Last year the big comics event of the summer was Avengers Vs X-men, pitting the two big Marvel teams against one another when the Phoenix, a powerful energy force that once possessed Jean Grey and almost destroyed the world, returns to earth.
Iron Man created a device that split the Phoenix into five parts, controlling X-men Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor. The event lost momentum along the way and essentially villainised the X-men’s leader Cyclops, being seen as a small disaster. What If? AVX asks how things would have gone had some events been changed, but the first issue (of four) doesn’t do enough to separate itself from the original event.
The What If? comics are an old concept from the 70s that explored what would happen if something had gone differently in a comic book series. A classic example is if Jean Grey hadn’t committed suicide to protect her friends during the Dark Phoenix Saga, going on a full on killing spree instead. There have been many failed attempts to revive the concept over the years, this just seeming the latest.
So far, rather than one event happening differently, little details are changed throughout. The Avengers team that heads to negotiate with the X-men and take the assumed host, Hope, into custody, is slightly changed. This is presumably as a result of them finding out a little later, and this being the only team they could put together at short notice. In the X-men camp, former villain Magneto seems to be in control, far more than Cyclops at least who watches from the sidelines. A smaller team of Avengers heads out to attempt to fight the Phoenix, with the cover to the next issue suggesting that they become the Phoenix’s hosts instead of the X-men. Presumably this will lead to some changes down the line, getting to see how the world will be affected by them being the host.
In this parallel story, a lot of elements don’t make much sense. For some reason the X-men don’t see a problem with sending former villains Magneto and Namor with the Avengers. Cyclops even seems to think it’s a better option than going himself just because he’s been pushing a pro-mutant agenda. When things go to hell during the meeting everyone is shocked, but they really shouldn’t be; anyone could see that coming. While Magneto is no longer an X-men villain, he is still incredibly anti-human, so why send him as an ambassador to a team of humans?! There is one death in this issue and it actually works quite well, Storm being accidentally stabbed by her old teammate Wolverine when she tries to break up a fight. It puts blood on Wolverine’s hands and makes him responsible for the start of the war.
Obviously Magneto goes classic Magneto and declares full on war on the Avengers, ending the issue on a cliffhanger that doesn’t quite work. In the original comic, the first issue ended with Cyclops shooting Captain America, antagonising the massive Avengers force that was waiting on the sidelines and so setting up the conflict for the next issue. By having Magneto blow up the helicarrier with the Avengers on board, it’s less clear how they’re going to actually get to the Avengers Vs X-men part of the title.
The artwork by Jorge Molina is a little hit and miss, most characters look true to form but their faces are very unexpressive. The only emotion he really portrays is anger, shocked characters, or just those looking bored. Magneto looks less like a powerful mutant, more like a decrepit old man at times, making it hard to take him seriously. Emma Frost in particular is quite poorly drawn, looking differently in every panel she appears in and at one point having an incredibly mannish square jaw. Some of his set piece moments are quite well drawn, like the aforementioned Wolverine stabbing Storm, where you can see the sadness in Wolverine’s eyes and surprise on Storm’s face. It is slightly ruined however by Namor’s cartoonishly surprised face in the corner of the panel.
So far it doesn’t feel like the comic is truly using the concept and doesn’t excite me enough to make me pick up the next issue. Unlike many people, I quite enjoyed Avengers Vs. X-men for the most part and had hoped this comic would provide an interesting spin on the event. Unfortunately, what I got was quite disappointing and just made me want to reread the original story.