Saturday, May 17, 2014

300 Posts!

I know I've been struggling to get material on this blog, but it, like me, is still a work in progress.  I apologize that my professional and personal lives haven't left a lot of time and energy for this blog, but I do appreciate those who still visit, and I am still trying to get a more regular writing schedule down.  Until then, I hope you enjoy what I do post, and thank you for visiting.

X-Factor #126

X-Factor #126
Writing: Howard Mackie
Art: Stefano Raffaele

What Went Down:  Forge starts of this issue repaying Mystique and Sabretooth for saving him by painfully reactivating their inhibitors with technology around him.  They regroup with the rest of X-Factor to find that Havok and Random have been captured.  Polaris and Shard are left to guard the prisoners while the rest break up to look for Beast.

Mystique and Wild Child trade banter while overcoming some traps within the building, while Creed fights off some metal tendrils with Forge.  Forge deactivates them, and they continue on while Forge contemplates the series of strange orders Washington has been giving him, the most recent of which has been to work with Sabretooth.  Creed discovers the Beast hooked to manacles that shock him with every step taken on the floor.  Above, Fatale ambushes the two agents, but she is ambushed by Wild Child and knocked out. 

Outside, Polaris lectures Random for lying to her.  Random explains that Dark Beast was helping him control his powers and keeping him from becoming just a pile of goo.  In fact Dark Beast created the Random identity.  He also admits Dark Beast has been messing with Havok’s head. 

Once freed, Beast is eager to rejoin the X-Men to fight Onslaught.  Sabretooth notices that this Beast is actually Dark Beast.  Forge threatens to put Creed down, even though he acknowledges that Creed’s collar should be stopping him, and Wild Child confirms that it’s the Dark Beast.  Meanwhile Alex tricks Lorna into setting him free.  Random breaks out of his restraints in an attempt to save her from Havok.  Havok blasts Random, turning him to a puddle that oozes into the sewer.  Shard leaves Polaris to guard Havok while she goes after Random.  This gives Havok the perfect opportunity to knock out Polaris and admit his treachery. 

Back inside, Forge is still pointing a gun, convinced Sabretooth is attacking the real Beast.  Creed knocks down a wall, revealing the real Beast restrained in a different room.  Dark Beast still tries to convince Forge that he is the good one, but the original Hank McCoy attacks him and knocks him out. 

Shard returns to find Polaris unconscious and dying.  She gives CPR and tells Forge they need to get to the hospital.  Forge orders Fatale to teleport them all, and Dark Beast tells them to do it so that they can bid their time as prisoners, exactly where he wanted to be.

How It Was:  I’ve already written about how bizarre it is that the Beast/Dark Beast plot resolution appeared in, of all places, X-Factor.  So let’s forget about the randomness and ineptitude that lead to that decision and instead focus on the pay off.  After months of being held captive and chained up in a small room—after having dozens…potentially hundreds of people from his life, as well as innocent bystanders, murdered—Beast finally gets his payback on the cruel, sadistic version of himself.  So he kicks the villain once…and then the fight and issue are both over.  What??!!  It’s one thing to shunt the focus of the majority of this story to X-Factor, and Sabretooth and Mystique in particular, but to offer absolutely no satisfaction in the triumph of our hero who has been put through the ringer the last few months is the worst.  The absolute worst!  The only reason X-Men readers were picking up X-Factor was to see how Beast was rescued, and the abrupt and anticlimactic end robs the story of any sense of closure or gratification.  In fact Dark McCoy is gleeful to be captured, in regards to another conspiracy theory with no payoff.

Aside from the lousy Beast thread, nobody else comes out looking too great in this issue.  The plot decisions just seem antithetical to telling an interesting story.  The villains without restraints…that’s pretty cool, but it gets undone by the first page this issue.  Random’s betrayal…apparently he’s been working with Dark Beast since the beginning, retroactively tainting all his previous appearances.  Oh, and the tough bounty hunter is actually a teenager, which is a little weird and disappointing. 

If not for the Beast letdown, the worst offense would be the obvious ruse Havok uses on Polaris to get free, making her look all kinds of awful.  All she had to do was be patient and wait for the authorities to pick up the bad guys, but she frees Havok because…?  Similarly Forge refuses to believe both Sabretooth and Wild Child about Dark Beast, even though they have no reason to lie, and Creed’s inhibitor is letting him hurt the Beast.  Everything is just too predictable…it’s no fun if the audience expects what is going to happen.  It’s fun to have the villains pulling the strings, but not if the heroes are so obviously dumb that there’s no challenge or sense of tension. 

Completists Only

X-Factor #125

X-Factor #125
Writing: Howard Mackie
Art: Jeff Matsuda and Stefano Raffaele

These two issues take place prior to X-Men #55

What Went Down:  Dark Beast has taken Onslaught to his lab, and Onslaught is conducting a painful looking probe on McCoy.  Fatale tries to free her master, but fails miserably.  Former hero, and Cyclops’ brother, Havok shows up too, and Onslaught says he has plans for him.

Over at the Fall’s Edge base, X-Factor is being attacked by a training Sentinel that has somehow been reprogrammed.  Random suggests calling in the X-Men, but Forge orders Mystique to go free their “heavy-hitter” Sabretooth.  Mystique threatens to kill Sabretooth, but frees him anyway.  Both discuss how they are biding their time in X-Factor to fulfill their own agendas.  Creed mentions that Mystique might have feelings for Forge.  Suddenly Fatale appears and abducts both of them.  She also teleports the Sentinel away. 

Forge seems convinced one rogue Sentinel is more dangerous than a missing Mystique and Sabretooth, so he sets X-Factor to finding it.  Random tries to warn Polaris not to go on this mission.  Back at their base, the emergency transmission from Jean Grey warning about Onslaught plays for the empty room. 

X-Factor tracks the Sentinel’s signal to the abandoned Brand Corporation.  Havok and Fatale attack the team; Polaris is heartbroken that Alex has turned villain, while Random again tries to warn her away.  While Polaris shields everyone from Havok’s power, Random reveals that he is a traitor as well. 

Inside the Brand facility, Forge discovers an army of Sentinels.  He is attacked by someone off panel.  Outside, Polaris tries to reach Havok.  Fatale and Havok are about to kill the team, but Random protests about killing them.  Dark Beat appears to tell him the bargain has changed.  Forge and Onslaught’s henchman Post bursts through the wall, interrupting the proceedings and giving Polaris a chance to take out Havok.  Random tries to help Polaris, but Havok shoots him, revealing that Random is really a teenager.  Polaris again tries to reach Alex, and it appears to work; however, instead of trusting him, Polaris decides to knock him out.  Post grows bored and escapes, having succeeded in his mission to distract X-Factor long enough for the Sentinels to launch.

What Else Went Down:  The second story deals with what happens to Sabretooth and Mystique after being teleported.  After surviving a steep drop, the pair is confronted by the Dark Beast.  McCoy explains everything about Onslaught and holding his other self hostage.  Dark Beast wants them to join Onslaught, and offers to deactivate their inhibitors and let them kill Forge.  Mystique and Sabretooth consider it, but decide if they weren’t sanctioned operatives, they couldn’t use their positions for their own purposes. 

Sabretooth attacks Dark Beast; McCoy gets the upper hand, but Mystique uses her shape-shifting abilities to create pointy armor for herself.  Dark Beast almost kills both her and Forge, but Sabretooth saves them both and continues to fight.  Creed is about to kill him, but Forge stops him because they need information.  Dark Beast activates a teleporter, explaining that the real Beast will be dead before they can find him. 

How It Was:  A double-sized Onslaught tie-in issue.  How did I get so lucky?  After Peter David left X-Factor, the book struggled to find an identity.  No longer the quirky, funny book with the C-list X-Characters, it tried to become the edgy, violent book with C-list X-characters.  Too bad nobody at the X-offices realized that title was already called X-Force.  X-Factor’s attempt to stay interesting and relevant to fans was to have Mystique and Sabretooth recruited by the team and forced to work with more traditional mutant heroes. 

As for its attempt at ecking out its own identity, Mackie seems to be going the conspiracy angle with multiple characters having different conflicting goals and motivations, from the villains to the government funding X-Factor itself.  This is all well and good considering they are the government based X-team—why not introduce some X-Files like government conspiracies and political intrigue.  The problem of course exists that none of these motivations or conspiracies feel planned ahead; Sabretooth, Mystique, and Dark Beast all insist that they have specific reasons for the things they are doing, with no substantial hint as to what they might be.  Forge recognizes there might be strange motivations for including villains on the team, but again nothing is done with this. 

As an Onslaught tie-in, this story offers a unique opportunity to bring in new readers by showing how great and interesting the team is.  Instead we see a team that struggles to take down one Sentinel.  One!  And it’s a Sentinel that Forge was rebuilding.  Right off the start the X-Factor team isn’t looking great, especially when over in books like X-Men and Uncanny, the X-Men, Avengers, and FF are taking out Sentinels left and right by themselves. 

Another problem is how telegraphed the twists are.  Random warns Polaris twice that she shouldn’t go on the mission, and then we’re supposed to be surprised when he says he’s working for the villain of the issue?  None of this feels laid out or natural to the character as established.  Havok being a bad guy is interesting, since he is the character that became synonymous with X-Factor after the original X-Men left.  The downside is that his defection (at this point the story was that he was being brainwashed by Dark Beast) reduces Polaris to a simpering and whiny character that gets tiring after a while. 

This issue should feel bigger than it does: Post shows up for like four panels (?!), the Sentinels that attack New York are activated here, and Sabretooth and Mystique get their inhibitors deactivated.  Of course failing to stop the Sentinels makes the team look incompetent, and the other two things are quickly brushed to the side.  It feels like the plot is trying to cram in as many Onslaught related concepts in it as possible without actually contributing to or moving the story along in any meaningful way; of course, this was the main problem with the majority of Onslaught tie-ins.

Finally, we pick up on the captive Beast subplot that has appeared in all three X-Men titles.  Why the X-offices would choose to resolve this months’ long story in X-Factor is beyond me. None of the characters have a close connection with Hank; it just feels like the team had nothing better to do than resolve this plot line that has nothing to do with them.  Just some baffling choices.

Completists Only

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.

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