by Jason Aaron (writer), Adam Kubert (pencils), John Dell (inks), Laura Martin & Larry Molinar (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: With their backs against the wall, the Avengers attempt a daring jailbreak.

The Review: I’ve actually found the last few issues of Avengers vs. X-Men to be relatively enjoyable.  It’s something of a disappointment then that this latest installment felt a tad underwhelming.

Part of that, I think, is that this issue is another testament to the fact that AvX could easily have run the standard 8 issues instead of twelve.  The first two-thirds of the issue felt like a lot of wheel-spinning.  Perhaps that’s a little strong, as things DO happen, but it feels like little more than the pieces being shuffled around on the board.  It’s almost as though the book is on a holding pattern – minor consolidations of characters’ alignment are made, it’s hammered home repeatedly that the Avengers are stuck in neutral, and the end result is that, for all the action scenes, the book is surprisingly dull.

Moreover, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the portrayal of Magik and Colossus.  The strongest element of the “Phoenix Five” has been the way that the Phoenix hasn’t just corrupted them, but done so in a manner that accentuates each of their unique and inherent character flaws.  Magik and Colossus, however, just come across as evil, straight-up villains.  Well, with Colossus trying to resist his villainous side, anyway, while Magik is completely malevolent.  But the problem is there’s nothing unique in their corrupted behaviour – they’re just violent and nasty.  I wish it was a little more nuanced in the delivery.  It’s particularly strange given that Jason Aaron was also the guy behind last week’s issue of Wolverine & the X-Men, which did such a great job in its depiction of corrupted Colossus.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Aaron’s takes on the empowered Emma and Scott.  These two characters thankfully maintain that interesting element of the Phoenix’s corruption – they aren’t just evil, but rather, the corruption emphasizes certain character flaws.  The vengeful Emma Frost and her inner struggles were a great example of that and a major highlight of the book.  Aaron manages to make her perfectly monstrous, the Phoenix corrupting her in a manner that fits perfectly with her nature, but also a sympathetic figure, all in the space of two pages.

I also quite enjoyed the battle between Spider-Man and the Phoenix Five.  It’s really a testament to Aaron and Kubert’s skill that they actually started to get me to believe that Spider-Man might actually bite it in this issue.  Despite two months of advance solicitations and the character’s flagship nature, I actually had doubts as to whether he’d survive this issue.  That’s really impressive and a testament to Aaron and Kubert’s abilities in giving us a really, really brutal beatdown and delivering a perfect set-up.  A lot of this is also thanks to an absolutely brilliant first page, which begins in media res and hints at a character death without giving you the identity, leaving you on edge and guessing for the rest of the issue.

As far as the art goes overall, it’s Adam Kubert, so you know it’s not going to be bad.  I got a vaguely 90s feel out of this one (albeit a 90s feel polished by 2012 coloring and inking techniques), but not in a bad way.  Rather, it had that element of bombastic scale and action and “Marvel”-ness without the anatomical and facial exaggerations.  While I still think that Olivier Coipel is my preferred artist for this book, Kubert leaves little to complain about.

Conclusion: Kind of a mixed bag of an issue.  The scenes with Spider-Man and Emma were very strong, but the earlier portions were a bit dull.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans