Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Avengers vs. X-Men

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!

marvelWriters: Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman

Artists: John Romita Jr., Adam Kubert, Olivier Coipel

Issues: Avengers vs X-Men #0-12

I also read the following tie-ins: Avengers: X-Sanction #1-4, Avengers #25-30, Avengers Academy #29-33, New Avengers #24-30, Secret Avengers #26-28, Uncanny X-Men #11-20, Wolverine & The X-Men #9-18, X-Men Legacy #266-270, Avengers Vs. X-Men: Versus #1-6, Avengers Vs. X-Men: Consequences #1-5

 

Avengers Vs. X-Men was a massive event. Most Marvel events are big, but they tend to balance smaller events with a few tie-ins with larger, world-spanning events that completely take over all the comics. AvX was definitely the latter in 2012.

It’s also very gimmicky, and staged almost like an empty-headed Summer blockbuster. Even the title doesn’t exactly evoke a lot of mystery. Yet it gradually evolves from a vapid smackdown into a dramatic story that deconstructs Cyclops’ recent worldviews and mutants’ place in the world.

The plot boils down to the return of the Phoenix – that cosmic firebird that has caused the X-Men many headaches in the past. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Avengers vs. X-Men”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Schism

Enter X-Men: Schism, the much touted Cyclops vs Wolverine fight that splits up the extended X-Men family.

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!

marvelWriters: Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen

Artists: Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuña, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Billy Tan

Issues: X-Men: Prelude to Schism #1-4, X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis

 

The X-Men have been united for quite awhile following the big events of X-Men: Messiah Complex and Second Coming. Cyclops had successfully united the 200 or so remaining mutants, providing a (relatively) safe mutant haven in an island off the coast of San Francisco. An island that used to be Magneto’s Asteroid M, who now serves as an old war general and confidant. The times they are a-changin’.

So in 2011 Marvel decided they needed to break up the X-Men.

I can definitely see the reasoning. There’s always been a ton of mutants, and teams are usually split up based on where they are and what they’re doing. But with everyone in Utopia it gets super weird having multiple X-Men comics with different teams, for no real reason other than sales.

Enter X-Men: Schism, the much touted Cyclops vs Wolverine fight that splits up the extended X-Men family. The idea is neat, the dialogue suitable, and the actual fight between our veterans pretty darn violent and satisfying. But the overarching plot and kid-villains are incredibly dumb and frustrating, draining much of Schism’s power. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Schism”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

The X-Men go to war with Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, and the fate of mutantkind leads to a creation of yet another new home.

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!

uncanny x-men complete collction vol 2Writer: Matt Fraction

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. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

The X-Men move to San Francisco to rebuild their lives and provide a safe haven for the remaining mutants.

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!

Uncanny X-Men #500Writers: Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker

Artists: Greg Land, Terry Dodson

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #500-511, Uncanny X-Men Annual #2, X-Men: Divided We Stand #1

 

The awesome, status-quo changing events in Messiah Complex destroyed the X-Mansion and shook the X-Men to their core in 2008. Marvel took the opportunity to breathe some new life into the mutants, moving them out West to San Francisco, a city known for its liberal policies and eclectic population.

Where the X-Men go, trouble always follows, and their initial time in California is anything from peaceful. The stories are a mixed bag of dumb and silly, but with some fun action scenes and effective usage of the ever-expanding cast. I wasn’t a big fan of Greg Land’s touched-up, supermodel-esque artwork for each character but the action is bright and vivid. Matt Fraction’s Complete Collection Volume 1 has some fun dialogue and tons of ongoing stories and little character moments, I just wished the major story arcs could’ve been elevated above silly comic book fare.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection Vol. 1”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Cable, Vol. 1-2

In the dystopian future Cable’s on the run and Bishop’s on the hunt in this effective follow-up series to Messiah Complex.

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!

marvelWriter: Duane Swiercynski

Artists: Ariel Olivetti, Michael Lacombe,  Ken Lashley (King-Size Cable)

Issues: Cable (2008) #1-10, King-Size Cable #1

 

I watched the first two Terminator films at a fairly young, impressionable age. I fell in love with the concept of a badass warrior-soldier from the future, and Cable was essentially Marvel’s version of that character. He quickly became a very 90stastic creation, with overly convoluted plots and ridiculous situations. He was also extremely powerful, and for while it seemed like Marvel didn’t know what to do with him.

In the mid 2000s we were blessed with Cable & Deadpool, where our future soldier was paired with an equally ridiculous 90s creation, and it worked beautifully. Towards the end of that series, the X-Men went through the epic Messiah Complex event, in which Cable would finally play a major role – taking on the sole burden of protecting the mutant hope for the future, the first mutant baby born since the House of M and Scarlet Witch decimated the mutant population.

Cable received his first solo series in years in 2008 as a direct follow-up to the events in Messiah Complex. While it’s heavily broiled in X-Men continuity, Cable mostly stands on its own as the effective story of our hero protecting the child from the dangers of dystopian futures, and from the unrelenting hunt of former X-Men Lucas Bishop. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Cable, Vol. 1-2”

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.

deadly genesis 6

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Astonishing X-Men, Book 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!

Writer: Joss Whedon astonishing book 2

Artist: John Cassaday

Issues: Astonishing X-Men #13-24, Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1

I hadn’t delved too deeply into the first collection of Astonishing X-Men before I knew I had to pick up Book 2. Joss Whedon’s 24-issue run (which equals about two and a half years) is a monument to comic story telling, and every plot thread and detail that was woven in throughout the earlier issues comes to an epic climax in the incredible final seven issue arc (including the Giant Size Issue).

Like Book 1, Book 2 is compromised of 12 issues of two major storylines. The first, “Torn,” reveals the secrets and hidden motivations behind Emma Frost, a former villain and somewhat new addition to the X-Men team in the last few years. Whedon has done an incredible job making her both powerful, confident and fearful while also having a healthy dose of vulnerability and weakness. In short, she’s a fascinating character and “Torn” deals with what happens when she goes a little crazy and psychologically attacks the others at the mansion.

At first we’re lead to believe that it’s a sudden and inexplicable revival of the Hellfire Club, Emma’s old villainous organization, and all its telepathic-powered villains wreck havoc on our heroes. This new club is lead by Cassandra Nova (Xavier’s powerful long-lost twin sister and destroyer of Genosha), who begins by devolving Beast and Wolverine – “A man that believed himself a beast, and a beast that believed himself a man.”

A feral Beast attacking other students and ripping through doorways makes for some exciting moments, though I was less enthused about Wolverine being mentally melted into a 19th century boy. I mentioned in Book 1’s Final Thoughts that it was clear Whedon wasn’t a big fan of Wolverine, and that was never more pronounced than here as the comic relief character is stretched to some annoyingly goofy levels.

Kitty Pryde is also attacked mentally, and made to believe that it’s years in the future and her and Peter have had a baby, and that the baby is inside this special container (which contains the husk of Cassandra Nova or some weird thing). Pete is attacked physically by Sebastian Shaw while Cyclops gets the worst of everyone and is severely anguished by Emma herself as she reveals his weaknesses and doubts in being a leader.

Eventually Cyclops wakes up from mental coma stripped of his mutant powers and shoots all the Hellfire Club members, and we realize they were all figments of Emma, as a part of Nova’s essence lives on in her to whisper dark things. Toward the end of all these battles our previous villains from the last two story arcs, the alien Ord and sentient robot Danger, sense the vulnerability in the team and show up to attack the X-Men, and the story ends with everyone being beamed up onto a spaceship run by Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D., another new Whedon-created character.

“Torn” was a fun look at how easily our team can be psychologically torn apart, and how dangerously powerful Emma Frost can be, but the real meat and reward of all of Whedon’s layering comes in “Unstoppable,” which picks up right when everyone is dumped on Brand’s feet as she whisks them towards Breakworld, the dystopian alien planet that Colossus is destined to destroy.

astonishing breakworld“Unstoppable” has everything: love, death, hatred, betrayal, sacrifice and lots of kick-ass action. Our team is quickly split up and given different tasks on the hostile planet. Brand and Beast develop a fun repartee as they uncover the mysterious prophecy, Emma flaunts her confident manipulation with Danger, Cyclops really comes into his own as a leader capable of making the touch decisions, and Armor and Wolverine kill lots of aliens. Kitty and Peter provide much of the pathos in their loving relationship that barely finds time to flourish, and though I still find Colossus to be a boring boy scout, Kitty is phenomenally written (and drawn) and her phasing powers are used in inventive and interesting ways, including the epic climax.

It’s a classic comic book villain tale – The powerlord of Breakworld, Kruun, has a massive planet-size missile aimed at Earth, and only our heroes can stop it. Through some fun deceptions and plans they defeat and capture Kruun, only to learn that the missile can’t be stopped – it’s really just a giant bullet being fired through space.

In Giant Size Astonishing X-Men (which contains the actual finale to the story), Kitty has phased through the bullet right when it’s fired, and we get lots of fun cameos of other super heroes as they attempt to band together to stop it from destroying Earth, including Spider-Man, Storm, Dr. Strange, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. The bullet is protected by some kind of nebulous magic, so each hero things they actually save the day when it fact they’re just standing there drooling on a space station.

The bullet hits Earth, but not before Kitty has a great bit of telepathic dialogue with Emma Frost and saves everyone by phasing the massive bullet through Earth. Shadowcat can’t phase out, so she continues to rocket through space, effectively sacrificing herself to save the entire planet.

Whedon definitely plays into the Go Big or Go Home concept in his finale, and I found the entire Breakworld storyline to be satisfying in all the right ways. It’s especially fantastic how well he built up to it by introducing characters and plot details super early, like Agent Brand, Danger, Ord and the Breakworld. It’s like a TV show that brings everything together after several seasons.

Whedon is especially adapt at writing women. Emma and Kitty are far and away the best characters on Astonishing; they’re given the most time to develop, and we get their inner thoughts, desires and motivations. While their relationships with the men in their lives are important elements, they do not wholly define them as in too many women ‘on-screen.’ Kitty particularly is Whedon’s main protagonist as the series ultimately begins and ends with her, and her sacrifice puts an emotional cap on everything he’d built up for her.

The new minor characters are also interesting, though they never outshine our main team. Armor (Hisako Ichiki) is the only new student to really shine at Xavier’s school, and her mutant powers and bravery help earn her a ticket to Breakworld (and Wolverine’s respect as a protege). I was pleased to find that she does indeed become a full-fledged X-Men though I’m not sure if she ever truly breaks out of being a minor character.

Agent Brand is another character that’s introduced early but doesn’t come into her own until the final arc. Her reveal as an alien and relationship with Beast is fun and I wanted to know more about this toughened space-savvy woman who never let her guard down (and really loved the color green).

astonishing cyclops

These Final Thoughts are running long but special mention should be given to John Cassaday’s artwork. I admit I wasn’t fully on board with the first few issues but over time the emphasis on close-ups and style of each character grew on me. I still wasn’t totally satisfied as I thought Cyke looked far too boyish, Logan too dopey and all the men in general had horrible hair. The women all looked amazing however, and dare I say sexy without being exploitative. The facial close-ups and smoldering eyes sold sexiness and power better than any cleavage or midriff exposing outfit.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows with Whedon’s run, however. Most notably aggravating was the almost complete lack of continuity with other series and the Marvel universe in general. There’s absolutely zero mention of House of M (read my Final Thoughts), which is, uh, kind of important to mutants. In the wake of Decimation (read my Final Thoughts) Xavier’s mansion is surrounded by Sentinels and a refugee camp for mutants is established right outside, which Whedon never acknowledges.

It’s bizarre for someone like me that’s reading several series at once and I imagine even more jarring at the time, to where many have speculated that Whedon’s X-Men team may exist in an alternate dimension. More likely was the fact that Whedon was outspokenly against crossovers and events and was notoriously late on delivering his work. I’m not saying every series has to constantly involve other events and goings-on, but when so much is happening right at Xavier’s school at the time it creates a major disconnect.

A lack of crossover or continuity acknowledgement becomes a minor quibble when the main story and characters are so fantastic. The insane (astonishing?) length of these Final Thoughts are a testament to how much I enjoyed this series as a whole, and the second half especially. I fully plan on adding my voice to the chorus of fans that whole-heartedly recommend the Whedon-penned Astonishing X-Men run as not only a great place to start with X-Men, but a wonderful introduction into how enjoyable comics can be.

giant-size-astonishing-x-men-poster