The Twelve Days of X-Men: Countdown to Jolly Holiday DOOM!
Deadpool Classic Vol. 2, X-Men: Messiah Complex, Fray, Wolverine & The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy, New X-Men Omnibus, Astonishing X-Men Omnibus
Welcome back to the Twelve Days of X-Men, the only column that wraps your
Mutant Filth while you wait and includes a healing factor to keep off those holiday
pounds. This month I complete this review on twelve of the best, worst, and
bought-it-cuz-it-looked-okay-turns-out-it-wasn't-that-great X-Men comics.
Wolverine just might come down your chimney. Leave out some beer and cigars.
On the seventh day of X-Men my true love gave to me: wit and repartee.
Whither Deadpool, you say, and how be he an X-Man? Hark! I shall tell you.
Deadpool is a mutant Spider-Man without a conscience.
He was once a mere hired assassin, but upon discovering he had cancer, he
volunteered for the Weapon X program that created Wolverine. They gave him an
artificial version of Wolverine's healing factor.
Instead of making him a short, hairy Canadian, Deadpool ended up as a walking
(also oozing) tumor; his skin is constantly restoring new flesh over slightly-older
new flesh. Ew. To deal with his grotesque condition, he keeps a healthy sense of
humor, but don't mistake him for a hero. When Spider-Man beats a bad guy, he
webs them up for the cops. When Deadpool incapacitates his enemies, he sticks
live grenades in their mouths.
Deadpool Classics collects the first ten or so issues of 'Pool's first unlimited
series, a career-making-run for writer Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness. Though these
comics are legendary, they came out at a point in my life where I thought I was too
old for comics (translation: willing to give up anything for a date). This is my first
time with Deadpool solo.
Aaaaand . . . I'm underwhelmed. Maybe I've heard too much about how funny
these comics are, but Ed McGuinness's art, while dynamic as all get-out, seems a
bit too minimalist. Deadpool himself is a great character, but the first story arc
revolves around his semi-romance with the heroic Siryn of X-Force, and falls into
a clichéd "there is a good man under there" deal, as Siryn talks him out of killing
the mad scientist who experimented on him in Weapon X.
The story gets a lot better once Deadpool hooks up with Typhoid Mary, a multiple-personality pyromaniac ninja who wants to kill Daredevil. Of course, Daredevil
and Deadpool team up for damage control. Some of the best moments come when
Daredevil tries to stop Deadpool from killing the mobsters on Typhoid Mary's
"We don't sink to her level!" he says to Deadpool, blocking Deadpool's gun.
"Uh, in case you forgot, I kind of got a lock on that level."
As soon as Daredevil leaves to find Typhoid, Deadpool blows away all the thugs
who are messing with their agenda.
Deadpool's repartee is generally funny, though you have to adjust your humor
meter back to junior high, ie: "You just killed the hot chick from the juice bar that I
was gonna score with someday maybe!"
This is before 'Pool acquired the habit of breaking the fourth wall, a feature that
made him funnier. It's a bit of fun, but not the howling, stomachache-inducing-from-laughter book I always heard it was.
On the eighth day of X-Men my true love gave to me: baby McGuffin.
Messiah Complex is a big huge X-Men crossover, running through the four main
X-Men comics. The tradition of the crossover is sometimes a proud epic,
sometimes a shameful attempt to sell gobs of comics.
Messiah Complex is one of the best ones in years. It's funny, because it was made
possible by a not-so-great crossover, House of M.
In House of M, the Scarlet Witch, Bonkers Lady Who Slaughtered The Avengers,
created an alternate world where mutants were the upperclass of society. The main
reason she created this world was so she could have her imaginary babies back,
whom she created through her reality-altering powers.
At the end, when the X-Men shattered her illusion, she got so angry that she took
the powers from every mutant on earth.
So in the beginning of Messiah Complex, mutants are a nearly-extinct species.
Things are looking grim when Professor Xavier registers a mutant birth so
powerful in Alaska it nearly fries his brain.
(No, it isn't Logarithm Palin.)
When the X-Men arrive, the baby is gone and a human extremist group, the
Purifiers, is fighting a mutant extremist group, the Marauders, in the wreckage.
Thus begins a brilliantly tense manhunt across continents, future timelines and
through a number of rather affecting X-Deaths, even if those kind of things tend
not to last. No one really explains why the baby is so important, but it doesn't
matter to the structure of the story. Like David Mamet's brilliant script for the
movie Ronin, Messiah Complex just lets the McGuffin be a McGuffin.
Writers Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Ed Brubaker, Peter David and Mike Carey
keep the tension high and the characters in conflict. Shocks rumble through all the
X-Books, changing their status quo for good. The art, by Billy Tan, Scot Eaton,
Humberto Ramos and Chris Bachalo, with a special guest-shot by X-alumnus Marc
Silvestri, is quality throughout. Messiah Complex is a solid read.
I just wish that the quality of the X-Titles would stay at this level. I've picked up
the ensuing issues of the main X-Men comics, post Messiah Complex, and been
unimpressed. They just flounder. For some reason, this set of X-Writers seems to
be searching for the comics' identity.
X-Men is a weird franchise that way. From 1975 to 1991, most of it was written by
one Chris Claremont. Claremont's plots were endlessly inventive, but his dialogue
was overly verbose, and his characterization was hit-and-miss. He wrote the
history-making "Dark Phoenix" and "Days of Future Past," and invested thousands
of pages in making Magneto, Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, Scott Summers, Kurt Wagner
and Logan into multifaceted characters. He also introduced and beat to death a host
of X-clichés, like turning a character "dark" or "wild" and constantly returning to
alternate timelines and horrific futures.
Not to mention the phrase, "Hit 'em hard and fast!"
But he had a stroke of genius when he made made the X-Men a stand-in for
minorities. That's only part of his appeal, but it shows how clearly he knew what
he was doing with X-Men. The only other writer who had as global a vision for X-Men was Grant Morrison, who sadly didn't stick around for 16 years. (See below.)
Capable writers like Mike Carey, Matt Fraction, Steven Seagle, Joe Kelly and Scott
Lobdell have always labored in the shadow of Claremont. There is a sense that X-Men should be a book that matters, that has vision, that has ambition that will
overcome its flaws. Even when Claremont came back, he wasn't able to quite
recapture that sense.
I really like a lot of the stuff on X-Men lately, especially Mike Carey's run.
Hopefully these writers will find their Special Purpose and create a new vision for
On the ninth day of X-Men, my true love gave to me: what is this, true love? This
isn't an X-Men comic!
Oh, shut up.
Okay, so Fray is not technically an X-Men comic. Yeah, yeah. Technically
technically it's the future of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise, with vampires
and the hot chick who slays them extrapolated into Blade Runner.
But come on.
She's born with a host of strange powers, misunderstood by the world around her,
fated to defend those who can't defend themselves. And she's written by Joss
Whedon, who wrote the best X-Men story evahhh.
Melaka Fray is a thief in a future slum filled with mutants and vampires. The
vampires, called "lurks" blend in pretty well, since most of the people in the slum
look like sea monsters. But the lurks are planning something big, something that
relates to Fray and the brother she lost to a vicious lurk named Icarus.
The Watchers, the order from Buffy that dedicated themselves to training Slayers,
have degenerated into an insane cult. The first time Fray meets one, he sets himself
on fire. Luckily Urkonn, a demon with a far less altruistic (I guess setting yourself
on fire isn't really altruistic) agenda comes along. He trains Fray, manipulating
events behind the scenes to greater motivate her.
It works. She battles a massive monster in a truly gory showdown. The end alludes
to future battles for Fray, which leads into some events in the Buffy Season Eight
I loved this comic. Fray is smart, snappy, not drawn as a gratuitous "bad girl" like
so many of the Maxim rejects that populate comics. The dialogue is clever and the
plot twists like a pinned snake. The art is stunningly dynamic, even in the crowd
scenes battling the massive demon.
Buy it. Quit complaining that it ain't X-Men.
On the tenth day of X-Men, my true love gave to me: a DVD?
Hey, this one is an X-Men story, even if it's a cartoon and not a comic.
My wife and I rented Wolverine and the X-Men: Heroes Reborn hoping that it
would be like our current favorite cartoon, Spectacular Spider-Man.
The Spidey cartoon in question is brilliantly animated and brilliantly written. Like
Ultimate Spider-Man, it reinvents the "Peter Parker in high school" mythos, but it
adds in a dose of spinning, bare-knuckled computer-aided fight sequences that
outdo even the best art of the comic. And I like the way Spectacular handles the
supporting cast better than the way Ultimate did. Especially sometimes-villains
Harry Osborne and Eddie Brock.
But Wolverine and the X-Men ain't Spectacular. It ain't uncanny or astonishing
either. Set after a mysterious attack has stolen Professor X and Jean Grey,
Wolverine follows its title character in his attempts to reunite the X-Men and battle
a mutant control agency.
This cartoon's first and biggest mistake is making Wolverine the leader of the X-Men. It's the same mistake the third movie made. The X-Men need angst and
danger to work, especially Wolverine. He's constantly battling his animal side. But
as a leader of the cartoon, he's utterly stable, even in battle.
No no no. For X-Men to work, Wolverine has to be the wild card of the X-Men,
fighting the urge to kill everything in sight.
The second mistake was in the animation. There are no Spectacular action
sequences in this cartoon. The animation is pretty pedestrian. It's a shame since the
best X-Men cartoon, the straight-up adaptation of the 90s, had awful animation.
I get the feeling that the Wolverine-as-leader bit was mandated by the network,
who wanted to put the most popular character front and center, especially since this
cartoon came out around the same time as Wolvy's movie. In that case, the writers
are doing the best they can. But this one will come and go without a blip. It's
generic and boring.
I should mention here that I haven't seen a single episode of X-Men: Evolution, a
series that came out when I was in college. That series was apparently good enough
that Marvel hired the showrunners, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, to write their junior
team in New X-Men. The animation I've seen looked decent, so I'll have to give it
a try. Maybe it will wash this Wolverine taste out of my mouth.
On the eleventh day of X-Men my true love gave to me: a bald guy who was
abducted by aliens and eats a lot of hashish.
The above reference is to Grant Morrison, a nut if ever there was one, who publicly
claims to have been to the fifth dimension.
In spite of, or perhaps because of that, he's one of the best comic writers around.
Morrison is the only X-Men writer whose vision was as expansive and ambitious
as Chris Claremont's. He opens his run with a wholesale slaughter of sixteen
million mutants in the mutant nation of Genosha; a tragedy on the level of the
power decimation in House of M, but far more affecting. Seems an evil opposite to
Professor X, Cassandra Nova, had stolen the voice of an heir to the Sentinel
fortune and used it to release a far more deadly Sentinel upon Genosha.
In the second chapter, the X-Men sort through the ashes of millions of the dead.
It's stunning and heartbreaking and will forever burn into your brain.
In those ashes, the X-Men discover their old enemy and occasional ally the White
Queen Emma Frost, who mutated into an occasionally living diamond, thus
surviving the Sentinel attack.
Emma is the best darn character the X-Men have assimilated in years. It's a
tradition for X-Men to be morally ambiguous, but none have been as beautifully so
as Emma. She comes into the X-Men on the heels of Cyclops's mental breakdown,
possessed by the villain Apocalypse, and she makes no bones about her play for
this married man's affection.
She hilariously admits to tons of plastic surgery. At one point, upon getting her
nose broken, she dangles the culprit out of a window and yells "I look like a
bloody heavyweight boxer! I paid a lot of money for this nose!" Referring to her
time as a villain, she says, "I was high the whole time."
By account of her telepathic affair with Cyclops (according to them, shared
psychic sex fantasies don't count) she makes Cyclops more interesting. I always
thought that was impossible.
They're not likeable, but they're interesting, like the morally fluid characters in
George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire.
Morrison also generates a billion strange ideas, like Cassandra Nova as Xavier's
spiritual opposite, a power-enhancing drug, a complex mutant culture, a young
mutant movement idolizing the dead Magneto, and a mutant with a "tiny star in his
Morrison also wisely focuses on Jean, Beast, Cyclops, Emma and new character
Xorn's roles as teachers to a new generation of X-Men. This new generation is
anything but the Barbie-and-Ken that Cyclops and Phoenix are. They include a
see-through kid, a group of creepy identical telepathic quintuplets, and the hideous
plucked-chicken-man Beak, who gets involved in the most bizarre romance in X-history.
Morrison's stories disappoint a bit toward the end of his run, falling into an ill-conceived twist and a clichéd dark future for the X-Men, though he still packs
some surprises in, including a long-overdue second death for Jean Grey, the
Phoenix, whose ensuing Phoenixish return is a brilliant time-twister. Despite his
clichés, his masterful characterization, strange powers and made-up mutant culture
The art, though, is bipolar. Marc Silvestri, Frank Quitely, Ethan Van Sciver and
Chris Bachalo contribute some beautiful pages. I especially loved Quitely's quirky,
sometimes purposely ugly people. Artists Igor Kordey and John Paul Leon are too
dirty, and Kordey is hampered by his status as a fill-in artist who often had to draw
entire issues in one day. You have to give the guy credit for that, even though is
art is not great.
Morrison is a nut. This comic is a squishy bath in his mental peanut butter. Dive in.
On the twelfth day of X-Men my true love gave to me: the best all-time X-Men
Astonishing X-Men, by Joss Whedon and John Cassady, is the best X-Men story of
all time. Ever.
Joss Whedon just gets it. Remember Firefly? Of course you do. You loved those
amazingly rendered characters, turned inside-out in each episode.
Now imagine the X-Men just as well-rendered by John Cassaday's stunning art, as
if they were actors, and portrayed as real, whole people as Claremont did, only
with genius dialogue instead of melodrama. Cassaday gives each member
personality, accompanying it all with huge cinematic shots of alien worlds,
monster fight sequences and the most stunning finale shot of all X-time.
Whedon brings back Kitty Pryde, the once-junior member and her sometimes lover
Colossus, the massive Russian metal man. Whedon just gets Kitty Pryde, a
character every other writer has struggled with since she grew up from junior
Kitty serves a foil for Emma Frost and a down-to-earth grounded character who
keeps the team accessible. In their first scene, Kitty shows up late to the first-semester meeting. "This, children," says Emma, "is Kitty Pryde, who feels the need
to make a grand entrance."
"I'm sorry," Kitty says to the scantily clad Emma, "I was busy remembering to put
on all my clothes."
Whedon is not trying to blow the concept of X-Men beyond what we've seen
before, as Morrison was. He is creating a series of character studies, especially an
extended study of Kitty. In the third act of this amazing series, the X-Men suffer a
psychic attack that strips them to their emotional basics. Beast becomes an animal
and eats a chunk of Wolverine, Cyclops loses his optic blasts.
Wolverine, hilariously, regresses to the young sickly boy from Origin. "Say my
doll is the best or I shall be cross all day!" he yells to Emma.
And Whedon's one-liners are so freaking funny. After Beast and Wolverine get
their brains back (you will never laugh as hard as you will at the way Wolverine
remembers who he is), Beast apologizes for eating a good chunk of Wolverine.
"Pfft," Wolverine says. "That's what friends are for."
"I'm pretty sure it's not," Beast says.
During the psychic attack, Kitty lives three years of an imagined life. In those
years, she is married to Colossus. She has a son, who Professor Xavier takes away
supposedly because of the child's "horrible power." It's all a ploy by the
imprisoned Cassandra Nova, since Kitty's phasing power (she can pass through
solid material) is the only thing that can get Nova out of her prison.
The trauma and pain Kitty goes through leave her scarred and furious, but she does
not sit around and whine like, oh, Cyclops. (I never liked Cyclops. Can you tell?)
Instead, she becomes the catalyst for the epic ending, which WILL make you cry, I
don't care if you're Wolverine.
I am fanboy gushing all over this Internet page, I know. So what. This is the best
comic ever. Ever. If only Joss Whedon would come back to the X-Men for another
run, maybe a long long run. But he's busy with that show -- oh what's it called --
I Can't Believe It's Not Firefly.
Pshaw, Whedon. Get back to where you once belong.
And thus the Twelve Days of X-Men end, with lots of wrapping paper, dying pine
trees and explosions to clean up. God bless us, everyone.
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth