Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review # 103: "X-Men - Road to Onslaught Vol. 1"

A funny thing happened to the Lobdell/Nicieza/Harras-era X-Men franchise in the mid-90s: it got pretty darn good. While I personally find "The Age of Apocalypse" to be overrated, it's still excellent and I would argue as a counter that what immediately preceded and followed it was underrated as a whole.

It all comes down to pacing. A lot of the irritating descriptor boxes have disappeared, letting more of the pictures and dialogue speak for themselves without any padded-on shallow attempts at adding needless depth to every action. When characters fight, they're fighting. They aren't unleashing paragraphs of speech in a single leap. Well... not as often. What this does is allow stories to be told at a more enjoyable speed. I don't want to spend hours slogging through an overwritten trade. It's nice to see the more annoying trademarks of LNH (I should really change that to "Nicieza-Harras-Lobdell" upon reading that in abbreviated form for the first time) are being rested, be it temporary or permanent.

So this is "Road to Onslaught Volume One." He gets mentioned... once. That's all. So a bit of a deceiving title. However, it's an amazing introduction to the concept. Beast and Bishop head into Jersey for a movie and a night of fun when they see what appears to be some kind of meteorite heading for the city. The meteorite turns out to be a scared-out-of-his-mind Juggernaut who has been clobbered clear across the continent. Damn, that's creative. Equally creative: how Bishop takes him down. That is one hell of a setup!

(Let's... just ignore the payoff for now.)

The rest of the trade deals with stories that don't directly relate to Onslaught whatsoever. But they are still pretty good, two in particular. The first of those chronicles the fall of Avalon, still housing the brain-wiped Magneto, his Acolytes - including Colossus - and their new leader Exodus. In "X-Men Prime," included here which depicts the mainstream universe fall-out of "The Age of Apocalypse," they come across a strange meteorite housing the dimension-displaced son of Apocalypse known as Holocaust. Exodus foolishly opens Pandora's Box and you can just start counting up the bodies. OK, it ends at two but one of them is... vaguely familiar. And both are still dead. That never happens. Anyhow, Cyclops and Phoenix are transported aboard as the space station falls apart, and those who remain find themselves plummeting towards earth. Great bit of deja vu for Mrs. Grey-Summers. For two characters who - at the time - essentially only existed as a relationship and nothing else, this does wonders to reassert their individuality. Of course, the X-Men survive along with most of the Acolytes, though they're split up. Jean's side shows the passion she had been previously known for while Cyke browbeats his shipwrecked party like a boss.

Meanwhile, in the other great arc, Rogue is in a bad place having absorbed Gambit's memories during an "it's the end of the worldwhoopsnoitisn't" kiss and is having extreme difficulty processing what she's taken. Gambit wakes up from his coma scared to death about what Rogue may know and tries to track her and her roadbuddy (no touching) Iceman. I've criticized Gambit before for being a shallow character, and for the most part that has held true. Seeing him freaked out of his wits trying to pretend to be smooth about the whole situation is a nice shift and adds some welcome depth. Unfortunately, the "big reveal" to this doesn't happen for years and has dogged Remy as a character for many more.

But I can't hold that or the eventual Onslaught story against this book. It's that short, short time where the NHL run was actually quite fun and I enjoyed this as much as, if not more than, anything else they did with the X-Men.

Rating: 8/10

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