Comic Picks By The Glick

What I’ve Been Reading: X-Men Hardcovers, part one

November 27, 2009

The podcast is done, but we’re having some technical issues getting it up. It should be up sometime this weekend, though. In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a happy Thanksgiving and in lieu of not having a podcast up right now I figured I’d talk about the two large “X-Men” hardcover collections that arrived in the mail yesterday. Ideally “X-Force/Cable: Messiah War” and “[Dark] Avengers/X-Men: Utopia” are meant to be meaningful chapters in the ongoing saga of the franchise, but only one manages to have any real ramifications. Both of them also collect a number of tie-in issues in order to pad out the collected editions’ page count beyond their core stories. While it’s certainly… “thoughtful” of Marvel to throw in everything that was related to these storylines, they’re not really necessary to enjoying or understanding the storylines they’re tied into.

That being said, that “extra content” was my main reason for finally picking up “Messiah War” since it also functions as the next volume of “Cable.” (Issues #11-12, and “The Time and Life of Lucas Bishop,” featured here will also be available as “Cable vol. 3” in the near future.) Originally hyped as the follow-up to the excellent “Messiah Complex,” I wasn’t initially convinced to pick it up since I’d heard that while the storyline started out strong, it eventually degenerated into meaningless fighting. Having read the whole thing through, I can say that yes, that’s exactly what happens.

The thrust of the story is that after months have gone by in the real world without any word from Cable, Cyclops is getting worried that something has gone wrong with his son’s mission. After Beast tracks Cable and Hope to a point about a thousand years from now in the timestream, Cyclops makes the call to send in X-Force (the “take no prisoners” black ops team of mutants led by Wolverine, natch) to find out what happened. While that’s going on, Bishop is making plans of his own that include teaming up with Cable’s evil clone Stryfe to track down the time-traveling-duo so he can kill Hope and prevent his future from ever coming to be.

Long story short: they meet, they fight, Stryfe kidnaps Hope, they fight some more, Bishop fails to kill Hope, X-Force gets sent back to the present, Apocalypse shows up and kidnaps Stryfe, and Cable and Hope slide further forward in time. The End. Oh, and Deadpool shows up. He’s a thousand years older and nuttier, and the most entertaining parts of the book usually wind up involving him (such as how he developed a split personality to play tic-tac-toe while he was imprisoned, and how his other personality kept beating him). I wish there was more to say about the storyline than this, but there isn’t. Though the setup is potentially interesting with Stryfe being set up as a patsy for Bishop and the conflict between Cable and X-Force, who broach the idea that if this is the future that he took Hope to, then he might’ve made the wrong choice. Writers Duane Swierczynski (who handles the “Cable” issues) and Craig Kyle and Christoper Yost (who handle “X-Force”) do work well together in the crossover as there’s no clash in styles as they write characters from each others’ books. Things start off with lots of potential with the conflict between the protagonists, Deadpool’s always entertaining insanity, and the morbid “Why would you even bring them back?” appeal of the writers using Stryfe and Apocalypse here (for me, anyway – your mileage may vary); however…

All of it is eventually smothered underneath the nonstop fighting that ensues for most of the storyline. Some of it is clever, but the majority is just of the “superheroes hitting each other” variety. While the art of Ariel Olivetti and Clayton Crain is generally all right to look at, Olivetti’s style isn’t really that good at conveying motion. Crain’s art, on the other hand, is frustrating because it shifts from appealing photorealism in one panel, to rushed splotchiness in the next (it’s also way too dark for its own good in most places). Mike Choi’s work in the opening chapter is easily the nicest to look at, and even if he wasn’t able to do the whole thing, I wish he’d at least been able to take over for Crain’s chapters (since they alternate as the regular artists on “X-Force”).

Things might’ve been salvaged if the story had done anything to advance the story started in “Messiah Complex,” but it doesn’t. We don’t learn anything new about Hope; such as, what her powers are, what did she do that killed a million humans in Bishop’s timeline, and whether or not she’s really Jean Grey reborn. Even more disappointing is that there’s no accord reached or final reckoning between Cable and X-Force. Traditionally this kind of story would’ve ended with the team realizing that Cable’s way was right and grudgingly giving him their approval. That doesn’t happen, and neither does the team make any attempt to take Cable and Hope back to the present day. I realize that I’m getting into spoiler territory here, but the end result is such a cop-out that there’s actually not much to spoil.

So while the main story is a swing-and-a-miss, what about the extra stuff that’s going to make up “Cable vol. 3?” To be fair, the two issues of the series that lead off the collection are probably the most satisfying thing about the book. This time, Cable and Hope’s time traveling has led them to a future that turns out to be a fairly desolate wasteland with little food or water to be had. It’s a fairly standard man (and his adopted daughter) vs. nature tale that’s enlivened by Swierczyinski showing us how Cable and Hope have really bonded to the point that they’re virtually “father and daughter,” and showing how Hope uses her wits to save Cable in the story’s second half. It also has some nice art from artist Jamie McKelvie who, despite being a jarring shift from regular artist Olivettie (whose art bookends the two issues), has a real skill with body language that sells a lot of the interaction between the two protagonists.

While this was nice, the other storyline that’s featured here, “The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop” is beyond redundant for anyone who is A) familiar with the character and B) has read “Messiah Complex.” (And really, if you haven’t read “Messiah Complex,” why would you have any interest in reading this book?) As I fall into both groups, I can say that while Swierczynski’s retelling is competent, it really has nothing else to offer the reader. Granted, there is a lot of detail in here that I wasn’t aware of, such as what Bishop’s family was like and his time as a thief, these details don’t enhance my appreciation of the character or his current story. Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that while the story features art from Larry Stroman (last seen trying, and failing miserable to re-capture the magic of his and Peter David’s 90’s run on “X-Factor” in the current series), he’s on much better form here than he has been in the past though his style is still very much an acquired taste.

So while it wasn’t aggressively bad, “Messiah War” is a thoroughly disappointing entry in the X-Men’s ongoing story post-“Messiah Complex.” You might enjoy this more if you’re a hardcore fan of the characters or creators involved in the storyline, but if you’re buying this expecting answers or story progression you’re better off spending that money elsewhere. Preferably on what I’ll be talking about tomorrow: “Avengers/X-Men: Utopia,” a story that does offer up some surprising changes and resolutions, and a whole lot of filler.

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