Monday, July 19, 2010


X-Men: Second Coming #2

Has enough time passed for eveyone who cared to read the story and see what happened? Last thing i want to do is piss anyone off by spoiling the dramatic death of Forbush Man . . .

OK, ready?

Much to my surprise, I actually didn't mind this whole Second Coming foofaraw. I think, as someone who has spent way too much time thinking and writing about the X-Men, the story did a number of very necessary things in order to begin putting the franchise back on the tracks. Whether or not it succeeded is another matter which we probably won't be able to judge for a while - and perhaps most importantly, we won't be able to judge until we have the sales figures from the core books' imminent soft reboots.

One of the most fascinating bits of subtext for the last couple years' X-Men stories is the idea that the X-Men aren't the center of the comics universe anymore. Marvel as a whole hasn't really seemed to mind since the Avengers books are as ubiquitous now as the X-Men were at their height. (Of course, at its height Uncanny X-Men was selling three-quarters of a million copies a month whereas Bendis' Avengers sells an eighth of that and still manages to be #1 in an emaciated marketplace - but that's neither here nor there.) Considering how long the X-Books had coasted on their preeminence and sheer institutional mass, falling out of the #1 spot resulted in years and years of flop-sweat panic under the guise of odd storylines and off-kilter crossovers. Allow me to use one of my very rare sports metaphors: the Yankees have, historically, often been at or near the top of the MLB. Because of their eminence, they take their success for granted, and when the natural success evaporates they get pissy and downright sullen. So to did the X-franchise flounder terribly when it was no longer automatically #1.

The good news is that Second Coming actually, finally, does what everyone has wanted to see since House of M: undoes the more penurious effects of M-Day while still acknowledging the overall necessity of the deck-clearing exercise. I've said all along that M-Day was a great idea in theory, on the principle that what the books needed was a Scourge-level massacre to clear away the tons of dead weight clogging up the franchise since the early 90s. (A few other people in my comments mentioned Scourge the last time I discussed the X-Books, and they were right to do so: that should have been the model all along.) If the books were no longer the #1 franchise in comics, they needed to be leaner in order to accommodate this reality. I think, over the course of this crossover, we've seen a solid picture of just what the leaner status quo should look like: a somewhat pared-down cast, action-centered plotlines, more actual soap-opera. I could still do without every story being a referendum on the books' central metaphor - when was the last time the X-Men fought Moses Magnum, for goodness' sake? - but now that Bastion is out of the way and there are no major existential threats on the immediate horizon, I think the books should be a tad lighter from here on out. If they just manage to lighten the tone coming out of this era, than I think we can call Second Coming a success purely on those grounds.

As for the story itself? Pretty good, if you can manage to avoid a few potholes. Pothole #1: the X-Men have a healer with pretty miraculous abilities named Elixir. People lost hands and legs and got impaled left and right - where the hell was Elixir when all this was happening? For that matter, where is he now? He's been portrayed as sufficiently powerful enough in the past that regrowing Xian's leg shouldn't be too difficult. Now, obviously, having Elixir in the storyline robs it of a great deal of potential impact, but if you're going to have a character like Elixir, you need to give us a damn good reason why he's not healing everyone left and right. For that matter, it would have been nice if he had been able to heal Magneto's exhaustion and get him out of the sick bay.

Pothole #2: You pretty much knew that X-Force was going to come back through Bastion's portal from the future even -especially - after they took the effort to make sure we knew that organic matter couldn't pass through it. So . . . Cable sacrificed himself how, exactly? Letting the techno-organic virus take over his body somehow made him a bridge for the other members of the X-Force team who were regular organic? Hunh. I guess when it comes to these things, "comic book science" is all the hand-waving we should need. But still! How exactly does that work?

One thing that bugs me is Cable's death: I admit, I like Cable. He is such a pure and unadulterated product of early 90s superhero culture, a total reflection of the power fantasies of late 80s adolescence, that as a character he remains strikingly pure. His contrived, contorted origins, his enigmatic and constantly shifting motivations, his unimpeachable authority as a CLint Eastwood-esque fantasy father-figure for a generation of latchkey nerds - it's so much of a piece with a certain era of comics history that now, in the early 2010s, he's like a living coelacanth. But I also know he won't be dead for long. Resurrection is one of Cable's powers just as much as telekinesis: off the top of my head he's probably had more on-screen deaths than any other X-character, ever. (Magneto has maybe had more, I'm not sure, but do villainous, "I suspect we haven't seen the last of him!" deaths count in this derby?)

Pothole #3: Not so much a pothole as a pretty obvious and annoying "TO BE CONTINUED." What exactly is Hope? If you read the last battle at the Golden Gate bridge carefully, she is actually just copying a number of other mutants' powers - Armor's armor, Colossus's steel arms, Cyclops' eye blasts, Iceman's ice. Only at the end of her battle with Bastion does she appear to actually go "full Phoenix" - and then again at the very end of Second Coming #2, she manifests as Phoenix very briefly for Emma Frost. (Although Hope herself seems blissfully unaware of any of this.) I have no idea if the people currently writing the books read Alan Davis' run on Excalibur - which pretty definitively answered many questions regarding the Phoenix - but it seems as if the Phoenix as it is currently conceived is primarily concerned with ensuring the continuation of the X-gene after it was expunged from the human genome by the Scarlet Witch. (It will be interesting to see - if they ever get around to writing the story - what will happen when Rachel Summers finally returns from space to find that the Phoenix has taken up with a new host after abandoning her in the run-up to War of Kings.) Whether or not this means that Hope is actually the reincarnation of Jean Grey remains to be seen, and it is somewhat annoying that these questions were not resolved at all by the end of this storyline. This just means we know what the next big X-over is going to be about, and it's somewhat annoying when these things are so darn predictable. (They usually are, but that's part of "the fun.") Are you ready for War of the Phoenix? Or how about The Return of the Phoenix? Coming Summer 2011!

Birds of Prey #3

"Don't think I'm not keeping score. Don't think I'm not going to make someone pay that tab."

"They're rogue cops, Dinah. They shoot to kill."

"What's happening is we're finishing this. . . . We're done playing."

"I always thought there were few problems of this nature that a bullet couldn't cure."

"Your families? I will void my bladder on their broken corpses!"

Avengers Academy #2

This is a really good book and I hope it lasts for years and years.

I like the way they've established two different levels of plot: you've got the actual kids in the Academy, a group of dysfunctional powder kegs adopted by the Avengers because of their potential to become dangerous super-villains, and then you've got their tutors, Avengers with checkered pasts like Hank Pym, Quicksilver, Tigra and Justice, all of whom are themselves potential loose-cannons with plenty in their pasts to regret. I like these books that focus on the also-rans and never-weres - they seem to crop up a lot now, books comprised of secondary and tertiary characters that appear to be designed specifically to rehabilitate and refurbish these old properties by attaching them - however peripherally - to a recent event or popular crossover. When the bigger books rewrite and ignore continuity with impunity, it's nice to have these smaller corners of the mainstream superhero universes where us old-timers' can appreciate the pleasurable interplay of decades' worth of continuity and accumulated characterization without having to worry about it being ignored or underplayed for no discernable reason.

This is an example of creative types taking advantage of a seeming bug and turning it into an effective feature: everyone knows that new books are always spun out of crossovers, so you might as well use the phenomenon to put lesser-known characters in the spotlight instead of just the umpteenth Wolverine spin-off. When the creative teams actually appear to have some interesting ideas with which to play - as is the case of this, the new Thunderbolts, Secret Avengers - the results are gratifying and can be far more interesting than the usual stock shenanigans of the top-tier books. Two issues in I actually like these characters and am interested in seeing where they go. I've read enough Avengers stories that even the most charitable part of me can't get too worked up over Bendis' umpteenth variation on a theme. (Seriously, it doesn't help that I just reread Avengers Forever last month - Avengers time travel stories have a pretty big bar to leap, and the new Avengers relaunch just ain't cutting it.) But this? This is a nice little curveball of a book that slipped in under the door when everyone was paying attention to the far higher-profile relaunches, so it can afford to be a bit more interesting. Everybody should go read this right now.

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