Monday, April 27, 2015

The X-Tinction Agenda by Chris Claremont

I'd be irresponsibly remiss if I don't read and review other notable storylines from the Chris Claremont era of the seventies, eighties and nineties before jumping on other works found in the recent MARVEL NOW! line-up. I have made a compact schedule I'm adamant to follow through for 2015 and I want to accomplish reading most of Claremont's memorable stuff first, even though I may have to do do it sporadically with no coherent sense of chronological rhythm at times. But I already posted a disclaimer in 'About XMCG" that my readings and reviews of the X-Men comics line will be mentally challenging not just for myself but for anyone who is just as new to the series. My goal mainly is to select the stories I know have been proven to be unanimously well-praised or at least well-liked by the majority of long-time fans and critics.

To recap, I selected the classic, recognizable ones first (The Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past and God Loves, Man Kills) and then skipped ahead to the later ones in 2009-2011 which were arguably Claremont's least impressive body of work (X-Men Forever, Excalibur III). And that's only when I decided to come back to the oldies, starting with the short-lived nineties run X-Men and then further back to The Uncanny X-Men with a standalone like issue #200, The Trial of Magneto and stories such as Legion Quest and this one called The X-Tinction Agenda. In between I touched upon House of M which is probably my very first taste of the work of current X-Men writer Brian Michael Bendis; Greg Pak's Magneto Testament and (for tomorrow's review) Fabian Nicieza's Fatal Attractions arc. For posterity, I also reviewed the very first Stan Lee debut issue X-Men #1 from the sixties and Len Wein's resurrection piece, Giant-Size X-Men #1.

"If the mutants aren't free, then maybe what you've built [in Genosha] isn't worth saving."
The X-Tinction Agenda was brought to my attention by a brief 21-minute documentary from YouTube about key storylines from the Claremont era whose events were considered vital even to this day because whatever happened in them has continued to play an important role in the subsequent stories after. This collected volume I've acquired, however, was longer than the actual one posted in Goodreads. This one has 322 pages because it also included four additional issues (#235-238) which effectively contextualized what will come to pass by the time the X-Tinction Agenda story arc hits. This arc ran for nine issues and were divided equally among three titles: Claremont's The Uncanny X-Men, and Louise Simonson's X-Factor and New Mutants run. The volume also provided a recap of what has happened to the X-Men so far which really helped me understand and position myself in the stories herein. Before we read issues #235-238, we have to first read the summary of the previous events that led up to them:

I apologize if I just copypasta-d the paragraphs instead of summarizing the summary itself because it would kind of defeat the purpose. Now, unlike with other reviews, I opted not to discuss in detail each issue's content here because, frankly, that would be an exhausting venture for me (and I've been in a tight time table lately with IRL work stuff so I'm trying to write reviews with a manageable length). I also might give away a lot of critical plot points that will irrevocably spoil you, and I think this is a collection that is worthy of a pick-up, so let me just give you some encouraging words of recommendation and commentary instead.

The Uncanny X-Men #235-238

The thing that readers who are interested in this particular storyline need to understand first is the general treatment and care that Chris Claremont has provided in his years of writing The Uncanny X-Men since the mid-seventies. Anyone who knows the history of Stan Lee's "strangest heroes of all" is familiar with the fact that the X-Men are supposed to represent the civil rights movement at the time they were created which was during the African-American liberation and civil rights. It was Claremont who decisively sealed this allegory once he started to write for the X-Men, going as far as writing a rather straightforward story about that chilling comparison in God Loves, Man Kills which I reviewed nearly two months ago.

That being said, as you read his earlier and inarguably most enduring works, you will notice a pattern in his story arcs. Everything that he has done in his Uncanny run has been building up to this socio-political atmosphere rife with anti-mutant sentiment and blatant racial hatred that often make me personally uncomfortable at times. Nevertheless, it's what makes Claremont's X-Men stories so exciting, dramatic and naturally sympathetic; by contextualizing real-life struggles that people have witnessed themselves or grew up with back in that time period, Claremont was both socially aware and smart enough to create stories from those experiences which require him to explore certain aspects about the X-Men as characters in the context of the fact that in the Marvelverse, mutants are considered a minority group, heavily discriminated against and are oppressed and exploited by human opportunists for both profit and propaganda.

These four issues (#235-238) resonate with this message, primarily focusing on the 'exploitation' side of the coin. The story opens significantly in Genosha, a fictional city where a great number of the mutant population reside as citizens alongside the humans whom they supposedly harmoniously co-exist with, as the media coverage and public relations for that place would have you believed. In reality, every mutant there is hunted down, processed and assigned with different manual labor positions to the tune of a very modernized style of capitalist slavery. Treated more as cattle or machines than actual dignified people with indispensible rights, the mutants are reduced into the functionality and purpose of their powers or abilities. A bonafide brilliant genetic engineer (or 'genegineer') would tamper and manipulate their DNA for multiple purposes, most notably for breeding and modification where certain cluster of mutants are allowed to have children depending on the type of mutant Genoshans require for whatever field they want.

It's a dystopic nightmare come to life as portrayed in a superhero genre story, and Claremont as a writer truly excels in rendering such haunting pieces that aim to expose human beings' capacity for cruelty, lunacy, and brutality all for the sake of their ridiculous sense of entitlement in the context of how they respond and treat the mutants as a separate species from them. I enjoyed these issues because this is the first time I encountered the horrors and crimes of Genosha towards its mutant citizens, and the spectrum of hatred and apathy that it's steeped in. This story also placed Wolverine and Rogue as the central characters we follow in this adventure as they learn of the terrible ways their fellow mutant brothers and sisters are being held captive and abused by the humans.

Of course, racial hate crimes wouldn't be complete without having a designated discriminatory word for the race/species you wish to subjugate and make suffer. There has been an ongoing hate word for mutants which is "mutie", much like the N-word of their time. But Claremont surpassed that moniker with the grueling "genejoke". This term now attacks the genetic distinction of mutants, an inflammatory mockery of both their individual and racial identity as a "joke", deeming it an unnatural phenomenon. And here I thought that the Harry Potter series' "Mudblood" term for non-magic borned witches and wizards was the most offensive hate word I've ever come across in fiction. "Genejoke" is so much worse, especially when it's used by armed men and women who would shout it at your face as they either torture or murder you.

In the other collected edition, these four issues were not included and I recommend that you buy the one that does have them instead because, although they are not a part of the actual X-Tinction Agenda arc, these ones give you a clearer and more vivid idea of how anti-mutant sentiments affect, destroy and advocate certain human beings' disgusting oppressive propaganda in Genosha--and why they must be stopped once and for all.

The Uncanny X-Men #270-272, New Mutants #95-97, X-Factor issues #60-62

Personally, I enjoyed reading Claremont's contribution to this story arc the most, but Louise Simonson's issues from X-Factor and New Mutants are just as important but not as great as Claremont's. In addition, Jim Lee is once again illustrating Claremont's stories and I would maintain that he draws female X-Men characters the best of them all. The X-Tinction Agenda picks up many issues after #235-238, and here is the latest summary for that, once again industriously copypasta-d by me:  

This is, I believe, the height of all the criminal negligence and overall terrible assholery committed by the Genoshan humans that the X-Men, together with the X-Factor and New Mutants, will no longer put up with, and rightfully so--especially when this goddamn villain Cameron Hodge was discovered to be behind all of this, and then he also abducts and experiments on Ororo Munroe, my beloved Storm. Fuck that guy. There was nothing more satisfying than seeing him get obliterated into pieces once the last chapter closes. But before any of us would get to that heavenly readers, we had to endure the painful process of the continuing race war between the Genoshans and mutants as aided by the X-Men, and it's as depressing and enraging as one would expect. In spite of the shite our heroes are thrown head-first against, it also allowed for some of them to shine their brightest (like Cable, Beast, Angel, Havok, Wolfsbane and even Gambit).

I also quite liked Storm's role in all of this even though it's rather insensitive to put an African superheroine in yet another degrading position where she is enslaved and brainwashed by a perceived powerful white man. It's...just gross, okay? But this does serve a purpose in the story and she does come out digfinied and stronger than ever in the end. Still, I was cringing in the scenes where she was programmed to attack her own friends and comrades while she is being pupetteered by Cameron Hodge WHO WILL NEVER STOP MAKING ME ANGRY. Ororo Munroe has always been a very important favorite; my love for her is only rivaled by Rogue and Jean Grey (my first and second faves respectively). I've always wanted to read more Storm-centric stories and I think the X-Tinction Agenda was about her in a manner of speaking. It explored her vulnerability but also invalidated that said vulnerability is a source of weakness. Villains and your average cunts and dickheads will take advantage of Storm, I suppose, but this self-fashioned weather goddess is a lot more powerful and deserving of our respect and fortitude than we actually give her. This story made a lot of use of her character--even if it's in the most unflattering way possible--but my love for Ororo Munroe has always been unfaltering anyway.

Another commendable aspect of this story arc is the fact that we get to see the various X-teams work together and support one another in this brutal cavalry. Everyone feels important even if a select number of heroes do stand up more than others. As for the ending itself--well, the battle may have been won but a war is still imminent. The slavery and oppression in Genosha are just the tip of the iceberg in the ongoing fight among mutants and the humans who want them extinguished for good. We ended this story on that less than optimistic note, but as soon as the dust cleared, our heroes can at least claim their small, personal victories for themselves, knowing they have put the terrible crimes committed in Genosha in the spotlight so the rest of the world now knows what is truly going on there, and now everyone needs to make a decision of what they are fighting for or against.

My only criticism for this story arc is that it does tend to get dull and redundant in some scenes and that some of the characterizations, and the flow of the narrative tend to contradict each other along the way but this can be overlooked and will not affect one's overall enjoyment of the story whatsoever as long as one is more emotionally invested on the characters themselves and their journey throughout all of this.


With thirteen exciting issues collected, the X-Tinction Agenda is a memorable piece that belongs to the strongest run of the Chris Claremont era. You should pick this one up and see for yourself if this type is the of X-Men story that will appeal to your sensibilities.


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