One Year with Marvel Unlimited: My Top Ten Comics (2004-2009)

After my first year with Marvel Unlimited, I list my top ten favorite comics between 2004-09.

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In December of 2014 I tried out a month-long trial version of digital comic subscription service Marvel Unlimited. I immediately fell in love with the speed and voracity with which I could devour decade-old comics at a fraction of the price. I quickly signed up for the full year-long subscription.

For my birthday in July I received an iPad, which further solidified my love of the digital format. I still prefer physical media for just about everything else (and have since still purchased many collected volumes and trade paperbacks), but comics work beautifully on a tablet.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I read quite a bit of comics and write my thoughts about them here. I started at the beginning of the modern age of Marvel, defined by the era of major events beginning with “Avengers Disassembled” in 2004. In the last year I’ve made it through approximately four years of comics, through the Dark Reign period of 2009 – though I’ve clearly had to pick and choose which series and characters to cover.

For a full list of all the comics I’ve written about, see the Comics section at the top of the page. As a fun anniversary post I listed my favorite comics I’ve read in the last year below, covering that 2004-09 era. Continue reading “One Year with Marvel Unlimited: My Top Ten Comics (2004-2009)”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Force/Cable: Messiah War

The time traveling crossover between Cable, Bishop, and X-Force leads to an ultimately pointless battle against a lame villain.

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: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Duane Swierczynski

Artists: Ariel Olivetti, Clayton Crain, Mike Choi, Larry Stroman

Issues: Cable (2008) #13-15, X-Force (2008) #14-16, X-Force/Cable: Messiah War One-Shot, X-Men: The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop #1-3

 

“My Name is Lucas Bishop. I am a child of the atom, raised in a future that no longer exists. I was born for this…”

I was a big fan of Messsiah Complex – the big X-Men event title of 2008 that involved no less than four X-Men series. Centered around the first mutant birth since House of M, Messiah Complex launched several new series, including a new, hyper-violent X-Force and the time-traveling, on-the-run survival story in Cable.

It’s fitting that these two series come together in their own crossover. Messiah War acts as a smaller, more focused sequel, but it ultimately comes across as a pointless Saturday Morning Cartoon in which nothing really changes at the end. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Force/Cable: Messiah War”

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-Force: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

X-Force expertly layers in several explosive, fun story beats and far-reaching plot threads while the accompanying water-color art relishes in its violently bloody melee combat.

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!

x-force complete collection vol 1 coverWriters: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost

Artists: Clayton Crain (#1-6, #12-13), Mike Choi (#7-10), Alina Urusov (#11)

Issues: X-Force (2008) #1-13, X-Force Special: Ain’t No Dog #1, X-Force Annual #1

 

First there was House of M, in which the Scarlet Witch reduced the mutant population of the world from millions to several hundred with three little words. Several years later the epic X-Men crossover event Messiah Complex gave us the first mutant birth since that day, and everyone wanted to get their hands on this miracle child.

Knowing the depths of which evil, bigoted humans (and evil mutants) would go, and seeing their backs firmly up against the wall, Cyclops finally becomes the leader we were all waiting for. The results are actually kind of terrifying as he’s become a hard-nosed militaristic leader, and reinstates the X-Force as his own secretive and deadly black-ops team.

X-Force, a new series that launched in the wake of Messiah Complex in 2008, brings together X-23, Warpath, and Wolfsbane under Wolverine’s leadership. Cyclops gives Wolverine the missions and he keeps the rest of the X-Men completely in the dark – even to the point of using the Cuckoos (telepathic triplets) to block Emma Frost from probing his mind about it.

Their first task is to deal with the immediate threat of the Purifiers, one of the X-Men’s biggest enemies that sprung from the pages of New X-Men. Under the creative writing team of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost (who also crafted New X-Men from issue #20 on), X-Force expertly layers in several explosive, fun story beats, while the accompanying water-color style art by Clayton Crain relishes in the bloody melee combat of having so many rough and tumble fighters together on one team.

x-force #13

With former leader William Stryker dead at the end of the Purifier assault on the X-Mansion in New X-Men Volume 2, his right-hand Mathew Risman has become the de facto leader. Risman works to create a new powerful threat to the X-Men by further modifying the body of Nimrod, the mutant-hunting sentinel from the future, and forming Bastion, a humanoid robotic warrior hellbent on the X-Men’s demise.

Kyle and Yost spend quite a bit of time on the Purifiers and their own cultish motivations and inner drama. Bastion’s methods soon sour Risman and others as he’s more than willing to kill humans as long as the ends (death of all mutants) justify the means. Risman has his own plan – letting a captured and programmed Wolfsbane be rescued by X-Force only to horrifically attack Angel and rip his wings off when they’re alone.

x-force #6She takes the wings back to the Purifiers. Using the special Apocalypse-granted bio-technology they’re able to graft steel wings onto the backs of their most devout followers and create a winged army. Instead of attacking the X-Men, however, Risman seizes his chance to swiftly attack Bastion and the other Purifiers! Meanwhile it’s all Warpath, X-23 and Wolverine can do to try and follow Angel who violently ‘hulks out’ into Archangel – the embodiment of Death that Apocalypse had transformed him into years ago.

Angel had become a super boring character for years, and X-Men writers rarely even included him in most adventures. Let’s face it, being able to fly is quickly eclipsed by just about every other combat-savvy power that the X-Men possess. Credit to X-Force then for making Angel not only a badass as the steel razor-sharp winged Archangel, but a complicated character who has to battle his inner rage of having the Death persona take control of his thoughts and actions.

That whole first arc ends in a fantastically bloody and crazy battle between Purifiers and X-Force. The plot thickens for future events when we find out that Bastion has used a sleeping Technarch force (an alien bio-organic creature) to resurrect and enslave all of the X-Men’s old political foes. In this modern era you don’t defeat the heroes by summoning a giant creature to kill them – you raise up some savvy politicians and leaders to denounce them and turn the tide of public opinion.

x-force #3

It’s an interesting commentary on this post-Civil War Marvel world and works quite well. Of course we also get some just plain awesome fight scenes between Bastion and Wolverine, and Archangel kills dozens of Purifiers in a fit of rage. X-Force is easily the most bloody and violent Marvel comic I’ve ever read, and the painting-quality art style really gives it a mature and artistic angle rather than pure exploitative and gratuitous.

In the second half of this massive collected Volume the revelation of all the old X-Men foes returning further galvanizes Cyclops’ brutal and cold decision-making (and causes Wolverine and Cyke to have some deliciously heated arguments). X-Force is sent to retrieve a deadly sample of the Legacy Virus, recently stolen by a teleporting mutant called Vanisher. The virus is a famous plot device from years ago that only targets and kills mutants.

The team soon runs into Domino, a former X-Force member, lover of Cable, and all around snarky and awesome Deadpool-esque fighter. Domino adds some much needed levity and one-liners to this normally dour and serious group. Taking on Vanisher becomes darkly humorous as the teams splits up to cover all his safe houses. He teleports to each one, getting sliced, shot, and attacked at each one before Elixir touches him mumbling an apology.

x-force #8Josh Foley, AKA Elixir is another former New X-Men. He has the power to manipulate the inner workings of the human body, mostly to heal people but can also cause great harm (he single-handedly killed Stryker). In this case, he gives Vanisher a brain tumor with the little X logo on it. Vanisher freaks out and reminds me of that classic whiny sidekick villain from a kids movie, but here done in a legitimately funny and enjoyable way. Him and Domino both are fantastic additions to the team, while Exliir is really only used as the situation dictates.

Meanwhile both Warpath and Wolfsbane are given rather strange side quests which have little to do with the main plot. Warpath decides to go visit his dead brother’s grave to collect himself, but he’s attacked by a giant demon spirit bear thing. Then Ghost Rider shows up to help him fight it. It’s seemingly random but when Warpath returns to the group he does set up the stage for upcoming X-Force crossover event X-Necrosha, regarding a new villain named Eli Bard, returning evil witch Selene, and the possibility of an army of undead.

Wolfsbane is given such horrible treatment that I was constantly annoyed with her arc throughout. Here is a character that was specifically ripped from her role in X-Factor only to be captured off screen in the first issue of X-Force, used as a pawn by the bad guys, then rendered untrustworthy by the good guys. In the second arc she’s simply left at home after they fail at deprogramming her (she still wants to kill Angel). She goes off on her own and eventually runs into some wolf-man dude from Thor’s neck of the woods, and the two share some romantic scenes. Being totally unaware of her character pre-X-Factor it did nothing for me, nor had anything to do with anything else. I love you X-Force but your treatment of Rahne Sinclair is just really crappy.

It all comes down to an exciting final few issues as X-Force tracks down the Leper Queen, one of the Bastion-resurrected and controlled foes who’s injecting mutants with the Legacy Virus and using them as human bombs. At the same time Beast has crafted special time-travel discs that can send a squad into the future to help Cable and baby Hope survive Bishop’s relentless pursuit, setting up X-Force’s immediate crossover story Messiah War.

x-force #12

So, that’s the seeds of X-Necrosha, Messiah War, and X-Force’s own main plot all interweaving together, and it’s damn impressive. Our heroes get teleported away to the future just as they reach the Leper Queen, and she just straight-up murders her most recent victim, the mutant Boom-Boom. Introducing a D-list character at the climax just to kill them off is old hat, dumb, and unnecessary, and it’s a shame that it’s the last panel of the book.

Despite some glaring mistreatment of certain characters and a lot of stories going on, I really did enjoy X-Force. It didn’t quite grab me at first and I found the art style quite jarring, but as I read I appreciated the carefully layered in plotting and pacing, and Crain’s art really grew on me. Even when the comic briefly switches artists to the slightly brighter work of Mike Choi it still meshed very well. It’s also very fun seeing several of my favorite New X-Men (which ended at Messiah Complex) used in various roles, even if they’re just captives waiting to be rescued (sorry Surge and Hellion).

Reading Messiah Complex and a good chunk of New X-Men is recommended to get the full breadth of these characters and situations, making X-Force a tricky jumping-on point for new converts. Even if you just come to see Wolverine stab dudes in the face, it’s pretty damn entertaining. Highly recommended for crafting a fun team of violent mutants and setting up some really fun plot threads for years to come.

x-force #9

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Factor: The Complete Collection Vol. 2

This second volume ends up as a mixed bag, faltering in the middle but then ending with a fantastic story at the end, giving me high hopes for X-Factor’s future.

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!


x-factor volume 2Writer:
 Peter David

Artists: Pablo Raimondi (#13-17, 21-24, 28, 31, The Quick and the Dead), Koi Pham (#18-20), Valentine De Landro (#29-30, 32, Layla Miller)

Issues: X-Factor #13-24, 28-32, X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead One-Shot, X-Factor: Layla Miller One-Shot

 

X-Factor’s first twelve issues, collected as The Complete Collection Vol. 1 was a resounding success. Peter David’s quirky team is immensely varied and entertaining and the overarching plot of the mysterious and evil corporation that exploited mutants provided a great hook and a satisfying conclusion.

The team’s adventures continued in a second large collected volume, though it awkwardly includes issues before and after the major X-Men crossover event Messiah Complex. In the “Many Lives of Madrox,” (#13-16) Jamie continues his quest to reabsorb the numerous dupes he’s sent out in the world. Many of have them have been living varied lives for years, including a SHIELD agent that gets Jamie captured by Hydra, with hilarious results.

My favorite duplicate had carved himself a nice quiet life as a pastor with a wife and two kids, and Jamie’s sudden intrusion into this life creates some lovely drama. Ultimately Jamie makes the right decision to let it be, but the implications that his dupes have created these meaningful lives is part of why I find his mutant power and his personality so interesting.

x-factor #16There’s also an ongoing side story involving the rest of the team and X-Cell, a mutant terrorist group full of ex-mutants, and that story hits center stage in the next arc, “X-Cell” (#17-20). Quicksilver joins up with the leader to start handing out his power-restoring terrigen crystals he stole from the Inhumans in Son of M. The plot eventually reaches its climax as X-Factor attacks them to rescue Rictor and Layla (the latter doesn’t really need rescuing, she knows stuff).

There’s a few fun battles but straight-forward action has never been X-Factor’s strong suit, and unfortunately the art takes a huge nose dive when a different artist takes over (thankfully only for that arc). It’s fun seeing Rahne/Wolfsbane go full berserker wolf-mode, though.

In “The Isolationist” (#21-24), X-Factor is approached by a mysterious figure known as Josef Huber, an isolated telepath that takes drug to quiet the voices in his heads. Oh, and apparently he has every mutant power. He wishes to put mutants on the endangered species list, forcing the government to protect them and possibly overturning the superhero registration act. In reality he just wants to gather them together to kill them all, so the telepaths will no longer drive him crazy.

Huber’s a surprisingly interesting villain, and Peter David opts to write the last two issues from his perspective (with copious amounts of noir-appropriate monologuing) in lieu of a backstory, and it works quite well. Unfortunately things wrap up far too swiftly  after a lengthy build-up, and in the end Huber escapes after a brief battle with the depowered but oddly immune Rictor.

“The Only Game in Town” (#28-32) takes place after the mega crossover event X-Men: Messiah Complex. Messiah Complex is absolutely critical reading to know what the new situation is for X-Factor, namely: Jamie now has a tattooed “M” over his right eye as a souvenir from his time traveling sojourn, quirky clairvoyant Layla Miller is trapped in a dystopian future where mutants are put in concentration camps, and Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane) is leaving X-Factor to join X-Force.

The entire arc is put under the “Divided We Stand” era that is the X-Men and associates’ post-Messiah Complex fallout. Given that Messiah Complex is fairly integral to X-Factor’s story moving forward, it’s strange that this second collected volume would include issues all around it. Provided you’ve read it, however, this epilogue story arc is just fantastic, and really shows off Peter David’s incredible skills as a writer. The art remains fantastically shadowy and mostly consistent, despite the workload trading off between two artists.

x-factor #30 team

Since our small cast is now smaller than ever, we get even more time to delve into their lives and relationships. Siryn’s pregnant with Jamie’s child! Guido turns down the O*N*E’s job offer. Rictor is fully prepared to quit on X-Factor after Rahne quits on him. It’s delicious character-focused drama that gets interrupted when X-Factor is attacked by Arcade, who was in turn hired by the Purifier that Rictor duped to infiltrate the organization during Messiah Complex.

The team quickly comes together and goes into full on crisis mode after Arcade sets off a series of bombs while trapping all of Mutant Town in a fiery forcefield. It’s fun seeing them all react and save people, and Madrox’s ongoing (and excellent) inner monologue reinforces the fact that a crisis brings them together when they needed it most. The arc ends in an uplifting theme as they celebrate the pregnancy and leave Mutant Town before O*N*E’s Valerie Cooper can arrest or forcibly register them.

Two one-shots are also included, The Quick and the Dead and Layla Miller, both written by Peter David. The Quick and the Dead centers on Quicksilver’s incarceration and subsequent escape after the events of “X-Cell.” I’ve grown incredibly sick of Quicksilver’s self-pitying, selfish, and frankly evil behavior ever since the House of M. Seeing him having a mental breakdown in prison wasn’t exactly riveting, and the strange and sudden return of his speed powers was just confusing and weird.

x-factor #31

Layla Miller is much more interesting, but no less confusing as it takes place in the 80 year, dystopian future that Layla had become trapped in. She escapes from the concentration camp in a supremely funny and suitable manner (falling space debris!) then goes to visit future-cyborg Cyclops and his daughter Ruby. Yeah, I was lost too. Layla manages to incite an entire rebellion against the mutant-oppressive government. I’m not entirely sure if any of it matters but it’s fun seeing Layla be Layla, and I hope she can rejoin the team soon.

This second volume ends up as a mixed bag compared to the first, faltering in the middle but then ending with a supremely fantastic story at the end, giving me high hopes for X-Factor’s future. The cast is so damn likable and the writing comes across like one of your favorite comedy-drama TV shows. Still one of my favorite comic series to read.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Messiah Complex

X-Men: Messiah Complex successfully crossed over with four ongoing X-titles to give my favorite mutants their most exciting, action-packed adventure in years.

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!

x-men messiah complex coverWriters: Ed Brubaker (One-Shot, Uncanny X-Men), Peter David (X-Factor), Craig Kyle & Chris Yost (New X-Men), Mike Carey (X-Men)

Artists: Marc Silvestri (One-Shot), Billy Tan (Uncanny X-Men), Scott Eaton (X-Factor), Humberto Ramos (New X-Men), Chris Bachalo (X-Men)

Issues: Messiah Complex One-Shot, Uncanny X-Men #492-494, X-Factor #25-27, New X-Men #44-46, X-Men #205-207

 

A baby changes everything. Sometimes a baby can even change an entire race of people. Mutants had become an endangered species since Scarlet Witch whispered those three little words at the end of House of M. With the sudden disappearance of nearly every mutant’s powers on Earth, the X-Men’s entire worldview had been shattered and they spent the next two years trying to find their place all over again.

At the end of 2007, hope finally came in the form of the first mutant to be born since M-Day, a miracle child that everyone from the X-Men to the Marauders to the Purifiers wanted to get their hands on. X-Men: Messiah Complex successfully crossed over with four ongoing X-titles to give my favorite mutants their most exciting, action-packed adventure in years.

Marvel tantalizing seeded in the prologue events to the next big X-Men event in four of their five ongoing X-Men series: Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New X-Men, and X-Men (Astonishing X-Men was really its own thing. Also, five X-titles at the time, holy crap). Mini-stories were included at the end of each series called X-Men Endangered Species. Endangered Species followed Beast’s desperate search for a cure through science, magic, and technology and a rotating cast of guest stars including Dr. Strange, Bishop, and even his own alternate Age of Apocalypse persona – Dark Beast. It’s a fun journey and I particularly enjoyed experiencing Beast’s mostly solo quest and inner running dialogue full of questioning and self-doubt.

uncanny x-men #492Messiah Complex’s structure was, as far I’m aware, unprecedented at the time. Instead of creating its own limited event series with a few tie-ins (as House of M and Civil War had done), The writers came together and turned their own series into one massive crossover event. After kicking things off with a one-shot issue, the next chapter was done in Uncanny X-Men, followed by X-Factor, etc, going through the four trades three times for 13 total issues (including the one-shot).

This created some major advantages and disadvantages to normal event structures. The good news is it meant instead of having a bunch of extra superfluous tie-ins, the event itself was the only tie-in, and it had a huge amount of space to breathe and develop. A 13 issue event is absolutely massive, and Messiah Complex takes full advantage of this with multiple concurrent plot threads and an enormous cast including just about all of the X-Men and many of their foes, both old and new. Plus by utilizing four different series, this epic story could be told relatively quickly as each series came out.

The bad news is it created a huge inconsistency in the art style as each of the four series were drawn and inked by different artists. This wouldn’t have been so bad if they had four artists with similar styles, but alas at least one of them uses the manga-anime-chibi style that I absolutely despise in my comics. Billy Tan and Scott Eaton both do fine jobs, but Humberto Ramos’ art is so distractingly bad (to me anyway) that I had to skim through his issues of X-Men that preceded Messiah Complex (hence no Final Thoughts for “Supernovas” or “Blinded by the Light”). Chris Bachalo’s style was an odd combination of the two, leading to an unfortunate situation where I’d either cringe or breathe a sigh of relief depending on which issue came next (the cover art done by David Finch remains fantastic throughout, however).

uncanny x-men #492 cyke prof xArt aside, the actual story-telling was an impressive feat, acting as a major climax to the steady build-up of desperation that the X-Men had been going through in the last few years. It all starts with a small town in Alaska coming under a sudden violent attack by both the Purifiers (anti-mutant cult that first cropped up as awesome villains in New X-Men) and the Marauders (Mr. Sinister’s squad of evil mutants with their own mysterious agenda). Cerebra alerts the X-Men to the first new mutant signature since M-Day, and the X-Men quickly discover that instead of the usual teenage manifestation, it was the incredibly rare birth of a mutant baby.

The baby is gone and the X-Men are left with only questions. Cyclops goes into full-on wartime consigliere mode, and there’s a particularly sobering scene where he and Charles Xavier share some tense words about leadership. Cyke is now top dog and still super pissed at Xavier after the events of Deadly Genesis and their sojourn with the Shi’Ar Empire.

He brings in X-Factor and folds in the team from the “adjective-less” X-Men series, which had been pretty much disbanded after Cable’s apparent death, Rogue’s traumatic sacrifice and capture, and Mystique, Lady Mastermind, and Omega Sentinel betraying them and joining Sinister’s team, leaving only Cannonball and Iceman to join back up with the main team. As a side note, it’s annoying how integral the adjective-less X-Men series is to Messiah Complex’s continuity, seeing as how that’s the series that was plagued with the worst art.

In fact, one of Messiah Complex’s biggest problems story-wise is just how heavily integrated into X-Men continuity it is. While this makes it a satisfying payoff to fans and readers that had been keeping up with X-Men for months if not years, it makes it a much harder book to recommend to newcomers as just an awesome X-Men story.

uncanny x-men #493 x-forceEventually the narrative takes on multiple fronts as Cyclops and the X-Men formulate a plan to find the mysterious new mutant baby that may be the key to saving the mutant race. After a few issues the X-Men learn that neither the Purifiers nor Marauders have the child, and in fact Cable is alive and on the run with the mutant baby.

Cyclops re-establishes the X-Force team, which hadn’t been seen in years. The team consists of all the best badasses and trackers from all the different teams: Wolverine, Warpath and Hepzibah (from Uncanny), Wolfsbane (from X-Factor), and X-23 (from New X-Men). They also throw in Caliban, a former Morlock and recent addition to the roster from the previous Uncanny X-Men story arc, “The Extremists” (again with the tight adherence to continuity). Caliban’s role is mainly there to die halfway through from a Purifier battle, giving a somewhat disingenuous feeling of grief and danger from a character we didn’t give two craps about.

Rictor of X-Factor infiltrates the Purifiers to find out they don’t have the child, while another group of X-Men lead by Storm attack the Marauders to discover the same thing. Once they learn about Cable’s mysterious involvement, X-Force is sent to track down him down and acquire the baby by any means necessary. While the story is broken up into the four separate books, there’s no hard separation of the characters or events; each chapter flows into the next and involves all the various groups, making all of Messiah Complex required reading for anyone keeping up with those stories.

uncanny x-men #493

Probably the most interesting, and sadly the most squandered side story is of Jamie Madrox and Layla Miller of X-Factor journeying into a dystopian future. Using Forge’s new time travel machine, they find the mutant concentration camp that Lucas Bishop first grew up in, and even have his trademark “M” tattooed over their eyes. It’s a fascinating look at a concentration camp for mutants that’s often teased in stories like “Days of Future Past,” but it’s given very little time to develop on top of everything else that’s going on, and ultimately leads to a conclusion that the reader knew ahead of the team anyway – that Bishop has betrayed the X-Men and is hunting Cable and the baby on his own.

I’ve been a big fan of the “future warrior sent to the past” shtick ever since seeing the first two Terminator films at a fairly young age. I especially dug the focus on Cable and Bishop, both from differing alternate timelines and both with personal stakes into seeing this new mutant child either alive or dead. Cable views her as the savior of all mutantkind, and knows that her only chance is to get as far away from those that would use or exploit her, including the X-Men. Bishop believes this is the catalyst from his time that sparked the genocide against mutantkind, and to prevent that he needs to do the unthinkable and kill her.

uncanny x-men #494Bishop catches up with Cable at Forge’s workshop, but he hesitates in pulling the trigger. A second later Gambit and the Marauders teleport in to steal the baby before the X-Men can arrive. They regroup and go after the Marauders, the X-Men joining up with X-Force, and it leads to a final battle royale versus too many mutants to keep up with.

Meanwhile the younger but still equally awesome New X-Men class join the fray, first in an ill-conceived fight with the Purifiers (which results in Hellion’s death). Then Pixie teleports them out of the fire and into the frying pan as they try to escape the wrath of Predator X, a dorky dinosaur-like creature that hunts and feeds on mutants.

Introduced at the end of the “Mercury Falling” arc in New X-Men Vol. 4 (hope you’ve been keeping up!), the creature is an odd wildcard thrown into the story as it hunts and kills some random no-name mutants before it makes its way to the final battle. There’s a nifty scene where Wolverine does the classic badass move of being swallowed by the creature only to claw his way out, but otherwise it’s another giant thing in an already crowded event.

In the end it’s revealed that Mr. Sinister has been Mystique for awhile, and her whole plan with the baby is to use it to restore and heal Rogue, who’s been saddled with a billion alien souls since she defeated the Hecatomb in X-Men: Supernovas. It’s also the reason love-sick Gambit has stuck with the Marauders.

The baby does wake Rogue up (and thankfully doesn’t kill or even injure the baby when Mystique presses her to Rogue’s face), and she’s horrified at the lengths Mystique went to do it. Rogue takes her down then walks away dramatically. Rogue’s been going through an interesting character arc lately as her character has become much more serious, mature, and moody. It’ll be interesting to see where she goes after these events (Gambit, too).

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Cable recovers the baby with the help of Professor X, who’s been unceremoniously kicked out of the X-Men at this point. The X-Men (along with X-Factor and New X-Men) are able to defeat the Marauders and Cyclops demands that Cable turn the baby over. He has a change of heart, however, as we see a flashbacks of Cyke saying goodbye to his own son, letting him be taken into the future. It echoes perfectly with what’s happening here, and even more poignant as Cable is Scott’s son.

Ultimately Cyclops lets them go, kickstarting Cable’s own solo series as he spirits the baby away to the future, and I can’t wait to read about their adventures. The X-Force also kicks off its own series with its team of ultimate badasses, and Cyclops uses them as a pretty awesome black ops mutant squad. The biggest change to the status quo, however, is the death of Professor X, as one last-ditch shot from a desperate Bishop catches him right in the head! Major characters never stay dead in comics but increasingly they do stay gone for quite some time (like, several years), as Captain America, Thor, and others can attest to. It seemed like a fitting end to his role for now, as Cyke takes his prominent (and much darker, iron-fisted) place as leader and general of the X-Men.

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Messiah Complex is by far the biggest thing to happen to the X-Men since the House of M event in 2005, and easily one of their biggest stories ever told. The action almost never lets up once it gets going, and the various characters and factions lead to a large variety in exciting battles and fight scenes, often overlapping each other in a single issue – my personal favorites being a fantastic one-on-one between X-23 and Lady Deathstrike and a huge battle with sentinels that destroys Xavier’s School.

The story is well-paced and layers in tons of satisfying arcs, provided you’ve been keeping up with the various X-Men series for some time. It’s just a huge shame that the wildly differing artists and styles creates a large disconnect between each chapter and issue. It’s a monumental feat that so much creative talent was able to come together and conceive of such an awesome story as Messiah Complex is one of the greatest crossover achievements in X-Men history.

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