by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The signs are made apparent – the Phoenix Force is coming to Earth.  But for some, that may not be a bad thing…

The Review: Based on this first issue, Avengers vs. X-Men delivers everything you could want out of a big superhero event – a big cast, high stakes, epic scale, and lots of drama.  In fact, if you find that you end up hating this issue,  it likely has more to do with superhero events not being for you more than anything else.

What’s most refreshing about AvX compared to, say, Fear Itself is that the conflict at its heart feels meaningful.  Much as was the case with Civil War, this is a game with incredibly high stakes that is fueled by the strong beliefs of its key players.  Really, much of this event is built around a fundamental disagreement between Cap and the Avengers and Cyclops, a disagreement built out of their beliefs and, more importantly, what they believe their respective roles to be.  Cap is the guardian of the globe, while Cyclops is the leader of mutantkind.  That juxtaposition, and the firm stances within, are what drive this issue and the result is the kind of sincerity and emotional tension that has been lacking in previous events.

Another place where AvX succeeds: a lingering feeling of dread.  With the tension between X-Men and Avengers simmering throughout the issue up till the boiling point at issue’s end and the constant feeling that a major conflict is inevitable along with the Phoenix’s imminent arrival and gradual progress towards Earth, there’s a really dark, desperate feel to this issue.  There’s a crushing dread that hangs over this issue that suggests that things are can only go one way: very badly.

Ultimately, what this issue gets right is that while it has a strong central plot with global implications, it’s character driven.  That’s what gives this issue of AvX, and hopefully AvX as a whole, the kind of beating heart, that feeling of significance that so many previous events have lacked.  Fueled by the beliefs, convictions, and self-perceptions of its central characters, there’s a kind of intensity and meaningfulness to this that goes against the superficiality, artificiality, and shallowness of, say, Fear Itself or Siege.

Speaking more directly to the creators, Brian Bendis brings his absolute A-game here.  He’s really scaled back on his usual dialogue idiosyncrasies, replacing it instead with sincere, heartfelt conversations, letting the dialogue be driven by tone and circumstance more than anything else.

Also on his A-game is John Romita Jr., whose work is looking remarkably polished and fully realized.  Romita’s work over the last few years has often had a rushed look, and while there are a couple of panels that still carry that, by and large, this is a much more tidy, attentive, and precise Romita.

I also absolutely loved the ending.  We all knew the epic declaration of war was coming and we all knew this issue would end just as it did, but Bendis and Romita pull it off so perfectly that it’s guaranteed to give you chills.  Put simply, by the end of this issue, I felt horribly addicted to this comic book and was truly grateful that I wouldn’t have to wait a full month for the next one.

If there’s one concern, it’s with the portrayal of Cyclops, who comes across as, well…rather crazy.  From his religious to the point of irrational belief in the Phoenix’s transformative power, to his physically beating the crap out of Hope in “training,” this is a Cyclops that will make you feel rather uncomfortable.  If nothing comes of this, I’d say this was problematic writing.  If, however, AvX ends up seeing Cyclops cross the line and end up closer to the villainous side of things…..awesome.

Conclusion: A complete and utter surprise and everything you could hope for out of a big event.  If the rest of the series can keep this up, we are in for one heck of a ride.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans