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.

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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!

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 – 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-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).

new x-men #46

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.

x-men #205 cable

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.

x-men #207

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.

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 – X-23: Target X

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-23 target xWriters: Craig Kyle, Chris Yost

Artist: Michael Choi

Issues: X-23: Target X #1-6

Laura Kinney was made from the modified DNA of the original Weapon X, Wolverine. The organization could only duplicate the X chromosome and so doubled it, essentially creating a cloned daughter of Weapon X. A geneticist named Sarah Kinney, newly brought on to the program, offered to carry the child, and when born she was immediately conditioned to be an emotionless assassin, as the mother struggled with her duties to science and her job and basic human empathy with her daughter.

That whole story is told in the amazing limited series X-23: Innocence Lost, which details her birth and childhood at the Weapon X facility, training as a brutal killing machine and eventual escape. X-23’s first appearance was actually in the animated series X-Men: Evolution and has since become a popular comic book character, not unlike DC Comic’s Harley Quinn.

I skipped writing about Innocence Lost as I was in the middle of lots of other comics at the time, but I definitely want to give special mention to Target X, as I was blown away by just how gripping the story was and the fantastic art style.

The story picks up right where Innocence Lost left off – Laura has murdered her mother after she was exposed to the trigger scent that causes her to kill with mindless ferocity, just after escaping and destroying the facility that was her horrifying home throughout her childhood. Reinforcements show up to try and apprehend her, but she kills them, and buries Kimura (X-23’s sadistic and indestructible handler) under an avalanche of snow.

Laura goes to the only place she knows of outside of the facility: her Aunt’s family in San Francisco. During the events of Innocence Lost, Laura had saved her little cousin Megan from a child predator, and the memory drives her to find sanctuary there.

x-23 target x #2Megan is now a young teenager and a troubled one – she’s haunted by memories of the abduction, dressing in a goth-style and generally acting sullen and moody. Her relationship with her parents is strained, but Laura’s sudden arrival helps her out of her mental shell and the two become friends – as friendly as an emotionally damaged young woman and a trained killer can be. Their relationship is a nice focus of the middle of the story, and there’s some funny bits as Laura proves her frightening real world knowledge of languages, anatomy and military structure to her horrified teachers at school.

Pretending to be a somewhat normal teenager is destined to fail, and the organization that created X-23 aren’t about to give up on her. Turns out that Megan’s mom and Laura’s aunt’s boyfriend Desmond is an undercover operative, and he plans to use the trigger scent to make X-23 kill them. It doesn’t go exactly as planned: he drug’s the aunt’s tea but it also gets splashed on himself when Megan and Laura come home. X-23’s eyes go red and she brutally kills him, while Megan grabs her mom and rushes to the shower in one of the tensest scenes I’ve ever thumbed through in a comic.

x-23 target x #5Having Laura’s major weakness as a chemical that turns her into a mindless killing machine is both terrifying and intriguing. She can never fully trust herself and knows she’s a danger to others. After defeating waves of soldiers and the return of Kimura, Laura escapes with Megan and her mom, getting them across the Canadian border before they have to say their tearful goodbyes. Laura’s emotions are often stunted and she rarely speaks, but in this rain-soaked scene she emotes with gut-wrenching pain, regret and sacrifice as she says her goodbyes to the only people that ever cared about her (minus her mom I guess, though that was complicated).

The story wraps up after five issues but a final epilogue in the sixth has X-23 confront Wolverine, the reason for existence, outside of the mansion. Since it’s a comic book they immediately fight, and X-23 mostly kicks his ass in a spectacularly well-constructed fight scene (to be fair, Logan doesn’t really want to fight her). Turns out Wolverine knows all about her story, as her mom sent him a letter of her confession detailing the events at the facility. He suggests she join Xavier’s as a place she’ll be both safe (ha) and happy (eh).

The invitation is cut short when SHIELD arrives and Captain America personally captures her while Wolverine tries to draw them off. The entire series is written as Laura telling these events to Steve Rogers and Matt Murdock (Daredevil, as her counsel) as they grill her about what happened, and more importantly if she takes responsibility for the countless lives she’s taken. It’s a fun way to frame the story, and eventually Rogers and Murdock fight about what to do with this young killer.

Ultimately Captain America decides to hand her over to SHIELD, and Laura goes willingly. On the way he realizes that SHIELD will most likely use her as the weapon she was designed to be, and decides to let her go. Bit of a risky move considering she is deadly and lacks basic human moral fiber, but Target X does do a great job giving her a bit of humanity and making it impossible not to cheer for her.

x-23 target x #6

By filling in the gaps between Innocence Lost and when Laura joins the New X-Men, we get an entertaining and informative glimpse into who she is. Michael Choi’s art is phenomenal, particularly how he draws faces and soulful eyes. Steve Rogers has never looked so thoughtful. I’m beginning to really enjoy these limited series, with their well-paced storylines and intriguing character focus (see also Son of M and X-Men: Deadly Genesis). If you’re at all interested in learning more about X-23, I highly recommend X-23: Target X, though you may want to start with X-23: Innocence Lost so you’re not lost on previous events.

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