by Matt Fraction (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker), Laura Martin (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

The Story: The Phoenix arrives.

The Review: I really, really was starting to think that AvX was going to be a good, fun story, but after last month’s shaky issue, I’m getting the sinking feeling that this month’s issue could very well be the moment that this series truly jumped the shark.

Overall, the general problem is that this entire issue is devoted to the big, gigantic twist near the end of the issue.  This leads to around 15 or so pages of treading water, as Fraction basically kills time before dropping the bombshell on us, which is the sole notable thing to happen here.  This leads to more pages of Avengers and X-Men punching each other with very little emotional significance to their particular struggles.  Everyone is paired off and Hope makes it clear that they’re trying to kill each other.  So yeah, lots of hollow panels of action with heroes punching, grappling, and blasting each other.  Perhaps if I were 8 years old again, I’d find it awesome, but at this point, it just feels shallow and a bit meaningless, particularly given that we’ve already had so much of these characters punching each other.  Fraction tries to make these action scenes different by having Hope basically emphasize, through narration, how desperate everything is, but it feels like a case of telling rather than showing; the action doesn’t LOOK any different from what we’ve gotten before, regardless of what Hope tells us.  It doesn’t help that Hope’s narration is built around an extended metaphor on her part that, while a decent idea and well-intentioned, ends up being clunky and more awkward that it’s worth.

But really, this may all be forgivable if the big bombshell Fraction was building up towards was actually a good one.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  I can’t really go into WHY it isn’t without spoiling it, but this really feels like the one, singular moment where things really went wrong with this series.  I really, truly hope I’m proven wrong.  As such, I can guarantee that it’s a twist that you will NOT see coming.  However, upon turning the page, I literally said out loud “are you @$!@ing kidding me?”  It’s a real “facepalm” moment here.  It just feels really, really stupid.  There’s no other way to describe it.  It’s just…dumb.

Moreover, if you’ve already found the series biased in favour of the Avengers in that Scott seems particularly crazy and the X-Men’s side particularly difficult to back, this twist will only make things worse and it seems that the X-Men have essentially become straight up antagonists.  Aside from the problematic lack of balance this presents, it also means that there’s no longer a singular antagonist for readers to focus on.

On the plus side, John Romita Jr.’s art remains strong and remarkably polished by his standard.  If anything, these last few issues have really shown how tight Romita’s work can be and he’s really acquitted himself far better than I’d expected.  The action is boisterous and fun to look at, the Phoenix looks great, and the book is just as loud and energetic as it should be.

Conclusion: A bunch of vapid pages that serve no purpose but to kill time, all leading up to a giant stinker of a twist.  But hey, it’s definitely not one you’ll see coming?

Grade: C-

-Alex Evans