Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Marc Silvestri (p), Joe Weems with Marco Galli (i), Sheldon Mitchell (background assists), Frank D’Armata (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: This opening chapter of the X-Men: Messiah Complex story arc arrives in stores this Wednesday, October 31.
Ariel Carmona Jr.
My first impression upon reading this opening chapter of the “Messiah Complex” story arc is that I was both surprised and happy to see Marc Silvestri handling the art chores.
I don’t really keep up with internet rumors regarding comic book creators as much as other fans, so I hadn’t heard of Silvestri doing any recent work for Marvel. Silvestri, of course, is one of the legendary creators along with Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen who gave the House of Ideas a collective “F- you ” and walked away to form Image Comics in the late 80s/early 90s in an effort to champion the cause of creator owned properties.
It seems that Silvestri has fixed his working relationship with his former employers, and I am glad that he is back on the pages of X-Men, even if it is only for a limited time as I thoroughly enjoyed his work on Uncanny X-Men in the past, especially his collaborations with Chris Claremont dealing with Genosha, which I thought were some of the best comics Marvel ever published.
Here we begin another series dealing with the aftermath of M-Day right on the heels of “Endangered Species” as the X-Men go on a mission to Alaska. As the story opens, mutants have still lost more than 90 percent of their population, and there are no new mutants being born or no new mutant powers being manifested anywhere on Earth. But there may be a glitter of hope left for the mutant population when the X-Men discover the arrival of a brand new mutant, and this is what the plot of this comic mostly deals with.
I can’t say much more without giving away a lot of the surprises found within the issue, but I will say that it is great to see the X-Men rising up against yet another seemingly unconquerable situation. It is also exciting to see old X-Men foes like the Marauders being used efficiently once more. The Purifiers are also running around this issue, trying to make things difficult for our mutant heroes.
Marvel assigns superstar writer Ed Brubaker of Captain America fame to handle the writing on this comic and he delivers the requisite pacing needed for an introductory tale of this magnitude. It’s usually tricky for a writer to deliver a successful prologue to these multi-issue storylines, but Brubaker succeeds in giving readers a taste of what’s to come without delivering a stagnant comic.
Silvestri is on top of his game in this one-shot rendering some beautiful panels which stand out even more with the coloring work of Frank D’Amarta.
Final words: Unlike “Endangered Species,” which was a series of back-up stories running through all the x-titles this past summer that got bogged down at times with the technical aspects of Beast’s research on the mutant x-gene, “Messiah Complex” looks to be a faster paced offering which will most likely keep X-Men fans goobling up all the tie-in issues.
Professor X detects the birth of a powerful mutant in Alaska. It’s the first sign of hope for the dwindling mutant race. But when the X-Men get there, they find the entire town killed in a battle between the Marauders and the Purifiers. The fate of that baby remains unknown.
Marvel has asked us not to reveal any plot points from this comic. That’s difficult since there’s only a plot point and no plot. The first mutant since M-Day is born, and different groups are after it. That’s not a story; it’s the beginning of a story! The X-Men show up too late, walk around the wreckage, and figure out they’ve got competition. What the baby can do and why the Marauders want it are still a mystery. This is a prologue, not a comic.
The return of Marc Silvestri to the X-Men is big news to anyone who’s been reading X-Men comics for last 20 years, which is to say, everyone who currently reads X-Men. I started reading comics after Silvestri co-founded Image. His work before and since then has been interesting, but I was never a big fan. Here, his penciling reminds me of David Finch. In fact, it’s exactly the same style with a little less substance. Marvel probably could have gotten better work from Finch for less money. The coloring computer program seems stuck on “brown.” Inking is jagged and uneven. It’s nice for a quick look, but prolonged exposure hurts my eyes.
I haven’t been following the X-Men comics closely for years. Sometimes I’ll read them at the spinner rack. So I don’t know why Gambit and the new Sentinel are working with the Marauders. I’ve never heard of some of the other characters within the issue. There are quick summaries of the major players at the end of the comic. For new or “new-ish” readers, this is a little helpful but lacking in details. I’ll have to trust in future issues to explain more about the characters.
My first X-Men comics were the “X-Cutioner’s Saga” in 1991. The story raised more questions than it answered, and the art hasn’t aged well. Part of me thinks “Messiah Complex” will be a repeat. Part of me hopes it will mean permanent change in this corner of the Marvel U. Based on Ed Brubaker’s past work, I have faith the plot will improve and the dialogue will be great. But this comic can easily be skipped.
Plot: Tragedy and hope collide in the most engaging storyline the X-Men have had in years.
Commentary: This one-shot is probably one of the best issues of the X-Men Brubaker has done to date. His initial storylines on the X-Men were a bit uneven in terms of pacing and characterization. I chalked it up to the fact that his strengths were really best suited for solo characters like Captain America and Daredevil, and a team book really wasn’t his cup of tea. With Messiah Complex Brubaker has finally seemed to hit his X-Men stride. Brubaker does this by doing what he does so well on his solo books: he pays homage to what has gone before, twists it delightfully to his own voice and then rockets the story forward with high drama and tension.
The issue starts off with the Blackbird streaking through the skies in a desperate race against time to reach what could be Mutant-kind’s last hope in the wake of M-Day and the means to reverse Wanda Maximoff’s curse of “No more mutants.” The plane is filled with a great group of X-Men representative of the team’s early, middle and current rosters. The best thing about these scenes is that all of them sound in character under Brubaker’s able hands. This is something that’s been missing from the X-Men for years, and Marvel’s finally gotten creators on these books who know and get these characters.
We get a couple of visual delights as a fuzzy and feral mutant BAMFS into action and Warren flies reconnaissance. Angel just hasn’t looked this good in a long time after having gone through some unfortunate revamps in regards to his look and powers. The high-flying Angel is back! Marc Silvestri showcases throughout the whole issue why he is a fan favorite X-Men artist. He’s got a mastery of animalistic anatomy illustrated by Angel’s wings and a few pages later by the now lion-like Beast. Hank has looked anywhere from cartoony to just outright goofy in this mode when drawn by other artists, but here he looks heroic and like a force to be reckoned with. Silvestri and Brubaker give us another engaging vignette with a Logan and Kurt danger room flashback scene.
The rest of the issue plays out as an echo of things that have passed and hearkens back to such storylines as “The Mutant Massacre” and “God Loves, Man Kills.” As I stated before, Brubaker uses what has come before and then turns it on its head. A lot of the same protagonists are evident from those two storylines, but this time around no one is safe! Let’s hope the characters who bite the dust this issue remain in the dust, lending needed weight to the grim proceedings. By issue’s end another character enters the fray just when we thought things couldn’t get much worse for the X-Men, Marauders and Purifiers. Who’s good? Who’s bad? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? It may not matter much as all seem fighting just to survive while they hunt down the “x-factor” that may save all mutants.
Final Word: The first chapter of “Messiah Complex” is a rip-roaring read with a classic, fan favorite artist. If you’ve been gone from the X-Men for awhile, now’s the time to return to the fold before they’re all gone!
Plot: Cerebra finally finds something new; a mutant birth! Charles gleefully sends a team to the site, but unfortunately, Sinister’s Marauders and some anti-mutant religious nuts have the same intel.
Comments: Silvestri does few enough X-books these days that his return is a rare treat, and his style is as lush and overdone and extreme here as it was in Morrison’s final arc in New X-men. What excuses Silvestri’s definitive Image-isms (vixenish girls arching their backs constantly, everyone in skin tight spandex with metal plates, an excessive reliance on detailed line work as a decorative embellishment) is his consistent storytelling. However impossibly beautiful his characters appear, his compositional sense makes the action clear and the personas distinctive.
He loves a crowded team shot of interlopers, and here we get several: some for the X-Men, some for the Marauders (in flash-back) and some for the unfortunate and frankly ridiculous Purifiers (monks with guns). This version of the Marauders looks especially interesting, a mix of old murderous favorites and new and deadlier additions.
Brubaker is around for the teamwork, and he excels at pitting X-crews against active opposition. Or, in this case, at rescue and reconnaissance work in Cooperstown, Alaska, as they’re too late and the opposition has already made off with the prize. Much of this issue is spent figuring that out, but here’s another area where Brubaker shines: he has each of the X-Men use their powers competently and believably in contributing as a multi-part strike team to their goals (or come up against real obstacles, like all the chemical smoke and carnage that confuses Wolverine’s senses).
Nightcrawler bamfs all over the place rescuing the living, Angel takes orders from Emma only to uncover new horrors, Cyclops surveys the damage as he and Emma talk over priorities and solutions, Wolverine surveys the dead, and Emma experiences an old nightmare anew as a survivor stumbles out of the conflagration cradling a dead child.
Nothing really amazing happens in this issue, but it sets up the crossover effectively, identifying all of the initial players and clarifying the stakes and the goal. It looks to follow the pattern of the “Endangered Species” prequel and run between all-four X-titles for the next 12 issues, which means I’ll read exactly half of it, and not the conclusion, unless I make exceptions to my buying rules. Brubaker, I know, has a strong sense of order about projects like this, but it remains to be seen if the other writers can live up to whatever occurs in Uncanny. If this issue marks Silvestri’s only participation, I’ll be glad to buy it.
Paul Brian McCoy:
Well, that was pretty intense.
I’m not big into the whole X-world of comics these days. I still get Astonishing X-Men when it ships (and can’t wait for Ellis to take it over), but the only other X-Title I’ve read since Morrison jumped ship was Brubaker’s first year on Uncanny X-Men. I liked it, but not enough to keep reading. I’m poor and sometimes books that are good, but not great, get dumped. That was a decision made even harder by the fact that I love Brubaker’s work on every other title he’s working on. Immortal Iron Fist and Captain America are two of the best superhero titles on the market, and Daredevil is solid month in and out. Criminal is excellent too, for your non-spandex storytelling needs. But Uncanny just didn’t grab me after the first year was up, so I let it go.
But now there’s a new event in town, and it’s called X-Men: Messiah Complex. Spoilers are to be kept non-existent, but here’s what Marvel’s own site had to say: “The X-Men discover a new mutant has arrived. But this cause for celebration is tainted by the early arrival of the Marauders and the Purifiers—and with those two groups involved, the X-Men may not find this mutant! But if they do, will this new player prove to be their savior or a harbinger of doom for mutantkind?” This is to be a 13 part (including this one-shot), weekly crossover event, taking place in Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New X-Men, and X-Men.
Okay, with that said, I’m going to give you some broad-stroke reactions and see if I can make this intelligible. If you’re not familiar with current X-history, don’t worry, neither was I, but this issue works as a very tightly plotted introduction, focusing on Cyclops, Emma, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Angel. The characterizations are spot-on, although Angel isn’t really given much to do besides posing for Silvestri’s pencil. From the first page there is a sense of urgency that I haven’t seen in an X-book in a while, and it was refreshing. Brubaker knows how to write tension, and we are dropped into a very serious situation with some pretty extreme violence to ground it. Messiah Complex is apparently not for the timid. Marvel is promising big changes, and Brubaker slaps the reader in the face a few times in this opening chapter.
The biggest complaint that I had was that I wasn’t familiar with a few of the characters that show up over the course of the issue, and a couple of those that I did recognize were not playing for the team I was expecting. But honestly, it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, dipping my toes in the X-pool, is to just roll with the changes. If the creators think it really needs to be explained, it will be at some point. If they think it doesn’t need to be explained, there’s Wikipedia for a start, and obsessive fans all around the world keeping score online.
On the artistic front, Silvestri is Silvestri. I’m lukewarm about his art. Sometimes I like it, and he draws an excellent Wolverine. His Angel is also amazing in the few appearances he actually makes in the story (honestly, why is he even here?). Emma goes back and forth from looking like a porn star to looking human (not that porn stars aren’t human, but you know what I mean), and Cyclops and Nightcrawler swing back and forth from cool and heroic to awkward and funny looking. Professor X and Beast make a brief appearance, and Silvestri really plays up the cat look Beast is sporting these days. Again, some panels worked for me, while others I found horrible. And the Prof. looks like he’s about twenty five years old. Did I miss a massive de-aging somewhere? Where’s my internet connection?
The inks are hit or miss, not overpowering Silvestri’s style, but not adding much to the page, either. D’Armata’s colors do more work defining and enhancing Silvestri’s work than the inks, and there are times when the characters seem to leap off the page, they’re so vivid. If there’s a drawback to the colors in this first chapter, it’s that the situation the X-Men are investigating is engulfed in yellows and oranges, almost to the point of saturation. It’s what the story calls for, though, so it wasn’t really a problem for me, but in looking back, those two colors dominate every scene in my memory.
So this is a very good opening salvo for a new Marvel weekly event. It has the benefit of Brubaker’s hand on the wheel for the first (and the following, second) chapter – that’s a bonus, right there. I like the fact that Bru gets to lay out the groundwork to which the other writers will be contributing. That, in itself, makes me curious about the Messiah Complex as a whole, and if the intensity can stay ratcheted up to the level of this one-shot, I’m there for the whole ride.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!