Most folks who know me – or who read my reviews here regularly – have probably noticed that I’m more of a DC man. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of Marvel titles I love (Ultimate Spider-Man, X-Factor and Uncanny X-Force are all strong ongoings, and Marvel’s recent mini-series Mystic is an early contender for one of the year’s best trade paperbacks), but on a month-to-month basis, DC tends to fulfill my comic-reading itch a little better, whether its because of their characters or (more likely) because of their more reasonable pricing structure. So maybe it’s just that I’ve been absent from mainstream Marvel continuity for a time, but I cannot imagine how this month’s prologue to their upcoming big event, Avengers Vs. X-Men, is that much of a prologue at all. But don’t let that stop you from checking it out: AvX #0 is definitely enjoyable – and surprisingly character-driven.
The first of the book’s two stories, written by Brian Michael Bendis, follows the Scarlet Witch as she meets up with the new Avengers. Though she mostly disappeared a number of years back – the epilogue to the execrable House of M – she returned recently, once again with her memories and powers, in Young Avengers: Children’s Crusade. Now at something of a crossroads, Wanda has ever reason to be loathed by all the people she betrayed, and that’s stopped her thus far from trying to return to old haunts. But a chance encounter with Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel prompt her to return to the Avengers Mansion and confront some of the people she hurt.
Bendis’ story is by far the weaker of the two, but once it returns to the mansion, it at least feels honest. Wanda’s confrontation with Vision is melodramatic but handled honestly. The issue’s two biggest problems come, I think at the story’s beginning and its end. The 15-page story opens with three pages of set-up… that exist purely to tell us what random villains Scarlet Witch is fighting and why. Unless Dr. Udaku is important to AvX, it really was a waste of page space that could have been dedicated to fixing the other problem: with three pages of set-up and a seven page fight scene, that leaves a scant five pages to deal with Wanda’s reunion with the Avengers – and that lack of space makes the male Avengers seem like pretty heartless cretins.
Jason Aaron’s story, following mutant messiah Hope Summers, works a bit better. The first mutant born after the Scarlet Witch decimated the mutant population, Hope is powerful and, she believes, overprotected. Stuck on Utopia, she has taken to sneaking out some nights to explore San Francisco and fight crime, while Cyclops has demanded that she remain safe with the X-Men. While out on the town, Hope runs into a group of supervillains robbing a bank, and she uses them to take out some of her aggression on Cyclops.
Neither story is particularly complex, but both serve as believable introductions to the characters (and, presumably, to the upcoming event). Scarlet Witch’s story is more soap opera-esque and it takes way too long to get to the point, but I liked her confrontation with the Vision. Hope’s story is a more traditional tale of teenage rebellion – parent puts pressure on kid, kid rebels, the two have to come to an agreement – but Aaron’s script gives it a little more room to breathe and focus on Hope’s role in the upcoming event. Besides, it has the week’s first (and so far, only) laugh-out-loud page in comics, as Hope teaches an arrogant supervillain the purpose of the headbutt.
Frank Cho’s art on the issue is roundly fantastic, with vibrant colors by Jason Keith. He does an excellent job with Wanda’s uncertain, dejected body language, particularly in the stark, white panel after Vision’s put-down of her. The fight choreography in the opening segments of the issue is a little too chaotic, but that may just be because it handles a large cast in a small chunk of pages – the brief fight we see in Hope’s story is much better. Besides, he includes among the villains in Wanda’s story a giant bullet with the head of a dinosaur, and I can forgive a lot for goofy shit like that.
I have no idea how any of this ties into the upcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men. Really, it’s about two people – the cause of and the conclusion of the Decimation – who don’t quite belong on either team. Wanda Maximoff is a woman who did a lot of damage to her friends; Hope Summers is a girl with all the hopes of an entire race on her shoulders. For those who initially dismissed Avengers Vs. X-Men as a gaudy year-long fight sequence, I think this mostly-enjoyable character-centric prologue should inspire at least some initial interest.