By: Ed Brubaker (writer), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Cap and Wolverine have a “discussion” regarding his actions on Utopia.

The Review: I figure a lot of readers are going to have a different interpretation of this issue, one that ends up being much more negative.  Why are the characters behaving so stupidly and resorting to violence so easily?  Why are they going directly against their clearly stated principles?  For more cynical readers, this will no doubt be ascribed to poor writing and “event storytelling.”

But I don’t think it’s that simple.  Rather, much like in the first issue of AvX, we’re finally being given an event that has heart and character moments and not just heroes smashing things.   I think the ease with which Cap and Wolverine resort to violence is a testament to their fraying at the edges under the pressure of this impending cataclysm, as well as the pandemonium of friends having become enemies.  That Cap behaves stupidly in so quickly throwing his fists isn’t poor writing at all – rather, it shows that he’s human.  He’s not some unassailable paragon.  Under tremendous stress, with the X-Men now enemies and the world turned upside down, Cap is slowly losing his cool, instead becoming more like….well, Tony Stark in his uglier days.  Stress is breaking these heroes and seeing events take their toll on their psyches is what makes this story feel meaningful and rife with significance and desperation.

Moreover, showing Cap as imperfect, too willing to resort to force, also counterbalances my concern in issue 1 – that Cyclops was too easily labeled the “bad guy,” coming across as a crazy zealot.  Steve, this month, instead comes across as excessively brutal in his decision-making and, under stress, too willing to use force.  Hell, the sneaky trick he pulls on Logan this month comes close to being villainous.

And really, Wolverine is in a similarly compromised position; events have made him go against his previous principles in trying to kill a child, Hope, and now here, when slugged by Cap, he resorts to trying to KILL Captain America.  It’s fantastic stuff seeing these heroes losing it and showing their ugly sides as they fall apart at the seams.

Brubaker also takes the core of the X-Men off of Utopia this month, which is a great decision.  Instead of feeling like a sovereign nation, having them hiding out and planning in the dark amidst shipping containers at a pier makes the group feel more vulnerable and cornered and establishes the Avengers as the more official, governmental side here.  In other words, they’re back to occupying the traditional X-Men role, which makes their side easier to support.  The same goes for Hope this month.  Hunted as she is, Brubaker and Romita do a great job in basically sending her back to her old dystopian future with Cable, despite it still being present day.  She may be in present-day NYC, but she’s salvaging for tech in dark, abandoned alleyways, hunted and haunted, just like “good old days.”

Romita’s artwork is great this issue and I felt it was actually sharper than last issue.  Hanna and Martin continue to work wonders on Romita’s work as well, enhancing its energy and liveliness.  Romita’s work on AvX remains some of the cleanest and most polished work I’ve ever seen from him, full of character and actually better able of carrying and conveying the human drama than I’d’ve expected out of his more “cartoony” style.

Conclusion:  I wasn’t overly thrilled about last issue, but this one rights the ship.  Really great stuff, AvX is the most fun I’ve had with a Marvel event in a VERY long time.  The Architects continue to make it more about the characters than anything else and it’s paying off in spades.

Grade: B+

– Alex Evans