Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Deadly Genesis

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

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

Writer: Ed Brubaker x-men deadly genesis 1

Artist: Trevor Hairsine

Issues: X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1-6

After the excellent character-focused treatment we got in Captain America: Winter Soldier I became a big fan of comic writer Ed Brubaker’s work. I’m pleased to report that his work on a special limited series starring the X-Men in the wake of the Decimation caused by the events of House of M is even better. Deadly Genesis is a bold semi-retconning exploration of the events of the original “Deadly Genesis” storyline published in 1975 that introduced most of the X-Men we know and love (Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, etc) on a quest to save the original X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel, Iceman) from a powerful sentient island named Krakoa. The original story is analogous to The Transformers: The Movie in that it got rid of most of the old cast to make room for the new guys (unlike Transformers, it didn’t brutally kill everyone off, however).

This new Deadly Genesis boldly shakes that sacred story down to its core by exposing some previous unknown truths about how Cyclops managed to escape and form a new team. Before he and Xavier gathered new mutants from across the world, Xavier went to on-again off-again lover and scientist Moira McTaggert, who had her own training facility for young mutants set up. In an uncharacteristically but interesting move, Xavier pulls them out and uses his telepathy to instill months of training into the young mutants in a matter of days. They are Earth-powered Petra, time-manipulator Sway, the constantly evolving/adaptive Darwin and generic energy-wielding Vulcan. Oh, and Vulcan happens to be a long-lost third Summers brother!

The original comic from 1975; Deadly Genesis Issue 1's cover is a dark homage.
The original comic from 1975; Deadly Genesis Issue 1’s cover is a dark homage.

The team assaults the living island wielding their powers, and combined are still only able to rescue Cyclops. Scott escapes while the rest go back for the others, only to be killed in the process. Cyclops is terribly distraught and having just gained and lost a brother as well as knowing so many had died, and Xavier does another crazy uncharacteristic thing and mind-wipes him, allowing him to forget and believe the island itself was sentient.

All was well until Scarlet Witch gave us the No More Mutants world-state, and the sudden ripping apart of mutant powers caused Vulcan to reawaken and return to Earth (after having been thrown into space along with Krakoa at the end of the original “Deadly Genesis”). Turns out while the rest of the team died, Darwin bonded with Vulcan’s cells, allowing him to survive even in space. Vulcan returned to Earth super pissed off about being sent on a suicide mission, and wants revenge on Professer X and the X-Men.

While that whole tale is fascinating in a very retcon-y kind of way, it’s the way it’s told that makes it work so well. Emma notices the powerful mutant signature entering Earth’s atmosphere, and Wolverine, Cyclops and Rachel Grey are sent to investigate. They meet the god-like Vulcan who quickly kicks their asses and captures Scott and Rachel. Meanwhile the rest of the X-Men are seeing ghosts and nightmares around the mansion as a dark foreboding shrouds the mansion.

While Vulcan hints at a large conspiracy by Xavier (and uses Marvel Girl to dig around her mind for answers) Wolverine and Nightcrawler try to meet up with Banshee, who’s discovered Moira’s secret tapes on her team. Vulcan picks up the X-Jet and crashes it into Banshee’s plane, just as he gets out trying to save everyone inside. It’s a thrilling and brutal moment, and one that I unfortunately spoiled for myself as I read the first arc of X-Factor before this (where Cyke shows up to tell Banshee’s daughter Syren that he’d died).

The mystery plot builds up nicely over several issues as our heroes race to uncover the truth behind Vulcan and his ill-fated team, but it’s not until Charles Xavier shows up at the end that he spills the beans behind his greatest mistake. Since the events of House of M, Xavier is one of the many now de-powered mutants, and the reason the team had been unable to find him.

deadly genesis vulcan xavier

The X-Men attempt to fight Vulcan, but only after Marvel Girl senses Darwin still ‘inside’ him and rips him out do they weaken him enough to stand a chance. Even then, Xavier reveals the bloody truth about his birth – his mother was killed and himself ripped out of his mother’s womb while she was pregnant by the Shi’ar Emperor D’Ken, and the child was raised as a slave to the Shi’Ar Empire. Pro tip to all evil rulers – Kill all offspring of people you kill, otherwise they will always find a way to bit you in the ass.

Vulcan realizes that D’Ken is the far worse person in his horribly tragic life, and takes off through space (apparently he’s still powerful enough to fly in space) to begin the events of The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire that take over the Uncanny X-Men line for several issues, and which I’m very excited to start.

Deadly Genesis could’ve easily turned into a hot mess with its huge events and bombs (a third Summer’s brother! Banshee dies! A team in between the original two! Xavier is kind of a fuck-up!) but thanks to Brubaker’s masterful writing always stays grounded on the mystery of those past events and the build-up to Vulcan’s identity. Despite given fairly generic ‘energy manipulation’ powers, Vulcan is an intriguing villain with tons of backstory. It’s also nice to see a vigorous nod to continuity and current events, as the Sentinel Squad of O*N*E are there to help (and hinder) the X-Men during the events.

Nearly every X-Men is given a scene or something to do, and somehow it feels cohesive instead of shoe-horned in. Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Beast, Emma Frost and Havok in particular are all directly affected by the events, but none more than Cyclops.This story may just be the final nail in the coffin in regards to his relationship to Xavier (whom he basically says Get the Fuck Out at the end) and cementing his own path as a hardened leader.

I also really loved Trevor Hairsine’s art – lots of shadows, sweat and blood while still maintaining a comic feel. Dare I say it’s been my favorite art style of most of the comics I’ve read so far. The art style, writing, and fact that I’m actually familiar with the original classic X-Men story helped make Deadly Genesis one of the best limited series arcs I’ve read yet.

deadly genesis 6

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Astonishing X-Men, Book 2

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

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

Writer: Joss Whedon astonishing book 2

Artist: John Cassaday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

astonishing cyclops

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

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

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

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

giant-size-astonishing-x-men-poster

 

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Decimation: X-Men – The Day After

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!

decimation cover

Writer: Chris Claremont (Decimation), Peter Milligan (X-Men)

Artists: Randy Green (Decimation), Salvador Larroca (X-Men)

Issues: Decimation: House of M – The Day After, X-Men (2004-2007) #177-181

There’s got to be a morning after….

While the eighth and final issue of the phenomenal House of M series (Final Thoughts) acted as the falling action/epilogue issue, the dramatic shift in the universe required an entire massive stand alone issue. The aftermath of the Scarlet Witch’s “No More Mutants” decree became known as Decimation.

Most of the world’s mutant population suddenly woke up no longer mutants, and this has far-reaching implications beyond just a few depowered heroes and villains (Blob’s piles of flesh is a grotesque and clever way of showing how some former mutants will have to cope). Entire political parties and organizations crumble, and waves of violence threaten every corner of the world as both former mutants lash out and pro-humans see it as a reckoning to end mutants once and for all.

Functionally the massive one-shot Decimation issue sets up several mini-series centered around the X-Men in the coming months, as well as the story-lines and situations directly affecting the other main X-Men series (save for Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, which glaringly doesn’t care a fig about what else is happening). Decimation introduces Generation M, Sentinel Squad O*N*E, The 198, Son of M, X-Factor and eventually Deadly Genesis. I read a few of them and will feature each one in its own Final Thoughts (Each are 5-issue limited series, with the exception of X-Factor which becomes an incredibly successful series on its own).

As a lead in to those various story-lines and the state of the world (specifically Xavier’s Mansion), Decimation is essential, though not all that great on its own. Cyclops offers sanctuary to every remaining mutant, and the newly appointed Sentinel Squad (sentinels piloted by people) arrive to help out and protect everyone inside the makeshift refugee camp that’s set up right outside the mansion (further told in The 198).

x-men 179 coverThe actual trade paperback also includes issues #177-181 of the ongoing X-Men series. As I mentioned back in my Astonishing X-Men Final Thoughts, my favorite mutants were split up into three ongoing series back in 2004. Just plain X-Men was compromised of Iceman, Havok, Polaris, Rogue, Gambit and of course Wolverine (who’s in every team and also an Avenger. It’s kind of an old joke by now).

Issue #177 picks up directly after the Decimation one-shot, and has the team fighting off the newly arrived sentinels before realizing they’re technically here to help (at least half of all comic book fights are simple misunderstandings). The three-issue story arc, “House Arrest,” quickly ‘fixes’ Iceman’s supposed de-powering by making it all in his head, whereas Polaris is one of the few X-Men to have legitimately lost hers.

The issues are a sporadic mess as Claremont is setting up multiple spinning plates on top of a rocky foundation. There’s the Blood of Apocalypse tease, the O*N*E introductions, the Sapien league villains and a super dumb side story where Polaris and Havok quit the team (the two-issue “What Lorna Saw” arc in #180-181). I also vehemently can’t stand Salvador Larroca’s art work. I can handle a more cartoon-y, crisper art style (though I definitely prefer darker and more grizzled looks on my heroes) but Larroca’s borderline anime style irks me in all the wrong ways, and honestly just destroys my ability to enjoy the series. I can usually enjoy various artists’ interpretations of characters and style but I officially met my limits with the X-Men series.

House of M essentially did to the X-Men what Avengers Disassembled did to the Avengers – change their dynamic and situation for years to come. Decimation provides a useful introduction to all the spiffy new mini-series that are created in the aftermath, but X-Men really drops the ball in offering a satisfying new angle. X-Men lasted another 25 issues so I’ll probably check back with it for the major storylines (Blood of Apocalypse and Messiah Complex), but I’ll stick to Uncanny X-Men and Astonishing X-Men to get my mutant fill.

x-men 177

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – House of M

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: Brian Michael Bendis House of M cover

Artists: Olivier Coipel

Issues: House of M #1-8

While Avengers Disassembled may have kicked off the current era of massive crossover events that continue to dominate Marvel comics ten years later, I think it was House of M that really solidified the months-long event series as a viable and popular story-telling device.

House of M centers around the fallout following Avengers Disassembled – the Scarlet Witch had gone a bit insane and several Avengers had lost their lives in the battle with her reality-shifting powers. In the very first issue we get a fun crossover as the X-Men visit the Avengers to basically decide what to do with her. Wanda Maximoff is currently being guarded and treated by Professor Xavier, Magneto and Dr. Strange in the ruins of Genosha (as detailed in the final two issues of Excalibur – read my Final Thoughts), but they’re unable to help her.

There’s a neat scene where some of the most popular heroes in the Marvel Universe get to argue about whether to ‘take care of’ Wanda; some are horrified at the concept (Captain America) while others are more than ready to do what’s necessary (Wolverine: “How many more of you need to die?”). When our heroes arrive on Genosha, however, something strange happens as Wanda’s powers reach a height we’ve never seen before – she reshapes the entire world to give them all their hearts’ desires.

A new reality is created where the previously persecuted mutants are now the dominant species on the planet, and a benevolent Magneto is the supreme ruler. Mutants openly walk (and fly) the streets with all manner of powers, abilities and unique appearances and the world is littered with House of Magnus propaganda – referring to Magneto and his family.

house of m avengers

The second issue gives us a fun look at this strange new world and where our heroes fit. Dazzler is a talk show host, Captain America is just an old man (never frozen), Kitty Pryde is a teacher, Gambit is a petty thief, Falcon is a detective, Dr. Strange is a psychologist. Wasp and Beast (sans fur) are scientists working for Tony Stark, while S.H.I.E.L.D. is Magneto’s (and thus the world’s) personal police force – with sentinels! It’s a super fun alternate reality glimpse.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis writes the majority of the story from Wolverine’s perspective. Since his heart’s desire is to regain his memories, Scarlet Witch accidentally started the chain reaction that would eventually bring about the downfall of her fantasy world. Logan wakes up in bed with Mystique – both operatives of the new S.H.I.E.L.D., and seemingly the only person that knows that this world isn’t right.

The story then follows Wolverine’s mission to seek out the others and make them see the truth, which is greatly accelerated thanks to the introduction of a young teenage girl that also knows the truth, Layla Miller. Her powers, from what I understand, are a specialized telepathy that allows her to reveal the true memories to everyone.

Once Wolverine meets up with the Resistance (mostly comprised of non-mutants, or as this world derogatorily calls them, Sapiens, such as Luke Cage and Hawkeye) they quickly move to a montage of visiting all their former allies, like the happily married Emma Frost and Cyclops, and a Spider-man that’s enjoying life with the not-dead Gwen Stacy and Uncle Ben. It was these moments that were the most intriguing, as for many of our heroes that have faced innumerable hardships in their life to suddenly have their perfect fantasy world revealed as a lie is heartbreaking (Spider-Man’s is especially brutal – he has a son in this world).

Since I read the months-long event in a matter of days things seemed to move very quickly to me, as Wolverine and company gather more allies and find a way to strike at Scarlet Witch by directly attacking the House of Magneto at a summit meeting. It definitely paints our heroes as the bad guys in terms of launching an assault at a peaceful political meeting (with other global leaders like Black Panther, Storm and Dr. Doom).

However, Bendis goes out of his way to show that this world is far from perfect. Tensions between mutants and sapiens are as strained as ever, and now a terrorist group called The Sapien League strikes out at the mutant population. It’s an interesting and satisfying concept that even if the roles between mutants and humans were reversed the result is still the same: hatred, fear and death.

Eventually our heroes mount a massively awesome attack against Magneto and company, and Dr. Strange discovers the truth. While previously Wolverine had blamed Magneto for using Scarlet Witch to create this world (seeing as he’s the new head honcho), Strange finds out that it was actually his son and brother to Wanda, Pietro (Quicksilver) that convinced Wanda to reshape reality to avoid being imprisoned or executed.

house of m magnetoMagento is furious when he learns this and goes on one of the more satisfying rampages I’ve seen. The combination of dialogue, art and lettering meshes together into an amazing climax as Magneto turns on his son. When Quicksilver falls, Scarlet Witch, who was finally convinced that her toddler children are nothing but figments of her imagination (made sort-of real by her powers), cradles him in her arms on the cover of the 7th issue. At the end she utters three of the most powerful (and now legendary) words the Marvel Universe has ever heard: No More Mutants.

The final issue sets up the future of the universe as things revert back to normal – only not quite. The Scarlet Witch obliterated the mutant gene from most of the world’s population, reducing the number of mutants from millions to less than 200 (most of our main heroes and villains are still powered, of course). This ended up creating a huge shift and world state change in every Marvel book, but especially all the X-Men series, and helps make House of M one of the more beloved and interesting events to happen in the last two decades.

I’d been hyped up to read House of M ever since I began this grand Marvel comics catch-up, and can satisfyingly report that it more than lived up to it. The alternate reality world is incredibly fun and interesting, Wolverine plays an awesome starring role, and the final climax and fallout are some of the greatest scenes I’ve read in any comic. It helps that I’m a huge X-Men fan and this series directly affects their future for years to come, especially in the months following (known as Decimation).

house of m no more mutants

Bonus: I read a few House of M tie-ins, and though not enough to write a full Final Thoughts for each I’d like to mention them here (I did mention Cable & Deadpool’s tie-in issues in my Cable & Deadpool Book 1 Final Thoughts).

Issue #10 of Captain America takes place right in the middle of the Winter Soldier arc (Final Thoughts here), and is a super boring, fairly pointless issue about what old man Steve Rogers is doing while Wolverine and friends are gathering allies. It was poignant I suppose, but ultimately awkward as Cap has absolutely nothing to do and no role to fill in the House of M world.

Wolverine #33-35 acts as a minor backstory to Logan’s character and situation in the House of M world, though it’s a little strange as his story in House of M begins with him waking up and realizing the truth. The three issue arc centers on Logan’s past joining up with S.H.I.E.L.D., being trained by Nick Fury and having a relationship with fellow agent Mystique. The story is just okay and unfortunately barely takes any advantage of the unique setting. Not terrible but easily forgettable.

I read the five issue Mutopia X without realizing it stemmed from another ongoing Marvel series, District X (which I need to check out since I adore Bishop). Now this series very much took advantage of the unique world state of mutant domination, and it was super interesting seeing the world’s politics and people from the common man’s viewpoint, human police detective Ismael Ortega and his new partner Lucas Bishop. Izzy is married to a mutant and has mutant children, and the implications create some great dynamics and dramatic moments. It all ended a bit confusingly however, as I was unaware it tied into a larger series at the time. Still a fun tie-in and probably the best one I read.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Excalibur

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: Chris Claremont excalibur 1

Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Igor Kordey

Issues: Excalibur (2004-05) #1-14

2004 was a huge year for X-Men (and the original time period I attempted to jump back into comics). The X teams were split into three ongoing series (X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, and the decades running classic Uncanny X-Men), though technically Excalibur could be considered a fourth.

Excalibur (not to be confused with the British Marvel superhero team and series) ties directly into the aftermath of Morrison’s run on New X-Men in the early 2000s, which eventually culminated in the destruction of half of New York City by Magneto and the subsequent obliteration of Mutant city-haven Genosha by an army of sentinels. Jean Grey is killed (again) and Wolverine brutally murders Magneto.

All of this I read about on Wikipedia and heard from a comic-savvy friend, as I’m jumping on now with the glorious return of beloved X-Men writer Chris Claremont. Claremont is responsible for many of the best X-Men storylines in the 80s such as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” He helped create many of the best mutant heroes and villains (Gambit, Rogue, Mystique, Emma Frost, etc) and developed Wolverine into the badass we know and love of him as.

So you can imagine my disappoint upon reading Excalibur and finding it to be a hot mess.

The story picks up with Professor Xavier poking through the post-apocalyptic ruins of Genosha looking for survivors and having lots of monologues. He meets some new friends (Wicked, Freakshow, Callisto) and some new foes (more random survivors that are more pissed off than relieved) but mostly it revolves around Magneto’s inexplicable return and friendship reunion with Xavier.

The first four issue story arc “Forging the Sword” starts off promising enough with our ragtag heroes, and I really enjoyed the dialogue between Xavier and Magneto, two of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe, but both deeply troubled and conflicted men. Magneto especially is super mopey and depressed throughout most of it as a tortured man and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

excalibur teamI also enjoyed the new heroes for the most part. Freakshow was a young kid who could shapeshift into terrifying elder god-style monsters, while Gothy Wicked could tap into all the ghosts surrounding Genosha. Callisto was easily my favorite; the former leader of the Morlocks is completely badass with giant tentacle arms and a fun and confident fighting style with knives.

Unfortunately the overarching storyline never quite decides on what it wants to be. After the events of Avengers Disassembled when Scarlet Witch goes crazy and half the Avengers are slain, Magneto opens a rift (they spend a good deal of time talking about how Magneto’s powers may not have any upper limit) to rescue his unconscious daughter and bring her to Genosha to watch over. Marvel fans will know that the fallout from the attack and Scarlet Witch waking up eventually leads to the phenomenal Marvel event House of M (look for my Final Thoughts soon!), so the latter half of Excalibur acts as a prelude.

But that story is sidelined until the final two issues, and even then it’s mostly Xavier failing to help Scarlet Witch on a mental level (Dr. Strange even pays a house call at some point), and as any kind of intriguing set-up to House of M, it fails completely.

Excalibur’s own story gets terribly convoluted as well, involving a looting pirate lord and his band of four-armed trolls and at some point even some random villains from Age of Apocalypse (Dark Beast is a super fun character, though). They’re not terrible plot-lines and lead to some fun fight scenes (at one point Callisto’s arms are ‘turned off’ and she still kicks ass), but things soon get even messier.

The plot shifts to a nearby city in…Africa? And involves Angel and Husk? And there’s a terminator-style sentinel that Xavier and Magneto are able to transform into an ally at some point? There’s a lot going on and it gets a little crazy and soon you forget all about Genosha. In fact every issue has to have a scene or two that’s basically “Hey where’s Magneto,” as he builds a force-field around the sleeping Scarlet Witch.

As an entry into exploring the ruins of Genosha Excalibur starts off interesting but devolves quickly into a series of crazy characters and battles (then shifts focus away completely toward the end). As a prelude to House of M, Excalibur fails to do anything that you don’t already get from the first issue of that event. Really its only saving grace is in the writing of Xavier and Magneto, which is almost completely sidelined by the second half of the book.

Unless you’re desperate to know where Xavier is among all the various X-teams at the time, or absolutely need to know how Scarlet Witch goes from Avengers Disassembled to House of M, I would recommend skipping Excalibur altogether. I do hope Callisto finds a home somewhere else as I adored her character, writing and powers.

I don’t necessarily blame Claremont, as the series is wedged uncomfortably between major Marvel events and it’s very possible he was hamstrung with what he could do, and the individual character moments and fights are entertaining, but as a cohesive story it’s just too sloppy to be memorable.

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

Astonishing_X-Men_Vol_3_1Writer: Joss Whedon

Artist: John Cassaday

Issues: Astonishing X-Men #1-12

Ironically the last time I tried to get back into comics was right when Marvel was splitting the X-Men up into three separate, ongoing series and teams (2004). I was in the middle of college at the time and the desire proved fleeting. Skip ahead ten years and I find myself right back in the same place, only with a much stronger desire and the right frame of mind and lifestyle.

I knew I wanted to first jump in with X-Men as they’re my favorite of Marvel’s creations, thanks in large part to the superb animated series that ran for an incredible five seasons in the early 90s.

I’d read really good things about Astonishing X-Men. Written by nerd-famous (now mainstream famous) Joss Whedon, it focuses on the X team that still hangs around Xavier’s school while the others go have zany adventures.

The Astonishing team is made up of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Kitty Pryde (and Lockheed), Wolverine, and later, Colossus. Whedon very much likes to focus on the relationships between his characters, namely Kitty and Piotr’s budding young love and Cyke and Emma’s complicated but lusty romantic entanglement.

Book 1 is the TPB containing the first two major six-issue story arcs (originally released in TPB form as Vol 1 and 2). The first, “Gifted,” deals with a weird prophecy about the destruction of an alien planet by an X-Man, and the resulting battle with a not-so-friendly alien ambassador that wishes to preemptively stop it. The bigger plot point is that Colossus is brought back from the dead in a completely inexplicable way (seemingly captive in a research lab the whole time). I never cared much for Piotr Rasputin, and only vaguely heard of his death in comics years before.

However, Whedon is damn good with leading women roles and presents the story (and series in general) from Kitty’s point of view. Newly returning to the Xavier Institute, Kitty’s phasing powers are a fun way to solve many issues, and it’s refreshing that she uses it in a myriad of ways, from rescuing people from a burning people to discovering the holding cell deep underground where Colossus was held.

Overall the first story is super meh and the alien villain Ord is lame, but Whedon does a fun job of sprinkling in future story and character arcs (like Agent Brand of SWORD) as well as introducing recurring students. It’s easy to forget that one of the X-Men’s primary roles is to provide a safe haven for young mutants, and here we get to meet Armor, Blindfold, Wing and the triplets. Armor and Blindfold particularly get to play crucial roles in future storylines.

Astonishing-X-Men-Dangerous

The second story arc, “Danger,” is much more interesting – the famous X-Men training room, the Danger Room, reveals its sentience and it’s none to happy to have been cooped up for so long. Violence is all it knows and it soon unleashes hell on the students and the team, culminating in an epic battle where she (it eventually forms into a feminine robot) flies to the destroyed remains of Genosha in an attempt to kill Professor Xavier (who’s currently involved in the Excalibur story line, see my Final Thought soon). At one point Xavier goes all Terminator and rams into her with an 18 wheeler. It’s pretty awesome.

Kitty gets to save the day by phasing into the wild sentinel that Danger summons and overall it’s an exciting and much improved story. Emma teases some underlying sinister plan to set up the next story arc, we get to see everyone fight a pretty awesome new villain and Whedon grounds everything with a vulnerable yet resolute Kitty at the helm. I honestly never cared much for Shadowcat before but Astonishing has instantly made her one of my favorite X-Men.

Unfortunately one of my all time favorite X-Men is not given such a great treatment. You can tell Whedon is just not a big fan of Wolverine as he’s mostly used as random comic relief, both in combat and with the students. It works well enough most of the time but very little is given to his character. The same could be said of Beast. I still can’t stand his new cat-like appearance (thanks to a secondary mutation) and he’s also given little to do. The spotlight is very much centered on Kitty, Cyclops and Emma.

Overall I was happy with these 12 issues, though I vastly preferred the second story arc to the first. As a jumping-on point I respect that they didn’t feel the need to break down the last few years of craziness the X-Men weathered under Grant Morrison’s run, and the smaller cast gave us much bigger insight into our heroes while being able to introduce new ones. I enjoyed it enough to pick up Volume 2, which concludes Whedon’s run with another 12 issues – look for my Final Thoughts soon!

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