Friday, September 07, 2007

X-Men: The End: Book One: Dreamers and Demons

Chris Claremont’s X-Men: The End sounds like a dream project for a lot of people, myself included. After being so rudely jettisoned from the book he made into a legend back in 1991, he failed to make much of an impact since his 2000 return. Has time passed him by, or is the marketplace just different? This project, the hypothetical last X-Men story, would seem to give him free reign to create something interesting and unique, to finally wrap up the story he started in X-Men #94. Now, I’d argue he already gave us the perfect X-Men: The End story, back in Fall of the Mutants, when the X-Men sacrificed their lives to save the world, and changed peoples’ view of mutantkind in the process. But, the series has obviously gone on, and now we’re back for more.

Because this is such a long series, I look at it more as something like the Morrison run than a real ending, a creator given the freedom to make changes and do what he wants with the book. I went into the series with modified expectations based on the generally negative reaction the book received from critics as it ran. I think that helped me enjoy it more than I otherwise would have, but by the end, I really started to agree with the criticisms, mainly that there’s way too many characters and too much cosmic space stuff, taking the focus away from both the characters and the thematic heart of the X-Men.

That said, I really enjoyed the first two issues. While it was frustrating to start with Aliyah, Bishop’s daughter, and her adventures in space. Much like the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me opening, it’s annoying to have to go through this seemingly unrelated prologue before getting to the meat, but when we finally do get to the appearance of the Phoenix, it’s a dazzling moment. The Phoenix emission brings all the characters together for a central event, like the frogs in Magnolia, a way of connecting the many different pieces of this massive narrative.

That worked well, as did the next issue, in which we catch up with a bunch of different characters and see where they are at this undetermined point in the near future. I love the scene with Gambit and Rogue breaking into some facility, it’s fun and energetic, with beautiful art from Sean Chen. Throughout, Chen makes things look great, it’s a really slick, epic production. I also liked the fact that Wolverine and Storm wound up together. Claremont always played the two of them as close during the post Mutant Massacre days, when they led a team of new recruits. It was implied they were friends with benefits then, and this plays that out to its logical end.

The tough thing about the book is that it features such an absurdly huge cast. It feels like Claremont threw every single character that ever appeared in an X-book in here. Now, I’ve read every single issue of Claremont’s original run, the Morrison run and a bunch of New Mutants and X-Factor, but even with that I found it hard to keep up with the barrage of characters. When 90s era people show up, I get a bit tripped up, and that particularly hurt me with the issue that focuses on the cast of X-Force. I recognized Boom Boom from X-Factor, but the others were all early 90s Lielfield crew.

The first three issues are fairly tight despite the many characters. Sinister is the central villain, he’s got a scheme against the X-Men and it’s centered around Jean Grey. There’s a few running subplots, but it’s manageable. However, as the book goes on, it just becomes tough to keep track of. The aforementioned X-Force issue was really tough to follow, and having to go on Wikipedia to identify the characters takes out any emotion the story had.

It was nice to see Maddy Pryor back, but unfortunately this was lame villain Maddy Pryor, drawn in a way that didn’t look like the character. Eventually it turns out that she, like many of the random people in these last few issues, are warskrulls. This trick gets old, and though I was thankful for it here, it didn’t work elsewhere. If this is The End, let’s play things out to their logical ends and put the real characters in jeopardy, don’t hoax, dream or imaginary story me.

Though things get a bit convoluted in the back half, the end of the last issue brings things back together. The destruction of the mansion, conveyed in a double page spread with the lone caption “They saw it in Washington” is extremely effective, and will hopefully give all the characters an excuse to come back together.

It’s interesting to see how Claremont created a new version of the X-verse, cherrypicking elements from across the mythos. There’s obviously a lot of his stuff in here, but plenty of Morrison too. Scott and Emma are together, the junk sentinels return as does the focus on the school side of things. One of the most interesting things for me is the meta commentary in the captions. I’m not sure who’s supposed to be talking, but each issue begins with a narration that talks about the X-Men. Technically this is talking about the characters within the world, but it feels meta. The most notable one for me was the idea that people forget there are people behind the myths, a reference to the way they are now seen more as a brand than as characters.

I’m curious to see where things go. The first three issues had me hooked, but things slipped off since then. Still, if he tightens things up, or at least clarifies where the narrative is going, this could be a great farewell to the X-Men. If nothing else, it’s nice to see Claremont able to sculpt the entire universe again, and not be subject to the random whims of nonsensical editorial decisions like Decimation. With his health in decline, Claremont may never write a core X-book again. So, even if this isn’t really the end for the X-Men, it could be his final major statement in the universe. I hope it lives up to what’s come before.


Jason Powell said...

Did you ever finish X-Men: The End? Part of me hopes you didn't, because it's so disappointing. What you wrote about X-Men 1-3 from 1991 being an appropriate ending is right on, I think. Stick with that as the end of the Claremont X-Men. "The End" is a sad failure.

Patrick said...

I haven't read the other two parts, but I do have book 2, so I'll probably get to them at some point, or at least to book 2. This would seem like the ideal project for Claremont, but this whole End series has no definitiveness, so it's basically just a meaningless Elseworlds story.