Chapters 20-22, Epilogue
Written by Ann Nocenti
Summary: Word leaks that there's a rat in the prison, which soon leads to a riot. Longshot lies and declares himself the rat in order to stop the violence. Wolverine faces Spiral and frees Phoenix. Bone is reunited with Miles. Longshot's allies unleash a computer virus that frees the prisoners, as Rita hacks into MAXROCK TV and exposes UltraMax’s abuses. The inmates unite against the guards, and Longshot, the despised rat. Phoenix frees Longshot from the execution chamber, while Major Domo is revealed as the warden and beaten down by the inmates. The Quinjet’s blasts send UltraMax out of orbit. Mojo escapes in his pod, not realizing that Phoenix has already placed the "Mojomaniacs" (killers created by his brain tampering) inside. As the team tries to keep UltraMax in orbit, Longshot reveals that Gambit gave Spiral false information earlier. Eventually, Beast manages to enter UltraMax’s controls and right the station. The liberated mutants are taken to the mansion's hospital wing. Public opinion, following Rita's broadcast, turns on UltraMax and it is shut down. Major Domo rebuilds himself and prepares to rescue Mojo.
“Huh?” Moment: Miles is referred to as a boy repeatedly, even from Phoenix’s viewpoint, but the numbers don’t add up. His father spent fifteen years in prison, which didn’t happen until after Miles and his schoolmates were told to inform on their parents if they were involved with drugs. That would make Miles, at the very youngest, twenty.
Review: There’s a lot packed into the final chapters of the novel, including a slightly gratuitous gladiator match between Longshot and Gambit, so the ending is somewhat chaotic. Nocenti obviously wants to tackle numerous issues, but there’s not nearly enough room to explore every wild thought she throws out there. The major conflicts of the novel are resolved (Bone confirms he never wanted revenge on Miles, Miles asks for his father’s forgiveness, Mojo is defeated, Gambit and Longshot make peace, UltraMax is shut down), but several of the plot threads barely feel connected to the central story. Is this is a story about the drug war, the prison system, teen suicide, human experimentation, War on Crime paranoia, junk culture, or the origins of insanity? Of course a story can cover more than one issue, but trying to touch on everything that might be on the author’s mind is dangerous. Mojo has three distinct plots going on during the novel -- he’s overtaken a prison and used it as the basis of a new television network, he’s released a series of bootleg videogames that will recruit highly intelligent players (apparently teens he wants to interact with, simply because he’s lonely...and he wants the rest to commit suicide, for some reason), and he’s using his mind-altering technology to breed a new race of remorseless killers. All of these ideas have potential, but why are they running simultaneously; aren’t we reading the plots to three different Mojo stories? What do mutants secretly placed in a space prison by the government have to do with bored teens that happen to be really good at video games?
It’s easy to forgive the overloaded plot, though, because so many of Nocenti’s pithy digressions and character moments are genuinely intriguing. (She’s also the first person to pit Longshot and Gambit against each other in a fight, which is something I would’ve expected to see years earlier.) Chapter Twenty-One even opens with an unsettling detour to the suburbs to examine Susan Carlton, a nice enough lady who’s been sucked into watching the live execution. The entire passage is reminiscent of Orwell, a very brief example of just how good Nocenti can be. Playing off the prison theme, Nocenti explores the larger idea of imprisonment, that everyone is in a cage of his or her own making. Mojo has doomed himself to a life surrounded by sycophants, while Storm is caged by the demands of the responsibilities she’s accepted as leader of the X-Men. Miles is consumed by the guilt he feels for indirectly sending his father to prison. Phoenix is confined by the ethics taught to her by Xavier, which prevent her from “playing God” even as she touches the minds of the sick and deluded every day. And Rogue’s body is, of course, its own prison.
Even the virtual reality game, which could easily be a quickie plot device of no real importance, opens the door for a thoughtful exploration of the X-Men’s personalities. The game tests the player to go past their normal boundaries in order to win, with the justification that nothing you do to your opponent is “real” so it’s okay to cut loose. Phoenix mind-fries her opponents while Wolverine embraces his bloodlust. When they regain consciousness, they have to readjust to reality and question the decisions they’ve made while in the transitional fog. The game’s hook is that it shames you for beating it. There’s also a recurring theme of lying as a virtue, the idea that a lie can be noble if it’s used to help someone overcome grief or self-doubt. The last example is in the epilogue, as Wolverine pretends that he didn’t carry Bone on his back during the final level of the game. “Wasn’t me. You musta made it on your own. You’re no coward, Bone.” Nocenti loves the concept of deception, including self-deception, but doesn’t seem to have the room to truly explore it here. I wish Nocenti would’ve focused more on these esoteric concepts, as opposed to the political activism that occasionally drags the novel down. Less politics, fewer plot threads, and the novel would've been a much tighter read. It remains a solid X-Men story, however, with some truly fantastic moments.