Marvel Comics has been teasing the return of the Phoenix Force for a few months now, and this week it’s kicking into gear in Avengers #40. There’s even a trailer, which features various superheroes wearing their very own Phoenix costume. Instead of forcing Avengers to fight X-Men or taking over Jean Grey’s body, this time Jason Aaron and Javier Garrón have revealed the Phoenix is holding a competition to find the best candidate to use its power. It’s also being called a “startling climax” so there are big reasons to jump in.
The “Enter the Phoenix” story arc kicks off here and it opens with Captain America. Soon he’s getting punched in the face by Dr. Doom, who is powered up by the Phoenix. This punch skips over an important detail of why this book works, and that’s the captions. Writer Jason Aaron captures the heart and soul of Cap from the very start, which grounds the narrative in a first-person experience. His personality as a kid growing up in the Bronx juxtaposes well with the infinite power of the Phoenix.
This scene opens up the book with this big action, but things do slow down from there. This is a good jumping on point for casual readers since this issue does a lot of the work to set things up. It also comes with some cool ideas building off of the Celestial and looping in important characters to Aaron’s run, like Namor. This balances out the very first battle of Doom vs. Cap working as an intro so the rest of the story arc can flourish in action.
It’ll be interesting to see if each issue in this story arc focuses on a single character as it does here with Captain America. Save for the flashbacks, it makes the narrative feel more like a solo title. Given the competition theme, it works out well so we can focus on the fighter at hand, though for an Avengers book it makes the narrative more solo-specific.
Aside from the Phoenix and the competition, there’s an interesting point made about Dr. Doom and Captain America. Aaron clearly knows these characters and utilizes their personalities to show who is the true “winner” in this contest.
Garrón, backed up by color artist David Curiel and letterer Cory Petit, does exceptional work here. The character designs are cool and a nice riff on Phoenix. The style makes these characters larger-than-life as they fill the page when necessary. Layouts are casual with panels twisting and turning as needed. The flame effects — and there are a lot of them — don’t inhibit the figures, making them more ethereal, which suits the cosmic character.
Avengers #40 is a superhero story built on classic character personality and a good old fashioned fight contest. It’s meat-and-potatoes fight comics with modern visuals and sensibilities.
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