26 Jun 2012

Cover To Cover: AVENGERS VS X-MEN #6

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: For five long issues I, and indeed many of you I’m sure, sat by and watched as Bendis, John Romita Jr and the rest of the Architects just seemed to be churning out a run-of-the-mill, borderline yawn-worthy extended rumble between the larger half of Marvel’s hero canon.  Characterisation from other titles seemed to be flying out of the window for the occasion and the tag-teaming of writers every issue seemed to be bringing an inconsistent feel to the unfolding events.  Even the lauded Romita Jr was failing to deliver his best work for an event book that on the drawing board at Marvel HQ must’ve looked like a surefire winner.  Well let’s face it, at $3.99 a pop every two weeks for 12 issues, and a guaranteed seat at the top of the charts, it’s certainly a winner for someone(’s pockets)... 
Market-cynicism and event-fatigue aside this was proving to be another Marvel damp-squib of an idea... until this issue.  When I picked up this glorious example of how you package a comic book event, I turned to that sublime 5-panel page of Olivier Coipel artwork that shows the two fathers of the mutant age reuniting once again, the glint of sunshine, the airborne detritus blown skywards by engines only science-fiction can so far create, and everything started to make a little more sense.
For a start Hickman’s decision to jump things on by ten days from when the five X-Men were possessed by the Phoenix Force is a canny move that instantly puts a degree of separation between the previous gloved slaps to the face that peppered the early exchanges, and the far more measured and mature feel that is to be found here.  Gone are the incessant, weird and somewhat low-brow punch-ups between heroes, now replaced with scenes of planetary rejuvenation, political confusion, philosophical debate and the unease that the Avengers find themselves burdened with in a world playing host to one of the most destructive entities in the universe.  When I look back at that last detail-laden sentence it becomes instantly clear that of all of the Architects, Jonathan Hickman is the man most suited to crafting such a chapter, and likely do it without breaking a sweat.
I love the way that he takes Xavier’s Dream and distorts it through Cyclops’ newly empowered visor, expanding Utopia vastly and distributing benevolent gifts to the world that would never likely be bestowed upon the mutant population.  The effect of this unexpected turn of events is all the more dramatic thanks to Coipel who is on career-topping form.  The sense of scale and wonder is mesmerizing through the early pages and then he hits a peak with an eye-wateringly gorgeous double splash displaying the Phoenix Five’s war on ‘War’, a definite purchase should a poster ever make it off the presses.  While known for his ability to capture great spectacle, the Frenchman then gets the opportunity to deliver more character-driven scenes as the Avengers come face to face with one member of the Phoenix Five - a neatly written encounter it must be said - and then struggle to plan amongst themselves a further course of action.
Even the disagreements between the various Avengers add an extra dimension to the story that definitely seemed to be lacking in this level of complexity during the early days.  By the time an ambitious smash and grab plan is put into effect and the further surprises start popping out of the woodwork, you already feel that you’ve been reading a good few issues’ worth of material - the extended page count is certainly generous by Marvel’s usual penny-cautious standards - and everything just suddenly seems bigger, bolder and, importantly for a project of this size, more significant.
That increased gravity has to be down to Hickman’s vision and experience with such storylines and when you have a writer and art team clearly understanding what is required to deliver that knock-your-socks-off experience desired in an event book, you’re definitely in for a good time.  I’ve pondered in recent days on whether I’d have preferred to have seen Coipel on board for the entire run or perhaps just the likes of Hickman and Fraction working in tandem instead of the full Architect roster taking turns, but when it comes down to it, this instalment is so damn strong and delivers such an impact because it has to stand next to the preceding efforts and because it signifies such a dramatic shift in tone.  Pretty much as good as a single chapter of an event can get. 10/10

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