Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Dark Phoenix by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Midway through reading this classic Claremont tale, I understood its significance to the X-Men mythology instantly, and I also wondered if it had some kind of impact on the role of the female superheroine in comics back then and today. That's because I consider Jean Grey in this story to be a very empowered representation of what a comic book heroine can become and be undone for at the same time. I would like to try and touch upon that subject matter in this review.

This is quite possibly the most popular and enduring comics story arc in recent memory that any self-respecting fan of the medium will immediately associate the X-Men with, and The Dark Phoenix Saga is deemed with such high esteem and praise for many good reasons. One thing that I think we all should remember about reading classic storylines from comics that defined and shaped the continuity or characterization of a particular title is to curb our expectations and adjust our preconceived notions about it to something more realistic. In my experience, some of these classics can exceed expectations while some are just relics that were overhyped. A few of which actually do require further contemplation after finishing them in order to garner a more nuanced appreciation. I can honestly say that The Dark Phoenix is one of them. It was a memorable story in itself because the ambiguity in which it was resolved was definitely worth the discussion. 

Though it may have been groundbreaking during its time, I think it better serves as a commentary of what female superheroines represent in comics before, as well as the limited roles they used to play or may continue to play. I don't want this to be some kind of feminist review because I don't have enough credibility to start a dialogue like that here. In general, I usually stay away from gender discussions particularly in fiction but it's hard to ignore the implications and symbols present in this story concerning Jean Grey both as herself and the manifestation of the Phoenix. I just thought such a discussion is noteworthy. [SPOILERS AHEAD!]


OVERVIEW

The saga itself is composed of ten issues from The Uncanny X-Men starting from #129-138 which follows the corruption and fall of Jean Grey after she succumbed to the dark and twisted force of her Phoenix power. But before that, a short background: Some time during the run of said series, a mission in space exposes Jean to a deadly radiation of solar flare which seemed to amplify her mutant powers which therefore made her attain the highest potential of her telepathy/telekinesis. She returns to Earth with a new identity and costume. She becomes known as the "Phoenix" since. As she becomes noticeably stronger, Jean as the Phoenix was also more lenient in using her powers and various teammates of hers, especially Cyclops and Wolverine, notice that she's freely using her skills without the usual measured caution that the old Jean Grey had. They would only later find out that this observation is just a symptom of Jean's inevitable downward spiral.

The Dark Phoenix arc also served as the introduction of the infamous and exclusive inner circle of the Hellfire Club led by Sebastian Shaw, and two iconic characters: Kitty Pryde, future Shawdowcat and one of the most memorable X-Men members; and Emma Frost, a formidable villain of telepathy who is also dubbed as the White Queen. The X-Men's primary mission only begins when the Hellfire Club (through Emma Frost) wants to acquire Kitty Pryde who is just starting to become fully aware of her mutant potentials. Pryde was also a candidate for the X-Men so when Professor X, Storm, Wolverine and Colossus visit her at her home, Emma Frost took advantage of the situation and decided to abduct these X-Men on a public location much later on. Kitty manages to escape and warn the other X-Men of their comrades. But before all of this, Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler are on a mission to find another mutant whom they encounter in a disco club. I'm referring to Dazzler who is just so ridiculous that I can't take her seriously while I was reading. Anyway, the meat and bones of the action start by the time the remaining X-Men rescue their captured friends with the help of the newly recruited Kitty.

That was the main plot of the first five issues or so of the saga but the developing subplot in the sidelines is that of Jean Grey who has been experiencing "timeslips" where she is being manipulated telepathically by Mastermind to prove his worth in the Hellfire Club he wishes to become a part of. He tries to get Jean to turn against the X-Men and for a short time during the story, he did manage to turn her into his Red Queen during a climactic confrontation between our heroes and the Club. Thankfully, Jean has embedded Scott with a psychic link so while Jean was presently ensnared by Mastermind, Scott tries to win her over through a duel in the astral plane, but he fails. Still, it was enough to shake Jean back into reality and upon discovering the damage that Mastermind has done, she becomes visibly angry--almost vengeful--in a way we have not seen her before. This is one of my favorite chilling exchanges in the comic book:

 
THE AWAKENING
 
I thought that this was an important moment because of the build-up established from the previous four issues. Throughout the earlier installments, we saw Mastermind charm his way inside Jean's mind and heart, providing her with a beautiful romantic illusion where she was a noble woman from the past, enaromored with a gentleman named James Wyngarde. He opened her up and then pushed her further into embracing the depths of her desires, captivating her with needs she never realized she's always had: to have all the love and power in the world as well as glory as she rules next to a man she considers her equal. Jean Grey allowed this fantasy to claim her but once it was shattered she was left with so much self-loathing and dread which she subsequently inflicts to the fiend who fed these desires. I don't think Claremont and co. knew back then how impactful this speech could resonate now for readers like me who live in an era where the influence of female empowerment continues to grow. I would like to believe that a lot of us women in this generation have more control over our agencies, choices and self-expressions than the women in the earlier generations who have limited options back then. Jean Grey's speech addressed to an oppressive, overbearing man who fancies himself as the one who holds power over her is just damn cathartic to read.
 
"You came to me when I was vulnerable. You filled the emotional void within me. You made me trust you. Perhaps even love you. And all the while you were using me!" is a statement I know a great number of women in the past and present can relate strongly to; any woman who has been marginalized, abused and enslaved at one point in their lives can definitely attest to the freeing strength of this kind of righteous rage which Jean exhibited at this point. What comes next is terrifying though because Jean is determined to show Mastermind the price to pay for taking advantage of a woman and using her as your personal puppet.


As impressive as Jean was for taking control of that situation, it was ultimately the last catalyst that unleashes the disruptive and wild force known as the Dark Phoenix in issue #135. This extreme manifestation of her powers is ironically the very creature that robs her off her free will and agency. She becomes entitled, arrogant, selfish, hedonistic and uncaring as the Dark Phoenix, even going so far as attacking her own friends, believing that they are the ones holding her back in the first place. She left them completely devastated as she roamed the outer space, looking for something to devour because of this insatiable hunger inside her. She picked a random planet where five billion lived. She did not even bat an eye with this atrocity that seemed to only come naturally for her. This casual genocide attracts the attention of the Shi'ar empire ruled by Lilandra, Professor X's long-time alien girlfriend. After DP had that satisfying meal, she went back to Earth to visit her old home where her parents and sister lived. They were happy to see her, of course, but the dormant Jean also felt their fear which was a primal instinct that DP picked up on and she lashed out on them, feeling as if they were threatening her newfound independence and freedom. The X-Men luckily came back for another brutal second encounter and it was Professor X who eventually managed to lock the Phoenix away from Jean's subconscious. The victory was not meant to be savored though because Lilandra and the Shi'ar are determined to bring Jean Grey to trial for the genocide she just committed previously. This was the falling action of the grand arc that is The Dark Phoenix Saga.


EMPOWERMENT AND ABSOLUTE POWER

There is a true brilliance to Claremont's narrative and progression of this story from the moment Jean Grey was transformed into the Dark Phoenix. I have only vague recollections of the cartoon adaptation of this arc in X-Men: The Animated Series and I haven't gotten far from my re-watch of said cartoons just yet, so everything about reading this was fresh for me. Two things I liked about this saga are the tonality and approach of its writing when it comes to the roles of the female characters.

As Kitty Pryde's first appearance, I found that she was a surprisingly adaptable and brave young girl in the cusp of realizing her potentials as a mutant and aspiring superhero. She wasn't portrayed easily as a damsel in distress. In fact, it was her resoluteness to help the captured X-Men that enabled the other members to rescue them in the first place. At thirteen, her world was turned upside down but she coped with it rather impressively. Instead of running away, she found the courage to stand up for strangers she did not even know that well but believed that they are good and therefore worthy to be saved. At the end of it all, she did break down into tears but that was only a natural reaction to the dangerous life she has yet to know will be her daily existence from that day forward. Still, for a first introduction, Kitty Pryde already holds promise as a capable heroine who tried to make good choices out of the worst scenarios she faced.

In contrast, Emma Frost is a self-made, strong and cunning villainess who may ultimately answer to a domineering male group (Hellfire Club) but she certainly possesses loftier ambitions of her own and seemed to commit heinous acts not because she was forced to do them, but rather because she is motivated by her own greed. Her allegiance to the Hellfire Club's men is attached to the fact that they are also enabling her to pursue whatever personal goals she may have on the side. It wasn't explicitly shown but I get the sense that she could very much decide to leave the men by themselves if she wasn't getting what she wants from them in return and the men may be aware of that arrangement as well. She was defeated by another woman (Jean Grey), and it was another bonus for me to see that when her role in the story abruptly finished, it wasn't because a man did not find her useful anymore. Now I'm very interested to read about Emma Frost from this point on. To have another competent and powerful female telepath offers possibilities and I definitely want her to come back.

But empowering female characters in this story was sadly not very consistent though. The appearance of Dazzler was baffling to me especially her role in helping the X-Men. I do not understand her motivation in doing so anyway, let alone her relevance which was why I was uncaring that she was there. The same can be said for Ororo Munroe (Storm) who spent almost all her time in the story being a lesser superheroine next to Jean Grey as the Dark Phoenix. It was understandable for Jean to overpower Storm during their confrontations especially in her DP form but it also places Storm in a very unflattering way where her capabilities are diminished. There was even that passing scene in Mastermind's illusion where Jean was a noble woman and Ororo was a servant in her household who tried to escape and so Jean had to whip her. It just made me shake my head because I really didn't think that should have been put there. It's jarring and slightly insensitive to see a supeheroine of color be portrayed like that. It just wasn't necessary to the story anyway, and it only adds to the diluted effect of Storm's rather passive role in the narrative. Well, at least they did get to manage Storm to kick ass again at the later pages as the story comes to an end so I'll just take comfort in that. Speaking of said later pages---

THE IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE

The second climax of this saga arrives when the X-Men (Wolverine, Nightwalker, Storm, Angel and Colossus with recent Avenger-ed Beast) face Shi'ar warriors in a "trial by combat" arrangement to save Jean from punishment. There are at least twelve pages of great action sequences that these combats provided. It was visually engrossing which made me imagine seeing them on screen (and that only made me dislike X-Men: The Last Stand further. We really should have gotten The Dark Phoenix instead.). But before all that, I would just like to share this favorite set of panels where Jean Grey puts on her old Marvel Girl costume. It was nostalgic and appropriate. It shows that there is still light and humanity present in Jeannie, and she embraces the heroine she was at the beginning at this moment to demonstrate that her friends, especially her boyfriend Scott, have not lost her. And she is not ready to be lost herself.


In the end, it was only Scott and Jean who were left standing and together they fought their way for Jean's pardon and freedom. Scott was injured during the battle and seeing her beloved in danger has once again awakened the Phoenix in Jean. Tragically, the possibility of her going dark and twisted because of the Phoenix is just something her relationship with Scott and the rest of the X-Men cannot withstand. And Jean knew this from the moment Professor X was able to put some temporary restraints on her powers which are ultimately infinite and uncontainable. So in a quiet last scene between the lovers, Jean informs Scott of her decision to extinguish herself in order to save all of them. That conversation was done rather beautifully for me. In the heat and determination of everyone especially Scott to save Jean from her doom, they did not anticipate that perhaps she herself is giving up control and choosing to lose the battle instead by righteously as well as selflessly letting go of her powers. That's how I interpreted that final scene because it makes sense for Jean's character to choose death in order for others to live. It's who she is as a person. It's why she's one of my all-time favorite superheroes. She recognized the devastation and havoc she had caused when she committed mindless genocide as the Dark Phoenix and she would rather die a mortal than live as a goddess with unbridled passions and a lack of awareness and concern for life. It's a choice we all should commend her for.



THE VERDICT

I understand why this story is considered an important classic because it does define a lot of future arcs concerning Jean Grey, and the effect of the Phoenix as an unstoppable sentient force in the Marvel Universe. But I have my personal reasons why I think this is simply a comic book story you should find time to read. Since I began writing this review with the intention on discussing the role of female characters as the heart of the conflict, climax and resolution for this story, I want to end it now by recommending this to other young women who will read this review. Often, I've made this subconscious decision to ignore the underlying sexist themes and small moments I may encounter every now and then in superhero comic books if they only get in way of enjoyment of a great story (in spite of such flaws). I understand that superhero comic books have been majorly written by men in the past (and present, with a few exceptions) so old classics like this one can be very dated in the most negative sense possible. This is why The Dark Phoenix for me was uplifting to read because I found the way they portrayed Jean Grey (and, to a lesser extent, Kitty Pryde) to be most admirable. Most sites will tell you to pick this up because of its posterity and value as a classical tale. But personally, I want you to read this because it's a meaningful story about one woman's emotional and psychological journey through the joys and burdens of power, and the ultimate sacrifice she chooses to make, all for love and humanity.

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Monday, February 23, 2015

God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

This is the comic book that inspired some of the important elements featured in the groundwork for the arguably best X-Men film from the first trilogy franchise, X2. This is why reading God Loves, Man Kills will certainly be recognizable to a reader who has seen the said film adaptation first. With a total of sixty-four pages and illustrated by artist John Byrne, Chris Claremont took the task of tackling hard issues such as racial discrimination and religious persecution in this story.

As a lapsed Catholic from a developing Asian country, I'm inherently curious of how fictional mediums handle social issues with meaningful messages so this particular comic book got me intrigued. Its premise had a lot of promise and potential but I would also assert that the delivery can certainly get awkward in some of the pages. The connections it aimed to make is one concerning that of prejudice against mutants which could be liken to that of racial intolerance. When this was written, the civil rights movement being pushed through at that time was the plight of the African-American community (much like the circumstances in X2 reflect the gay rights movement). There was even that moment seven pages in to this comic book where Kitty Pryde, after standing up to a man who was a "mutantphobe", was reprimanded by an older female black friend. This is when Kitty lashes out at her, claiming that she would be more furious if that man used the N-word against her. The book actually does spell out the actual word, much to my shock. I was just as shocked with the opening two pages where we see two black children being gunned down because they were born mutants.

Claremont quickly establishes early on that this story is not going to be an easy walk-in-the-park. It was written after all to question and challenge the brutality, hatred and ignorance that people of color have suffered, and how much they have strived to fight and rise against it. To do so, he likens that to the prejudiced situations mutantkind itself faces daily from humans, and the X-Men's role in standing up against this blatant discrimination. To represent that opposing side, Claremont also creates the character of Revered Stryker who is hell-bent on purging mutants, believing that they are impure and unnatural, and therefore deserve to die. As an affront to God Himself, mutants are the scourge of the earth that Stryker and his followers have to cleanse. The terrifying implications of a religious order (particularly that of a Christian sect) using brute force and moral panic to advocate and sustain their crusades are uncomfortably familiar, especially if you have my background. However, as much as I enjoyed the honesty and appreciated the straightforward and cringe-worthy delivery of such a social issue, a part of me also doubts that God Loves, Man Kills has aged well. If you pick this up now, you might find it offensive or pandering, depending on your upbringing and personal politics.

Personally, I can accept  and even commend the effort to discuss a social issue within the confines of fiction and in a comic medium at that. It certainly can give weight to said medium as a source of insight and meaningful discussion (much like Alan Moore's Watchmen which satirizes the symbol and meaning of superheroes in a world where they were real and have participated and influenced certain milestones in human history). Nevertheless, using the civil rights movement of the African-American community and equating it with the struggles of a fictional group such as the X-Men and mutants in general can seem like a manipulation of sentiment and emotion., if not a disservice to the former group's own genuine hardships during the time this was written. Is it too far-fetched, or is it going too far to liken and compare both parties? That is not for me to say conclusively. This is a rather polarizing story for anyone who has read it. One can argue, however, that X-Men is supposed to be a representation of any diverse and oppressed group of people who wish to have equal rights with the majority. That's how I choose to view them and since I don't live in America and can understand the nuances or feel the aftermath of the Africa-American civil rights movement, I can't make criticisms concerning whether or not God Loves, Man Kills gave it a dignified portrayal or not.

What I can give a more informed opinion of is the treatment of religious groups for this comic book specifically with Reverend Stryker. As a character, he was completely despicable and even irredeemable to the very end. I would argue that this has been a constant misrepresentation of the Christian community in general. Though there are fanatics both in the past and the present who force-feed their own set of beliefs especially those that condemn and persecute minorities of race, sexual orientation, etc., it's bordering on lazy writing to utilize such a one-dimensional character that also reinforces an unfortunate stereotype. A good story requires a villain to serve as the evil force which the heroes must fight and defeat; but an excellent one requires a villain whose intentions and motives may be disagreeable but who should be just as well-developed (and perhaps even slightly sympathetic) as the protagonists in order to make a compelling conflict work which then make an emotionally satisfying resolution. In this sense, God Loves, Man Kills fails to deliver because the issue was tackled one-sided and interpreted in black-and-white terms. Reverend Stryker was simply unrelatable.

Speaking of believable villains, Magneto does take part in this story as an ally and whose help is something that the X-Men reluctantly accepts. They have a common enemy in Stryker and with Magneto in the pages, Stryker's flaws become more pronounced that it's very easy to choose to the devil you know. In this case, it's Magneto, and he is almost always single-handedly incapacitating the rest of Stryker's "purifiers"; these armed men and women who are avid mutantphobes and are unquestioningly torturing and killing mutants. I was really happy with Magneto's participation in this story as well as the pay-off in the end when he once again argues that humankind cannot be trusted and that the X-Men should stand with him and not waste time protecting a species that denounces them. It was Cyclops who maintains that peaceful co-existence is still possible between their kind and the humans, emphasizing that (and I will use a Once and Future King reference here because I just finished reading said novel last week, and the film did use it as both Xavier and Magneto's favorite book) 'Right should be established through Right and not Might.' It is notable though that Professor X almost wanted to go with Magneto:


Y'all should know by now that I SHIP IT and that I always look forward to referencing just how much Prof X and Mags LOVE EACH OTHER BEYOND ANY OF US CAN COMPREHEND, so let me grab this opportunity and talk about Cherik for a moment. It's interesting that Charles almost concedes and takes Magneto's hand in those panels. I'd like to believe that he must have unconsciously recognized that this was the moment he's been waiting for; to be reunited with his former best friend and fight by his side JUST AS WHAT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS. However, he is also quickly reminded that he has an obligation as the founder, mentor and surrogate father of the X-Men so choosing to be with Magneto means abandoning them. That's the kicker. That's probably the only thing preventing Charles at this point to take the hand of his beloved "bookend-soulmate" (HEY IT'S BEEN QUOTED BY HIM) and FLY OFF SO THEY CAN FINALLY TIE THE KNOT. I don't think it's even his principles he cares about anymore at this point. He has witnessed and experienced first-hand (and in the most gruesome way during this comic book) the evil that men like Stryker can inflict on their kind so he might have been convinced just a little bit that now is the time for some of that Might that Magneto has been advocating from the beginning. But Cyclops gives this speech that reminds him that he's not just the sole dreamer of peaceful co-existence anymore. The X-Men share that dream and want to do everything they can to see its fruition. Kitty, amazingly, invites Magneto to JOIN THEM instead but Mags is just as stubborn in his own set of beliefs so he declines. He does, however, genuinely wish their team can succeed in achieving a democratic treaty with the humans because once they don't, he will come back into the picture and reinforce something more radical and long-term to accomplish mutant supremacy. Now that's a highly-developed and engrossing villain who continues to grow and surprise us, and often we find ourselves agreeing with him even with his severe methods.

Overall, God Loves, Man Kills provides a channel for discussion concerning the real-life implications of prejudice and ignorance against minorities of different cultural backgrounds. It can be viewed as a cautionary tale. It can be considered as a crucial story that solidified the X-Men as THE group of marginalized superheroes that are also champions for the sectors in our society who are denied the same rights as everybody else just because they are different from the rest. This was the driving narrative for the X2 film after all, and this was the comic book which helped build that version which I maintain is the better one of the two. So go ahead and pick up God Loves, Man Kills. It's considered a classic important work to some and if you are an X-Men fan in a way where you think their class struggle resonates with you then this might appeal to you. The violence and cruelty is very hefty though so I feel like I should warn you about that.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont volume 3

In the previous volume, the Consortium, thanks to Mariko Nashida, was able to abduct 'Ro. Fortunately, she was rescued by the Ghost Panther (whose identity remains a mystery) while she was being flown to Wakanda. The X-Men are making plans to get her back while Mariko and Perfect Storm argue about who has the biggest vagina of bitch authority. P. Storm is not pleased that young 'Ro has escaped and she's determined to make anyone who is hiding her suffer. Meanwhile, the Ghost Panther takes her to Calisto and the Morlocks who seem to be working with Ghost. Both reassure 'Ro that she is well-protected and that they have no intention to harm her.
 
While in the middle of yet another long-winding battle (which this time includes P. Storm), 'Ro was able to fight for her own freedom though she is greatly unmatched with the adult Storm's powers. Ghost Panther helps her by--literally shooting electricity that 'Ro can utilize. This caused Ghost's metal armor to malfunction, though. Curious, P. Storm decides to retreat, overcome by a feeling of foreboding upon witnessing what Ghost Panther had just done. 'Ro tries to help Ghost, and by this time she's definitely determined to find out who this person is. Ghost takes off the helmet and reveals that--SHE IS YET ANOTHER VERSION OF STORM!
 
Here's all you need to now for #11-13 issues: the Ghost Panther version is the energy of Storm with no physical form and it's actually Tony Stark who designed a steel armor that she can wear to maintain a semblance of tangibility. Meanwhile, 'Ro is the innocent aspect and the Perfect Storm--the vicious turncloak cunt who broke my heart--was a COPY-gone-wrong who can easily be re-programmed as long as you know how to calibrate her. So, yes. P. Storm is NOT THE REAL ORORO MUNROE. She's  just travesty wrapped in audacious queenly clothing and sporting an ugly face-scar. 
 
In the latter issues (#14-16), I thought it was appropriate that X-Men Forever ends with the resolution of the Storm arc, considering it's a parallel to where the series first started which was Ororo Munroe's betrayal and deceit when she was revealed as a spy for the enemy (the Consortium) and after her brutal murder of Logan a.k.a fan-favorite Wolverine. The five-issued story arc from the first season entitled Love--And Loss! was ultimately my favorite of all the arcs and the entire series itself so I already have expectations for these three concluding issues, and I generally forego having expectations for XMF a long time ago (since the Sentinels bullshit, to be specific). There are two ways of looking at the ending of this series; one is a cynical  one where you still believe this series could deliver something better than it established from the beginning because you want to think Claremont still has it, considering his legacy. The other one is to accept without any sort of condescension or resentment that XMF delivered exactly what it can only achieve in its grand finale that may not be as promising as we all thought when we started reading past the five issues. I chose the latter. I wasn't disappointed when I finished reading. In fact, I thought it stuck its landing given the scope of hits-and-misses as a whole.

Divided meticulously well in three parts, the Storm story arc is a rather quiet and straightforward gameplay that began with the X-Men's infiltration of Wakanda (issue #14), which slowly progressed to a final climactic confrontation against the Avengers who are still in the dark in the most ridiculous and pathetic sense (it's the only thing that annoyed me about this ordeal; I really hoped Captain America and Thor would know better than to expect the worst from the X-Men when Tony Stark obviously gave up his life for the salvation of mutantkind). Finally, Perfect Storm (the vicious cunt clone) was apprehended and stored away as the real Storm (Ghost Panther and young 'Ro) have successfully merged  as one at last, and she has chosen to stay in Wakanda not only to rule its constituents but also to lead (even if the Consortium still lurks in the corner, probably ready to strike soon enough) by the end of issue #16. And there we have it.

In X-Men Forever, they killed Wolverine, Beast and Tony Stark. They sent Professor X to some alien planet. They destroyed the Xavier Mansion in a way that it's constantly "phasing" between realities. They switched Rogue and Nightcrawler's powers. They gave Kitty Pryde an adamantium claw. They brought back the lame Sentinels. They turned the Avengers against the X-Men. They made Sabretooth and Mystique unlikely allies. They made the Silver Samurai join forces with Matsuo as Mariko Nashida joins forces with Sigrid Trask and the Consortium. BUT THE WORST OFFENSE of it all, in my humble opinion, is turning Storm into a fucking diva and a cunt who conspired against the X-Men as a double agent and then murdered one of her friends. Afterwards, she took over Wakanda by once again murdering a man she supposedly loved so she can rule in his stead.

I don't think the ending of this series would have been better either way because, though the series started out good, it  also got frustratingly disjointed midway through so hoping for an ending that will somehow fix the shitty clusterfucks that occurred earlier in the series is simply delusional. XMF, however, still tried its best to conclude on an acceptable average note. It had a nice ending, and that's it. I would also like to commend the fact that even when important characters like Wolverine and Beast died, they died not for shock value but rather in a dignified way that also allowed other characters some room to grow and thrive as individuals and as a team. I was invested in the Storm storyline so I was fine that the series ended on its pay-off. Also, I thought the character arcs with Kitty Pryde and Rogue (plus Nightwalker and Mystique) were satisfying even when they weren't absolutely concluded in this last issue. I can just come up with other ways their arcs would have developed some more which leaves a lot to contemplate about. I also thought the fact that it ended with Jean Grey and Scott (Cyclops) reconciling their differences not as lover but as comrades and leaders of the X-Men felt right. It resonated with me.

Everything about this wrap-up was...NICE.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont volume 2

The thing that really gets to me about the XMF series as a whole is that there are great character moments I actually look forward to and get emotional about. But this second season is suddenly a mess upon a heap of messes and a pile of bullshit. Everything is happening so fast. There are so many mutants running around fighting each other, half of them I don't readily recognize. The direction this series has taken in #6-8 issues alone depresses me greatly.

To be objective about it, the main plot for said issues wasn't that bad. I wish it was the "so bad it's good" kind of flop but it's not even that. From what I can understand, in the future, a boy named Nathan (who is possibly Nate Summers) is leading the Consortium as he finds a way to travel back in time to abduct his younger self or something. All this ties back to the cure for the Mutant Burnout, a threat so prevalent and yet so underwhelming and vaguely delivered since it was revealed in issue #5 last season. So Nathan employs the Marauders, who work for Mister Sinister, to obtain young Nate. The boy luckily escapes through his babysitter's help. Her name is Robyn but she was later revealed to be a spy that future Nathan placed in the Summers household to gain their trust. The Marauders started using clones of Sabretooth and, insensitively so, Logan's. When Kitty gets stabbed in the stomach by the Dark Wolverine, things got very interesting. HOWEVER we don't focus on this but rather on the dizzying ensemble of characters fighting in the majority of the pages for all three issues. AND I COULDN'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT IT because I think the Kitty-Wolverine subplot was far more engaging.

Issues #6-8 could have been handled differently. The Burnout arc is beginning to drag and bug me. It's the less interesting plot of the series by now. I hope we get Storm back which is certainly a terrible atrocity to look forward to because I fucking hate what she has become for this series but it's still very compelling to see her unleash her crazy. I'm a masochist with severe attachment issues that way.

After yet another clusterfuck of cameo characters battling it out with the X-Men for the most thinly veiled plot device ever as featured in issues #6-8 which I just abhorred so much, we finally shift some respectable focus on Kitty Pryde who encountered the murderous clone of Wolverine in the midst of battle and the asshole also just stabbed her through the stomach so now she has sustained ugly hole marks on her belly. Thanks to the fact that she inherited Logan's healing factor alongside that singe adamantium claw, she managed to survive any kind of blood loss from such wounds. Sabretooth helped her kill the imposter-Wolverine but it was revealed that the jerk lived anyway and has plans for a second round. The road to change and recovery for Kitty has never been pleasant since the series began. She's been constantly torn between accepting that her genetic infusion with the late Logan has affected her in a fundamental level AND clinging to the version of her that remains pure and comfortable. She's not only adjusting to her sudden personality change and mood swings but now she's also been dreaming and thinking vividly in Japanese lately. Now Kitty may be able to cope with her psychological struggles during missions especially when she can utilize her adamantium claw in physical confrontations, but she's barely holding it together and these two issues leisurely explore the fragility of her state of mind after an encounter with that Wolverine clone.

IThings become so much worse later on when some of the X-Men (Jean Grey and Gambit, more importantly) arrive in Japan to fight Sigrid and Mariko. Afterwards, there was a draw of some sort and the X-Men were able to make their escape, leaving Mariko and Sigrid to scheme new evil plans for future installments. To turn the whole 'scorned women' into a trinity crusade, Sigrid and Mariko contacts motherfucking Storm, now residing as the queen of Wakanda, and she listens to their proposal with disinterest at first until they present her a gift she could refuse: the teenage version of herself! It turns out that they managed to abduct 'Ro as the rest of the X-Men made their escape earlier. Well, holy shit. I really enjoyed #9-10. They were undoubtedly a massive improvement from the stale and irritating eight issues from before. They were gorgeously illustrated by artist Mike Grell, and are character-centered with lots of impactful revelations and action-oriented confrontations between our heroes and villains. Now let's commence be the blurbs:

Issue #6 --> In which I rolled my eyes SO HARD

Issue #7 --> In which I screamed a little scream in vile contempt

Issue #8 --> In which I honestly want to punch a wall

Issue #9 ---> In which Kitty gets the spotlight for self-discovery and illumination and she and Remy almost shared a kiss but he was a decent enough fellow not to take advantage of her. Also known as the issue where Kitty tries to save someone who is not worth her time.

Issue #10 --> In which Storm, Mariko and Sigrid Trask are assholes and Kitty is awesome.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont issue #14-16 (2011)


Here we are at the end of the line. It's hard to believe that I just spent a month and a half with this series with the joy and (sometimes) burden of a polarized perspective whenever I write these reviews. This would be my last Claremont series though I have plans to read his graphic novels right after XMF (most notably God Loves, Man Kills; The Dark Phoenix; and Days of Future Past). I would have opted to read his classic works in the title The Uncanny X-Men which ran until the late nineties or so but I think that would take a very long time and I have other more pressing commitments to read in the X-Men universe this year that are not strictly Claremont after all. When all is said and done, I don't have regrets choosing X-Men Forever even when I've reached a very low point while reading it. I'll be expounding on why in an official post that will detail what I've learned, loved and loathed from reading Chris Claremont as an X-Men writer. For now, let's focus on issues #14-16.

I thought it was only appropriate that X-Men Forever ends with the resolution of the Storm arc, considering it's a parallel to where the series first started which was Ororo Munroe's betrayal and deceit when she was revealed as a spy for the enemy (the Consortium) and after her brutal murder of Logan a.k.a fan-favorite Wolverine. The five-issued story arc from the first season entitled Love--And Loss! was ultimately my favorite of all the arcs and the entire series itself so I already have expectations for these three concluding issues, and I generally forego having expectations for XMF a long time ago (since the Sentinels bullshit, to be specific about it). There are two ways of looking at the ending of this series; one is a cynical  one where you still believe this series could deliver something better than it established from the beginning because you want to think Claremont still has it, considering his legacy. The other one is to accept without any sort of condescension or resentment that XMF delivered exactly what it can only achieve in its grand finale that may not be as promising as we all originally thought when we started reading past the five issues. I, of course, choose the latter. I wasn't disappointed when I finished reading issues #14-16. In fact, I thought it stuck its landing given the scope of hits-and-misses for this series as a whole. Did I think it could be better? YES. Absolutely, it could have been, but I stopped holding onto that possibility midway through the first three issues of the second season.

Divided meticulously well in three parts, the Storm story arc is a quiet and straightforward gameplay that began with the X-Men's infiltration of Wakanda (issue #14), which slowly progressed to a final climactic confrontation against the Avengers who are still in the dark in the most ridiculous and pathetic sense (it's the only thing that annoyed me about this ordeal; I really hoped Captain America and Thor would know better than to expect the worst from the X-Men when Tony Stark obviously gave up his life for the salvation of mutantkind). Finally, Perfect Storm (the vicious cunt clone) was apprehended and stored away as the real Storm (Ghost Panther and young 'Ro) have successfully merged  as one at last, and she has chosen to stay in Wakanda not only to rule its constituents but also to lead (even if the Consortium still lurks in the corner, probably ready to strike soon enough) by the end of issue #16.  Now, was it the ending that I wanted for a series that has been such a mixed bag of outrageous and convoluted plot arcs that were only balanced by the compelling character arcs its female characters represented in between? Well, the answer is truly a YES and NO combo.

YES because I'm just glad it's over and I can move on to the next X-Men title on my list. I don't think the ending would have been better either way because, though the series started out good, it  also got frustratingly disjointed midway through so hoping for an ending that will somehow fix the shitty clusterfucks that occurred earlier in the series is simply delusional. XMF, however, still tried its best to conclude on an acceptable average note. It had a nice ending, and that's it. I would also like to commend the fact that even when important characters like Wolverine and Beast died, they died not for shock value but rather in a dignified way that also allowed other characters some room to grow and thrive as individuals and as a team. I was invested in the Storm storyline so I was fine that the series ended on its pay-off. Also, I thought the character arcs with Kitty Pryde and Rogue (plus Nightwalker and Mystique) were satisfying even when they weren't absolutely concluded in this last issue. I can just come up with other ways their arcs would have developed some more which leaves a lot to contemplate about. I also thought the fact that it ended with Jean Grey and Scott (Cyclops) reconciling their differences not as lover but as comrades and leaders of the X-Men felt right. It resonated with me. Everything about this wrap-up was...NICE.

NO because there are still MANY UNASWERED QUESTIONS that are hard to ignore, particularly about the Consortium and the mutant burnout, and what is Nate Summers role in all of this debacle. These supposedly main plot arcs are swept under the rug somehow and so they were left being completely ambiguous. They're unfinished businesses that I believe weren't explored for this title sufficiently, making their impact underwhelming. I don't think Claremont ever wrote a follow-up for this. Perhaps other titles picked them up but I highly doubt it. I thought it was rather reckless and disappointing to overlook resolving these main arcs. But hey, I don't care about them in the first place so out of sight, out of mind. Now I rate these issues an 8-rating but only because I was happy about the Storm arc's pay-off.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont issue #11-13 (2010)


Apparently, I missed the circulation of that damnable memo where we now officially refer to the turncloak Storm (who is also the queen of Wakanda) as "Perfect Storm". It honestly wouldn't surprise me if this version of Storm  was the one who approved such an airy and condescending reference to be attached to her namesake. I tell myself that I will no longer be shocked by the twists and turns this clusterfuck series seem to be fond of making every step of the way. I tell myself that its abhorrent unpredictability has become rather predictable now, and that nothing--absolutely nothing--can surprise me anymore. To me, X-Men Forever has questioned every kind of status quo in the X-universe and that alone says much because this is the motherfucking X-Men and no universe is more rampantly shifting and evolving than the X-Men's.

In XMF, they killed Wolverine, Beast and Tony Stark. They sent Professor X to some alien planet. They destroyed the Xavier Mansion in a way that it's constantly "phasing" between realities. They switched Rogue and Nightcrawler's powers. They gave Kitty Pryde an adamantium claw. They brought back the lame Sentinels. They turned the Avengers against the X-Men. They made Sabretooth and Mystique unlikely allies. They made the Silver Samurai join forces with Matsuo as Mariko Nashida joins forces with Sigrid Trask and the Consortium. BUT THE WORST OFFENSE of it all, in my humble opinion, is turning Storm into a fucking diva and a cunt who conspired against the X-Men as a double agent and then murdered one of her friends. Afterwards, she took over Wakanda by once again murdering a man she supposedly loved so she can rule in his stead. Now I love Ororo Munroe. She's my third ultimate favorite X-Men character next to Rogue and Jean Grey. What Claremont did to her for XMF has been gruesome and heartbreaking and I both dread and anticipate any update or progress concerning her story arc. Finally, we have arrived to these three critical issues that reveal the unusual circumstances surrounding the Perfect Storm and the teenage version of her who has been helping the X-Men for a while now, 'Ro. It was stated at first that 'Ro must be a clone of Storm's and this theory has never been fully explored in the subsequent issues after her appearance so I have no idea what to think about it....until now.

Previously, the Consortium, thanks to Mariko Nashida, was able to abduct 'Ro. Fortunately, she was rescued by the Ghost Panther (whose identity remains a mystery) while she was being flown to Wakanda. The X-Men are making plans to get her back while Mariko and Perfect Storm argue about who has the biggest vagina of bitch authority. P. Storm is not pleased that young 'Ro has escaped and she's determined to make anyone who is hiding her suffer. Meanwhile, the Ghost Panther takes her to Calisto and the Morlocks who seem to be working with Ghost. Both reassure 'Ro that she is well-protected and that they have no intention to harm her. I'm not going to discuss other details in a painful, talky manner because what matters now is the revelation by issue #12 which was Ghost Panther's real identity. While in the middle of yet another long-winding battle (which this time includes P. Storm), 'Ro was able to fight for her own freedom though she is greatly unmatched with the adult Storm's powers. Ghost Panther helps her by--literally shooting electricity that 'Ro can utilize. This caused Ghost's metal armor to malfunction, though. Curious, P. Storm decides to retreat, overcome by a feeling of foreboding upon witnessing what Ghost Panther had just done. 'Ro tries to help Ghost, and by this time she's definitely determined to find out who this person is. Ghost takes off the helmet and reveals that--SHE IS YET ANOTHER VERSION OF STORM! This was my reaction:


So I told myself that I wouldn't be surprised anymore but by the end of issue #11, I was really freaking out BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW WHY I KEEP SUBJECTING MYSELF TO THIS CLUSTERFUCK SHIT. AND EXPECT A DIFFERENT OUTCOME. This series gets me every time. I just let my guard down for a bit and boom! I'm mind-raped! Still, I also continue to shock myself with the amount of insanity and discord that I can handle every time I pick up an issue of XMF. Issue #13 was probably the most leisurely of the issues for the third and final volume collection. It took time to explain how Storm ended up getting fragmented into three separate beings in the first place. I could talk about it here but I don't want to rob you of the opportunity to peruse through the delicate madness of such a convoluted yet interesting backstory. Here's all you need to now: the Ghost Panther version is the energy of Storm with no physical form and it's actually Tony Stark who designed a steel armor that she can wear to maintain a semblance of tangibility. Meanwhile, 'Ro is the innocent aspect and the Perfect Storm--the vicious turncloak cunt who broke my heart--was a COPY-gone-wrong who can easily be re-programmed as long as you know how to calibrate her. So, yes. P. Storm is NOT THE REAL ORORO MUNROE. She's  just travesty wrapped in audacious queenly clothing and sporting an ugly face-scar. Oh god, don't even dare underestimate how relieved and giddy this makes me feel!

What I'm curious to find out next is how they will put the bitch down and infuse Energy Storm and Teenage 'Ro together because I assume that's what should happen, right? OH FUCK I'M GONNA HAVE TO KEEP READING. I'll finish this series tomorrow and then write reviews for volume 2 and 3. Then that's it. X-Men Forever and I are officially going to be over!

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Monday, February 16, 2015

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont issue #9-10 (2010)


I've rated almost all of the second season of X-Men Forever issues a solid 7-star rating in the last two weeks I've been reviewing them. The first eight issues were underwhelming and disjointed in a lot of aspects (particularly the main storyline concerning the Consortium and Mutant Burnout) so my enjoyment has suffered due to unavoidable criticisms I have on my part that are, at this point, REPETETIVE. I still believe that Claremont writes compelling character drama and he can consistently deliver such as the case with Jean Grey, Rogue and Kitty Pryde's internal conflicts and roles in the stories. In between those said character arcs I'm invested in, there are half-baked and forgettable subplots concerning the Consortium and the burnout cure which continue to alienate when there are supposedly worthwhile developments that should interest readers. Frankly, I can't bring myself to care enough because I think they only serve as the needed main problem in the narrative that requires a solution that would not affect me on any substantial, emotional level. On the other hand, the journeys certain characters have undergone do keep me reading this series and that's where Claremont flourishes as a storyteller.

Such is the case with these issues 9-10 that are heavily focused on Kitty Pryde.

After yet another clusterfuck of cameo characters battling it out with the X-Men for the most thinly veiled plot device ever as featured in issues #6-8 which I just abhorred so much, we finally shift some respectable focus on Kitty Pryde who encountered the murderous clone of Wolverine in the midst of battle and the asshole also just stabbed her through the stomach so now she has sustained ugly hole marks on her belly. Thanks to the fact that she inherited Logan's healing factor alongside that singe adamantium claw, she managed to survive any kind of blood loss from such wounds. Sabretooth helped her kill the imposter-Wolverine but it was revealed that the jerk lived anyway and has plans for a second round. The road to change and recovery for Kitty has never been pleasant since the series began. She's been constantly torn between accepting that her genetic infusion with the late Logan has affected her in a fundamental level AND clinging to the version of her that remains pure and comfortable. She's not only adjusting to her sudden personality change and mood swings but now she's also been dreaming and thinking vividly in Japanese lately. Now Kitty may be able to cope with her psychological struggles during missions especially when she can utilize her adamantium claw in physical confrontations, but she's barely holding it together and these two issues leisurely explore the fragility of her state of mind after an encounter with that Wolverine clone.

My favorite moment in issue #9 has to be her scene with Gambit (Remy) who has expressed concern and some vague romantic interest in her since that Black Magik storyline from a while back. I recall him mentioning to teenage Ororo that Kitty is in a difficult place because she just lost two people whom she considered like second parents (Wolverine and the turncloak Storm) and it almost feels like the people she can count on the most (including her ex-boyfriend Colossus who is now with Natasha, Black Widow) have been uprooted from her life and she could not do anything about it. Rage and confusion are ever-present in Kitty these days but there's also a smidge of longing--which explains why she tries to kiss Gambit, hoping she can hold onto someone tangible and real and who cares deeply about her. Remy proves he does care which was why he rejected her advances as calmly and gracefully as he could. I have always been at odds with Gambit as a character but I thought that was a pretty admirable moment for him. If Kitty really wishes it, Remy confesses that he would love to enter a relationship with her but he also acknowledges that she might not be in the best place to make such big decisions right now so he had to rebuke her offer. That's great. That shows maturity on Remy's part because that means he respects Kitty and would not want to prey on said young woman when she is at her most vulnerable. It also makes me root for the possibility of them becoming as a couple if ever Claremont decides it will eventually lead to that. What matters now is that Kitty needs to get her shit together. This is where issue #10 enters.

Kitty steals one of the X-Men's jet planes while 'Ro was still hiding inside it because she was playing with Nathan Summers earlier. Kitty and 'Ro find themselves in Japan to witness a union between the Silver Samurai and goddamn Matsuo whom I will never stop despising. To make matters worse, clone-Wolverine crashes the party and kills people and then tries to kill Kitty and 'Ro. The two girls barely escaped. And then Logan's ex-girlfriend Mariko Nashida came and Kitty was glad because she was friends with Mariko. BUT THEN it was revealed. Mariko has joined forces with fucking Sigrid Trask WHOM I CAN'T BELIEVE IS NOT DEAD. Mariko felt betrayed because Logan chose Jean Grey over her (WHEN? And must you be so vengeful just because the man you love does not love you anymore? It reinforces that stupid stereotype about 'hell hath no fury than a woman's scorn' bullshit scenario. For once, I just want to read a female character whose motivation of becoming bad is not hitched on the notion that she was rejected by some man). Anyway, she believes that her jealousy totally justifies her alliance with an evil organization hell-bent on mutant genocide. *slow claps* Wow, Mariko. Just. WOW. Way to nurse an ego, you prideful bitch.

Speaking of prideful bitches with egos...

Things become so much worse later on when some of the X-Men (Jean Grey and Gambit, more importantly) arrive in Japan to fight Sigrid and Mariko. Afterwards, there was a draw of some sort and the X-Men were able to make their escape, leaving Mariko and Sigrid to scheme new evil plans for future installments. To turn the whole 'scorned women' into a trinity crusade, Sigrid and Mariko contacts motherfucking Storm, now residing as the queen of Wakanda, and she listens to their proposal with disinterest at first until they present her a gift she could refuse: the teenage version of herself! It turns out that they managed to abduct 'Ro as the rest of the X-Men made their escape earlier. Well, holy shit.

I really enjoyed these issues. They were undoubtedly a massive improvement from the stale and irritating eight issues from before. They were gorgeously illustrated by artist Mike Grell, and are character-centered with lots of impactful revelations and action-oriented confrontations between our heroes and villains. Also, Storm is back on the game. As horrifying as it is that she has officially become a cunt of all cunts, I still want to read more about her because I'm a masochist with severe attachment issues.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Friday, February 13, 2015

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont issue #6-8 (2010)

 
Yeeeeah, okay...NO. Just, NO.

This is definitely the moment in the series where I was seriously considering rage-quitting my way out. However, I made a commitment and I intend to honor the commitment no matter what even if I'm becoming miserable about it in the long run. I survived reading and reviewing Tony S. Daniel's first twelve issues of New 52's Detective Comics after all (AND WE ALL KNOW THAT'S COLLECTIVELY AND INDISPUTABLY SHITE), as well as the first volume of The Dark Knight by Paul Jenkins (WHICH IS SO BIZZARELY DISJOINTED) But reading XMF issues #6-8 last night was really pushing it too far. I have never been so disengaged while reading something (at least with Daniel's DC, I was actively hating it). Here are my Goodreads progress updates for the second volume of XMF:
  • "One would assume that the X-Men's notorious bad luck has changed. One would be very, very wrong." THANKS FOR THE FUCKING HEADS-UP, CLAREMONT. WE NEED MORE WARNING LABELS ABOUT XMF LIKE THIS ONE, JESUS LOKI!
  • UGHHHH. NO MAGNETO. NO PRFESSOR X. MR. SINISTER AND THE MARAUDERS ARE THE VILLAINS OF THE WEEK. SOMETHING ABOUT NATE SUMMERS AND THE BURNOUT CURE. FUCKING STORM STILL IN WAKANDA, BEING A CUNT OF ALL CUNTS. LOGAN'S JAPANESE EX-GF WANTS TO MAKE JEAN SUFFER. TOO MANY CHARACTER CAMEOS FOR SHIT! I'M ALMOST CLOSE TO RAGE-QUITTING THIS SERIES, GUYS!
  • The thing that really gets to me about the XMF series as a whole is that there are great character moments I actually look forward to and get emotional about. But this second season is suddenly a mess upon a heap of messes and a pile of bullshit. Everything is happening so fast. There are so many mutants running around fighting each other, half of them I don't readily recognize. The direction this series has taken in these three issues alone depresses me greatly.

Look, I'm usually a sweet slice of cherry pie whenever I review my comics. Like Abed Nadir of NBC's Community, "I like liking things." This is why I avoid sharing negative thoughts and in the rare occasions that I do, I try to remain as constructive as possible in my criticisms. But as I type this review, I wonder if I should even bother discussing what happened in the three issues because there's a tiny, screaming voice in my head is refusing to accomplish just that without going berserk and making the very same face Kristin Wiig is doing in that .GIF image above. So I won't discuss. I'll just tell you as short as possible and focus on the GOOD THINGS that did happen in the background.

To be objective about it, the main plot for issues #6-8 wasn't that bad. I wish it was the "so bad it's good" kind of flop but it's not even that. From what I can understand, in the future, a boy named Nathan (who is possibly Nate Summers) is leading the Consortium as he finds a way to travel back in time to abduct his younger self or something. All this ties back to the cure for the Mutant Burnout, a threat so prevalent and yet so underwhelming and vaguely delivered since it was revealed in issue #5 last season. So Nathan employs the Marauders, who work for Mister Sinister, to obtain young Nate. The boy luckily escapes through his babysitter's help. Her name is Robyn but she was later revealed to be a spy that future Nathan placed in the Summers household to gain their trust. The Marauders started using clones of Sabretooth and, insensitively so, Logan's. When Kitty gets stabbed in the stomach by the Dark Wolverine, things got very interesting. HOWEVER we don't focus on this but rather on the dizzying ensemble of characters fighting in the majority of the pages for all three issues. AND I COULDN'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT IT because I think the Kitty-Wolverine subplot was far more engaging.

I don't even think Mr. Sinister actually makes an appearance in this story which is sad because I like the fashionable and obviously omnisexual Sinister, mostly because of his participation in the shippy awesomeness that is the Savage Land storyline as adapted by the nineties cartoons where he forcefully took Professor X and Magneto so the two can have the most awkward and ridiculous outdoors date while being attacked by random jungle men and women as well as dinosaurs. Later on, he ties them up against the wall with chains and flirts with them, making rather transparent comments about the state of unresolved sexual tension between Prof X and Mags before he electrocutes them. IT'S SO SHAMELESSLY GAY. At least that's how I remember it. Don't fucking dispute it, assholes. I HAVEN'T MADE A SINGLE CHERIK REFERENCE IN MY REVIEWS FOR XMF FOR A VERY LONG TIME SO LET ME HAVE THIS.

A spot-on interpretation by jadenvargen
 
ANYWAY let's move on to that Kitty-Wolverine meet-cute. Next to Jean Grey's epic depression over losing four of the men she loved the most in a span of weeks, the other female character whose internal struggle and conflict gets some page time across the series has to be Kitty Pryde. As we all know, Wolverine's genetic mark infused with hers back in the first issue because Fabian Cortez touched them during a confrontation, which was why she now has a fully-functioning adamantium claw from one of her knuckles. But that's not the only thing amiss; Kitty has also started to have a personality change akin to Logan's: she's grumpy, impulsive and has an urge to kill. She's also been dreaming in Japanese. So when she encounters the Wolverine clone, she was understandably pissed! Before Logan's death, they've always shared a sibling-like relationship which was why it was so difficult for her to adjust to the changes happening to her that is both physical and mental in manifestation. In issue #8, the Dark Wolverine gets put down only to be revealed in the final page that he was alive after all and is coming back for Kitty. I read the next issue right after this and I would like to say that it was the BEST offered so far for volume 2. I'm glad that even though that bullshit Nate-Summers-Marauders central plot was abhorrent, Claremont was able to soften the blow by following up on Kitty's arc which is one of the four things I enjoy about this series in the first place.

Overall, issues #6-8 could have been handled differently. The Burnout storyline is beginning to drag and bug me. It's actually the less interesting plot of the series by now. I hope we get Storm back which is certainly a terrible atrocity to look forward to because I fucking hate what she has become for this series but it's still very compelling to see her unleash her crazy.

RECOMMENDED: 6/10

Thursday, February 12, 2015

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont volume 1

The second season of Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever series did not start as well as I hoped. I already set the bar pretty low at this point so it's grossly shocking that it managed to disappoint me still. I think it's safe to say everything about this series is a mixed bag. What it does well, it does a pretty good job maintaining (such as certain character arcs about Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Jean Grey and Storm); but what it fails to deliver is usually the very things that prohibit this comic book series to thrive because it gets so muddled up in these baffling bullshit storylines that dilute the better qualities it can offer on the table.

Claremont will always be the definitive writer for the X-Men canon. No one will dispute that. He will always have that distinction. However, this contribution of his shamefully pales in comparison with all that he has accomplished from the past. Now and then when I read this series, I would catch glimpses of the sublime aspects that make his X-Men so relatable and superb as characters and heroes worth rooting for. The first season (issues #1-24) certainly had that quirky and surprisingly touching moments which made me enjoy the series even when there are issues between that frustrate me to no end.

However, after reading the nine issues of the second season, I was exasperated and almost close to rage-quitting my way out of this mess. Luckily, I'm very committed and will see things through to the finish line so I would get to the end of XMF no matter what. Besides, I remain faithfully invested on the character arcs aforementioned and would like to know how they will be resolved when this series ends.

In the first volume entitled Back in Action, this collects the first five issues. The storylines presented have a slow momentum and not enough great rhythm as a whole. I wasn't that interested in the events that happened for this volume, and only managed to enjoy Rogue the most of all the characters. As a tradition, I'm providing blurbs for each issue to succinctly summarize the plots therein:

Issue #1: A Cry--of Vengeance --> In which the Avengers try to arrest the X-Men and Thor makes a promise to a young Ororo in the midst of a heated battle, yet breaks that promise but only kindda, sorta. Also known as the issue where the Xavier Mansion gets obliterated, wiping out everyone inside it.

Issue #2: Six Weeks Later --> In which a great number of the human race grieves the loss of the X-Men while the rest of the anti-mutants are probably celebrating and shit. Also known as the issue where Spider-Man is the only who bothers to question the authenticity of their deaths and stumbles upon a confused Rogue wandering the New York streets.

Issue #3: A Night on the Town --> In which Spidey and Rogue almost kissed and the X-Men are alive (duh) but decided to fake their deaths so they can operate undercover and underground. Also known as the issue where Mystique makes a grand entrance and pisses everybody off, including her children.

Issue #4: Stolen Lives --> In which the Morlocks abduct Moira MacTaggert and Sabretooth for the dumbest reasons. Also known as the issue where Agent Diana Dugan admits she's falling in love with Sabretooth WHICH IS TOTALLY FUCKING STUPID

Issue #5: Dead Reckoning --> In which the X-Men and the Morlocks came to an accord but then they get interrupted by S.H.I.E.L.D agents when they captured the Morlocks and while the X-Men escaped. Also known as the issue where Rogue and Mystique shared their first ever embrace and Mystique officially joins the team while Calisto rescues the Morlocks.

RECOMMENDED: 7.5/10

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

X-Men Forever 2 by Chris Claremont issue #3-5 (2010)

 
I know I said that I'll only be combining issues within a story arc so I only have to post a single review for all of them, which is exactly what I've been doing these days. However, these issues (#3-5) do no actually belong to a singular arc but their events are connected together anyway and I frankly do not want to waste time separating them into three reviews because their respective content can be briefly summarized per one paragraph each. The truth is that the second season of X-Men Forever has started out with a shocking premise where the Avengers set out to confront the X-Men and try to apprehend them so they can be brought to justice for reasons that still escape me. Tony Stark died to protect the mutants from the shady Consortium's plans of absolute annihilation and yet the Avengers choose to persecute the X-Men instead like all of that meant nothing? It's downright baffling, the way they acted made any sense to me. Shouldn't they be focusing their time and powers bringing down the Consortium starting with the double agents lurking inside S.H.I.E.L.D? Honestly, the Avengers need to start prioritizing wisely. And then the Xavier Mansion gets blown up and the X-Men are pronounced dead. Suddenly, a great number of the human population grieved the loss as if they never discriminated against the humankind in the first place. Too little, too late, isn't it? Amidst this discovery, Peter Parker, being a conscientious journalist, was unconvinced of the demise of the X-Men so he started investigating the hollow ground where the mansion was struck down. He only found a lone Sentinel guarding the place.

Back in New York as Spider-Man, he stumbles upon Rogue who is apparently still reeling from her switcheroo with Kurt. And here we are at issue #3, A Night on the Town where Rogue and Spidey spent some time together hovering in the rooftops and eating takeout food as they reminisce about their comrades, both dead and alive. Since she is my ultimate favorite character, I'm always ready to invest myself on whatever storyline Rogue is present in and I think I like her situation for now. I recall a time in the earlier issues where she started contemplating about her role in the X-Men in the aftermath of Wolverine's death. She expressed that she wanted to do more and be more for her friends and for the world and I think she is getting that wish--just not in her own terms. Siphoning Nightcrawler's teleportation ability and physical appearance have taken a toll on her because she was also beginning to feel like she is less than herself which is exactly how Kitty feels herself after inheriting Wolverine's adamantine claw. With issue #3, we see Rogue coming to terms that perhaps there is an advantage to this switched mutation after all which entails being able to have direct physical contact with another person. This was exactly what she tried to do with Spidey--she actually reached out and tried to kiss him. It occurred to me that Rogue has never kissed anyone at this point, or at least enjoy and appreciate that intimate gesture without draining the life out of that person (if human) or weakening their powers (if a mutant). I actually thought it was poignant that the very first thing she does after she acknowledges this was to seek out affection in the form of a kiss and Spidey happens to be there and he was nice and interested in her welfare, etc. It positively breaks my heart.

Their date gets interrupted when Sentinels found the rest of the X-Men and Jean contacts Rogue for help. So, yes, it looks like they weren't really dead after all. Using a piece of Teseract technology, they were able to activate it so it looks like the Xavier Mansion disappeared but is actually just phasing between two realities. In our world, the mansion cannot be seen but in an alternate spectrum of reality, it still exists as well as the people who live in it. They did this so they can freely operate and function undercover since everyone is after them these days, including the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury and his select operatives under his command are stuck with them as well. I'm not surprised by this development. Any species will do whatever it takes to survive and the X-Men's options have been dwindling at a steady, fast rate, especially since the Burnout is still looming over their heads. Spider-Man helps out and reassures them that he is on their side and can damn well keep a secret. In the midst of the fighting with the Sentinels, Rogue and Kurt were shocked to find Mystique aiding them. She asserts that she wants to join the X-Men in their crusade against the Burnout and whatever forces they have to overcome.

This brings us to issue #4, Stolen Lives, where Sabretooth and Moira MacTaggert have been kidnapped by Morlocks who are basically "magic" mutants. They've been living in the tunnels directly underneath the mansion and are apparently displeased when the X-Men decided to take their home and suspend it in constant phasing in an alternate reality. Who wouldn't? Anyway, they kidnap Moira so she can quickly find a cure for the burnout while under their scrutiny and supervision. Sabes was there for incentive so she won't even dare deny their requests. Distressed, Diana Dugan asks Fury and Scott to dispatch a rescue team for Moira and Sabretooth, but mostly for Sabes because, I shit you not, Diana seems to be falling in love with Sabes--genuinely and bafflingly, I may add. I understand that he rescued her and got his arm amputated but I expected a seasoned agent and spy like Diana would be more distrustful and callous than this. She's acting completely cliché, pining over a man who saved her and getting weepy about her feelings because she knows it's wrong to have them but screw it, she's going to be with him no matter what. It's just..weird. I had to pause reading just to laugh about it. On the other hand, Mystique is now in the mansion but nobody wants to trust her except Kurt who just found out she's his mother and is now eager to put his faith on her which I can hardly blame him for. Family still has to mean something especially during such troubled times. Fury with Jean and Kurt decide to interrogate her while the rest (Gambit, Kitty, Diana and Scott) decide to come after the Morlocks to save their friends. Ororo sneaked out to help them but only gets chased around after the leader of the Morlocks disfigured Gambit and Scott and made them his puppets.

This brings us to issue #5, Dead Reckoning. So Ororo is getting chased around and couldn't hurt her would-be assailants because they're no other than Scott and Gambit. Kitty comes to save Ororo while Diana gets Sabretooth and Moira. A battle breaks out in the tunnels between the two factions of mutants which was stopped when Diana shoots a gun in the air (shouldn't it ricochet?). She tries to talk some sense into the Morlocks, asking for their cooperation since they both have a singular enemy which is the Burnout. Moira further reinforces it by claiming that she will help finding a cure as long as the Morlocks agree on her terms and not hurt any of her friends. The Morlock leader agrees and sets Gambit and Scott free under his spell. So a peaceful arrangement was possible after all, thanks to the negotiations of these fine women--but it gets disrupted when a team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents (whom I will assume are working for the Consortium) tries to apprehend all of then. The X-Men managed to get away but the Morlocks were captured. Inside the mansion, Jean Grey tries to penetrate Mystique's mind but she's very resistant to telepathy and even mocks Jean by shapeshifting into the four men she loves the most: Scott, Hank, Logan and Charles. When she turned into Logan last, Jean became very infuriated and almost turned into the Phoenix right there and then and Mystique felt honestly afraid. Nevertheless, she wondered how she can turn this discovery to her advantage somehow. Kurt tried talking to her next but Rogue puts a stop to their conversation when she tries to choke the life out of Mystique so she can reveal her intentions under the threat of asphyxiation. Mystique tells her that she wants to reconnect with her and Kurt to make up for the awful things she has done in the past. To demonstrate that, she hugs Rogue tenderly, and--for the first time ever--they were both able to hold each other without the danger of Rogue sucking her powers. It was a touching moment. I can only hope Mystique does mean to do right by her children this time around.


With Mystique officially on the team and can use her shapeshifting to aid them in their missions, things are bound to get crazier (this is Claremont writing X-Men after all) but I also hope it'd be just as interesting too. I'm ready for another clusterfuck. LET"S DO THIS!!!

RECOMMENDED: 7.5/10