Actually posted before the next issue comes out for a change, Chapter Nine of our look at the current X-Men crossover, Second Coming. Click behind the cut to read more!
Too serious about comics.
Actually posted before the next issue comes out for a change, Chapter Nine of our look at the current X-Men crossover, Second Coming. Click behind the cut to read more!
Act One of Second Coming concludes as the X-Men finally get Hope and Cable back to Utopia – and naturally I’m here to waffle incoherently about it.
Another tenuous X-Men “event” means another excuse for a tenuously-linked X-Men anthology. With so many mutant characters without their own book, so many of whom are fan favourites, it makes some kind of sense, at least – although let’s be honest, the themes are going around in ever-decreasing circles. Following the “leaving Westchester” anthology, and the “Arriving in San Francisco” anthology, this time it’s the “moving to a slightly different part of San Francisco” anthology. If there are really that many stories to tell, one wonders why they don’t just relaunch X-Men Unlimited – well, aside from the fact that it’d sink like Asteroid M in San Francisco Bay. That’s just a little X-Men joke for you there.
Still, let’s not quibble too much over the book’s existence and instead accept it. As far as anthologies go, this issue is actually pretty good – not least because someone manages to hire Becky Cloonan to write and draw a Gambit story. Her contribution is, on every level, masterful. If, like me, you got into X-Men during the 90s, you’ll remember Gambit as being a suave, conflicted badass with a poorly-realised accent, and that was enough. Over time, the character got bogged down with romantic angst, a complex backstory and some guff about being transformed into a Horseman of Apocalypse. Cloonan, to her credit, ignores all of that in favour of writing Gambit as he should be. A suave, conflicted badass with a poorly-realised accent. Worth the cover price alone.
Unusually, the rest of the issue is actually pretty decent too. Anthologies are often variable, so this issue stands out by being almost entirely great. CB Cebulski and Jim McCann’s Jubilee story, guest-featuring the Young New X-Mutants or whatever they’re called these days, roundly accomplishes the task of putting the still-depowered Jubilee back on the fringes of the X-verse. It mercifully does away with the recent mishandling of the character, who was seen to don power-gauntlets, grow several cup sizes and rename herself Boobilee or something, in the universally-derided New Warriors volume 7029. As a story, it doesn’t do a whole lot more than that, but hopefully it’s a sign of more things to come for a sadly-missed member of the X-Men cast.
Elsewhere, there’s yet more to like. Tim Fish’s Northstar story is charming and idiosyncratic, and manages to make the character – previously known for being a complete jackass – actually seem sympathetic, as he tries to manage a long-distance relationship, mutant-style. Even Jon Barber’s rather unlikely Martha Vs. Quentin Quire story works rather well, placing two unlikely foes in an unlikely battle – and, to be honest, I go weak at the knees whenever a writer acknowledges Grant Morrison’s X-Men run. Overall, it’s an unlikely selection of stories that add up to something fun, exciting and interesting. If every X-Men anthology issue was like this, they probably could restart X-Men Unlimited after all.
Despite solicits making ‘Not Forgotten’ sound like another volume of Craig Kyle & Chris Yost’s X-23 miniseries, the arc is proving to be a much more rounded affair, with equal amounts of face time for most of the cast. The writers pull off a very difficult feat here, managing to simultaneously tie up the themes from the last arc and set up the book’s next crossover, without sacrificing the integrity of the main plotline being followed.
A lot of the credit here belongs to Mike Choi for managing to give a coherent look to the multiple plotlines being simultaneously pursued, in the style of a TV drama. Last week, Valentine DeLandro responded to a similar situation in the pages of X-Factor by toning down the level of detail, but Choi continues to put out some of his strongest work to date here. The joy lies in the almost unnoticed details in the background; the Kyle Yost gravestone in the corner of a cemetery, the unremarked-upon X-Statix jumper. Choi and Sonia Oback go well beyond the call of duty in their work, and their sense of fun successfully makes what should in theory be an unremittingly grim book just a little more accessible. Speaking of unremittingly grim, the one slight question mark over the issue concerns the final scene, with X-23’s dismemberment venturing a little too close to torture porn. The logic of the writers’ construction of this incident is admittedly understandable. X-Force enjoys a considerably higher profile than any of their previous work, and there’s clearly a need to introduce the character of Kimura to the audience, without taking up too many pages. That said, this is a noticeable jump in sheer nastiness from anything else seen in the book, and makes for a distinctly uncomfortable read. There’s a lot riding of the quality of the payback that will clearly follow, and the extent to which this moment is followed up in future issues.
There’s a refreshing contrast in the themes of this arc to much of the book, and it raises some interesting questions about the way the long-running Bastion story will be resolved. So far, the book has served as a satire of the X-Franchise’s reliance on legacy elements, with dead character repeatedly dragged from their coffins even in the very first arc. Here, however, a different tack is being taken. It look as if The Facility’s failure to grow as a concept or a set of characters will work against it- Logan instantly suspects what’s happened to his sister, and hatches a plan to take the fight to the enemy. With the stage set for a bloodbath when X-Force arrives on site, it almost looks as if Kyle & Yost are going to punish their own creation for failing to acquire depth.
After an unwelcome three months in the year 3000, the world’s least subtle covert team are back in their element. Stopping just short of breaking the forth wall has become a trademark of Chris Yost and Craig Kyle’s X-team, and here the writers use the travel scenario of Messiah War to literally insert the team back into action one second after they were dragged away for the crossover. Despite the loss of the magnificently silly X-Force logo, this is a more than welcome-return to the book’s usual high standards.
With Warpath and Domino sleeping on the job, and X-23 busy changing history, it’s up the Wolverine, Elixir and Archangel to save the day at the United Nations building, but the latter isn’t in the best frame of mind for the job. The political overtones for the action are instantly brought back with Bastion’s proxies addressing the UN, and it’s good to see what’s technically a subsiduary book driving its franchise forward. In truth, much more of the X-title’s drive has originated from the techno-organic cabal seen in this book than the events in Fraction’s Uncanny, and its good so see the confident drive forward continuing. While placing Surge and Nate Gre- sorry, Hellion, in danger might be mistaken for Chuck Austin’s casual decimating of the Generation X kids, the writers have a history with these New X-Men characters, and the youngsters’ connections to their X-Force former teammates add personal drama to an otherwise action-packed issue.
Mike Choi delivers his usual superb pencils, but it’s Sonia Oback’s colours which steal the show artistically, with her computer-aided approach being perfectly suited to the overloaded energy-projection powers of the issue’s guest stars. Despite Choi’s talk of a new approach to the book for this arc, the increase in violence is subtle, with Archangel’s shredding of his opponents being distinctly lacking in blood. The only slight irritant in the issue is the extremely-slow moving Rahne/ Hrimhari plotline. Obviously originally intended to serve as a means of drawing X-Force into the much delayed ‘Siege of Asgard’ storyline, Kyle and Yost have obviously got fed up of waiting for Marvel editorial to get its act together, and begun to take matters into their own hands. The three page interlude, however, is a short intermission in the strong material that surrounds it.
So; tight, unpatronising, plotting. Some beautiful art. And a truly magnificent cliff-hanger. X-Force, we’ve missed you.
to die for divx Messiah War is the sequel to Messiah Complex, the 2007 story that re-energised the entire X-franchise and managed to turn it back into a coherent entity. Chris Yost and Craig Kyle, whose superlative and self-aware work on X-Force has proved a massively enjoyable book, have masterminded it. And it places Cable, one of the more textured and interesting X-Men, at the forefront of the story. So why do I feel underwhelmed?
The answer is the quirk known as the “Twenty Years Rule”. This arises due to the fact that it takes twenty years from reading a comic and being inspired by it to rise to a position in the industry from which you can write your own riff on those concepts. Twenty years after Chris Claremont killed off Jean Grey, Grant Morrison constructed a 40-issue arc in which he did exactly the same thing. Twenty years after Frank Miller reduced the light-hearted side of Batman to a throwaway addition, Chris Nolan gave us Batman Begins. And about twenty years after Steve Parkhouse and co used the pages of Doctor Who Magazine to throw the fifth Doctor into a stream of mind-bending adventures, Alan Barnes took the character back to Stockbridge. And what’s happened now? The clue lies in the return of Nathan Summers’ shoulder pads. Twenty years after Cable was introduced as being locked in a bitter conflict with Stryfe, his clone has been dusted off to resume his position as the character’s nemesis. Just as Mike Carey’s decision to work Sinister into the fabric of X-Men Legacy was a stretch too far for that book, so the return of the one dimensional “Chaos Bringer” threatens to overwhelm this title.
It’s a monumentally uninspiring development. While Kyle and Yost have created something wonderful out of the disparate stands of history that X-Force has woven together, this early nineties dynamic has little appeal so far other than nostalgia. Mike Choi continues his strong work from recent issues of X-Force, although his Bishop looks a little too youthful. This is off-set, however, by the attention that the artist pays to the difference in age that has now emerged between Nathan and Stryfe, with the former now considerably older due to the time he has spent looking after Hope. Kyle and Yost are obviously still firing on all cylinders here, with a magnificent one-line gag about Warpath’s Warren Ellis-granted flight ability and Deadpool receiving some of the best jokes he’s had since Gail Simmone was writing the character. As a stand-alone issue, it’s a solid effort, with the previously trailed elements of the story all introduced with speed, to allow new material to take centre stage from this point onwards. It’s perfectly possible that the writers have a new concept lurking in the wings, ready to work the same alchemy on Stryfe that they bestowed on the Leper Queen earlier this month. But in seeking to revive what’s unquestionably the X-Men’s dullest villain, they’ve set themselves a very difficult task.
Another batch of capsule reviews from the Comics Daily team, including Blue Beetle #33, Captain America #44, Secret Invasion: Inhumans #4, Ultimate X-Men #98 and X-Force #9. Read the rest of this entry »
X-Force has quickly confounded expectations. On first announcement, it seemed like Chris Yost & Craig Kyle had grown tired of the constraints of the X-Franchise’s “Younger Reader” book, and had decided to balance things out with a gory rampage. While the Angels & Demons arc accordingly delivered buckets of blood, it was the willingness to casually reintroduce old X-Men plot threats into the action that literally marked the title as being for older readers.
To understand this approach, it’s worth considering a comment by Yost, who described the second arc’s use of the Vanisher as being a follow-up to Angel’s recent clash with the character. When the writer says “recent”, he means 100 issues and 8 years ago, adopting the perspective appropriate to a series of this length, if not to the normal definition of comics readers’ memory. The creators’ policy is to determinedly look at the X-franchise as being one continuous story, from which useful elements can be pulled without preamble. They don’t get caught up in resolving tiny inconsistencies in the past, simply cherry-picking plotlines which could be continued as a means of driving the franchise forward into new territory. What’s particularly interesting about X-Force is that the writers have abandoned the practice of including expositionary dialogue for the elements they reintroduce. While New X-Men cunningly engineered considerable discussion on the subject of the Nimrod Sentinel before it became a part of the plot, this issue’s cliffhanger relies on the reader instantly recognising the significance of the Vanisher’s target.
As the opening to a second arc, Old Ghosts’ first issue seems well judged; allowing the team some breathing space while the book’s main plotline develops outside of their control. A few minor issues are resolved as the writers sure up the book’s “secret team” premise, and a chilling montage shows Bastion beginning his work in earnest. Mike Choi and Sonia Oback’s art is spectacular, marrying detail with some superb storytelling. The pair’s experience of working with these writers shines through, making them a natural choice for secondary art duties. Choi is able to work in some of his trademark touches, such as Cyclops’ habit of wearing his New X-Men jacket over his present outfit, while keeping to the established style of the book. Also laudable is his actually making the cloned X23 resemble Wolverine, a detail that is often forgotten by other artists. The only misstep comes with Warren’s transformation into Archangel- where Clayton Crain was able to convey real horror in issue four, here a straightforward “turning blue” approach is adopted.
The series’ risk-taking ultimately pays off, however. While some plot points might leave casual readers of the franchise either confused or unmoved, the result is arguably a more essential purchase for X-Men fans than some of the core X-books.
The first X-title to come out after Messiah Complex has a lot of weight to bear in terms of setting the tone for the rest of the line in the post-crossover universe, so it’s a bit strange to see Uncanny X-Men not just ignoring, but almost contradicting large elements of Messiah Complex’s conclusion.
Firstly – it seems that Cyclops’ claim that “there are no X-Men” wasn’t quite as final as it sounded, because what’s actually happened is that the X-Men are all taking a holiday while they decide what happens next. Secondly, and rather more bafflingly, it’s made totally explicit in this issue that the X-Men don’t believe Xavier is dead and that Cyclops has sent Beast out to look for him. A strange thing to do, considering we last saw Xavier’s corpse slumped on the ground after being shot in the head (ah, but did you notice Xavier’s mysteriously disappearing body in that last panel?! No, me neither.) I suspect the cause the confusion is that the gap between the last panel of Messiah Complex and the first panel of Uncanny #495 is going to be filled in by X-Men: Legacy #208 which regrettably isn’t due out until later this month.
Those are two fairly big flaws, but it’s not like they ruin the comic. In fact, the globe-trotting structure of this issue really feels like a throwback to the X-Men’s heyday, where the characters were rarely in the same place together, and were usually investigating entirely separate plots – so we get Cyclops and Emma vacationing in the Savage Land, double-dating with Shanna and Ka-Zar while trying to decide where the X-Men go now that Xavier and his dream are no longer relevant, and we get Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler heading out to visit Russia. Meanwhile Angel turns up in San Francisco and discovers that it’s unexpectedly become the 60s, and manages to contact Cyclops for help just before he too succumbs to whatever’s going on.
What we’ve actually ended up with is a really decent issue that could slot nicely into any era of X-Men. The light-hearted road-movie feel of Logan, Kurt and Piotr pranking and brawling their way across Europe is pure 80s Claremont, in a good way. The Angel plot suggests that the other X-Men are actually going to do some genuine, non-mutant focused superheroics which hasn’t happened in years and might actually make a nice change of pace.
The thing is, as good as this issue is, after a massive crossover like Messiah Complex… it’s hardly the new direction we were promised. Perhaps it’s intentional - X-Men, Cable, X-Force, Young X-Men and X-Factor all appear to be dealing far more directly with the fallout, so perhaps Uncanny’s “place” in the X-Line is to provide a refuge from that. For now I’m just enjoying it as a nice, light X-Men story and assuming that the real meat of the post-Messiah Complex situation will be digested elsewhere.