Thursday, June 10, 2010
X-men Second Coming Chapter 10: Uncanny X-men #525 - Awesome With Shortcomings
Though the Second Coming crossover has been a clinic in awesome since it began, there has been a distinct pattern emerging through each issue. No event is perfect. There will always be some weak points along the way. What's distressing about Second Coming is that those weak points are all coming from the same source: Matt Fraction and his issues of Uncanny X-men. Between all the writers involved in his crossover, his name has been attached to the issues that give X-fans the most headaches. Granted, he's not obliterating the crossover Jeph Loeb style, but he's playing his role as the proverbial ball and chain. He's like the Al Davis of the professional comic writer's league, charismatic yet annoying as fuck to the fans. Uncanny X-me #525 isn't complete trash and it does move the story along, but it does have some glaring flaws you could have an AC/DC concert in front of.
The issue picks up immediately where the last issue of X-Force left off. Cyclops has just sent Cable and X-Force into the Days of Futures Past timeline to stop the incoming hoards of Nimrod Sentinels. It's a desperate move, but when you're dealing with Nimrod sentinels that's the only kind of move you can afford to make. Needless to say, Hope is pissed. She makes no bones about it either. She heard Cyclops musing at the end of the last issue that he just killed his son. You would think a guy as smart as Scott Summers would know when to keep that shit to himself. Guess some writers need to throw in a few dramatics. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it can still make a reader's eyes roll about halfway. It's not terrible, but not awe-inspiring either.
This is also where one of the biggest developments yet in the crossover emerges. Hope Summers, who hasn't flashed any powers since the Cable series when she stopped Bishop's bullet in mid air, showed some of her messiah aura. It's been a huge question mark since the beginning of the crossover. How in the hell is this teenage girl who looks strikingly similar to Jean Grey going to save the mutant race? What kind of powers could she have? She's been hinted at being everything from a telepath and telekinetic to a mimic to some mutant power backup or whatever hell that entails. Here, her eyes flash red in the same color as Cyclops's optic blasts. It could be just out of anger or it could be something else. But it's definitely apparent some power is there and it seems to lend support to the mimic theory, even if that doesn't explain the many other feats she's accomplished like breaking Cerebra, healing Rogue, and pulling off a number of psychic feats.
She runs off before she can flash any more hints and this leads to a huge shortcoming in the issue. This is actually the last scene Hope Summers is in for the rest of the issue. I get that there's a lot going on, but after a sign like this just leaving it alone feels like a real douche-bag sort of move. So she flashes these powers and Cyclops does absolutely nothing to investigate? Aren't her powers supposed to be the key to their salvation? It's enough to make a readers head feel as though it just got whacked with a baseball bat. The world isn't just spinning. It's destabilizing. On top of it all, Hope's outburst comes off as that of an immature brat. This is a girl who to this point has shown the strength and courage instilled in her by Cable every step of the way. She's had her share of vulnerable moments because she is still a teenage girl (and let's face it, teenage girls can make a hell of a scene), but only Matt Fraction has made her look so blatantly immature. He did it in Uncanny X-men #523 when he had her jumping on the bed of her hotel and he has her doing it here. It's really an insult to the character that's been fleshed out since Messiah Complex. It's probably the single greatest shortcoming of this issue. It only hints at Hope's development and doesn't actually follow through.
While the Hope moment is disappointing, the issue does pick up in the next scene when the rest of the Marvel Universe joins the Second Coming party. It is here where the events of Second Coming Revelations: Blind Science coincide with the arrival of the Avengers. Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four meet up with Dr. Nemesis and the Science Team to analyze the barrier that has San Francisco completely sealed. They really doesn't reveal anything new. It's impenetrable. That was already established. What is established is a plan. They need to open up a hole just big enough for Cap to get in. Seriously, that's the plan. It makes about as much cents as Cambodian garbage man. But at least it's something. You would think bringing in heroes like this would yield something more elaborate. Even if it's still building to that, it feels like a waste of precious ink.
Thankfully, Fraction does pick up the pace from here. Back on Utopia, Cyclops is forced to adjust his tactics. More Nimrod sentinels are coming through the portal and they're cutting them off at every turn. He's in turn forced to deal with the damage in a tactical manner. He cuts off power to pretty much every part of Utopia except the sick bay. It may seem extreme, but it adds some real world elements to the battle. Because that's what this is. It's a battle and Cyclops has to employ serious tactics. It may not seem logical to casual readers, but it's the kind of thing Generals do in the real world. They make necessary strategic sacrifices to reinforce the bare essentials. Since Fraction can't resist making Cyclops look awesome, he has a Nimrod sentinel show up shortly after that he blows away like Susan Boyle singing the national anthem.
But Cyclops isn't the only one who gets to kick ass. The rest of the X-men are still swarming the city, fighting the Nimrod sentinels and doing their best to protect a pants-shittingly terrified public. Storm actually gets to carry herself as an X-man instead of being a fluffer for Wakandan royalty, hitting the sentinels with her unique brand of wrath while others like Psylocke and Surge throw their weight around. It highlights some solid action scenes by artist, Terry Dodson. The colors and details are rich and powerful. It's definitely an appropriate ambiance for an issue like this. It carries on a tradition of strong art that has really helped make Second Coming one of the most visually appealing books in long time.
The art would have been a key driving force in the journey towards awesome that every comic goes through. But Fraction doesn't make it easy when he tries to throw in a few goofy one-liners that he may think are funny, but are just blatantly stupid. There's a time for humor and a time for jokes and this ain't it! Worst of all, he tries to make a joke of Watchmen using Fantomex. Maybe I'm just respecting one of the most critically acclaimed comics of all time too much, but a joke like that doesn't make a comic witty. It makes it look like an asshole. If you're going to make a joke at the expense of another comic, at least make sure it's a comic that has no respect. Make a joke about Ultimatum or the Clone Saga. These are books nobody gives two shits from a raccoons ass about. Maybe it works in a Deadpool comic, but Second Coming is written in a far more serious context. The least any writer could do is respect that.
Poor joking aside, the issue continues to move forward at a solid pace by picking up with Cable and X-Force in the Days of Futures Past timeline. Old school fans will feel their nostalgia boner shoot up when they see the familiar dystopian future that has been the focal point of so many classic stories. As it just so happens, Cable and X-Force arrive right in front of the famous wall that lists all the mutants who have been slain. Only this time, there are no blank spots. Every picture has a distinct label 'slain.' Needless to say, that freaks everybody out because it means they got a lot more riding on them now. The way time is unfolding, the X-men will lose and Bastion will win. Arcangel whines about this for a moment, but X-23 gives him and the rest of the team a necessary kick in the balls. Again, Fraction can't seem to resist making some characters more whiney than usual, but after the Hope outburst readers should have a tolerance for that shit the same way professional drinkers (alcoholics to some) have a tolerance.
From here, there isn't much time to keep whining. The anti-mutant forces that have long since fallen off the genocide-is-wrong bandwagon show up and start shooting. As expected, X-Force doesn't take kindly to their shit and they attack. The plan here is still understated, but in this instance it makes sense. Their only real objective is to get to Mastermold and stop the Nimrods from pouring into the past. There really aren't many elaborate ways that can be written and Fraction shows his strength here by laying out the path before them and sending them right into the fire. In terms of the grim and gritty action that X-Force is known for, it works perfectly. Craig Kyle and Chris Yost would certainly approve.
While this fight is unfolding, another unexpected (if not completely out-of-the-blue) development occurs on Utopia. Professor Charles Xavier, who hasn't shown his face at all during this grave affair, finally confronts Cyclops looking as though he's been kicking back peacefully while everyone around him fights for their lives. He goes off on this heart-felt apology, telling Cyclops he never thought it would get this bad. If only the X-men had a nickle for every time he said that they could bribe Bastion into quitting with all his bullshit.
It's a major hole that in many ways should have been filled sooner by other writers, not just Fraction. Where the hell has Xavier been all this time and what the fuck has he been doing? Has he just been hiding out on Utopia, watching on Fox News as his students suffer (and die at times)? I get that he's allowing Cyclops to work and lead, but you would think a guy whose very name is literally synonymous with the X-men would at least be present. Only now he's showing up? It's enough to make anyone who has been following this crossover to wonder if they're suffering from temporary amnesia because something had to be missing.
Outlandish timing aside, Fraction does try to make the best of it. For one, the strange connection between Hope and Rogue is not forgotten. Cyclops is now entrusting Rogue to go after Hope and calm her down so she actually cares enough to be the messiah she's supposed to be. He also reaches out to Xavier by asking that he enlist the services of his schizophrenic, illegitimate, omega level mutant son, Legion. This is something else that's coming out of the blue. Where the hell has he been the whole time and why wasn't he used sooner? A lot is flying over the readers' head here, but it's hard to blame Fraction for this because it's a plot that really shouldn't have been at least hinted at. I know these comics only have a limited amount of space to work with, but when they need a trump card to work with a few hints go a long way.
At the very least, it's nice to see Professor Xavier back in the fold. It makes the crossover feel that much more complete and hopefully he'll get his moments in the final few issues. This would have been a great place to end it, but there's one last scene with the Avengers and the science team. Again, not much seems to happen here and their presence really seems like a waste of ink. The only thing the final scene accomplishes is throwing in the typical "we're all doomed" and "everybody's going to die" cliffhanger. It would be much more powerful if it wasn't so cliched, but that seems to bring all the shortcomings of this issue into perspective.
Taking everything into account, Uncanny X-men #525 is still an awesome issue and it certainly doesn't bring down the whole Second Coming crossover. But it still comes off as the ugly step-child to an otherwise picturesque family of issues. Fraction's handling of Hope, one-liners, and the Avengers just feels disjointed from the tone of the rest of the comics. It's like that lone LA Clippers fan at a Lakers game. It may have the right passion, but it's horribly out of place.
Fraction still succeeded in a number of ways. He moved the story forward and he set up some promising plots for the third and final act of Second Coming. Along with Terry Dodson's art, the issue has undeniable quality. The problem is that the tone just doesn't match with the rest of the series and it makes Fraction seem like a writer who is out of his element. He can do so many things with these characters, but his style just doesn't fit the context.
The final score for Uncanny X-men $525 is a 3 out of 5. It's a long ways away from being terrible, but still not within spitting distance of being as awesome as the other issues of the crossover. Now that Fraction has finished his part, it's up to Zeb Wells to continue with New Mutants. With Legion now entering the picture and Rogue linking up with Hope, there is a lot of potential. What still baffles me is that at this stage nobody has commented on Hope's resemblance to Jean Grey and she still hasn't flashed her Phoenix potential as hinted at in all the teasers. Time is running out. There are a lot of loose ends to be filled. Second Coming has been a wondrous display of awesome thus far, but if it leaves too much open then all that awesome will be for nothing. This crossover deserves better. Nuff said.