Monday, October 27, 2014

Review # 145: "X-Men - X-Tinction Agenda"

Welcome to the 90s, X-Men.

Regarded as the fourth line-wide mutant crossover, "X-Tinction Agenda" is branded as the X-Men's "greatest crisis." X-Factor principle villain Cameron Hodge has seized control of the island Genosha and - with the aid of an amnesiac Havok, still feeling the effects of stepping through the Siege Perilous - uses his power to abduct the recently de-aged Storm and a few of the New Mutants to be tried in a kangaroo court and executed - or worse. The X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants who remain have to rescue their teammates without government aid to avoid provoking an international incident.

The production is especially notable for its format, as - for the first time - "Uncanny X-Men," "X-Factor" and "The New Mutants" tell a continuous story. The setup has its ups-and-downs, which really hasn't changed over the last 20-plus years. You're vulnerable to inconsistency during creative hand-offs. Writing in "X-Tinction Agenda" isn't much of a problem. Louise Simonson was writing two of the three series, and she had previously worked as an editor for Chris Claremont during his long stint on "Uncanny X-Men." Their trade-offs during "Inferno" were top notch and transitions were barely noticeable. This continues here.

The art, on the other hand, is another story. When it comes to the prevalent, in-your-face style emerging at the time, Jim Lee was in a class of his own. Competing for page space are the likes of Rob Liefeld and Jon Bogdanove. Liefeld's style was still under control at this time, though laziness with page layouts and backgrounds stands out. Simonson has criticized Liefeld for poor storytelling, and one needs to look no further than the face of Hodge which is locked in a single expression during issues of "New Mutants." Bogdanove, who has done some good work in the past, does his best to imitate the work of the other two and fails. Characters' faces are needlessly warped and many characters look like they're wearing inflated muscle suits.

Fortunately, the story and characterization make up for the inconsistency. All three teams mix well, with some characters fitting into old roles like a glove. It is a joy to see Cyclops in charge of all the X-teams again with Claremont writing his dialogue. Nearly every character has a moment to shine, whether it's Cable, Gambit or Psylocke hatching an escape plan, Cyclops, Beast and Iceman infiltrating the Genoshan citadel, Wolverine and Archangel being forced to do battle, or Jubilee acting as a reluctant guardian to Boom Boom and Rictor.

Cameron Hodge steals the show, though. Left only as a decapitated head courtesy of a bad deal with a demon and one of Archangel's wings, he's over-the-top crazy in a wonderful way. Taunting opponents relentlessly about how he can't die; using the surprising stealth of his technological monstrosity of a body to sneak up on people; hanging a cardboard suit from his neck; he's a riot. Who would have ever thought that an unassuming accountant from the early pages of X-Factor would end up like this?

"X-Tinction Agenda" may represent, however, the "beginning of the end." Immediately after this story, forces would be in motion to reset the entire franchise: a move that pushed Chris Claremont out. Simonson lasted only another two issues on "X-Factor," and it was clear a new creative force was calling the shots.

But more on that later.

Rating: 7.5/10

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