Saturday, November 19, 2005

X-Men 214-221

Essential X-Men is only up to issues 213, so with this review I move onto material I've been reading in the original issues. I'd read some early New Mutants stuff and I remember the coloring being absolutely awful, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that the colors in these issues were actually pretty good, and added a lot to the book. While it would be easier to just read the Essential volumes, I don't really mind having to pick up the singles.

Anyway, in a lot of ways X-Men 213 and the Mutant Massacre are the end of the story begun when Claremont started the book. 214 is the last we see of Kitty, Nightcrawler and Colossus, as they're shipped off to Muir Island to heal and eventually pop up in Excalibur. However, since I'm not reading Excalibur, it's pretty much it for them. I've always thought that Kitty was Claremont's favorite character, and though she isn't that well known, she's one of my favorites too, the way he wrote her was great and she's clearly a huge influence on Joss Whedon's writing. And Nightcrawler is a great character too, it's tough to lose them, but mutant means change and in this next chunk of issues, the book definitely changes.

214 is sort of a coda for Mutant Massacre, and leaves our heroes in a really desolate state, questioning the very existence of the X-Men. I always love these 'all fall apart' type issues, when plots converge to destroy things for the characters. This issue brings back Dazzler, and adds her to the X-Men team. However, the real highlight in this issue is how Malice's attack messes with Wolverine, causing him to question his senses, and as a result really doubt how effective he can be as an X-Man. It's a great use of Malice as a device to mess with the status quo.

The next couple of issues have an arc that takes Wolverine and Storm out to the wilderness to duel with a group of retired superheroes who decide that they have to kill these mutants. I'm not a huge fan of the woods setting and contrived action setup, but thematically it works really well to show the ways that the X-Men have evolved from traditional humans, and from the traditional idea of the hero. These people are World War II vets who are out to kill a yuppie couple. Storm finds herself protecting a drug addled woman, even though protecting her may get both of them killed. It plays a lot with how Storm's moral code has developed, she's got no problem killing her enemies, and is even contemplating killing a civilian if it will protect her.

At the same time, Wolverine is reduced to savage status upon smelling the scent of Jean Grey at a crime scene. I like the way Claremont is able to use the ridiculous plot contrivance that brought back Jean Grey to his advantage, gradually teasing her eventual revelation to the X-Men.

The next couple of issues follow the new X-Men team that has been assembled after the Mutant Massacre. It's got Rogue, Psylocke, Longshot and Dazzler, all of whom are actually pretty interesting characters once they get their time in the spotlight. The way Claremont writes Dazzler reminds me a bit of Boy from The Invisibles, in that she's a reluctant hero, someone who seriously questions their place on the team and what she's doing there. Her power isn't as impressive as some of the other X-Men, and more importantly, she wants to be a musician, not a hero. So, she seems to be putting herself in danger by doing something she doesn't really believe in.

This is all addressed as she battles Juggernaut. I'm not a fan of Juggernaut, so it's not good that he continuously pops up in the book. There was a funny bit when Juggernaut is very sad when he thinks he's killed Dazzler because he's a fan of her music. This little story chunk is mainly about showing the new team bonding and it works well. By the end of things you get a sense of who the characters are. Longshot is pretty funny, and reminds me a lot of Anya from Buffy, with his humorous observations about our world from the point of view of an outsider, notably with the line about them eating "burned animal flesh and unborn baby birds" for breakfast. Longshot is also notable for boldly rocking a mullet.

The next issue sees another addition to the new team, Havok. Havok is another reluctant hero, dating way back to Claremont's first couple of issues, he's constantly been at odds with the X-Men, trying to live an isolated life as a mutant. However, he ventures to New York and finds the X-Men. This issue is most notable for the first appearance of a solution to the problem the X-Men are facing. My favorite thing about this era of the book is the sense of constant turmoil the characters face, this truly is a world that's out to get them, and there's nowhere they can escape from this world that's out to get them. They're outlaw heroes not fighting for good, just fighting to survive. That's what makes it such a strong book right now, all morals are compromised and people are just struggling to survive, this is most notable with Storm and Wolverine, both of whom are the senior members of the team, and most aware of what's been lost.

Next is another really strong issue with sees Storm journey to Forge's residence, and relive some of the events of LifeDeath from a new perspetive. Having read Lifedeath only a couple of months ago, I didn't really need the recap, but it was probably needed at the time because over three years had passed since the issue. I really like the fact that she seeks her powers because she feels she needs them to lead the X-Men, it's not about her own personal desire to fly again, though she clearly still has that desire.

The most recent issue I've read, 221 is a really strong one, picking up on one of my favorite plot threads of Claremont's run, the journey of Maddy Pryor. The sequence in 215 where she relives the plane crash and gets taken to the hospital is great. Here, we get the first appearance of Mister Sinister, a villain I was a big fan of as a kid, mostly because he was cool looking. I still have his action figure up in my room, so it's good to see him in the comic. I love the idea that Sinister has erased Maddy's indentity, it further emphasizes the us vs. them feeling of this segment of the book. The X-Men have to break the law to protect Maddy, and in the process make themselves even more estranged from society.

I think the reason I love the Maddy Pryor stuff is that she's so neglected in X-Men history, having been literally bumped out of the way by Jean Grey, abandoned by her husband. It's tragic stuff, and I sympathize with her more than I do with Scott. The idea of someone who falls through the cracks struggling to make her way is really interesting, who does Maddy have left now, she's almost completely alone, and I already know that things do not lead to a good place.

The other thread that comes to a head in this issue is the return of the Marauders, now led by Polaris. There's a lot of dramatic potential there, and there's not too much in this issue, it's mainly set up for the future. The marauders remain a constant threat on the characters, the primary thing keeping them always on the edge, and that's where these people should be. X-Men is a book that should never have a status quo, it should be constantly evolving, and that's why I'm glad to see Claremont taking the book in a new direction, even if it means losing Nightcrawler and Kitty.

I've now been reading this book since the summer, it's probably going to take until the end of the semester to finish Claremont's run, and I'm constantly surprised by just how good it is. He's writing one of the greatest longform works in comics history, consistently entertaining, with strong, consistent thematic and character development and long building plot threads over more than 125 issues. I'm rereading Watchmen for a paper now, while I wait for the next set of issues to arrive, but after that, the journey through X-history will continue.


Jonn said...

ahoy! another comment. did you post your watchmen paper?

Patrick said...

I just did it's right here. It's about the nature of time in Watchmen and The Invisibles.