Saturday, June 19, 2010
X-men Second Coming: New Mutants #14 - Struggling Towards Awesome
Time is running out for Second Coming. The big crossover Marvel is hyping up more than a Mike Tyson fight is nearing it's end. But while the series started so strong, it's been faltering as of late and it's running out of room to recover. The last issue, Uncanny X-men #525, was a disappointment in a number of ways. Matt Fraction has been good at stories, but characterization has not been his strong suite. To say his subtlety is shaky would be like saying rectal cancer is no more serious than a hang nail. Usually, Zeb Wells is able to pick up the slack with New Mutants. He did so last time with flying colors in New Mutants #13. Did he do the same with New Mutants #14? Yes and no, but that's where I need to give a full review because if I explained it here I would be shitting all over myself before I got to the toilet.
The transition from Uncanny to New Mutants was fairly smooth. In the last issue Cyclops was confronted by Charles Xavier, who is finally making some contributions to the crossover (even if it is 10 issues late). To counter the incoming hoards of Nimrod sentinels, he's enlisting the help of his omega level yet slightly (and by slightly I mean batshit crazy) unstable son, David. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but this walks the fine line between desperate and stupid. Legion hasn't done much of anything for years and all of the sudden he's thrust into the action? It's tantamount to Michael Jackson coming back from the dead as a black man.
But Legion is just part of the story. At this point in the fight the X-men aren't relying on battle tested veterans anymore to get the job done. With an army of Nimrod sentinels attacking, Cyclops enlists the entire population of Utopia. He basically gives a Mel Gibson style speech that would make William Wallace in Braveheart proud, stating that everyone is now part of the X-men and they have to use whatever power they have to fight back. Most of the mutants look at him in the same way a cow looks at an oncoming train. But he gets the message across and the fight continues.
But Cyclops isn't the only one giving a speech. Hope (you know, the girl who this whole damn crossover is supposed to be centered on?) finally shows up for the first time since the first pages of Uncanny X-men #525 and this time she's packing a big fucking gun. It makes it painfully clear she's been raised by Cable yet it's still a little unsettling that a 17-year-old girl is packing that much heat. Most 17-year-olds are barely responsible enough to drive, but Hope carries herself in a way that is far more mature than what Matt Fraction did. While he made her look like a total brat, Zeb Wells gives her balls of adamantium. Rogue was supposed to protect her and keep her out of the fight now that she hates Cyclops. But no good messiah is left on the sideline. That would be like benching Peyton Manning for Ryan Leaf in the Super Bowl. So she gets Rogue to come along with her.
It's a wonderful scene, but there's one problem and it's the same damn problem that Uncanny had. This is the last fucking page Hope appears on! She's even on the damn cover this time with Rogue and all she does is make her speech and that's it. She's never seen again for the rest of the comic. It's some piss poor planning that I would expect of Matt Fraction, but not Zeb Wells. He's supposed to be picking up the slack and now he's got butterfingers.
At least from here the story gets back to the action. The next scene shows the New Mutants taking on a hoard of Nimrod sentinels in a tunnel. Mercury, Boom Boom, Avalanche, and Roberto are all trying to hold their own. But they still aren't shaking the whole New Mutants role because they're getting their asses handed to them. To continue with the football metaphors they're like rookies thrust into a big game and the Nimrod's are the 2007 New England Patriots.
But the New Mutants aren't the only ones getting their asses handed to them in a neatly wrapped package. Even the X-men's heavy hitters are getting pummeled like a BP's corporate image. It is here where the power of the Nimrod Sentinels is really shown. They have the ability to adapt to whoever and whatever it is they're fighting. Just like Bastion, they use tactical skill to overcome their enemies. That's a far cry from the usual throw-a-shit-ton-of-force-at-the-problem-and-hope-for-the-best method. They're so effective that they break Colossus's freakin' arm! That's not a misprint. The Nimrods actually wound one of the X-men's strongest characters. It's an awesome scene that shows just how fucked the X-men really are.
The action isn't just unfolding in the present either. There's still a battle going on in the future with X-Force. Cable, Wolverine, and the rest of the team that Cyclops sent are looking to attack Mastermold, who is sending the Nimrod Sentinels into the past through a time portal. Some classic Days of Futures Past elements show up here such as hounds, which look about as miserable as the rest of the X-men are in the present. In this time Bastion and humanity has already won and that's like starting a fight with both arms chopped off for X-Force. It doesn't take long for them to get attacked so they try to be proactive.
It's at this point where Cypher, who if readers will recall acted like a total pussy in the last issue of X-Force, starts to show his worth. A lot of these attacks are machine driven. They really can't be anything else because apparently that's what defeated the X-men and mutants everywhere. As it just so happens Cypher can talk to machines and he gets them to help out. It's unclear if he hacked them or just flirted with a female machine and got it to do him a favor. It makes for one of the few genuinely funny moments in a story that has been filled with so much gloom and doom you need a bucket of prozac at your side at all times.
Things quickly get serious again while X-Force is busy. The fight with the X-men on the Golden Gate bridge is still going strong and the X-men are losing badly. People are getting hurt, mutants are suffering, and the Nimrod Sentinels are essentially laughing like Scott Fargus in "A Christmas Story." It seems as good a time as any for the tide to turn and that's where Legion makes his big entrance.
Under the coaxing and careful control (which of course implies it's a disaster waiting to happen) of Professor Xavier, Legion joins the X-men on the bridge and starts manifesting powers and personalities faster than Nimrod can adapt. It leads to some pretty badass moments from a guy who's about as likable as OJ Simpson. It still has the benefit of working and Zeb Wells does a good job of portraying David's abilities while Xavier has to walk that fine line. It seems at the very least that it buys the X-men some badly needed time for X-Force to work.
Back with X-Force, they begin the assault on Mastermold and Cypher is the key. He has to convince these machines to help him and not Bastion. That's a pretty hard sell and it leaves the rest of X-Force high and dry to face the full onslaught of the Days of Futures Past timeline. This is probably the most compelling part of the book besides the Legion story, showing how Cypher is making his value known by interacting with Mastermold. It's not done in a vacuum. Wells does make it a point to give Mastermold a bit of a personality and Cypher has to appeal to that personality. It's a struggle that is left on a cliffhanger and sets up for what hopes to be the final push to link the future with the present.
As fun as this scene is, Wells quickly goes back to lesser fight scenes and that feels like a mistake. It's very much one of the weak points of this issue. The good scenes are too short and the bad scenes are drawn out. It may just be that old illusion as a kid where a trip to the water park was over too soon and a morning at church felt like having to swim naked across the Pacific Ocean, but it's painfully apparent here and it's the first time it's happened in a Zeb Wells issue of this crossover. He's a much better writer than this and some of these scenes could easily be cut for some more screen time with X-Force, Hope, or even the New Mutants (since this is a New Mutants book after all). But that's not what happens.
The only upside is that on the final pages he sets up a juicy end for Mike Carey to pick up on with X-men Legacy. In the last part Beast is under attack in the infirmary by incoming Nimrods and Magneto is still with him. It's only the second time Magneto has shown up since he's been bedridden in wake of the events of Uncanny X-men 522. He hasn't done much, but here he basically gives the finger to doctors orders and rises up to attack. It's not exactly heroic. It's more the I'm-sick-of-this-bullshit-and-I-want-to-bust-some-heads type attitude. It's not flattering, but it looks unbearably awesome.
Despite this strong finish, New Mutants #14 still has a lot of shortcomings that aren't easy to overlook. The most glaring issue isn't so much the choppy scenes and the lack of salience between them. It's more so that this book is called New Mutants and there are about as much New Mutants in this book as there is brilliance in George W. Bush's speeches. It completely breaks with the tradition that every book has followed in Second Coming. Even though the titles of the books change, it's still easy to tell which is Uncanny and which is X-men Legacy. They do stand out in their own right. Here, that wasn't the case. This could have just as easily been labeled Uncanny or X-men Legacy and it wouldn't have felt out of place. That's just poor representation and a glaring fault that Zeb Wells should be above.
Never-the-less, he still manages to throw in enough awesome parts to make the book work. It is an improvement over Uncanny X-men #525, but only in the same way diarrhea is slightly less sick than barfing up chunks of lung into a toilet. It does a good job of setting up the next part and hopefully this is where things will start to come together. Second Coming has been on a large scale since the beginning, but it's dangerously close to dragging this out because aside from the fighting not much has happened. There hasn't been any major revelation about Bastion or the future. There hasn't been a major sacrifice or death. And there is still no explanation about Hope, who she is, and how she'll undo M-Day. The X-writers are running out of time and if answers don't start coming soon, then the epic nature of this crossover will start to take a hit.
New Mutants #14 (even though it's still a stretch to call it a New Mutants book) gets a 3.5 out of 5. At the very least it leaves the next part ready for an awesome rise in the very capable hands of Mike Carey. If anyone can get the momentum back in this crossover, it's him. Nuff said.