Sunday, February 26, 2006

X-Men 266-273 (X-Tinction Agenda)

It's the second to last X-Men review post, as the six month, 200 issue journey approaches its finale. When last I talked about the X-Men, things were not looking good for the book, with the team splintered, plots loose and directionless. These issues restore direction, in what seems like an elaborate meta commentary on the book's direction following Inferno.

But before that, issues 266 and 267 see the resolution of the Storm as child thief arc, and include the introduction of the character who's Claremont's last significant contribution to the X-mythos, Gambit. While he's had some evolution since, the basic appeal of the character is present from the start. He's got the disregard for rules of Wolverine, but with a more suave, wordly demeanor. Even though the storyline with the Shadow King here is a bit convoluted and misguided, it's still fun to watch Gambit and Storm work together.

268 is a rather pointless issue in which Wolverine flashes back to a mission he did with Captain America during World War II. This reminded me of a few Angel episodes which featured similar historical adventures for our hero, and generally speaking, they don't work too well. It never feels organic to the character, and is more about name dropping. What is important about this issue is it sees Jim Lee become the regular penciller, and his work is significantly better than the other artists who were doing the book, even though it is a bit too early 90s.

269 sees the return of Rogue. She'd been missing since the business with Master Mold back in 247, and keeping her out of the spotlight was a major mistake. She was one of the best developed remaining characters, since Kitty and Kurt were sent off to Excalibur. Side note, I watched Sex, Lies and Videotape earlier today, and Laura San Giacomo would have been an ideal choice to play Rogue if they were doing the movie back in the late 80s or early 90s. Anyway, this issue is pretty good, and I'm intrigued by what will happen with Rogue and Magneto in the Savage Land. There's a lot of potentially interesting stuff here, though it gets some time off for the big crossover.

The first three X-Men crossovers were all pretty fantastic. Mutant Massacre is arguably the high point of the book as a whole, I would say it's even better than Dark Phoenix. Fall of the Mutants would have been a perfect end to the series, and Inferno is just so over the top you can't help but enjoy it. So, X-Tinction Agenda had a lot to live up to. This crossover follows the mold of Mutant Massacre, where a major crisis sends all the teams into chaos. This crossover actually marks the first time that all the X-teams have actually teamed up together.

The major problem is that the crisis they're teaming up for just isn't that engaging, it lacks the emotional pull of the morlock massacre, or the character based storytelling of Inferno. Instead, it's basically a replay of stuff that Claremont already covered back in the original Genosha storyline, this time with Cameron Hodge. Now, I haven't read the issues of X-Factor that led up to this, but the idea of this guy's head mounted on a giant robot spider is pretty ridiculous, he's such an over the top evil villain that it's hard to get involved in the crossover. There's no emotional conflict about whether they should defeat him, it's basically just a bad guy they're going to fight. Compare that to the conflict surrounding Maddie back in Inferno, where Scott is at least partially guilty for everything that happens. This is more of a gung ho, this is a bad guy, let's go get him type of story.

The major attempt to lend emotional strength to the story, as well as raise the stakes, is to kill Warlock. It's an effective scene, but it felt too much like they were just trying to say that this is an important story, that it's not a real threat unless a character dies, and unfortunately, Warlock had to go. So, that felt a bit crass, like they were trying to get that same level of emotional involvement that the Morlock massacre leant to the first X-over.

Reading this as someone who's only read the X-Men issues, the story isn't that important. This is much more about resolving things from X-Factor and New Mutants, and since the X-Men are so disjointed at this point, it's hard for them to actually play a major role in the story.

One of the major developments for the X-Men is the return of Alex Summers, the man who's suffered more than any other X-Man, he's reaching a Nate level of suffering. This is a guy who's just trying to live in peace, until he's possessed by Erik the Rd and made to fight his own brother. Then he crashes his car, and his girlfriend is possessed by the evil entity Malice. So, he goes to the X-Men and they want to kill him. He then gets involved with Madylyne Pryor, who gets possessed by a demon and turns him into her demon prince. Then, he goes through the Siege Perilous and winds up as a guard in Genosha, where he's soon sent to kill his own brother. Considering all he went through, you'd think he'd have some good karma, but apparently, the siege chose to screw him. Anyway, it was good to have him back and see things resolved between him and Scott by the end. Perhaps he can patch things up with Lorna, who hopefully isn't still a giant, that was one of the dumbest plotlines Claremont's come up with.

Anyway, I think the strongest emotional arc in the crossover was Rictor and Rahne's dashed chance for love. His guilt about letting her go back and her transformation into a mutate were really strong and emotionally engaging even for someone who wasn't that familiar with the characters. What was more contrived was playing off the Logan/Jean relationship yet again. It's always hinted at, but for no real reason other than to get people talking.

One of the major figures in this arc was Cable, who at this time was just an intense military leader, there's no indication that he is in fact Scott's son. Cable here is a very early 90s figure, all attitude and guns, clearly playing off what made Wolverine popular, except without Wolverine's underlying humanity. He's almost a caricature, but at the same time, he does make some points that are relevant. He reminds me of season seven Buffy, with his take the fight to them mentality. And much like it was in season seven, his speeches get annoying. The odd thing about Cable now is that he really isn't very cool looking. he rocks a light blue shirt, blue/white boots and his face always looks a bit weird. And he's also got the absurd overmuscling that afflicts many of the characters here, notably Scott, who apparently spent a lot of time working out since his jump over to X-Factor.

The crossover has a bunch of little character events, but on the whole, not much happens. It's basically Hodge captures and tortures some X-Men, they try to fight him and lose, he captures and tortures some more, then they fight him and lose. Then they fight him again and win. It's difficult with a 9 part crossover because we know whatever they do in parts 1-8 will not defeat him. So, there's this lengthy buildup and by the time they actually do win, it's not that exciting. The problem with an invulnerable foe like Hodge is there's no progression. You have no sense of them winning the fight, or even what the stakes are. And it's ridiculous at the end when just his head is still able to fight Scott and Alex. Whoever thought of the head strapped to a robot body concept was clearly not thinking straight at the time.

Another issue I have with the crossover is the idea that capturing these "innocent children" is so wrong. The New Mutants seem to be more competent than the X-Men, so when the media in the story tries to play it as these children in peril, you feel like they're manipulating the facts in the X-Men's favor unfairly. You're actually sympathetic to the Genoshans, because they're getting misrepresented. Also, shouldn't the media make note of the fact that the "child" who died was in fact some kind of alien?

The most thankful development to come out of this whole crossover was Storm's return to adulthood. The child Storm plot was dumb and undermined a lot of the brilliant development in the character's past. It's something that makes no sense and has no real emotional value for the character.

So, this isn't the best crossover, but it was still a fun read, and thankfully returned some sense of order and momentum to the X-Men. The book really couldn't have kept drifting like it was during the 250s and 260s, and if it took a less than great crossover to do that, it's worth it.

The issue following the crossover seems to be a meta commentary on the direction of the series. When Storm is criticized for the X-men pose as dead plan, it also functions as a critique of how that worked out from an artistic point of view. I think that was a great idea in theory, but as I mentioned in some of the previous reviews, they never followed through on it. Gateway's powers made the X-Men too powerful, and we never got to see the emotional impact of their decision. This was largely because Claremont spent too much time on extended action storylines and never delved into how the characters felt about what they did.

Similarly, when Jean Grey is talking about how she feels like the mansion is her home, it's talking about what people think of when they think of the X-Men. After all the experimentation of his run, Claremont at last returns to the mansion for the first time since the Mutant Massacre, and with most of the classic team intact. While I think Claremont lost control of the book, the conservative vibe here is a bit disconcerting, the idea that such wild experimentation was misguided is not something I'd agree with, and at this point, the mansion seems like an alien place. But I suppose after all this crazy journeying around, the most unexpected thing to do is to return home. It's like "All that You Can't Leave Behind" after Zooropa and Pop, part of you is happy to have that familiar world back, but at the same time the return to the familiar construes the experimentation as failure.


Loz said...

I'm interested that you don't seem to think there's anything in the X-Tinction Agenda for the X-Men, when it's actually bringing the new team together?

Otherwise, I really like your series on Claremont's run. I wouldn't agree with all of it (I quite like when the X-Men crossovered here and there with the rest of the Marvel universe, and I liked the complete collapse of the team post-Inferno) but that would be boring if I did, right?

Patrick said...

X-Tinction Agenda is certainly crucial for the X-Men as a team, but it doesn't have much to do with the plotlines and character arcs that were going on at the time. There's some interesting stuff for Storm, but other than that it's almost entirely about resolving stuff from X-Factor and New Mutants. That said, I would definitely agree that it's a critical turning point for the book as a whole.

As for the collapse, I think it was brilliant in theory, but in practice we ended up with a lot of disconnected storylines and a few misguided character choices, most notably the Storm as child storyline.

And I'm glad you enjoyed the reviews, I feel like the run works well as a cohesive whole, but no one seems to address it as one large work. I think it's because there's so much reading to be done to fully understand it, most people will stick to Dark Phoenix and think they got the best part. At least they're continuing with the Essentials volumes, in a couple of years, the whole thing will probably be available fairly cheaply. said...

Here, I do not actually imagine it will have effect.