Sunday, January 2, 2011

Looking Back: The Year in X 2010 - Part 1

By Paul Steven Brown

It's time to take a look back at the X-Men comic book franchise for the year that was 2010. There were a lot of changes and many ups and downs as would be expected for group of books about mutants. In this installment, I take a look at the Second Coming crossover, X-Factor, the death and rebirth of X-Force.

Second Coming

Second Coming was this year’s big X-Men crossover and consequently the story that wrapped up the big Mutant Messiah Trilogy that began with Messiah Complex in 2008 and continued into the lackluster Messiah War last year. For the most part the story did flow fairly seamlessly between four separate titles (Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, X-Men: Legacy, and X-Force), given that four different writing teams were involved.

A number of big things came about by the time Second Coming wrapped up. First was the death of Nightcrawler at the end of the first month of the crossover as an attempt to show how high the stakes were. Nightcrawler is my favorite superhero comic book character of all time, so I was a little unhappy about this. Also, this was a highly telegraphed death that didn’t surprise anyone when it occurred. Cable’s demise was almost equally predicted by X-Fans. However, Nathan’s death seemed more fitting and a conclusion to a two year arc of him playing father to Hope. Also, it forces her to face life on her own, now that she’s been returned to the timeline of her birth, albeit around eighteen years older.

After the dust settled and the wounds were mended, the crossover ended with the revelation that the manifestation of Hope’s powers may have triggered the awakening of new mutants. Five lights popped up on Cerebro on the last page of the Second Coming #2, signifying a new beginning.

For more thoughts on Second Coming, see my article I wrote when the event concluded this past summer.

Grade: B+

Second Coming: Revelations

In margins, we also had what was referred to as Second Coming: Revelations, books that tied into the Second Coming event, but were not part of the main chapter to chapter story. This allowed X-Factor to continue threads that were in progress, without having to drastically change gears to fit neatly into a crossover. Blind Science #1 was a one-shot that gave the X-Club a chance to star in its own adventure.

Hellbound was a three-part mini-series that saw a hodge-podge team of mutants go to Limbo to rescue Magik, who was sent packing by Bastion’s forces during the main story. The story in Hellbound was fun, but fairly throwaway. The team that was assembled for the mission was a great mix of characters and I wouldn’t mind seeing them team up again.

Overall the Revelation books were not necessary to understand what was going on in the main event, but they added a little extra embellishment. I think that allowing X-Factor to tie-in with out being directly involved really worked in that book’s favor. X-Factor was able to benefit from a sales boost by being associated with Second Coming, without having to force the book’s regular readers to pick up all the other Second Coming issues to understand what was going on.

Grade: B-

(X-Factor #201 – 212)

X-Factor kicked off the year with a brand new numbering scheme that added the two volumes’ issue counts together. With #200 writer Peter David made a move to put X-Factor more full entrenched inside the Marvel Universe as a whole, and not just the X-Men side of things. The first arc of the year involved Val and Franklin Richards hiring the team to find their mother. This led to the inevitable confrontation with Doctor Doom. The year would also see meetings with Doctor Strange nemesis, Baron Mordo, Pip the Troll, Thor, and Hela.

While it was fun to see David painting on a broader canvas, the real fun of X-Factor has been the quieter character arcs. While the gang may have been butting heads with undead Vikings or fighting against Bastion’s forces, I was more invested in Rictor and Shatterstar’s relationship, or the return of a very pregnant Wolfsbane, or what was up with Layla. For me, the soap opera of X-Factor keeps me coming back (that and about 50% of the jokes that David is able to land without inducing a groan).

For the most part, the art on X-Factor was fairly consistent. The pencil duties switched back and forth between Valentine De Landro and Emanula Lupacchino (Bing Casino handled the year’s first four issues). Both artists have complementary styles making the transitions between them fairly smooth. David Yardin continued to deliver some amazing covers for the book over the course of the year, which only intensified my desire to see him actually draw an actual issue of the book.

Grade: B

(X-Force #23 – 28; X-Force: Sex & Violence #1 – 3)

The year began with X-Force tying up various threads that began with when the series launched, namely the threat of Eli Bard and Selene. The team had to fight a whole mess of resurrected mutants and then fight their way to Genosha to put an end to Selene. At times Clayton Crain’s art was a dark and blurry mess, making it hard to tell what the heck was going on. Still, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost kept the affair mostly fun and exciting with their solid character and dialogue work.

X-Force wasn’t given a chance for a breather after the Necrosha arc wrapped up, and the book went directly into Second Coming. Like Kyle and Yost’s New X-Men before it, X-Force’s final three issues occurred within the confines of a crossover. Not the ideal way to end a series. It certainly didn’t provide a very natural sense of closure to the title.

Kyle and Yost were able to give us three more months of X-Force with the three issue X-Force: Sex and Violence mini-series. This was primarily a Wolverine and Domino romp and for the most part, it lived up to its title (particularly the violence. The mini-series also highlighted the fact that Domino had become such a fun character under Kyle and Yost and whose absence would be sorely missed when the series was relaunched at the end of the year.

Grade: B

Uncanny X-Force
(Uncanny X-Force #1 – 3)

Well this was a pleasant surprised. Rick Remender had been getting plenty of positive buzz for his indie work and had started writing for Marvel for a few years, but I had never read any of work. Despite some very pretty preview art by Jerome Opena, I wasn’t too thrilled by a cast that included both Deadpool and Fanthomex. Both are written as humorous characters, albeit in different ways, and I wasn’t looking forward to these two trying to out-funny each other.

Luckily, Uncanny X-Force has been a pleasant surprise. Remender has toned down Deadpool’s stream of conscious rants back to their Joe Kelly in the ‘90s level which helps. Also, this new X-Force has a more defined mission statement than the last and a cast that makes more sense. Plus, Remender acknowledges past continuity without being a slave to it, but he has tried any shocking changes to put his stamp on any of the characters.

So far, Uncanny X-Force is pretty solid read. If it maintains this level of fun and action, it will easily eclipse its predecessor.

Grade: A-

Next time I'll take a look at the various Wolverine related books that came out in 2010.

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