Wednesday, July 14, 2010

X-Men: Second Coming

A look back at Marvel Comics’ latest mutant event and the X-Men’s transition into the ‘Heroic Age’.

By Paul Steven Brown

Warning: This article may contain spoilers for the 'X-Men: Second Coming' crossover, Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age, and last weeks X-Men #1.

Crossover events are meant to have two purposes. The first is to drive up sales. This can be beneficial for a title that clocks in low numbers on a regular basis. By attaching them to an event, the sales figures usually jump, at least for the duration of the crossover. The hope is that some of those new readers will stay after the event has concluded.

The second purpose is to generate a new status quo, whether this is line wide or for a specified segment of a company’s monthly catalogue. Marvel Comics ‘Heroic Age’ (more of a theme than a crossover) not only restarts their Avengers line of books, but offers a new atmosphere in which their superhero universe of books will exist in for the next year or two. ‘Second Coming’, which wrapped up this week with its fourteen chapter X-Men: Second Coming #2, was specific to the X-Men line of books.

While there were a number of significant occurrences during the course of ‘Second Coming’, it wasn’t a total game changer for the X-Men books. If you want examples when the mutant titles underwent a major restructuring, content overhauls after a crossover, look to the event that ‘Second Coming’ is a sequel to, ‘Messiah Complex’. After that event, the school had been destroyed (again), the X-Men were heading to San Francisco. New X-Men had been cancelled, and its replacement Young X-Men was about to debut. The previous adjectiveless X-Men became X-Men: Legacy and a Professor Xavier solo book. A new grim and bloody X-Force was launched. And X-Factor was in the process of moving that team to Detroit and further distancing itself from the epicenter of mutant events. Go back nearly a decade to when the entire line was completely overhauled with Grant Morrison and Joe Casey taking over the two main X-Men books and number of mutant titles cancelled or entirely revamped.

Now that ‘Second Coming’ has finished, all books involved have only undergone some minor changes. Uncanny X-Men is still set on Utopia outside of San Francisco. X-Men: Legacy will continue to be about Rogue and the New X-Men kids. New Mutants appears to be picking up on a plot thread that was set up before crossover with its cast intact, despite a bit of scarring. Though X-Force has been officially cancelled, the X-Force: Sex & Violence mini-series, written by series creators Craig Kyle and Chris Yost will be around for three months before the new Uncanny X-Force debuts with a slightly altered cast and agenda.

This is not to say that nothing happened. There were some major deaths and the first being that of the very recognizable and popular Nightcrawler (this was warmed up by Karma losing a leg and the death of a very minor character, Ariel). While Kurt Wagner died as a hero, the main purpose was to demonstrate that the stakes were very high. I don’t want to say that it was a shock death, since it did serve a purpose in the story. However, I can’t help but image the creative meeting between the editors and the writers as they decide on which character they needed to kill at this point in the story. Nightcrawler has been around for quarter century and known not only to comic fans that don’t usually read X-Men books, but due to the movies, the mainstream. Also, Kurt had been significantly underused for the past couple of years. Sure, he had been a support player, but he had not been a major player in the mutant books for a quite some time.

The other big death was that of Cyclops’ son, Nathan Christopher Summers, the man called Cable. Interestingly enough, at one time he was considered to be the ‘Mutant Messiah’. Upon completing his mission and defeating Apocalypse (you know that didn’t last for too long), Cable was a character adrift until he put in charge of guarding the first mutant birth since M-Day. While the Cable series written by Duane Swierczynski was repetitive, it certainly gave the star a purpose. His death during the climax of ‘Second Coming’ was a fitting and earned ending for the character.

One character that greatly benefitted from ‘Second Coming’ was Hope Summers. Yes, she lost her father figure, Cable, but as a character she really came into her own. The ground work had been laid by Swierczynski, particularly in the last year of Cable when the girl could actually talk. However, in ‘Second Coming’ she spent half of the event away from her dad and was forced to develop around a different crop of characters. By the conclusion, Hope was a fully-formed, functioning character. Also, by the end of Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age #1, she has been given a new mission. Hope is no longer a plot device, but a young woman with questions and direction.

Rogue also came out of ‘Second Coming’ as a winner. Not only did she get to pull off some great heroics during the crossover, but she was very involved with the development of Hope. This also highlighted Rogue’s current status as mutant guidance counselor to the New X-Men kids. This should translate nicely into X-Men: Legacy as it returns to its regular programming this month. With it’s already stellar creative team and an audience that has been warmed up to the concept through the crossover, X-Men: Legacy may have less post-event reader attrition than usual.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the New Mutants. While they did benefit from a kickass cliffhanger at the end of Uncanny X-Men #523 and their big battle in the Right in New Mutants #12 and X-Men: Legacy #235, that team was lost in the shuffle for the rest of the crossover. Cannonball and Magik were shunted off into a side mini-series for three months. Cypher did play a significant role that was a game-changer for the heroes, but that was on a mission with X-Force. Unlike what happened with Rogue, nothing of the New Mutants concept was sustained throughout ‘Second Coming’ to a degree that might have compelled readers to check out the series once it reverts back to normal.

With Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age, which acts as a sort of epilogue, the X-Men are being set up to be more public heroes. This may seem totally new, but they were already heading in that direction after the move to San Francisco. The fallout of the 'Utopia' crossover forced them to seclude themselves off the coast, but it appears that the mutants will be back to prowling the streets of that California city very soon and very openly. The X-Men will be interacting with the wider Marvel Universe, especially in the new X-Men series, but during and after ‘Utopia’ the mutants were already heading in that direction.

Despite two major deaths and the clearing away of one set of villains (who had only been reintroduced within the last two years), the only real noteworthy occurrence was the ignition of new mutant manifestations on the last page. I’m wary of these “Five Lights” as they are being referred. Do we really need another new generation of mutants? Unless they get rolled in with the New X-Men, this will be the sixth significant generation of mutant characters in Marvel Comics publication history. There were the original X-Men, the ‘All-New, All-Different bunch, the New Mutants, the almost forgotten and practically wiped out Generation X, and the New X-Men who have been reduced to cameos. Don’t get me wrong, from a plot development stand point the “Five Lights” is an interesting concept, but I’m already predicting a new series by January.

The art in ‘Second Coming’ was a bit hit and miss at times. The issues drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson looked fantastic. Mike Choi and Sonia Oback’s work was a solid as ever and they benefited from getting to draw some major story points. The chapters handled by Ibraim Roberson were okay, but paled in comparison to these other two art teams. I’m not a fan of Greg Land. I find his static poses boring, vacant magazine expressions repetitive, orgasm faces silly, and ass-shots unnecessary. However, there were a number of items that he was forced to draw (Warlock, Cameron Hodge, the Nimrods, etc.) that took him out of his comfort zone. Overall, this was some of Land’s better work, but all of issues I have with is style were present.

I shouldn't forget, David Finch who kicked off the whole event with the first issue. His work was dynamic and really got me excited for the rest of the event. It was a great way for him to wrap up his time at Marvel before moving over to an exclusive contract with DC Comics. Also, the covers by Avi Granov were solid, but were overwhelmingly monochromatic a times. I think that I would have preferred the variant covers by Finch over standard ones by Granov.

The real question that needs to be asked, “did ‘Second Coming’ entertain me?” The answer is “yes”. As X-Men events go it was quite focused and it felt like one solid story and it should hold together nicely in a collected hardcover volume. There weren’t very many subplots to lose track of, but there was a bit of a slow down during most of the second month of the event. Overall it felt like a chain reaction of events that lead directly to the denouement. For a story involving four writing teams scripting each chapter individually, it was very cohesive and didn’t feel like four separate voices competing with each other. So kudos to Matt Fraction, Mike Cary, Zeb Wells, and the team of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, (and their editors) for a job well done.

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