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Firebirds Above the Jean Grey School
on January 20, 2015
This volume is an improvement upon the last one. The plot is less absurd than those contained in Volume 2, and the nature of the threat that the X-Men face is more traditional. One may argue that another rehashed Phoenix story may be a tad too traditional, but the thrust of that plot is in the core event miniseries. These five issues, off to the side as they are, are more driven by the characters than the “cosmic event” of the Phoenix’s coming. The context of the issues, however, is set around the fallout from events in the main AvX series.
The first issue (#9) stars Wolverine and focuses on his collaboration with the Avengers when news of the Phoenix event hits. Wolverine is also at the center of #10; this issue relitigates the necessity of the Schism when Cyclops arrives at the Jean Grey School for a talk. It prompts a “schism within the Schism,” as certain members from Wolverine’s fold are tempted to cross the aisle and support Cyclops’s team with regard to its decision about how to handle the Phoenix. Number eleven at first glance seems to be about Hope, and it appears, out of the five issues collected here, to be the one most closely tied to the direct events of the AvX series. Upon further consideration, it has more to do with Wolverine, as it sets up a parallel between, on the one hand, his perceived obligation to kill Hope before she is corrupted, to his failure, on the other hand, to kill Jean Grey when she in fact succumbed to the Phoenix’s darker side. The villains for this issue are the Shi’ar Death Commandos from Claremont’s End of Greys storyline several years back. The penultimate issue (#12) finally focuses on one of the book’s characters other than Wolverine: it spotlights Rachel Grey, former Phoenix and former Hound. It does justice to the character, who seldom takes central stage, and integrates the diffuse elements of her backstory to make them both resonate within the context of AvX. The last issue (#13) is about the current Warbird, a character who has been rather generic up to this point in her role as Kid Gladiator’s bodyguard, perhaps with the exception of her previously stated affection for Iceman. This issue gives her a complete origin story. While it is not the most original origin, it does finally give her a personality, and Aaron recounts it in flashback alongside current events, which does manage to dress and freshen it up somewhat. Aaron, throughout this collection, shows his skill in long-term plotting, as the characters not mentioned above are nonetheless at work amid shorter subplots that transpire along the fringes of each issue’s action. These, I suspect, will bud into full-fledged stories of their own in issues to come.
This does still have some of the “jokey” feel to it that I noted my dislike for in my review of the previous volume. The humor is toned down, though, as the Phoenix’s arrival is supposed to be a Grim and Serious Affair. One problem, though, is that, in going the traditional route, Aaron appears to have simply run through the Rolodex of every Phoenix-related character or known quirk that he could think of. Thus we have references to the Phoenix’s penchant for destroying inhabited worlds, and we’re given a recollection of Wolverine’s inner turmoil at feeling mandated to stab fiery redheads (both dating back to the classic saga). Two prior Phoenix vessels (Rachel Grey and Quentin Quire) are also rolled back out, out of obligation, to cue readers to their personal connections to the entity. The Shi’ar Death Commandos, again from the End of Greys story, trot back onto the scene, to be followed by Gladiator himself, who memorably fought Jean Grey on the moon in the climax of the original saga and knows what a Big Deal the Phoenix is supposed to be. And so every note that a longtime reader might expect a Phoenix story to hit is dutifully sounded. I do not know whether I am supposed to feel rewarded by this obsessive compulsive nod to the past, or if I should be demoralized by the sheer routineness of it all.
The good news is, the collection editors (or perhaps the original series editors, I don’t know) have discontinued the obnoxious, “in-character” letters pages and “Live Tweets” sections. I always found those to be a slog, and way too self-consciously comedic.
Rated a high three.