Friday, October 31, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #18 - April 2010

Arctic Thunder!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Wilfredo Quintana (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  The mother of Ziggy Trask monitors the Consortium’s study of Fabian Cortez’s powers.  Meanwhile, Cyclops takes Nathan on a motorcycle ride.  After stopping a group of bikers from harassing a waitress, Cyclops spends time at home with his guests, Havok and Polaris.  While playing outside, Nathan is kidnapped by the Consortium.  With the help of Corsair’s spaceship, Nathan is rescued and the Consortium agents are captured.  Corsair promises to protect Nathan while Cyclops returns to the X-Men.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The waitress is named Phoebe, perhaps after the Friends character.  
  • Cyclops wants the Starjammers to shield this group of captured agents from the Consortium so that they can be interrogated.
  • Havok and Polaris are wearing their early ‘90s X-Factor uniforms, although their dialogue suggests that they’re still working as scientists.  Cyclops is back to his uniform from the ‘70s-‘80s, even though the cover has bizarrely merged it with his ‘90s costume.

“Huh?” Moment:  Polaris alternates between talking to herself and thinking to herself while investigating the Consortium’s ship (and explaining how her powers work).  That’s a comics scripting quirk I’ve never understood.  Most of this dialogue would’ve been better suited as a third-person narrative caption anyway.

Review:  And I thought the last issue was padded!  The pacing this issue has reached, dare I say it, Spawn levels.  Gratuitous splashes, giant panels, and a pointless opening fight scene all mark pages while the story gradually reveals itself as a (very unambitious) kidnapping plot against Nathan.  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind a simple story of the Summers clan rescuing Nathan from the Consortium if I felt the issue had some meat to it.  This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to actually explain the garbled continuity that surrounds Nathan, or to give him some legitimate bonding time with Cyclops, but instead we receive an issue that’s mainly filler.  The only real point of the story, aside from introducing another mystery (the Consortium wants Nathan for an unidentified reason), is to have Cyclops decide to rejoin the team.  Claremont’s always seemed adamant in interviews that he considered Cyclops’ time as an X-Man over as of UXM #200, and a previous issue of this series was even dedicated to his goodbye, so this is at best a peculiar decision.  

The major draw of the issue is the return of Tom Grummett and Cory Hamscher, who deliver possibly their nicest-looking issue yet.  I’m still getting an early Capullo/ McFarlane vibe from the art...the art, Orzechowski letters, and dawdling plot really are giving me Spawn flashbacks.  I particularly like the decision to revert Cyclops’ costume to what’s generally considered his “classic” look.  At least this is one X-Man that’s in a recognizable uniform.  If Marvel really wanted to ditch the Jim Lee designs, I would’ve much preferred going back to previous costumes over designing new ones.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #17 - April 2010

Change -- Is More Than Skin Deep!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Graham Nolan (pencils), Vincent Cifuentes (inks), Tom Orzechowski & Dave Sharpe (letters), Sotocolor’s C. Garcia (colors)

Summary:  With Nightcrawler’s guidance, Rogue uses her new powers to rescue people trapped inside a burning building.  Mystique escapes in the confusion.  When Rogue’s preoccupied, Nightcrawler is forced to rescue a girl without using any powers.  Meanwhile, Jean tells Moira that she only views Beast as a friend, Xavier and Beast make amends, and Sabretooth suggests directly attacking the Consortium.

Review:  The previous issues of this series have been a blend of Claremont’s standard text-heavy, multiple panel style and the more “cinematic” approach of modern Marvel.  Splash pages often popped up out of nowhere and the scripting was occasionally sparse, but in the end, each issue was rather densely plotted with multiple plot threads being advanced incrementally.  This is the first issue to veer so firmly into the modern style, and as a result, it’s as about as fulfilling as an early Ultimate comic.  (As in, not very.)  The main story is needlessly padded, and the subplot scenes have slowed down to an absolute crawl.  Did anyone really want to see more subplot pages of Xavier and Beast talking, yet doing nothing, about Burnout?

I can understand why Claremont’s using the fire as an excuse for Rogue to learn about her new powers, and for Nightcrawler to be a true hero and face danger without any; to Claremont's credit there are some nice characterization bits in these scenes.  Nevertheless, why is virtually the entire issue dedicated to this?  Why are there are so many splash pages and giant panels?  Why not devote some of this space to actually answering a few of the questions raised in the previous issue?  This issue has Nightcrawler and Rogue take it as a given that Mystique’s responsible for their power-swap, but they have no real basis for thinking this.  I don’t recall Mystique ever having the ability to cancel Rogue’s powers, nor have she ever been able to grant Rogue someone’s else powers permanently.  Her dialogue hints that perhaps she was behind Rogue’s permanent acquisition of Ms. Marvel’s powers, but the idea is just tossed out there with no rationalization of how.  Also, if this were all a part of her grand scheme, how could she have predicted Rogue’s abrupt attack last issue, the one that’s set all of these events into motion?  Plotting like this can be incredibly frustrating, especially when so much of the book is also being played as an intentional mystery.

By the end of the issue, it’s clear that Claremont’s serious about having Nightcrawler and Rogue swap powers permanently.  I’ve read the entire run of this series before, but have absolutely no memory of a true point ever emerging from this storyline.  Earlier, Claremont seemed to take a shine to Nocturne, Nightcrawler’s daughter from an alternate reality, while writing Exiles and New Excalibur.  Is he simply stuck on the idea of a female Nightcrawler and just throwing any idea out there in order to introduce one into this book?  Honestly, I have no clue why Rogue-as-Nightcrawler is supposed to be a good idea.  Taken on its own, I would be willing to give it a chance, but when you consider that Claremont’s already doing physical transformation plots with other cast members, the concept becomes annoyingly repetitive.  Ultimately, we’re just left with more characters that don’t look the way they’re supposed to.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #16 - March 2010

Southern Comfort
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Graham Nolan (pencils), Vincent Cifuentes (inks), Sotocolor (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  While Daisy and Sabretooth interrogate potential double agents within SHIELD, and Xavier and Beast debate Burnout, Rogue and Nightcrawler arrive in Jackson, Mississippi.  They discover Mystique instead of Amanda Sefton.  Mystique reveals that she mimicked Amanda’s voice in order to draw her children to her.  Nightcrawler is stunned by the revelation that he’s Mystique’s son.  When Mystique tells Rogue that she intends to save her from Burnout, Rogue impulsively knocks her out of a window.  The ensuing scuffle inadvertently causes a gas tank to explode.  Nightcrawler performs mouth-to-mouth to save Rogue.  In a few seconds, he discovers that his mutation is seemingly gone, while Rogue resembles a female Nightcrawler.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Rogue and Nightcrawler believe Mystique dead until they meet her in person, contradicting the non-Claremont chapters of “The Muir Island Saga.”  According to Mystique, she allowed the world to think Val Cooper (possessed by the Shadow King) killed her in order to cover her investigations into the Consortium and Burnout.
  • Mystique claims that Destiny had also investigated Burnout for most of her life, and was puzzled that Wolverine and Mystique were seemingly immune.  Somehow, Mystique reasons that Nightcrawler is also immune.
  • Nightcrawler questions why the normally invulnerable Rogue is knocked unconscious by the gas tank explosion, and why touching her skin doesn’t knock him out.

Miscellaneous Note:  This is one of the very few issues that doesn’t have an exclamation mark in the title.

Creative Differences:  Chris Claremont’s comments in a podcast interview after this issue was released lead me to believe his editor was never thrilled with the Nightcrawler/Rogue power swap idea.

Review:  It’s widely known that Claremont intended to reveal Mystique as Nightcrawler’s mother, although it’s safe to assume that the execution wouldn’t have been anything like X-Men Unlimited #4.  (Although there is a rumor that Claremont wanted to reveal Mystique as Nightcrawler’s father and Destiny as the mother, so it’s possible we were spared even more insanity.)  This issue is the only published version of Claremont’s confirmation, and it’s not the dramatic reveal I’m sure he was hoping for.  Any impact from the revelation is already gone thanks to the mainstream continuity, and the cartoon, already having a Nightcrawler/Mystique “shocking secret!” story.  Mystique’s “death” in the build-up to the “Muir Island Saga” has also been largely forgotten, so it’s no great shock to see her reappear.  The intrigue comes from Claremont flatly ignoring the second half of “Muir Island Saga” yet again, leading the reader to question when (or if) we’ll ever read Claremont’s intended conclusion to the story.

If you’re willing to play along, the retconning of Mystique’s role in “Muir Island Saga” is another mystery that keeps the book interesting.  For most readers, I suspect, it’s another annoying continuity game that takes you out of the story.  Initially, I was in the latter camp.  Rereading the series now, it’s easier to just accept the fact that Claremont’s continuity has stopped months before X-Men #1 and move on.  After revealing that Nathan Summers is not only still in the present day but also now a fifth grader, everything else is pretty minor.  I do think these questions should’ve been addressed at some point, however, and it’s faintly ridiculous that a bi-weekly title that ran for two years never got around to them.  

The “Muir Island Saga” material isn’t the only source of continuity, or just common sense, frustration.  We’re to believe that Destiny has been investigating Burnout for decades, which strikes me as a ludicrous overselling of the concept.  Destiny does have to be addressed in order for the Burnout plot to work, but this is missing the most glaring question -- why is she so old?  She was already an adult in the 1930s, yet made it well into old age as a mutant.  And she didn’t even die of Burnout or natural causes, she was killed by Legion.  How could she view Mystique and Wolverine as “immune” when she was clearly not dying of Burnout?  Also, why is Nightcrawler immune to Burnout?  And why does Rogue suddenly lose her invulnerability?  Why is she so irrationally angry at Mystique?  How could Nightcrawler be immune from Rogue’s powers, especially when he’s been affected by them in the past?  Speaking of which, why didn’t Rogue and Nightcrawler’s powers swap the previous times they touched?  Admittedly, some of these questions are treated as intentional mysteries in the story, but the abundance of so many unanswered questions over the course of a few pages, added to some of the other outrageous plots running simultaneously, makes the book feel too chaotic.

In other news… A Graham Nolan fill-in!  Given Marvel’s penchant for hiring new, unknown artists as guest artists for this title, I wasn’t expecting a name like Nolan to show up.  Nolan’s not as stylized as most of the artists associated with the X-titles, but he delivers a solid issue.  While not entirely comfortable with every cast member, he seems to have a lot of fun with Mystique, which is obviously a big help for this issue.  I wonder now why more ‘90s DC guys weren’t hired to work on this book.  I’d love to see more people associated with ‘90s Batman or Superman fill in for Tom Grummett.  They’re all competent artists, and it helps to feed the illusion that this is an alternate reality where Bob Harras was raiding DC’s stable of artists for Jim Lee replacements.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #15 - March 2010

The Rising Storm!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett and Peter Vale (pencils), Al Vey, Gary Martin, and Terry Pallot (inks), Wilfredo Quintana (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Storm arrives in Wakanda, seeking sanctuary.  Against Nick Fury’s counsel, Black Panther grants it to her.  She spends months earning Wakanda’s trust, and eventually Black Panther proposes marriage.  On their wedding day, Killmonger enters the palace and murders Black Panther.  Storm arranged the attack with Killmonger, but tells Killmonger that she won’t be second to anyone.  She kills him, then destroys the scene of the crime with lightning.  When she emerges from the rubble, the people of Wakanda name Storm their new queen.

Continuity Note:  Everett K. Ross, a supporting cast member from the Christopher Priest Black Panther run, makes a cameo.  Ross had not been created at the point X-Men Forever continuity is supposed to have diverged, but I suppose his presence doesn’t cause any real harm to the premise of the series.

Production Note:  An eight-page Marvel Saga style text piece explains what various characters in the Marvel Universe were doing when X-Men Forever supposedly takes place.

Review:  Storm, or Perfect Storm or Evil Storm if you prefer, receives the spotlight this issue.  The story is set over the course of several months, detailing Storm’s actions after escaping the X-Men and providing a Cliff’s Notes version of how she’s become ruler of Wakanda.  Laying out all of this information in one issue would seem to go against Claremont’s instincts, since this is the type of story he would normally save for a slow-burning subplot.  Given the bi-weekly schedule of this book, I’m not sure why exactly he hasn’t been developing this storyline gradually over the course of the series so far.  I would say the past few issues have had enough space to dramatize the plot; it’s not as if the previous arc needed so many splash pages of the X-Men fighting werewolves, if we’re being honest.  

Regardless, Claremont’s getting to the point now and moving Storm into position as Evil Queen Ororo.  Relocating her to Wakanda and placing her under Black Panther’s protection does make sense, since it provides some rationalization for why SHIELD, the X-Men, and the Consortium aren’t actively pursuing her.  I don’t think anyone at the time truly bought into the idea that this was the “real” Storm, which didn’t stop Claremont from keeping his poker face up and continuing the effort to sell her as a villain.  I actually admire that level of “What is this?” storytelling, since I can’t deny that I loved those kinds of stunts during the later years of Claremont’s original run.  The novelty of the Black Panther and Storm getting married has already been exhausted by Marvel’s bizarre decision to do that story in the mainstream titles, but Claremont does have two advantages.  One, he wrote the initial story that hinted at a romance between the pair, and two, he’s set this plot over the course of several months.  It still comes across as rushed and somewhat arbitrary (it’s not as if that Marvel Team-Up back-up that’s used as the basis of their relationship was ever referenced, or even reprinted, for decades), but the marriage is more defensible within the context of this story.  The Black Panther doesn’t personally know the X-Men, so he’s more inclined to believe Storm’s side of the story, and this Storm was good enough to fool her friends for months, so it’s not inconceivable that the Black Panther would also fall for her charms.

The decision to actually kill the Black Panther, however, is another instance of the book doing exactly what an alternate reality book shouldn’t do -- remind you that it’s an alternate reality book.  Again, the premise of this title is “What if Chris Claremont never left X-Men?”  Not “What if Chris Claremont had free reign over the Marvel Universe?”  Black Panther wasn’t considered a real priority of Marvel’s in the early ‘90s, but certainly he wouldn’t have been whacked in an issue of X-Men.  (Well, maybe if Jim Lee really wanted to do it, I could possibly see that happening, but only then.  Nevertheless, it’s the type of event that, under reasonable circumstances, would not happen in X-Men.)  Killing off a major MU figure in this title just feels fundamentally wrong, taking the reader out of the story as soon as it happens.  Judging the book on its own merits, giving Claremont the benefit of the doubt and assuming that this is an event that’s necessary for the story to evolve…maybe that’s what the readers should do, but it’s impossible to rationalize stories like this with what the original marketing told us the book would be. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #14 - February 2010

Black Magik Part Four - Darkness at Dawn!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Wilfredo Quintana & Sotocolor (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Black Magik uses her powers to transform Shadowcat into Firecat.  As Black Widow calls for reinforcements, Gambit and Colossus face the Cossack’s wolf-creatures.  Cossack confronts the team with Black Magik and Firecat.  Gambit reasons with Kitty, and she feels Wolverine’s presence within her.  Her true personality returns, shortly before Black Widow kills Cossack with a headshot.  Black Magik maintains that she’s now her true self and teleports away.  Meanwhile, Beast and Jean kiss after a date, Rogue volunteers to accompany Nightcrawler after he receives a frantic phone call from Amanda Sefton, Nick Fury assigns Daisy and Sabretooth to investigate spies at the mansion, Cyclops goes on a motorcycle ride in Alaska, and a Panther monument in Wakanda lies in ruins.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Sabretooth’s costume is now colored brown and tan, most likely as an attempt to evoke Wolverine’s ‘80s costume.  
  • Darkstar and Red Guardian make cameos, arriving as Black Widow’s back-up.  
  • The rogue SHIELD agent from last issue is named Mike Brown.  Fury calls him a trusted agent he’s known for years (as are all of the agents stationed at the mansion). Daisy says Brown passed all security scans, even telepathic ones.

Review:  Claremont managed to balance the main Magik story with the mansion’s subplots fairly well in the previous chapters, but this issue is a good example of a plot/subplot balance that just doesn't work.  Simply by looking at that summary, it’s obvious there’s a lot going on with the rest of the cast, yet the subplot pages receive just as much attention as the heroes vs. werewolves scenes.  Perhaps Claremont felt that the werewolf fight was a strong enough visual to carry the issue, but I consider the werewolves to be the most boring aspect of the entire arc.   Cossack’s werewolves are just generic goons; visually more interesting than a Hydra flunky perhaps, but still cannon fodder that’s there to eat up pages.  Practically every moment of the issue feels rushed, except for the pages dedicated to the heroes plotting out how to fight the werewolves, running from the werewolves, then returning to fight them again.  While all this is happening, we see brief glimpses of potentially intriguing ideas with the rest of the cast, but none of them is long enough to have any real impact.

When the main story turns the focus away from Cossack’s furry foot soldiers, we’re left with what should’ve been the major focus of this plot -- Illyana embracing her dark side and honestly turning bad this time.  While you might expect this to be full-on Claremontian melodrama, the cast just kind of shrugs their shoulders and makes unconvincing pledges that they’ll deal with her in the future.  Having Magik become a villain does have promise, so I’m not opposed to the idea, I just wonder why Claremont treats the development so nonchalantly.  Ultimately, the Cossack plot isn’t a total loss -- yes, we’re seeing mind control again, but there’s an effort to connect the idea with Kitty’s ongoing character arc -- and there is a nice callback to the Black Widow story from Uncanny #268 for longtime fans.

As for the subplots, where to even begin on this list.  I don’t like the idea of Jean and Beast hooking up, if only because Jean’s already gone from Cyclops to Wolverine in this series, so giving her yet another love interest makes her look kind of awful.  Also, it feels like change for change’s sake; I’d much rather see how Claremont handles Beast’s established relationship with Trish Tilby instead of charging off into left-field with this.  Nightcrawler’s subplot is a welcome reminder of Amanda Sefton, even though I believe that’s a red herring.  Ideally, Claremont should be spending more time with obscure characters like Amanda in this book, but it’s my understanding that Marvel wanted him to stick with one established cast and not stray too far.  The Daisy/Sabretooth plot is inoffensive enough, and Claremont thankfully isn't treating SHIELD corruption as casually as most writers do.  The Cyclops page seems to exist to establish that little Nate resents the X-Men for taking his dad away from him, which is a valid complaint.  And the Wakanda page is so vague I would argue it doesn’t deserve to be here.  At the minimum, it merits a few panels but not an entire page in such a packed issue.  There’s obviously a lot going on, which makes all of those werewolves pages even more frustrating.

Friday, October 24, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #13 - February 2010


Black Magik Part Three
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Wilfredo Quintana (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  As Black Magik turns off Shadowcat’s phasing power, Cossack’s Tartar Soldiers emerge from hiding.  They transform into wolf-creatures and attack.  While Colossus, Gambit, and Black Widow face the Tartars, Black Magik ambushes ‘Ro and Shadowcat.  Black Magik casts a spell and Shadowcat is soon possessed.  At the mansion, Beast and Jean share a dance, but she quickly regrets it, Xavier and Moira brief Fury on Burnout, and Sabretooth kills a Consortium agent that’s infiltrated SHIELD.  Daisy Dugan catches Sabretooth, but he talks her into joining with him to investigate the Consortium.

Continuity Notes:  According to Xavier, only eight X-Men will remain active.  The rest will be “shepherded by Archangel, (and) will keep the lowest of profiles.”  The eight active X-Men are presumably Beast, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Shadowcat, Rogue, ‘Ro (even though she’s still young and her powers are unreliable), and…Sabretooth?  Unless Xavier was referring to himself, this is a pretty blasé way to announce Sabretooth has joined the team.

Review:  For twenty years now, fans have made a game of sifting through Chris Claremont’s stories and marking every repeating plot element they find.  X-Men Forever seemed to avoid this criticism in the early months, but it’s thirteen issues in and we’re back to mind control.  (And bondage imagery, with young ‘Ro bound and declared the next to be corrupted.)  I don’t have a problem with mind control occasionally appearing in Claremont’s stories, but it seems like an unambitious direction to take this story.  If Magik is back, and evil, I want to see Limbo again.  That’s a corner of the X-Universe that was largely ignored in the ‘90s, and it could be fun to see what happens to the current versions of Shadowcat and Storm if they were to return.  If Claremont were so determined to give Shadowcat one of Wolverine’s claws, she could even get the one S’ym once used as a toothpick in Limbo.  Instead, we’re teased with the threat that Shadowcat is going to turn evil, which even in the Forever universe, just doesn’t seem likely.  We’ve already been lead to believe that Storm’s evil now, anyway.

Thankfully, the issue is almost evenly split between the Black Magik story and the myriad subplots occurring at the mansion.  I’m not thrilled with another scene teasing a potential Beast/Jean romance, but I can’t deny that Tom Grummett makes those characters look fantastic, so these pages aren’t a total loss.  Xavier and Moira seem to be addressing even more of the readers’ concerns, as we finally have some idea of what’s happening with the rest of the X-Men.  The idea that Archangel would be the leader of this underground team of X-Men seems strange at first, but Claremont did go out of his way to write Archangel with his pre-Apocalypse persona back in Forever #10.  It’s possible that there is a story behind the reversion of his skin color and personality.  Claremont never gets to it, but it feels more like an intentional plot point and not a continuity screw-up now.  And while the Sabretooth subplot involves one of my least favorite chestnuts -- corruption within SHIELD (just how incompetent is their HR department?) -- it’s actually a decent use of the character.  Sabretooth needs to be causing some trouble at the mansion, and it can’t be anything so egregious that he would be sent to the Vault, so this is a decent compromise.  The liberal use of subplots is one of my favorite aspects of the book, and it’s especially handy in a “middle” chapter that doesn’t advance the main story very far.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #12 - January 2010


Black Magik Part Two - Race the Wind!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Wilfredo Quintana (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Colossus discovers that the Winter Guard troops sent to guard Illyana have been killed, allegedly by monsters.  In a nearby industrial complex, the Cossack explains to Illyana that he wants to revive her magical powers.  Black Widow receives word of where Illyana is being held, and soon she arrives with Colossus, Gambit, Shadowcat, and ‘Ro.  The team is ambushed by Illyana, who is now aged several years to become Black Magik.  At the mansion, Beast and Jean take a walk, Rogue berates herself for letting Sabretooth get to her, and Daisy Dugan spies on Sabretooth, who is spying on Xavier and Moira MacTaggert.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Bhodan Shkuro, the Cossack, is described as an ex-Spetsnatst agent, who is also a wealthy, powerful figure in Russia.  He tells Illyana that he’s had his own encounters with Belasco in the past.  
  • Sabretooth is now wearing his new costume.  It’s appeared on the covers before, but this is the first time he’s worn it in an actual story.
  • Moira MacTaggert tries to provide some explanation for why Wolverine and Sabretooth made it to old age, speculating that their healing factors fought off the effects of Burnout for years.

Review:  I’ll start with my standard gripes about this series.  Another pointless new costume; this time on Sabretooth, who decidedly did not need a makeover.  The color scheme just seems wrong (blue?), and for some reason, its design is oddly similar to Jean Grey’s new outfit.  Why exactly?  We also have more talk of Burnout, as Claremont tries to walk back his more hyperbolic statements in the earlier issues and address one of the readers’ complaints.  While Moira’s explanation for Wolverine and Sabretooth is somewhat plausible, it doesn’t explain the other mutants that have made it well past middle-age.  Also, even if their healing factors slowed down the effects of Burnout, why would the condition suddenly hit both Wolverine and Sabretooth simultaneously?  As the issue reminds us, Sabretooth is Wolverine’s father, so his body actually should’ve been breaking down years earlier than Wolverine’s.  Claremont’s willingness to disrupt the established romances of the canon is also a bit grating.  Instead of the relationships and flirtations we all remember, now it’s Beast and Jean, Gambit and Kitty, Colossus and Black Widow…this just feels wrong.  It’s certainly possible Claremont’s intentionally evoking that feeling, but I think it serves as yet another reminder that this is an alternate reality, which is really what the book should be avoiding at all costs.

The good still outweighs the bad, however.  The book continues to duplicate the feel of the initial Claremont run, with the cast split across the globe, numerous subplots running in the background, and a member of the team selected to have a long inner monologue that explains their current emotional arc or personal crisis.  Rogue’s two-page soliloquy offers more legitimate character development than any story from the post-Claremont era that I can recall.  There are some wonky plots running around, yes, but these are characters you actually like and want to root for.  Cossack doesn’t have to be the greatest threat the team’s ever faced, he isn’t, but if the story succeeds in making the heroes feel real, then the reader is going to come back for the next issue.  I should also mention that Claremont’s willingness to disrupt established status quos, while occasionally annoying, does help to add an element of danger to the series.  Ordinarily, a cliffhanger involving Illyana turning evil again wouldn’t carry too much weight, but there’s now a possibility that any character is in danger now.  (The problem is when Claremont goes too far in this direction, as we’ll see in a few issues.)

I’ll also mention again how much I love the art team of Tom Grummett and Cory Hamscher.  The characters look on-model, even in the wrong costumes, and this talky issue actually has a lot of energy.  Although the plot mainly consists of conversation scenes, the page layouts are never boring, and the McFarlane-esque inking does a lot to set the mood during the Cossack’s introduction.  When the regular creative team is reunited, this feels more like a “real” X-Men book and not just another alternate reality title Marvel’s pumping out in order to preserve the shelf space.

Monday, October 20, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #11 - January 2010


Black Magik Part One - Snap Trap!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Wilfredo Quintana (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Shadowcat, Gambit, and ‘Ro travel to Russia to visit Colossus.  He now serves in the Winter Guard with his girlfriend, Black Widow.  They help him defeat a mysterious group that’s stolen Cold War-era armor.  At the mansion, Rogue and Sabretooth bicker, Beast and Jean discuss Burnout, and Fury counsels Xavier on how to deal with his strained relationship with the X-Men.  Meanwhile in Russia, Illyana is lured into a stranger’s car near her home.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This is Colossus’ first real appearance in the series (it’s debatable if he was meant to be one of the background characters in X-Men Forever Alpha’s back-up story.)  The opening narration reveals he returned to Russia at the president’s request to serve his country.
  • Black Widow says that she and Colossus were on a mission when they heard of Wolverine’s death and couldn’t make the funeral.
  • Gambit is asked by Black Widow if he’s going by “Lebeau” or “Picard” this week.
  • Following the events of “Inferno,” Illyana is a normal little girl at this point in continuity.

Review:  The joke about Gambit’s last name leads me to believe that enough months have passed since Forever’s debut for the online commentary to actually impact the material.  I can’t read anyone’s mind, but I have a suspicion Claremont didn’t expect the audience to care so much about all of the fuzzy continuity surrounding the early issues.  He throws the readers a bone with the Black Widow/Gambit conversation, which is pretty funny, and then proceeds to address one of the more glaring absences in the book so far, Colossus.  

I was never thrilled with the idea of Colossus returning home and becoming a patriotic superhero; it’s not a horrible way to use the character, but it just seems like a strange creative choice, given that Colossus didn’t seem to think about Russia very often in the later years of Claremont’s run.  By the late ‘80s, Colossus is defined more as the sensitive artist than he is the ex-Commie.  Looking at Forever in context, Colossus has only recently had his memory restored after spending several months living a normal life as a painter in New York City.  It’s possible Claremont meant for this to be Colossus’ true happy ending -- Beast even commented in one Uncanny X-Men issue that Colossus deserved his retirement -- and that his return in the “Muir Island Saga” storyline was entirely editorially driven.  If that’s the case, I can almost see this as Claremont making the best of a bad situation.  He can’t have Colossus just forget, again, that he’s an X-Man, but if Claremont honestly views his time as an X-Man as over, Colossus shouldn’t be a series regular either.  Shipping him off to Russia and casting him as their Captain America is a dignified way to get rid of him at the very least.  I do question if Claremont’s insistence that the book not be set in 1991-1992 is cutting him off from some potentially interesting storylines, however.  I don’t recall a single story acknowledging Colossus’ response to the USSR’s collapse in 1991, which was a situation I can’t imagine Claremont ignoring had he stayed with the titles at that time.

Reintroducing Colossus is a natural way to segue into a Shadowcat or a Magik story, and Claremont uses this opportunity to address both characters.  Shadowcat doesn’t play a large part in this issue, but the discovery that Colossus has moved on with Black Widow is used as a means of alienating Kitty even further from her past.  As Gambit points out (setting up his own potential romance with Kitty), Kitty’s now lost virtually everyone she’s truly cared about, and when she needed Colossus, she finds him in the Black Widow’s arms.  (By the way, notice the age gap in Colossus’ girlfriends.  Kitty’s still a teenager while Black Widow was born before WWII.  That’s gross, man.)  Magik only makes a cameo at the end, but she’ll obviously become more important later.  A certain segment of fandom used to demand Claremont return to the character some day, and while I’m not sure how many of them were still around in 2010, they did eventually get their wish.  Ultimately, Magik serves as the impetuous for a rather lengthy action arc, then disappears from the book, which means she doesn’t make the truly epic return her fans probably wanted in the first place.  Still, it’s a nice nod to the target audience of this book, and it’s a better use of the character than using her as a sacrificial lamb for a non-starter like the Legacy Virus plot.
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