One of the hardest things it seems for the first issues of major events to handle is the ability to balance setting up the overall story (which is a very important part of such events) and giving the first issue heft of its own. Typically, the end result is that you have first issues which seem more like epilogues than actual beginnings of a story. Luckily, Avengers vs. X-Men #1 avoided that problem, striking a strong mixture between setting up the rest of the 12-issue series with strong action sequences beautifully depicted by the art team. This was a strong beginning to the event, even better than last year's Fear Itself #1.
(For my own ease, I'm just using the preview pages and cover that were put on-line awhile ago)
Before I mention anything else, let me point out that my goodness, Laura Martin's colors pop like CRAZY! This is a vibrant book and her colors are a big part of that.
This comic is plotted by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction, scripted by Bendis, penciled by John Romita Jr., inked by Scott Hanna and colored by the aforementioned Laura Martin.
The comic is split into four major parts. First, a striking widescreen re-introduction of the devastating effects of the Phoenix Force, second, a set action piece to show the Avengers in action, three, a series of character pieces as the Avengers and the X-Men both steel themselves for what appears to be imminent return of the Phoenix Force and finally, the beginning of the Avengers/X-Men conflict.
I understand that opinions vary on John Romita Jr's art style, but I have always been a big fan and I feel that he stepped his game up a bit on this comic book (great inks by Hanna). His character work is particularly strong, like here, where Captain America and Iron Man are talking to the President about the Phoenix Force...
The art helps a lot to express the gravity of this matter.
Similarly, Romita's character work excels in this scene where Wolverine (whose "stuck in the middle between both sides" position looks to be a particularly intriguing aspect of the series) debates the issue with Cap and Iron Man...
Finally, here is Romita having Cyclops rally his troops while they await Captain America's visit to their island base of Utopia...
I really loved Romita's take on young Hope. He captured her restlessness well. Much of this series hinges on the threat that the Phoenix Force is coming to Earth to take Hope as its new host. The key thing is that this threat is still just that, a threat. No one knows what is going to actually happen, least of all Hope herself. And Romita really captured that sense of "I have no idea what is going on, except that I am definitely part of it" in Hope's eyes and body language.
As I mentioned, a nice chunk of the book is just the Avengers responding en masse to an emergency (this way we get to see the Avengers show off their skills while also introducing the existence of the Phoenix Force). The preparation by the Avengers is interesting, especially as it sets the tie-in issues up very well (and splits up the Avengers' Earth forces so they are not able to just inundate the X-Men with superheroes).
Once Captain America and Cyclops finally meet, Bendis (and his brain trust) gives both men seemingly reasonable positions (mixed with the chip Cyclops likely has on his shoulder when it comes to the Phoenix) but said positions are clearly opposing ones, so we eventually get Avengers....versus X-Men! We actually get a fight before the end of the issue! Woohoo!
This was an enjoyable first issue with great artwork. There was no stiffness to the narrative, which I feared when I first heard of so many writers plotting together, but instead, the issue flowed well and the "voice" was an intriguing mix of the group rather than sounding like a Bendis solo issue. That speaks well to consistency in later issues from the writing side of things.
So far, so good!