The Phoenix Force has returned to Earth in search of a new host! Who will have this dubious honor, though, and how will it be determined? Wouldja believe... with lots and lots of punching?!
"ENTER THE PHOENIX" BEGINS NOW!
Quicker than you can say, “Hey, didn’t we already A.v. this X?”, “Enter the Phoenix” is at last up and running in Avengers #40. Writer Jason Aaron has been planting seeds for this opus for awhile now, but now that it’s finally showtime, does he deliver?
That all depends on a reader’s perspective. For some, the Phoenix naturally hearkens back to “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” that most sacrosanct of all X-Men yarns, and every use of that cosmic fiery bird since dilutes the original story’s potency bit by bit. And, that’s fair – a bit closed-minded, maybe even a tad pretentious, but I understand where it comes from. Fair enough. But the other side of that coin is, what’s the point of having the metaphorical toys if you never take them out of the toybox and play with ’em a bit? That decision to play on hallowed ground can pass or fail depending not only on execution, but on intent: is the story just a shallow cash grab or an appeal to nostalgia? Or does it have something new and/or legitimate to say or explore about said hallowed ground?
One installment, in, though, and I’m sad to say that “Enter the Phoenix” looks like it’s trending toward the former.
The plot, such as it is, has the Phoenix Force choosing champions to duke it out for who among them gets the honor to be its new host. It does this by imbuing each fighter with an aspect of its power, which means that everyone gets to have their own variant action figure Phoenix Force look. That also means that the bulk of this issue is Captain America and Dr. Doom waling on each other, while Cap narrates the sequence with bittersweet thoughts about how he never backs down from a fight, because, ahem, “He can do this all day.” (Yes, Cap starts to say that at one point before passing out.)
If the tournament aspect of the story sounds familiar, that’s probably because it’s cribbed wholesale from the recently-wrapped (and vastly superior) “X of Swords.” And while the argument could be made that “Enter the Phoenix” was probably being developed along the same timeline as “X of Swords,” the similarities between the story set-up are too big to ignore. That’s immensely disappointing, not just because of how much care has been taken to set “Enter the Phoenix” up, but also because Jason Aaron is an outstanding writer when on the right story. His ethos for Avengers so far has been “Go big or go home” to varying degrees of success, but in the case of “Enter the Phoenix,” that urge to go big gets in the way of developing any depth to the story beyond base-level punching. (Oh, Wolverine’s there, too, because of course he is.)
It isn’t all bad, though. Cap’s inner dialogue is strong and vaguely inspirational without being hokey, although it isn’t anything we haven’t heard from him before. Black Panther’s use of the Celestial embedded in Avengers Mountain to communicate with the Phoenix is inspired. And then there’s the art: The real superstar of the issue is Javier Garron, who takes a one-note story and gives it all he’s got, bringing both power and humanity to the proceedings. You can see the weariness in Cap’s shoulders even as he stands tall, and the pride in Doom even as he goes on the attack. Such blocking shows a real understanding of how character is revealed through body language, and not all artists get that – content to have people stand around in unnatural poses and flex. Garron also draws jam pages really well; the splash page with the itinerant fighters could be poster-worthy. Despite my critical misgivings, “Enter the Phoenix” is going to be a big story on everyone’s lips in 2021, and that momentum could easily propel Garron to the artistic elite of the decade. Watch him.
Sadly, "Enter the Phoenix" gets off to a by-the-numbers, predictable start in Avengers #40. There just isn't enough meat on the bone to justify this story beyond stereotypical superhero punch-'em-up.
Avengers #40: Phoenix! The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Writing - 7/107/10
Storyline - 3/103/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 8.5/108.5/10
Cover Art - 5/105/10
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