Last year’s big Marvel event was Avengers vs. X-Men, a story about the Phoenix Force returning to Earth and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes coming to blows with the strongest mutant superhero team. I did a review of it and frankly, thought it was pretty weak, like most of Marvel’s recent events, but it set the tone for much of the current Marvel NOW worldview.
However, there were always questions in AvX. Hope Summers voluntarily rejected the Phoenix Force, causing it to take over Cyclops, Colossus, Magic and Emma Frost. But what if Hope hadn’t rejected it? What if she embraced it? What would have happened to the Marvel universe?
The goal of this mini-series is to find out what might have been, had things turned out differently. What If? was a long-running series that ran 193 issues over 9 series, with this mini-series constituting a tenth series. It has run off-and-on since 1977 and has posed questions about alternate takes on classic Marvel history.
So the question at hand here is, what would have happened had Hope accepted the Phoenix Force? The answer, I suppose, isn’t that unreasonable, it’s something that could probably have been predicted pretty early on, a lot of the stories told in What If? comics show a darker alternative reality that makes the reader happy that what actually happened really did, this is no exception.
We start off in the first issue with the Guardians of the Galaxy facing down the Phoenix. Unlike AvX, the powerful force plows right through them, killing them all. The Avengers brief the government on the situation and reveal that the Phoenix is headed straight for Utopia so it can bond with Hope. As in AvX, a team of Avengers are trying to intercept the Phoenix, they’ve sent Thor, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Vision and Black Panther. I’m sorry, Black Panther? These were supposed to be the strongest heroes the Avengers could muster, he doesn’t really count. Hope, meanwhile, is being trained by the X-Men, particularly by Emma Frost and Magneto, to develop her skills so she can be possessed by the Phoenix Force. Magneto is laying it on pretty thick, trying to indoctrinate Hope into his pro-mutant rhetoric. The rest of the Avengers head off to Utopia in hopes of talking some sense into the X-Men and a small group of X-Men board the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier to talk terms, however, when Magneto arrives and takes exception to Captain America’s demand to turn Hope over, things go exceedingly wrong and Wolverine ends up disemboweling Storm. With first blood drawn, Magneto single-handedly blows up the helicarrier, starting a war between the forces.
On to the second issue. While the deep space Avengers await the arrival of the Phoenix, their earth-bound team is having a very bad day. In the confusion of the falling helicarrier, Magneto and Emma Frost grab Hope and spirit her away, while the rest of the X-Men attempt to save the lives of as many Avengers as they can. There are casualties, both Colleen Wing and Falcon are killed in the impact and Namor attacks Wolverine, blaming him for the conflict. The X-Men and Avengers squabble but finally realize that they have to join forces to fight the oncoming Phoenix Force. Out in space, the Phoenix presumably kills Thor, but is sufficiently injured in the combat that the rest of the Avengers try to perform a killing blow, but fail. The Phoenix momentarily takes over the bodies of Nova and Ms. Marvel before detecting Hope on the distant moon. Hope stands strong and intercepts the Phoenix, absorbing it as Black Panther observes that Houston, we have a problem.
In the third issue, the surviving space Avenger team arrives on the moon and demands that Magneto turn over Hope to them. He refuses and with Hope’s help, flings the hapless heroes into the Earth’s atmosphere. Phoenix needs time to think and consider her options, but Magneto convinces her that the humans will always hate her and that nothing she does to help the planet will matter until the humans are all dead. The Avenging X-Men have run out of options and they tell Black Panther to open up with the powerful missile he’s carrying, but Phoenix slaps it out of the sky, blowing up half the moon and sending millions of tons of rock raining down on the Earth. Black Panther tries a kamikaze run on Magneto and Phoenix, but is quickly quashed and when Emma Frost realizes that she can no longer be a part of the madness, Phoenix blasts her to a million crystal pieces. With the Earth being pounded by moon rocks, one of which takes out the Fantastic Four, how can Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and their mutant friends survive?
The last issue opens with massive destruction porn, the world is destroyed while a recap of the previous three issues plays. Phoenix Hope comes to Earth with Magneto by her side and she offers hope to those mutants who will join her side. To the non-mutants, she offers only destruction. Of course, neither the Avengers nor the X-Men are willing to turn their backs on the rest of the planet, they assemble and attack, but Hope is too much for them. However, the Phoenix is also too strong and Hope begins to lose focus, she turns to Magneto for aid, but he takes her life and absorbs the Phoenix instead, like nobody saw that coming. With his newfound powers, he kills off a bunch of random heroes, seemingly destined for victory before Charles Xavier psionically blinds him, giving Hulk and Wolverine time for a little fastball special action and with Wolverine’s claws in his face, Magneto dies. However, the damage is already done and Jean Grey appears to Wolverine, ostensibly in some sort of quasi-afterlife, and explains it’s time for the world to start over and apparently, they’re the ones who will serve as Adam and Eve of this brave new world. The mini-series ends as they share a kiss, with the spirits of the fallen heroes staring on.
There are certainly some problems with the writing. For instance, in the last issue, Magneto hangs out without his helmet for quite some time, why didn’t Professor X control his mind and make him stop influencing Hope? It’s not like he wasn’t just standing there all along. And along those lines, it isn’t like the X-Men have no experience with Magneto’s anti-human rhetoric, why would they allow him unfettered access to Hope to begin with? That’s like handing her over to Hitler for training and hoping he doesn’t indoctrinate her. These things are so blatantly obvious to me, why aren’t they to the writer? I really detest stories that require the most absurd things to happen in order to work out the way the writer wants them to.
The art, I’m sorry to say, isn’t great. I’m not really a fan of cartoony art to begin with, but I think a lot of this crosses the line. In the above panels, especially Captain America and Wolverine make me roll my eyes, especially Wolverine whose hand is grossly out of proportion with the rest of his body. Jorge Molina isn’t really one of my favorite artists and his art just isn’t very consistent. The variations in how he draws Valkyrie, for example, are extreme.
While I think the concept here is interesting, I don’t think I can recommend this mini-series because it’s just not that great of a story. The art is dubious, the writing is forced and the ending bizarre. As much as I disliked AvX to begin with, this is a story that I disliked even more. It almost strikes me as a “you hated AvX? Here, read this and give us even more money with this stupid concept!”