Graphic Novel Review: Marvel Premium Editions: Avengers Vs X-Men and Planet Hulk
- Credit: Archant
Since the original Human Torch came to blows with Namor the Sub-Mariner in the first ever comics crossover (issues 8-9 of Marvel Mystery Comics, 1940), disparate superheroes have clashed with their peers in blockbuster battles which have left a trail of destruction in their wake.
It is a tradition which has continued through to the present day, but although there have been various explosive conflicts between costumed cadres over the years, nothing can possibly compare to this epic multi-issue confrontation between Marvel’s two biggest franchises.
The dozens of heroes who make up the Avengers and the X-Men find themselves diametrically opposed over the return to Earth of the planet-devouring Phoenix, an ancient force of cosmic power which once possessed Jean Grey, wife of X-Men leader Scott (Cyclops) Summers, leading to her death.
The two teams learn that the Phoenix is coming back, and the so-called mutant messiah, Hope, appears to be the perfect candidate for its new host, something the X-Men believe could lead to the rebirth of their race following the decimation of mutantkind on M-Day.
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In contrast, the Avengers recognise the devastating power of the Phoenix and want to stop it in its tracks, initially by taking Hope into custody, but with the implication that extreme measures will be taken if deemed necessary.
This course of events sets up a showdown between the two super-teams, and before you know it, they’re embroiled in a brutal battle which is unlikely to have any real winners, with the fate of the planet at stake in the process.
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Avengers Vs X-Men actually throws a complete curveball at the end of the first act, as instead of Hope becoming possessed by the Phoenix, the entity actually splits itself between five key X-Men - Cyclops, Namor, Colossus, Magik and Emma Frost – who begin using its immense power to solve problems of drought, famine, political unrest and so on.
The immediate implications of their actions are of course, the erosion of free will and the undermining of state power, as these god-like beings exercise their own judgments over the needs of the planet’s population, with no regard for whether they are right.
Although the Avengers have been imprisoned or forced into hiding, the team known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” are far from out for the count, and steps are being taken to hit back at the Phoenix Five before they lose their final grasp upon their humanity…
Like many “event” stories churned out by the big two comics publishers, Avengers Vs X-Men is a real game-changer, which had long-reaching consequences for years to come, especially given the shocking events at the story’s end.
It’s also got far more depth than the initial concept suggests, and opens up a host of debates between the protagonists over the decisions they have made in order to achieve their aims. Just because you’re Captain America it doesn’t mean you’re always right, and whether we should judge a reformed Magneto on the strength of his past crimes rather than his current behaviour are just some of the issues to consider…
Meanwhile, after being exiled into space by his costumed peers to rid the Earth of the Hulk menace forever, Bruce Banner crash-lands on the barbaric world of Sakaar, where gladiatorial conflicts are waged between champions of conflicting tribes and the green-skinned goliath finds himself forced into the arena for the entertainment of the ruling Red King.
It’s a simplistic concept, but brought to life thanks to writer Greg Pak and his artistic talent’s world-building skills, and the introduction of Hulk’s gladiatorial allies, the later “Warbound”, made up of assorted creatures from different planets united in their fight for survival.
The Hulk is very much the underdog in the early stages of this storyline, no longer the strongest there is, but making up for this weakness through his remarkable fighting skills, and as the narrative progresses we see him turn from reluctant gladiator into determined freedom fighter, bringing Sakaar along with him in the process.
Probably the most significant Hulk story of the last few decades, the repercussions of Planet Hulk have resonated up to the present day, including in the recent Thor movie, Ragnarok, which drew on much of the storyline for inspiration, albeit with the inclusion of the Thunder God himself.
Yes, predominately these books are about super-heroes fighting other super-heroes, but leave your preconceptions at the door as there’s much more going on here than you might expect, and the future of the Marvel universe for years to come was defined in these conflicts, so if you haven’t read them already then these luxury editions are probably the best way to do so.