In a month when Marjorie Liu finally got Northstar’s real name right, what’s been happening in the World of X-Men that needs discussion? SO MUCH, YOU GUYS.
Let’s start with the character who stole the show this month — Namor. The King of Atlantis has had a rough time over the years, as he’s arrogant, unlikeable and a bit gay. While that makes him great fun as a character, that’s not exactly what the unheard majority of comic book fans are looking after. You also can’t have explosions underwater.
But this month was a fantastic showing for the King, as he took the spotlight in Uncanny X-Men #11 and Defenders #5. In Uncanny, in particular, it’s become rather clear that he’s one of Kieron Gillen’s favorite characters to write. It would be easy to write a simplistic, angry version of Namor all the time, but Gillen goes straight to demonstrating his charisma and strategy. The narration in Uncanny X-Men shows a version of Namor who isn’t simply sticking around on Utopia for the sake of Emma Frost’s glistening chest, but because he likes being a part of the oppressed. He gets to fight people who are "the man," and smack their perfect hair out of shape. It’s FUN to read about Namor nowadays, guys! We should really spread the word about this.
Uncanny X-Men is a poisoned chalice. How many writers have ever managed to jump onto that series and write a coherent, beloved run which fans and critics have both gotten behind? One: Chris Claremont. The book is a dream nightmare, where writers get to write all the big-name X-Men characters and then get crushed under editorial expectations. Not only does the writer of Uncanny X-Men have to set up every crossover or event that gets suggested at Marvel summits, but they’re also expected to touch base on every one of the other books. If X-Factor kills off a character, Cyclops has to hear the news. If one of the New Mutants leaves, Emma Frost has to have a one-liner ready to dismiss them with. Every X-Men book looks to Uncanny as the flagship, and yet are happy to steal characters away at a moment’s notice. Hey, Ed Brubaker! Just in the middle of writing the most critically acclaimed run on Captain America? Want to write about Cyclops and Emma Frost? Well TOUGH here’s Polaris and Havok instead YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO MAKE DO.
That’s why it’s unbelievable that Kieron Gillen has been able to string together a series of great stories in the flagship title, and has turned some rather terrible ideas into something fun and surprising. He’s taken characters from the boring Breakworld, a Juggernaut or two, and thrust everything into a suspiciously small bowl with which to apply his PESTLE OF CREATIVITY and turn these bland ingredients into delicious gold. He even managed to handle losing Kitty Pryde — probably the character he was best tuned into — after only a short run with her. His most recent arc concerned Kitty in a tangential way, in fact, as characters from the S.W.O.R.D. space committee hurtled down to Earth and started causing trouble. Amongst them was Unit, a chillingly calm genocidal robot who has now been transferred from outer space to a tiny prison in the X-Men’s basement. And he’s perfectly in control. Gillen has thrown a series of delightful villains at Cyclops’ team over the past few months, including a revamped Mr Sinister.
Uncanny X-Men has become a book for rehabilitation; whether it be getting Kitty Pryde back from space or taking defaulted villains and giving them a new reason to exist (and hate the X-Men). There’s a simple sense of humour in all Gillen’s writing which works best with evil folk, too, but sadly not much of that has fallen onto Cyclops quite yet.
The leader of the X-Men is in the limelight quite often these days, as he forms one part of a battling trio with Captain America and Wolverine. Yes! Avengers vs. X-Men has arrived! And with it comes a somewhat crazy version of Cyclops fighting a clearly out-of-character Captain America, while both sidestep carefully around the corpse of Wolverine’s likeability. There’s stuff to enjoy in the first two issues of the Phoenix-caused battle royale — most notably Hepzibah’s glorious return to comics — but the center of the comic struggles from the fact that Cyclops is obviously right, and it’s hard to see why Steve Rogers would want to bring this to battle. If you look at the core theme of the X-Men, it’s of the minority attempting to find a sense of equality for themselves, and have it recognised by others. They have stood in for the rights of women, homosexuals, African-American and other perceived minorities in society. And now here comes the full force of Captain America, backed by S.H.I.E.L.D. WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DRAW FROM THIS?
In fairness, the writers have managed to envelop this into their story so far, which bodes well for the future (although now well for the future of the X-Men, if you look at the upcoming covers for Avengers Academy). As far as events go, AvX at least seems like a change in pace for Marvel. It also brings us AvX: Vs, a straight-up battle comic to make comic-book rumblers happy. Is Colossus stronger than Hulk?! Is Captain America better than, uh, Gambit? That’s the premise of this tie-in, which is confident enough to actually have one character win and one character lose in each encounter (this weeks sees the X-Men whitewashed, as Namor and Magneto both lose in rather humiliating ways). If the book stops letting the more famous character win each time, we should hopefully find some juicily divisive panels coming up in the near future.
And speaking of divisions, let’s delve a little more into Wolverine. As of the end of the Schism event, Wolverine came away with the role which REALLY should’ve gone to Storm. After panicking about the younger mutants in the X-Men being put in the line of fire, Wolverine stormed off to reform the X-Men school and avoid the "shoot first" policy Cyclops has developed as of late. That vaguely works with Wolverine, if you take the recent events of his solo book into consideration. So anyway, Wolverine and Cyclops hate each other now, which means Wolverine starts off AvX on the side of the A. This is an immediate issue because none of the X-Men would realistically side against Cyclops on this. He’s in the right, as we’ve all established and agreed upon. Wolverine’s refusal to help his friends on this is really starting to derail the character. Where he was once an interesting alternative to Cyclops, now he’s starting to cycle into nothingness.
Wolverine’s solo series recently concluded an epic chapter, with Jason Aaron wrapping his long run on the title with the help of superlative artists like Ron Garney and Steven Sanders. It’s been an amazing journey for the character, which saw Aaron do some unbelievably mean things to his hero. Surprises have been had! Children murdered! Never-quite-clicking-girlfriends jettisoned! And a new villain called Dr. Rot was created, which incoming writer Cullen Bunn has no
w elected to pick up on for his first arc with the clawed antihero. While at first it appeared that Bunn’s run was going to be the long-term future for the series, it’s recently been revealed that he’s actually just here for this one arc — Jeph Loeb is coming, folks, to bring Sabretooth back to life (despite Sabretooth already being active for months now, running around in several of Aaron’s books for Marvel). There’s also a heavy, heavy suggestion that Loeb is going to kill off Dagger as part of his welcoming party for Sabes, so let’s hope he curb/kerbs that instinct for the time being.
Victor Gischler’s X-Men run has been an incredibly mixed bag. The further Marvel keep him from his apparent enjoyment of vampires and closer to editorially-mandated team-ups, the stronger the storytelling and dialogue have been. However… the current story arc is FULL of vampires. The book has been struggling as a result. Longtime X-Men member Jubilee has become one recently, you see, and she’s struggling to cope with her cravings. This month’s issue #27 saw Jubilee totally give in and quit the X-Men flat-out, and she’s now become a member of a completely anonymous and generic posse of vampires. Ugh. Frankly if that’s the way she’s going to behave then I hope she enjoys limbo for a few months, and comes back with a better attitude next time.
Jubilee’s return was exciting at the time, but immediately fell flat on its face due to Wolverine more or less ignoring her (until Kathryn Immonen noticed what was going on and jumped in to right that particular ship). Her return has been, in honesty, a mess and a failure for Marvel. It fell upon Marjorie Liu (a lifelong Jubilee fan) to give her anything like a personality over in her X-23 series. X-Men hasn’t been a good series for almost a year now.
It’s certainly no match for books like Uncanny X-Force or X-Factor, which take their own personal approach and style and dive into it without a care. The X-Men books have had a reputation for the past few years as the one place in Marvel where the editors are willing to take chances on off-kilter writers and artists. It’s certainly the only place in a mainsteam universe where you could imagine Simon Spurrier romping around with science, doing unimaginably dirty things to it. Darlings, I’m talking about X-Club, the already dearly-missed miniseries from Spurrier and the brilliant Paul Davidson. This book has been INCREDIBLE ever since issue one, with big meaty plotlines piled up one after another on top of each other, building up and up and up. Then, with a kick of the foot, Spurrier knocked away the foundation and THE PLOTLINES FLOATED IN THE AIR, DEFYING SCIENCE. You thought I was going to say that the whole thing came into a crashing pile, right? No!
Si Spurrier not only gave us bickering between the character of Dr. Nemesis and a sentient starfish which empathically bonded to his brainstem, but also made Danger pregnant and hooked her up with the rather-fleshy Madison Jeffries. Every page of this miniseries was a surprise and delight, and we can all only dream of the time when Spurrier comes back for yet more gleeful madness. In a month where the X-Men embarked upon a crossover they’ll probably lose and books like X-Men Legacy and Astonishing X-Men struggled to make an impact, it was nice to see Marvel still willing to take chances like X-Club and succeed brilliantly. It’s only in the X-Men books that you’ll see established and marketable characters take second-billing to talking starfish.
As this is my first month writing The X-Wing, I’d like to say R.I.P. Daken, we all miss you terribly. Even though you probably aren’t dead, it was wholly refreshing to see Marvel take a punt on publishing a book starring a charming, evil, vindictive and irredeemable bisexual Asian character. Also, I imagine you, dear readers, have stopped every five seconds or so to scroll back up to the amazing header image for this column. It was drawn by the dazzling intensity that is Isaac Leiro! You could not be MORE free to leave him overexcited praise and offers of cash as thanks for finally bringing Star Wars and the X-Men together, where they belong.
May brings us more AvX, a crossover called "Exiled", new arcs for X-Factor, X-Men and Uncanny X-Force, as well as the apparent death of Deadpool…
See you afterwards!
BOOKS OF THE MONTH:
- Uncanny X-Men #10, #11
- X-Club #5
BOOKS TO AVOID:
- AVX VS #1
- X-Men #27
NEW MUTANTS UPDATE: