Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New X-Men: Childhood’s End, Vol. 5

With a completely new, distinctive art style and the darkest plot and action yet, the five-part “Quest for Magik” story serves as an epic finale to the New X-Men’s adventures.

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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!

new x-men childhood's end vol 5Writers: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost

Artist: Skottie Young

Issues: New X-Men (2004) #37-43

In what would sadly become their final major story arc, the wonderful writing team of Kyle and Yost once again put their intriguing New X-Men team through the ringer – this time putting them literally through hell.

The story of the demon lord Bellasco and Magik (Illyana Rasputin, Collossus’ younger sister) is mysteriously told by the mutant Blindfold to the other young students, setting the stage for our heroes to soon be pulled down into limbo, separated into different groups and fighting hordes of demon spawn. With a completely new, distinctive art style and the darkest plot and action yet, the five-part “Quest for Magik” story serves as an epic finale to the New X-Men’s adventures.

When Bellasco attacks Xavier’s Institute in his relentless search for Magik, our heroes get separated into three different teams. Dust, X-23, Mercury, Trance, Elixir, David, and the Cuckoos are directly captured by the demon lord, and spend most of the story fighting him and in turn being tortured. Rockslide, Pixie, Anole and others are sent to Limbo where they fight off demons and meet Magik, who’s not entirely on their side. Finally Surge and Hellion are left on the surface, eventually teaming up with an O*N*E sentinel and fighting their way to the others.

new x-men #40bJuggling all three situations means there’s always something big and crazy happening, from giant demon battles with creatively grotesque-looking creatures to Bellasco’s horrifying tortures and killings. If things were dark and serious before (which Kyle and Yost have never been afraid to tackle) they go the extra mile here. Bellasco is a demon lord and has no qualms about straight up murdering children, including melting X-23 into a pile of bones and plunging his hand into David’s chest and pulling out his heart. Holy. Shit.

The main story happens with the Magik team. I’m wholly unfamiliar with the character and her demonically-challenged situation, so must of what she said went over my head. Something about soulswords. She’s a nifty character, though: a previously innocent soul permanently corrupted by demon influence. She’s got the key to save everyone but she can’t exactly be trusted, and she ends up ripping apart Pixie’s soul to forge a soulsword (which the rest of the team interrupts, so it makes more of a soul dagger).

There’s now a whole lot of complexity to the story – a group is captured by Bellasco and the rest try to rescue them in their own ways. Magik (who goes by Darkchild now and rocks some hooves, horns, and tail) teaches Pixie a teleporation spell using her soul while Surge and Hellion hop aboard a sentinel and use Trance to fight their way through demons into Bellasco’s lair. Five issues actually feels slightly drawn out, compared to the rushed feeling I usually get from most story arcs. The main advantage we get is lots of great characterization for our ‘new’ members of the team.

new x-men #40

For the previous volumes of “Childhood’s End” (which began when Kyle and Yost took over on issue #20, and also when I started reading) our main team consisted of Hellion, Surge, X-23, Dust, Mercury, Rockslide and Elixir. This was the main team for several long story arcs, give or take a few side characters. “Quest for Magik” expands the roster to include more of those recurring side characters, especially Anole and Pixie. Taking a fairly robust team roster and adding in more characters is a risky move but it definitely adds to the epic story-telling, and nicely highlights the fact that there really are dozens of kids at the Institute. Kyle and Yost do a fantastic job making them all interesting and giving everyone important things to do.

Easily the most striking aspect of this volume is the art style. For the entire volume New X-Men picks up artist Skottie Young, whom I recognized from the crazy cover art in the latter half of Deadpool and Cable Book 3. Young’s art style is very anime-inspired but in a dark and twisty fashion. At first I found it completely jarring but by the end really enjoyed it, appreciating it for both its uniqueness and style. Even seeing classic X-Men characters like Wolverine and Beast drawn in this crazy style is interesting – and I’m usually a stickler for the classic looks.

It probably helps that Young does an amazing job with the demons, and Bellasco is drawn and staged in very menacing poses and mannerisms – like a combination of Batman’s Joker and Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka. Previous New X-Men volumes generally played it safe with the art, using a bright, youthful style that meshed well with the tone, but this darker cartoon look is really something special.

New X-Men #37b

“Quest for Magik” ends at #41, which leaves the final two issues as both an epilogue to our cast and a precursor to New X-Men’s tie-ins to Messiah Complex. “Children of X-Men” (#41-42) explores the intriguing drama when the students are mostly just sitting around licking their wounds, as well as the rare glimpses of them interacting with the senior staff of the Astonishing X-Men

Kudos again to Kyle and Yost for making teenage drama surprisingly riveting, funny, heartfelt, and enjoyable. Surge tries to get David (formerly Prodigy before depowered after House of M) by kissing Hellion. X-23 freaks out and tries to understand these odd human emotions she’s feeling toward Hellion. Rockslide and Anole have an ongoing ribbing camaraderie that’s always fun to watch. Hellion and Elixir both brood in their own ways, giving off some bad boy vibes without being eye-rollingly annoying about it.

“Childhood’s End” has been an incredibly fun ride. Taking the New X-Men on their own missions and dealing with the incredible harsh realities of a post M-Day world has been a fantastic angle for a series, and really allowed the New X-Men to stand out as  one of the best X-Men series at the time. It’s a huge shame then that the series ends with the mega crossover event Messiah Complex. Apparently some of the cast continued in another spin-off series called Young X-Men, but it looks like it’s pretty universally reviled and was canceled after the first year. Disappointing to say the least, as I’ve really grown to love all of these characters.

new x-men #43

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New X-Men: Childhood’s End, Vol. 3-4

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!

new x-men #28 coverWriters: Craig Kyle, Chris Yost

Artist: Paco Medina

Issues: New X-Men (2004-2008) #28-36

There were two important loose threads left dangling after the catastrophic events of New X-Men’s previous arc, when William Stryker led his Purifiers on an all out assault on Xavier’s School.

The first is that while Stryker himself perished at the hands of Elixir, his Purifier’s live on, led by one of his disciples. They would lick their wounds and take a backseat as the second would take center stage – Nimrod, the time-traveling mutant-hunting sentinel from the future, had escaped his imprisonment.

Stryker had used Nimrod’s memory banks to predict the future and form his cult, but Nimrod held no love for the fanatics, escaping and heading to Dallas, Texas to force his original builder, Forge, to repair him. The New X-Men are on the case as the older veterans basically blow them off, dismissing Nimrod and telling them to stay put, which always works great with teenagers. Our young heroes launch their own secret mission to rescue Forge after he contacts Nori (Surge) using the gauntlets he built her, and we get a chance to see our burgeoning team on their own for the first time.

“Nimrod” is short and sweet with a simple set-up that leads our heroes into a fun battle with Nimrod and a small army of mini-sentinels. It was awesome seeing them coordinate their abilities and strengths, especially in the final battle against Nimrod, requiring Mercury to peel open his chest while Surge overloads his time-traveling matrix to send him into another time line.

new x-men #30

In the battle Laura (X-23) is grievously wounded and she’s not healing (which isn’t quite explained), so Hellion grabs her and attempts to fly all the way back across the country. Emma Frost touches Hellion’s mind and unlocks his full telekinetic powers, letting him get back to the base while hinting at the huge potential of his powers. Elixir is able to heal her, which also snaps him out of his funk after murdering Stryker. Laura then begins falling for Hellion in her own adorably awkward, sociopathic way, which leads directly to the next story arc, “Mercury Falling.”

If I may digress for a moment, one of my favorite scenes happens early in issue #28 (which occurs in the middle of Civil War), when Iron Man and Ms. Marvel show up at the X-Mansion and not so tactfully ask the X-Men to register with the new Superhuman Registration Act. Emma Frost, whom I kind of hated in the previous two volumes of New X-Men due to her outright hatred and loathing of X-23 (whom I love), has an amazing monologue response that essentially boils down to “Where the hell were the Avengers when they were invading our home and murdering our children? Get the fuck out.” It’s one of those fist-pumping moments and Frost completely won me over, even more so with her actions in the epilogue of the next story.

“Mercury Falling” starts with Cessily (Mercury) taking Laura out for coffee in a nicely normal teenage manner – Cess had correctly seen that Laura had feelings for Hellion and wanted to talk to her about it. Of course this being a comic book and them being mutants it doesn’t end well, as the same organization that bred, tortured and crafted X-23 attack them. The two girls fight them off as best they can, but Laura learns the hard way that they’re not after her – they’re after Mercury.

Mercury is captured while Laura escapes. She immediately grabs her things to go hunt her down when Hellion finds her and insists on helping. His flight power comes in really handy so she quickly acquiesces, and much of the story becomes about their hunt for the organization.

new x-men #35If you’re already preparing your eye rolls in anticipation of this turning into a sappy teenage love story, fear not. The pair are quite focused on the mission at hand, and we get to explore a bit more of their personalities. Namely that Laura has zero compunctions about straight up killing anyone in their way – even executing criminals after they give up the information they need. Hellion is horrified and tries to explain that killing people is wrong, reminding me of John Connor trying to explain the same concept to The Terminator.

Eventually the powerful duo make it to the facility, and begin kicking people’s asses left and right. Kimura, an assassin with indestructible skin and X-23’s former handler and arch-nemesis, is able to subdue Laura, but Hellion responds by blasting her about 20 miles away, heh. The organization reveal their plan after torturing poor Mercury over the last few issues – stealing her liquid metal skin and bonding it to monstrous, mutant-hunting beasts.

Luckily the rest of the New X-Men show up along with the Astonishing X-Men team and are able to defeat most of the Predator X beasts (one of them escapes to create another dangling plot thread). Mercury is haunted by the events and Laura feels ashamed and guilty, heart-breakingly telling Emma Frost that she was right – she should never have come to the mansion.

In the epilogue Emma approaches Kimura just as her sniper’s gun is trained on Laura being hugged by Cessily. She shuts down her body mentally, then cruelly removes the only good memory she has (her grandmother), and finally forces Kimura to help X-23 instead of hinder her every step of the way. Essentially she gets her super villain on to completely dominate another, and it is freaking awesome. Another fist-pumping moment for the former White Queen.

Both “Nimrod” and “Mercury Falling” are fun little four part stories (Issue #32 is a one-off) that show off a ton of fun action-adventure sequences and do a great job showcasing our heroes in dangerous situations. It’s a bit of a bummer that “Mercury Falling” focuses almost solely on Hellion and X-23, as I’d prefer to see the whole team work together again, but I adore X-23’s character and it’s hard to complain when she takes center stage.

Apparently Issue #32 acts as a big plot hook that affects the X-Men three years in the future, with the X-Necrosha story line (in fact, that issue is included in the X-Necrosha trade paperback). Talk about your dangling plot threads! It reveals what happened to Whither, a student that fled the mansion back when I first jumped on to New X-Men in issue #20, as he meets up with a mysterious woman who’s also all about death. It’s not terribly interesting on its own but I imagine becomes quite interesting once I finally get to that story.

new x-men #31

New X-Men continues to be one of my favorite series. Paco Medina’s art shows off a crisp, bright look that meshes well with the youthful tone. I’m continually impressed with how writers Chris Kyle and Craig Yost don’t rely on simple teenage drama, instead sending the new heroes on their own adventures and finding their way with their own story lines, while somehow remaining grounded in current Marvel events and situations.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New X-Men: Childhood’s End, Vol. 1-2

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!

new x-men #20 coverWriters: Craig Kyle, Chris Yost

Artists: Mark Brooks, Paco Medina

Issues: New X-Men (2004-2008) #20-27

Though I’ve made tons of progress in the relatively short time since my comeback into comics (which began in early December), I also find myself adding new series all the time. With Marvel Unlimited giving you just about every Marvel comic at your fingertips, it’s kind of addicting to explore and browse everything.

I’m continually blown away by just how many ongoing series there are at any one time. What initially began as reading the major events and series like Uncanny X-Men and New Avengers has quickly evolved into discovering new teams and series such as X-Factor and New X-Men.

With no less than three major X-Men series going on at the time (and numerous limited series), I was definitely feeling fulfilled on my mutant quotient. But my best friend and comic connoisseur suggested New X-Men as a surprisingly great take on the younger generation of mutants that were being trained at Xavier’s Institute.

I decided to start with issue #20 for a couple reasons: 1) Good starting point taking place during the Decimation (after the catastrophic events of House of M), 2) Though I have access to all the comics, I still want to prioritize my time and have become much more cavalier about skipping story arcs or jumping ahead, and 3) New creative team of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost start with issue #20, who would lead New X-Men to nearly fifty issues before rekindling X-Force in 2008 (fun note: they continue to have success to this day and just got tapped to write Thor 3 for the big screen).

Issue #20 serves as both a good jumping-on point and an exciting event, as our teens reel from the aftermath of the Decimation. Several of the New X-Men are no longer mutants (though most of our cast still are, just like the main X-Men) and headmistress Emma Frost is understandably freaked out over the whole ordeal. The first four issue story arc, “Childhood’s End,” dissolves the previous practice teams of the series in favor of an all-out brawl between the students, with only the strongest survivors becoming a single new team: Hellion, Rockslide, Surge, Dust, Elixir, Mercury and X-23.

new x-men #23 roster

Woo, diversity! I don’t know if it’s more painfully noticeable because of our previous white-bread, male-centric teams but this is the second teenage superhero book I’ve read (see Runaways)  with a wonderfully diverse team. Four of our seven main heroes are women and Dust is the exceedingly rare Sunni Muslim that dresses in a traditional burka (Dust: “You are familiar with my home?” X-23: “Yes, I have killed in Afghanistan”).

Like any teenage series our heroes get involved in dramatic romantic entanglements, fierce rivalries and make immature mistakes, but they learn to grow up quickly. Even amongst the drama the team still has a little fun, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes where they dress up as the adult X-Men and relive various adventures in the Danger Room (Rockslide: “Colossus again? They really need more big guys on the X-Men”).

new x-men #21

The drama of having fellow team members that are suddenly no longer mutants and forced to leave is heartfelt, though as a newcomer to the series it didn’t have quite the same effect on me (apparently Tag/Brian was a major character in the previous comics). The arc ends as our new team waves goodbye to their now merely human friends as they leave on the school bus, before the bus suddenly explodes killing everyone inside.

New X-Men gives us the return of William Stryker, who’s been portrayed on the big screen in both X2: X-Men United and as a young man in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Throughout “Childhood’s End” we get glimpses of Stryker’s rise from suicidal to the leader of his own extremist anti-mutant religious movement. Thanks to Nimrod, the poorly named but powerful mutant-hunting sentinel from the future dropping down in front of him in a church, Stryker suddenly has access to the future and goes on a recruiting montage.

He’s also able to recruit Icarus, one of the former New X-Men who didn’t lose his powers but still feels deep regret at being a mutant. Stryker cuts off his wings and uses him as a manipulative tool to start getting rid of the New X-Men. I loved how this dark storyline played second fiddle to the main drama that was unfolding amongst our leading cast, and not until the final page (with the exploding bus) did Stryker’s horrifying plot finally emerge.

Each subsequent trade volume is called New X-Men: Childhood’s End Volume 1, 2, etc (from Issue #1 to #20 they were called New X-Men: Academy X), and for the sake of these Final Thoughts I’m covering the first two volumes, which includes the second story arc, “Crusade.” Stryker and his cult the Purifiers move into center stage after the bus attack at the end of the previous arc. He sends a sniper to kill Wallflower, another of the new X-Men that didn’t make the final team and Elixir’s on again off again girlfriend (she’s shot in the head right in his arms for extra dramatic effect).

new x-men #20Icarus, more a victim of Stryker’s manipulation than anything else, attempts to lure Sooraya (Dust) away from campus as Stryker has ‘seen’ that she’s the next most dangerous mutant. X-23, quickly becoming one of my favorite new characters, knocks her out and takes her place, burka and all. When Stryker’s men open fire on her she gets back up and kills them all. Did I mention she’s the cloned daughter of Wolverine, complete with healing factor and adamantium claws? She’s pretty damn awesome with severe social skill issues that reminds me quite a bit of Shaw from Person of Interest. Her backstory as a test-tube baby to little girl killing machine is revealed in the excellent X-23: Innocence Lost limited series.

“Crusade” spends much of its time exploring the toll all these terrible deaths and events have had on our budding heroes, and it’s their interplay and dialogue that really makes the series shine. The story builds up to an all-out invasion by Stryker and the Purifiers on the mansion and while other resident X-Men are shown in brief montages, the spotlight remains on our teenage heroes and how they deal with the crisis.

It’s powerful and satisfying, and even a bit gruesome as we get to see just why the Purifiers wanted to assassinate Dust beforehand – her sand form rips the flesh from their bones. The exciting battle peaks when Elixir, a sensitive young man that only wants to heal people with his power, goes a little nuts and grabs Stryker, causing him to bubble up all over with sores and pus. The gold-skinned Elixir then turns black before passing out. Even victory takes its toll, and our heroes survive the assault even further hardened against the humans that despise them.

A series about the mutant teenage X-men in training had no right to be this awesome, and I’m especially satisfied that I jumped in just as the plot took some dark turns and, well, shit got real. The art style, like Runaways, is bright and very modern-looking without going over-the-top silly and fits the youthful but serious nature of the series very well. The comics are also heavily tied into the continuity of Marvel at the time, including lots of nods and mentions to The 198, Astonishing X-Men and the Sentinel Squad, which I very much appreciated. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, which eventually culminates in the grand Messiah Complex crossover.

new x-men #23 fight