Friday, 18 September 2015

Essential X-Men volume 9

Essential X-Men volume 9 comprises Uncanny X-Men #244 to #264 & Annual #13 (excluding the Saga of the Serpent Crown chapter that has nothing to do with the X-Men). Bonus material includes Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entries for Jubilee, Master Mold and Zaladane. All the regular issues are written by Chris Claremont though the annual lead story is by Terry Austin and a back-up by Sally Pashkow (or not - see below). The art is mainly by Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee with individual issues by Rob Liefeld, Rick Leonardi, Kieron Dwyer, Bill Jaaska and Mike Collins. The annual is drawn by Mike Vosburg and Jim Fern.

This volume covers one of the bleakest periods in the series so far. The early issues see the continuation of the "Outback era" as the team continued to operate out of an abandoned Australian desert town and teleport around the world. The most notable long term impact of these early adventures comes in the very first issue where the female members of the team go on a trip to a shopping centre where they battle the M-Squad, a rather lame set of mutant hunters who are a blatant parody of the Ghostbusters, before returning home with an unknown follower, the rich girl turned orphaned "mall rat" Jubilee. At first it seems she will be taking on the innocent youngster role that's been absent ever since Kitty Pryde was injured out of the series but initially she instead operates in secret without the other X-Men knowing and subsequent events mean that we don't get to see her in the traditional little sister role just yet. Meanwhile the male members go out on the town only to run into a rather ineffective bunch of alien invaders called the Conquest. It seems as though this will be a period of light-hearted tales but things will soon change.

The annual is unusual as the only X-Men issue during his entire run that doesn't have Chris Claremont's name on it. But is he completely absent? The back-up story is credited to Sally Pashkow, a name that hasn't appeared anywhere else in comics. Opinion on the net says that this is a pseudonym for Chris Claremont though everything seems to be pointing to each other, and its inclusion in the X-Men by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee Volume 1 Omnibus may be more down to a sequential run than anything else. (As a result I've included a separate label to cover all possibilities.) But regardless of whether this is Claremont or a one-off writer in his style the result is a character piece as Jubilee finds herself in the outback town and hides herself away with the aid of Gateway, then starts observing the X-Men from afar and borrowing some clothes. It mainly serves to build up the new character. The lead story is part of the "Atlantis Attacks" crossover that ran through all the Marvel annuals in 1989 and it resorts very much to formula as a villain, in this case Mr. Jip from Terry Austin's work on Cloak and Dagger, recruits the heroes to find an object of power of unclear importance. The team is split in three and sent to different locations to tackle the problem, here complicated by the Serpent Society. And it's an effective failure as at the end the main villains from the crossover get their hands on the powerful objects. Overall this annual is rather peripheral to the whole "Atlantis Attacks" saga, achieving nothing that couldn't have happened without the X-Men's presence. It's a surprise that Claremont doesn't write the story, perhaps deciding to opt out of taking part in the mess, but the result is the one X-Men story in a very long time by another writer. And it almost seems to be saying that anyone who thinks Claremont has outstayed his welcome should think again as it's very dire in its handling of the characters, with some especial silliness when Dazzler and the Serpent Society's Diamondback temporarily switch bodies. This is easily forgettable.

The tension ups when Nimrod and the remains of Master Mold merge, creating one of the deadliest anti-mutant machines yet. The battle is fierce, with Senator Kelly's wife killed thus increasing the senator's hatred of mutants. Victory only comes when Dazzle deploys the Siege Perilous crystal to send Master Mold to either happiness or recreation, but Rogue is also lost in the process. Rogue has recently been portrayed with a split personality as Carol Danvers comes to the fore more frequently, generating some tensions as each takes control of the body in succession, but the battle terminates any resolution to this dilemma. This starts a steady break-up of the team with Longshot soon dropping aside to go and seek his own identity and history. It's a sign of both his insignificance to the run and the bigger events around him that this departure is almost shoehorned into wider events but he isn't really missed. Then the remains of the team, with Wolverine temporarily away, face the first of two fierce attacks on their doorstep in rapid succession. Nanny, the robotic "egg with a voice", attacks and in battle Havok's energy blast destroys Nanny's vessel with Storm onboard. And unlike most such comic explosions, the body is seen and confirmed afterwards. An interlude comes as the dwindling team respond to a distress call from the Savage Land where they face Zaladane and the Mutates, with the return of Polaris who now seems to have been freed from the control of Malice. Zaladane claims to be Polaris's sister but this plot element isn't really cleared up in time before the last of the X-Men are teleported home to Australia where Donald Pierce and the Reavers are waiting for them.

The series has been building up to this moment with a number of hints and visions that this will be the last stand of the X-Men with no way out. Instead the four - Psylocke, Dazzler, Colossus and Havok - take the one escape route to hand, by going through the Siege Perilous to begin new lives elsewhere. As they admit it is running away from the situation and to add to the indignity this ending is revealed in a flashback shown to the returning Wolverine by Gateway. Wolverine is left as the last of the X-Men and put up for crucifixion by the Reavers but escapes with the help of both Jubilee and Lady Deathstrike's sense of nobility. And so a whole era of the X-Men comes to an end not in glory but in defeat and running away.

But this isn't the end of the series at all. The X-Men have generated many ex-members, allies and influences over the years and the next dozen issues focus on a number of these characters but without assembling a new team. Issue #253 sets up the situation, with its cover reused for the volume as a whole. Initially the main focuses are on Wolverine and Jubilee as they head off into the Far East, the mutants based around Muir Island, with Banshee and Forge really coming to the fore, and a mysterious young girl found in Illinois who resembles a young Storm. Elsewhere various of the X-Men who went through the Siege Perilous come to terms with their new lives, suffering amnesia of their past lives but finding their past can't completely escape them. Unfortunately there is limited unification between the various story strands with the result that the focus jumps around between them and plots can take an age to conclude.

During this phase comes the second big crossover on this volume's watch, "Acts of Vengeance", which, for a change, comes out of the Avengers titles after three years of X-Men derived events. But were it not for the triangles in the top right hand corner of issues #256 through to #258 then one could be forgiven for not realising this is even part of the storyline. It may feature foes the X-Men haven't faced before in the form of the Mandarin and the Hand but there's no co-ordinated attack on our heroes or any reference to the Mandarin's role as one of the Prime Movers supposedly co-ordinating the entire thing - indeed the Mandarin portrayed here is the more sophisticated crime lord that had been developed over the years rather than the traditional ranting supervillain shown in the main portion of the event. This detachment may be of necessity as current events mean the X-Men are presumed dead, impossible to detect with electronic equipment and now lost and scattered by the Siege Perilous, which doesn't really lend itself to enemies launching attacks upon them. Instead we get the basic crossover theme of a villain from another series tied into some very traditional themes for the series of strong women being twisted into ever more powerful agents of enemies and ninjas, plus Wolverine's connections in the Far East from his own solo title.

The most notable event here by far is the transformation of Psylocke from a Caucasian telepath in armour worried about her physical weakness into an east Asian ninja woman. Exactly how her ethnicity is changed is rather brushed over but the whole thing now feels extremely uncomfortable. If an east Asian ninja woman X-Man was needed, it would have been easy to create a new character who could easily be added to the team. But instead an existing character has such a fundamental part of her altered to fulfil the role, as though the genuine article wouldn't do. The story touches upon aspects of culture conflict between the Far East and the West, most notably showcasing the clash with Jubilee, the daughter of Chinese immigrants to the United States, who proves a highly Americanised tourist who dislikes what she sees. Then she is captured and forced into a traditional serving girl role as a small part of the Mandarin's goal of revitalising the traditional Chinese kingdom. Overall his portrayal is a strong step away from the traditional Fu Manchu role he's sometimes given and Psylocke's transformation does fit into some of the themes but that doesn't redeem the effect even if her new look as a replacement Elektra is wildly popular. The sequence in which her mind is steadily twisted by a quest through distorted memories in order to obtain the Mandarin's ten rings is also a good idea in theory but let down by much of her background not having been previously explored outside the Captain Britain comics in the UK and so the whole things can be confusing at times. All in all the transformation was a mistake that chased a trend and it's amazing that it was allowed to stay permanently, no doubt because of the popularity of the new look.

Whilst Wolverine, Psylocke and Jubilee make their way onwards to Madripoor with the complication of Wolverine being haunted by images of Nick Fury and Carol Danvers that he thinks are real, other X-Men are coming to terms with their new lives. Dazzler finds herself a singer in Hollywood and her movie is finally released, but former producer Eric Beale stalks her. Colossus becomes an artist and a maintenance man in an apartment block but soon gets entangled with both the Genoshan Magistrates and then the survivors of the Morlocks. The child Storm is being pursued by the Shadow King who frames her for murder, resulting in her going on the run.

Forge and Banshee are built up in a way that suggests they will be the next members to join or return to the team, but it's unfortunate that Banshee's recovery of his powers goes unexplained at first and it's only after a further injury that we see the Morlock healer restore him. Meanwhile Polaris finds her magnetic powers gone but in place of them her body is growing in size and she now has super strength but this goes unexplained. The three of them become part of an ad hoc grouping based on Muir Island along with Moira MacTaggart, Legion, Amanda Sefton, Sunder and other hangers on not seen in a long while, facing off a brutal attack by the Reavers that sees them bailed out by Freedom Force with casualties all around including Destiny. The ad hoc team also wears a uniform, hinting that it could become a new new X-Men but it doesn't take off as such, not least because of one of Legion's dark personas taking over. Magneto is given the image on the volume's spine, taken from the cover, but only appears briefly as he resigns as headmaster of the school and drifts off to his old ways. It's a slightly awkward scene that appears to be trying to rationalise the increased use of the character as a more traditional villain elsewhere, most notably in the "Acts of Vengeance" crossover.

The only convergence of the various plotlines comes at the end of the volume as Forge and Banshee encounter the amnesiac Colossus under the name of "Peter Nicholas" and battle first the Morlocks and then the Genosha Magistrates with the help of Marvel Girl from X-Factor. Along with some individual comments over the issues it seems as though the various mutant teams are being drawn together to be treated as parts of a single whole once more but there's a central element missing. Wolverine is at least stepping up to a Professor Xavier role when he utilises Harry Malone's Harriers to test Psylocke and Jubilee in the absence of a Danger Room. But overall the series is still in scattered pieces.

The art is often strong and it's easy to see how Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee gained such a following. However the writing on the series is in heavy decline. The series has shifted from a long-term careful build-up of plots to an almost random chucking anything against the wall to see what sticks and letting storylines drag on for much longer than they can sustain. The idea of splitting up the team and exploring individual members and the supporting cast is not a bad idea per se but it's very poorly executed and the resulting issues just don't work well. The worst idea to get through is the race transformation of Psylocke but overall this is an exceptionally poor volume for the series.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...