Guest Post By CD. Go check out his blog!
Seeing as the X universe has morphed into a creature of its own with its myriad of books, tie-ins and minis, I thought now would be as good a time as any to delve into where things stand in the aforementioned realm of all your fave X-Men, Women, Children, Pets, Etc. Now seems especially apropos, seeing as the mutant population has a new home base, having been chased out of both the X-Mansion and the entirety of San Francisco.
Let’s get this out of the way now. Consider everything that follows spoilers for roughly the past year or so of all X-Men titles and related books. If you want to find out for yourself, read something else. I will tell you this, though—the X books are as good or better as they have been in years, so enjoy.
By way of a chronological sorting out, I’m going to pick up right after the Messiah Complex arc. The main reason I’m choosing this period, quite frankly, is because it’s where I first started re-reading the X-titles after a roughly 10 year hiatus. Cable has just taken Hope into the future. Hope is the first mutant born following M-Day, when the Scarlett Witch used her crazy assed powers to essentially erase mutantkind. While a handful of characters retain their powers, thousands, if not millions, of mutants were de-powered. Hank “Beast” McCoy is in the process of virtually selling his soul to find a solution to the problem, trying everything from science to dark magic in the process. Scott “Cyclops” Summers is becoming the true leader of the mutant race, supplanting the previous figureheads of Professor X and Magneto. Fearing the worst for his race, Cyclops puts together a new X-Force, the black ops wing of the X-Men whose sole purposes is to take out anyone perceived as a threat to mutants. Flash forward a bit and Norman Osborne and the Dark Reign storyline weaves majorly into the main tapestry of all the books, resulting in a seeming split of the team that has the White Queen, Emma Frost (currently a “good guy” AND an X-Man), joining Osborne’s inner circle of high powered criminals and leading a “Dark X-Men” team independent and opposed to Scott’s group. Oh yeah, and just to keep things interesting, the New Mutants come back together and X-Factor, the splinter team of mutant detectives that has various and numerous X-Men who “never quite found a place in the main titles” characters, has some of the biggest shocks and turns of any X-book out there.
Sweet Jebus, that’s a lot to digest right there. Let’s see if we can’t keep this in digestible chunks.
First off, the Cable books haven’t been too shabby. The storyline is basic. Hope is perceived to be the “hope” of mutantkind, as she’s the first child born with powers since the aforementioned Scarlett Witch shit fit. Bishop, as you may recall, comes from a dystopian future himself. Whereas all the “current timeline” characters see her as the future, Bishop believes she’s going to be responsible for the eventual final destruction of all mutants. At least, that’s how he remembers it. This, quite frankly, is why I hate time travel storylines, but whatevs. Hope has grown to her early teen years by now. Bishop continues to trace them through history, or more accurately, the future (as Cable’s teleportation device was damaged and can only leap forward now). Hope still hasn’t shown her full mutant ability to date, though there have been a couple of power surges that hint at some type of Omega class stuff on the horizon. The biggest gripe I have with this book is that it’s time to do something with the premise already. These rather large fights between Bishop and Cable keep happening, but something occurs at the last second that causes everyone to port to safety. We get it already, now decide what’s next. The best stories have been the interludes in the chase, where you get a book or two focusing on something other than Bishop’s relentless pursuit. Plus, let’s be honest, everyone is waiting for Hope’s powers to emerge and for her to start doing whatever it is she’s supposed to be doing to save mutantkind. I did recently hear a rather interesting rumor that the big reveal from this storyline eventually will be that Hope is, in fact, Jean Gray. If that happens, I, for one, will be pissed. Enough of the cross pollinating time travel shit already. By the time it’s all said and done, every single X-Man is going to end up meeting, screwing and then killing his/her future self. It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.
Hank McCoy, aka The Beast, has made no real meaningful progress in his search to save mutants through science. He’s hit up everyone from Doom to the High Evolutionary, but nobody has a solution. From a reader’s point of view, however, his scientific quest has led to him putting together a think tank that’s played more than a bit role in the Astonishing storyline. You’ve got one of my favorite Alpha Flight forgottens, Jeffery Madison, Yuriko Takiguchi and Doctor Nemesis. They’ve added an interesting counterweight to the usual goings-on of the X-teams, even injecting a touch of comedy relief here and there, which is always a welcome thing. Takiguchi, robotic genius and co-creator of Red Ronin just died of natural causes, so it’s likely he’ll stay that way. It’s only if you get killed/blown up/decapitated by a bad guy that seems to incur reincarnation (see: Psylocke, repeatedly). Nemesis has a prolonged lifespan and enhanced immune system as well as being ridiculously smart. He can also detect Nazi clones and has his twin-hypo pistols. One of my dealers, Drew, gave me that description, which pretty much perfectly sums things up there.
Scott has really come into his own as a leader. As the race dwindles lower and lower, he’s stepped up to protect his people. He first found them sanctuary in San Francisco when the X Mansion was destroyed for the four millionth time. Cyclops has come to embody the cause and is going to lengths he admits are beyond the moral limits he felt at one time. However, with mutants being snuffed out left and right, he’s taken a “kill or be killed” attitude and it’s advanced the storyline immeasurably.
One of those results has been the killer X-Force. You’ve got Wolverine and X-23, so you know it’s going to be a bloody book. Throw in Thunderbird and Wolfsbane. Both had to deal with reservations about killing, but the way it was handled was done beautifully, adding nuance to the characters while explaining how grim things have become for their kind. Add the psycho version of Angel just to keep things exciting. Oh yeah, and then throw Elixir in there so that if anyone too important is in danger of dying, he can fix them. But the kicker of the team is the inclusion of old, old school villain, the Teleporter. To get the former enemy to join, they put a tumor on his brain and tell him that only by staying on the team and helping will Elixir save his life. That’s fucking hardcore there, kid. Yes, it’s got all the blood and gore you could possibly want, but the stories have been incredibly strong thus far, too.
Then we come to the Dark Reign tie-in. It’s affecting the entire Marvel Universe, but arguably nowhere more so than in the X Books. Sure, you could just as easily argue the same thing for the Avengers, but bear with me for a minute. Once Osborne firmly established himself as the leader of H.A.M.M.E.R., he chose as one of his first acts to put together a cabal of extremely powerful villains to work with (or sometimes seemingly for) him. As a representative of the mutants, he went with Emma Frost. Her criminal background obviously helped her make his short list. When things reach riot level in San Francisco between the mutants and regular folks living there, Osborne ups the ante by creating his own “Dark” X-Men to act as his police force on the ground. And who should he hand pick to lead the team? That’s right, Emma again. It appears that Emma has betrayed Scott and her former teammates to capitulate to Osborne’s demands, but of course it turns out she really was just a double agent all along. Once she realizes that Osborne is trying to eradicate mutants himself, she jumps back to the “real” X-Men. She brings other blasts from the past Cloak & Dagger with her, but as of yet, they haven’t played into the on-going series yet. Wait, I take that back. I believe Scott has had Cloak teleport something for the team one time; possibly a pizza delivery, but I’m guessing that’s just my stomach talking now. Two “main” things occurred as a result of this crossover. Cyclops has the X-Men dredge Magneto’s former fortress, Asteroid M, out of the ocean, raise it like an island, make it livable again and declare it an independent mutant nation. Secondly, they piss off Osborne to no end and make his dreaded “list” of folks he’s going to do some serious damage to. There were some decent fights in this storyline, particularly once the Dark Avengers were pulled into the fray, but it really only seemed to serve to move the team out of San Fran and into sovereign nation territory. Oh, and there was some interesting fall out/make up between Scott and Emma, since neither apparently had ever bothered to tell the other what their individual game plans were. Slight oversight, that.
Oh yeah, and X-Factor has seen the most fucked up birth/death in the history of comics between Maddox the Multiple Man and Siryn, deceased X-Man Banshee’s daughter. X-Factor, for those confused, started as a book for the original X-Men to find and help mutants with their burgeoning powers. Now, it’s a mutant detective team comprised of a bunch of lesser Xs. Maddox gets sent to the future to try to help track Cable and Hope when he meets a grown-up Lyla and gets it on with her (You may recall that Lyla is about 13 when she meets Maddox, which makes the whole falling in love and getting it on thing kind of icky, but who am I?) Shatterstar, from the old X-Force (confused yet; that X-Force was a different black ops team in the 90s led by Cable) comes from somewhere to rekindle his bond with Rictor, drawing up all sorts of homophobia issues for his team mates. And the New Mutants just reformed, but the only thing that’s really happened so far is Dani kicking Sam’s ass because he’s worried about her not having powers (the same exact storyline that happened with Cyclops and Storm when she temporarily was depowered many moons ago).
Which brings us to roughly today. Currently, the main story arc deals with a number of dead mutants coming back to life from a mutated strain of the techno-virus first introduced by Warlock in the early 90s. My original thought was that this was a clear and obvious rip-off of Blackest Night, but one of my comic dealers pointed out that this is the middle of a three year arc, so allegedly this is just coincidental.
Confused yet? Clearly, a lot has been going on lately. That’s not automatically a good thing in comics, but I’m relieved and delighted to say the storylines and overall arcs for all the books have been incredible. Adding Warren Ellis certainly didn’t hurt the overall effort. Maybe it’s the seeming return/revamping of a bunch of late 80s/early 90s characters/themes, but the titles have returned to my favorite reads recently. Assuming they don’t ruin the New Mutants, while things may not be looking so hot for the mutant race, they’ve seldom been better for their readers.