I’m going to preface this with a story. Fifteen years ago, my roommate Steve and I were watching The Devil’s Advocate, starring Keanu Reeves as a lawyer who is givent he opportunity to sell his soul literally for success. There’s a scene in there where his wife, played by Charlize Theron, kills herself while our tempted hero watches helplessly through the window of a locked door. We watched the scene and then Steve stopped it, started it over again, and then freeze framed it on Keanu’s anguished face as he poured out so much emotion that Ted “Theodore” Logan was unrecognizable. I know what you’re thinking. “But, FF, Keanu doesn’t emote!” But there it was, frozen on our tv screen, Keanu… emoting, and doing a heart wrenching job of it. Steve, therefore, with a wisdom that came partially from the bong we were passing around, decided that they must have called in an “acting double” to display the feelings necessary for the scene, and to this day, I watch that scene and come to the same conclusion.
Now, why do I bring this up? Because someone at Marvel.com must’ve brought in a Writing Double for AvX #11, because something this good, something this heart breaking could not have come from Brian Michael Bendis. Could it? Have I been wrong all this time?
There be spoilers ahead, if you care about such a thing, so turn back before the rip tide gets you, but this book is the second to last issue in the Avengers vs X-Men event, which is pitting the two titular teams against each other to gain control of Hope Summers, the intended host of the Phoenix Force, which is a cosmic explosion of rebirth and destruction. The X-Men, lead by Scott “Cyclops” Summers is praying for the former to reignite the x-gene, left dormant since the maddened Scarlet Witch used her powers to say, “No more mutants.” The Avengers, lead by Captain America, however, fear for the latter, and rightly so. No host of the Phoenix has withstood the corruption of absolute power for very long. Of course, since this is a world of heightened response and ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality, rather than talk about this like civilized men and women, decided the best course of action was to punch each other in the face and call each other names. In the middle of this dick swinging contest between two men written almost horribly out of character, the Phoenix Force arrived and was accidentally split into five separate mutants– Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magik, Colossus and Namor. They set about changing the world, making it paradise, but the Avengers knew that this good will would not last long, and sure enough, the corruption began to overtake them. One by one, the Phoenix Five fell to delusions of godhood, until only Scott and Emma remained holding the power.
This is where we are in AvX #11, the world held hostage by two mad gods, one who admits her insanity, and the other, Cyclops, once the shining son of Professor Charles Xavier’s dream of mutant/human peace, who believes that his way is the only way and is no longer able to see anything beyond that. The book begins with the Avengers and the X-Men who have escaped their insane leaders, coming together to attempt to overwhelm them with sheer numbers. Not the smartest move. How does the Hulk measure up against a pair of Gods? How does Magneto reason with someone who believes him less than an ant? The answer is, they don’t, and when they swarm on the gods en mass, Cyclops sacrifices his partner and mate, and takes her power from her, giving himself everything, and losing his mind in the process. Lashing out at the one person who should have been able to talk him down from his insanity, Scott turns his full powers on the Professor, killing him. Then, plaintively asking why they all simply couldn’t leave him alone, he surrenders to the Phoenix… no… not the Phoenix, the Dark Phoenix!
There is no way Bendis wrote this. I’ve been thinking about this issue all night and all day, reread that moment of complete collapse of morality and humanity over and over. It’s good. It’s so damn good. Writing Double! It must be. Artwork by Olivier Coipel is great as usual, he captures facial expression amazingly, even when half the face is masked. It’s a beautiful book, and it’s why I read comics. It’s why I want to read comics, and damn you, Brian Michael Bendis, you made me feel.
Coupled with this is Uncanny X-Men #18, by Kieron Gillen and Ron Garney, which I feel must be included in this review, because once past the opening story where Magik and Colossus come to blows over the loss of their power and their innocence, both monsters in their own right, you come to the meat of this book. Meat is the operative word here, too. As their bodies are attacked outside, Emma and Scott, so powerful now that they are the world’s greatest multitaskers, share a steak dinner while calmly discussing the possibility of wiping the world clean and starting it all again like the wrathful gods they have become. But what makes this story so chilling, is that the meal they are dining on is the memory of steak stolen by a drifter in a sauce of human blood stewed in the depravity of a cannibalistic serial killer. When Emma reveals this disgusting little tidbit to Scott, there is only a single panel of hesitation, and then the first X-Man, the leader who has sustained his people as they hovered at the brink of extinction, who has saved the world countless times, who was supposed to carry Xavier’s banner to the end, continues to eat. Right then, you know he’s lost.
There’s one more issue to go, but what can be done? Is there redemption for Scott Summers? Or will the X-Men’s most stalwart champion become their most devastating enemy?
We’ll find out in three weeks.
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Olivier Coipel
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Ron Garney