By Darren Franich
Updated February 08, 2012 at 03:00 PM EST

The Avengers and the X-Men are the two predominant superteams of the Marvel Universe. They’re also at the center of two of the highest-grossing franchises of the decade — the five X-Men films have grossed $1.9 billion, while this May’s Avengers movie will bring together the successful Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America sagas into one franchise-uniting megamovie. So it’s perhaps not surprising that Marvel is pitting the two teams against each other. The sheer scope of the upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men is fascinating: The 12-issue series is a group effort between popular writers (and official Marvel architects) Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. EW has obtained an exclusive look at the first seven pages of Avengers vs. X-Men #1 — you can check out the preview by clicking here — which includes a first look at the inciting incident for the superteam chaos: The return of the Phoenix Force.

“In the past, the typical Marvel thing when two groups of heroes cross paths was: They would meet, there would be some kind of misunderstanding, and they would fight,” notes Aaron. “Then they would make their peace, and team up to save the day. This is not that kind of story. This is 12 issues of gigantic brawls for the fate of the world, where both sides really have a defensible position.”

Bendis agrees, explaing, “It isn’t just two mindless armies smashing into each other. These people have very, very strong ideals.”

The main overarching narrative of the crossover was laid down by Bendis and Aaron. “Jason was the X guy and I was the Avengers guy,” said Bendis, who jokingly points out that he’s occasionally had a fraught relationship with X fans: “To some X fans, I’m like Satan! I’m the guy who got rid of all but 200 X-Men. I’m like this evil thing that’s coming back to haunt them. I’m the Phoenix Force!”

The presence of the Phoenix Force in the crossover begs the question: Will Avengers vs. X-Men finally see the return of Jean Grey, who’s been dead (again) for several years now in the mainline comics continuity? Bendis: “When I was on Daredevil, my primary goal was to not pick at Frank Miller’s bones. When I started working on the idea of the Phoenix Force being the element, I thought, ‘Can we not be picking at Chris Claremont’s stories? Can we come up with a new Phoenix Force idea?”

Aaron continues the analogy: “We’re always conscious of not just picking the bones of the great stories we loved from when we were kids. If you’ve never read The Dark Phoenix Saga, you should be able to get everything you need from this book, as opposed to callbacks from years and years ago.”

Even if Jean Grey doesn’t make an appearance, Avengers vs. X-Men will be a crowded affair — and the writers stress that even minor characters will get their due. “When you’re reading old X-Men comics, or Avengers or Justice League, there’s always the one member of the team who does nothing,” jokes Bendis. “He’s just standing there eating a hot dog or something. Or as I call him, Colossus.” Much of the drama of the crossover will come from characters with allegiances to both teams. Aaron, who’s written extensively with Wolverine, notes that good old Logan will be particularly torn between the two sides in the conflict: “Cap is the General of the Avengers. Cyclops is the General of the X-Men. Logan is that wild card in the middle. You don’t know where’s he’s going to go. As things start to unfold, Logan’s role will continue to shift and chance.

“This is superhero comics at their biggest and finest,” says Aaron. “Even if we could make this movie today, nobody could ever afford to. You’d have to have a $20 billion special effects budget.” (Bendis teases that there will be a side-series, Avengers vs. X-Men: Vs., that will focus exclusively on the major action sequences: “There are battlefields with 30-40 characters having at it.”)

Bendis stress that Avengers vs. X-Men will have a huge effect on the Marvel universe going forward. “With a story like this, I want it to count,” he explains. “I can absolutely, whole-heartedly tell you that the Marvel universe will change for good and for all time. It’s my last Avengers title, and I’m going out with a blaze of Phoenix Force glory.”

“It’s a goddamn fun comic book, and it matters,” concludes Bendis. “At the end of this you will see things in the catalogue that are very different from what you’re seeing.”

Avengers vs. X-Men #1 hits April 4. Be sure to check out EW’s exclusive sneak peek.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich