Tuesday, June 15, 2010
X-men Forever Volume 2 Issue 1 - Mixed Awesome
Over the past year I've been pretty harsh on Chris Claremont and X-men Forever. I've had a long list of grievances and an even longer list of pain pills to help me deal with the frustration this series has caused me. Chris Claremont is a comic book legend and his worth is undeniable, but some of the things he's done in X-men Forever has done the equivalent of having three elephants shit diarrhea on his legacy. Between killing Logan, making Jean such a skank, making Cyclops so dismissive, turning Kitty into a new X-23, and twisting Storm beyond recognition it's been one heart-wrenching disappointment after the other. Yet Claremont still finds some room for genuine awesome. The last issue of Giant Size wasn't terrible, but it succeeded mostly by not making worse the transgressions of the previous 24 issues. Now the book is moving forward with a relaunch of what Claremont calls Season 2 and the first issue definitely warrants some interest.
This issue picks up right where Giant Sized left off. Professor Xavier has been taken away by the Shi'ar and the team is struggling to adjust. Cyclops is in charge now and Nick Fury is still lending his hand around the mansion. Everybody seems to have their own share of problems. In classic Claremont (and 80s style for that matter) Kitty is narrating the scene. She's gone through a bit of a transformation and now she looks nothing like her earlier incarnation. She looks like a cross between Angelina Jolie and Courtney Love. It's not very flattering, but the theme seems to be that she's taking on Wolverine's persona with the claw she now has. It makes about as much sense as Quantum Mechanics, but it still works. Other problems are more mundane like Rogue adjusting to having a tail.
These little problems quickly take a back seat when the Avengers (the early 90s version anyways) shows up looking more pissed than grizzly that just watched her cubs get decapitated. Some of the members won't look very familiar because they haven't shown up in the comics in quite a while. Seriously, who remembers Spider-Woman and the silvery version of Vision? It may be a bit of stretch in terms of nostalgia, but at least Claremont is trying to respect the time period where this story stems from. It just feels like twenty six issues too late.
There's no calm sit-down or casual chit chat. The Avengers still haven't gotten over the X-men's role in Tony Stark's death. Apparently, they don't care to ask questions about how he was involved with a murdering nut job like Bolivar Trask or how he was caught up in a plot to wipe out all mutants. They just want to kick the ass of whoever killed him that hasn't already been killed. It's not very heroic, but if a reader read the final part of Giant Sized that set this fight up it makes sense. Anybody who is just jumping on is going to be a bit confused and will see the Avengers as being a bunch of douche bags.
Cap goes through the standard arrest protocols which leads to him hitting Cyclops with his shield. This would be very sweet for those who don't like the direction Cyclops has taken in the books recently, but this isn't the same guy. This is the guy whose watched the love of his life cheat on him and lie to him twice with two of his friends while he's off trying to take care of his son. Really, he doesn't deserve this and if anyone should take a shield to the head it's Jean Grey. Her Forever version deserves to be beat, strangled, and disemboweled more than any other character in this series and she's getting a free pass for the most part. Anybody who is a Jean Grey fan or a fan of Cyclops for that matter is going to feel the veins in their head and neck throb. Anyone who just wants to see a kick-ass Avengers vs. X-men fight will have plenty of reason to smile.
This is where the strength of the issue unfolds. The fight between the X-men and the Avengers here is pretty freakin' epic and undeniable awesome. Claremont may have fucked up the characterizations for a lot of his classics, but he certainly hasn't lost it when it comes to crafting some decent action scenes. This fight encompasses much of the issue and that's a good thing because it's a hell of a spectacle. It shows some fun scenes with the X-men utilizing their strengths as fighters and as a team. Kitty behaves more like Kitty and not some perverse X-23 ripoff when she phases through her enemies rather than tires to slash them Wolvie berserk style. It's a nice change up because she's taken way too many twists lately and not for the better. Some changes are more welcome. Rogue gets to show off her new power when she fights Quicksilver and Kurt (no new codename has been given yet) gets to show of his power when he fights the Scarlet Witch. They're both understandably confused, but in a way that's awesome and hilarious. For someone as powerful as Wanda Maximoff, it's the perfect way to take her out of the equation.
As fun as this fight is, it does unfortunately cut away a few times. There are some unfolding plots involving Sabretooth and Moria, but that's actually done well because it leads Sabretooth to joining the fight. Other scenes are a bit more a of a head-scratcher. Claremont is usually so good at providing hints about other plotlines, but there are times he's a few steps ahead of the readers. At one point he cuts away to some woman in a coma that's resting in a SHIELD headquarters. There aren't too many clues as to who the woman is or how the hell she fits into all this and there's no text to really offer any real substance. It's basically thrown in there and it wastes precious panels that could be used to show more X-men vs. Avengers. It'll probably come into play later, but it still feels really out of place.
One aside that sure didn't feel wrong was a cutaway to a very familiar orphanage. Anybody who is familiar with Cyclops's background will recognize the orphanage as the one he grew up in before he met the X-men. Well here a few new kids are shown playing around as young orphans tend to do. But the real hint comes from the closet, which seem to be the origin of all great fears for young children. Only this time it's not without merit. The distinct outline of Mr. Sinister shows up and that offers a slim ray of hope in a series that hasn't had many. Sinister hasn't shown up continuity wise since Inferno and he may be very interested to find out that Nathan is still alive, Scott and Jean are on the rocks, and Jean is falling in love with anybody and anything that puts a hand on her shoulder.
As a reader, I almost wish Sinister would kidnap and brain-wash Jean Grey so he can finally knock some sense into her. She's been a total fuck-up since the first panel of the first page of this whole fucking series and it's so sickening it's brought down every other major plot. Sinister would completely redeem himself if he just gets Jean to forget completely about the bullshit she pulled with Logan and Beast because she's already set herself up to be the most sadistic, unforgiving, and downright cruel bitch of this whole series and that's just an insult to anybody who ever liked X-men before Claremont tried to fix it. Make it happen, Sinny! You know you wanna!
The fight with the Avengers finally comes back and picks up again. It's understandably looking pretty shitty for the X-men. The Avengers have vengeance and the added advantage of being more pissed off on their side so it becomes painfully apparent they aren't going to win. Cyclops figures this out at least a few panels later than he should have and tries to hatch a plan. He does so with Jean (who has done jack shit to this point and that's probably a good thing) and they put it into action.
At this point Claremont starts playing with the perceptions of the readers and the Avengers. In a scene full of shock potential, Thor throws a few thunderbolts astray and they hit Lil Ro. It looks like the blow is lethal because she looks about as dead as Mark Sanford's political career.
The Avengers are visibly upset. They're supposed to be heroes and they're killing kids? That shit may work in Rawanda and the Congo, but not in the Westchester of the Marvel Universe. But for a comic like this, do you really think Claremont would resort to kid killing? Of course not. He's not very subtle about it either. You would expect the Avengers to react a lot more harshly because they weren't sent to kill anyone. They were supposed to bring the X-men in. It's a missed opportunity to throw a little emotion into the mix and like so many others in X-men Forever, the opportunity is squandered.
None of the readers should be surprised when they find out that Lil Ro is perfectly fine and so are the rest of the X-men. While the Avengers are busy scratching their heads and shitting their pants, they're retreating back into the mansion. When the Avengers finally figure out they've been mind fucked, they go after them. However, they don't get very far because as soon as the X-men disappear into the mansion the entire place explodes. There's no need for subtlety here. The Xavier Institute just fucking blows up.
It's a pretty awesome moment. It would have been even more awesome if it weren't so damn cliched by now. It wasn't long ago that the mansion exploded in the regular comics so it really isn't too big a shocker that it explodes here. If Forever is supposed to set itself apart from 616, it's doing a piss poor job. Even so, it still ends the issue on an exciting note. It was probably the only way to get away from the Avengers. They had to make it look like they blew up. Now they're on the run. Claremont tries to tease that this is the end of the X-men, but anybody who has ever read an X-men comic before should know better. They'll be back and this whole plotline of being on the Avenger's shit-list will continue.
So where does that leave this book? Overall, it's a decent issue. But since it is a first issue of a new volume, the standards are a little higher and Claremont fell plenty short here. It doesn't feel like the beginning of anything. It feels as though it could have just been issue 25 of the first series. Usually when a first issue is launched it signals something bigger and better. The mansion blowing up is admittedly big, but it's been done to death already. It just doesn't feel like a natural flow for the series and by and large, it's too mediocre to carry the monocle of being a #1. That doesn't make it as big a disappointment as many other Forever issues. Like Giant Sized before it, the success of every Forever issue seems to be gauged by how little it fucks up. This issue didn't fuck anything else up any worse than it already has been and that's a pretty lousy state for a book to be in. Issue one had a chance to redeem some of that and some seeds have been planted. It remains to be seen if they'll redeem the bullshit Claremont has shoveled onto this title, but there's still a chance.
For a kick-ass fight scene and some decent enough hints for future issues, the first issue of this new volume gets a 3 out of 5. It's only slightly better than Giant Sized and it still has many holes to fill. But there is still time and Chris Claremont is a good enough writer to do so. It just doesn't seem very likely. If it does then stick your head out the window because the apocalypse is probably underway. Nuff said.