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The X-Men Are Dead, Long Live The X-Men (Comics)

Reading 150The end of the Marvel Universe came and went before Uncanny X-Men #600 hit the stands, and it’s anyone’s guess why the powers that be decided to wait as long as they did. Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s big gun writers, had wrapped up the final issue of his years-long X-Men run earlier in the summer only to have it delayed by several months. Nominally, it would have been a great post-Secret Wars story that serves as the capstone to Bendis’ arc with the mutants and a good prologue to usher in the new status-quo set eight months after…well, whatever happens at the end of Secret Wars.

But delays have kept the ending to that multiverse-reshuffling story off the shelves, so here we have the end of one era for the X-Men and the beginning of a new one; the same week Uncanny X-Men dropped, Jeff Lemire’s first issue of Extraordinary X-Men came out too.

The end of Bendis’ X-Men run was laden with all of the problems I’ve had with his treatment of the title all along. Maybe he’s spreading himself too thin here; maybe there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to the mutants; maybe too many events and crossovers kept him from doing his best work. But jumping Jesus, All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have been a hot mess for a long time.

Ever since the Battle of the Atom crossover (which saw three versions of X-Men from the past, present and future duking it out), it’s been really tough to get a bead on what Bendis has been going for with the titles. Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Storm have been acting and re-acting to each other without a clear sense of what drives those actions, and there’s been precious little in the way of character growth for anyone save for the folks that Bendis have brought on, like Eva Bell and Goldballs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great characters — but you get the sense that Bendis doesn’t quite care about the rest of the gang.

Full disclosure: I’m a Beast fanboy, born and bred, and I’m willing to admit that most of my dissatisfaction with Bendis’ run comes down to his treatment of Hank McCoy. Under his writing, Beast mutated again, into some sort of oblong-headed, bat-eared, ape-mutant; brought the original five X-Men forward into the future; irrevocably broke the fabric of space and time by doing so, leading to the collapse of the multiverse; got a tongue-lashing from none other than the Watcher before he was murdered; and finally has to endure an “intervention” where pretty much every mutant who hasn’t stood with Cyclops calls him out. Through all of that, Hank has done little in response beyond look sad and then keep doing what he’s been doing.

So “The Trial of Hank McCoy” is…underwhelming for such a landmark issue. The gathered X-Men accuse Beast of breaking the laws of time and space, physics, nature; they want to “help” him, though they’re really vague about what he needs help with and what that help would mean; and Beast pretty much rants at them, calling down shame, saying “to hell with you!”, packing his bags and leaving in a huff. Before he leaves, he gets to see Cyclops — the entire reason he brought the original five into the present in the first place — hold a televised peaceful demonstration that…somehow proves him right?

It’s frustrating to see these characters you love twisted into shapes you don’t recognize by writers who don’t understand them. And I say this knowing full well that I’m just dude with a blog ranting about a fictional character in a universe that allows for Spider-Man, The Blob, The Punisher and Squirrel Girl to exist right alongside one another. I get how this sounds.

But there’s not a lot of cohesion to Bendis’ story with the X-Men. The only feeling you’re left with after reading #600 is “well…that happened.” There are interludes where young Bobby Drake confronts his older self about his sexuality, with Jean Grey there to provide the commentary, and the older Iceman’s reasons for remaining closeted all this time are actually pretty solid: because of who he was and who he ran with, he wanted just one part of his life to “feel normal”, even if that meant denying a basic part of himself. Those of us who exist in multiple minority spaces can sympathize with that — it can feel like you’re fighting against the current in every aspect of your life, and sometimes you’d give anything to know what it’d be like to not have to do that. I wish there had been more space devoted to this, but so far there’ve only been two whole scenes exploring the psyche of Bobby Drake. It’ll be interesting to see how this is handled elsewhere.

Ultimately, Uncanny X-Men #600 is a fitting capstone to Bendis’ run. The emotional beats are seldom earned, characters behave in confusing ways, and you’re never quite sure what to make of what’s happening. As a fan of Bendis’ work in the Ultimate Universe, I really wish he had done better here.

Jeff Lemire takes over from there in Extraordinary X-Men #1, and while a lot of the building blocks of the story are worn smooth by now there’s enough potential there that I’m curious to see what happens next.

Eight months after the end of Secret Wars and the restoration of the Marvel Universe, mutantkind are dealing with another extinction-level threat. The Terrigen Mists of the Inhumans are causing an illness in mutants and rendering them sterile; the rise of one race means the end of another. Against this backdrop, Cyclops’ stunt at the end of Uncanny #600 has caused humanity to lose their sense of respect (??) for mutants. Knowing they’re on the ropes and unlikely to fight back, mutants are being ostracized and eliminated to prevent the spread of “m-pox”.

Storm has taken leadership of the mutant nation now, and Iceman is her second-in-command. Right off the bat, it’s exciting to see Bobby step into a leadership position. Despite the fact that he’s apparently one of the most powerful mutants to ever exist, he hasn’t really lived up to his potential. It’s quite possible he’ll get to do so here.

The first issue is “the collection,” the part of the story where a catalyzing force realizes the need and taps heroes on the shoulder. Magik is put to use as the travel agent, locating mutants in trouble and bringing them to the Haven, a secret location where the X-Men are based. She goes for Colossus, of course, who is content to live out the rest of his days with a farm and a bottle of vodka. When she tells him he’s needed, he tells her he just wants a normal life — the same thing Jean Grey tells Storm and Iceman when they come to collect her.

Already, members of the team feel like they’re facing the same problem in different ways. Storm has doubts about her ability to lead mutantkind; Iceman has never really had any responsibility for anyone before; Colossus has never had a taste for the craziness of the X-Men; and Jean Grey doesn’t want the burden of being a symbol for Xavier’s dream. Almost none of them want to do what they’re being called to do — they’re doing it because they have to.

Nightcrawler and Old Man Logan round out the team — or will, once the former is rescued from a mysterious band of mercenaries collecting mutants as test subjects, and the latter once Storm and Bobby convince him to come along and figure out what his deal is. I get the feeling that the issue-ending reveal of the old Wolverine is supposed to be a big shock, and it probably would have been if Secret Wars had ended on time.

The art for both issues is pretty strong; Bendis has a number of collaborators for #600, and while it could have been distracting to have wildly different art-styles bouncing around between scenes it mostly works here. There’s enough continuity in the character models that you’re not left wondering who’s who, and there are some great dynamic panels that lend a sense of motion and emotion to the proceedings. (You can tell I don’t know how to talk about art here.)

But the artistic team of Ramos (pencils), Olazaba (inks) and Delgado (color) is pretty wonderful in Extraordinary. The character designs are crisp — cartoonish, but grounded — and the color palette does a great job at enhancing the mood of every scene. And not for nothing, but the new-look Colossus? Super hot. God. Damn.

The story for Extraordinary X-Men is likely to be unpopular. We’ve already covered the mutant race with their backs against the wall before, and the rumors that Marvel is effectively swapping out the Inhumans for the mutants seem to be 100% true. It’s kind of interesting that the editorial office is leaning in to the controversy by having the Terrigen Mists actually BE the reason for the extinction of the race.

But still, I’m hopeful for mutantkind. Even though they’re in possibly the worst situation they’ve ever been in story-wise, they’ve got good writers on their titles. It’ll be interesting to see how Lemire handles the relationships among Storm’s team. How will the adult Bobby react to the teen Jean Grey? Magik and Colossus haven’t seen eye-to-eye in quite some time; is all that bad blood really under the bridge? How is Storm going to get along with Logan? How does Logan deal with everyone else? I suppose we’ll see.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in Comic Books, Reviews

 

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A Black Geek’s Guide to All-New, All-Different Marvel

Reading 150I fell in with comic books through Marvel, and I’ll never forget it. I was vaguely aware of comics growing up — how could you not know about Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man — but the first time I heard about a story that made me think “I have to read this” was the Age of Apocalypse saga, where Charles Xavier’s insane son goes back in time to kill Magneto but mistakenly kills Professor X instead. For four glorious months, the entire line of X-Men books were replaced by a post-apocalyptic hell where Apocalypse has taken over the world and a desperate band of humans and defecting mutants are trying to stop him. I had never heard of a storyline as ambitious as that, and I don’t think there’s been a crossover Marvel has pulled off that well before or since.

Ever since then, I’ve jumped in and out of the comic stream. I left for a while, came back for Grant Morrisson’s New X-Men run, then left for a while and came back for Bendis’ All-New X-Men run, and now I’m lapsed again. I wish I hadn’t — Hickman’s Avengers work is currently wrapping up on the Secret Wars crossover, which has basically destroyed Marvel’s entire multiverse and replaced it with a patchwork world where Dr. Doom is God. This is the end-game of Hickman’s work across Fantastic Four, FF, Avengers, New Avengers and Avengers World; he’s been leading to this for years. It’s that kind of long-form storytelling I really appreciate and applaud, and I wish I had been reading the story in real-time.

This month, Marvel is releasing the comics that come after Secret Wars; we catch up with the multiverse eight months after the end of Doom’s Battleworld and the restoration of the multiverse. However, this is a chance for the company to pull a line-wide reset on every single title, so there’ll be an enormous wave of brand-new comics hitting the shelves over the next few months. So which comics are worth getting in your local shops every Wednesday? Which are fine getting digital? And which ones do you probably want to wait for the trade paperbacks on?

Marvel is doing a lot of really different stuff with this launch, featuring a great array of diverse books featuring African-American, Native American, Asian-American and women superheroes front and center. Captain America is still black; Thor is still a woman; the Avengers will feature those two as well as Ms. Marvel (a Pakistani Muslim), Ultimate Spider-Man (half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales) and Kid Nova, Sam Alexander. Of the seven folks on the main roster, only the original Iron Man Tony Stark still has his spot.

Diversity is given a serious run here, and I think it’s important to show Marvel we dig what they’re doing. It’s not enough that we show up on message boards and at Comic-Cons asking for it; when they’re giving us what we want, we should show up at the comic book shops too. Personally, I’ll buy the paper version of any title I think needs the support most; the titles that will probably be fine but I still want to read will get bought digitally; and the stuff that I’m curious about but not sold on will have to wait for the trade paperback. I only have so much money, after all, and a geek’s got to eat.

So here’s my pull list for All-New, All-Different Marvel. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!

PAPER COPY, EVERY WEDNESDAY
Black Panther
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Art by Brian Stelfreeze

I’ve only recently been turned on to Ta-Nehisi Coates this year, and already he’s become one of my favorite voices in all of black geekdom. So when I heard he was getting the keys to Black Panther, there was simply no way I could miss that. The first twelve-issue story arc will feature a revolution in Wakanda, and T’Challa trying to figure out how to deal with it. I cannot wait for this. This is going to be amazing.

Howling Commandos of SHIELD
Written by Frank Barbiere; Art by Bren Schoonover

A motley crew of monsters — including a robot version of Dum Dum Duggan, Warwolf (a gun-toting werewolf), Man-Thing (a gigantic swamp creature) and Hit-Monkey (a…deranged monkey?) — take out supernatural threats while struggling with their own monstrous natures. This book is too insane not to take up; I really dig the theme of trying to do good while being fundamentally apart from a society that will never accept you. This is one of the more bizarre concepts Marvel is throwing at the wall, and while I don’t expect it to last very long I really want to support it while it’s there.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Written by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclaire; Art by Natacha Bustos

First of all, Devil Dinosaur in his own ongoing! Moon Girl is a pre-teen black girl named Lunella Lafayette who is also a dormant Inhuman; however, she doesn’t want superpowers. She wants to continue being the prodigy she is, so she’s looking for ways to prevent transformation. That desire to stay who you are, to hide the weirdness inside you, is a really compelling hook for me. Also, this is one of the few ongoing comics to be (co)written and drawn by women!

Totally Awesome Hulk
Written by Greg Pak; Art by Frank Cho

Amadeus Cho is the new Hulk! Gone is the brooding Bruce Banner; Cho wants to embrace being enormous and green. This comic hands the mantle of the Hulk to a Korean-American prodigy, featuring Greg Pak returning to the title he’s best known for, with Frank Cho pulling art duties; two Korean-Americans creating a superhero comic with a Korean-American protagonist! You can’t do better than that.

Red Wolf
Written by Nathan Edmonson; Art by Dalibor Talajic

This is the biggest question mark; this version of Red Wolf hails from one of the patchwork realities that made up Battleworld in Secret Wars, so Marvel won’t get into any issues with portraying a real Native American tribe, but…is that better? While they will have a Native American artist doing covers, it remains to be seen just how the character will be treated and what the book will look like. Still, just making the attempt is something, and I’m planning to see how it shakes out.
DIGITAL
Uncanny Inhumans
Written by Charles Soule; Art by Steve McNiven

The Inhumans are being set up as a mainstay of the Marvel Universe moving forward (whether we like it or not), and this will probably be the flagship title for them. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Charles Soule, and I’m curious about this little corner of the comic universe; with Agents of SHIELD setting up the Inhumans incredibly well in the cinematic universe, I’d like to read more about them. Mutant and original X-Man Beast is defecting to their crew, and where he goes I follow.

All-New X-Men
Written by Dennis Hopeless; Art by Mark Bagley

It is not a good time to be a mutant after Secret Wars. The Terrigen Mists, which have been released into the biosphere, have rendered them sick and sterile. The surviving mutants are warring with the Inhumans as they fight to keep their species alive. And the time-displaced original X-Men — Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel — are still in this reality. Determined to lead by example, they’ve set out to be the superheroes they know they should be. I’m really curious about this take on the X-Men; it feels like a bit of a throwback but at the same time tackles the “nature vs. nurture” question in really interesting ways.

Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Sarah Pichelli

Miles Morales is probably one of the only people who’ve made it out of the Ultimate Universe, and that’s probably because he moves so many books; still, he’s a really compelling character and I cannot wait to see how he fits in with the main universe. Bendis made his bones on this title 20 years ago to usher in the Ultimate Universe, so he has an amazing handle on this character and where to take Morales next.

Ms. Marvel
Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan has, in many ways, lead the charge of this all-new, all-different Marvel. Her introduction to the main universe was a surprise hit for the company, and she’s being placed in a position of prominence during this reconfiguration initiative. Not only is she one of the Avengers now, she’s also getting a brand-new volume of her massively successful solo comic; I cannot wait to see what G. Willow Wilson (one of the only Muslim writers working in comics that I know of) has in store for her after Secret Wars.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Valerio Schitti

ROCKET RACCOON IS IN CHARGE! After Secret Wars, Star-Lord has left the Guardians to become the leader of the Spartax Empire, which means Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Venom have to find a way to make do on their own. They’re joined by an alternate-universe Kitty Pride as the new Star-Lord and the Thing finally fulfilling his potential as an astronaut. Bendis has actually been killing it on this title ever since he took it over, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the team comes together after all of these changes.
TRADE PAPERBACK
All-New, All-Different Avengers
Written by Mark Waid; Art by Mahmud Asrar and Andy Kubert

You have to hand it to Marvel; they aren’t kidding around with remaking their universe. This is a directive to shake things up from the top down: the Avengers are almost completely changed — Iron Man is the one guy who’s a member of the Big Three, joined by the new Captain America (Sam Wilson), the new Thor (Jane Foster), Vision, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Nova (Sam Alexander). I’d be worried about the roster if it weren’t for Mark Waid, who excels at taking titles in great new directions that inject a sense of serious fun into them. This is the perfect team for his style.

Extraordinary X-Men
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Humberto Ramos

I’ve been a fan of Lemire ever since he broke onto the scene with the excellent, strange post-apocalyptic tale Sweet Tooth; the success of that book has propelled him onto DC’s main titles with a run on Green Arrow before Marvel’s snapped him up to shepherd the new flagship X-title. Storm is leading the mutant nation through another extinction crisis with Colossus, Magik, Nightcrawler, Forge, the present-day Iceman, the time-displaced Jean Grey and Old Man Logan. Marvel’s X-Men are always at their best when they’re put in the hands of great writers with distinct voices, so this is a great move.

Weirdworld
Written by Sam Humphries; Art by Mike del Mundo

I really should pick up the Secret Wars miniseries before picking up this title, but I find it so intriguing. Weirdworld is basically Marvel’s sword-and-sorcery universe, and they’re pulling it out of mothballs to give it a go. It’s so rare for one of the Big Two to go in this direction that I have to see what they do with it; I don’t think it’s going to last very long, but I want to throw my money at other projects I think are more important to support.

So that’s it: 13 titles that I plan on supporting once All-New, All-Different Marvel gets going, and there are plenty more that I would like to take a look at — the new Howard the Duck, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, The Ultimates (featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spectrum, Ms. America and Blue Marvel), Power Man and Iron Fist, just to name a few. Simply put, it’s a VERY good time to be a Marvel fan.

 
 

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