Review: Avengers: Enter the Phoenix

Oh, hey. A tournament arc!

Written by Jason Aaron, art by Javi Garron, Luca Maresca & Daele Keown.

The current run of Marvel's flagship superhero is a mixed bag if you ask me. Jason Aaron is a good writer, no doubt, but his Avenger's run isn't as good as some of his other work. What you can't say though is that Aaron isn't ambitious. Each storyline of his Avengers run is different from what came before and ambitious in its own way. The latest of these story arcs concluded earlier this month and is quite a doozy. A Hunger Games-style contest with characters from all across the Marvel Universe. The iconic X-Men villain The Phoenix at the contest centre. A revelation about Thor's origins. This story does a lot, for better and worse.

Let's dive in.

The Enter the Phoenix arc runs from Avengers #39 to #44, though #39 is nothing more than a prologue with only vague connections to the rest of the story. It’s yet another piece in the puzzle of the Prehistoric Avengers and chronicles the origin of the Phoenix’s first (human) host.

Though far from a necessity to understand Enter the Phoenix, #39 is an enjoyable read and worth picking up with the rest of the story.

The story of Enter the Phoenix is as stated in the opening. The Phoenix Force has once again come to Earth, this time it seeks a new host. It has captured many heroes and villains, the likes Captain America, Black Panther, Namor and Dr Doom, from across the Marvel Universe to fight for the right to become its next host. Friendships are tested. Allegiances are formed and later shattered. You know, the usual when it comes to these types of stories.

The situation outside of the ‘arena’ is precarious as well. Not only do the Avengers have to contend with a fiery manifestation of the Phoenix but also Thor having a bit of an existential crisis. More on that later.

The story of is enjoyable. It has a premise that, while nothing new, still gets fans blood pumping. It’s got that same Hunger Games appeal to it and I did enjoy that aspect of it. It has good art, interesting ideas and some great moments but also has a lot of flaws. It has issues with pacing, focus and doesn’t wrap the story up in a satisfying way. Oh, and provides a retcon that is less than welcoming. Let’s take it from the top.

Firstly, the art. The artwork in the series is provided by three different artists. Each of them brings something different to the table. One is very good with body language, the other excels more in background work but all of them are good. They do their best to match each general style Keeping the look of the entire story consistent. Dynamic. With the how much fighting there is in the story-arc, it keeps these fights interesting and visually pleasing.

Another thing I enjoy about this story is the Phoenix upgrade each of the characters receive.

Where the story gets interesting is the writing. Yes, Jason Aaron has a tendency to be very wordy. To tell more then he shows. In his Thor run, this style worked due to its similarities to the writing style of the mythologies of old. Here in the Avengers, less so. However, the writing on each character is good. The characterizations are good and the time we spend in each character’s head results in interesting insights.

The verbal spar between Nighthawk and Black Panther and Hyperion’s defeat are good examples. Both are clever, show some interesting and new layers to the characters and are moments that could be further explored. Another great moments are the banter between each combatant in-between fights, most of the fights themselves are well done and cool to look at. All in all, this story has a lot to enjoy. From the art to the cool fights to the interesting character-work and ideas for potential new stories.

There’s a lot that hinders the story. Keep it back something fierce. Jason Aaron tries to cram a lot into these issues and not everything works well. It causes the story to be unfocused. To quickly jump between characters and storylines without properly resolving anything. It’s not too big of a deal as it doesn’t happen every issue, but the frequency is still high enough that it does get frustrating.

There are also pacing issues and this is no more apparent than in the ending. It feels very rushed. The entire wrap-up happens in about 4-5 pages. Up until those final few pages, the story is still in full gear. The story suddenly hits a brick wall and you do feel it. What makes the sudden wrap-up even more jarring is the character that is chosen as the new wielder as The Phoenix.

The problem doesn’t lie with the character that is chosen, necessarily, but then in the way, they’re chosen. The Phoenix basically breaks her own rules by choosing this character as the character had already been taken off the board. It’s not like the Phoenix hadn’t broken the rules of the contest before, but still. It felt like a bait and switch. A cheap cop-out.

And then there is the Thor retcon. Look, I’m not going to spoil this twist so you can go in and experience that for yourself. These reviews are as spoiler-free as I can get them. What I will say is that it feels very unnatural. Like a retcon simply made to hype up the Prehistoric Avengers story. That makes the inevitable clash more interesting instead of actually serving Thor’s character. It’s only early days for this retcon. We don’t know how this retcon is going to be handled going forward so it could lead to some very interesting stuff, but I don’t have that much faith at this point in time.

Conclusion

Avengers: Enter the Phoenix is an enjoyable romp full of fun moments and interesting ideas that could lead to more later down the road. The entire ‘Hunger Games’-like contest for the power of the Phoenix is a neat, though overdone, premise. The art is well done and the fights are cool to look at and more diverse than you’d think going in. The story-arc also has many flaws that hold it back. From pacing to the amount of text and the rather abrupt ending. If you find the premise interesting, are a fan of the Avenger, Thor and/or The Phoenix then I do think it's worth your time. If not, then I would leave this story for what it is. Except for the prologue. That one I can recommend to just about everybody.

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