Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Iron Man, Vol. 1: Extremis

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Warren Ellis IronManExtremis cover

Artist: Adi Granov

Issues: Iron Man #1-6

I’ll be the first to admit that I was not exactly a big Iron Man fan growing up. It wasn’t until Robert Downey Jr.’s perfect portrayal in the astonishingly good 2008 Iron Man film that I began to take notice. Even so I’d been planning to get most of my Iron Man fix from the Avengers series (which in the era I’m currently in – 2006, is in New Avengers), but heard such positive remarks on this particular Iron Man story that I decided to give it a shot.

“Extremis” is the six-issue story arc that centers on Iron Man’s new solo series that picks up right after the events of 2004’s Avengers “Disassembled.” The entire arc is told in a very cinematic style as it opens with some unknown ne’er do-wells injecting some kind of serum they got off the black market. One of them freaks out and begins to transform, and by the end of the first issue we still don’t know entirely what’s going on.

The story takes its time by giving us a cross section of who Tony Stark is and where he is in his life, most notably in one of his early scenes where he sits down with an exposé style reporter and verbally jousts about his past, present and future with technology and the military. We get a nice glimpse back into the inciting incident that changed him from a war profiteer into a vigilante, and it’s very similar to how it’s portrayed on the big screen – imprisonment by terrorists (updated from Vietnam, heh) and building a prototype Iron Man suit out of spare parts to escape.

Eventually the plot unfolds as our new villain has gained superhuman powers and is running amok, and the lead at a research lab gives Tony a call, an ex-girlfriend naturally. A secret super-soldier formula called Extremis has been stolen out of the lab, and scientist Maya Hensen needs Tony to track it down. Stark is able to find him relatively quickly as our low-life tears apart an office building, at one point breathing fire on a bunch of innocent people.

ExtremisIron Man promptly gets his ass kicked in the ensuing battle on a highway. The battle doesn’t happen until issue #3, but over half the issue is dedicated to panel after panel of fight scenes, until the villain finally throws a car at Iron Man, pinning him underneath after his power’s drained. It’s decently exciting but the jarringly realistic art style makes it look more like action movie stills than carefully constructed panels of a comic.

I found the art to be extremely distracting throughout. Adi Granov uses a unique style that I’ve never seen before. Numerous close-ups of characters look pretty fantastic with tons of detail, shading and lines, but at the horrible detriment to the background and everything else. Much of the backgrounds are filled with nothing but grays and browns and while the characters do pop in each panel it makes everything else just fall flat, particularly the few (but long) action sequences. It also hits some frightening Uncanny Valley level weirdness that, again, made the art more distracting than in service to the story.

Paced like a film, Iron Man proceeds to get an upgrade in the form of injecting himself with a modified version of the formula to better adapt his body to his suit. And also to save his life, since his battle tore him up pretty bad. There’s something you don’t see too often – the aftermath of a brutal battle with a non-immortal hero. The new upgrade allows him to sheathe himself in his Iron Man undies and reconstruct a suit electromagnetically out of a suitcase – hello Iron Man 2!

Stark catches up with our right-wing skin-head extremist villain Mallen and the two fight on even terms. Tony holds back as much as he can but just as Mallen is about to get the upper hand, Iron Man is forced to blow a hole in his chest (then slice off his head, just to be sure). It’s a brutal end and not terribly satisfying, as our villain had very little agency and a cliched backstory.

iron man extremis #3

I’ve come off pretty negative so far but I actually enjoyed “Extremis” over all. The insight into Tony Stark was fascinating, and I really got the concept of a character that both wanted to succeed within the system (being head of a major company) and without (being a tolerated vigilante). The cast is so sparse – Stark, Maya, Mallen, Stark’s aging hippie friend Sal – that it really feels like one character’s internal battle with himself as much as the actual crisis at hand. It also seems to happen so quickly that I guess it makes sense that Stark doesn’t even have time call in his new Avenger buddies (a constant irksome conceit when these characters have multiple ongoing series).

The next story arc uses an entirely new writer and artist so I’ll definitely give it a try. It’s fun seeing so many elements from all three Iron Man films ripped from this one story arc and it’s an easy, self-contained story to follow. For those reasons I’d give it a recommendation, though so far New Avengers has been the superior Iron Man experience.

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Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Annihilation

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Annihilation_Prologue coverWriters: Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Simon Furman, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Stuart  Moore

Artists: Andrea Di Vito, Ariel Olivetti, Kev Walker, Mitch Breitweiser, Renato Arlem, Jorge Lucas, Greg Titus, Giuseppe Camuncoli

Issues: Drax the Destroyer #1-4, Annihilation Prologue #1, Annihilation: Nova #1-4, Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1-4, Annihilation: Super-Skrull 1-4, Annihilation: Ronan #1-4, Annihilation #1-6, Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus #1-2

One of the biggest reasons for my return to Marvel comics was seeing the very excellent Guardians of the Galaxy last Summer. I fell in love with the characters and setting but knew absolutely nothing about Marvel’s Cosmic Universe outside of the Thanos and Phoenix stories of the 80s.

So I was stoked to find that there was an appropriate jumping-on point into the vast, crazy world of Marvel’s expanded sci-fi setting only a few years into my initial starting point. Annihilation was the first big event to occur to the Marvel Cosmic setting in the new era of Big Crossover Events All The Time that started with Avengers “Disassembled” and House of M. It ran for a solid year thanks to a ton of tie-in limited series, from 2006-2007.

For the sake of these Final Thoughts, I’m covering the entire event: all three trade paperback books, 29 total comics over eight different series.

Book One combines two preview series to the event – Drax the Destroyer and the aptly titled one-shot Annihilation Prologue, as well as the first of the character tie-in series, Annihilation: Nova.

Drax’s 4 issue mini-series “Earthfall” stars the green, rage-happy badass (sounds familiar) on a prison convoy that crash lands in a small Alaskan town on Earth, along with a few not-so-nice alien prisoners. It has very little to do with the actual Annihilation event other than to set Drax up with a head-strong young teenage girl. The story of Drax and Cammi fighting against the other aliens is surprisingly fun, and Cammi’s a great character, but in the larger backdrop of Annihilation it’s extremely thin, and ultimately forgettable.

Annihilation Prologue is when the real fun begins. Supreme insectoid lord Annihilus invades our universe from the Negative Zone with a giant armada – think Starship Troopers but all the bugs have spaceships. They first attack Xandar, home to the intergalactic peace-keeping folk the Nova Corps (which I believe is the same force at the end of the Guardians film).

annihilation prologue

The Nova Corps are completely blind-sided and obliterated, leaving only Richard Rider, Cosmic hero from Earth known as Nova, as the survivor. It’s an utterly badass way to start a new giant event-series and I instantly fell in love with Nova’s plight, especially once he merged with the Nova supercomputer, which gave him a ton of power that he could barely control (and a funny AI he could argue with). The Prologue also has the tough job of including the starting points for all the following character-specific tie-ins: Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull, Nova and Ronan. It’s a gigantic one-shot issue and does its job setting the state for an epic event very well, though the art is the weakest of the series.

After Prologue Marvel simultaneously launched four different limited series runs of four different characters that were directly involved in Annihilation, and they acted as further lead-up to the event itself. Nova’s four issue mini-series is definitely the highlight, involving his aforementioned supercomputer merging as well as meeting up with Drax and Quasar and eventually even fighting Annihilus himself (briefly; everyone knows you can’t fight the Big Bad too early, and usually ends up with a minor good guy dying. Sorry, Quasar). It was a fantastic story that felt like a natural extension of the epic events in Annihilation Prologue.

The other character tie-ins were not so fortunate (all three make up Book Two of the Annihilation trades). Silver Surfer was okay, and one of the few Cosmic characters that I’d actually heard of. Essentially he returns to Galactus to serve him once again and become a herald (I didn’t know he was an ex-herald at the time) in order to fight the newly-dubbed Annihilation Wave. It doesn’t go well as the Wave had destroyed a kyln, a fancy space prison (like the one in Guardians) that held two ‘proemial gods’ (like Galactus). Aegis and Tenebrous were super pissed off and after some smooth words by Thanos, they attacked Galactus and Silver Surfer along with Ravenous, the only real villain given any substance under Annihilus (and he basically looks like Drax).

It’s not terrible and actually has a ton to do with the main event going on, but I’m just not a big fan of Silver Surfer and his whole situation with Galactus, thus the series didn’t really do it for me. Even worse was the Ronan series – here’s a character I only recognized from the recent movie (like Drax) but took place on an alien planet with minor Cosmic characters that were completely lost on me. At one point he and Gamora fight because reasons and that’s about it. Side note: Gamora is VERY different from her on-screen counterpart, she’s basically the token ‘hot chick that also kicks ass’ – very disappointing. The four issue story had very little to do with Annihilation and left me with such a bitter taste that I actually just completely skipped Annihilation: Super-Skrull (assuming it to be similarly fashioned) to get right into the main Annihilation trade.

annihilation draxSo if you’re paying close attention, the actual six issue event series Annihilation doesn’t start until Book Three of the trade paperbacks! The main event is thankfully fantastic as all our various heroes and anti-heroes come together to battle the vast armies of Annihilus. Thanos becomes a bigger player as he strikes a deal with Annihilus, and the two capture Galactus after the events of Annihilation: Silver Surfer and weaponize him to create a Death Star style planet-destroying beam. Cool! Ronan, Gamora, Super-Skrull, Starlord, Nova and Drax all fight together against the onslaught of swarms of alien insect creatures. Awesome! Ronan and the skrull get to team-up as an intergalactic odd-couple (skrull and kree hate each other) to overthrow the current ruling kree and use the army to attack the Wave. Nice! Nova and Gamora have a fling. Nova and Starlord are good buds (and Starlord is pretty funny, though older and more cynical than his lovable on-screen persona). Drax punches Thanos through the chest and rips out his heart. Wow! They free Galactus and he destroys the Wave, woo! Nova fights a weakened Annihilus and rips his spine out through his mouth. Holy crap!

If you’re going to do a giant epic Cosmic event, Annihilation really delivers with so many crazy fun and over-the-top moments that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Nearly every issue was like Act Three of a big budget space opera, and it was amazing that the relatively large cast all had interesting things to do, from joining forces to survive to splitting up when it came time to fight back.

Book Three also includes the two part Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus, which serve as mostly unnecessary epilogues to a few loose threads involving Silver Surfer and the other ex-heralds. As I mentioned before I don’t really care about Silver Surfer and his goings-on, so these stories really didn’t do much for me.

Due to the way Marvel structured the various limited series tie-ins and the eventual trade paperbacks, I felt coerced to read everything involved with Annihilation compared to the events back on Earth, such as House of M, where I could simply pick and choose which character tie-ins I was interested in. For that reason, Annihilation as a whole comes off as a very mixed bag.

annihilation issue 2

Trade paperback wise I would recommend completely skipping Book Two (unless you’re really into those particular characters). If you can pick and choose (such as on Marvel Unlimited) I would read the massive and awesome Annihilation: Prologue and spiffy Annihilation: Nova before diving into the six issue event itself. The actual event is pretty awesome, and I appreciate putting together all these various Cosmic characters, but most of the tie-ins just ended up pretty flat.

Unfortunately looking ahead it looks like Marvel would do the exact same thing with the next Cosmic event which starts up almost immediately afterward – Annihilation: Conquest. The good news is, Conquest paves the way for the Guardians of the Galaxy comic run, and I’m super excited to get there (especially as I already bought the first trade paperback).

2014: My Year In Gaming

Two Thousand Fourteen! I spent most of the year editing and writing for gaming site Leviathyn, got through another two seasons of Rogue’s Adventures, did a ton of live streaming and video content, began freelance writing for multiple game sites and finally bought a Wii U – all while still blogging here on Game Informer (I also started my own personal blog at roguewatson.wordpress.com).

2014 was a weird year for games. I predicted a huge year with exciting new franchises a la 2007, but instead we got mostly middling disappointment and sequels. However the indie game scene is stronger than ever, and thanks to platforms like Kickstarter and Steam Early Access, more and more developers are finding success making some really wonderful games. And I played a ton of ’em.

I’m also a big organizational nerd, which is to say I love making charts and lists, and this end of year recap is the grand daddy of them all. Or rather, it’s the love child of a year’s worth of note-taking of games I acquired, played, beat and/or 100% completed. Sites like Raptr.com and Backloggery.com help immensely, and you can see my year-end breakdown from Backloggery below:

That’s 68 New Games versus 50 Beaten and/or Completed ones – Not great! Interestingly I beat almost the same number of games as last year, but I acquired many, many more. I’m presuming it’s a combination of steam sales and review copies. Either way, despite playing through my backlog dutifully via Rogue’s Adventures, I ended up adding even more onto the pile. What a terribly glorious problem to have.

Anyway, let’s get to the month by month breakdown! As always I’ll give a brief rundown of the games I played, as well as the backlogged games I finished for Rogue’s Adventures (as well as links to my written Final Thoughts).

Read the full month-by-month breakdown over on Game Informer >>

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 1-3

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis new avengers issue 1

Artists: David Finch, Steve Mcniven, Frank Cho

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #1-15

The Avengers have disassembled – long live the New Avengers!

I was honestly never a big Avengers guy until the Marvel Cinematic Universe came along and suddenly made me care about the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. In 2004 Marvel kicked off what would be the first of many large-scale events and shake-ups with “Avengers: Disassembled,” a story arc that would finish off the then prolific Avengers series after some notable deaths.

Of course no way Marvel actually goes without an ongoing Avengers series, and thus the New Avengers were started, with now main Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis at the helm. Our new team comes together by sheer happenstance in the first story arc, “Breakout,” when a high-tech supervillian prison known as The Raft is shut down by Electro and dozens of villains begin escaping. Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Luke Cage are there to meet up with an unknown superhero that may be imprisoned there, The Sentry (which foreshadows the next story arc), while SHIELD Agent Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman) escorts them. When the prison begins its exciting breakout, Captain America arrives with more SHIELD agents, Spider-man tags along to help out, and finally Iron Man shows up to see what all the hubbub is about.

While it leads to some silly comic moments of “Hey! I’m here to help out and fight bad guys with y’all,” the prison scene is still an exciting backdrop and a fun opportunity for some harrowing fights. Carnage was one of the escapees, and begins kicking the crap out of Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and Daredevil before The Sentry mysteriously grabs him and flings him into space. Spider-man gets thrown into the prison and literally surrounded by various minor and random villains, savagely beaten and left with a broken arm before Cap and company can fight their way in.

new avengers issue 2

By the end of the ordeal they tally that over 40 supervillains have escaped the prison. Based on the way this group of heroes were able to quickly lock down the situation, Cap proposes that they form a new Avengers team to help track down the loose ends. Their first lead takes them to the Savage Land and Karl Lykos, a.k.a. Sauron. The team stumbles upon Wolverine who’s there because of reasons and the whole group is swiftly captured, and then fights a bunch of Savage Land Mutates. Other SHIELD agents show up and there appears to be a vast conspiracy with something they’re mining in the Savage Land before it all blows up.

“Breakout” serves as an exciting jumping on point for this new team of Avengers that includes a few fresh faces as well as a hodgepodge of famous heroes. The team itself isn’t super balanced ability-wise. Cap, Cage and Wolverine are all melee fighters, while Iron Man provides the only real firepower (Daredevil turns the team down during the official recruitment issue, presumably to stick with his own successful solo series at the time). Spider-Man provides all the comic relief you’d expect while Spider-Woman fills the role of the token woman…at least until her ongoing shadowy side plot is further explored in the third story arc, “Secrets and Lies.”

New avengers issue 9After “Breakout” the team digs into the mystery surrounding the superhero The Sentry in the next story arc, aptly titled “Sentry.” Turns out the Sentry is an extremely powerful hero that had his mind wiped by Mastermine, as well as the minds of anyone that ever meets him. The New Avengers want to recruit him into the fold, but first they have to unlock his mind. They call in Emma Frost of the X-Men, and we’re treated to a cavalcade of cameos as the X-Men, Inhumans and Fantastic Four help battle The Sentry’s terrifyingly manifested demons as Emma works to heal his mind.

“Sentry” also introduces to the Illuminati, a group of the world’s most powerful figures (all men, sadly) that make major decisions in secrecy. The Illuminati is composed of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Professor X, Black Bolt and Namor, and we get some fun scenes as Iron Man attempts to explain his new Avengers team.

new avengers issue 7 illuminati

Volume 3, “Secrets and Lies” follows the trail of one of our villainous escapees from the Raft, The Silver Samurai. The evil ninja clan The Hand brought him back to Japan and wants to prop him up as their figurehead, but Harada was simply imprisoned without trial or explanation by SHIELD and wants no part of it. The plot is mostly our heroes fighting a bunch of ninjas as they introduce a new mysterious ninja-hero known as Ronin, but quickly takes a backseat to exploring where Jessica’s loyalties lie as she seemingly makes contact with HYDRA.

Turns out she’s working for an off-the-grid Nick Fury directly and implanted as a mole to help HYDRA, even though HYDRA were able to restore her waning powers. By the end of the arc we’re still not completely sure if she’s playing both sides or ultimately working for one and betraying the other, but the double agent duty certainly takes its toll on her psychologically, and there’s a touching scene between her and Captain America where he’s both firm and sympathetic. I fully expected Spider-Woman to be nothing more than the eye-candy token female hero and was pleasantly surprised to find that she’s by far the most interesting character on the roster.

Despite using three different artists in the first fifteen issues, the art remains consistent and pleasantly comic book-y, that is with just enough exaggerated cartoon style that I dig it. The art and writing together aren’t anything to write home about but the New Avengers provides a wonderful baseline experience for simple fun comic book action and character development. I’m perfectly fine with other series’ experimenting with art and storytelling or delving deep into individual character psyche’s, but New Avengers is definitely more of a fun Summer blockbuster, and a big reason why comics are just plain fun in the first place.

With writer Bendis at the helm the series was lovingly mired in current Marvel events and continuity, making it one of the main ongoing series to read throughout the years it was active (an impressive six years and 64 issues). I definitely plan on sticking with the entire run, and using it when I want to turn my thinking cap down a few notches and just enjoy the ride.

New Avengers issue 15

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Blood of Apocalypse

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Peter Milligan x-men blood of apocalypse

Artist: Salvador Larroca

Issues: X-Men #182-187

Though Salvador’s Larroca’s art style immediately turned me off “The Day After” storyline in Decimation, I wanted to soldier on through the X-Men series as it comes to an end with the epic X-Men: Messiah Complex in another twenty issues. I was looking forward to “Blood of Apocalypse” as not only is the infamous villain an absolute classic but I also really enjoyed the two-issue preview build-up that was served in issues 26-27 of Cable & Deadpool (Final Thoughts coming soon).

Unfortunately the return of one of the X-Men’s most powerful villains is completely and utterly lame. Apocalypse shows up in a giant sphinx that acts as both a ship and base of operations and lands right outside Xavier’s mansion. Naturally the X-Men begin freaking out and attack it, and Apocalypse unleashes his first of four horseman – Famine, formerly the crippled Sunfire. I was immediately rolling my eyes at the notion that, despite a new tactic of wanting to save mutantkind from the brink of extinction (by killing most humans), he simply regurgitates past encounters and unleashes new thematic horsemen as minor villains for our heroes to defeat.

Famine is defeated (and somehow reverts back to Sunfire, though he keeps his powers and legs, convenient) and Apocalypse makes a show of force by destroying all the sentinels of the O*N*E that have been assigned to peacekeeping duties at the mansion since the events of House of M. I did appreciate that events are closely tied to the continuity and current events of the X-Men at the time, though it still doesn’t amount to much. With the sentinels destroyed many of the refugee mutants side with Apocalypse, though that also doesn’t amount to much.

Apocalypse’s sniveling sidekick Ozymandias (wait, since when does Apocalypse need a sniveling henchman) betrays his master and leads the X-Men into the sphinx where they can launch an attack. Battles ensue and our heroes discover that Gambit had gone willingly to Apocalypse to be transformed into the horseman Death (I hadn’t read any X-Men before Decimation, so I was unaware of Gambit’s woes with the team).

The X-Men manage to destroy much of Apocalypse’s blood, which acts as a cure to the plague he plans to unleash via Pestilence (a transformed Polaris). After they retreat, Apocalypse crashes into the United Nations and gives a pithy Bond villain-esque declaration on how humanity needs to cull themselves lest he do it for them. Since when does Apocalypse deign to make demands and threats? If you can’t tell, I abhorred his characterization and motivations throughout the story.

x-men 183

Apocalypse is finally defeated when some new heroes join the fray (namely Iron Man and Captain America) as well as a pair of fancy new sentinels that reminded me of the jaegars from Pacific Rim. The sphinx ends up in the East River and Apocalypse ends up escaping via some sort of space portal. Polaris is rescued, though Sunfire takes off with Gambit-Death, and the epilogue issue attempts to make us care about their plight, as well as the tiresome Yes, Our Villain Will Return ending.

The art is actually much better than “The Day After,” less manga-ish but still much too cartoony for my tastes. The worst part of “Blood of Apocalypse” is definitely the story, and lame story plus art I don’t like equals a pretty terrible experience. Even the side plots are lame, with awful love triangles involving Polaris-Iceman-Havok and Rogue-Gambit-Pulse that reek of Young Adult novel clichés.

I can’t recommend “Blood of Apocalypse” at all, but thankfully it looks like it was Larroca’s last stint on X-Men. I’ll still try to read all the storylines between now and Messiah Complex, but I’m much more looking forward to the stories in Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor (two series that I’ve found far more superior thus far).

x-men 186

My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2015

Read the full list over on my blog on Game Informer >>

Now that my Top Ten Games of the Year list is out of the way we can focus on what’s really important – being excited for future games! Many of the biggest 2014 games were pushed into the next year, and many new Kickstarter and Early Access games will be debuting. I’m feeling fairly confident that all of these will actually release this year, but time makes fools of us all….

Read the full list over on my blog on Game Informer >>

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Deadly Genesis

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Ed Brubaker x-men deadly genesis 1

Artist: Trevor Hairsine

Issues: X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1-6

After the excellent character-focused treatment we got in Captain America: Winter Soldier I became a big fan of comic writer Ed Brubaker’s work. I’m pleased to report that his work on a special limited series starring the X-Men in the wake of the Decimation caused by the events of House of M is even better. Deadly Genesis is a bold semi-retconning exploration of the events of the original “Deadly Genesis” storyline published in 1975 that introduced most of the X-Men we know and love (Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, etc) on a quest to save the original X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel, Iceman) from a powerful sentient island named Krakoa. The original story is analogous to The Transformers: The Movie in that it got rid of most of the old cast to make room for the new guys (unlike Transformers, it didn’t brutally kill everyone off, however).

This new Deadly Genesis boldly shakes that sacred story down to its core by exposing some previous unknown truths about how Cyclops managed to escape and form a new team. Before he and Xavier gathered new mutants from across the world, Xavier went to on-again off-again lover and scientist Moira McTaggert, who had her own training facility for young mutants set up. In an uncharacteristically but interesting move, Xavier pulls them out and uses his telepathy to instill months of training into the young mutants in a matter of days. They are Earth-powered Petra, time-manipulator Sway, the constantly evolving/adaptive Darwin and generic energy-wielding Vulcan. Oh, and Vulcan happens to be a long-lost third Summers brother!

The original comic from 1975; Deadly Genesis Issue 1's cover is a dark homage.
The original comic from 1975; Deadly Genesis Issue 1’s cover is a dark homage.

The team assaults the living island wielding their powers, and combined are still only able to rescue Cyclops. Scott escapes while the rest go back for the others, only to be killed in the process. Cyclops is terribly distraught and having just gained and lost a brother as well as knowing so many had died, and Xavier does another crazy uncharacteristic thing and mind-wipes him, allowing him to forget and believe the island itself was sentient.

All was well until Scarlet Witch gave us the No More Mutants world-state, and the sudden ripping apart of mutant powers caused Vulcan to reawaken and return to Earth (after having been thrown into space along with Krakoa at the end of the original “Deadly Genesis”). Turns out while the rest of the team died, Darwin bonded with Vulcan’s cells, allowing him to survive even in space. Vulcan returned to Earth super pissed off about being sent on a suicide mission, and wants revenge on Professer X and the X-Men.

While that whole tale is fascinating in a very retcon-y kind of way, it’s the way it’s told that makes it work so well. Emma notices the powerful mutant signature entering Earth’s atmosphere, and Wolverine, Cyclops and Rachel Grey are sent to investigate. They meet the god-like Vulcan who quickly kicks their asses and captures Scott and Rachel. Meanwhile the rest of the X-Men are seeing ghosts and nightmares around the mansion as a dark foreboding shrouds the mansion.

While Vulcan hints at a large conspiracy by Xavier (and uses Marvel Girl to dig around her mind for answers) Wolverine and Nightcrawler try to meet up with Banshee, who’s discovered Moira’s secret tapes on her team. Vulcan picks up the X-Jet and crashes it into Banshee’s plane, just as he gets out trying to save everyone inside. It’s a thrilling and brutal moment, and one that I unfortunately spoiled for myself as I read the first arc of X-Factor before this (where Cyke shows up to tell Banshee’s daughter Syren that he’d died).

The mystery plot builds up nicely over several issues as our heroes race to uncover the truth behind Vulcan and his ill-fated team, but it’s not until Charles Xavier shows up at the end that he spills the beans behind his greatest mistake. Since the events of House of M, Xavier is one of the many now de-powered mutants, and the reason the team had been unable to find him.

deadly genesis vulcan xavier

The X-Men attempt to fight Vulcan, but only after Marvel Girl senses Darwin still ‘inside’ him and rips him out do they weaken him enough to stand a chance. Even then, Xavier reveals the bloody truth about his birth – his mother was killed and himself ripped out of his mother’s womb while she was pregnant by the Shi’ar Emperor D’Ken, and the child was raised as a slave to the Shi’Ar Empire. Pro tip to all evil rulers – Kill all offspring of people you kill, otherwise they will always find a way to bit you in the ass.

Vulcan realizes that D’Ken is the far worse person in his horribly tragic life, and takes off through space (apparently he’s still powerful enough to fly in space) to begin the events of The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire that take over the Uncanny X-Men line for several issues, and which I’m very excited to start.

Deadly Genesis could’ve easily turned into a hot mess with its huge events and bombs (a third Summer’s brother! Banshee dies! A team in between the original two! Xavier is kind of a fuck-up!) but thanks to Brubaker’s masterful writing always stays grounded on the mystery of those past events and the build-up to Vulcan’s identity. Despite given fairly generic ‘energy manipulation’ powers, Vulcan is an intriguing villain with tons of backstory. It’s also nice to see a vigorous nod to continuity and current events, as the Sentinel Squad of O*N*E are there to help (and hinder) the X-Men during the events.

Nearly every X-Men is given a scene or something to do, and somehow it feels cohesive instead of shoe-horned in. Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Beast, Emma Frost and Havok in particular are all directly affected by the events, but none more than Cyclops.This story may just be the final nail in the coffin in regards to his relationship to Xavier (whom he basically says Get the Fuck Out at the end) and cementing his own path as a hardened leader.

I also really loved Trevor Hairsine’s art – lots of shadows, sweat and blood while still maintaining a comic feel. Dare I say it’s been my favorite art style of most of the comics I’ve read so far. The art style, writing, and fact that I’m actually familiar with the original classic X-Men story helped make Deadly Genesis one of the best limited series arcs I’ve read yet.

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