Prepping for War: AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, The Story So Far


***SPOILER ALERT! If you're not caught up on Avengers and X-Men titles, this article is meant to do just that. Which means if you're not caught up and don't want to be, you should click on over to another Newsarama article right now! Here be spoilers, kids.***

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0 hits this week, launching the official unofficial first volley in the war between marvel's two biggest superhero franchises. The Avengers and the X-Men are going to slug it out, all over Hope Summers and the Phoenix Force — which is "coming," according to teasers from late last year.

But as pointed out last week on Blog@Newsarama, it appears the Phoenix Force isn't on its way, it is actually already here. In Avengers: X-Sanction #4, a near-death Cable was healed, and in fact cured entirely of the techno-organic virus that plagued him since infancy, by his surrogate daughter Hope. Hope cured the virus by manifesting the Phoenix firebird and literally burning it out of his system, following a suggestion/foreshadowing from Red Hulk earlier in the issue. Then, in no uncertain terms and "sometime in the near future," Cable tells Cyclops, "Then you know. Hope is the Phoenix."

This is just the latest in big hints, portents, or events showing what's to come in the 12-issue (plus tie-ins, natch) biweekly event series Avengers Vs. X-Men. Now we'll take a look at the rest of the story so far.


Hope is the Phoenix

While this is the first overt time we've seen Hope manifest the Phoenix Force and been told in plain English that she either is the host or is the Force made flesh (note Cable specifically chose to say "is" not "has" or another possessive term), it's far from the first time we've been given hints, blatant or otherwise, that Hope and the Phoenix are connected.

The first such hint came all the way back in Cable #5. In the issue, as Cable and strapped-to-his-chest Baby Hope are running from Bishop, we get a nice close up on Hope's eyes. In her eyes? The Phoenix firebird.

Later, in the back-up story by Duane Swierczynski and Steve Dillon, Hope was expanded upon a bit. When the story was collected into a one-shot, X-Men: Hope, the cover literally had Hope standing in front of the Phoenix firebird.

Finally came the Second Coming crossover, where Hope's true power was revealed. She showed the ability to replicate every mutant's abilities. And at the end of it all in Chapter 14, with the battle won, just before the "five lights," the first five new mutants since Scarlet Witch's spell that very nearly ended mutanism entirely, appeared on Cerebro's system, Hope walked in front of a bonfire… and it turned into the plumes of the Phoenix.


Scarlet Witch is Back. For Good. (Probably.)

The other major Marvel miniseries that's leading into AvX is the recently wrapped Avengers: The Children's Crusade, which brought former Avenger Scarlet Witch back to the forefront of the Marvel Universe.

The lives of the Scarlet Witch — who also happens to be Magneto's daughter, Vision's ex-wife and a member of the original incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants — and Hope Summers are inextricably linked. Hope was the first mutant born after the "Decimation" that resulted from the end of House of M, when Wanda Maxmioff uttered the fateful words "No more mutants."

The Children's Crusade depicted an early conflict between the Avengers and the X-Men, who were divided over what to do with the resurfaced Scarlet Witch. The X-Men primarily blamed her for the devastation of the mutant population and sought to end her threat definitively, while the Avengers were diplomatic.

In the end of the nine-issue series, Cyclops eventually backed off, while still telling Scarlet Witch that she will "never be forgiven." And as seen in the preview to Avengers vs. X-Men #1, Cyclops definitely believes, as misguided as it may seem, that the return of Phoenix could mean the revival of the mutant race. As for Scarlet Witch, her next move will be seen in this week's Avengers vs. X-Men #0, featuring her and Hope as the story's two leads.


Avengers vs. X-Men… vs. X-Men?

Since AvX was first announced in early December 2011, fans have wondered exactly what will constitute "the X-Men" for the purpose of the story. After all, thanks to the 2011 miniseries X-Men: Schism and the resulting "ReGenesis," they're no longer unified, with Marvel's mutants sharply divided among geographical and philosophical lines.

Thanks to an incident involving Idie Okonkwo — one of the "Five Lights," the first new mutants found since Hope — Wolverine concluded that Cyclops had been acting too militaristic, and ultimately endangering the lives of the young mutants they were trying to protect. So Wolverine — along with original X-Men Beast (also an Avenger) and Iceman, plus Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Gambit, Cannonball, Rachel Grey and more — moved across the coast from Utopia, back to the X-Men's old stomping grounds of Westchester, New York, where Wolverine founded the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. (Naming it after Cyclops' dead wife being the ultimate dis.)

Based on previews, promotional images and early interviews, we know that Cyclops is leading the X-Men charge in AvX. Wolverine's loyalty remains a question mark, since not only has he been on the outs with Scott Summers as of late, but he's been an Avenger himself now for years. Whether or not he — or his colleagues at the Jean Grey School — fall in line with the rest of his species, favor Captain America's side, or perhaps represent a third entity entirely, all remain key questions going in to the series.


Vision is Back, Storm is an Avenger, and Other News from Earth's Mightiest Heroes

Recently both of the Brian Michael Bendis-written main Avengers series — Avengers and New Avengers — have been consumed by Norman Osborn's revenge plot, which (we don't think) leads directly into AvX in an overt fashion, other than ensuring that Earth's Mightiest Heroes haven't had any time to catch their breath before clashing with the X-Men. But there have been plenty of seemingly very relevant developments along the way.

Recently, Storm — one of the most prominent and enduring X-Men characters — joined the Avengers, and though Bendis has said in the past that he didn't base that decision off of Avengers vs. X-Men, he's acknowledged that it does dovetail nicely. Storm has also stuck around Utopia with Cyclops, so, much like Wolverine, the question of exactly which side she'll choose remains a question as Avengers vs. X-Men #1 approaches on April 4.

Also, Tony Stark has managed to bring the Vision — a robotic "synthezoid" and one of the most iconic Avengers members — back to life following his death in "Avengers: Disassembled." That demise was caused due to Scarlet Witch's mental breakdown, and that will surely make things awkward whenever they run into each other next (which seems like it might happen in this week's Avengers #24.1).  Also awkward — they used to be married.


Cyclops vs. Captain America

In 2006's thematically similar event series Civil War, the conflict between the pro-registration and anti-registration sides boiled down to the two men at the front: Iron Man and Captain America. For AvX, it looks like a similar dynamic might exist between Cyclops and Captain America.

As far back as 2010's The Heroic Age: Uncanny X-Men one-shot, the relationship between the two has been a bit peculiar, with Steve Rogers giving Cyclops a pep talk and pressuring the president to give Scott a medal of freedom — and Cyclops in turn throwing it into the ocean.

Writer Kieron Gillen has been exploring their relationship off and on in the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, and things look to get even juicier in the current arc, which features the last team-up between the two teams before Avengers vs. X-Men.

"It's about seeing them together one final time before it all goes bad," Gillen told Newsarama last month. "It's also about delineating the fundamental difference between the two groups."

To put it broadly, Civil War was essentially Iron Man vs. Captain America, with Spider-Man caught in the middle — initially siding with the pro-registration camp, before defecting over to Cap's side. Might something along those lines play out in AvX, except with Wolverine as the variable? It's all speculation on our parts at this point, but in just two days we'll begin to see at least some of these questions answered. 

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