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.

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Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Deadpool & Cable Ultimate Collection, Book 2

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Deadpool and Cable ultimate collection book 2Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Artists: Patrick Zircher, Lan Medina, Reilly Brown

Issues: Cable & Deadpool #19-35

The second massive volume of everyone’s favorite Marvel odd couple, Cable & Deadpool is going to be one of the harder Final Thoughts for me to recount, simply because I read it over the whole last month.

It starts with Issue #19, an epilogue of sorts to their House of M ordeal (which I find weird wasn’t included with the House of M tie-in’s in the first Book), while Issues #28-32 tie in to Civil War. I’m attempting to get better about starting and finishing at least whole story arcs before picking up more series, but some of these long collected volumes are a bit tricky – especially in this case where the stories are more about fun and humor than actually telling a coherent story.

Most major series have at least one major branching story line to along with minor vignettes along the way, but Cable & Deadpool is pretty much only the latter style in this second volume. Ironically my favorite issues were the nearly self-contained one-shots. Issue #19 stars Deadpool taking care of a rapidly re-aging Cable after his dimensional-hopping adventures. This mostly constitutes going to a bar and drinking together, but also includes some surprisingly poignant and rare revelations about Deadpool’s tragic past.

Issue #24 involves a fun match between Deadpool and Spider-Man, with all the verbal smack-talk slinging you can imagine. Issue #25 has Captain America infiltrate Cable’s little utopian project of Providence as a normal citizen, and becomes delighted with what Cable’s built and how he runs things (leading to a nicely logical reason why Cable helps support Cap in Civil War). We also get some fun glimpses into Cable’s dark future, where he wielded Cap’s iconic shield to inspire his own soldiers in the war against Apocalypse.

The other stories are varying degrees of quality, with the only notable importance to the series continuity being Deadpool stealing technology that allows Cable to simulate his lost telekinesis and telepathy. It leads Deadpool to a fun fight against Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the B.A.D. Girls.

Deadpool-versus-Avengers

With Cable’s ties to Apocalypse, it makes sense that he’d be involved in the “Blood of Apocalypse” storyline that hits the X-Men book around the same time. Issues #26-27, “Born Again,” act as a spiffy, if cheesy prologue to those events as Cable witnesses Pocky Lips’ premature resurrection and we got tons of backstory involving a mullet sporting Cable wielding a sword. It’s alright, and certainly leagues better than the ill-conceived X-Men story.

Unfortunately both the story telling and art gradually start to decline in the later issues. Domino, Cable’s ex-lover and former X-Force compatriot takes center stage in a few issues involving a coup in a made up Eastern European country. She’s not particularly interesting and her character doesn’t seem to have much to do outside of complaining about Cable.

Cable & Deadpool #30The Civil War tie-ins are also profoundly disappointing. I was hoping to shed some insight in how Cable joins the resistance, but instead I get some pithy fights between Deadpool and the Anti-Reg team. Cable then goes on a round-about way to show Deadpool how wrong he is for the side he’s chosen. That story bleeds over into the next, involving the lame Six-Pack team that showed up in the previous Book attacking Cable’s newly liberated country of Rumekistan and Providence. Cable of course swiftly kicks all their asses.

I still enjoy my time with the dysfunctional duo. Fabian Nicieza’s writing remains funny and enjoyable throughout, and Deadpool is still delightfully hilarious. It’s a shame the series starts turning over artists as it’s definitely not for the better, and I’m hoping Nicieza can find his footing again with telling some more interesting stories.

 

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

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!

X-Factor #1 coverWriter: Peter David

Artists: Pablo Raimondi (Madrox), Ryan Sook, Dennis Calero, Ariel Olivetti, Renato Arlem

Issues: Madrox #1-5, X-Factor (2005) #1-12

One of the many new excellent series to premiere in the wake of House of M was a new version of X-Factor. Essentially Jamie Madrox, AKA Multiple Man, sets up a detective agency in Mutant Town and gathers together some of his old friends (along with a few new ones) to help mutants with various problems.

What could have easily turned into X-Men with lesser characters quickly carved out its own unique series thanks to an amazing noir style that permeated both the writing and awesome shadowy art, as well as loving attention paid to each character and their own personal dramas and interpersonal relationships. After reading the Volume 1 trade paperback, X-Factor has become one of my favorite ‘new’ series.

While this new version of X-Factor started in late 2005/early 2006, it was actually preceded by a limited mini-series, simply titled Madrox. Madrox nicely laid the seeds for the series a year beforehand by sprinkling in a classic noir story involving a murder mystery and a mysterious woman, and introduced us to some of the supporting cast (namely Rahne and Guido). While it’s definitely more of a solo series than the ensemble cast that X-Factor becomes, Madrox is an absolutely fantastic self-contained story.

Jamie is a fascinatingly complex character as his unique cloning powers are brought to the forefront of just about every encounter and story. His dupes (as he calls them) are created whenever he’s hit – so while he can generate them by slamming his fist on the ground, they also comically shoot out whenever he’s shoved or punched. Each dupe takes a separate personality cue from Madrox, and he never knows which is going to show up. One might be sweet and sensitive, another aggressive and sociopathic; this concept is used in endlessly entertaining ways, including an amazing revelation during the climactic moments of issue #12.

X-factor #7Jamie is the leader of the group even though he’s technically the weakest (he was able to afford the new business venture thanks to one of his dupes winning Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). Thanks to letting his dupes loose in the wild for years at a time, he can reabsorb them and instantly gain all their knowledge, giving him more street-smarts and book smarts than any normal human could learn in a single lifetime – another cool character trait. Of course if a dupe dies he feels the pain and trauma, and it makes a wonderful story hook for the series when a bloody dupe comes stumbling in and collapses in front of him.

The rest of the team consists of former X-Factor teammates (former being their original team from the 90s) Rahne Sinclair AKA Wolfsbane (a fiery Irish Catholic werewolf), Guido Carosella AKA Strong Guy (the resident muscle that turns energy into strength, also the comic relief) and Rictor (now dealing with being depowered from House of M – the first issue is about Madrox trying to stop his suicide attempt). They’re joined by new members Monet St. Croix AKA M (who has a whole paragraph of powers but acts mainly as the team’s telepath), Theresa Cassidy AKA Siryn (daughter of on-again off-again X-Man Banshee, with the same sonic scream powers) and finally Layla Miller, the mysterious young mutant that first appeared in House of M, and along with Wolverine was the only one that knew the truth behind that altered world. Her odd powers of nonchalant foresight and knowledge of future events are played up to great effect – particularly the running gag about her and Jamie being married one day.

The whole team works remarkably well together, and reminds me of some of the best teams that the X-Men have put out over the years. Everyone has distinct personalities and are wonderfully diverse: Siryn’s Irish-Catholic, Rahne is Scottish, Guido is Italian-American, Rictor is Mexican and Monet is Muslim. Their powers all come in handy in various ways as the plot weaves in some fun murder mysteries, an evil corporation and the general chaos created by the Decimation.

X-Factor #9

While X-Factor acknowledges the big events happening in the Marvel Universe they are always tangential to their own ongoing stories and struggles, much to the benefit of the series. Their Civil War tie-ins, for example, mostly consist of Quicksilver returning to town after his events in Son of M, and the team learning the truth behind the House of M from the X-Men. Things then go back to normal as the giant plot Peter David’s been building to, involving a sinister corporation and a CEO that was directly involved in the death of Madrox’s parents as a child, comes to an awesome conclusion in the three pat arc “Multiple Disclosure.”

If you like a comic book series with fun, interesting non-X-Men mutants and darker, stylistic art than I can’t recommend X-Factor enough. The Madrox series is a great set-up, and while not necessary reading to the series it’s just as good as the main series and thankfully included in the Volume 1 Complete Collection trade. This run of X-Factor would actually end up being one of Marvel’s most successful launches from that era, lasting for an astonishing eight years and over 100 issues – and Peter David wrote every single one of them. I fully expect to read them all in the coming months.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Wolverine: Origins, Vol. 1-3

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!

born in bloodWriter: Daniel Way

Artist: Steve Dillon

Issues: Wolverine: Origins #1-15

Just about the only positive thing to come out of House of M for our poor beleaguered mutants was that Wolverine suddenly got all his memories back. For a dude that’s over 100 years old that’s quite a lot to process, and Marvel responded by giving Wolverine an additional solo series called Wolverine: Origins, which launched in the Summer of 2006 and went on to run for four years and 50 issues. At the time Wolverine was also a New Avenger, part of at least one X-Men team and had his own solo series – this is the time of Wolverine overload that would last for years.

But I happen to love that furry Canadian so I wanted to give this series a try. The first volume (#1-6), “Born in Blood,” is a terrible start as Wolverine starts to carve a bloody path against those that wronged him – specifically the shadowy organization that used him as a brain-washable assassin.

One of his first steps is to attack the White House looking for a secretary with ties to the group, which immediately makes him a wanted man by SHIELD (which makes no sense in regards to other Marvel continuity). Eventually they send another reprogrammed soldier after him: Nuke, a G.I. Joe reject Logan tussled with in Vietnam. Soon Captain America and the Astonishing X-Men show up to bring Logan down and it ends in a fairly lame fight thanks to some of the worst artwork I’ve ever seen in a comic book.

Normally when I don’t like the art I chalk it up to style preference. I know what I like and don’t like, and certain styles I really enjoy while others can cause me to completely skip an arc or even a series. The latter nearly happened here as Steve Diilon’s art looks like it was made with clipart from Photoshop and MS Paint. Every character looks horrible and it meshes terribly with the bloody, serious tone of the story.

wolverine origins #10Things do get a little better (writing wise anyway) in the second story arc, “Savior” (#7-10). At the end of the last fight Emma Frost dropped a bomb – Wolverine has a son who’s being manipulated by the same people Logan is after. SHIELD is still chasing him (lead by Dum Dum Dugan) as he makes his way to Europe to obtain some Carbonadium – a special synthetic that slows down his healing factor (thinking he’ll need it to subdue his son). There’s some fun guest stars here, including Omega Red, Black Widow and a now powerless Jubilee, and we get more glimpses into Logan’s terribly dark and violent past.

Wolverine is forced to surrender to SHIELD when Jubilee is hurt in a fight with Omega Red, and we get our first glimpse of Daken, his son, as he walks up to his shackled father, disembowels him, and walks away. Logan’s hunt for his son finally becomes the focus of the third volume, “Swift and Terrible,” (#11-15) and we actually get a decent amount of scenes and background on Daken.

If Daken’s supposed to be completely despicable then Way has succeeded. Daken is tattooed, mohawk’d and sporting some black fingernail polish – he just screams ‘trying too hard.’ His dialogue and attitude is super angsty, immature and just plain cruel. If he’s supposed to be Logan without any moral compunction or friends they went a little overboard. At least his claw designs, like X-23’s (Logan’s cloned daughter and a vastly superior character) are slightly different with two claws on top of the hand and the third under the palm.

They meet up again at the bank vault where Logan has tracked the Carbonadium, but their initial fight (which Daken very much kicks his father’s ass) is interrupted by Cyber, a resurrected Wolverine villain that’s given quite a bit of backstory and screentime in the story arc before he drops in to enact some revenge of his own.

swift and terrible
If only the inner artwork looked anything like the covers.

Daken runs off while Logan is able to subdue Cyber and force him to help find his son again. What once started as an interesting tale on revenge and Logan’s crazy backstory has devolved a bit into an awkward father-son re-connection with a wholly unlikable character. From glancing at future covers it looks like Daken takes a backseat for awhile and we go back to tracing more of Logan’s past. I’ll stick with it, but frankly I’m more looking forward to when the primary artist changes at issue #25.

As for these first three volumes, I just can’t recommend them except for the most die-hard fans of Wolverine, or if you’re just insanely curious about when Daken is introduced (who does become a semi-major player in future events). With good, or at least halfway decent art work the second volume would be pretty spiffy, but as is it’s a slog to get through all these issues. Wolverine, you deserved better and Daken, you deserved nothing at all.

 

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Black Panther (2005), Vol. 3-4

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!

Black Panther BrideWriter: Reginald Hudlin

Artists: Scott Eaton, Manuel Garcia, Koi Turn bull

Issues: Black Panther (2005) #14-25

 

When I first heard that Storm had wed Black Panther I rolled my eyes. It all seemed just a bit too convenient – the only two notable African superheroes in Marveldom fall in love and get married? I’m glad I started reading Black Panther (2005) and noticed a steady improvement in the dozen issues I’d read so far, otherwise I might not have experienced one of the most touching and poignant stories of a love rekindled I’d ever read.

The impetus for Black Panther’s previous arc was to go out and find a wife (which is, uh, also the plot hook of The Santa Clause 2), and in “Bride of the Panther” he realizes his heart never left Storm’s. Their past is detailed further in a harmless retcon exploring the exploits of young lovers T’Challa and Ororo in the six-issue Storm (2006) mini-series, but even without the extra reading Reginald Hudlin does an excellent job conveying their complicated past and their feelings for each other (Storm’s adventures in Africa are detailed in Uncanny X-Men Annual #1, which is like Black Hawk Down with X-Men – awesome). I am a bit bummed that this effectively writes Storm out of the X-Men, but she’s been generally absent anyway, and frankly seems above many of the petty squabbles those teams find themselves embroiled in.

The five issue story lovingly takes its time rekindling their relationship. They fight about when they were young and dumb and Ororo’s answer to The Question is interrupted by some silly and fun comic book fights. Storm’s past relationships with Wolverine and Forge are acknowledged and addressed and Hudlin seems to have a firm grasp on Marvel continuity. Storm is even reunited with her lost grandparents (and nephew) in another touching moment. Oh and Luke Cage throws a bachelor party with Namor, Logan, The Thing and a bunch of strippers in Rio. T’challa, ever the honorable gentlemen, promptly excuses himself at the beginning to fly back into Ororo’s arms. D’awwww.

Black Panther #15

Eventually Ororo accepts (and Hudlin pulls off an honest-to-god funny mile high club joke) and she’s treated to a whirlwind of activities that’s associated with becoming Queen of a country, including a jealous neighboring African princess, shopping with fellow X-ladies and dealing with the fairly xenophobic, isolationist people of Wakanda. T’Challa and Storm get equal screen time and while there’s no real threat of danger nor villain, it’s a surprisingly fun and sweet storyline.

Unfortunately for our newlyweds, Civil War hits around the same time. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are both invited to the wedding and both leave when they see each other, and the next two story arcs are tied into the ongoing Civil War event.

“World Tour” takes our new power couple to various diplomatic meetings around the world (and beyond) as they visit Dr. Doom in Latveria, Namor in Atlantis and even the Inhumans on the moon. Their last meeting takes them to America where they try and discuss the Superhuman Registration Act, but when they try to make Storm register (as she’s American) things go South and Iron Man and Black Panther end up having a scrape.

Black Panther #21Tensions are diffused when Black Panther ends up saving James Rhodes’ life but T’Challa and Ororo agree to stay in the U.S. to try and deal with the upcoming war. Given how big of an asshole Stark is it takes about two seconds for our heroes to side with Captain America, first unofficially and then getting directly involved and instrumental in helping the rebels in the final battle.

In fact, issue #25 takes place directly during the events of the final issue of Civil War, including a different fight scene from the final battle – Storm vs Thor clone! It ties in nicely to the Civil War continuity by adding some fun extra scenes, but it’s definitely not required reading, and I felt the globe-trotting “World Tour” issues were a bit more fun than the latter “Foreign Affairs” direct Civil War tie-ins.

Hudlin’s improved immensely as a writer and I have a keen grasp on who T’Challa is. Scott Eaton’s artwork is also fantastic (Storm has never looked sexier and T’Challa is chiseled from pure obsidian) but unfortunately he drops out during the Civil War tie-ins in issue #20. Manuel Garcia does a fine job but the art takes a noticeable nose dive with the last two issues as a third artist is brought in.

I’d never thought a storyline about two superheroes getting married and dealing with the political ramifications would become one of my favorites, and I hope that T’Challa’s and Ororo’s loving relationship continues to be highlighted and strengthened throughout their adventures.

Black Panther #25

 

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

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Blood of Apocalypse

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Peter Milligan x-men blood of apocalypse

Artist: Salvador Larroca

Issues: X-Men #182-187

Though Salvador’s Larroca’s art style immediately turned me off “The Day After” storyline in Decimation, I wanted to soldier on through the X-Men series as it comes to an end with the epic X-Men: Messiah Complex in another twenty issues. I was looking forward to “Blood of Apocalypse” as not only is the infamous villain an absolute classic but I also really enjoyed the two-issue preview build-up that was served in issues 26-27 of Cable & Deadpool (Final Thoughts coming soon).

Unfortunately the return of one of the X-Men’s most powerful villains is completely and utterly lame. Apocalypse shows up in a giant sphinx that acts as both a ship and base of operations and lands right outside Xavier’s mansion. Naturally the X-Men begin freaking out and attack it, and Apocalypse unleashes his first of four horseman – Famine, formerly the crippled Sunfire. I was immediately rolling my eyes at the notion that, despite a new tactic of wanting to save mutantkind from the brink of extinction (by killing most humans), he simply regurgitates past encounters and unleashes new thematic horsemen as minor villains for our heroes to defeat.

Famine is defeated (and somehow reverts back to Sunfire, though he keeps his powers and legs, convenient) and Apocalypse makes a show of force by destroying all the sentinels of the O*N*E that have been assigned to peacekeeping duties at the mansion since the events of House of M. I did appreciate that events are closely tied to the continuity and current events of the X-Men at the time, though it still doesn’t amount to much. With the sentinels destroyed many of the refugee mutants side with Apocalypse, though that also doesn’t amount to much.

Apocalypse’s sniveling sidekick Ozymandias (wait, since when does Apocalypse need a sniveling henchman) betrays his master and leads the X-Men into the sphinx where they can launch an attack. Battles ensue and our heroes discover that Gambit had gone willingly to Apocalypse to be transformed into the horseman Death (I hadn’t read any X-Men before Decimation, so I was unaware of Gambit’s woes with the team).

The X-Men manage to destroy much of Apocalypse’s blood, which acts as a cure to the plague he plans to unleash via Pestilence (a transformed Polaris). After they retreat, Apocalypse crashes into the United Nations and gives a pithy Bond villain-esque declaration on how humanity needs to cull themselves lest he do it for them. Since when does Apocalypse deign to make demands and threats? If you can’t tell, I abhorred his characterization and motivations throughout the story.

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Apocalypse is finally defeated when some new heroes join the fray (namely Iron Man and Captain America) as well as a pair of fancy new sentinels that reminded me of the jaegars from Pacific Rim. The sphinx ends up in the East River and Apocalypse ends up escaping via some sort of space portal. Polaris is rescued, though Sunfire takes off with Gambit-Death, and the epilogue issue attempts to make us care about their plight, as well as the tiresome Yes, Our Villain Will Return ending.

The art is actually much better than “The Day After,” less manga-ish but still much too cartoony for my tastes. The worst part of “Blood of Apocalypse” is definitely the story, and lame story plus art I don’t like equals a pretty terrible experience. Even the side plots are lame, with awful love triangles involving Polaris-Iceman-Havok and Rogue-Gambit-Pulse that reek of Young Adult novel clichés.

I can’t recommend “Blood of Apocalypse” at all, but thankfully it looks like it was Larroca’s last stint on X-Men. I’ll still try to read all the storylines between now and Messiah Complex, but I’m much more looking forward to the stories in Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor (two series that I’ve found far more superior thus far).

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