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.

Advertisements

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).

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 – World War Hulk

With a much more focused, smaller story, World War Hulk presents a fun and exciting epilogue to the awesome events of Planet Hulk.

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!

world war hulk coverWriters: Greg Pak (World War Hulk, Incredible Hulk, Aftersmash, Warbound), Christos Gage (Iron Man, World War Hulk: X-Men)

Artists: John Romita Jr. (World War Hulk), Koi Pham (Incredible Hulk), Leonard Kirk (World War Hulk: Warbound) Andrea Di Vito (World War Hulk: X-Men), Butch Guice (Iron Man), Rafa Sandoval (World War Hulk: Aftersmash)

Issues: World War Hulk #1-5 & Prologue, Incredible Hulk #106-111, World War Hulk: X-Men #1-3, Iron Man #19-20, World War Hulk: Aftersmash #1, World War Hulk: Warbound #1-5

I freaking hate the Sentry. He quickly became Marvel’s de facto Get Out of Any Situation Free card ever since his introduction back in New Avengers. He’s apparently the most powerful hero on Earth but no one knew it thanks to some mind trickery. And he’s eventually the only one that can stop the Hulk when he finally returns to Earth to exact his vengeance from the end of Planet Hulk. Boo!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Planet Hulk became one of my favorite comics: an extended, crazy alien adventure for our big green hero as he fought in gladiatorial battles, forged an alliance of brotherhood with his fellow gladiators, and eventually lead a giant rebellion against the planet’s overlord. Just when things were going so well, the shuttle Hulk was unceremoniously tricked and shot off into space in explodes, destroying the entire planet, including Hulk’s new bride and unborn child.

A spaceship full of survivors including Hulk’s Warbound survives, and they vow to return to Earth to punish those that sent him there and destroyed his world. When he arrived in the Summer of 2007 – it’s World War Hulk!

As far as major events go, World War Hulk is actually pretty minor compared to previous world-altering juggernauts House of M and Civil War. Hulk and company arrive on Earth’s moon and quickly dismantle Black Bolt (in barely a panel or two), then broadcast to Earth with the promise that he’ll take down the rest of the Illuminati the same way – Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Dr. Strange. Namor and Professor X are also members of the secretive superhuman society, but the former voted against sending the Hulk away, while the latter was too busy dealing with the aftermath of House of M to even show up to the meeting.

World War Hulk #2b

Since Hulk isn’t a murderer – an important theme that’s examined throughout the arc – he gives everyone in Manhattan 24 hours to evacuate before he invades. And invade he does – having a mostly empty playground of city to destroy lends itself to some pretty epic battles and confrontations. Iron Man is first on the list, and as the then current Director of SHIELD he takes on Hulk with missiles, satellites, and his own Hulkbuster armor (which looks really dumb by the way, the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron’s looks way cooler).

Hulk defeats Stark, and he becomes his first defeated prisoner in a long line. Hulk soon tangles with the Mighty Avengers and the Fantastic Four, beating them all in turn (with the occasional help of his Warbound buddies). The five issue main event arc moves rapidly as Hulk subdues all that oppose him, with only Dr. Strange really putting up a big fight. Strange summons a portion of an ancient demon-god and goes toe-to-toe with Hulk for quite awhile (causing a ton of spectacular damage in the process). Eventually he can’t control the power and rage the demon provides, something Hulk knows all too well about, and he’s finally defeated.

world war hulk #4Hulk sets up a gladiatorial arena, enslaves the fallen heroes with the same obedience disks he was given back on Sakaar, and makes them fight each other. There’s some fun opportunity for vicious battles between Mr. Fantastic and an armor-less Tony Stark, but the art is completely tone-deaf to the material. I’ve never been a fan of Romita’s Saturday Morning Cartoon look, and for a comic that’s about 80% gigantic bloody battles, it really doesn’t mesh very well.

World War Hulk sets up some great grudge matches, like Hulk versus Thing, but Romita’s art lends itself to lots of bright explosions and childish faces rather than violent melee attacks. A hugely wasted opportunity, and one that really holds the whole event back from greatness.

The Sentry, Marvel’s annoying ace-in-the-hole, finally deigns to leave his house and unleash his full power on the Hulk. Sentry is an agoraphobic schizophrenic, something we’re reminded of constantly, with the power of a million exploding suns. Whatever. He blasts through Hulk’s arena just as Hulk reveals that no, he is in fact not a murderer and just wanted to prove a point to the world about who the real monsters are (pullin’ for you, Hulk!). Hulk and Sentry have a climactic battle, which mostly involves Sentry blasting Hulk with his full power and Hulk punching the shit out of Sentry.

Eventually the two weaken themselves enough that Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner, whom we haven’t really seen since before the Planet Hulk arc. Bruce is prepared to make nice when Miek, Hulk’s first friend and ally from Sakaar, stabs Rick Jones and in trying to get Hulk to return. He reveals in a crushing twist that he saw the loyalists from Sakaar plant the bomb on the ship, and allowed Hulk to think it was the heroes back on Earth that did it.

world war hulk #5

Naturally Bruce immediately Hulks out again and beats the shit out of his former insectoid friend, feeling a mixture of fury and shame at everything that’s transpired. A now freed Tony Stark uses the opportunity to activate his overhead satellite laser things, blasting Hulk back into Bruce and reducing him to a seeminly catatonic state. They place him in a “secure” location far beneath the New Mexico desert, and thus ends Hulk’s misplaced rage.

Planet Hulk made me fall in love with the big guy. I’d never really cared about Hulk before then but coming to grips with being a monster with the soul of a human was captivating, not to mention just how exciting and action-packed all his alien-filled battles were. World War Hulk gives us some fun battles with famous heroes but the art is nowhere good enough to make them as fun as they should be (see Thunderbolts for some worthy art of awesome fight scenes). Greg Pak (who also wrote Planet Hulk) gives us a fun epilogue to those events, and the end twist is absolutely gut-wrenching (and perfectly in line with Miek’s vengeance-fueled character). I just wish Marvel didn’t need to rely on the lameness that is Sentry to solve yet another major crisis.

I also attempted to read several World War Hulk tie-ins in chronological order during the event, giving some extra backstory and side stories during Hulk’s rampage. Hulk’s big solo series of Incredible Hulk starts off shaky, giving us mostly needless backstory on the events of Planet Hulk – useful if you hadn’t read it, but then why are you now reading Incredible Hulk? Eventually the focus shifts to Hulk’s unlikely and unasked for allies known as the Renegades, a random group of heroes that had tussled with Hulk before during another bout of misunderstanding involving She-Hulk’s origin. Angel, Hercules, and Namora are joined by newcomer Amadeus Cho, who’s adamant about getting through to the Hulk and talking him down.

incredible hulk #110

Normally this would be a tiresome storyline with some C-list heroes but Pak actually does a great job with the cast and what they can accomplish. Cho, the “seventh smartest person in the world,” is a surprisingly fun and enjoyable lead character, full of bravado, conviction, and a bit of youthful naiveté. His passion to stand up for the Hulk in spite of everything that’s happening is admirable and though the team can’t really affect the main storyline they still work to help the people displaced by the now mostly destroyed Manhattan.

Iron Man’s solo series tie-ins are less thrilling seeing as how he gets himself captured after the first issue of World War Hulk. Issue #19 basically shows that first issue from Stark’s perspective, which doesn’t really add anything, while he’s barely present in #20 since he’s captured by Hulk the whole time (the focus leads to Dugan and SHIELD trying to pick up the pieces). The tie-ins are wholly unnecessary, but at least I can go back to reading Iron Man now!

In terms of just plain fun, the World War Hulk: X-Men tie-ins do a great job giving us exactly what we want to see: the Hulk fighting the X-Men. All of the X-Men. Also a few members of X-Factor, Excalibur, and all the teenage New X-Men. In three issues Hulk shows up at Xavier’s mansion, demands that Charles turn himself over as a member of the Illuminati, and the X-Men defend him. There’s some brutal fights here (and I enjoyed Leonard’s artwork here more than Romita’s in WWH) including Hulk absolutely crushing Wolverine’s face, bending Colossus’ arms back, and surviving the X-Jet crashing into him.

World War Hulk X-Men #2

In the end Mercury of the New X-Men has an emotional breakdown in the poignant graveyard. Yes, Xavier’s has to have it’s own damn cemetery – who the hell would send their kids to a school that has to have its own cemetery?? Anyway, Cessily cries about how they’ve lost so much in the wake of the Decimation and throws the rage back in Hulk’s face. Hulk is mollified and decides to leave them alone, correctly guessing that Xavier has suffered enough.

Finally World War Hulk has its own epilogue series called Aftersmash, namely Damage Control and Warbound. I skimmed through Damage Control on Marvel Unlimited, and it looked like a fairly boring story about a few heroes getting together to clean up the mess that is New York City. Warbound, however, stars the remaining members of Hulk’s alien crew. It’s awesome for fans of Planet Hulk as they really didn’t get much to do during World War Hulk.

world war hulk warbound #3With Hulk out of the picture they attempt to get away, and find themselves in New Mexico. An old Hulk villain named the Leader harnesses Hiroim’s powers to generate a gamma-dome, trapping a number of innocent people inside. It’s a fun little story that gives our displaced crew some nice action and drama, and introduces an interesting new character in SHIELD agent Kate Waynesboro. Unfortunately only the first three of the five issue arc is on Marvel Unlimited, forcing me to look up how it ends on WIkipedia. Dang!

With a much more focused, smaller story, World War Hulk presents a fun, action-packed epilogue to the awesome events of Planet Hulk. I do wish it had used the same artist. As a crossover event it ranks as very minor, only really affecting the Hulk himself. His solo series transitions into Incredible Hercules with sidekick Amadeus Cho – I may have to give this one a chance as it lasted for nearly 30 issues! Unfortunately World War Hulk acts as the climactic ending point for the Hulk as he’s written out of the Marvel universe for the next several years. And just when I fell in love with the character! Good night sweet, misunderstood prince.

 

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 – Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire

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!

rise and fall of the shi'ar empireWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Billy Tan, Clayton Henry

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #475-486

“We have to end this threat…he has to die. And X-Men don’t kill, so I guess we aren’t X-Men anymore. We’re what my brother turned us into.”

The X-Men return to space! Some of them anyway. In fact, the X-Men have been in and out of space for decades, ever since Chris Claremont first introduced the Phoenix Force and Shi’ar Empire back in the 80s. Having at least vague knowledge of the triangular-coifed Shi’ar would help immensely toward understanding the events of this book, as beloved comic writer Ed Brubaker takes over Uncanny X-Men beginning with this epic space adventure.

The massive twelve issue story arc, titled “Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire,” is actually a follow-up to Brubaker’s limited series story, X-Men: Deadly Genesis, which was by far the best story to emerge from the ashes of House of M and the Decimation of mutants on Earth. I won’t rehash it here since you can read my Final Thoughts on Deadly Genesis, but suffice to say it’s very much required reading to know what the hell is going on.

The end of Deadly Genesis had a very pissed off Vulcan, the third Summers brother that Professor X tried to use to save his original team, flying off into space to get his revenge on the man that had murdered his mother and made him into a child slave – Emperor D’ken of the Shi’ar Empire.

Having been frozen in space for quite some time, Vulcan isn’t quite up on his Shi’ar current events. D’ken is in a coma, and the Empire is ruled by the much kinder Lilandra, former lover and bride of Professor Charles Xavier. The seeds of discontent have grown for years, however, and Vulcan’s arrival in Shi’ar space sparks the growing dissidents to make their move and depose Lilandra.

The story arc is told in an awkward A-B style, with the X-Men’s journey into space taking up the brunt of the time, while every 3rd or 4th issue focuses on Vulcan’s personal journey to the Empire. Vulcan kills entire spaceships and commandeers another, but when the rebels of the Shi’ar send the Imperial Guard after him, it equals an insane battle that ends with Vulcan getting his eyeball punched out by Gladiator. After he’s imprisoned they engineer his own escape along with Lilandra and D’ken’s long-lost sister Deathbird, and the two fall in love over mutual love of hatred and destruction (I’m sure that’ll last).

uncanny x-men #475 team

Meanwhile the X-Men take their sweet time finding a spaceship, getting into space and creating their own stargates to travel. The new team that Xavier chooses includes Rachel Grey, Havok, Polaris, Nightcrawler, Warpath and Darwin. Darwin was introduced in Deadly Genesis as part of Vulcan’s team, and whose mutant power is what kept Vulcan alive all these years in space. He’s both guilt-ridden over his former friend and teammate and armed with a desire to help everyone even though he’s pretty green when it comes to combat. His ability to quickly adapt to any situation becomes quite invaluable, especially in as hostile environment as space, and I enjoyed his earnest and selfless demeanor.

Warpath is Brubaker’s attempt at bringing in an old character and making him relevant again, but he never quite worked for me. As the team’s brawler he comes off as a poor man’s Wolverine (armed with heightened senses and vibranium daggers). He’s full of rage and super aggressive in every situation, which mostly just comes off as immature and tiresome, especially with cooler heads like Nightcrawler around.

Brubaker excels at relationships; maybe not to the extent of Joss Whedon’s phenomenal writing of Kitty Pryde/Colossus and Emma Frost/Cyclops in Astonishing X-Men, but he does attempt to repair the relationship between Havok and Polaris (one of those cute ‘kiss me you fool’ scenes) as well as giving us a new love interest for Rachel Grey in the Shi’ar phoenix hunter Korvus.

uncanny x-men #479

Korvus is armed with a silly Final Fantasy-esque giant sword, and unleashed by the Shi’ar to hunt down Rachel Grey. From the events in previous story arc “The End of Greys,” Rachel was hunted by a Shi’ar death squad and though survived, was branded with a mystical tattoo, acting like a beacon for the Shi’ar in their constant attempt to eradicate all possibility of the deadly Phoenix Force’s return. Their battle ends with some typical mind-linkage that’s involved with engaging telepaths, and Korvus’ change of heart (in more ways than one) is a nice evolution and addition to the team.

The story is filled with crazy cool action sequences and Billy Tan’s art style excels at giant two-page spreads involving an orgy of character battles and explosions. I don’t quite want to call it the Michael Bay of comics as lots of folks hate on Bay, but I definitely felt like the art and action helped elevate the otherwise okay story-telling. Tan’s style doesn’t bother much with facial features or emotions, in fact most of the eyes in combat tend to be white or glowing and most of the emotions that are displayed are of the RAAARRGGGHHH style.

uncanny x-men #484Despite lots of fun action sequences to keep the story hopping – the X-Men fighting Skrulls, Vulcan fighting the Imperial Guard, the X-Men teaming up with the Starjammers to assault a Shi’ar prison, Vulcan and Deathbird fighting off waves of Shi’ar – everything is building to a final showdown between the X-Men and Vulcan. Deathbird actually succeeds in quelling Vulcan’s adolescent and frankly lame and tiresome rage-induced revenge, and Vulcan is eventually convinced to repair D’ken’s mind and wake him up. D’ken responds by letting Vulcan and Deathbird wed and have them serve under him as Shi’ar’s returning mad emperor.

The climax involves the wedding and subsequent torture and death of Xavier, who was captured early on in the adventure (Darwin spends quite a bit of time sneaking in and mounting a rescue but it amounts to nothing as they’re both captured anyway). The X-Men, allied with Corsair (Papa Summers) and the Starjammers, attack in an enormously cool action setpiece that includes spaceships exploding in the background, lots of redshirt Shi’ars dying, and everyone getting their assess kicked.

Just when D’ken has the upper hand, Vulcan surprises no one and murders him (brutally, slowly cooking and melting his flesh). Corsair attempts to intervene when Vulcan is poised to do the same to Lilandra, and Vulcan murders him as well, causing Havok to go ape shit and the action starts getting even crazier as half the X-Men mount a rescue of Professor X and the rest take on Vulcan.

With the combined powers of Rachel Grey (able to manipulate telekinetic energy on a molecular level – hot damn she’s powerful), Polaris (powers restored and augmented by Apocalypse during the “Blood of Apocalypse” story), Havok and Korvus they’re finally able to subdue Vulcan and he’s forced to flee with Deathbird. At the epilogue he crowns himself emperor of the Shi’ar, and would go on to become a major player in future cosmic events, making Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire have less of an ending and more of a change in the status quo.

uncanny x-men #476

The other important fallout is that our team is separated. Lilandra programs their ship to take them back to Earth after they rescue Professor X, along with Warpath, Nightcrawler, Darwin and Starjammer cat-lady Hepzibah (and former lover of Corsair). Xavier gets his telepathic powers back thanks to exposure to the M’kraan crystal, but otherwise our heroes are left with a profound sense of loss and defeat. Those left in space join the Starjammers, effectively writing Havok, Polaris and Marvel Girl out of X-Men for awhile while they continue to hunt Vulcan, and Havok radios home with that rather badass message I quoted in the beginning.

Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire is a neat idea and a fun culmination of the seeds planted in  Deadly Genesis. Putting a new X-Men team through some massive battles in space with super-powerful cosmic characters like the Starjammers and Imperial Guard are a ton of fun, and Billy Tan crafts some mind-blowing artwork. Individual character moments are used sparingly, and the whole story seems very unlike what I was used to seeing from Brubaker from his excellent work on Captain America (which is much more subdued and introspective).

The focus is always on the action, and it works because the action is so damn exhilarating. The climax is over-the-top and satisfying and I like that it separated the team in the end, but it’s a shame that the whole adventure is left without a real ending or resolution. Vulcan and the Starjammers would continue in X-Men: Emperor Vulcan and X-Men: Kingbreaker, and I believe Vulcan is also involved in the cosmic event War of Kings – all of which spill out over the next two years.

If you’re okay with turning off your brain and focusing more on the action, not unlike many Summer blockbuster movies, Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire can be a lot of fun – though I highly recommend reading X-Men: Deadly Genesis for some much-needed background on Vulcan and Darwin.

uncanny x-men #482

 

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.