Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review # 135: "X-Men: Fall of the Mutants"

Regarded as the second major X-Men crossover, "Fall of the Mutants" takes a much better approach for its titles at the time than what had been done in its predecessor "Mutant Massacre." In essence, it's not a crossover at all - each series was slated to go through a significant change at exactly the same time under the same banner headline. This allowed the creators to do whatever they wanted and fail or succeed on their own merits.

The flagship series certainly does succeed. Waaaaaaayyyyyy back in my review of Brian Wood's first "X-Men" issues, I talked about how Chris Claremont had fleshed Storm out so well as a character that there was nowhere left to go with her for decades. "Fall of the Mutants" is where years of Storm stories - her coming to grips with losing her powers, her relationship with Forge, etc. - reach their climax. She and Forge find themselves whisked away to another dimension by a demonic entity known as the Adversary faced with the conflict of building a new, better world or escaping back to certain death.

The rest of the X-Men find themselves in one hell of a pickle, facing down the Marauders, then Freedom Force. There's a heavy amount of brilliantly-executed dramatic gravitas, shown using a cameraman and journalist capturing the X-Men's "final moments" as the sky rips apart in Dallas, Texas. Marc Silvestri's visuals are awe-inspiring, the kind of work that cements my putting him in my list of greatest X-Men artists.

Claremont's character work in these issues is brilliant, as what would later be known as the "Outback Team" (they hadn't gone to Australia yet at this point) was an inspired make-up. Dazzler and Rogue find themselves at odds, then forced to rely on each other despite a violent history; Havok is confronted by Polaris, now possessed by Malice and leading the Marauders (Silvestri's drawing of Malice as Havok sees her face, then of Lorna blowing him away with her magnetic powers: WOW); Mystique - disturbed by her girlfriend Destiny's visions of death - desperately pleading with her "daughter" Rogue to return to her side; Madelyne Pryor forgiving Scott Summers (through a TV camera) as the X-Men head to their doom. It's classic Claremont, firing on all cylinders.

If only the "New Mutants" issues included in volume one of these two sets was a tenth as good.

The junior team's contribution to "Fall of the Mutants" outright sucks. If you've seen the episode of South Park where Cartman finds the Jackovisaur, then you've already pretty much read this comic. Cannonball, Magik, Mirage, Cypher and Wolfsbane find this half-boy, half-bird creature known as Bird Brain and sneak out to the mall with him where HILARITY ENSUES. Oh, he makes a mess at a fast food restaurant. Oh, he flies into a movie screen. My sides... they are splitting.

It turns out this jerk is from an island with a whole bunch of half-animal, half-human monstrosities who - fortunately - are not as horribly obnoxious as Bird Brain. However, they're being guided by the ridiculous villain known as the Ani-Mator, a mad scientist who dresses in animal skin to "gain their abilities" (he doesn't, actually) who now has the regrettable distinction of being "The Guy Who Killed Cypher." This JOKE of a character KILLED Cypher, an event half the mutant population didn't seem to get over for decades. Illyana sends him to Limbo in revenge and he hasn't been seen since. Good riddance. They return home where Magneto blames humanity for Doug getting shot. Technically, he's right since Louise Simonson - who wrote this claptrap - is human. They quit in disgust. I put down Volume One in disgust.

And then Volume Two makes me love Louise Simonson all over again. Why? Because the X-Factor side of "Fall of the Mutants" is without a doubt the best, outdoing even Claremont.

It starts with the complete fall of X-Factor as a shadow corporation where Cameron Hodge - who had been Angel's friend and the team's PR guy - is exposed as a nasty mutant-hating bastard. He's a chilling villain, with a chilling organization - the Right, what with its smiling faces painted on human-powered death armour. Every time I see a comic spell out machine gun fire as "BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA" I instantly think of these guys.

However, that pales in comparison to what follows when "Fall of the Mutants" arrives in proper for X-Factor. Apocalypse was a bit of a middling villain up to this point, until Simonson had the brilliant idea of giving him horsemen. So he gathers an anorexic teen as Famine, a disease-spreading Morlock as Pestilence, an abandoned veteran as War and, in the coup de grace... the thought-dead Angel as Death. Warren's rebirth as the eventually-to-be-named Archangel had been heavily hinted at, but X-Factor being faced with their friend as the enemy is still amazing, and hits hard given how co-dependent the original X-Men were being depicted as at this time. It's one of the greatest and most unsung moments in the history of the X-Men universe - drawn wonderfully by Louise's husband Walt - and it made both Apocalypse AND Angel for life.

I heartily recommend both the X-Factor and X-Men//New Mutants volumes. Yes, the New Mutants story stinks to high hell, but you can read it once or not at all and never speak of it again. The X-Men story is good enough to keep it afloat, along with the bonus inclusion of an issue of Peter David's "Incredible Hulk" with the long-awaited rematch between the monster and Wolverine. That fight is a lot of bang for your buck, and - if you like - you can imagine both Logan and Grey Hulk pummeling Bird Brain for hours on end. I know I have.

Rating(s): 7.5/10 (Vol. 1), 9/10 (Vol. 2)

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