The Avengers face off for the right to wield the Phoenix Force in the 'Enter the Phoenix story arc. Starting with a prologue in Avengers #39 and ending with this week's Avengers #44, the arc by Jason Aaron and Javier Garrón sees the Avengers captured and forced into a tournament by the Phoenix in order to see who is best fit to wield the power. It's a story arc that's meant to be a raucous throwdown, but a storytelling decision hampers the fun.
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Javier Garrón, David Curiel, Lucas Maresca, Dale Keown, Scott Hanna, and Jason Keith
Letters by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
The prologue to the arc proper focuses on the prehistoric Phoenix that forms the ancient Avengers team that has been built up throughout this current volume of Avengers. Jason Aaron and guest artist Dale Keown craft a story that has some modern-day parallels, suggesting a mythic repetition to the Phoenix Force's selection for human hosts. It's a mysterious way to set up the Phoenix Force's return, but the rest of the issues don't live up to it.
In the modern-day, the Phoenix has risen anew and captured members of the Avengers and other heroes and villains to do battle to determine who is most deserving of the power. It's a short and simple way to get the heroes to throw down with one another, with the Phoenix Force ultimately choosing the matchups and forcing them to do battle, and imbuing a taste of the Phoenix Force into each of the combatants to see how they use it. This is where the arc stumbles.
The premise creates a major visual problem for 'Enter the Phoenix,' and unfortunately cripples it. Because each hero is imbued with the power of the Phoenix Force, they all are given new variants of their traditional costumes, emblazoned with the fiery gold associated with the cosmic entity. Their speech bubbles are lettered red on orange backgrounds, and all their powers are now ablaze with fire. This decision ultimately mutes the fun of a superhero fight tournament. Normally there are a variety of powers being visualized, and though Jason Aaron and Javier Garrón come up with some interesting ideas, such as Shang-Chi using the Phoenix Force to open his opponent's mind to an overwhelming number of possibilities, these fights largely end up as two golden combatants punching one another with fire.
Avengers #44 preview
A great example of this is the fight between Black Panther and Wolverine in Avengers #43. Javier Garrón makes the fight a brutal back-and-forth, with their claws striking home and clashing like swords, but now the men appear almost indistinct from one another, with both in black costumes set ablaze. Colorist David Curiel tries to create some contrast, giving the flames of T'Challa a crimson sheen while Wolverine's are more golden in hue, but this can only go so far, especially with the colors in Cory Petit's lettering. There just isn't enough variety here, which makes the fight seem stagnant and drawn out rather than engaging, even with the twists and turns Jason Aaron and Garrón work into it as we learn some of T'Challa's more subtle defenses.
This problem never really dwindles either, as the tournament progresses and combatants are eliminated in various ways. Some of this is fun, like Dr. Doom forfeiting when he realizes the Phoenix admires Captain America's "ability to be brutally humiliated yet remain upright." But too much of it becomes an endless blaze and the transitions between fights aren't so much seamless as they are a blur.
While there's something to the idea of the heroes losing all visual identity to the consuming Phoenix Force, the comic isn't particularly interested in exploring that. Even a late twist that suggests a deeper reason for the Phoenix to be doing this is shuffled down the road to be explored in later issues. Ultimately, 'Enter the Phoenix' is less an exciting roller coaster ride with highs and lows and more a ride that spins you around in repetitious circles until you're left in a dizzying stupor.
Who wore it best? Here's the list of the best Phoenix Force hosts.