At stake in Avengers vs. X-Men was the very survival of humanity as the Phoenix Force once more headed toward Earth. The X-Men believe Hope Summers can contain the Phoenix Force, while the Avengers insist she should be placed in their protective custody.

This collection presents four stories remarkably different in tone as Kieron Gillen weaves in and out of events occurring in the main storyline. The first is by some distance the weakest as Gillen reprises the opening skirmish between the two teams to focus on the thoughts of the X-Men in combat. It’s slight, offering no great nuance. Much better is the second chapter where Gillen can incorporate his own concepts into ongoing events, featuring Tabula Rasa as seen in Vol. 2. The narrative voice is that of the alien featured, who firstly considers humans and mutants extraordinarily primitive, and secondly has far greater concerns than their petty squabbles. “A genuine joy to see a known quantity integrate with the unknown”, he comments as Namor ambushes Luke Cage, “It’s at this point I knew the data would be priceless. I was watching something of profound import”. This chapter also features Namor and the Thing able to revive old grudges, ending in a fantastic misinterpretation. There is a glib flippancy, particularly to Gillen’s always amusing presentation of Namor’s monstrous ego, but it’s also very entertaining.

Three contrasting artists work on four stories, opening with the heavily picture referenced realism of Greg Land (sample page) over two chapters. Land has a reputation for provocatively posed imagery, but there’s little of that, leaving very nicely drawn expressions on people with depth. Billy Tan’s not as strong. His is the story with the greatest emotional content, a selection of X-Men at their lowest ebb, and his standard faces don’t convey that as well as they could. Dustin Weaver echoes the Victorian theme of an underground society with appropriately pencilled imagery echoing the time, coupled with a fantastic creative imagination in creating a steampunk world.

As when using him previously, Gillen treats Mister Sinster’s compulsion for structured order as means to explore existential ideas about human society. Mister Sinister loves any kind of audience, but being restricted to a single chapter to lay out his motivations prevents his egotistical ramblings being too dull this time, while also setting up Vol. 4.

The plus points are Land and Weaver’s very different art, a funny second chapter and an emotionally driven third, and Gillen’s always admirable ability to reconfigure what’s happening elsewhere. Balanced against it are Mister Sinister still rambling a little, and a generic opening chapter, which still ranks this as average, but the slimmest and weakest of Gillen’s X-Men collections. It’s also part of X-Men by Kieron Gillen The Complete Collection Vol. 2.