It's Jonathan Hickman's turn in the saddle for Round 4 of the Mighty Marvel crossover Avengers vs. X-Men, featuring two teams of ostensibly good guys having a turf-war pissing match over the fate of the world. We may be skeptical of the motivations at play here, but a good writer can make things work, right? Our beloved Ed Brubaker didn't fare too well in AvX Round 3, but Hickman manages to kick things up a notch in the quality department.
We open with Wolverine, having recently been dumped in Antarctica by Captain America for wanting to kill Hope Summers before the Phoenix arrives and destroys the world, following a trail of beer cans while keeping himself warm with a polar bear carcass. Now, technically, polar bears live at the North Pole, not the South Pole, but the Marvel Universe Antarctic has a dinosaur jungle, so we'll unclench a bit on that one. The beer trail leads to a jet and Hope herself, who is well aware of Logan's intentions, and makes a deal with him. Let her live long enough to TRY to use the Phoenix Force to jumpstart mutantkind again, and then kill her if it doesn't work. Logan likes beer more than he likes killing kids, so he agrees, taking her to the Blue Area of the Moon, a handy place where humans can breathe and such.
Then, we cut to Emma Frost doing a big-time telepathic search for Hope, scanning all the battlegrounds – Wakanda, The Savage Land, Wundagore Mountain, Latveria, Tabula Rasa… basically all the made-up places on the 616 Earth, summarizing each bit of conflict which I presume will be spread around through all the tie-in issues. Personally, I dread how the Black Panther/Storm fight is going to be depicted, as many writers seem to have a hard time with them (or perhaps I'm far too precious about them). However, Hickman's got Panther plans, so hopefully he gets to manage whatever fallout there is from it. Fantastic Four writer Hickman does, however, give us a brief but great Ben Grimm moment of relating how much he enjoys beating the snot out of Namor.
Frost gets herself into Captain America's head, who happens to be dusting off Gambit like the big nothing he is, and although it doesn't even quite jive with the nonsensical fight in AvX VS. #2 – when Cap's uniform explodes and apparently doesn't hurt him at all – any panel where Cap drops Headwrap LeBeau like a chump with a shield-crack to the face is worth the price of admission. Also of note, either John Romita Jr. had a canon glitch, or Tony Stark has gone back to the beardless look, letting his 'stache fly solo once again. Romita overall is really good here, lessening some of his occasionally questionable signature style as far as rendering faces goes and providing a more well-rounded look to the proceedings. Essentially, the issue doesn't scream "HEY, JOHN ROMITA JUNIOR IS DRAWING THESE PICTURES" like some of his work can, but rather says "Hey, there, good sir or madam! Look at this remarkable work John Romita Jr. has done here, won't you please?"
Anyway, Wolverine and Hope steal a rocket ship from A.I.M., and both the Avengers and the X-Men follow them up there, as apparently Logan sold Hope out to Cap, and Frost got the info from Cap's head. The fight's about to begin anew when, wouldn't you know it, the Phoenix (which is not quite the Fenix) shows up, drops a bloodied Thor at their feet and flames in all it's bird-style foreboding glory.
Hickman spends more time getting to the point of the story and less time focusing on forcing square characters into round plot holes to make them fight each other and kind of making us hate them, and thus AvX Round 4 is a step above the rest. Wolverine is cool, Gambit is not, and the Phoenix is finally here so the snotty slap-fighting is hopefully over. If any slap-fighting starts anew, it'll hopefully be more along the lines of extremely intense world-in-the-balance stuff rather than the "humans are so petty… and tiny" style.