Sunday, July 18, 2010

Uncanny X-men Heroic Age - Setting The Stage For Awesome

Well Second Coming is over. Every issue has been released and anybody with an internet connection knows what happened at this point. Marvel billed this as the biggest X-event of the decade and while it's debatable whether or not it lived up to that hype, there's no denying the impact of this crossover. It has fundamentally reshaped the X-universe through a series of explosions, killer robots, and near extinction caliber threats. It all sounds like a pretty average Wednesday for the X-men, but the scale of such events make it impossible to carry on the story as had been done previously. So like stripper that just got new breast implants, the X-men comics need to rethink the way they conduct their business.

Enter Uncanny X-men: The Heroic Age. This one-shot written by Matt Fraction is essentially the epilogue and the prologue to the next phase in X-men comics. If you're looking for an epic battle or a huge struggle against the forces of good and evil, pack your bags and go move in with Michael Bay because you won't get that here. But if you're looking for some character development between some of the key players in Second Coming, grab some popcorn and whatever exotic substances you happen to have nearby (shrooms may make the characters turn into lizards just so you know) because this comic is all about personal growth.

The book focuses on three characters: Cyclops, Beast, and Hope. Each underwent their share of hardships in Second Coming, although Beast really didn't do a whole lot other than piss and moan to Cyclops. But his role is understandable since he was such a vocal critic of how Cyclops was conducting himself. It still seems a bit whiney though. The very first part sets the stage for what these characters go through. It starts with another Beast/Cyclops argument, which for the past few years seem to happen ever few issues or so. There isn't much new here. Beast tells Cyclops he's leaving...again. He also points out that he's crossed too many lines. That's debatable, but Beast makes his message clear. Make love and not war. Yeah, a guy that smart and the best he could come up with is an old catch phrase from the 60s forged in the Vietnam war, free love, and shit tons of LSD. I was disappointed too.

Cyclops is understandably upset. This is one of his oldest friends and he isn't so callous that he totally brushes him off. He genuinely seems conflicted in the sense that Beast may be right. So what does he do to address it? Simple, he needs to clear his head. How does he do that? Does he go and get plastered like Wolverine? Does he call up Emma Frost for a six hour fuckfest in a recreation of the porno classic "All My Titties and Cock: Juggertits Revenge?" No, he goes on a little vacation to the Savage Land to beat up some killer dinosaurs. As much as I love "All My Titties" this is still pretty damn awesome. If you're a PETA supporter, you may want to look away. But hey, it's how the man unwinds. After the shit he's been through, he deserves a pass from the animal rights crowd.

Beast sees the need to unwind as well, albeit in a far less awesome manner. He goes to a zoo while listening to podcasts. It makes about as much sense as it sounds. He claims to be waiting for his girlfriend, which for anybody who has forgotten about Astonishing and SWORD is Abigail Brand. However, she does the standard bitch thing and stands him up, forcing him to stand awkwardly while he tries to make sense of the bullshit he's jumped in. It looks like he needs a pep-talk from a fellow hero, but instead he gets a visit from a little girl named Molly Hayes. Yeah, she's the same Molly Hayes who has all the strength of Colossus and with all the immaturity of a twelve-year-old. She needs help on a report and yet somehow this is supposed to help Hank make sense of his life. If Marvel is trying to teach kids the value of homework, this is a shitty way to make their point.

But Molly isn't the only immature teenager getting a pep talk. Hope Summers, the mutant messiah from whom the entire Second Coming event was spun from, is still as messed up as you would expect a 17-year-old girl raised in an apocalyptic future by a guy with the social aptitude of Ted Kazinski. As is recommended for all time travelers fresh from a near-fatal encounter with killer robots, Hope gets a checkup from none other than Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. It's worth noting here that Second Coming did not reveal a whole lot about who Hope was and what she's capable of. This is the first time she's been put under a microscope, but it's not for answers. It's just a checkup, or so they say. Either way, Hope looks about as comfortable as a guy hearing about the treatment options for stage 4 rectal cancer.

If Hope could switch positions with Cyclops, she probably would. Attacking a hoard of killer dinosaurs seems far more preferable to a standard post-time travel doctors visit. The X-leader keeps relaxing as he's so inclined to do in a place like the Savage Land. At one point he's cornered and looking for a way to break out. That's when he gets a visit from probably the only person qualified and respectable enough to give him a pep talk...Captain America. No, I'm not talking about the Bucky Barnes version. I'm talking about Steve Fucking Rogers. Yeah...that Captain America. Whenever this guy talks, people listen and that includes Cyclops.

While this makes for an awesome meeting of the minds between legendary leaders, the exchange between Beast and Molly makes for the kind of insight that just barley matches the graffiti on public restrooms (the ones that aren't just drawings of dicks that is). Beast goes onto give a little lecture to Molly, explaining what it means to be extinct and how Hope's return will do jack shit for the mutant race. That's the kind of pessimism you don't want to give a twelve-year-old raised on Disney movies and after school specials telling them everything is possible if they just put their mind to it (spoiler alert: it isn't). Yet Beast still acts surprised when Molly calls him a jerk. Really? I thought this guy was supposed to be smart.

Jerk or not, Beast is still in a better position than Hope Summers. She's still undergoing the Dr. House treatment with the Fantastic Four. She's basically catching up on 17 years of overdue medical care and that's every bit as comfortable as it sounds. Lucky for her, Franklyn Richards is there to keep her company. The kid is a little too happy-go-lucky though. Hope just lost her surrogate father and is in an overgrown MRI machine that is taking snapshots of her innards. He does give her some decent advice though. In this Franklyn one-ups Beast in terms of pep talks. You know a character is in trouble when a kid who can't even drive yet can make your social skills look stupid.

Steve Rogers goes onto make Beast look increasingly foolish by giving Cyclops an Oscar worthy rendition in terms of pep talks, minus the bullshit from the academy of course. He's able to put the X-men into a perspective that Cyclops seems to have forgotten. The X-men are heroes. He needs to start thinking of them as heroes. That may sound easy, but considering how Cyclops has conducted himself with the X-men over the past few years it makes perfect sense. He's been acting like the general of an army when that's not what the world needs. The X-men have always been heroic in nature and that's the identity they need. And since Steve Rogers is the least douchiest person in the comic book world, he offers his help to Cyclops. If Oprah were watching, she would give everybody another new car.

Not to come off as a completely incompetent douche-bag, Hank does salvage some of his credibility with Molly. Even if mutants are doomed and Hope doesn't save their race, it just makes their lives that much more meaningful. They have to make a much bigger impact if history is to remember them. It's a nice message and all, but it's still assuming that they're all doomed. If Beast were a motivational speaker, he would fired and his books would be publicly used as toilet paper. Molly still gives him a hug and all, but the guy still comes off as a pessimistic jerk. He's not just an ardent realist. He's fatalist, no better than the assholes who claim America is in decline. Doesn't matter if they're right or wrong, they're still assholes even if twelve-year-olds hug them.

It's more than Reed can expect from Hope. He finally finishes his tests and she's still got some catching up to do. She needs vaccinations, dental work, and meds to deal with her rickets. It's actually kind of awesome in the sense that these seem like real maladies that one may have to deal with after spending 17 years in the future. You don't get those kinds of details in comics when they deal with time travel. It may not seem like a big deal, but it really humanizes the story and that's big for a book like this.

But even with a good prognosis, that leads to another disturbing question that Second Coming didn't answer. Richards needs some background on her biological family to figure out if there are any more anomalies. Unfortunately, Hope's family (if she had any) was slaughtered back during Messiah Complex. That is still a mystery among many with Hope and if Reed Richards is puzzled then that's a pretty bad sign that something shitty is up.

It's not just bad for the eggheads in the room. It's bad for Hope as well. She's got enough on her plate with Cable being dead and every mutant in the world relying on her to reinvigorate the species. She was never told anything about her parents and very few hints were ever dropped about them. It seems like an important question to answer before she takes this whole Mutant Messiah bit seriously. So she makes a conscious decision right then and there. She's going to go to Alaska and find her family.

While this sets the stage for another story, some of the more pressing matters are laid to rest. When Steve Rogers said he was going to lend a hand to Cyclops with respect to making the X-men heroes again, he fucking meant it. The man is true to his word and not in the Joker kind of way either. He manages to pull some strings and gets the president (who of course is never shown in comics) to give Cyclops the Presidential Metal of Freedom. It's a big reward that acknowledges for once that this guy saved an entire city and a race on the brink of extinction. Even though many Cyclops haters out there will start cutting themselves emo style when they see this, it's hard to argue that the man hasn't earned it.

In terms of PR, this is better than saving 100 little orphan girls and their pet kittens from a burning building. The X-men are celebrated by the entire city of San Francisco as heroes. It's better than the gay pride parade and Mardi Gras put together. For once, it's a happy ending for the X-men and one that was long overdue. It seems every time another event ends, it leaves things even worse for the good guys. Not this time. For once, the X-men are given the hero treatment and it feels so good.

It would have been a nice way to end the comic, but there was one loose end to tie up. During Second Coming, Hope said on more than one occasion that she hated Cyclops with every fiber of her being. As the mutant messiah, that's like being on Jesus's shit list and that's never a good thing. So Cyclops understandably seeks to patch things up with Hope. It doesn't happen all at once and that's a good thing. But Cyclops still makes an admirable effort to prove to Hope that he's going to take care of her and he's going to be there for her just as Cable was. And remarkably, she doesn't make another ghastly face like the one Greg Land drew in X-men Legacy. Cyclops shows that he's shifted in his methods, not just barking orders anymore. When Hope says she wants to find her family in Alaska, he agrees. He lets her make the decision and Hope smiles. It's a nice way to show these two characters coming together and making amends. The fact that Hope is a redhead should also make Emma Frost very uncomfortable.

So from here, the next stage is set and it's going to pick up in Uncanny X-men next month. In terms of resolution, this was pretty damn good. However, only two-thirds of it can really be considered awesome. That's because for all intents and purposes, Beast's little side-plot was practically meaningless. At least with Hope and Cyclops, there was some growth in their characters. With Beast, there was nothing. He had a chat with Molly and that was it. He never showed any reservation about leaving the X-men. He never showed any second thoughts with regards to what he said to Cyclops. He essentially came off as the only douche-bag yet he's supposed to be the one with all the ethics. It's pretty fucked up and makes his contribution to the comic about as important as a feather duster in a coal mine.

On top of that there was no further elaboration on Hope's abilities while she was getting checked up by Reed Richards. You would think a guy as smart as him would take time to make sense of all that power she unleashed, especially if it involved the Phoenix Force. But he didn't. Her powers were never even mentioned. Even her DNA wasn't mentioned either. If they had that, couldn't they determine what that meant for her mutation? Couldn't they also use that to see if she had any relations to other X-men? Like say another redhead with green eyes and a history of Phoenix related incidents? It is a serious shortcoming, but unlike the Beast plot it is understandable. This is a mystery that isn't going to be solved in one issue. The story of who Hope is and what she can do is going to be milked like an overgrown tit until it withers into nothing. That's how Marvel does things. It would be nice if there had been some clues, but it's still not worth condemning the book over.

Overall Uncanny X-men: Heroic Age was a feel-good conclusion to Second Coming and a nice little trailer for the next string of events. If you don't get excited for the next string of X-comics, give yourself a shot of adrenaline and run naked through the streets because you have serious issues. Were it not for the lousy Beast scenes, this book would get a perfect score. But because of those shortcomings, I can only give this title a 4 out of 5. It's still a decent comic. Just cut out the Beast scenes with Molly and it's perfect! Nuff said.


  1. This is FE from the JGPFs board. :)

    First my more 'critical' comments, lol: While I'm not a huge Beast fan, Jack, I do think you were unfair to him. Beast has often been portrayed as someone nostalgic for the 'good old days'. He never was a person who would be deemed hip, popular or cool amongst the school crowds. Also, his posture, to me, *screamed* uncertainty over his decision and huge disappointment over Scott's actions. Beast has never really related well with others outside of his immediate friends in the X-men and has been pretty much a loner, otherwise, throughout his comics portrayal (case in point, his jokes that always fall flat, even amongst his closest friends and Trish Trilby, his ex, whom, even though they had been very close, he had not been able to guess would stand him up, much like Abigail Brand - don't much like her, either - did, in this current issue) and so I can understand his lack of development when compared to someone like, say, Emma.

    Now for the positive comments (:D): However, Alaska, eh? It's interesting that that US state always pops up when a lookalike of Jean comes along, especially considering that it is the home of Scott's grandparents. Don't you think...?

  2. Thank you for your feedback, FE. I appreciate what you're saying and perhaps you were right. I was not fair to Beast in this review. I just think that if Fraction wanted to vindicate his hostility towards Scott, there were plenty of other ways to do it. His conversation with Molly really didn't reveal much. His attitude didn't seem to make any progress the way Scott and Hope did. I suppose it's not Beast I should blame and more so Fraction for not putting him in a position to be awesome.

    And on the Alaska issue, I think that is pretty telling. This is where a lot of activity tends to emerge that is Jean related. This is where she and Scott lived for a while and this is where Madelyn first arose. It makes a Jean connection all the more likely and I hope they follow through on this one. It could make for an awesome story.

  3. I assume you're joking with the 'president is never shown in comics' line?

    Good review, really useful for those of us unlikely to pick this ish up for a while. Keep up the good work!

  4. Thanks Jim! And yeah, that shot at the president was a joke. I'm glad I could be of service. However, this is one of those comics I do recommend people picking up so long as they don't mind the weak plot with Beast. I'll be keeping close tabs on the X-line from here on out, but now that Second Coming is over I hope to get more books into my review list. It depends on how much these time I can spare.

  5. And, on that, I certainly agree, Jack! :) I often have trouble coming down on the writers, themselves, without being harsh to the character, now that I think about it.

    And wasn't Adam X in Alaska once to visit Scott's grandparents? And, it seems, he's returned.

  6. Thank you freewomansholyinheritance (awesome name BTW). It is a disconnect between characters and writers at times, but depending on the story you can usually tell how much the writer cares. Fraction, as much a renegade he may be, has a genuine love for these characters. Sometimes it's really overblown like it's been for Cyclops and Emma, but he definitely puts some good effort into his writing. It's really hard to hate him for thta.

    As for Adam X, I'm not sure. But if he has returned, he picked a hell of a time to do so.

  7. Oh, I agree. That's probably why I think Paul Cornell is such a wonderful writer for Emma. As he told me, once, she's one of his favourite characters.

  8. Suffice it to say, I think Paul Cornell just did a wonderful job, even with the limited amount of time he had with her.

    Yeah, Adam X showed up in one of the first Dark X-Men issues, I think. He was one of the mutants opposing Emma's own group.