Friday, February 25, 2011

X-MAN #34-#36, January-March 1998

Messiah Complex Part One: The Ride

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Roger Cruz (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inker), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Apparently, this storyline is supposed to mark a new direction in the life of X-Man, the outcast mutant hero who resists “direction” the same way Gary Busey resists sanity. Kavanagh is following up on the idea that X-Man is a local celebrity in Washington Square Park and pushing it into full-on hero worship. Everyone wants X-Man to use his psychic powers to help them out, resulting in a mob scene every time he appears in public. This setup does have actual potential, as opposed to earlier status quo of aimless wandering and random violence.

One of X-Man’s new “bad girl” friends, Jam, is hospitalized after a drunk driving accident, which sets the story into motion. X-Man visits her in the hospital, wishes his vast powers could reattach her severed arm, and is then rushed out of the room by her doctor. Dr. Arlington soon realizes that Jam’s arm has indeed grown back. Later in his rounds, Arlington discovers another patient’s nearly fatal gunshot wound has been healed. Perhaps not coincidentally, X-Man is standing outside of his hospital window, lost in thought. This is, gasp, an intriguing premise for a story. The dialogue is still awkward and X-Man remains fairly unlikable, but I have to give Kavanagh credit for a strong principal idea for the story arc. In the background, a mystery man is monitoring X-Man’s actions. On the final page, we discover that he is none other than longtime Alpha Flight nemesis, Purple Man. Well, of course he is.

Messiah Complex Part Two: Media Blitz

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), ChrisCross & Roger Cruz (pencilers), Bud LaRosa (inker), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Extended fill-in artist ChrisCross makes half of a debut, penciling a good portion of the pages while Roger Cruz handles the midsection. In a sign of the times, Kavanagh has chosen a WNBA game as the venue for X-Man to perform his most public act of heroism yet. The Destabilizers, a political terrorist group, invade the stadium and are easily defeated by the mutant.

Later, X-Man reconnects with Dr. Arlington, who theorizes that their brief physical contact in Jam’s hospital room gave X-Man the subconscious knowledge necessary to reattach her arm. When he suggests they work together to develop his skill and help people, X-Man acts like the irrational brat he always reverts to and abruptly leaves. He flies past the sea of fans that are now camped outside of his home, a two-page spread that marks Roger Cruz’s temporary exit.

The Destabilizers plot thread returns on the next page, and perhaps not coincidentally, ChrisCross is back as the artist. Remember the Zero Tolerance crossover issue that opened with Cary Nord art before shifting to Cruz’s pencils when the crossover material began? I wonder now if Cruz drew a sequence of pages for this issue that were later rewritten and given to ChrisCross to handle. As the issue closes, hidden devices in the Destabilizers’ skin create a massive explosion when they go through the NYPD’s metal detector. Because the terrorists didn’t know about the devices, X-Man didn’t learn about them during his earlier psi-scan. The police are now accusing X-Man of sending Trojan horses into One Police Plaza, and they’re not thrilled. Finally, it’s revealed that Purple Man has been setting up these events with Flag Smasher, a partner he’s already bored with by the final page. I have to admit that the utter randomness of these villains is fun, and just look at the sheer amount of story we’re getting this issue. Things are happening! What a thought.

Messiah Complex Part Three: Falling Star

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), ChrisCross (penciler), Bud LaRosa & Harry Candelario (inkers), Comicraft (letters), Mike Thomas (colors)

Now a suspected terrorist, X-Man lives on the streets, hiding from the authorities and eating out of dumpsters. I wouldn’t mind this as a new status quo for the book, although I don't think we're going to be lucky enough to see X-Man eating garbage for too many issues. While spying on his former friends, X-Man learns that one of the girls, Bux, has been acting odd lately. Searching for her telepathically, he learns that she’s been used as a dupe by the Purple Man. The story isn’t very clear, but apparently this is how Purple Man got close enough to X-Man to influence his actions. Jam’s new arm is actually an elaborate psionic illusion, and presumably, (the story isn’t very clear about this either) the patient he brought to life was also a telepathic hoax. Purple Man thinks that X-Man is powerful enough to reunite him with his family, and that they can spread love throughout the world together. Umm…okay. X-Man sees that Purple Man is simply deluding himself, they get into a fight, things blow up, and Purple Man disappears. X-Man considers wiping the city’s collective memory of the past few weeks, but a mystery voice from behind urges him not to.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the finale doesn’t live up to the premise’s potential. Since Purple Man and X-Man have similar powers, he is a credible choice for a villain, but X-Man’s so powerful Kavanagh has to spend several pages merely providing a justification for how Purple Man could influence him in the first place. And, even then, it doesn’t really make sense. I am glad to see ChrisCross come aboard as artist. While Cruz was improving with each issue, his work could still look rushed and a little sloppy on occasion. ChrisCross’ solid draftsmanship brings more consistency to the book. He also makes X-Man look more like a teenager and less like a steroid-enhanced ‘90s superhero with veins popping out of his neck. So, despite the weak ending, I have to acknowledge “Messiah Complex” as an improvement for the series. Now, do you think anyone working in the X-office today knows/cares that the name of one of their crossovers was already taken?

1 comment:

The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

It's really amazing just how little I remember about all these comics I know I bought and read but which are absolutely opaque to me now. In hindsight, it does seem as if the X-Books began to acknowledge some of their problems in the late 90s - the insular nature (i.e., not interacting much with the great MU), the aimless plots, the inconsistent creative teams. But just because the acknowledged the problems doesn't really mean they were able to fix them in time to make much of a difference, alas.

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