Thursday, March 29, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 00 (Avengers vs. X-Men #0)

Next week, Marvel's biggest publishing event ever will kick off with the release of Avengers vs. X-Men #1. This week, they released a prologue zero issue featuring two stories, both focused around powerful women that inspire fear. In putting them beside one another, the conceptual idea of what's at stake in Avengers vs. X-Men is revealed: Hope is, possibly, the next Scarlet Witch and, once again, that will bring the Avengers into conflict with the X-Men.

The title of this event recalls Civil War, but, really, we're getting a replay of "Avengers Disassembled" and House of M under the pretense of Civil War. (Actually, with the Phoenix Force coming from space, there's also a hint of Secret Invasion. This is Marvel's biggest event because it's a mash-up of previous events and big stories.) In "Avengers Disassembled," the Scarlet Witch seemingly went insane and used her powers to destroy the Avengers after discovering that she had once had two children that didn't really exist (except they do, I believe). She attempts to create a fake world where she can be a mom and exacts revenge on her friends that she thinks betrayed her. In the process, she killed some Avengers (notably Hawkeye and her ex-husband Vision) and was taken away by her father Magneto to be treated by him and Charles Xavier. She is, after all, a mutant and that makes her a mutant problem despite her long history as an Avenger.

That conflict was brought to the forefront in House of M where the two groups debated what to do with her. Some wanted her dead, fearing that she can't be controlled or helped, while others simply wanted to help her and hope for the best. Before they can do anything, she uses her powers to recreate reality, transforming the world into one where mutants are dominant over humans. Wolverine is the sole hero to remember the 'real' world and, over the course of the series, more and more heroes remember, eventually gathering their forces to stop Magneto (ruler of the House of M, the most prestigious monarchy on the planet) and his daughter. In the end, the heroes win, not before the Scarlet Witch uses her powers to decimate the mutant population. Her desire of "No more mutants" isn't seen through altogether with 200 mutants remaining alive.

Since then, Cyclops has grown more and more militant in his protection of mutants. He's obsessed with the survival of his species and has driven away most of his friends and teammates. The shift from House of M to its aftermath pretty much destroyed the character he was, for better or worse. In a sense, the world of House of M is a vision of what Cyclops, now, would want most -- what he possibly hopes Hope can bring about. She, the first mutant birth since the Scarlet Witch's words, is seen as the mutant messiah, a role she doesn't quite want. Yet, she's obviously set up as the Scarlet Witch's opposite number. Where Wanda destroyed the mutant population, Hope will bring it back, supposedly with the Phoenix Force.

This issue doesn't make many of these ideas explicit. We're given some fallout of Wanda's return with the Vision basically reminding her of what she did and, while some may be ready to forgive and forget, not everyone is. Besides that, I'm not sure what the point of that story is besides completing the story Brian Michael Bendis began in this week's Avengers #24.1 and juxtaposing the Scarlet Witch with Hope in a fairly obvious way. Wanda is still on her descent after seemingly dying, living in obscurity, and returning recently. She's a reminder of what's really at stake in the upcoming story.

The Hope portion of the issue is much more important, outlining Cyclops's desire to both nurture and control her -- she's mutantkind's only hope for survival and he will damn well make sure that she lives up to the role. The problem is that she doesn't necessarily want (or understand) that role -- and she was raised on the run in a string of future timelines with an old crazy soldider. She's fairly fucked up and is possibly heading for a breakdown much like Wanda's. She revels in her powers -- going so far as to say she wants the Phoenix Force. She wants that power. To what end? When that question is raised, Cyclops shrugs it off with a fairly lame response about how special she is.

The first story is a reminder of what happened with the Scarlet Witch and that the Avengers haven't forgotten. They are not prepared to let that happen again, while mutants still feel the effect of their failure and see what's coming as something different. It's a way to make right the wrongs that came from the Avengers' failure with the Scarlet Witch and are willing to risk another catastrophe like "Avengers Disassembled" and House of M if it means the chance of mutants no longer being an endangered species. In a sense, Cyclops is just as twisted because of a jarring loss as Wanda was...

Next week: the event begins officially with Avengers vs. X-Men #1.