Friday, September 4, 2015

X-Men: Second Coming by Various Writers

The X-Men narrative in general has always been a strong allegory for real-life socio-political strifes particularly when it came to many civil rights movements in the late sixties it more or less makes an indirect commentary or allusion to. Long-time writer Chis Claremont inarguably had produced a lot of classic storylines from his seventies-eighties roster, and a few of them tackled hard-hitting issues regarding race wars and discrimination (in stories like God Loves, Man Kills and The X-Tinction Agenda). 

Running for fifty years now, the X-Men has had multiple titles consisting of ensemble of characters, conflicts and backstories plus big-event crossover story arcs that it can get pretty overwhelming sifting through the entirety of this content to get to the unanimously agreed upon "gems" and "must-reads", and I have made it a self-appointed mission to do just that since 2015 began. It has been an incredibly fulfilling experience with a breadth and magnitude that tends to overwhelm but nonetheless stimulate every nerve ending in my being. It's as intoxicating as the richest wine out there and I will never be done sampling it.

I have read the staple classics such as The Dark Phoenix, Age of Apocalypse, and Days of Future Past as well as House of M and Messiah Complex (the latter two being prequels to Second Coming), and I must say that my hunger for more X-Men stories only continue to deepen that I don't think I will ever have my fill. And that works just fine for me. There have been moments my appetite was satiated (like when I read The Dark Phoenix and Magneto Testament, my two most favorite story arcs so far). Reading and finishing the fourteen-chaptered epic that was Second Coming brought me that kind of satisfaction again. I was simply impressed.

With the collaboration of five writers namely Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Matt Fraction, Zeb Wells and Mike Carey, with artists David Finch, Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson, Greg Land, Mike Choi, X-Men: Second Coming is an astounding collection that is very climactic in scope, tonality and overall content. The collection includes issues from the titles X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, X-Men: Legacy and X-Force and set in the aftermath of the mutant decimation from House of M where Scarlet Witch re-made reality and de-powered mutants across earth that the mutant gene seemed to have been permanently suppressed if not altogether extinct. An anomaly occurs in Messiah Complex where a baby with a mutation was born and all the anti-mutant human factions led by the Purifiers rallied to kill the baby. On the opposing side we had the Marauders led by Mr. Sinister who had other plans for the new mutant baby that are less than altruistic. Meanwhile, the X-Men led by Cyclops have to find a way to ensure the newborn's safety because he or she may be the key to restarting and repopulating the world with mutants again.

Suffice to say, the quest was inexhaustible filled with multiple arcs that still manage to be cohesive enough to tell a compelling story. The arc ended with Cable (Scott's son Nathan Summers and a seasoned combat soldier) taking the baby (named Hope) to the future to train her until such time she is ready to return back to her actual timeline and become the "messiah" everyone wanted her to be. This is where Second Coming takes us. The in-the-nose biblical references aside, this particular arc is more comprehensive and understandable than its scattered predecessor. If you're a comics fan who is looking for a lot of action sequences then this collection is already a must-have. The varied visual artwork is always engrossing to look at, and a few of these issue have less dialogues to make room for more brutality and violence which was executed well enough not to be repetitive or underwhelming. As for the storytelling itself, the villains have a more grounded sense of purpose than the last time. Calling themselves The Human Council, they are the most despicable anti-mutant assholes we have known from the past such as Reverend Striker and Cameron Hodge, being led by a Sentinel-based being created solely to destroy the mutant messiah Hope. This motherfucker's name is Bastion and he is relentless in his eradication of mutantkind.

The most notable events that happened in Second Coming include the small but important personal dramas that occur between action breaks (and sometimes even during the killing which is really cool). Two fan-favorite characters also give their lives to save Hope, while Scott Summers' leadership abilities and morality are tested time and time again as he make some of the hardest and most jarring choices in the battlefield where his primary objective is to ensure the survival of their species. One of Scott's questionable decisions include the formation of X-Force (which were established in Messiah Complex). They are supposed to operate outside the pacifist ways of the X-Men and will kill and terminate any human who crosses the line. Of course, this is readily opposed by a lot of members of the X-Men such as Nightcrawler, Storm and Professor X himself but Scott dismissed their complaints and pushed through, assigning Wolverine to lead the group during daring and near-death extraction/eradication missions. It's worth noting that for the first time in ever, Scott and Logan actually agree on something, and it's a hefty price they are willing to make. For Scott, it's the mutant species whose number continues to dwindle that he wants to preserve; for Logan, it's his loved ones he will fiercely fight for even it meant blood will be spilled now and then. I would especially like to point out that certain tactics like this are just the first stepping-stone of Scott Summer's "fall from grace" which will be ultimately explored in the crossover event Avengers vs. X-Men. But I digress. That's a story for another time.

Second Coming is all about Hope Summers, Cable's adopted daughter and the prophesied messiah who is just a teenager raised in an environment where survival and death are intrinsically inseparable. Most of the time, she doesn't know what to make of the grander scheme of things and it's only her faith in Cable that keeps her grounded. Later on, this same trust will be broken as events around her take a strange and dark corner where she must grow up soon or face utter destruction not just of herself but of the entire race depending on her. This is too much of an obligation to place upon the unsteady shoulders of a teenage girl but Hope, in spite of her insecurities and doubts, has been trained well by Cable. She is tough and mature beyond her years yet constantly torn between that hard-edged version she carefully cultivated around Cable, and the naive and curious teen girl who sometimes wants a life that's normal and less insane than what she is forced to live with while on the run. I like Hope. I thoughts she was sympathetic enough. I like reading about her angst and frustrations and it broke my heart when she got hers broken too. I want to know more about her after this, and I plan to read stories centered on this mutant messiah.

One of the things I enjoyed about her was her strained interactions with Scott throughout the story. She never trusted him and would never listen to him. She doesn't get where he's coming from because she has never been a leader and that is her failure. The same thing can be said about Scott. He's been fighting wars for far too long that he forgot what it's like to be young and confused and that made him so alienating to Hope. Given time and under different circumstances, they would have been great allies, considering Scott is her paternal adopted grandfather (technically speaking), but this is probably the only moment they have to get to know each other: in a state where they have to make unpopular decisions. I think their interactions in this volume were enlightening because you can see the contrast in the way they deal and cope with their respective impending doom; it's like they're trapped inside two-ways mirrors looking into each other but never really seeing what is in front of them beyond their personal negative bias, especially Hope. She blamed Scott for everything and I can understand her for that because she's young and the only life she has ever known was the one she had with Cable whom she loved and respected and now she lost him.

The climactic issues for Second Coming are definitely the last two at the end. In issue #13, Hope faces Bastion at last and the confrontation was shocking and massive. I was dumbfounded while reading it. Other elements for this story arc included the participation of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four who were basically there to help in any capacity they can but this was a battle for the X-Men and they have been excluded from it by Bastion so all they could do is to maintain the peace on the sidelines as our mutant superheroes have the fight of their lifetime. And that fight was decided by Hope Summers herself. For issue #14, we got the aftermath where the X-Men bury their dead, talked about life-changing decisions, and tried to make sense of the impact of what just happened and what new directions they must take.

Of course, things are about to get more complicated with Hope especially after Emma Frost witnessed for herself the possibility that Hope may become the next receptor for the Phoenix Force itself which is definitely terrifying in the scale of biblical proportions. Perhaps Bastion may be right to try and kill Hope after all and that is a thought I never believed I could ever entertained. Emma rushed to inform Scott about it but Scott was far too thrilled to pay attention to this grave news because as he checked Cerebra, it looked as if Hope's coming was an advantage to their species after all. Mutants began popping all over the global map again, and for now that's all the news Scott cared about.

That's gonna bite him in the ass soon enough. Nothing is ever a cosmic accident in the X-Men universe after all.

In a nutshell, X-Men: Second Coming was a thrilling, engrossing and stupefying action-adventure story with loads of psychological twists and turns and an emotionally resonant tale about a father and daughter, and the latter's struggle to define her place and purpose in the universe. It's engaging in so many ways and is memorable for all the right moments. The ensemble of characters as well as fan-favorites are almost all here with standout performances by Magneto, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cypher, Cable and the New Mutants. I think it's safe to say that X-Men: Second Coming is very much a top 'must-read' and 'must-have' for an X-Men fan. It's the accumulation of all the conflicts and strenuous relationship dynamics that characters have endured and faced throughout their run in the comics, and it's guaranteed to be a ready crowd-pleaser for its brilliant visuals and the multi-layered narrative approach.


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