Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Giant Size Review # 2: The State of the X-Men ("Amazing X-Men," "No More Humans," and more)

Another Giant Size review! This time, the central topic is the current state of the X-Men where the question of the day is: Why does Brian Michael Bendis have to be in charge? Come to think of it: who is in charge at all?

It seems lately like the franchise is lacking direction. Wasn't All-New X-Men supposed to be the flagship Marvel NOW! X-Men series? Aren't the "Uncanny X-Men" supposed to be outlaws? Why does the schism still exist when it seems X-Men on both sides intersect every other issue?

I can't help but feel that the X-Men are floundering to a degree, and it may centre on one thing: all ideas default to Bendis.

All New X-Men Vol. 2 - "Here to Stay," All New X-Men Vol. 3 - "Out of their Depth," and Uncanny X-Men Vol. 2 - "Broken."

Let me start this section by saying I like "All-New X-Men." This is arguably the greatest interpretation I've seen of the original teens AS teens that's come around. As a concept, there are very few limitations in terms of where stories can go. Mystique romantically manipulating young Scott? Fantastic. Jean finding herself in the arms of Beast? Great. Angel seeing his future self and running away from the team? Magnificent.

However, there's an ongoing problem. This group has been brought into the "present time" for a reason and their continued presence is a danger. The longer this gets stretched out without a resolution, it fosters frustration. While all these subplots garner interest, the main plot in these books is almost at a standstill. Events since like "Battle of the Atom" haven't helped. Again, it's that problem of an apparent lack of direction.

Meanwhile in "Uncanny X-Men," the would-be outlaw team is in danger of becoming irrelevant. The subplot of the Phoenix Five losing control of their powers undermines their abilities as outlaws. This group under Kieron Gillen had become bad ass, as Cyclops ditched his self-doubt and set about doing things his way. This weakened control nonsense cancels that out completely and makes Scott, Emma and company far less interesting. Thank goodness for Cullen Bunn who is said to be pulling Magneto back from the abyss. Scott and Emma need some character life support. STAT.

Weighing it down further is the influx of new characters which - at this stage - are generally worthless outside of the time flow-controlling Tempus. This group - Cyclops, Magneto, Emma and Magik - did not NEED new characters. At all. Given where those four were at the start of this series, this is building more and more into a missed opportunity. If Bendis couldn't find something good to do with them, he shouldn't have been allowed to write for them. Period. Let him have "All-New X-Men." Despite its flaws, he's doing a great job. If that isn't translating to "Uncanny," you can only be patient for so long before wrestling it from his hands.

Ratings: 7/10 ("Here to Stay"), 7/10 ("Out of their Depth"), 6/10 ("Broken")

Wolverine and the X-Men Vol. 8 and Amazing X-Men Vol. 1 - "The Quest for Nightcrawler"

It SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS that Jason Aaron was moved off his X-titles.

I can understand his time on "Wolverine and the X-Men" coming to a conclusion. He had done everything anyone could ask, and after the character and story climax that was "The Hellfire Saga," what more could one ask? Volume eight of his run is like an extended epilogue. It ties up the loose end of Kid Gladiator as he finds himself out of place at a different academy, takes a brilliant look at the Cyclops/Wolverine rivalry as the two cross paths during a mission, and practically writes a love letter to the fans of the school environment he created as a couple of spies are embedded deeper and more emotionally than at least one of them would have liked. Scores of artists return as students graduate and Doop slaps the bass. It's a joy.

Originally, Aaron was set to continue with the X-Men by leaving the students behind for the more team-inclusive "Amazing X-Men" which brings Nightcrawler back into the fold in what may be the most logical resurrection I've seen. Hey, it's been established in the Marvel universe that supernatural realms exist, so why not pluck him out of Heaven? Hell, why not have Charles Xavier lurking in the background as well? Given the nature of rules that have been established, it's a reasonable route. And having Firestar join the team is a masterstroke. In the end, Nightcrawler's return is a beautiful - if costly - moment, and seeing Wolverine get his best friend back brought a smile to my face. Aaron's departure will leave a void for sure, but with its "All New, All-Different X-Men" vibe with Colossus set to return and the writing placed in the capable hands of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, I'm expecting an amazing future for "Amazing X-Men."

Ratings: 8.5/10 ("Wolverine and the X-Men Vol. 8,"), 8.5/10 ("The Quest for Nightcrawler")

X-Men: No More Humans

So with Bendis madly off in all directions and Aaron stepping aside, who should be handed the keys to the car?

After his work on "X-Men Legacy" and here in this graphic novel, I have no doubt that Mike Carey should be in charge. With everything that's been going on in the X-Men titles, he pulls together a united front so effectively that I have no doubt he's capable of managing this large number of characters, no matter what.

"No More Humans" brings a temporary end to the schism when both teams discover that suddenly all human life has disappeared. It's a tense situation for Cyclops' X-Men and Wolverine's X-Men, but seeing them all working together again has me begging for more. The interactions between Scott, Logan and Ororo are a refreshing blast from the past, and I am frothing at the mouth at the idea of Carey writing a series centred around those three, backed up by their cast of dozens. It's remarkable to me, actually, that there has never been an incarnation of the X-Men where those three were the focal point. Logan being a good leader of his own right now makes it all the better.

The re-united X-Men find themselves taking on Mystique and Wolverine's future son from "Battle of the Atom" along with Mystique herself, Magneto - who would rather the humans stay gone, natch - and several mutants from alternate realities, including a version of Dark Phoenix. Despite it being half as long, it ends up being twice as good as "Battle of the Atom" and makes better use of most of its elements, especially young Jean Grey. When a guest writer is doing a better job than your main one right now, it's time to make a switch.

Rating: 9/10

The X-Men are definitely set up for more upheaval in the near future with Logan's pending death, so how the teams settle in the aftermath is an open book. But with "Avengers NOW!" coming up in the future, you have to think "X-Men NOW!" will follow soon after. There is nothing I would like to see more right now than a return to a core, definitive Grant Morrison-era or Joss Whedon-era team when that happens. A unit of Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Jean Grey (young or resurrected), Emma Frost, Nightcrawler and Mystique, for instance? I would be all over that.

Though I'm... still all over all the X-Men titles anyway.

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