Saturday, July 4, 2009

This Week in 4 Colors - Part 1

A look at what I bought this week at the Comic Shop for the initiated and uninitiated comics reader.

*Spoilers Abound*

"Utopia - Chapter 2"
Writer: Matt fraction
Artists: Terry and Rachel Dodson
Publisher: Marvel

What You Need To Know: This is the second part of what is being billed as the first X-Men/Avengers crossover in 15 years (the last being 'Blood Ties' in the mid '90s). That's a relatively debatable claim given that House of M wasn't a crossover in the more old school sense of the word like Utopia is (where the story is interconnected linearly between titles) but was a more 'event' crossover, originally billed as an Astonishing X-Men/New Avengers event before overtaking the entire Marvel Universe.

Also, these aren't the Avengers.

Oh, they call themselves the Avengers. To the people of the Marvel Universe they might be seen as the Avengers. But make no mistake, with few exceptions, these are no heroes worthy of being called 'Avenger.' As a byproduct of a series of significant Marvel events - Secret War (Where Nick Fury took a bunch of Super-Heroes of the radar and helped overthrow a country and then brainwashed them leading to his total disappearance from the world scene); Civil War (Where Captain America and Iron Man split the superhuman community in half and took the streets fighting over Super Hero rights the end of which led to Captain America 'dead' and Iron Man in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.); and Secret Invasion (Where shapeshifting alien Skrulls infiltrated the Marvel Universe, kidnapped and impersonated heroes and irrevocably corrupted the system) - S.H.I.E.L.D. is now no more, replaced by a new organization - H.A.M.M.E.R. And Tony Stark is now out of power and on the run while H.A.M.M.E.R. and the 'official' Avengers have come under the care of Norman Osborn.

That's right - the Green Goblin, arch-Spidey foe and murderer of Gwen Stacy is now in absolute control over the defense of the United States. And his team of Avengers? Called 'Dark Avengers' for a reason. Lets look at this lineup.

THE IRON PATRIOT - Normie himself, flying around in one of Tony Stark's suits of armor, having appropriated the iconography and imagery of both Captain America and Iron Man.

'SPIDER-MAN' - Actually VENOM (Mac Gargan) former Scorpion and perennial loser, now bonded with an alien symbiote with a mad on for Spider-Man and a desire to eat people. Lots of people.

'HAWKEYE' - Actually BULLSEYE, the psychopathic master assasin who once murdered Elektra, now dolled up in Clint Barton's old purple duds for public consumption.

'MS. MARVEL' - Karla Soffen, the former MOONSTONE, and can you guess it? Another Super Villain dressed up in hero's clothes with a driving ambition and need for control.

'WOLVERINE' - DAKEN, or Wolverine's son - who's basically a douchebag hipster version of Wolverine with the power to control pheromones and is just doing this the fuck with dad.

CAPTAIN MARVEL - Noh Varr, young alien warrior of the Kree who has no idea what he's gotten himself into. Yet.

ARES - God of War. Like, the actual one.

and finally THE SENTRY - the 'Golden Guardian of Good,' actually a completely Schizophrenic and mentally unstable Super-Hero with absolute power, a child's naivete`, and an evil split personality known as 'The Void.' Quite possibly the most powerful being on the planet and a time-bomb waiting to explode.

Not quite "Avengers' material I'd say. On top of that Norman has formed a secret Cabal with some of the most powerful and infamous people in the Marvel Universe in order to make sure that now that the bad guys run the system, they get to keep it this way. This group includes Dr. Doom (Fantastic Four villain and ruler of Latveria), Loki (Norse God of Mischief, now in the body of Thor's wife), The Hood (Parker Robbins - new kingpin of crime with a demon powered hood), Namor (King of the former kingdom of Atlantis, now a ruler with no country), and Emma Frost - co-leader of the X-men, and there in secret. Emma made a deal with Osborn behing Cyclops' back - Emma keeps the mutants in line, Osborn leaves them the hell alone as he goes gunning for every other Super-Hero worth his salt.

Over in The X-Men's word things haven't been any less quiet. After the events of House of M (where Quicksilver used his mentally unstable sister The Scarlet Witch to recreate reality into a world where mutants were the dominant species and their father Magneto ruled America) Wanda used her powers to cause the Decimation - robbing all but 200 mutants in the entire world of their powers and ceasing all mutant births. Mutants, in a literal second, effectively became an endangered species. And in that moment the fundamental goal of the X-Men changed as well: from Xavier's dream of peaceful coexistence to Cyclops' new mission statement of survival. If there was ever an official moment of 'passing the torch' this was it - and Scott Summers now stands as defacto leader of Mutantkind.

Things took a sharp turn when in, of all places, there was a mutant birth in Cooperstown, Alaska. The X-Men raced to get there but they were beaten by the anti-mutant zealots the Purifiers, Sinister's Marauders, and Cable. In the ensuingbattle the entire city was razed to the ground. In the end, Cable ended up with the child, Xavier got shot in the head (he's better now), and the X-Men, now knowing a mutant birth is possible, all relocated the place most known for accepting the different - San Francisco. Welcomed with open arms San Francisco is now a mutant haven where the X-men live their lives, help the cops, and work on saving their species (which basically amounts to Beast setting up a crazy science team and everybody having sex a lot.)

Things were good.

Until a video surfaced showing the Cooperstown Massacre and its cause - a mutant birth. Now a wave of anti-mutant hysteria has come bubbling over California, led by Simon Trask and his Humanity Now coalition, pushing forth 'Proposition X' a piece of legislation that would make chemical birth control mandatory for all mutants. Suffice it to say the X-Men are none too pleased, riots have hit the streets, and Norman Osborn and his Avengers have been called into clean up the mess. Seemingly abandoning Scott, Emma meets up with Norman who lays down the law while The Avengers hunt down the X-men through the streets of San Francisco.

Got all that? Good, cause here we are.

Uncanny X-Men, under the pen of Matt Fraction, is probably the best this title has been in years and is finally the flagship of the brand once again. Under the 17 years of Chris Claremont Uncanny X-Men was the hottest title Marvel had. But recent stellar runs by Grant Morrison on New X-Men and Joss Whedon on Astonishing X-Men had let some of the luster on Uncanny start to rust. But since issue #500 the focus has been squarely back on the book that started it all. FRaction is one of my favorite writers out now, with a fresh voice and off the wall ideas. He understands these characters and the absolute, most important factor of any succesful X-book is that the characters are true to who they are. Not that they can't grow, they absolutely should, but we read the X-Men to hang out with old friends and these are very much the voices of the characters I have loved since grade school.

Making the tragedy of this issue that so few of them get the spotlight. It's a tough act to balance, with three separate teams operating in one issue and a supporting cast of even more. Of the core team we see Scott, Emma, and Hank but thats about it (Colossus and Iceman have a page). This issue is all about advancing plot and introducing Norman's new initiative - The Dark X-Men, his complementary X-Men team to his Avengers. Some of them get moments to shine, some don't, though with four parts left to go I'm sure we'll see more of them. The problem with stories of this scope is that it's easy to feel like characters are just set pieces being moved into position. We're not at that level yet, but the issues do feel a bit more hollow than I'm used to.

Given that so much of the issue is given towards introducing these Dark X-Men I think its only fair we take a brief look at them since they're poised to become major players in the X-world.

MIMIC - In another universe Calvin Rankin went on to become one of the greatest heroes his world had ever seen before being picked up by the reality hopping Exiles and eventually being killed. In our reality, however, Cal is a definite has been - a former X-Man and washout of a Super Villain with powers to mimic up to 5 mutant powers he comes in contact with at any given time. Since we've seen what kind of hero he can be under other circumstances and that he can very much be a fan favorite character I'm hoping this storyline represents the start of some sort of redemptive arc that leads Mimic down a truly noble path.

CLOAK & DAGGER - Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen are runaways and former drug addicts with nothing but each other and special powers - his revolving around darkness and teleportation and hers healing and light. The two are cult favorites who have had very little play on the main scene. Cloak has gotten a lot of attention recently with some high profile moments in House of M and Civil War, and a long awaited mini-series was scrapped for them to be free for this storyline so I do hope this represents something bigger for them and not to be used as so much cannon fodder. A permanent home in the X-books would be nice.

DAKEN - We covered him earlier. Wolverine's son, now getting just as much over-exposure as his dad, but without the years of character building or massive popularity. They actually make fun of that in the book though, and it's a cute moment as Norman says, in reference to Q ratings, 'Turns out people LOVE Wolverine. Can't get enough of him. Who the hell knew?"
Marvel does. And that's why he has 4 monthly solo series, is featured in 5 monthly team titles, and a consistent string of one-shots and guest appearances. He's the best as what he does, and apparently what he does best is sell comics.

WEAPON OMEGA - Michael Pointer was introduced in the rather unfortunate New Avengers arc known as 'The Collective' where he was the receptacle for all the displaced energy when the mutants lost their powers wordwide. This was also the arc where Brian Michael Bendis attempted his own rationalization for the Xorn debacle, which is a story for another time. Under posession by Xorn (ugh) Michael muredered the Canadian team Alpha Flight and since then has been making penance by serving in the replacement team Omega Flight. With him here, USAgent now in Mighty Avengers, and Beta Ray Bill off in space Omega Flight looks pretty depleted and Canada kinda got the shaft. Oh well.
As a Canadian national and official government Super-Hero I'm not quite sure what he's doing here under Osborn's flag waving command, but I do have faith that will be adressed sooner than later.

DARK BEAST - The Hank McCoy from an alternate dimension in which Charles Xavier was murdered, never formed the X-men, and thus Apocolypse took over (known famously as the epic 'Age of Apocolypse' story). This Beast escaped that dimension before nuclear war overtook it and has hung around here since then.) A brilliant genetecist he's also completely sadistic and sarcastic and thus gets the best character moments of all the Dark X-men in the book. Putting Dark Beast on the dark X-Men was a great choice and seeing the two Hanks interact is always fun.

MYSTIQUE - Raven Darkholme - Nightcrawler's birth mother, Rogue's adopted mother, former terrorist, former X-man, shape shifter - her allegiances change as often as she does. She killed Moira McTaggert, had sex with Iceman, and is only here cause somehow Norman infected her with a controllable bomb. She's pretending to be Professor Xavier, who is actually locked up in jail.
I imagine when Emma finds out about that she won't be very happy.

NAMOR - One of Marvel's oldest characters in terms of actual creation, he is one of Marvel's Golden Age trifecta with Captain America and The Human Torch. He's also considered the first mutant of Earth's 'mutant boom' period, thogh this is his first time ever really participating in the X-World. He's here because Emma pretended to kill Sebastian Shaw for him (who is really being holed up in their brig) and because he wants to bang her again.

The long story made short is that there are a TON of secrets at play here. Scott is hiding from Emma, Emma from Scott, Emma from Namor, Osborn from Emma. Beast is in jail, Cyclops is a fugitive, and Wolverine is making his way back from New York as you read this. If they pull a few of this triggers, big things may happen.

That was a LOT longer than I thought. I'll continue my round up of this week's haul tomorrow.

Happy 4th!

1 comment:

Jstone said...

I picked up Marvel Zombies 4 because I'm far too impatient to wait for the TPB.

So far, not as good as 3, but it has potential. And why they are only doing 4 issues I don't know, there's no fucking climax to work towards AND its just carrying on the story from MZ3.