Friday, June 5, 2015

X-MEN FOREVER 2 #16 - March 2011


Shall We Rise Again?
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Ramon Rosanas (art) Tom Orzechowski & Lois Buhalis (letters)

Summary:  In the aftermath of their battle, the X-Men and Avengers regroup.  Thor takes the injured Nightcrawler with Mystique and Rogue to Muir Island, while Storm and Shadowcat reconcile.  Storm announces that she’s going to take Perfect Storm’s place as queen of Wakanda, after Masque alters her face to match Perfect Storm’s scar.  Ziggy Trask arrives with SHIELD and is fooled by Storm’s masquerade.  Meanwhile, Robyn Hanover overtakes Corsair’s plane and flies Nate to Mr. Sinister’s lair.  In Genosha, Havok’s funeral is held.  Shadowcat and Callisto stay behind to aid Storm, who plans Wakanda's peaceful union with Genosha.  Perfect Storm is given to the Genoshan authorities, who hope to deprogram her.  Cyclops and Jean reflect on what they’ve lost and face the future.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Nightcrawler now speaks Runic, and is near death.  Moira MacTaggert says she’ll treat him on Muir Island with Dani Moonstar, who she hopes will do what’s needed to save Nightcrawler as a Valkyrie.  
  • In a flashback to the day Cyclops and Havok leapt from a burning plane as children, Cyclops is incorrectly drawn with his ruby quartz glasses.  He didn’t need the glasses until after he fell and damaged the part of his brain that controls his power.

Review:  It’s the final issue of perhaps the strangest footnote in Chris Claremont’s history with the X-Men.  Ignoring the renumbering and arbitrary designation of some issues as specials or annuals, the series reached over forty issues, which actually isn’t so bad in today’s market.  Most X-spinoffs don’t survive so long, and certainly most out-of-continuity titles could never hope to reach forty issues.  From what I can gather, the ending of the series was ordered after Marvel reevaluated its cutoff sales point and gave numerous lower-level books the axe.  Marvel perhaps would’ve given the book another shot, a la Moon Knight, but I think its status as yet another X-spinoff and an alternate reality book caused internal interest to fade fairly quickly.

With one last issue to go, Claremont tries to strike a balance between emotional closure and actual plot resolutions.  He does a decent job, overall, as Polaris and Cyclops have their own moments to mourn Havok while the niggling details from the Genosha/Wakanda storyline are resolved.  Sabretooth is also given a chance to show that he’s truly a member of the team now, when he rejects Perfect Storm’s offer to jumpstart his powers and restore his hand and vision.  (Bizarrely, it turns out that “X-Tinction Agenda” perhaps had the keys to Burnout’s cure all along.  If this genetically-altered Storm can restart mutant powers, she could possibly counteract the effects of Burnout.  At the very least, she could restore Sabretooth’s healing factor, which could then potentially pave the way for a cure.)  Claremont’s joined by Ramon Rosanas, another fill-in artist I’m totally unfamiliar with.  Rosanas’ work is a peculiar mix of Euro-comics and manga, with early Stuart Immonen and John Cassaday thrown in.  Not every page is great, but overall he handles the acting very well.  His Cyclops is fantastic, and I like his interpretation of the Avengers as well.

Never one for a definitive conclusion, Claremont can’t go out with everything wrapped up in a tidy bow.  Nightcrawler is near-death, and part-Asgardian now, a plot that I see zero potential in, frankly.  Not that it will live on to annoy us, of course.  And Robyn Hanover finally makes her move, leaving Nate with a very uncertain future.  Claremont could’ve ended the series with this scene, but instead it’s tucked in the middle, leaving the final pages for a philosophical discussion between Cyclops and Jean.  I can understand why he wants to end the title with hope instead of fear, but the threat of Cyclops’ kid being taken by Sinister would’ve been a great cliffhanger to go out on.  

In retrospect, X-Men Forever is a peculiar beast.  The pre-release buzz was positive, and there is a brilliant premise behind the book.  It should’ve been able to climb past the bottom of the charts, but the title was never capable of rising above the level of any other modern-day X-spinoff.  Even though many fans were excited when the premise was announced, the book had a rough start during those early issues.  The book is clearly aimed at the type of fanbase that remembers the original Claremont days, and any fan that (yes) fanatical is sure to know which characters were actually members of the X-Men at the time.  Preview pages that casually dropped half the team and included two characters from Excalibur that “weren’t supposed to be there” caused the predictable internet outrage.  Even if you’re a more patient, composed reader, the continuity gaps between the “real” continuity and the Forever universe were never truly filled.  And by the time you get to tween Nate Summers, it’s obvious Claremont’s intentionally playing a game with the reader.  This kind of stunt might’ve worked with a more captive (and younger) audience, but readers today are much quicker to drop a title, especially one set in a “fake” reality anyway. Also not helping matters was the $3.99 cover price, a dollar more than the standard Marvel book of the time.  

As the series progressed, the quality became erratic.  Artists came and went.  Some issues were densely plotted, others were quick breezes.  The cast began to bloat.  New plotlines were added each issue before old ones were resolved.  And everyone got a makeover, if they needed it or not.  Dropping the early ‘90s looks was a huge mistake, I feel.  Those costumes automatically evoke the age Claremont’s allegedly returning to, yet they’re dropped as soon as the cast is given a chance to take a shower and change clothes.  It’s a telling sign; regardless of how the book was marketed, it was never going to be a direct continuation of the original Claremont run.  Perhaps Claremont felt restrained by the outline he’d always given in interviews about what could’ve been in Uncanny X-Men, but he didn’t need to throw everything out.  The best moments of the series are the ones that feel connected to what came before -- and why shouldn’t they be?  There’s a great foundation here with numerous avenues to explore.  I don’t think anyone would begrudge Claremont for exploring some new ideas, but not at the expense of the core premise of the series.  If Marvel wanted to give Claremont room to do an alternate take on the X-Men, then it should’ve released a monthly What If…? starring the X-Men.  Not taking advantage of the original premise of the Uncanny X-Men you didn’t get to see was a colossal mistake, and the book never fully recovered.

9 comments:

Mela said...

Didn't we just see this title in New Mutants Forever?

I was tempted to go back & read this series out of morbid curiosity, but thank you for taking the proverbial bullet. This whole series is just baffling.

wwk5d said...

How is the fact that Cyclops and Lorna would have also sacrificed their lives for Alex supposed to ironic?

Jeff said...

I love that Grummett cover.

Anonymous said...

I think the concept of the book was flawed because it was, ultimately, just a what-if story, and doesn't impose the discipline of working within the limitations set by other writers. Big two comic writers often chafe at these limitations, and Claremont in the '00s was one of them given all the interference he got on his 616 runs, but it's what makes a Big Two book interesting, the interplay between the writer's interests and the limitations imposed on him.

Something like "Untold Tales of Spider-Man" or even "X-Men First Class" (which was not strictly set within 616 continuity but tried not to contradict it too heavily) holds up better because the writer is trying to tell his stories without invalidating the other stories. I don't know if X-Men Forever would have been better as some kind of untold tales book (it's not like it worked for X-Men: The Hidden Years) but there needed to be some kind of sense that Claremont wasn't free to do whatever he wanted.

G. Kendall said...

"How is the fact that Cyclops and Lorna would have also sacrificed their lives for Alex supposed to ironic? "

I guess the idea is that Havok sacrificed himself for people who would rather he stayed alive, even if it meant their death. It's not worded particularly well, but I think that's what Claremont's saying.

G. Kendall said...

Mela - You're right. Looking at the cover dates, the repeating titles only ran one month apart.

"I think the concept of the book was flawed because it was, ultimately, just a what-if story, and doesn't impose the discipline of working within the limitations set by other writers. Big two comic writers often chafe at these limitations, and Claremont in the '00s was one of them given all the interference he got on his 616 runs, but it's what makes a Big Two book interesting, the interplay between the writer's interests and the limitations imposed on him."

That's a solid point. There's no way to pretend while reading the book that it could've been an actual run on UNCANNY. The freedom to go off into crazy tangents doesn't automatically make it a better series, it just emphasizes what the reader isn't getting. If Claremont had to space out his zaniness and flesh out the cast in a more deliberate fashion, many of the series' problems would've been solved.

Anonymous said...

I kept reading the book until the end, even though I was disappointed fairly quickly with concepts like Burnout and the use of SHIELD and the Avengers. I was hoping it would get better, but outside of a few flashes, this wasn't the book I wanted to read. It wasn't the book which Marvel and Claremont promised us.
I wonder if later writers cannibalized so many of Claremont's plans leading up to issue #300, that he felt there was no purpose in sticking to the original intent of this book. I don't care if Gambit was revealed as a traitour by Lobdell. I still would have liked to see Claremont's original take on it, which surely wouldn't have been the same as we saw.
Besides, seeing actual X-Men stories done differently would have been more appealing than seeing Claremont's take on evil Tony Stark or Storm and Black Panther's marriage!
I wanted to finally get to see The Mutant Wars! Maybe Claremont was planning to get around more towards his original plots, but he took far too long, and wasted so much time with drawn-out Consortium and Perfect Storm stories that just bored me.

wwk5d said...

If this was the "continuation" of CC's X-men, the series ended at around the time of Age of Apocalypse in real life...

Matt said...

I said it before at length, so I'll repeat here briefly: This series was a big disappointment, especially after all that beautiful pre-release artwork. Tom Grummett + Jim Lee costumes = Brilliant. I could've lived with a lot of the terrible story directions if the characters had stayed looking like they did in the first three issues the entire time, and if the artwork wasn't so inconsistent whenever Grummett was away.

My biggest gripe with this series, though, is the bait-and-switch. If it hadn't been advertised as "Chris Claremont continues his classic run", I wouldn't have felt so betrayed by it. (Though "Betrayed" is a strong word for a series I really didn't care all that much about, but you know what I mean.)