Sunday, March 23, 2014

X-Men Unlimited #12

X-Men Unlimited #12
Writing: John Francis Moore
Art: Steve Epting and Ariel Olivetti

This takes place after Uncanny #335. After go back to Avengers #401 

.What Went Down:  Dr. Strange’s astral form approaches the X-Mansion, having sensed some great mystical disturbance or something.  Strange casts a spell and discovers that Onslaught did not kill the Juggernaut in X-Men #54, but rather he somehow trapped Cain Marko in the Gem of Cytorrak (in case you couldn’t tell from the cover).  This is strange because Onslaught’s powers are psionic, not mystical, but we’ll soon learn Onslaught can do anything.  While Strange contemplates this, a Chinese symbol appears from a computer screen and is about to attack Strange.  Strange is rescued by Gomurr the Ancient One, the little sage from Uncanny #329-330.  Apparently the symbol was a spider from Gomurr’s nemesis Tar.

Gomurr explains that having Marko in the gem is somehow more dangerous, but refuses Strange’s assistance.  He goes into the gem to look for Juggernaut.  Meanwhile, Cain is trying to free himself from the gem, which looks a lot like hell on the inside.  Some lava boils up and starts to burn him.  He passes out, but when he wakes up, he finds himself in a bed paralyzed.  Charles Xavier comes in and explains that Cain has been hallucinating.  When they fought in Korea, Cain was paralyzed when the Temple of Cytorrak came down, causing him to open a school for students with physical and psychological issues.  His X-Men appear as normal humans with different handicaps.  Gomurr interrupts the illusion, and the fake Xavier is revealed to be Spite, the sister of D’Spayre.  Gomurr chases her off with some magic. 

After freeing Cain, Gomurr explains that Cain no longer possesses his strength, but offers to lead him out.  The pair comes across a copy of the X-mansion carved in stone and enter it.  Inside Cain no longer has his armor and is forced to observe memories from his childhood.  They include Cain watching his dad and stepmom talking about how gifted Charles is as well as Cain’s attempt to blackmail his father with knowledge that Kurt Marko was responsible for the death of Charles’ father.  This results in Charles questioning them both, but Cain knocks over some chemicals and causes an explosion.  Kurt Marko dies saving Charles, and Cain blames him for taking his father.

Gomurr insists that Juggernaut’s path will only lead to the destruction of everything, followed by his own consumption.  Cain contemplates giving up his obsessive anger towards Charles.  However, before he can follow through, Spite reappears to offer Cain Charles’ death and the subjugation of all his enemies.  Gomurr warns that his need to destroy will overwhelm him and leave him utterly alone.  Spite restrains Gomurr and explains that long ago Gomurr and Tar were charged with containing the deity Cyttorak.  In order to defeat the being, they constructed the crystal, but neither could trust the other with the power, so they buried it in a temple in Korea.  Juggernaut goes with Spite to get his power back, leaving Gomurr behind and at the mercy of a mystery character.

Spite takes Cain before Cyttorak.  She is repaid by being eaten, and Cyttorak explains that he is going to try to leave the crystal in Cain’s body.  Cain tries to beat Cyttorak, but he doesn’t have his powers.  Gomurr, now freed, and Tar, the mystery person, team up to help Cain contain Cyttorak.  Unable to destroy the power, they give it to Cain, hoping he will defeat Cyttorak and that the X-Men will be able to contain him.  Cain destroys Cyttorak, destroying the dimension within the crystal.  Juggernaut reappears in the X-Men’s study, declaring how he’s bigger than ever.  Dr. Strange laments Cain’s short sightedness.

How It Was:  Oh cool, a Dr. Strange story in Unlimited!  While a needless cross promotion, this could still have potential…oh, wait…this isn’t a Dr. Strange story; it’s a Gomurr the Ancient One story.  To be fair, Gomurr is alright in his own right—he still gets a few funny lines in (like the one about being no relation to Dr. Strange’s Ancient One), but he’s just not that interesting to carry the story.  We do learn some of his history, only there just isn’t enough to make him stand out.  When Juggernaut calls him Yoda, he makes a good point about just how clichéd and derivative Gomurr is. 

Still there’s some good material for Juggernaut here.  Most of it has already been touched on, and like most Unlimited stories the book feels the need to go into one too many flashback sequences.  The idea that the Juggernaut is a curse and could be lifted if Cain let go of his obsession with Xavier has potential.  Plus the design for Cyttorak the god is pretty impressive.  The plot is a weighed down by an unnecessary appearance from Spite (maybe her last appearance had her trapped in the crystal?), and a long padded out sequence of events and flashbacks.  The end also only works in that magical deus ex sort of way; basically Cyttorak takes back Juggernaut’s powers, so Gomurr and Tar give the powers back and destroy Cyttorak (the deity appears decades later though). 

This may’ve been the first of its kind, but it feels like a slog that I’ve already read before—Juggernaut dealing with his jealousy, toying with overcoming it, then deciding not to.  It’s hard to root for Cain since he is such an alpha male bully douchebag.  This isn’t Moore’s fault, he’s writing him in character, it’s just frustrating to spend so many pages delving into the character, only to have absolutely nothing change at all.  Also, this issue has nothing to do with Onslaught.  If you’re a really big Juggernaut fan, hunt it down.  Otherwise just assume that he gets let out when Onslaught dies. 

Completists Only

X-Men Unlimited #11

X-Men Unlimited #11
Writing: Scott Lobdell and Terry Kavagh
Art: Steve Epting and Mark Millar??

This takes place after X-Men #53.  Go back to Uncanny #334.

What Went Down:  Melody Watkins (Rogue’s landlady from X-Men #52) is at the local Humanity’s Last Stand headquarters to report Rogue as a potential threat to her son.  Unbeknownst to her, Rogue is enjoying her life as a Hollywood Café waitress, free of the frustrations of superheroing.  On her drive home from work, she notices a construction crew that has been working for four nights and hasn’t gotten a lot of work done. 

Once home, Melody confronts Rogue to confess that she turned Rogue into Humanity’s Last Stand, saying she was worried about her son and the Legacy Virus.  This leads to an attack by soldiers in power armor who try to capture Rogue.  Rogue beats them all, but she stops when she sees Bastion holding Melody’s son Stevie as a hostage.  Rogue takes a laser blast to save Melody.

At Humanity’s Last Stand’s compound, a shadowy figure named Mr. Trask tells Bastion that Rogue can’t stay.  Bastion explains his plot to Rogue: he is going to burn down the compound, murder her and all the occupants, then blame the deaths of all the humans on Rogue.  This will then stir up anti-mutant hysteria.

Before the soldiers can carry out Bastion’s plan, one of them starts using super powers to defeat the others and free Rogue.  Bastion runs off while Joseph introduces himself to Rogue.  He explains that after the page in X-Men #53, he joined Humanity’s Last Stand to go undercover and hopefully run into the X-Men.  Rogue, thinking this is regular Magneto, attacks Joseph.  Joseph manages to convince Rogue of his sincerity, and the two team up to save all the compound dwellers from being murdered by soldiers.  Rogue and Joseph defeat the soldiers, but the civilians train weapons on them, telling them to leave.  Joseph demonstrates that he could kill the people if he wanted to before lecturing them on prejudice and flying off. 

After flying for a while, Joseph asks Rogue about his past as Magneto.  Rogue tells him she’d rather wait until they’re around the other X-Men, and Joseph explains how Sister Maria told him about the X-Men.  Their conversation is interrupted by an attack helicopter with Trask on board.  Joseph uses his powers to catch two missiles, but instead of killing the humans, he just detonates the missiles and uses the explosion to cover their retreat.  Rogue and Joseph return to her apartment to get her car.  Melody apologizes, and Rogue and Stevie say goodbye. 

How It Was:  Some stories like to surprise you with plot turns and revelations that make a reader stand up and take notice.  While there is one pretty big surprise in the plot, this story still reads like a predictable, by the numbers story; you pretty much know how it’s going to end five pages in.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing—having one of the X-Men become fed up with the lifestyle after the previous months of hardship is a legitimately interesting direction to go.  Like most of these Unlimited stories, it’s just unfortunate that Rogue’s taste of everyday living is all but forgotten as soon as she returns to the X-books.  Lobdell sets up and explores a simple, if tragic, idea that the X-Man who can’t touch would crave a normal life more than others by way of the fact that she can never really have one. 

What really works in this story is that Rogue actually succeeds at her normal life, and it’s prejudice and persecution, i.e. other people’s issues with her, that destroy what she’s built.  Lobdell wisely avoids bringing up Gambit too much, choosing instead to deal with Rogue’s personality—she is outgoing and desires to be around people, but she can never get too close.  He also tries to make Rogue’s landlady Melody come off as sympathetic, constantly bringing up her concerns for her son, but really she just comes off as stupid and unlikable; she’s going to report her friend to this group, and they’re going to “take care of her” somehow—frankly I’m glad when her house gets destroyed.

While Humanity’s Last Stand is the same generic bigoted human group the X-Men always come across (this one situated as a survivalist militia), I must admit that I do love the designs for their power armor.  And the fight with Rogue is well done.  The one twist of the story (ruined by the cover) is that Joseph has actually joined the racist organization that persecutes mutants.  His idea to infiltrate the group to learn about the X-Men seems farfetched, but if you can ignore the huge coincidence, it’s an efficient enough means of getting them to meet. 

What really feels odd is that once Rogue and Joseph fight each other, stop the soldiers from killing everyone, and have the civilians turn on them; it feels like the story is over.  Unfortunately, due to the format of the book, the story has to keep going, so we see Rogue refuse to tell Joseph anything and an anticlimactic show down between the Master of Magnetism and a metal helicopter.  The end does have a nice moment with Melody’s son and Rogue, but it feels like it would’ve meant more right after they were turned away by the humans they helped saved.  This issue works for Rogue fans, and it goes through all the beats Joseph needed to after his previous appearance to line him up to join the X-Men. 

X-Fans Only

X-Men Unlimited #10

X-Men Unlimited #10
Writing: Mark Waid
Art: Frank Toscano and Nick Gnazzo

This takes place after X-Men #50, but before Uncanny #331

What Went Down: Our story begins with a flashback to a young Hank McCoy fixing a school bus and annoying the heck out of Groundskeeper Willy.  The flashback is being retold by the former school principal, who is retelling the story with pride in the present at a hospital.  Unfortunately the principal’s visitor is the evil Hank McCoy from the Age of Apocalypse, who promptly suffocates the principal after learning everything he can about the Hank of this world.  As Dark Beast leaves the hospital, it is apparent that he’s killed everyone there, not just the principal, as he recounts his history up until now.

Meanwhile, the real Beast is using the Danger Room as a giant microscope to manipulate the molecules of the Legacy Virus for study.  Professor X and the other X-Men interrupt him to implore that he spend more time outside the lab.  In a secret lab, Dark Beast has hacked into regular Hank’s computer and is keeping track of his work.

Dark Beast meets with another person from Hank’s life—this time a former girlfriend named Mindy who recounts teenage Hank’s fixation with the robotics of a haunted tunnel ride.  As she tells the story, Mindy becomes ill, and Dark Beast reveals he infected her and the rest of the restaurant with a deadly virus. 

At the institute, Iceman is helping Beast with yet another experiment.  Bobby has to use his powers to keep a microscope from overheating, even though this eventually causes him pain.  The computer eventually overheats and blows up.  Afterwards, Bobby gets Hank to agree to leave the lab, but it’s a trick to get rid of him. 

Dark Beast then visits a priest who retells the origin of Hank’s fur to the villain.  The priest is repaid by having his church blown up.  After acquiring some files from the Brand Corporation, Dark Beast is able to turn his fur blue.  He heads to the home of Hank’s parents to learn more about the genuine article.  Evil Hank gets more of his origin filled in, pertaining to the radiation accident that may have given him the x-gene.  Both parents notice something wrong with their son, and just when it seems like Dark Beast might kill them both, he falters and leaves abruptly. On his way out of town, he kills a random passerby. 

As real Beast works on his computer, Dark Beast hacks his computer and leads him to the abandoned Brand Corporation.  Dark Beast traps regular Beast in a box and gloats about all the people in Hank’s life that he has killed.  Enraged Beast bursts free and a fight ensues.  Just when Beast has the upper hand, he realizes he is about to kill Dark Beast and lets up, allowing Dark Beast to knock him out.  When Hank wakes up, he is being bricked into a dungeon.  Beast begs him to let him go and help him cure the Legacy Virus, but the villain seals him in. 

How It Was:  Well when you have a dark version of a character hanging around a super hero universe, it is inevitable that he will end up facing his better self at some point.  While it’s not the most original set up for a comic story, Mark Waid wrote it, so there is actually a little substance to this tale.  Dark Beast is a problematic character because theoretically he shares the same temperament and personality with regular Beast, only without all the patience and ethical concerns; his vague fear of Mr. Sinister, who probably doesn’t know he exists at this point, seems unfounded.  Waid quickly defines the evil McCoy by making him a remorseless killer the likes of which we haven’t seen in the X-books up to this point.  Even when Sabretooth escaped and had a dozen chances to kill someone, he was never allowed to; compare that to Dark Beast who wipes out entire hospitals and restaurants full of people on a whim.  It’s off-putting, but the violence does serve a purpose.  Having racked up an enormous body count by the middle of the issue, I was almost certain Dark Beast was going to kill Hank’s parents, who are probably as crucial to the X-books as all the made-up characters from Hank’s life in this issue.  There is a marvelous sense of tension as Dark Beast reaches for the axe.  In fact, it might’ve ended up a more memorable story and cemented Dark Beast as a more palpable threat long term if he had gone through with it. 

Some of the flashbacks are a little hokey (why is Groundskeeper Willy at Hank’s school), but they establish that downhome mid-western Smallville charm that makes for an excellent contrast with the over-the-top violence of the Dark Beast.  Regular Beast’s experiments are shown for a little too long, and I don’t really get how an electron microscope can overheat and explode, but once he’s lead to the Brand Corporation, it’s worth it to see his reaction to Dark Beast’s remorseless crimes.  It’s unfortunate that most of this is forgotten after Onslaught because although he’s sort of derivative in terms of comics stories, Dark Beast would’ve made a more interesting obsession for Beast to focus on as opposed to the Legacy Virus plot that just kept going and going and going.

Waid injects personality and a hint of humor into the characters (I love the line about Bobby getting a 200 point lead in Scrabble).  And although the two Beasts couldn’t seem more different, Waid wisely uses the corny flashbacks to establish the commonality that both of them need to satisfy their own curiosities when it comes to how things work; Dark Beast just uses living people as opposed to machines and lab equipment.  Both are obsessed with figuring out how things work, and it’s a shame we aren’t given more of Dark Beast’s history to really drive home the similarities and differences.

This is probably one of the best issues of X-Men Unlimited I’ve ever read.  It feels like a narrower focused story, unburdened by the myriad of subplots that would undoubtedly be included in the main titles; however, for the first time most of the book doesn’t feel like padded filler.  Dark Beast seems like a genuine threat, even if he never does anything threatening or interesting while undercover at the X-Mansion.  This could’ve been the foundation for rehabilitating a contrived villain—it’s too bad it never was followed up on, so Dark Beast actually comes across in later appearances as C-level Mr. Sinister.  Still, this is quite a good one.

Everyone Should Read

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #4

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #4
Writing: Scott Lobdell
Art: Gene Ha

Note: Story continues in X-Men #35.
What Went Down:  Nathan is at death’s door as the techno-organic virus is breaking down his body completely.  Apparently he has been in remission for a while, but hitting puberty has caused the virus to flare up again.  Turrin and his people are doing everything to help him, but it doesn’t look good for the boy.  Jean thinks she could help him if she could reach him telepathically, but she says there is psi-interference through the coma. 

Over at Apocalypse’s citadel, the villain is preparing to possess Stryfe’s body, in spite of the protests of Ch’Vayre.  We learn that Apocalypse named the boy Stryfe after an enemy who almost defeated him centuries ago.  The irony being that Apocalypse thinks this boy is an abducted Nathan Summers, but really he is the same Stryfe that will grow up to try to kill him in the past yet again. 

As Nathan is dying, he has an out of body experience, and he is visited by the spirit of a young Rachel Summers.  In the physical world, Scott decides to stay with Nathan in lieu of going on another raid to defeat Apocalypse.  He refuses to abandon his son again after doing it once already.  The rebels attack the citadel.  Turrin is taken out by a psi-attack from Ch’Vayre, who proposes an alliance with Redd. 

Rachel explains that the techno-virus is something he has to accept and that he has more power than any other telepath.  She explains that as the Mother Askani, she brought Nate to this time and created a clone as a decoy.  Rachel explains his destiny as Cable, although she tells him he won’t remember any of this.  Just as Nathan dies on the table, Nate fights and comes out of it.  He thanks Slym for not leaving him and tells him they’re needed where Redd is. 

As Apocalypse prepares to take Stryfe’s body, he taunts Xavier and the other villains he outlived.  He is interrupted by a psi-attack from Jean and Ch’Vayre.  The villain knocks them back and goes to complete the ritual.  Since the boy is a clone, he cannot contain Apocalypse’s essence.  Scott and Nathan show up, and the Dayspring family focuses their powers on Apocalypse. 

As they are about to defeat the villain, Scott and Jean begin fading from existence.  Nathan frees Stryfe, preventing Apocalypse from transferring his essence, and Apocalypse “utters his final cry.” Scott and Jean try to say goodbye to Nathan as they fade away.  Rachel appears to Jean and explains that her physical body died minutes ago.  She says she lived a long life and asks Jean to take the name Phoenix in remembrance of all the good the Phoenix force did.  As Scott fades, he tells Nate he’ll never be alone, and he will be a cable that unites the past to the future. 

After the couple fades, Ch’Vayre explains that Apocalypse’s followers will try to avenge him and find his heir, Stryfe.  He says his resources will protect Stryfe and himself, but not Nathan.  Nathan says not to worry about him as he’s going to put back together the dream Apocalypse dismantled.

How It Was: Well it’s the final issue, and we’re finally getting to the meat of the story we’ve been waiting for.  Here’s the final battle with Apocalypse, which turns out to be very underwhelming.  What it amounts to is the Dayspring clan shooting an old man just before he transfers bodies.  It’s disappointing to see Apocalypse die in such an anticlimactic and lackluster way.  Plus I thought Apocalypse ruled Cable’s future when he was an adult as well, but I could be misrembering.  On top of the toothless defeat of one of the X-Men’s greatest enemies, there’s the problem that Scott, Jean, and Ch’Vayre really have no major contribution to the end.  Ch’Vayre especially, as the only new character we’ve really spent time with, feels like his potential has been wasted by having him focus on the unlikable Stryfe. 

Still this issue does have a lot going for it.  The material dealing with Nathan’s near-death is handled wonderfully.  Gene Ha’s art as the virus breaks down the young boy’s body is surreal and haunting.  And the depiction in his mind of Nathan accepting the virus is really well handled.  Having Scott stay in spite of the final battle is a nice touch, even though as I said last issue we haven’t really seen him neglect Nathan yet.  And then there are the inevitable goodbyes that you’ve been expecting since issue one that are all pretty strong.  Yes we all know Nathan isn’t going to die, and Scott and Jean aren’t going to stay in the future.  But the idea of them being separated from their child is wonderfully handled, even if the trauma is forgotten after a month or two in the other x-titles. 

Along with Apocalypse, it’s sad to see there is no comeuppance for Stryfe, since the boy has killed more in the series than anyone else in the entire story.  Obviously he has to grow up to be the regular Marvel Universe villain, but almost getting possessed just doesn’t seem satisfying enough.  There are also some pretty wonky plot devices going on related to Stryfe.  It’s necessary that Lodell establish a purpose for Stryfe’s existence (a decoy for Nathan) as well as show that there is some difference between the two.  So we get Apocalypse crying about how Stryfe isn’t the authentic child, completely stopping the possession process, followed by saying it doesn’t matter, and he’ll possess the boy anyway.  I do love the touch that Stryfe is named after his future self.

What does work is both the low-key and full-on dramatic moments: Rachel and Nathan talking in his mind, Scott saying goodbye, and Rachel saying goodbye to Jean.  It’s nice to go back to a time when the Marvel Universe didn’t automatically associate the Phoenix with destruction, because that’s not its primary function.  Although Rachel’s reasoning for Jean naming herself Phoenix is somewhat off (as a tribute to the Phoenix force and all the good it did) it comes off more as Jean’s tribute to the incredibly complex and difficult life her alternate reality/possibly future daughter had to live.  Even though the action is a little disappointing, and the resolution is rather abrupt, there are some nice character moments hidden in here.  Plus it does finally clear up some of the tangled continuity about Cable, Apocalypse, Stryfe, and Cyclops.

X-Fans Only

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #3

Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #3
Writing: Scott Lobdell
Art: Gene Ha

What Went Down: We enter on Jean again instructing a now eight-year-old Nathan on using his powers to conceal his disease.  It is difficult for him, but he manages to do it.  Nathan complains about the fact that the family has to conceal who and what they are, and Jean does her best to console him. 

In the heart of the great city, we see Apocalypse and Ch’Vayre interrupting Stryfe as he tortures humans for fun. Ch’Vayre again brings up how Stryfe is being robbed of a childhood, still somehow oblivious to the idea that Stryfe is to be his master’s vessel, even though Apocalypse tells him again.  Back with our heroes, Scott and Jean meet up with Turrin and some other rebels to plan a raid on one of Apocalypse’s facilities.  Turrin expresses regret that Redd and Slym won’t kill in a war, and Jean pulls Scott aside to tell him that he is neglecting Nathan, just as he did back in his X-Factor days.  Many of the rebels share their distrust of the couple with the group, all while Nathan excitedly observes the meeting in a tree. 

Nathan follows the group secretly as they break into the installation.  A robot rebel named Gyak discovers files that Scott and Jean recognize as the Legacy Virus, although this version is designed to kill humans.  The rebels are suddenly ambushed by prelates; Nathan tries to go down to help, but a voice stops him.  Scott and Jean do a good job of fighting back without their powers, although the rebels lament how the couple always wounds instead of kills.  Stryfe appears and tells the soldiers to ignore Ch’Vayre’s orders and kill all the rebels.  Scott feels there is no choice but to use his optic blasts, revealing himself as a mutant.  Ch’Vayre chides Stryfe for panicking the rebels, while the mystery voice instructs Nathan on using a computer, even though he’s never seen one in his life. 

Stryfe sees the light from Nathan’s location and goes after him while Ch’Vayre recognizes Redd and Slym as the rebels who got away.  Nathan and Stryfe meet and are astonished by their resemblance.  Stryfe begins to kill Nathan, commenting on how he can feel the pain.  The voice instructs Nate to fight back, and he knocks Stryfe unconscious.  However, the strain compromises his body’s control of the tech virus. 

The prelates are confused as to why mutants are helping the resistance.  As the facility blows up, Turrin saves Scott while Jean saves Nathan.  We learn that Nathan programmed the self-destruct, and that the voice’s name was Rachel.  Later Scott visits the comatose body of Rachel and thanks her for the help.  We end on Ch’Vayre contemplating how Apocalypse and Stryfe betray the idea of survival of the fittest. 

How It Was:  Issue three of this series continues to depict events without any real feeling or understanding of their significance.  The entire raid has some decent action, but there’s never a point where it feels like it matters to the big picture—the battle against Apocalypse.  Even worse, all the rebels come off as ungrateful and self-serving jerks, complaining about Scott and Jean even though they themselves never seem to contribute to the rebellion in any meaningful way.  We’re introduced to a half dozen new characters, and they’re all either whiney or completely void of personality.  It’s also at this point that I’m starting to see just how incidental Scott and Jean are to this story.  Really we’re just waiting for Nathan to age old enough to be left on his own, and in the meantime Cyclops and Jean are left padding time with adventures that don’t seem to affect Apocalypse one way or the other.  After all, both the rebels and Ch’Vayre decide blowing up the lab is a good idea, so it’s obvious that neither side really cares all that much about its strategic value.

Speaking of Ch’Vayre, the interesting aspects about him have waned.  While it was nice to see him as an outsider and true-believer in the philosophies of Apocalypse last issue, now he’s devolved into this nervous mother figure worrying about and scolding Stryfe.  His compassion for the boy wouldn’t be so bad if Stryfe wasn’t such a spoiled and remorseless brat with absolutely no redeeming value.  The audience wants the sadistic Stryfe to suffer; aligning Ch’Vayre’s sympathies to Stryfe makes him almost as unlikeable.

Lobdell does get some pretty good material out of the conflicted Jean and her knowledge of young Nathan’s fate and the life she is condemning him to.  But other than that, nothing really stands out.  For such a long and padded series, it seems strange that we would have to receive exposition that Scott is neglecting Nathan as opposed to actually seeing an example of it.  All in all this issue is more of the same as last.  We’re teased with reveals that in hindsight never pan out to anything meaningful, such as the Legacy Virus, and the battle driving the plot never seems impacted one way or the other.

Completists Only

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #2

Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #2
Writing: Scott Lobdell
Art: Gene Ha

What Went Down: Jean and Scott, now going by the aliases Redd and Slym Dayspring, have taken the now five-year-old Nathan to the settlement of Coastcrest.  According to Apocalypse’s law, all non-mutants must return to their home for scanning, and this is the location given on their forged papers.  Redd and Slym have spent the last years travelling from town to town, trying to keep Nathan protected.  Scott and Jean are overheard by another traveler speaking Old English, and we learn that Scott’s knee was injured in his fall last issue.  Crestcoast also happens to be home to the remnants of the Askani clan.

Over at the House of Apocalypse, we catch up with Ch’Vayre, finding himself in the midst of a party while condemning his fellow mutants for becoming lazy, weak, and decadent.   Caught up with notions of pageantry and status, Ch’Vayre feels that the ruling mutant race has lost sight of Apocalypse’s philosophy of the survival of the fittest.  Also all of the partygoers are intimidated by him. 

While contemplating his failure to end the Askani Clan years ago in issue one, Ch’Vayre walks into a young Stryfe incinerating one of his instructors.  The soldier tries to explain to the boy how he shouldn’t use his powers on people, but he is interrupted by an elderly Apocalypse, who embraces the boy and greets him.  Once Stryfe leaves, Ch’Vayre expresses distress at the decision to enhance the boy’s powers at his age, but Apocalypse is desperate since each body he takes wears out sooner and sooner. 

Back at the gates of Crestcoast, Jean instructs Nathan how he can hold back his techno organic virus with the power of his mind.  Scott and Jean give a lecture about hard work, and how one day he’ll be accepted for who he is.  At the gates, the guards destroy the group’s transit papers and rough up Scott, thinking the group only human.  The traveler that overheard them speaking Old English has ratted them out for a reward.  Scott takes the beating, hoping to alleviate suspicion, but Nathan decides to attack and bite one of the guards. 

Scott is about to engage the guards when a man named Turrin shows up and recommends the guards back off.  Turrin is mostly machine, having been presumed dead at a raid years ago, but apparently he’s been living in Coastcrest, and the guards use him as a means of obtaining “amenities.”  The snitch argues that Turrin is a criminal, so the guards kill the rat as the group departs.  Turrin takes the group to an Askani stronghold, where they lay eyes on the suffering humans.

How It Was:  Right from the beginning of the issue the creators have over-embraced the idea of Nathan as a messiah.  We see Scott and Jean crossing a desert, with donkey, while Jean holds the young Nathan.  It’s obvious that they’re going for a biblical motif—Jean even has a blue veil on similar to the Virgin Mary.  It’s an interesting motif to go for, and while the script doesn’t do a lot with the Nathan as messiah idea, the art sure makes the most of it.  The cities even look like the sets from a biblical story.  Although the future world is never fully defined, it definitely has a grand scope to it.

Where things get complex is when dealing with the language of this world.  Scott and Jean at times speak in subtitled dialog, which I assumed was the native language of this world.  They are approached by the traveler speaking unsubtitled English, and the traveler accuses them of speaking Old English then, but in English without the brackets that indicate a different language.  While the way our heroes are caught is functional enough, it doesn’t come across clearly in a written medium. 

Also Ch’Vayre is getting a little more interesting.  He’s definitely more likable as a noble warrior in a room full of spoiled and pampered debutantes, but he brings up an interesting question that is never fully addressed.  Apocalypse’s defining attribute as a villain was this idea of honing all life into the fittest survivors: the ones worthy of life.  But this world of privilege and excess for mutants flies in the face of that.  We get some half-hearted excuse that Apocalypse can’t really be bothered because he just needs a new body, but that’s pretty unsatisfying.  The main villain has been diluted into this parasitic body snatcher, which really isn’t that interesting.  We get none of the ruthlessness or cunning seen in Age of Apocalypse, nor the stoic acceptance of fate—the willingness to fight and prove himself worthy, as we did in The X-Cutioner’s Song.  Also, Ch’Vayre seems weirdly fixated on how Stryfe is being brought up when it is obvious with Apocalypse’s dialogue that the boy is just being used as another body.

This is actually a pretty quiet issue.  There’s no real action to speak of, other than Scott being hit a few times and Nathan biting a guard.  Instead we get some of the quiet character moments that Lobdell is known for.  Nothing really stands out though, and it’s all a little slow.  There is a scene showing Jean instructing Nate in his powers, but we get a similar scene next issue so this one is redundant.  Nothing outstanding really happens—the plot just continues to chug along.

Ha’s art is just great; the alien look of Turrin almost makes up for how little we learn about him.  The landscapes and backgrounds as the family travels to the gates are beautiful.  I’ve read reviewers comment about how ugly some of the designs are, but that is sort of the point—seeing the horrifying amalgamation of machine and man that is Turrin is supposed to be…well, horrifying and grotesque.  It’s just too bad this character (or any of the others) never really gets fleshed out or defined.  And although the end isn’t really a cliffhanger, it works because of the pained expressions on the people and the elaborate complexity of walls, pipes, and debris in the room.  You don’t learn much about the organization, but you can feel the desperation and despair in the splash page at the end.

Honestly this isn’t anything groundbreaking.  There are a couple of tidbits for fans—we learn how Nathan got his surname of Dayspring, and see some of his training in his burgeoning powers.  Plus Gene Ha draws such intricate designs for the parts of Nathan enveloped in the virus, as opposed to the standard shiny, metal arm.  The plot’s slowed down after the spectacle of issue one, and what we discover about our main villain is underwhelming.  Still, the art is some of the best you’ll see.

Completists Only

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #1

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #1
Writing: Scott Lobdell
Art: Gene Ha

Note: This story takes place after X-Men #30, but right before X-Men #35
 
What Went Down: Jean Grey wakes up in an unfamiliar setting after falling unconscious during her honeymoon with Cyclops.  Unable to use her powers, she still manages to escape and save a fellow prisoner who just happens to be Cyclops.  Turns out the happy newlyweds have been transported two thousand years into the future to the Askani Cloister during a raid by Apocalypse’s troops.  The remaining Askani are losing, but still fighting, and their leader is an elderly Rachel Summers. 

Rachel is almost defeated by one of Apocalypse’s head soldiers, Ch’Vayre.  The powerless Scott and Jean attack him, and manage to fend him off with the help of a futuristic gun.  While they escape, Rachel explains that Apocalypse rules the world.  The Askani is the organization that took Scott’s son to the future back in the eighties in X-Factor to cure his techno-organic virus.  A clone was created to throw Apocalypse off the real Nathan’s trail.  You see, Nathan is the perfect bodily host for Apocalypse, since the villain wears out the bodies he possesses faster and faster with each one.  Together a cured Nathan and Rachel would be powerful enough to defeat Apocalypse. 

Rachel uses her powers to give Scott and Jean weaker versions of their own powers, since the bodies they inhabit are cloned from their genetic descendants.  Then she falls into a coma.  The couple recalls passing out on their beach vacation, and then they discover Apocalypse’s army.  Ch’Vayre holds up the baby Nathan, and threatens to kill the child if they don’t turn over Mother Askani (Rachel).  Scott and Jean get in another fight, rescue the baby, and flood the area to cover their escape.  Trapped in the future in bodies of their closest genetic descendants, the couple vows to raise Nathan (the future Cable) by themselves.

How It Was:  Even though Cyclops is my favorite X-Man, the idea of him headlining a series without the benefit of the other X-Men to demonstrate his leadership is still a hard sell.  Add in the fact that Jean is along for the ride, and we all know this series is going to be chock full of reaffirmations of undying love and affection.  Still it’s good that Scott Lobdell takes the time to celebrate the couple’s new status quo as husband and wife with a mini that resolves some lingering storylines.

The real reason to buy this book is the artwork by Gene Ha.  Everything is so clear, but looks so alien—the design of the Askani Cloister is a perfect example with its angled and curved walls.  Just looking at it makes you feel like you could get lost in it.  His Scott and Jean duplicates are suitably old and haggard, as opposed to the pinups most super heroes resemble, and Ha’s characters are some of the most expressive I’ve seen in comics.  Rather than just draw Baby Nathan with some metal crap on his face, Ha goes the extra mile and makes something that is creepy and unnerving in its appearance. 

As for the plot, it moves at a decent pace even though it’s all setup.  The body-swap of Scott and Jean is a nice callback for Rachel from ‘Days of the Future Past,’ and realistically Cyclops never got any sort of narrative closure from the eighties X-Factor story where he gave up baby Nathan.  There’s a decent amount of action to break up the exposition, even though the stakes aren’t readily apparent at the beginning. 

Where it falters is that this issue doesn’t really give us much of a feel for the new alien world Scott and Jean find themselves in, nor does it give them any time to really reflect on their situation.  There are some fun comments where Scott pokes fun at the absurdity of Summers family continuity, and they do acknowledge that everything they know is gone, but we never get the “freakout” or any relatable response to these circumstances—Scott and Jean just go on because they’re X-Men and that’s what they do.  Also, the enemy Ch’Vayre is sort of interesting—he’s characterized as an honorable knight-sort who genuinely believes in the order brought by Apocalypse’s rule—but his design, especially his hair, is bland and generic.  In a world where mutants are dominant, I was hoping to see more than a bulked up helmetless-Robocop.

Immunity to shock and despair aside, this is a fun little adventure so far.  Unlike most dystopian Marvel Universes, this one doesn’t have the fun geek appeal of seeing changes to all your favorite characters and concepts because they’re all gone at this point.  What works is the family on the run, and the fact that by the end we have an impossible task for the couple to complete.  Though their reactions are a little too stoic to be believable, it’s still fun to see Scott and Jean face such a huge problem with limited allies, resources, or familiarity with anything.

For X-Men Fans