Wednesday, December 07, 2005

X-Men 222-229

I'm back moving forward through X-Men history and these issues see a bunch of important stuff happening, including the famous Fall of the Mutants storyline. I've been following Claremont's stories for a long time now, I started reading Essential X-Men Volume 1 back in August and I'm still going. That's a testament to the quality of Chris' writing, it's amazing that after over 130 issues, he can still keep things fresh and interesting.

222 is the wrap up of the Marauders attack storyline and it's pretty solid. There's some good stuff with Havok and Lorna Dane, as Malice takes a lot of joy in messing with Alex. Over the course of these issues we see Alex become arguably the core of the team, taking over where Scott left off. He's the first one to voice his approval for the sacrifice in 227. We also get some interesting stuff with him and Maddy Pryor, as they become closer after he stops her from kiling herself in 223.

During this chunk of issues, the X-Men are based in San Francisco, which is described as a place more tolerant of mutants than elsewhere in the country. I don't think it takes a genius to see the allegory here, more than ever before, Claremont is pushing to the fore the idea of mutant as allegory for oppressed minorities. This is commonly regarded as the essential theme of the series, but it's only since the Mutant Massacre that it's really become an issue. I think it's very interesting stuff to address, and is something that only this comic can do. I love how the X-Men are constantly on alert, struggling to stay ahead of numerous threats. That lack of a status quo is a large part of what makes this chunk of the run so strong, we really do get the sense that the X-Men are always in danger.

Concurrently with this stuff is Storm's journey with Naze. This is one of those subplots that has some interesting stuff, but is ultimately too long for its own good. It seems to take forever for Storm to reach Forge and as she travels along, all that happens is she runs into a bunch of mystical foes and we hear Naze make vaguely threatening prophesies. I do like what it does for the character of Storm. Storm has gotten the most interesting development over the course of Claremont's run and this stuff is essential, as she's forced to confront her feelings about Forge. It's a testament to the strength of LifeDeath I that it's still able to fuel storylines roughly forty issues later. But, there was a really strong connection between the characters and you do want them to resolve their differences and finally get together. So, there's tension about what will ultimately happen, but too much of this subplot just seems to be filler, so that the climax of that storyline will coincide with the Fall of the Mutants stuff.

Back with the other X-Men, a prophecy states that they will die and something bad will happen in Dallas, so they're drawn to Dallas. I really liked the scene in issue 224, where Mystique warns Rogue about what Destiny had seen, she's still looking out for Rogue even if they're fighting on opposite sides of the law. The other cool thing in these issues was the return of Colossus, who had been MIA since the end of the Mutant Massacre. I was wondering what had become of Kitty, Nightcrawler and Piotr, so it was good to finally get some followup on that. Colossus is one of Claremont's better creations and it's good to have him back.

Even though I really admire the decision to bring on a new team of X-Men and keep things fresh, none of those characters are as strongly developed as the original Claremont team. Part of this is due to the fact that they are new, the original team had over 100 issues to develop, and perhaps in 100 issues, these new people would be just as interesting. But at this point, the character subtleties just aren't there.

But that's not that big a problem because Claremont has moved to a more plot based storytelling style than the character based soap opera stuff of the Paul Smith era. I loved that stuff, but it came about as the result of a long time in development for the characters, so in this case it makes sense to rely on stronger stories driving things forward. Still, I would like to see some more romance and interpersonal intrigue among the characters.

The most interesting character stuff happens to Wolverine and Storm. Here we see Wolverine in a different sort of role, as the tough love leader of the X-Men. This is quite a development for the character, as he moved from being on the fringe of the X-Men to leader, sculpting the team to match his pragmatic attitude towards violence and risk. He's always willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the team.

And it's Wolverine's leadership that brings them to Dallas where there's a three issue standoff outside the Eagle building. I really enjoyed this storyline, though there are some issues with it. I liked the way that we see Freedom Force and the X-Men team up, their logic overwhelming any natural adversarial tendencies between the groups. There's a great moment where Rogue thinks 'mom' and Mystique thinks 'daughter.' It's one of those moments that's a bit cheesy but still works on an emotional level.

The stuff surrounding the Eagle building is a bit nonsensical. In fact, I wasn't sure exactly what was going on for most of the storyline. It's clear that some being, the Adversary, is trying to make his way into the world and destroy it. However, the fact that this results in dinosaurs and weather distortion seems like unneccesary spectacle thrown on top of the story. And bringing in Roma, a god, is one of those fantastic things that doesn't mesh so well with the relatively realistic X-Men universe. In a work of fiction, you can get away with one major twist of reality, the conceit of your work, in this case the idea of mutants. So, someone like Roma doesn't fit into this twist and as a result feels like a deux ex machina.

However, the emotions of the showdown in 225 and 226 work well. Particularly in 226, you really get the sense of this showdown as an apocalyptic event, something massive on a scale the characters have never faced before. This is supported by the presence of Neal Conan, the NPR reporter. His presence was needed for the fake deaths, however it works well within the story to allow for some espousing on the need for tolerance for mutantkind. This theme is backed up by a really odd sequence where a bunch of Indians ride in to help the X-Men, only to be gunned down by some redneck hunters. This predates the red state/blue state divide by nearly 20 years, but it's right along the same lines, the actions here showing the legacy of intolerance on which the nation is built and must struggle to overcome. 226 is definitely the high point of the storyline, as tension builds to a huge level and the sense of doom is inescapable.

Over with Storm, 226 sees a really odd sequence in which her and Forge are transported to another world where time passes independently of ours. So, Storm goes off on a year long journey around the world, going to Africa where she ponders if on this world she might be the goddess she's constantly asking for help in ours. I really like that idea of someone becoming the thing that they pray to through a quirk in time, very Invisibles. So, she wanders back to Forge, who has built a device that can give Storm her powers back out of the materials in his bionic arm and leg. That sounds a bit ridiculous, but it makes sense in the story. We finally get Storm and Forge together here, having apparently overcome the issues that separated them in the first place. There's some crazy stuff going on here, and a lot of really interesting concepts. Claremont is tossing off ideas here that could form the basis of entire series.

So, Storm gets her powers back. Even though this is a bit of a step back, I preferred Storm without her powers, it makes sense in her character arc. Once she learns how to function without her powers, she can finally have them returned to her, now able to integrate Ororo the woman with Storm the goddess. It's a great moment as Storm opens a gate in the sky and returns them to the world they left, leaving the Eden they could have flourished in for the problems and trauma of our world.

While the buildup to everything was strong, I was a bit disappointed by the payoff in 227. In this issue, the adversary finally shows himself and Forge has to cast a spell to bind him. Everything here happens a bit too fast, dulling the emotional impact of events, plus the nature of the threat is still a bit unclear. It all seems so arbitrary. In 226, the events were played like the X-Men could really die, however here, the choice of the X-Men to sacrifice themselves happens so fast, you don't get any sense that they're actually in danger. In one page they're dead and a couple down the line we're with Roma and they're back. So, while the plot point is served, we get no emotional impact from the death of the X-Men. I believe that the crossover titles did play this out, and we get a little bit with Kitty Pryde, but I think it would have been cool to do an entire issue showing the impact of Neal's broadcast and addressing the fact that the X-Men are dead, then bring them back after that.

However, that's not what happened. There is a certain coolness in the fact that they're all so willing to go to their deaths. Wolverine is the first in line and the rest follow suit. I love Madelyne Pryor in this storyline. She's a regular human, but has nothing left in the human world and as a result, she's fighting alongside the X-Men, totally commited to what they're fighting for. The most emotionally relevant moment of the issue is her message to Scott before she dies. That's a fantastic moment. I'm not usually one to become particularly attached to one character, but Maddy Pryor has been a favorite of mine since her first appearance.

Another nice emotional beat is Forge walking out of the building, shamed. It would seem that the public is now in support of the X-Men. This is another reason I'd want to see an issue about the reaction to their death, they head off to Australia and that means that we don't get to see what their sacrifice does for the perception of mutants in the US. It would seem to be cutting out of this storyline at its most exciting time.

228 is an awful issue, the story is weak and while reading it, I was really anxious to see what had happened to the X-Men, so I was impatient. This reminds me of the Buffy episode 'Anne,' which seems deliberately designed to annoy the viewer by spending a lot of time away from the main characters, even as you want nothing more than to see what's up with our crew. So, in terms of building suspense, it works, but annoying your audience along the way isn't the best way to create suspense. I can't imagine this issue went over too well back when there was a month long wait between issues.

However, with 229 we're back and start to see the X-Men's new status quo. The X-Men have been dumped in Australia after being reborn and they are now invisible to scanners, so they can move about unharmed, what with the public thinking they're dead. Here, they fight a bunch of man/machine hybrids called the Reavers. This is a pretty strong issue, the fight is satisfying and more importantly, the end of the issue introduces yet another really bizarre concept, in the form of the siege perilous. After defeating the Reavers, the X-Men are debating what to do with them. They can no longer bring criminals to the authorities, doing so would expose them to the public. So, Roma brings them the siege, a device that will send people through some kind of dimensional warp and give them a just fate on the other side. It's a very cool concept and has a lot of story potential.

I really liked the debate between the X-Men over whether or not to kill the Reavers. Wolverine and Psylocke are all for it, but Storm proves the voice of reason here. She seems to be the X-Men's moral compass, if she is willing to kill someone, then they can get killed, but otherwise, it will not happen. So, the Reavers go through the siege and the X-Men are left with a new tool for dispensing justice.

This is a really tumultuous period in the book and the death at Dallas brings to a close stuff that had been developing since the Mutant Massacre, if not earlier. It's not as strong or cohesive stuff as that first crossover, but it's still really engaging storytelling, full of crazy ideas and a constant messing with the status quo. I love the fact that the X-Men haven't been at the mansion since the Mutant Massacre, the constant moving around has made things more interesting. I constantly want to know what happens next and that's a great testament to Claremont's storytelling.

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