Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 – The Year in X: Part Two

By Paul Steven Brown

In this second installment of 2011 – The Year in X, I will examine the various events that the X-Men were caught up in during the course of the year.

Age of X (Age of X: Alpha #1, New Mutants #22 – 24, X-Men: Legacy #245 – 247, Age of X: Universe #1 – 2): What was so odd about Age of X is that it seems clear, at least to me, this was never meant to be a full-blown event upon conception by X-Men: Legacy writer Mike Carey. While idea had the potential of long term consequences for the characters involved, the effects would only be felt in the two titles attached to the project, X-Men: Legacy and New Mutants. Still, in this day of event hype marketing, one could see where the powers that be at Marvel would take this opportunity to pump up this story a bit bigger than it needed to be.

As for the actual plot, this was one of Carey’s best and boldest ideas during his tenure on Legacy. The reader was plopped down in the middle of the action without preamble (well, there was that unnecessary Age of X #1 prologue issue that added some backstory), and we were left to piece the mystery together as the story progressed. The result was a sort of X-Men meets Lost, combining the best elements of both. By the end of the story, several characters, such as Rogue, Legion, Frenzy, Cannonball, Chamber, and Hellion underwent some compelling transformations and were given some interesting layers as a result.

Carey also did a good job of making sure that the New Mutants had a significant role in the story and that their book wasn’t just being used for padding and page count. Dani Moonstar and company were constantly on the heels of Rogue, Legion was a very important part of the story, and as mentioned prior, Cannonball made decisions that continued to haunt him, even after reality shifted back to normal.

What didn’t work was extraneous material from the prologue one-shot and the two issue Age of X: Universe anthology. These issues seem to run counter to the idea that the Age of X was not a separate universe. As a result, these extra books were unnecessary cash grabs used to make the story feel like a big deal event. All that was needed, or desired from this reader, were the six issues that made up the story in X-Men: Legacy and New Mutants, which were fascinating and exciting.

Fear Itself (Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force #1 – 3, Fear Itself: Wolverine #1 – 3, New Mutants #29 – 32, Uncanny X-Men #540 – 543): While Fear Itself was truly an Avengers-centric event, focusing on the Asgardian side of the Marvel Universe, its influence was felt across a great deal of the company’s line of books. For the X-Books, two ongoing titles dedicated four issues each to the crossover, while two other books had spin-off mini-series instead.

The problem with the Fear Itself tie-ins associated with the X-Men is that they were connected to the event in name only. The Wolverine and X-Force mini-series were barely connected to the event and focused on villains that were using the chaos of the Serpent’s attacks as cover to hatch their own dastardly machinations. However the Wolverine and the Uncanny X-Force mini-series were unnecessary made even more irrelevant by the fact that the regular series writers were not attached. The tie-ins in New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men worked a little better. New Mutants had Dani Moonstar, who already had a strong Asgardian connection and Uncanny X-Men used Fear Itself as a catalyst to bring some significant change to Colossus.

In all though, these tie-ins were not inherently bad. They were just not very compelling for the most part.

Schism (X-Men: Prelude to Schism #1 – 4, X-Men: Schism #1 – 5, Generation Hope #10 – 11, X-Men: Regenesis #1): The biggest event to impact the X-Men books in 2011 was Schism. At first I found the idea of Wolverine being the most credible rival to Cyclops’ leadership a bit odd. Wolverine has lead teams into battle, but almost always in the service of a superior. Storm or even Beast seemed to be the more reasonable choice for a challenger for mutant leadership.

But, from a purely marketing position, the selection of Wolverine makes sense. After all, Logan is the most popular and easily the most recognizable X-Men character in the stable. Plus, there is something to be said about having such a loyal soldier like Wolverine taking a stand against the Captain America of mutants.

Unfortunately, the lead up to the event was marred by a tremendously awful prologue mini-series. Prelude to Schism was a shameless cash grab on Marvel’s part. It added nothing to the actual event. Furthermore, the characters in Prelude give major lip service to some oncoming threat that is never revealed and never comes into play in Schism. Even the writing by Paul Jenkins was full of trite analogies and obvious metaphors. This was an easy paycheck for the writer and waste of money for me.

As for the actual mini-series event, Schism worked reasonably well. There was a chain of events that lead to an outcome that was understandable. While many fans have argued that Wolverine should be the last person decrying the use of child soldiers in the mutant militia, I personally had no problem with it. I’ve always seen Logan as the guy that did all the dirty, ugly killing so everyone else didn’t have to. Also, when Shadowcat or Jubilee was running around with him, it felt more like a mentor and student situation. Cyclops, who had a good argument of his own, was building an army and did not have intentions of any one-on-one nurturing or development. I’m sure Scott didn’t want anyone to get hurt, but in his mind he was fighting for the survival of his species.

Of course, the intellectual fight gets thrown out the window once Jean Grey was mentioned during Cyclops and Wolverine’s big brawl. This was a big eye-roller. I would have been perfectly fine without the specter of Ms. Grey popping back up to drive the wedge between Logan and Scott even more.

However, through the five issues, writer Jason Aaron proved that he was ready to move beyond the Wolverine solo title and take on the wider X-Universe. He appeared to know his history and was able to make the characters sound right. Each issue had a different artist, and all produced some fantastic work. The two issues of the Generation Hope tied to Schism did an excellent job of showing the events of the story from the view point of the younger mutants.

Schism was given a decent epilogue in the X-Men: Regenesis one-shot. While the tribal metaphor was a bit too on the nose, Kieron Gillen did a fine job of give the readers reasons why particular characters decided to stick with Cyclops on Utopia or move back to Westchester with Wolverine.

Next time, I will take a look at the newest ongoing mutant title, Wolverine and the X-Men. Plus, I will begin my countdown from least favorite series of 2011 to the best. 

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