Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Year in Review - 1999

By the decade’s end, the X-books are still doing well, but they’re facing real competition from other titles within Marvel. A much larger problem is the fact that the entire comics industry has essentially collapsed. The speculators brought in by the gimmicks from early in the decade are gone, new fans brought in by the X-Men cartoon are disappearing, and the older fans seem to take great pride in not reading X-books. The books are stigmatized for being too commercial, even though there’s barely anything “commercial” about the industry at this point. An X-Men movie is in the works, but negative early buzz leaves Marvel content to just ignore whatever Hollywood is doing to their characters. In an effort to please jaded fans, Marvel announces a new determination in 1999 to resolve dangling plotlines that have been around for years. Alan Davis, who initially just agreed to draw six issues of X-Men, is brought in to plot the two main titles indefinitely. Anger over the departure of Steven Seagle and Joe Kelly, and the perception that the books are just ghostwritten by editors anyway, leaves Davis with a hostile audience.

Uncanny X-Men & X-Men volume twoUXM and X-Men begin a solid year of crossing over, essentially acting as one bi-weekly title. The year begins with the “Magneto War” event, which is supposed to be the epic return of the character. The story resolves the mystery of Joseph’s identity by revealing him as a clone, and ends with the UN caving to Magneto and handing him the island of Genosha. The story wastes too much time with meaningless fight scenes with the Acolytes, and the mystery of Joseph’s origin seems like it’s being resolved because Marvel wants it to be, and not because anyone has a great story for it. Allowing Magneto to take over Genosha isn’t a bad idea, though, and it opens the door for some interesting storylines.

The next story arc is very clearly from Alan Davis’ imagination, as the team is transported to an alien dimension inspired by the works of Steve Ditko. After they save the dimension from Juggernaut, they’re accidentally sent to the Skrull’s homeworld. This is a fun series of issues that are only hampered by scripter Terry Kavanagh’s dialogue, which is often stiff and clumsy. Davis knows how to use the Skrulls creatively, and is able to make the current X-Men work in a fast-paced, traditional superhero story.

The team returns home for the “Rage Against the Machine” crossover, which exists solely to set up Marvel’s ill-fated “M-Tech” line. Davis is able to keep some of the character subplots going, but it’s soon obvious the storyline is just a distraction. The Red Skull is revealed as the main villain, and it’s unfortunate that his pairing with the X-Men comes across so dull.

“The Shattering” is the next event, although the stories are never as dramatic as Marvel’s marketing machine promised. The story has the team going on a break (not even “disbanding,” although that is the way the solicitations and some of the spinoffs described the affair) after Professor Xavier’s harsh attitude becomes intolerable. Davis uses the event as an excuse to do character-driven stories with a smaller cast of characters. Colossus and Marrow grow closer in Uncanny, while Rogue is reunited with Mystique in X-Men. The stories evoke feelings of X-comics from the ‘80s, and they’re a lot of fun. It’s soon revealed that Xavier’s act was a ruse, designed to flush out a traitor inside the team. When Wolverine is killed by Apocalypse’s new Death Horseman, it’s revealed that he’s actually a Skrull imposter. Death is in fact Wolverine, brainwashed by Apocalypse and newly reunited with his adamantium skeleton.

The Wolverine revelation leads into a large Apocalypse storyline, which is unfortunately used to reveal “the Twelve,” a group of significant mutants hinted at years earlier. As it turns out, their significance is to be hooked up to a giant machine that channels their powers to Apocalypse. It’s a disappointing conclusion to the mystery, and it reads like another example of something that’s being resolved just for the sake of being resolved. After Apocalypse absorbs their power, he steals Cyclops’ body and then warps reality for unclear reasons. At this point, Davis isn’t able to convey the various editorial demands into satisfying stories. The buildup to the Apocalypse storyline was clearly well thought out and had a strong execution, but the actual resolution is just one editorial event piled on top of another.

The Events: Joseph learns he’s a clone of Magneto shortly before he dies while trying to repair the damage Magneto’s done to the environment. Magneto is recognized by the UN as the ruler of Genosha. The Twelve are revealed as Cyclops, Jean Grey, Cable, Storm, Iceman, Sunfire, Polaris, Magneto, Xavier, Mikhail Rasputin, Bishop, and the Living Monolith. Wolverine is brainwashed by Apocalypse, who bonds his skeleton with adamantium again. Cyclops “dies” after Apocalypse steals his body.

The “What Were They Thinking?” Award: It’s hard to understand the reasoning behind the revelation of the Twelve. If 1999 really was supposed to be the year that old plotlines were resolved, it seems like there were more pressing issues to be deal with than a list of names who were supposed to be important figures some day in the future. The Legacy Virus storyline still hadn’t been resolved, and after years with no development, it really needed a high profile story to seem relevant again. The Twelve is the type of mystery that could still slowly develop if Marvel wanted it to. Making the Twelve components of a plot device and ignoring what the list was supposed to mean in the first place is another odd decision.

What’s the Appeal? : Some old dangling subplots are resolved, Alan Davis and Adam Kubert draw some lovely issues, there’s still a focus on the characters, and the plots become more cohesive from issue to issue.

Were the Critics Right? : In the sense that the line is too editorially driven, they probably are right. However, Davis do quite a few issues that are unique to his sensibilities, and for most of the year, he’s able to juggle the character work with the larger event stories Marvel wants. If the Apocalypse storyline was allowed to just be a storyline and not an overblown event, I think the closing issues of the year would’ve also worked.


Matt said...

I know the X-line back then had its flaws, but I still feel (and always will) that the state of the titles ten years ago was far superior to what Marvel is giving us right now! However, nine years ago is a totally different story -- it all took a big nosedive when Chris Claremont returned!

(I still can't believe Alan Davis's tenure was a decade ago already!)

So will we see a Year in Review for the two months of 2000 that you covered? Will we get one final summation of the whole shebang -- a "Decade in Review"? Where does Not Blog X go from here?!?

Erik said...

I'm hoping he looks at the X-line from Claremont's return & that Revolition X business through Eve of Destruction and even the Casey/Morrison/Austen (ugh) tenure.

So...basically, I want to read these reviews up to the present. And then go back and start in the 60s. Chop chop!

De said...

Congratulations on making it. Your dedication and perserverance are awe-inspiring.

wwk5d said...

I wasn't hostile to Davis. I wasn't all the upset Seagle and Kelly were gone. I actually liked the Davis run. It was fun, I liked the character interactions, and the art was also good. Davis and Adam Kubert, what's not to like?

The Twelve story does blemish the run. I did like the build-up to it, as the Shattering issues were prob the best of his run (along with the Skrull story). But yeah, the resolution was pretty lame. And just dumb all around. Too bad, as overall, this was one of the better years for Uncanny/X-men since 1995, I'd say.

And not to beat a dead horse, but I was still reading X-force and liking it. The title does lose a little quality when Pollina left, but it's still good fun.

Those were the only 3 titles I was still reading at this point, and I was still enjoying them.

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