Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review # 79: "X-Men - Second Coming" (and "Second Coming: Revelations")

"Second Coming" is a landmark event for the X-Men, wrapping up the Hope Trilogy with the greatest threat mutantkind has faced as a species: complete annihilation. They have saved the world before, they've faced monstrous fellow mutant supervillains with grand designs that would leave bodies in their wake. They have not, however, faced a hate crime so massive that it threatens to kill them all.

The villain line-up in this book is frightening, particularly if you're familiar with X-Men history. Bastion, the being created when Master Mold and Nimrod went through the Siege Perilous, has used the techno-organic virus to revive the greatest human threats to mutantkind: Reverend William Stryker, Cameron Hodge, Graydon Creed, Stephen Lang and Bolivar Trask, along with the private armies of mutant-killers at their disposal. You're talking about the villains at the centre of "Operation: Zero Tolerance," "God Loves, Man Kills," "X-Tinction Agenda," the leader of the Friends of Humanity hate group and two men who helped build the Sentinels.

Their first plan is to kill Hope Summers, who has finally returned to the present with Cable after growing up in various nightmarish futures. The two arrive to find the X-Mansion destroyed, eventually learning the team has moved to California. They attempt a cross-country trip, unaware that Bastion is able to track Cable using the techno-organic virus Nathan is infected with but keeps at bay with his telekinesis. The X-Men attempt to help, but it isn't without cost as their teleporters are targeted. One - Illyana Rasputin - is sent back to Limbo while two more are killed. One of those deaths is major: Nightcrawler. He sacrifices himself making the final jump with Hope to Utopia. It is a devastating scene, and a tragedy that is well-handled by the team of writers. It's also a major character moment for Wolverine, the closest you'll see to him breaking down completely.

So Bastion's plan to kill Hope has failed. It's time for Plan B and this is where the story goes to the next level. He launches an impenetrable red sphere that surrounds Utopia. With Pixie in Limbo trying to get Illyana back (more on that later,) and Vanisher getting ambushed in his South American brothel, the X-Men are completely trapped. Then a portal opens with a terrifying threat. All seems lost and the team is on the brink.

I don't think I've ever read an X-Men story where - even though this is a superhero book where most characters are guaranteed to survive - I've suspended my disbelief to the point where I believe they're all f***ed. Iceman has his ice burned through; Namor fights to the point of exhaustion; Hellion has his hands vapourized; Colossus has his arm broken while he's in armoured form. When the story is over, you feel like they've pulled off a miracle. It's a thrill a page throughout. The aftermath issue is damn good too.

However, "Second Coming" is not without its problems. When you have so many titles involved there are bound to be some communication issues. While Matt Fraction, Mike Carey, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost and Zeb Wells do a GREAT, GREAT job, there are inconsistencies. You go from Colossus standing over Nightcrawler's corpse at the end of one issue to being blissfully unaware as he spends time with Kitty Pride at the start of the next. Iceman goes from being in a burn ward to fighting enemies like nothing is wrong. This is a problem when it comes to art as well. The best of the bunch belongs to Mike Choi and I like Terry Dodson's work, but quick switches between the two just don't mesh. And then there's Greg Land. I've said enough about him.

However, much like "Messiah Complex" which had the same problem, it doesn't take away from what's there. "Second Coming" is a sweeping epic that's worthy of high praise and there's more great stuff that was left on the cutting room floor.

By the cutting room floor, I mean "Second Coming: Revelations." The sidebook collects a few additional stories that - while I feel they add to the main package - don't fit in as well with the linear narrative. We get to spend a little more time with Hope as she grows up with Cable, and Bolivar Trask's dealings with X-Factor in New York. You can read more about the X-Factor side here.

The two best stories, though, are "Blind Science" and "Hellbound." The first deals with "X-Club's" X-ploits. Written by Simon Spurrier, he pushes Dr. Nemesis, Madison Jeffries and Dr. Kavita Rao over the top as they are seemingly sent into the future where a human Hank McCoy leads them through a horrific world where Hope's arrival went completely wrong. It's twisted at times and hilarious the rest.

"Hellbound" is an example of the fantastic mish-mash teams having nearly all the X-Men in the same place leads to. Cannonball leads Gambit, Dazzler, Northstar, Anole, Trance and Pixie into Limbo to rescue Illyana where all hell breaks loose and Gambit is corrupted. Christopher Yost does some fantastic work with the characters involved, particularly with Cannonball. The first issue - which deals completely with the team's recruitment - is probably the best as Sam struggles once again with being a leader. My favourite moment comes close the climax. With everything falling apart and Gambit ripping teammates from Sam's squad, Cannonball turns the tide by slamming into Remy and unleashing an on-point verbal b****slapping. He decimates Gambit completely and beats the crap out of him along the way. It's such a great tongue-lashing that it makes me kinda like Remy again after seeing him get what was long overdue.

Both of these sets are supremely satisfying. So many great moments for so many great characters. From the well-known like Cyclops, Wolverine, Magneto and Cable to the lesser-known like Legion, Pixie, Warlock and Rao. The manifestation of Hope's powers is a glorious-yet-frightening event. Though it may have been too good as she's sputtered since. You can live without the tie-ins if you want, and the X-Factor stretch isn't nearly as good without context, but if you love the main story you'll find them worth your time.

Hats off to one of the greatest X-Overs of all time. The Hope Trilogy - with "Messiah Complex" and "Second Coming" - has one hell of a pair of bookends.

Rating(s): 9.5/10 ("Second Coming"), 7/10 ("Second Coming: Revelations")

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