With 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!
Artists: Yanick Paquette, Greg Land, Terry Dodson, Marc Silvestri, Luke Ross, Alan Davis
Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #512-519, Dark Avengers (2009) #7-8, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men Utopia One-Shot, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men Exodus One-Shot*
*I also included relevant tie-ins X-Men Legacy #226-227 and X-Men: Nation X #1-4
“Hello again. My name is Scott Summers and I’ve been an X-Man since I was fifteen. And like everyone else here, I’ve been a mutant all my life.”
I was originally going to open with “It was a time of upheaval for our beloved mutants,” but honestly it’s always a damn time of upheaval. From House of M to Emperor Vulcan and the Shi’ar Empire to Messiah Complex, the X-Men have barely had a chance to tell more character-focused, one-off stories before being whisked away to the next major event.
If you can’t already tell from the cavalcade of artists and issues included in this collected volume, this is yet another major event. To Marvel’s credit, most of these events do change the status quo of X-Men and mutants quite a bit, from destroying Xavier’s school to moving the X-Men West to San Francisco.
The Complete Collection Volume 2 covers the Dark Reign era – circa 2009. The X-Men are involved in a growing escalation of anti-mutant hatred in the not-so-progressive city of San Francisco, eventually clashing with Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers. A new Dark X-Men team is temporarily created by Emma Frost, and Scott shows off his Wartime Consigliere skills when he creates yet another new home for mutantkind by dredging up a surprising location.
I mourned the departure of fun one-off stories because the volume actually starts with one that’s really amazing. “The Origins of the Species” (#512) continues Beast’s seemingly neverending quest to solve the mutant problem that Scarlet Witch created at the end of House of M.
Beast’s team of crack scientists decide to go back in time to the early 20th century, when the mutant gene exploded. It’s a really neat, fun tale of steampunk sentinels, meeting your parents, and delivering your baby-self that somehow ties the whole shaky time-travel premise into an endearing, emotional story.
The real tale of the X-Men begins in earnest with the Utopia One-Shot. Then, like most X-events of the time, it crossed over between four total issues of Uncanny X-Men and Dark Avengers before concluding in another mega One-Shot issue. Despite a veritable army of credited artists, the artwork stays surprisingly consistent throughout the entire volume, though I vastly preferred Terry Dodson and Luke Ross’ art to Greg Land’s pinup style.
A mutant protest group, lead by long-standing mutant-hater Simon Trask ends up fighting with a gathering of mutants in the middle of the city, leading to mass anarchy and torch mobs. As the reigning man in charge of national security, Norman Osborn, the former Green Goblin, leads his Dark Avengers team to restore order.
When Osborn took control at the end of Secret Invasion and called together his secret Cabal of villains, Emma Frost was among their number. Now we finally see that payoff as she creates a Dark X-Men team for Osborn to act as the officially government sanctioned team. I believe the X-Men had continually told the officials to fuck off during the Initiative’s registration act, so this is Osborn’s solution.
The Dark X-Men are your usual cast of C-listers: Daken (who’s also on the Dark Avengers team, in both cases posing as his father Wolverine), Cloak and Dagger (whom I haven’t seen since Civil War), Mimic, Namor, Dark Beast, and Weapon Omega (the dude that originally absorbed all the depowered mutants and nearly destroyed the New Avengers).
Between that team and Osborn’s Avengers the X-Men have their hands full. To top it off Trask ends up being some kind of bio-sentinel that turns other people into human-sentinels? I was so confused about this I literally though I had messed up the reading order at one point and missed an issue.
While the theme of mass hysteria and mobs over lots of mutants in one place was strong, the sentinel thing just derails everything, and eventually much of the story devolves into a montage of various characters fighting around the city (the highlight being Colossus versus Venom).
There’s a fun scene where Cyclops shows up to talk to Osborn and calmly tells him to surrender, leaving Osborn sputtering and furious. Things finally get back on track as Cyclops reveals his grand scheme – reactivating Asteroid M, Magneto’s former flying mutant paradise that fell to the ocean, as an island and safe haven for all the remaining mutants. Utopia.
The final Exodus One-Shot has a furious Osborn sending his team to Utopia to battle the X-Men, who’s ranks have swelled to include most every damn mutant. It’s revealed in a pretty obvious twist that Emma Frost was working with Scott the whole time, and her and Namor help take out the other Dark X-Men and join back with the original crew.
The Exodus issue is a glorious non-stop sequence of awesome battles (and great artwork) on the island. Osborn’s team is beaten back thanks to a series of great tactical decisions by Cyclops, and Osborn realizes they can’t fight every mutant when they stand united. D’aww.
Issues #515-519 cover a less interesting story involving a lame return of the Predator X monster that plagued the X-Men during Messiah Complex. “Nation X” first begins with Magneto arriving at Utopia and offering his services, essentially willing to bow at Cyclops’ feat for doing what he couldn’t – unite mutantkind. A few of the X-Men, such as Xavier and Beast, are less than thrilled at having this former supervillain join them, but Scott relents, and it leads to a lot of nice dialogue scenes and catching up to X-Men events.
The Predator X comes into play an issue or two later. A mutant-hunting group forces another C-lister (Scalphunter) to carry a cargo plane filled with half a dozen clones of the creature. The plane is shot down and the X-Men have to battle them in a fairly straightforward fashion – though Rogue does get a cool moment to shine (she regains full control of her powers in a really great arc in X-Men Legacy).
The final two issues of “Nation X” involve a dumb plot thread from “Utopia,” when Emma Frost got a piece of Sentry’s Void stuck in her mind after shutting him down. Scott has to enter her mind to free her, then the reverse happens in the following issue. He and Emma’s relationship have already been focused on to death by better writers (cough Joss Whedon cough) and I didn’t need to see yet another strengthening of their trust and bond.
The Uncanny X-Men series has become a slave to the event-heavy modern Marvel era. The problem comes from trying to work within both the X-Men’s own problems and events and the greater framework of the Marvel Universe and events. It’s exhausting to keep track of, and our mutants are rarely given a chance to develop their own ongoing narratives, which is probably why I love X-Factor so much for doing just that (and having a smaller, focused cast).
The X-Men’s stories on Utopia are continued in the X-Men: Nation X mini-series, which is little more than a series of character-focused one-offs with some very experimental, comic strip style art. But they remind me of a time when the X-Men could just tell stories focused around their great cast of characters. Lately it seems the only ones going through any kind of arcs and focus on Uncanny are Emma and Scott (and maybe Beast).
That being said, I still enjoyed the Dark Avengers/Utopia crossover, and the move from San Fran to an island, essentially starting their own mutant sovereign nation, is a cool one. Plus the artwork is given a healthy booster shot and actually improved from all the additional artists and issues. Overall a much stronger collected volume than the first one.