Tuesday, February 3, 2015

X-Men Forever by Chris Claremont issue #21-24 (2009)

I cannot stress how relieved I am to be writing story arc reviews as oppose to individual ones from now on when it comes to Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever series which proved to be as exhausting as it is as enjoyable to read. The last volume (issues #16-20) has been disappointing although I can argue that XMF's readability and cohesiveness have been walking a thin line since the Sentinels story arc. Speaking of which, those killer robots are back here again, led by Sigrid Trask, the absolutely bollocks bitch I really didn't want to see again. But I'm getting ahead of myself. In this post, I'm going to briefly summarize the highlights for each issue. Afterwards, I'm going to discuss some important issues or character arcs I have the most investment in. I would assert that all the concerns I addressed in my previous reviews were somewhat zeroed in by Claremont in this arc although they still lack the proper delivery/resolution that I need as a reader.

Artist Rodney Buchemi illustrates this arc and collaborates with the writing process as well, I suppose, much like the previous artists (Tom Grummett, Graham Nolan, Steve Scott) were credited as co-writers. This three-issued spectacle is entitled Into That Good Night, a phrase taken from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" villanelle which is admittedly a much appropriate literary allegory for the events that transpired within this arc. If there is anybody who should 'rage, rage against the dying of the night', it's the X-Men especially against the unanticipated burnout concerning the mutation of their species. This is what was explored for this arc and it was a well-balanced one featuring cool action fights and dramatic moments between certain characters. As much as possible, I would like to keep things light whenever I review X-Men because I'm still in Claremont territory and the man knows how to write soap opera in its finest and sometimes to its fault as well so it's often advisable to just have fun with it. In any case, Into That Good Night was certainly more well-rounded that the previous three arcs (after Love--And Loss which was still my favorite XMF arc EVER) because it managed to be exciting during the course of the climactic confrontations between the X-Men and the Consortium after all that painfully slow build-up in #16-20 which is why I was grateful to read this batch. Nevertheless, this arc did have some problems. So let's get right to it. 

Issue #21 - A Plague on Both Your Houses

Fabian Cortez finally passed away after enduring gruesome and torturous experiments courtesy of the Consortium. Normally, I would have been in a celebratory mood because fuck this asshole and all that. However, it was through his genetic mutation that the Consortium has figured out a way to eliminate mutantkind. But before that tragic discovery, this issue first starts with the two mutant-hating Trask women, mother Amelia head of the Consortium, and legacy-deranged daughter Sigrid, having a fateful meeting where the daughter reveals that she has re-programmed her stupid killer robots and deemed them as Neo-Sentinels. They are now normal-sized purple cyborgs. Sigrid also put on the same Sentinel armor like some badly costumed female Robo-cop or something. If you think that's depressing then you should know that, in the last issue, we just found out that one of the corporate figureheads for the Consortium is no other than Tony Stark himself which sucks balls for Nick Fury and Hank, his fellow Avenger members because HOLY SHIT. Fury remains unconvinced that Stark is a turncloak like Storm was so he decided to gather more convincing spy intel.

Meanwhile, Hank gets angrier the more he learns stuff, and Agent Daisy Dugan develops "feelings" for Sabretooth just because he rescued her earlier in the story and now feels personally responsible for his amputated hand. On the flip side, Ro and Kitty research on the connection between Trask and Stark and found it, much to Kitty's disgust and Scott's wariness. In any case, it looks like the Trask-Stark connection goes way back the family tree where these two happen to be friends and colleagues. Stark Industries have also funded the Sentinel program as it turns out and I was just as floored as Kitty the entire time I was reading that. I'm very affected. As much as I don't really consider Stark as a character I have any emotional investment in, I just can't stand the idea that this Avenger is yet another two-faced dick like Storm. The dog pile doesn't end there, however. Fury just received some compelling evidence regarding the experiments done on Cortez. He presently hands Hank a flash drive. Its contents revealed that the Consortium has found the most effective way to sterilize mutantkind in the world which includes a satellite operation base orbiting near the planet and it happens to carry a deadly concoction, and a load of batshit crazy genocide.

RATING: 7/10

Issue #22 - Rise to the Challenge

The issue opens with Kitty shouting "TONY STARK IS A JERK!", channelling all the Wolverine-inspired rage you can possibly imagine. Scott dissuades her from doing anything irrational as he and the rest of the X-Men gather (specifically Hank, Jean Grey, Gambit, Ro, Kitty, Rogue, and Nightcrawler plus Nick Fury) around the round table to discuss their gameplay. Hank reveals his plans about dismantling the mechanism that will release that ominously named substance Plague X which will target mutants and kill them once it enters the earth's atmosphere. Ro expresses her desire to join them in the fight but she has yet to have control over her weather powers so they had to no choice but to leave her behind. Flying their ship, Kurt takes them to the Consortium's satellite base. This is all very nostalgic of that time back in the nineties run when the X-Men confronts Magneto in Asteroid M. The parallelism is unmistakable. Cyclops, Jean, Hank, Kitty, Rogue and Nick Fury confront Sigrid and her Neo-Sentinels midway through the issue and we get some pretty cool fights between them. My personal favorite moves were Rogue teleporting behind a Sentinel and ripping its head off, and Kitty phasing INSIDE the Sentinel and ripping it from there using the adamantium claw. Totes badass, these two ladies. Meanwhile, Stark and Amelia Trask talk about killing mutants and at this point I was suspicious of Stark's allegiance so when later on he whips out guns to shoot Amelia, I was not that surprised to learn he was a mole after all and not a traitor to our heroes. Still, I can't help but feel relief wash over me.

While their team members fight off the Sentinels, Hank and Jean Grey go straight to the main weapon where Plague X is contained. This scene alternates with Stark getting shot at and bleeding to death as Amelia Trask gloats with what she and her daughter are about to accomplish in a manner on genocide-driven assholes can deliver. Hank was unable to fully stop the deadly mechanism from activating so now he has to work on dismantling it while extreme time pressure is in place because the only way to stop Plague X from being dispersed on earth is if he stays behind to make sure the firing projector will be disarmed right before expulsion. Or something like that. Let's not get too caught up in the technical aspect of this plot because what matters at that point is Jean Grey is yet faced with the same situation of yet another love interest whose life is in peril. Isn't that just bloody perfect? Jeannie always has to suffer, apparently.

RATING: 7/10

Issue #23 - Do Not Go Gentle

Oh, my. Everything is becoming yet another clusterfuck of drama that almost, almost rivals Love--And Loss! story arc. The X-Men continue to battle it out with the Sentinels as Jean rushes to Cyclops' side to inform him of what Hank entails to do. But the violence doesn't just stop there even with that depressing revelation because Sigrid and her Neo-Sentinels still continue to pile on so the X-Men have no choice but to hold their ground. Meanwhile, Hank was contacted by a bleeding Tony Stark from the other side of the satellite base. Stark just shot Amelia dead earlier which was an overdue gesture, thanks very much. Now both men are ready to die for their friends and they have this heartfelt talk of the old times. Hank said he never doubted Stark, that he knew in his heart and gut that Tony would never have betrayed everything that the Avengers and X-Men stood for. It was a nice moment. Back in the Blackbird plane, Fury, Kurt and Kitty were there just in time as Tony communicates with Fury and the two youngsters realized that he was the "spy" Fury received the intel about the Plague X from (Stark's codename was "Deep Throat", of all things). Anyway, fight scenes continue to happen. We get this panel from Jean Grey which actually makes me truly bad for her situation. In spite of my complaints that her primary role in the series has now been reduced to a rather sappy character arc regarding romances with three men (Scott, Logan, Hank), I still sympathize with her predicament.

Hank and Jean say their "I love you"s just in time before the entire satellite base goes BOOM! The X-Men on the base managed to float in space since they've been geared up in space suits since the last issue. Unfortunately, Hank and Tony did not survive. In disbelief, Scott asks Fury if he is absolutely sure that they are gone. Jean glumly contemplates to herself that sometimes that's the price to pay to save your friends OR the whole world. Yeah, sometimes life just sucks balls for superheroes.

RATING: 7/10

Issue #24 - Requiem

This all feels painfully familiar now, a rather unpleasant aftertaste that doesn't seem to go away. It has only been a few weeks since they last buried a fallen comrade and here they are again and this time they had to grieve the loss of two of the noblest and most admirable of men, Hank McCoy of the X-Men and Tony Stark of the Avengers. This issue was illustrated by Tom Grummett and I've always been a fan of his artwork since the first story arc. He does expressive faces and well-lit panelling quite superbly especially with a story that demands a quiet sort of atmosphere that is subtly animated as well. I feel terrible that our heroes have once again attended another funeral and hear themselves talk about old friends who were ripped from them too soon. Naturally, Jean is taking all of this the hardest.

The issue opens with a nightmare sequence where Jean was unable to hold onto Scott, Logan and Hank. Charles heard her anguish so he invites her for a stroll outside the mansion where he tries to comfort her. Afterwards, Fury talks more about his plans to merge S.H.I.E.L.D with selected X-Men during missions. He maintains that he, Dugan, Sabretooth and Gambit should have more covert assignments since there are still Consortium operatives out there that need to be brought to justice. At the funeral later on, Jean says her goodbyes for the second time to a man she could have had an amorous relationship with. Back in the Blackbird plane, Ro opens up to Gambit, asking if he will leave with her (Kitty can even come, she says) because she's not too sure she can handle any more of this. I can understand her feelings, of course. After all, it's far too traumatic and grim for a young girl like herself to witness so many deaths like this. On the other side of the plane, Charles and Kitty talk about her ailment which seems to worsen. But Kitty vows that Logan's death will mean something  especially when she has a piece of him (literally and genetically) so she will continue to fight another day. They get back to mansion and this is when Scott decided to approach Jean, hoping he could say or do something for her but Jean asserts that all Scott can do now is to live, not for her, but rather for the sake of his son Nathan. And I kind of teared up, honestly. I love these two together but I can accept that their romantic relationship had run its course and now they can just be colleagues if not eventual close friends.  

Back in the laboratory, Moira examines Sabretooth's injuries and claims that because of the burnout, he won't be healing like before and that the damage Storm has inflicted in his eyesight was far too extensive so there is no way he will regain it back. She can do something about his arm though. Agent Dugan stayed close by during this conversation and it's obvious she seems to be liking him and that confounds me. Afterwards, we get that single page of Kurt and Rogue that also made me tear up again. Rogue has still retained Nightcrawler's physical mutation so she's the one who has to wear a perception image filter. Everyone is just suffering and reeling in this issue. But the upside is that Kurt is able to touch her since he is officially immune to each other after they switched powers. Kurt says that she's still beautiful and that he has faith that there must be a reason they switched powers like this. For now, he's just so happy and content that he's feeling close to someone again in such a visceral level like with Rogue, his newfound "sister". *wipes single tear from cheek*

The issue ends with Professor X in his study, reminiscing of the past as he looks through a photo album where he finds a picture of himself with all of the original five X-Men (Cyclops, Jean, Beast, Iceman and Angel) gorgeously rendered by Grummett. It was the best way to end this issue. I was so impatient of the slow developments and irrelevant plotlines that overcrowded the last five issues so my expectations for this series have tempered but I was quite pleasantly grateful that we get such an insightful and dignified story like this as an overall examination of the aftermath of chaos and loss our characters have experienced. It's a cleansing one too and have somewhat rejuvenated my enthusiasm although I will still remain critical and wary of the future storylines ahead.

RATING: 8/10

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