Avengers Versus X-Men has been the latest large-scale storyline to shake up the Marvel Universe, in preparation for the huge Marvel NOW! event of 2013. The Phoenix Force returns to Earth, empowering five mutants known as the Phoenix Five to effectively take over the planet. The Avengers join together with some of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to try and stop the madness of the Phoenix Five before it’s too late, in an epic ride with serious implications for the future of the Marvel Universe as we know it. Yet nothing thus far has had such shattering implications as the events of AvX #11 and the shocking murder of one of the oldest X-characters.
Spoilers included for Avengers vs X-Men #11
In the second to last issue of this massive crossover, power-mad Phoenix Cyclops faced down his former mentor and surrogate father Charles Xavier. As Xavier struggled to convince his former star pupil to turn away from his path of destruction, Cyclops embraced the full power of the Phoenix and killed the founder of the X-Men. With Xavier dead, Cyclops embraces the Phoenix to become Dark Phoenix, destroyer of worlds.
While we await the final issue of AvX to resolve this cliffhanger, plenty of questions have been raised by the death of Professor Xavier. The first and most important might be: should we care?
Marvel, and especially the X-Men franchise, has been known to have a revolving door policy in regards to the afterlife. Don’t like the death of a beloved character? Wait a year, and they’ll be back in one incarnation or another.
However, this time Marvel has given Xavier's death some extra weight. If you step back to look at the path of X-Men comics and the Marvel universe for the last few years, one can see a shift in direction that has lead towards a unification of the X-Men with the rest of the Marvel lines. The death of Xavier becomes the pivotal moment that makes that integration a possibility.
Marvel has had a problem for a while now, and that problem has been in its structure. Growing up, I would read Spider-Man, X-Men and Avengers comics and notice a distinct distance between the story arcs. It didn’t matter how many Marvel heroes worked out of New York City—they all existed in their own little worlds. The heroes would inevitably cross over in Very Special Issues that drew high readership, such as when Thor appeared in the X-Men comics during the Mutant Massacre (yup, I’m going old school here) or when Wolverine would guest star in, you know, everything. Yet most X-Men characters were still kept off to the sidelines, involved mostly in their own stories while the rest of the Marvel Universe marched on around them. The X-Men had become a static storyline in an ever-evolving Marvel Universe. It would take world-changing events to shake up the dynamic of the mutant population. So that’s just what Marvel did—they shook things up.
First, they battered the entire Marvel Universe with events like those in Fear Itself, which spanned every superhero book with its global destruction. Then they made sure that the leadership of the X-Men was in question by introducing Schism, during which Wolverine and Cyclops split the loyalties of the X-Men between them, becoming perfect foils to mirror the old philosophical battle between Charles Xavier and Magneto. Cyclops had come to believe that mutantkind needed to mobilize a war effort to keep from getting wiped out, becoming the new de facto Magneto, while Wolverine basically channeled Xavier by arguing to give the new generation a chance to live normal lives within society. With half the population back in New York and half under the more militaristic Cyclops, we were set up for the perfect scenario to change the face of Marvel’s mutant line.
Enter AvX and the arrival of the Phoenix Force. When Captain America invaded X-Men territory to take Hope Summers into custody (for being the new potential Phoenix bearer), every mutant could get behind defending their sovereign territory. But once the Phoenix Five were created and the power of the Phoenix on Earth became a reality, everyone—X-Man and Avenger alike—knew they had to unite to save the planet.
This is where the death of Xavier becomes key. Xavier appears in AvX #11 as an almost beatific savior, out to bring the warring factions of this conflict together against the real enemy, Cyclops. Yet even in facing down Cyclops, Xavier still represents the dream of peaceful coexistence. He leads the unified team of super-powered humans and mutants, side by side, against Cyclops in an attempt to save his former student from himself. When Cyclops kills Xavier, he transforms Xavier into a martyr for his peaceful philosophical ideas and then transforms into a being of pure destruction, absolute power corrupted absolutely.
Looking ahead, Marvel has released tidbits about its new initiative, called Marvel NOW! In a lot of the new comic lines, Avengers and X-Men will be unified on teams together in such titles as Uncanny Avengers. This has all been set up by the destruction doled out within the AvX storyline, none of which would be possible without the murder of Charles Xavier by Cyclops. If Cyclops hadn’t gone crazy, events would simply have wrapped up and the X-Men would have returned to their repetitive story patterns yet again. With Cyclops tainted by his actions and Xavier dead, the X-Men have been provided with an opportunity to journey outside their previously comfortable power structure and honor the dream of their dead mentor Xavier: to unify with the rest of the Marvel world. Captain America is also given the opportunity rise to Cyclops’ challenge: Captain America and the Avengers never did enough for mutantkind during their various trials and attempted exterminations (according to Cyclops in AvX). Now, the death of Xavier stands as a powerful beacon at the heart of that integration effort, a character-driven reason to bring the mutants more fully into the main Marvel world.
So will Xavier’s death stick? Who knows. Writers have a funny way of forgetting years down the line exactly why a powerful event was powerful and superhero worlds do have a funny relationship with death. Yet whether or not someone eventually resurrects Xavier, his murder during AvX was a well written bit of comic book story that cannot be discounted. In terms of its aftermath, we’ll have to wait for the last issue of AvX and the upcoming launch of Marvel NOW! Until then, I say “well done” for giving an old favorite character such a meaningful ending, and here’s hoping that meaning isn’t forgotten in the years to come.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.