?

Plus, for an event created solely to get ‘Justice League’ off the top of the sales chart, this issue seems very similar to Morrison’s first ‘JLA’ storyline.

Finally, in this issue, they get the Phoenix force, the force that they have been fighting for, the force that can alter people on a genetic level should they wish to do that, and they use it to spend a week trying to convince humans that they are nice guys. Have they completely forgot why they wanted the Phoenix force? They should be undoing the events of M-day! Not building gardens in the desert! Forgetting your characters PRIMARY MOTIVATION is unforgiveable.

The best example of Pax Romana in SF that I know of is ‘God-Emperor on Dune’ (by Frank Herbert of course). The leading statements were perhaps that it is imposable, even if your near-omniscient, to keep control over an empire, and that loss of freedom kills creativity, even when the ties are quite loose. Also North-Korea springs to mind. Not the most appelaing idea.

I have no idea what appelaing is. Sounds like tea.

I’m enjoying this book far more than I thought — my main gripe going in was how in the world anyone could really side with Scott on this. Frankly it’s too bad they’re not giving this story more room to breathe, because there’s a lot of interesting things that could be done with the Phoenix Five and the ramifications of superheroes who have immediately made large portions of the world a better place, and the constant escalation of intention, which is trademark Phoenix: keeping going bigger and bigger until you’ve gone too far. When do you stop ‘fixing’ the world . . . and how do you deal with those that reject it? It would be interesting to see the entire Marvel Universe live under the rule of the Five for a couple months.

There’s a lot of interesting things that can come out of this. On the X-Men side it looks like the mutants will be returning to their former numbers, Scott is being groomed to take Magneto’s old position of protect the race at any and all costs, and hopefully Professor X will return to take a more hands on role.

With the Avengers, it’s a huge potential backlash: not only did they fail to prevent the Phoenix finding a host, early on in the series it appeared to the general public that the Avengers basically attacked the X-Men with no actual provocation, since the impending disaster wasn’t understandably made public. There’s been a lot of question of what authority the Avengers actually have in their own books lately, Cap’s been trusted to run the group with little oversight, as pseudo-agents of the U.S. Government but with with little formal regulation — Cap’s in charge . . . except for Cage’s little group, which does what he sees fit. Would be interesting if the hammer fell and the Avengers got reigned in, with the membership restricted to certain ‘approved’ agents, and more questionable choices like Dr. Strange, Wolverine, the Red Hulk all blacklisted because of lack of public approval. The whole concept of the Secret Avengers alone could be disasterous if it were made public knowledge. The idea of a neutered Avengers tasked with protecting the world but with red tape that keeps them woefully underpowered at times could be a great set-up for whomever follows Bendis — not that we haven’t seen that sort of thing before but it would be an interesting contrast to the more recent tact of anyone in spandex and good intentions being sworn in and given an offical Avengers I.D. card.

It’s not a perfect event — I don’t think the tie-in aspect was handled well, with not a whole lot of indication of in which order to read the tie-ins to make it more cohesive as a whole– but I agree with Carla, certainly more than I expected from a fairly throw-away idea.

Jake Earlewine

June 25, 2012 at 7:03 am

Craig Forshaw, I hereby nominate you to be Marvel’s new Editor-in-Charge-of-Policing-Dumb-Ass-Stuff.
Or maybe the job title should be Official-Butt-Kicker-Of-Ignorant-Editors.
God knows they certainly need somebody to do it.

For DC, it’s too late. They’ve jumped the shark and it no longer matters what they do.

Craig Forshaw

June 26, 2012 at 7:45 am

Thanks, Jake! :-) I’ve been looking for job.

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