I don't even know what to say at this point.
(Spoiler alert: If you haven't read Avengers vs. X-Men issue 5, in stores and online today, you may not want to read any further.)
In the new issue of Avengers vs. X-Men, the Avengers tussle with the X-Men on the moon and Tony Stark uses special Iron Man armor to stop the incoming Phoenix Force from obliterating Earth and possessing the mutant Hope Summers as its new host.
Mission accomplished? Not so much. Stark instead broke the Phoenix energy into five parts and it inhabited not one but five mutants — X-Men leader Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Colossus and his younger sister Majik — making them all-powerful and shifting the dynamic of Marvel's 12-issue event series.
"The mutants are now the Earth's mightiest heroes, capable of doing all this cosmic-scale, epic (stuff). And the Avengers are scrambling to keep up and keep things in perspective," says the issue's writer, Matt Fraction.
Making the Avengers walk a mile in the X-Men's underdog shoes was appealing to the Marvel brain trust, according to executive editor Tom Brevoort. "It completely changes the stakes and completely changes the landscape of the story and where it's going."
The new chapter acts as the end of AvX's first act, and leads into the beginning of the second in issue 6, out June 20 and featuring writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Olivier Coipel. (It was also featured in a second digital Infinite comic from Mark Waid.)
The sixth issue picks up some weeks after the Phoenix Five has assumed a place of power in the world, but seemingly for the betterment of the globe. While it's not often a great thing when the Phoenix possesses somebody (see: Jean Grey in the "Dark Phoenix Saga" from the 1980s), Cyclops and his people work to create a better world for mutantkind taking down Sentinel plants but also creating sustainable energy sources in a sort of super-utopia.
"Undoubtedly, a lot of what the X-Men are doing, it's fist-pumpingly cool," says Marvel's editor in chief, Axel Alonso. "Of course the looming question is, at what cost? And will there be a tipping point?"
Adds Fraction: "They're wildly evolving the world overnight. They're doing the work of a Phoenix, only instead of one there's five and each one has their own personality and thoughts, and things are great at first. But they're the X-Men. They're going to stop getting along at some point, and batten down the hatches."
Meanwhile, the Avengers are hiding out and watching of all this unfold, and there will be some differences of opinion about what's going on. However, Captain America isn't going to back down, which causes Cyclops to make the statement that Marvel already is using as a teaser for the AvX second act: "No more Avengers."
While Cap isn't real pleased on how the story's going so far, Alonso has heard overwhelmingly positive response for Avengers vs. X-Men— Marvel is on the fifth printing of the first issue, he says, and sales already have eclipsed that of the popular Civil War from from 2006-07, making AvX Marvel's biggest event series to date.
The series also has played to the strengths of its writers and artists. Fraction, who wrote the Fear Itself event, taps into the emotional consequences of the Phoenix in issue 5, while the next issue allows Hickman to engage in some science-y, large-scale world building similar to the work he has recently done in Fantastic Four and S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The goal for every issue is to tell the story, of course, but to also reflect the idiosyncrasies of the individual writer," says Hickman, who also is writing issue 8, the finale of the second act. "As such, each script has interesting little nudges to poke the story in one direction that's our preference, and it gets picked up on by the others.
Alonso figured that fans were expecting Hope to be the host for the Phoenix, since she has been the one destined to be it for as long as she has been alive, or maybe Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, as a dark-horse candidate.
The swerve of the Phoenix Five was hatched a year ago during a Marvel retreat at writer Brian Michael Bendis' house in Portland, Ore., and Brevoort says that none of the five — who all wear snazzy, matching Phoenix duds — were chosen haphazardly.
"There's a specific reason it resonates that it would be these five," Alonso confirms. "It has to do with what our master plan for these characters has been for some time."
In trying for decades to reach a sense of stability for all mutants, Cyclops has driven away teammates — namely Wolverine — and is seemingly inching closer to a dark side as the man also known as Scott Summers leads his troops.
"It's no different necessarily than Cap standing on top of a rampart barking orders to all the other heroes in the world — only it's the X-Men and people have a natural distrust and suspicion toward them," Fraction explains. "When Scott stands on top of the same rampart and barks an order, it might raise an eyebrow."
Alonso, a former X-Men group editor, says Cyclops is his favorite X-Man because his story is so compelling but also poignant and tragic. "He's had to make a lot of tough calls. Cyclops may very well think that some of the stuff he's doing is going to send him to hell, but he'd do it for his people. That's why I love him so much.
"Now what Cyclops has been given is the power to shape the world in his image, to save his people."
However, guys like Namor may be more worrisome than the X-Men's general, according to the editor in chief. "We've given readers evidence to believe that if power corrupts, then it's going to corrupt the most corruptible sooner, right?"
The triangle of Cyclops, Namor and Emma Frost also will twist and get a lot messier.
"Stories we've been building to for an awful long time, the kettles are starting to boil and this kind of power bestowed on the three of them — on top of their already complicated interpersonal stuff — makes for some real fireworks, emotionally and literally," says Fraction, who also is scripting AvX issue 7.
There also is a big story to be told with Wanda and Hope — the two characters at the center of Bendis and Jason Aaron's AvX zero-issue prologue — who are on a collision course to finally meet.
The X-Men have taken Hope with them, and she's coming to grips with maybe not having the special destiny everybody told her she'd have. Meanwhile, Wanda will come back to center stage, and the former Avenger is "a potent symbol" beyond her abilities but is still the woman who's responsible for depowering 99% of the mutant population, Brevoort says.
"Even though some of these matters have been talked through in the past, none of this has really been settled and it's a provocative thing to have happen," he adds. "John Wilkes Booth is coming out after the play, and you're going, 'It was a very nice play, yes, but there is that thing you did in the middle of it and we really haven't dealt with that.' "
Upcoming issues of AvX will explore Hope and Wanda's relationship and what they think of each other, Fraction says. "Longtime readers and folks just into the event will get to see when these two secret weapons on both sides are put in a room together in the middle of this war."
In addition, Professor X will be making an important appearance in issue 6 — "Scott's tether to what life was like before cosmic consciousness was bestowed upon him," Fraction says — and Iron Fist will play a significant role in Act 2 of AvX. Recent issues of New Avengers have flashed back to the history between former Iron Fists and Phoenixes past.
In issue 6, Brevoort says current Iron Fist Danny Rand "does something kinda funky in a fight sequence that is an indicator of things to come," and Fraction adds that "our midpoint pivot all hinges on Danny."
As big as the Phoenix Five reveal is in issue 5, another major revelation comes at the end of Act 2 "that will clearly test both Avengers and X-Men alike as we get down to the nub of where this whole thing has been going all along," Brevoort says.
The "game-changing moment" will lead into the final round of this grand bout, says Alonso, who looks at it in boxing terms.
"It comes down to heart, grit, stamina — just the will to win," he says. "When it comes to that endgame, it's about what are people willing to win, and the most fascinating stories are always ones which you challenge the reader to think differently.
"What we're willing to do, where we're willing to go with the material, there will be people (ticked off) at what we're willing to do at the end of this act."
...Um, discuss ?