Sunday, March 23, 2008

Messiah Complex(ities)

They've been sitting in the "To Read" pile next to my bed for weeks now, staring at me with silent reproach, asking, "Why are you reading that DC Spotlight: Raven before us? We're an X-Men crossover. X-Men, dude! You know you'll like us better than that emo goth chick."

And they were. Better than Raven #1, that is. Which is not the same thing as saying I liked them. I wanted to like them. I really did. I have fond memories of the X-Men from "back in the day" (well, back in my day). I vividly recall my first issue of Uncanny X-Men (#167), received one Christmas as a stocking stuffer. It featured the wrap-up/epilogue to the Brood story (with lovely Paul Smith art) and guest-starred my second favorite teen team from the 1980s, the New Mutants. (Oh, Sam Guthrie, you hillbilly heartthrob, you.) This was when the X-Men as a "franchise" was still in its infancy, mind you, and a crossover didn't need to span a whopping thirteen parts, as "Messiah Complex" does. As I was saying, I wanted to like them. I really did.

And it's not that I disliked "Messiah Complex." There was a lot of fun, interesting stuff going on here. But, not having read the merry mutants for a while, I was led to believe (via editorial hype, of course) that this would be a great place to jump back on, as the mutant status quo Would Be Altered FOREVER! EVER! Ever! ever. er. (Wow, nice echo in here.) Well, in a world of a thousand dystopian futures (past) and endless incarnations of the Phoenix force as red-headed hotties, "forever" needs to be understood as a fairly flexible term. X-Men no more? Yeah, wait two issues.

Ah, but cynicism be damned. This was a valiant effort from almost all quarters, and in no way ranks with the atrocities that have been foisted on readers of the X-titles in the past (I'm looking at you, X-Tinction Agenda).
Some highlights?

  • The Purifiers' attack on Cooperstown (as depicted by Brubaker and Silvestri in the crossover's first chapter) is truly horrific. (Between them and the Church of Hala, the Marvel U's faith-based initiatives are really going great gangbusters.)

  • The Marauders are resuscitated as something approaching a genuine they should be. (Though Sinister's whole endless clone solution to the untimely deaths of villainous flunkies is starting to wear a little thin. Let's really let dead mean dead, okay, Joe?)

  • Silvestri and Tan look great on this stuff.

  • It's always good to see Warren Worthington back in action.

  • Layla Miller. Heartbreaking.

  • I'm looking forward to the Young X-Men book simply because the "New X-Men" kids are generally pretty engaging. A little emo sometimes, but hey, you'd be emo too if your classmates kept getting offed every other issue.

  • Scott, you're so...bad-ass. I love it.

  • Deathstrike. Fine with me. She talks too much.

  • Nice to (ever so briefly) see Forge. Even if he was unconscious.

Some lowlights?

  • Ramos and Bachalo look...not-so-great on this stuff. They're both entirely competent artists. They're just not working for me here.

  • Thirteen parts. Really? You really needed thirteen parts for this? Really?

  • Predator X. Talk about anti-climactic. Though using Pixie was an effective device for bringing the fight to the rest of the X-Men, this seemed a little pointless to me. And chewing on mutant corpses? Um...ew.

  • Cable and Lil' Red as the new Lone Wolf and Cub? Not really feeling it. Sorry. (Though I can't wait for the special 150th issue of his solo title when he has to explain puberty for her.)

  • Put the sorry-ass prophecies of Destiny to bed already! They make Mystique all teary, and I don't like my Raven teary. I like her being viciously amoral.

  • If one more depressing mutant asshole comes back from the future, I swear to God I'm gonna open mutant detention facilities myself. (I'm looking at you, Lucas.)

  • Really? Thirteen parts?

  • God, this stuff isn't even remotely new reader friendly. The recap pages are nice, but try to make sense of those flashbacks without any prior knowledge.

My biggest criticism of this crossover is that I think it might have been better served had the various threads been more self-contained. That is, the X-Factor stuff really could have stayed primarily in X-Factor, the New X-Men stuff in New X-Men, and so on. I can't see a particularly compelling reason (from an aesthetic makes perfectly good sense from a sales standpoint) for so thoroughly intertwining the narratives. The clarity of the various plotlines suffered as a result, I think.

Pity the poor X-titles. They're in the untenable position of trying to please a fanbase who have a great deal invested in the complex histories of the books, but it's this same complex history that renders them distinctly unattractive to new readers. It would be nice if these books could find a way of jettisoning some of their baggage without having to resort to either Skrulls or Mephisto to make it work.

Well, at least I can finally get to those Divided We Stand stories now. Almost caught up! Hooray!

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