Saturday, June 5, 2010
X-men Forever Giant Size #1 - Nostalgic Mediocrity
I've avoided reviewing X-men Forever comics on this blog and for good reason. There's only so much text I can dedicate to long winded ranting on the flaws and shortcomings of an issue. Books like Ultimate X offer plenty of ammunition, but X-men Forever is a bit more complicated. It isn't testicle twisting terrible like most of the Ultimate books are now, but it isn't very good either. There's a lot that's happened in the first 24 issues (plus an annual) that would make many X-fans feel like they just ingested a gallon of tequila mixed with battery acid. I personally stopped following the series at around issue 10, but since it's a Chris Claremont book I always give it a chance. The guy who spent 17 years building the X-men into a legend deserves that kind of slack, but Forever has kind of hurt that legend. Giant Size does a little to help make the series more bearable, but only by a little.
Before I go over this issue let me give a brief overview of what's going on. X-men Forever picks up right after X-men 3 in 1991. Magneto was defeated and the X-men as a team are being reshuffled. The big theme from the series that sets it apart from the mainline comics is that mutants are suffering from a phenomenon known as burnout. There are few mutants aside from Xavier and Magneto that live beyond their twenties. Most mutants end up dying young because their powers have an adverse affect on their bodies. It's a huge shift and apparently, Xavier has been keeping knowledge of this from the rest of his students for a long time. On top of that, there's this shady group called the Consortium that is trying to accelerate the burnout and wipe out all mutants. This group has ties to Bolivar Trask and was apparently being run by Tony Stark. Throughout the series, the X-men fought to stop the Consortium and find a cure for burnout.
It's not a terrible plot idea, but it is kind of stretching it. That would be forgivable if the characterization in X-men Forever wasn't so god-awfully nauseating. Here's a brief rundown. Jean Grey is a complete callous slut who fell in love with Logan on a mission during the Forever Annual, full on kissed him on the beach, and then went onto carry her relationship with Cyclops as if nothing was amiss. Yet Claremont had the audacity to call this unconsummated. Maybe I'm a little slow, but when a woman tongue-wrestles a guy on the beach like he's got the keys to her panties buried in the back of his throat that's pretty damn consummated. It doesn't get much further though because Logan is fucking killed in the first issue. That's right, the most popular X-men in the franchise is just offed. That's a pretty big kick in the balls for a lot of X-men fans who can't see the X-men without Wolverine. But it ends up being an outright wrecking ball to the nuts when Jean Grey has no problem forgetting about the supposedly sacred love she shared with the guy and fell in love with Hank. That's not a typo. Within a few issues she was swapping spit with Beast like she had been in love with the guy since she had her first period. All the while she just brushes Scott's love aside, who remarkably doesn't seem to give two shits and a fart that the girl he agonized over for 20 years worth of comics just stopped loving him. On top of that, the guy leaves the team to be with a son who in this universe wasn't sent to the future (which still hasn't been explained mind you). It's probably the most piss poor characterization of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, and Logan ever made. But Claremont wasn't done. He had Kitty Pryde absorb a claw and suddenly, she turned into a weaker version of X-23. He also had Storm turn out to be an evil clone who offed Logan, but he also had her off Black Panther and for anybody who gave themselves a frontal lobotomy after the Storm/Black Panther marriage that was the sweetest eye candy ever.
I know I may sound like I'm ranting a bit here, but there are some characterizations that were actually good here. For one, Piotr is part of the Winter Guard with Black Widow and that was pretty sweet. Remy is less a thug and more a Rico Suave type character, which actually is a nice shift since he hadn't been developed at this point. Sabretooth is actually Logan's father, which also works considering the continuity Claremont is working with. He also joins the X-men and as crazy as that sounds, Claremont actually makes it work. So it's not all horrible. Some of it is actually pretty damn awesome. It just isn't awesome enough to overlook the larger piles of bullshit that have accumulated with other plot threads.
Getting back to Giant Size, Claremont has a chance here to move the plot ahead and make Forever less seizure-inducing. And in many respects, he succeeds. The premise of the issue is pretty awesome. The Shi'ar Empire is in a bit of a shit storm. The Skrulls used a little gap in their cyber security to inflict some galactic sized pain. It turns out the one responsible is the man Empress Lilandra has the alien hots for, Charles Xavier. As is customary with the Shi'ar, they need to seek Xavier out and make sure he faces their brand of justice which in many ways can be likened to the kind of justice the old Soviet Union used to inflict. Translation: he's in deep shit.
Meanwhile, Xavier and Scott are having a heart-t0-heart after what happened with the Consortium in issue 24. Recently, they just lost Beast and Tony Stark was killed as well. The X-men are naturally trying to lay low for a while and Xavier is trying to convince Scott to come back. That's a tall order when his son is still around and the girl who took a shit on his heart is still living there and seems to feel no guilt over what she did. But it's still a nice moment between these characters that reflects the classic father/son relationship that Cyclops and Xavier used to have before the recent comics threw an army's worth of wrenches into that relationship.
They're not alone either. More familiar faces show up that haven't been in Forever yet. Among them are Iceman, Arcangel, Opal, and Charlotte. They all get together with Scott's grandparents for some much needed catching up and it's all smiles for the most part. There's even a hint at what may have happened with Nathan to keep him in the present as opposed to what happened in the 616 comics to send him into the future. But Claremont offers no details. He just adds a note that it's a story he hasn't told yet, which is nice because it's the first time since the annual that he's acknowledged it.
But the good mood doesn't last. The Shi'ar show up and Nathan senses it. The Imperial Guard arrives and they're looking to take Xavier in. But before the action can begin, the rest of the team has to be brought into the fold. Jean, Remy, Lil Ro (long story), Sabretooth, and Kitty are back at the mansion unwinding in their own way. Then they get unexpectedly beamed into the conflict Star Trek style through the Starjammer. It's a nice way to get all the heavy hitters into the same arena and it doesn't feel like an excuse. It shows that Claremont still knows how to make a story flow after all these years.
As soon as they arrive, Xavier gives them the 411. Apparently, he knows he's up shit's creek at the ridge of a waterfall. He seems to figure out with an almost bland type of realization that he was responsible for the Skrulls attacking the Shi'ar. It's amazing he can figure that out and that he plainly spells it out as old school comic characters so often did. I know it's part of the nostalgia factor again, but in the year 2010 it still feels pretty lame. There's no personality behind the discussion. It's almost as if Xavier is narrating and that's okay for thought bubbles, but when he's speaking plainly it makes the reader roll their eyes.
But bland narration aside, this is quickly forgiven by the next scene which is an old school, knock-down, all out brawl between the X-men and the Imperial Guard. Anybody who has any knowledge of the history of the X-men will get a six foot boner reading over this scene. It's the kind of Claremont magic that makes X-men the high caliber awesome fans have come to know and love. There really isn't much that can be said about the scene. It's just plain freakin' awesome.
At times there are still some old-school styles that feel more dated than 8-track tapes. During this fight and throughout X-men Forever itself characters have a tendency to describe their actions in thought bubbles. Like when someone is choking them they actually think "He's choking me! I cannot breathe! My air is cut off! I'm going to pass out!" Of course that's now what real people think when they're being choked. The only thoughts that would come out during a moment like that would be "Ack! Ack! Uugggggghhhh!" Yeah, that probably wouldn't make for good thought bubbles and this style worked back in the day. Now it feels more out of place than Barry Bonds at an anti-doping convention. It doesn't take away from the awesome, but it does add to the lameness.
The fight drags on and like most battles with the Imperial Guard it turns into a stalemate. Eventually, Professor Xavier mans up and tells his team to stand down. He's willing to turn himself into the Shi'ar in order to save his students. It's the kind of sacrifice you would expect Charles Xavier to make, that is before he became such a douche-bag in recent comics. It's very noble and a fitting conclusion to the battle. Naturally, the X-men are not willing to just stand by and watch their mentor be taken to the Shi'ar gulags. But he convinces them that this is his responsibility and he has to man up. For a guy in a wheelchair, that's a hell of a lot of backbone.
So the X-men have to watch their mentor leave. Before he goes, he makes Cyclops in charge of the Xavier Institute. He's supposed to keep his dream alive from now on. It basically makes staying with his son in Alaska a moot point. In a ways that's a good thing because it gets him back on the team. In other ways it's kind of following the same formula the current comics are following, where Scott is already the undisputed leader of the X-men. But given these different circumstances, it still works and doesn't bring down the issue. It makes for a sad yet fitting final moment that leads the X-men from one chapter in their lives and into another.
But it doesn't end here! No, Claremont just can't resist wetting everybody's appetite for the next volume. He already lays the groundwork by showing a brief scene with the Avengers. Apparently, they're not all that enthused with seeing Tony Stark die in a fight that the X-men were involved with. As far as they're concerned, the X-men are accessories to murder and they have to be brought in. You almost wish they were still fighting the Shi'ar, but it leaves the door open for plenty of kick-ass action in the new volume and if heroes are going to be fighting heroes it seems like there's a Forever-style Civil War on the horizon. By and large, it's a damn nice way to keep readers interested. And as an extra cherry on top, the issue has a reprint of Uncanny X-men 108. Considering all you get for about five bucks, it's a hell of a value that fast food companies have wet dreams thinking about.
So what more can be said about Giant Size X-men Forever? It's a decent book, but not decent enough to escape the massive baggage the series acquired through the first 25 issues. The characterization for Scott, Jean, Logan, Beast, Kitty, and Storm are still too sickening to command respect and the old-school styles like bland narration and thought bubbles still seem dated. Personally, I liked the book, but only because it didn't pour more iodine into the gaping wounds the previous issues opened. It's hard to really call it good when all it really did was not screw up and just tell a decent enough story to move the plot along with a few classic elements that old school fans would appreciate.
Factoring everything into the positives and negatives of this book, it gets a 2.5 out of 5. It's worth picking up, but it's not a must-have and your collection won't go into fits if you don't have it. X-fans can simply afford to miss this book without feeling too bad about it. Real old school fans will probably appreciate it more, but by and large it still carries too many problems from the X-men Forever series as a whole.
Chris Claremont is still an awesome writer and his legend is unsurpassed in the annuls of X-men. I love his work and I'll always love his work, but X-men Forever is a huge disappointment. His characterization is really contrived and the plots he uses feel way too forced at times. It's not that he has bad ideas or that they're too much. He just tries to force them too much without really developing the finer points of the series. The saddest part is if this is what he had in mind back in 1991 it almost vindicates the editors for taking the book in another direction. What he's done with Forever has really damaged the extent of the continuity prior to 1991, which he said he would respect. It's not completely unsalvageable. A Chris Claremont book is never unsalvageable. But it certainly has a long way to go. Nuff said.