Friday, April 11, 2014

X-MEN/WILDC.A.T.S - THE DARK AGE - May 1998



Credits:  Warren Ellis (writer), Mat Broome w/Bret Booth (pencils), Sean Parsons (inks), Wendy Fouts & Wildstorm FX (colors), Comicraft’s Dave Lanphear (letters)


Summary:  In 2019, the surviving members of the X-Men and WildC.A.T.S are kept in concentration camps by the Daemonite/Sentinel hybrids.  Warblade removes his power-dampener in order to cut out the other heroes’ inhibitors, knowingly sacrificing his life.  Led by Lord Emp and Shadowcat, the heroes break into a Daemonite/Sentinel facility and free Phoenix, Cable, and Savant.  Merging their powers with Lord Emp’s, they execute their plan to travel into the past and prevent their teams from forming, which will stop the Daemonites and Sentinels from ever merging.  As they enter the timestream, Wolverine and Grifter arrive from Canada and bomb the facility.  Reality warps, then returns to normal in the present day.


Gimmicks:  A variant cover laid out by Michael Golden was also released, although the pencils and inks were provided by Richard Bennett, which probably didn’t thrill anyone expecting a Michael Golden cover.


Review:  Yet another take on “Days of Future Past,” which I suppose isn’t a surprise considering that every chapter so far has moved up and up the timeline.  Warren Ellis predictably wrings every drop of bleakness he can out of the concept, but while he’s an obvious choice to write a dark science fiction story set in the future, casting Mat Broome as artist is a questionable decision.  The previous chapters consistently featured the best artists working for Wildstorm during these days, which is a list Mat Broome (especially the Mat Broome of 1998) can’t compete with.  He seems to be going for a Travis Charest look on many pages, which unfortunately leads to needlessly elaborate layouts and pointless insert panels that ruin the flow of the page.  And while his designs for the alien/robotic technology are kind of impressive, his human figures are often too flat and awkward to be taken seriously.  And the bondage outfits he’s designed for the future X-Men, especially Wolverine, would make even Joel Schumacher roll his eyes.  


Ellis’ story covers much of the ground you expect these “Days of Future Past” sequel/parody/pastiches to go, right down to the team’s leader making a dramatic entrance in a wheelchair (previously it was Magneto, then Peter Wisdom, now WildC.A.T.S’s Lord Emp.)  Taking the Daemonites from WildC.A.T.S continuity and merging them with the Sentinels isn’t a bad idea, helping to make the story less obviously an X-Men story and adding a science fiction element that we haven’t really seen in any of the mutant dystopian futures yet.  Ellis also has a nice hook for the time travel element of the story, as Shadowcat explains that the Daemonites and Sentinels only exist because of the WildC.A.T.S and X-Men respectively, so the best way to ensure they never merge is to go back in time and prevent the teams from forming.  (Somehow, in the course of one page, the plan changes to prevent just one team from existing, and the WildC.A.T.S volunteer, but I think the concept is still interesting.)  Simultaneously, Wolverine and Grifter arrive, totally ignorant of what’s going on, and just blow up the Daemonite/Sentinel base.  Oops.  The ending makes little sense, but I guess the idea is that all of the previous X-Men/ WildC.A.T.S have been wiped from continuity.  That’s one way to end a series of crossovers that was never going to “count” in the first place.  


Overall, despite a few good ideas, The Dark Age is the weakest of the X-Men/ WildC.A.T.S books.  Aside from the disappointing art, the story wastes too much time gratuitously killing off established Wildstorm characters instead of fleshing out the main cast or actually exploring some of the time travel ideas introduced by the plot.  Alan Moore already did a “Days of Future Past” riff in the Spawn/ WildC.A.T.S miniseries that included quite a few superfluous death scenes for the Wildstorm heroes…I don’t need to see yet another gruesome slaughter of a character I barely recognize from 1995.  The cast also lacks any real diversity, as everyone does little more than snap and swear at each other, when they’re not busy bemoaning their wretched existence.  It gets old fast.  The previous chapters might’ve been thin reads, but I think they’re genuinely entertaining in a way this isn’t. 

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recall Warren Ellis essentially disown this comic way back when. I remember not being able to make heads or tails of it despite liking Ellis's other work. I suspect the storytelling deficiencies of 1998 Matt Broome have a lot to do with its incoherence.

- Mike Loughlin

Jason said...

I think you're right on with these. The first three were nothing deep, but each one was like a great popcorn action movie.

This one was a real disappointing way to cap things off.

kerry said...

More than one writer has complained about Mat Broome's pencils before (Chuck Dixon had some choice words about it); a quick look at CBDb shows he's worked as recently as 2009, but I wonder if this reputation has burned some industry bridges.

It never occurred to me that Warren Ellis wrote this (or 2099 A.D. Apocalypse, a teenage favorite of mine, for that matter), but all the earmarks are there, especially, as G. points out, the endless snark that disregards any pre-established characterization.

hueysheridan said...

Actually Ellis blamed the editor (Ruben Diaz if memory serves), not Mat Broome, for this travesty.

Ellis was very plain, even angry and vindictive (with apparently some justification) on the internet that the editor rewrote the script without his input.