Avengers vs X-Men released this week - and I had to admit a sense of confusion and conflicted feelings about it. The story itself was good. It felt sort of short (though it's nearly 30 pages), and essentially was all set-up and explanation for new fans. The sense that Marvel is really, finally, trying to do something truly epic with the X-Men is very appreciated.
What I'm unsure about, though, is the extras that came with this issue. Marvel is making Digital Comics a real priority - and getting us to use to them by giving a free code for a digital version of Avengers vs X-Men #1, and also adding a new digital-only short story. The short story is nothing that couldn't have been done on paper - but they did make the digital comic, starring Nova, read more smoothly and easily than a regular digital comics. It wasn't that special (or even really significant, for those who can't download it) - but it was a really nice extra to have thrown in.
To catch you up, the new Nova (now Sam Alexander), appeared in Marvel's "Point One" issue - as he was going to planets to try and warn them about the approaching cosmic Phoenix Force. On one planet Nova gets into a battle with a villain called Terrax, which contributes to Nova failing to save the the planet. "Epic fail" - is how Nova considers it.
The Phoenix Force is still on a path of destruction - and Nova is intent on getting to Earth to warn everyone. He's pushing himself to his limits to reach Earth in time -- which is pretty much what the bonus digital issue details. We get a good monologue about how his Nova Corps helmet operates, and about what he wants to protect on Earth. For a story about him just flying towards Earth, it was a pretty good short story.
Nova eventually reaches Earth and begins to go into the atmosphere. He's not entirely able to control his descent, and crashes through a plane and into buildings. He's found by the Avengers, only able to get out a warning of something terrible coming. They rush him to the hospital where he lapsed into a coma.
Although Nova wasn't able to get his message across - and actually say its the Phoenix thats coming - he did get the warning out in another way, as in the actual Avengers vs X-Men issue, Tony Stark discovers the energy signature on Nova's armor. Its the energy of the Phoenix Force -- a cosmic entity of destruction and rebirth.
The X-Men have a long history with the Phoenix - as Jean Grey was its host for a long time. In the famous Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean killed herself rather than allow the Phoenix Force to run rampant, as she was no longer able to control the entity. Jean, of course, also famously came back to life (it was complicated. REALLY complicated.) She didn't have the Phoenix Force for a long time - but eventually began manifesting its powers again. At the end of Grant Morrison's New X-Men run, Jean ascended to a high plane of existence.
The Phoenix Force, though, apparently didn't stay with her. It's popped up here and there - but this is the big, actual event - with it's proper return. Will it destroy the Earth? That's what Captain America and the Avengers fear. The Phoenix Force, though, needs a new host -- which is where Hope Summers comes in. It's been hinted at forever that she has some connection to the Phoenix Force. While she supposedly isn't related to Jean Grey, she does bare a remarkable resemblance. She was the first mutant born after M-Day (when the Scarlet Witch decimated the mutant population, taking away the powers of 99% of all mutants) Being such an important birth, Hope was immediately under threat. Luckily the X-Men saved her, and she was entrusted with Nathan Summers, aka Cable. Similar to what happened to him as a baby - Cable took the child to the future, to protect and raise her in safety. Hope came back to the present day grown up -- and has been heralded as the Mutant Messiah. She's already activated 5 other mutants. Cyclops, especially, believes that Hope is the key to restoring the Mutant Race to what it once was. Simply put - the X-Men believe the Phoenix Force, arriving on Earth and taking Hope as a host, will resurrect the erased powers of the entire mutant race.
Captain America shows up on the X-Men's island Utopia, and tries to convince Cyclops to let them take Hope into protective custody.
Knowing that Captain America wasn't here "asking" - Cyclops responded as you'd expect.
So now the battle it on! The Avengers vs the X-Men - with the fate of Hope and the Phoenix Force at stake!
It really was a good issue! But there was an extra feature that Marvel is touting, hoping it will be the next new thing - Augmented Reality. If you read Avengers vs X-Men #1, you'll probably notice red boxes in the corner of the page every so often, with the letters "AR". You can download a free app, which will allow you to have your iphone or ipad interact with the comic.
It's a cool, yet also strange idea. For the most part it works. It's certainly not perfect; with the exception of the front cover - pages inside are rarely completely flat (which makes this augmented reality thing look the best.) What you do is look through a camera on the idevice, and point it at the comic page featuring the "AR" symbol. Sometimes it works really easily, but sometimes its extremely hard to get a lock on certain pages. The opening pages of the Phoenix Force, for example, has editor Axel Alonso walking out onto the comic page, inviting everyone to this big comic event. You're able to double tap on the screen, and keep the video playing -- but that sort of ruins the effect of him walking onto the page. It became hard to hold the iphone without shaking, or having it drift out of frame and loose the video. For the most part, the other AR pages are much easier to use. Some of them show art, from the drawing, inking, and coloring pages. I was really hoping there would be more talking, by writers and creators of the book - but Brian Michael Bendis just gives a general "I'm so excited about this" message on one page. Another problem is that, through the iphone (which is what I used), the line-work and detail of the video isn't that clear. A page showing a profile about Hope is barely readable. (Maybe its better on the ipad. I haven't tested it yet myself.)
It's a cool feature. Sometimes it's fun to see comics try and branch out, and do something new every once in a while. But this kind of bonus feature could easily become burdensome and annoying. For starters - the bright red "AR" symbols are distracting when you're simply trying to read the comic. Does it really need that symbol to work? There has to be an easier way to allow this gimmick, without plastering a symbol over the art every few pages. It's not that big of a deal - but its also not something I'd want to see in my comics regularly.
Avengers vs X-Men #1 didn't disappoint. It just stumbled a little, running out of the gate. I like that I'm getting value for my money - but I also don't want Augmented Reality to be a regular thing Marvel does with all their books. Also, there's less value if you don't have access to an iphone. (It was only recently that I even started trying digital comics. I really do like the idea that, though, that by the end of this I could read the entire AvX story on my iphone - but its a feature not everyone will get, especially since the code for a digital copy expires a week or so after release.)
Here's a video from ComicVine, showing how the AR works and everything.