Note: Story continues in X-Men #35.
Monday, March 3, 2014
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.
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.
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.
The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #1
Writing: Scott Lobdell
Art: Gene Ha
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
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
X-Men Unlimited #4
Writing: Scott Lobdell
Art: Richard Bennett
What Went Down: Mystique kills a US General for working with the Friends of Humanity. In a mansion in France, Graydon Creed has been living with some random woman. The couple is interrupted by a private investigator Graydon has hired; the investigator confirms that Sabretooth and Mystique are his parents and offers to reveal the identity of his brother for more money. Enraged, Creed beats the man, offering to spare him if he reveals the information. After the man whispers it to Creed, Creed kills the man. When his sugar momma demands Creed leave, Creed threatens her and mentions he has issues with being kicked out and abandoned.
At Dulles Airport, a disguised Nightcrawler scares an abusive father into being nicer to his son. Rogue shows up and chastises him, as both mutants wonder why Forge has summoned them. They go to Arlington Cemetery for the funeral of the murdered general. Both notice Graydon Creed in attendance right before the priest insults the dead man and kicks over the casket. The corpse has a bomb attached to it, and the priest is revealed to be Mystique. Rogue gets rid of the bomb while Nightcrawler pulls Mystique from the soldiers firing on her. Mystique punches Kurt, mentions some vague hints about his birth, and escapes. As the guards close in on Nightcrawler, Rogue flies him off.
Forge questions Graydon Creed about Mystique’s appearance. After he leaves, Rogue and Kurt come out and discuss Mystique. Forge reveals that during Mystique’s treatment, she went through his files. Forge then tells the two X-Men that they may have a chance of reaching the good part of Mystique, although he refuses to tell Nightcrawler why.
Rogue and Nightcrawler fly to Mystique’s house in Caldecott, Mississippi. Rogue recalls her first meeting with Mystique, before she took Rogue in and raised her. The two split up, and Nightcrawler flashes back to a memory flirting with his foster sister Amanda Sefton.
Creed confronts Nightcrawler and reveals they are brothers as he attacks Kurt, and that Mystique is their mother. Graydon explains that Mystique was posing as a German Count’s wife, but was discovered when Kurt was born a mutant. While a mob chased her, Mystique lost the baby and it was thrown over a waterfall.
As the two brothers fight, Rogue remembers the triggering of her powers with a boy she liked named Cody. When Cody appears in the present to comfort and taunt her, Rogue realizes it is Mystique in disguise. Rogue wants to know if she ever knew the real Mystique. While the two women argue, Graydon shows up with the unconscious Nightcrawler. Mystique explains he abandoned Graydon when he turned twelve and didn’t develop mutant powers, and that he killed Kurt as an act of self-preservation. Mystique actually turned into a villager and was the one who threw baby Nightcrawler in the waterfall.
In the present, Mystique shoots at Graydon, who teleports. This Graydon was Nightcrawler using an image inducer, with the real Graydon dressed in Kurt’s costume. Creed summons an attack helicopter to kill Nightcrawler, Rogue, and Mystique. Rogue attacks the gunship, but is forced to stop in order to save Kurt and Raven. Mystique lets go of the cliff on purpose so Rogue will rescue Nightcrawler. As Nightcrawler wonders why Mystique did what she did, Rogue flies him off into the sunset.
How It Was: Continuing the trend of focusing more on villains than heroes in the last two issues, here we get the spotlight placed on Mystique. The problem is that the Mystique in this issue is very inconsistent, going from tragic and misunderstood to completely psychotic and unremorseful in the span of mere panels. Lobdell picks up on some vague hints Chris Claremont had put in about Mystique and Nightcrawler looking similar back in the eighties. The revelation that the two characters were mother and son didn’t do a lot for either character.
As with every issue of Unlimited, the story is quite padded out. The opening murder scene is seven pages just to establish Mystique killing a random general for working with the Friends of Humanity. Many of the flashbacks also seem unnecessary; it’s good to include the scene of Rogue first meeting Mystique (Question: Why does little girl Rogue have a shotgun?), but the scene of Rogue’s powers first triggering is an unnecessary retread. Also Nightcrawler’s flashback to the circus doesn’t do anything but establish his pattern of hitting on foster sisters (he hits on Rogue earlier in the book).
But I’m nitpicking. One aspect that works really well in this book is the idea that Rogue doesn’t know how to rectify the mother of her childhood to the Mystique of present day. That’s a great angle since Rogue obviously has love for her, but doesn’t know if she was being manipulated or if Mystique really cares about her. Nightcrawler doesn’t fair as well; he gets beat up a lot this issue, and while Mystique does sacrifice herself at the end for him, there’s every indication that she doesn’t really care about him. Speaking of which, the end is completely absurd where Nightcrawler can’t teleport to safety and Rogue, who can lift cars and take out helicopters, can’t carry Nightcrawler and Mystique at the same time.
So the plotting is pretty scattered and drawn out, and things happen for no clear reason (why wouldn’t Forge tell Nightcrawler his relation to Mystique right there?), and Mystique and Creed both come off as homicidal maniacs as opposed to villains with believable motives. While the main attraction is supposed to be the revelation of Nightcrawler’s mom, the real highlights involve Rogue trying to come to terms with her own feelings towards Mystique.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
X-Men Unlimited #3
Writing: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Mike McKone
What Went Down: Maverick breaks into a church to discover the grisly murder of a priest. He is tracking Sabretooth, and discovers the mutant holding another dead priest. Sabretooth is on a killing spree because his assistant Birdy, a telepath, died and is no longer around to give him the “glow” which calms him down. The two fight, and Sabretooth manages to stab Maverick with his claws before fleeing. Maverick decides he needs Wolverine’s help. In Germany, we see an old man named Mr. Geinstach attempting to hire a mercenary named Bashur to kill Sabretooth because of his killing spree. It turns out all the victims were members of a government operation, even the priest. Bashur refuses the job since the potential for failure is so high, but recommends Maverick and Wolverine. He also deduces that Sabretooth’s next target will be in Japan due to the conspiracy.
In Westchester, Gambit is freaking out as Rogue drives like a maniac on the road; Maverick is tracking them. When the X-Men return to the mansion, Bishop greets them with his guns drawn. He was worried because they entered without activating the perimeter override, but apparently it can just read biosignatures, so it doesn’t matter. While all the X-Men argue, Maverick attacks them with anesthetic gas and tranquilizer darts. After taking down the three X-Men, Beast and Professor X show up and calmly ask Maverick what he’s doing. He’s here to recruit Wolverine, and decided it was somehow easier to attack the X-Men first. Beast explains that Wolverine left the team after losing his adamantium, but offers the X-Men’s help.
Sabretooth meets with the merc Bashur, asking where he can find a telepath. Bashur tells him that there is one on the Yahsida estate, and that Maverick is already on his way. On the Blackbird, Bashur contacts Maverick and tells him what he told Sabretooth. Maverick and the X-Men debate whether they should kill Sabretooth, and the team decides to split up. Rogue, Gambit, and Bishop go to Germany to protect Geintach, while Beast and Maverick go to Japan.
In Germany the X-Men find everyone dead, and Sabretooth ambushes them. Rogue accidentally absorbs Creed’s memories, and Bishop is forced to let Creed go for Rogue’s life. In Japan, the remaining two protagonists meet with the Silver Samurai and agree to help him fight Sabretooth, despite having been adversaries as recently as X-Men #22.
Sabretooth fights through the ninja guards and discovers that the telepath in question is an old man whose mind shut down after the bombing at Nagasaki. The man wakes up long enough to link everyone’s minds. Creed thinks back to his Team X days when he was assigned to kill a man and his family. Creed had to chase the young boy, who only wanted to say goodbye to his pet rabbit. Sabretooth has been killing everyone connected to this operation. When Beast wakes up, the old man has been killed by Sabretooth, with messages of help written in blood on the walls.
Sabretooth decides to go to the X-Mansion. Professor X calmly greets him and holds him off with his mental powers. The X-Men show up and Bishop shoots Creed in the head. Using this opportunity, Xavier enters Creed’s mind to view a memory of a young Creed locked in a basement and forced to kill a rabbit to survive. Having learned harshly that killing is the only way to survive, Xavier feels sympathy for Sabretooth and offers to help him. He tells the X-Men that Sabretooth will be staying. We end on Creed and Xavier standing in the Danger Room simulating the outdoors. Xavier explains that he is a prisoner, and that Charles is man enough to stop him.
How It Was: This is a slight improvement over last issue and does significantly impact the main titles for years to come. Also it works a lot better because the focus of the story, Sabretooth, has a lot more to do and say this time, as opposed to dozens of people just talking about him. Sabretooth actually feels dangerous here as he’s finally allowed to kill people, and while the bunny rabbit thing is corny, I like what it says about the character. The idea that he was conditioned as a young child to think that killing is a means to survival, that attachment is a weakness, well that’s as good a take on what motivates Sabretooth as any. It’s better than, “I just like killing people because I’m evil.”
The X-Men don’t come out too well this issue. They get taken down once by Maverick and again by Sabretooth in a matter of a few panels. What’s worse is how repetitive the action is. Sabretooth holds a character by the neck and threatens to kill them no less than three times this issue. Although I will admit that the repetition does pay off in the climax when Bishop once again has Sabretooth at gunpoint and just shoots him in the head. Maverick doesn’t get a lot to do once he shows up to explain the plot to the X-Men, and the Silver Samurai is similarly wasted. Sure we get to see him eventually in his armor carrying his cool glowing sword, but he doesn’t ever actually use it. His only role is to be the caretaker of the plot device old man.
You know who does come out great in this issue? Xavier. Man he’s tough, not even blinking when confronted by Maverick or Sabretooth. The surety of his position is fantastic as he makes his decisions without giving a crap about his students’ positions because he knows that morally he’s right. Who are they to judge Sabretooth when he hasn’t had any of the benefits that the other X-Men have had?
Mike McKone’s art is disappointing. When characters are standing around and talking, they look fantastic, but any time they fight on the same panel it looks awkward and stiff. Thus the emotional stuff works a great deal better, and the action is dialed back quite a bit. There’s one bizarre sequence where the X-Men are between Sabretooth and the telepath, so he dives through a door or window and ends up next to the telepath. Also Gambit’s eyes should be red in the opening, but that’s not McKone’s fault.
Ultimately this is a much more satisfying villain-centric story. It’s still padded out quite a bit (the killing debate could be a little shorter), but there’s enough here to make you think the writers have bright plans for the future of Sabretooth and the X-Men. Xavier gets some awesome moments, and although Sabretooth’s flashbacks are a little sappy, they work as a way of taking him beyond the two dimensional maniac he’s always been, especially now that Wolverine isn’t around anymore.
X-Men Unlimited #2
Writing: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Jan Duursema
What Went Down: Our giant-sized story starts on a flashback of Magneto fighting the East German army as the military tries to overtake Wundagore Mountain. A soldier named Adrian Eiskalt and his brother Ute flee the battle, but Ute stumbles into and knocks over the tombstone of Magneto’s wife Magda. Enraged, Magneto kills Ute and leaves Adrian…who swears revenge.
This flashback was actually a story Adrian was telling his psychiatrist. The doctor tells Adrian he has to let go, even as he fantasizes about killing Magneto. At Empire State University, Gabrielle Haller gives a lecture on the history of Magneto, and whether he should be labeled a dictator or a crusader. On a plane to Manhattan, Adrian reads the book Fatal Attractions—a study on mutants and Magneto. Adrian mistakes a passenger for Magneto and almost kills him with a poison needle disguised as a pen.
Once in Manhattan, Adrian watches an ABC News special where Ted Koppel interviews J.B. Chambers, the author of the Fatal Attractions book, and Graydon Creed. The author offers that humans can live with mutants, and that there is merit to Magneto’s positions. The next day Adrian has breakfast with Gabrielle Haller, asking for her help in apprehending Magneto, even though he means to kill the Master of Magnetism. Gabrielle can sense Adrian’s personal stake, and tells him he will doom himself.
On a boat in the Atlantic, Exodus appears to the New Brotherhood of Mutants, but only tries to recruit Phantazia. She refuses, and the other members are offended that they weren’t selected. Later Adrian interviews the Toad about working with Magneto and listens to the tape. We next see Gabrielle Haller talking to Moira MacTaggert about their previous relationships with Charles Xavier. Gabrielle asks Moira about her studies of Magneto when he was regressed to a child, and also asks for her help neutralizing him. Moira still blames herself for Magneto not turning out right, so she agrees.
At a Genetech Bio lab, scientists show Adrian and Gabrielle the new armor that will hide Adrian from the magnetic spectrum (these are the suits that Storm stole the plans for in Uncanny #305). He is also shown a plastic taser to be used to capture Magneto, but Adrian knows he can modify it to kill.
In Washington, Peter Gyrich, Val Cooper, and Alexi Vazhin meet with Gabrielle and Adrian. The first half of the Fatal Attractions crossover has occurred, so it is confirmed that Magneto is definitely alive. The government agents debate the merits of attacking Magneto, while Adrian thinks he knows where the mutant will go.
At Wundagore Mountain, Magneto is once again visiting the grave of Magda. Adrian sneaks up on him and has him targeted. Suddenly Adrian returns to the flashback and reveals that Ute—his brother, pulled a gun on Magneto, and it was the ricochet off Magneto’s forcefield that killed him. Adrian drops his gun, and the two men look at each other with understanding. Adrian attempts to shoot himself in the head, but realizes he’s lost nothing except for the hatred he’s been carrying.
How It Was: Hard to believe that once upon a time you could get a sixty page comic in the nineties for the price of a twenty page comic today. Then again, if this was the standard for content today, would you want to pay that at all? This issue is a loose tie-in to the Fatal Attractions crossover. It’s not part of the crossover, but it deals with its events and focuses on its main antagonist Magneto. Much as Magneto’s crusade against humanity is a response to the death of his family, we are given a new protagonist inspired by a dead brother to gain our new perspective on Magneto.
Although Adrian is very one note, there is something fascinating about the way he ignores his surroundings as he focuses on Magneto’s death. This story works best when it does juxtapose Adrian’s quest with Magneto’s, and whether Magneto is motivated by compassion or vengeance or ego or guilt. We see all these outsiders weigh in on Magneto, and the only hints we get from the actual man are when he visits his wife’s grave, which could lean toward any or all of the motivations. The art is very nice looking as far as the characters go; in the first couple of pages, Magneto looks awe inspiring. Unfortunately the backgrounds let down the image somewhat, as some of the tanks and soldiers don’t look like they’re drawn properly in the background, giving the impression that Magneto is just attacking tiny men. Also, it seems unnecessary in the latter pages to draw Adrian exactly like Gambit from the neck up. There’s also a tiny error with a word balloon that is pointing to Graydon Creed when it should be pointing off panel as the response from his opponent.
The real problem with this issue is that there is far too much exposition. Yes his history during the Holocaust is very important to our understanding of him here, but it just never ends. Gabrielle’s history of him lasts for four pages! Toad talks about resenting him as a member of the Brotherhood for another six! With sixty pages to fill, it’s obvious that Nicieza is padding out this story as much as possible, but the story suffers because of this; we get away from Adrian and his perspective as all these other characters ramble on.
And it’s not just Magneto exposition here. There’s the TV debate that is three pages of summarizing the themes of the X-Men, and nine pages with a scientist explaining Adrian’s tech. He repeats how it will make him invisible to Magneto like three times. This writing just isn’t succinct or gripping and it really waters down the main conflict.
Worst of all, the end tries to create a twist, but really it isn’t a twist, it’s just that information has been withheld until the end. Ute pulled a gun on Magneto, which Adrian decides makes his whole rationalization moot. The problem is that this fact really weakens Adrian’s position throughout the book. Adrian himself is a soldier, so he should understand the principles behind self-defense. Also it cheapens the conflict within Magneto; I much prefer the idea of Magneto overreacting over a personal trespass directly after fighting a huge battle. One of the great metaphors of Magneto, which is used this issue, is that in trying to prevent another Hitler he becomes more like the man. It might be nice to see Magneto have to confront this aspect of his worldview and personality. Also, it seems odd that Adrian would collect all this info on Magneto when he was just going to sneak up and shoot him in the back.
This might’ve made an okay forty page story in an annual, or even a decent ten or twenty page story. But there’s too much here that distracts from the main ideas this story is trying to get across. I will admit as a comic fan it is neat to see all these nods to continuity, from the Silver Age to the Claremont/Jim Lee stuff, but ultimately it detracts from the story. There is a lot of attention to detail, but most of it isn’t in service to the story. Plus after going through all of that, it’s disappointing to see Adrian drop his gun without even a word exchanged by the two men.