Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 – The Year in X: Part Five

By Paul Steven Brown

In this installment of the Year in X, I continue my countdown of the ongoing series currently in the X-Men family of comics, from least favorite to the best.

#6 Generation Hope (#4 – 14): The problem with Generation Hope from the onset was the fact that Marvel wanted fans to except yet another group of young mutants in a team book after cancelling New X-Men (low selling, but a book with a dedicated cult following) and its follow up, Young X-Men (not as gratifying, but still pulled from the same well of characters). The first few months of 2011 produced some serviceable stories (a new mutant in the form of a telepathic fetus and the true nature of Teon’s powers revealed), but overall, nothing happened that really made me want to like these new characters.

Things began to pick up midway through the year with a standalone story that mirrored real life events involving cyber-bullying. It was tragic and added some extra depth to Zero, one the series more realized characters. Also, I love any time that writer Kieron Gillen is joined by his Phonogram partner, artist Jamie McKelvie.

Generation Hope really hit its stride with the two issues that crossed over with Schism. This allowed Gillen to chance to tell part of the story from the perspective of Hope’s team, particularly through the eyes of troubled, young Idie. Her story was sad and compelling, plus this also gave ample opportunity for more development of Laurie. Gillen ended his twelve issue run with an epilogue for the event and acted as a smooth hand-off to incoming writer James Asmus.

Asmus finally got the opportunity to step up and write an ongoing title after a few years working on one-shots and anthology stories connected to the X-Universe. For the most part, his handling of the characters has been fine and he has been able to bring in a few familiar characters such as Pixie and No-Girl. The current story involves Generation Hope’s discovery of an amnesiac Sebastian Shaw. How he will work into the cast is anybody’s guess.

Sales on Generation Hope have been really poor. While it has sold better than Daken, it has not been doing as well as X-23, and both of those titles will end in a month or two. What is probably keeping Generation Hope alive is the fact that Hope will be playing a major role in Marvel Comic’s big event for 2012, Avengers vs. X-Men. Unless sales drastically improve after that crossover, I don’t see Generation Hope carrying on into 2013.

#5 Uncanny X-Men (#532 – 544, #534.1, Vol. 2 #1 – 3): Matt Fraction wrapped up his two and a half year run on Uncanny X-Men with a final arc that teamed him up with incoming writer Kieron Gillen. Despite arguably having the most impact on this particular title since Chris Claremont, Matt Fraction left the book with little fanfare. In the end, the writer did re-establish Uncanny X-Men as the flagship book of the line, transplanted the base operations to a little island off the coast of San Francisco, and completely moved it away from being a team book, to a comic about the X-Men as a society led by Cyclops and Emma Frost.

Gillen took over with a Point One issue, which is as good a reason for the gimmick as any. That issue was fairly self-contained and worked as a nice little spotlight for Magneto. Still, the writer was in no hurry to leave his mark on Uncanny. His first solo arc was a follow up to Joss Whedon’s last story involving the Breakworld on Astonishing X-Men from a few years prior. At least he used it to get Kitty Pryde out of that damn spacesuit, something that Fraction never got around to doing.

Uncanny continued to feel much like the book did under Fraction. Gillen pulled from the wide variety of characters that inhabited Utopia, giving the bulk of the panel time still to Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magneto, and Namor, with some focus on Kitty Pryde and Colossus. Still, there wasn’t a defined team.

During the Fear Itself crossover issues, Gillen did take the opportunity to radically change Colossus for the foreseeable future. To stop the Asgardian empowered Juggernaut, Peter became the new avatar for Cytorrak. Basically, Colossus turned into the new Juggernaut, complete with a new harsher outlook and his own shiny helmet.

In an effort to capitalize on any momentum generated by Schism and the launch of Wolverine and the X-Men, Marvel felt the need to relaunch Uncanny X-Men with a new first issue. Sadly, this was the only Marvel title from the silver age that never had to undergo a renumbering, until now. As someone that had been reading the book continuously since issue #204 (published in 1986), I couldn’t help but take this as a sign that my era and ideas of the X-Men were dead and gone.

With the new series, Kieron Gillen finally seemed free to begin putting his stamp on the book. While Uncanny X-Men continued in the Utopia setting with Cyclops as the leader of an endangered species, the writer defined the cast and called them Cyclops’ X-Tinction Team. Not the bet P.R. move that Scott Summers has ever made, but Gillen made the point that the leader wants humanity to rely on the X-Men as heroes, but also fear them.

Gillen also reinvented Mr. Sinister into a very verbose evil genius bent on creating the next great master race. That master race being solely just himself, multiplied several times over. The writer clearly had fun writing dialogue for the villain, but Sinister’s defeat was a little too simple, given the build from the prior issues.

On the positive side, Gillen’s defining of the cast allows for the promise of more centralized character development (hopefully outside of Scott and Emma for a change). While he has left Generation Hope, its star, Hope Summers, continues to be under his pen in Uncanny as a member of Scott’s squad. Also, given the number of heavy hitters currently on the team, Cyclops’ X-Men will be going into the crossover with the Avengers on a more even playing field.

#4 X-Men: Legacy (#244 – 260): Mike Carey came into 2011 with X-Men: Legacy swinging for the fences with the extremely solid Age of X storyline. Despite crossing over with New Mutants, there was a healthy focus on characters that the writer was using already in Legacy, namely Rogue, Magneto, and Gambit. Plus, he used it as an opportunity to put a new spin on an older, underutilized character: Frenzy.

Frenzy had been bouncing around the X-Men books since her first appearance in X-Factor #4, way back in 1986. His treatment of the former Acolyte was the ultimate example of his handling of characterization and continuity throughout his run on the title: a solid knowledge of what has come before and a willingness to make changes that seemed refreshing, while still making sense. Frenzy’s progress at the hands of Carey felt natural and he gave her specific and sensible reasons for making the choice to be an X-Man and leaving her criminal past beyond. And in doing so, she was able to retain her edginess.

One of Carey’s more risky moves this year involved the consummation of sexual tension between Rogue and Magneto, which had been rearing its ugly head off and on since Uncanny X-Men #274 and #275, published in 1991. Despite many fans rewriting history, the pair had never had a relationship until Carey finally had the two mutants talk about their feelings. These emotions were rekindled due to recent missions together and the intensity of Age of X. At the same time, Carey had made sure that Gambit did not come off as a dummy, allowing the Cajun the opportunity to have reasons to put his relationship with Rogue on hold until she knew that is was time for them to try again.

Carey also took the opportunity, after Age of X, to make Legacy a team book once again. Though Rogue has had several characters in her orbit since she took over as the central character on the book, this was the first time since Carey’s first year on the title that he has had an actual cast to play with. Unfortunately, the excitement and freshness of those initial issues was not completely present during the writer’s final three story arcs.

While “Lost Legion” offered the usual strong character interaction that Carey reliably produces, the overall story was fairly repetitive. Each issue involved the X-Men hunting down and confronting one of Legion’s personalities that managed to manifest him or herself in the real world. The arc ended on a high note with the promise of great things to come from this new team. The art by Khoi Pham, while not bad, wasn’t the artist’s strongest work.

Fans really started to complain during the “Five Miles South of the Universe” storyline. While it was great to see Havok, Polaris, and Marvel Girl given the opportunity to come back to Earth after several years of publication off in space, the ultimate result was a fairly mundane story that featured too much Rogue infallibility. Also, while it did supply an interesting antagonist in Friendless, the actual conflict between the Shi’ar and the other aliens didn’t excite me. In addition, Steve Kurth’s art was pretty underwhelming through a great bulk of the story.

Mike Carey’s swan song was a two part story centered on Rogue attempting to rescue Ariel, who was thought to have been killed during the Second Coming crossover. This was coupled with Rogue trying to figure out whether or not to stay on Utopia or join Wolverine’s school. This was a definite improvement over “Five Miles South of the Universe”, but not the sort of story that I would expect to be the last from a writer’s long and mostly awesome run on a title.

So why am I ranking X-Men: Legacy so high on my personal list of ongoing X-Books for 2011? As with the other three books left on the countdown, Legacy had an established cast and a distinct identity that separated it from the flock. There was an internal continuity and a progression of character and ideas. Also, Mike Carey had a fantastic handle on these mutants. Even during the space arc, I was still invested in the characters, if not the plot. This writer has given me more satisfaction as an X-Men fan than any other writer outside of the legendary Chris Claremont. Hopefully, Mike Carey’s legacy on will not be diminished by what was thought of his final six months.

Next time: I will wrap up 2011 - The Year in X with a look at the top three books of this list.

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