Saturday, 2 October 2010

Comics Pile Specal - X-Men: Second Coming

Tweeview:- "X-Men:SecondComing: A classic style X-Men event, done on a grand scale with some epic moments. Art is largely great"


Okay, unlike my other reviews where I do my best to avoid spoilers, I am just not going to bother here. Firstly because it would be next to impossible. Secondly, I'm reviewing the collected Hardcover edition of this event, and so there's little chance that you wouldn't know the key points and major outcomes if you're a comic fan, especially if you're an X-Men fan.

So here's your warning, here be spoilers. If you don't want to be spoiled, and have somehow remained so still, then don't bother reading this review.

Okay, now that they're gone, I'll begin.

X-Men: Second Coming is the third part in a trilogy of events that started with epic, game-changing Messiah CompleX, continued through the X-Force/Cable event Messiah War, and now concludes, as the 'mutant messiah' baby Hope, now a fully grown young woman, returns to the present with her guardian and father figure, Cable.

The story encompasses a vast range of the X-camp, bu mainly focuses on Hope and Cable, Scott Summers, and X-Force. The rest of the X-Men finally learn of the murderous team formed by Cyclops for covert wetworks missions, and some of the initial story points deal with the fallout of this.

Now, on the internet while the series was being released weekly across Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy, New Mutants and X-Force, some fans seemed upset by some points in this series, especially some of the major deaths. I'll go into these individually, but suffice to say, the X-Men find themselves at war, literally, and if there had been no deaths at all it would have been a let-down and would have ruined any idea of realism and drama in the story. The fact that there are also a fair number of mutilations in this series I take with a mixed kind of makes sense that even some survivors would be forever scarred in some way, but it also feels gratuitous and unnecessary at certain junctures.

Onto the plot. Scripting duties are shared out between Matt Fraction, Mike Carey, Zeb Wells and Chris Yost and Craig Kyle. They work well together; for the most part it's hard to tell who's writing which chapters, though Fraction and Carey stand out most as they have some of the most distinctive dialogue to give the characters. The whole piece kind of feels like a Yost and Kyle story, and feels very much like a wider scale X-Force adventure, which makes sense given the villains and the revelation of the team.

However, no matter how vast this story is, and it is vast, the revelation of the X-Force group and the disparate reactions of other X-Men feel ultimately unresolved and incomplete. It would have been nice to see Cyclops having to deal with it more, maybe even facing more dissension in the ranks, but obviously the main point of the story is finding out what Hope is capable of an if she is indeed the messiah they all hope for.

My other quibble with the plot is the use and portrayal of Bastion. Now, Operation: Zero Tolerance was one of the first major crossover X-Men events that I ever read, and was able to get in on the ground floor on, reading it as it progressed in the American issues. Bastion is frightening in his zealotry and being the embodiment of some of the worst features of humanity, despite not actually being human himself. In Second Coming however, he is all machine, and there is nothing of the cool terrifying sentience of the original Bastion here, except in maybe one or two scenes handled by Fraction and Carey, and also at the very end.

As much as I realise that he was merged with a Nimrod unit, it felt a shame that the lead villain was essentially a computer intelligence and came across as such. Luckily, Bastion's cadre of fascists and anti-mutant hate mongers more than make up for it.

Which kind of brings me to why this is a great, classic X-Men storyline, done in the classic vein. This story feels very much like the culmination of decades of stories about the X-Men facing off against a humanity that would rather see them dead. This is a story about the hate and bigotry that those that are different face, and the dark futures that hatred and genocide spawn. And when, ultimately, the forces of the oppressed rally together, not just saving themselves but also the normal, average people around them, it feels like a fitting end to those stories, and that the X-Men can finally move on.

Grant Morrison kind of started doing something similar in his seminal New X-Men run. His stories were still the classic X-Men stories about bigotry and minority groups, but it was told from a different angle; the minority group culture becoming mainstream, the 'coming out of the closet' and rallying Rights movements. But they were all still essentially 'classic' stories; there was a bigotry one, a genocide one, a space one and a dark future one.

Here however, the story ends with a sense that these kinds of tales may finally be put to rest, and that the stories will move forward. Yes, the X-Men will continue to face those that would destroy them, but the motivations of these villains may be different now, as the X-Men finally finish off the threat of bigotry against them.

All in all, I loved this story. It was great to read, and had a wonderful end that felt like the future for the series held so many different possibilities. But there were those that weren't so keen, and the main reason is the two major deaths of popular characters. I'm now going to go into them, so last warning, if you don't want to know, do not read on.

The first major death was the sad loss of Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler has been a major part of the X-Men cast for decades in the comics, and was always a firm fan favourite. He was also the heart and spirit of the group, with his deeply moving religious struggles, and he was also a symbol of innocence for the X-Men in how he made everything seem like an adventure and always seemed to be having fun.

He had however been a little out of the spotlight lately, appearing sporadically in the comics in maybe an arc or odd issue. Many fans felt that he was brought into the spotlight in this series just to be a high profile death, and I can see why they could feel this way. As I mentioned, he'd barely been touched upon and had little in the way of a fully formed character arc in some time, only to be brought in as the voice of conscience and innocence for the team, and then be lost.

I think it is a shame that the character has been in the shadows for so long only to come to die at this point, but frankly, it couldn't really have been anyone else. After finding out about X-Force, Nightcrawler is shocked and appalled, but continues on like a good soldier, and he seems to struggle with the knowledge. Sadly, we don't see much of this struggle but it is implied, and well it should be. The death of Nightcrawler thus signals a loss of innocence for the team as they realise that they too can be capable of murder, and all mourn the loss of this innocence. Ultimately, this reignites the sense of moral conscience in all the team, which comes into play at the epilogue; and it also serves to bring Wolverine back to the point of nearly ever-present murderous rage that made him an unstable and interesting character to begin with.

The second major death was Cable. However, with the death of Cable I can see why many fans were left cold by it. It was badly telegraphed not just in the early chapters of the story but also in the promotional material that Marvel were putting out before the story started. As a result, his death was obvious and felt like a mere formality to get on with the story. Thus, Cable's death, though important and emotionally motivating for the characters, feels trivialised and inevitable to the readers.

I would have to say that this may not be the fault of the writers, but maybe higher up within Marvel. If the promotional material didn't make it so blatant, maybe the telegraphing wouldn't have seemed so obvious, and Cable's death may have struck an emotional chord with readers too.

However, all in all, the plot is damn near perfect. It's vast, spread out, and yet urgent, and feels like the ultimate showdown it should be. Hell, they could have easily made this the end of the X-Men entirely if they had so decided.

As for the art, the artistic chores are also spread out between Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson, Greg Lad and Mike Choi and Sonia Oback. There are also bookends to the series by Stuart Immonen, David Finch, and Esad Ribic, and a wonderful little assist in one issue by Lan Medina and Nathan Fox.

As a whole, the art is great, and everyone for the most part is one the top of their game. But as you can probably tell from my choice of words, there is a weak link.

Ibraim Roberson's art is nice, straightforward and tells the story perfectly. He makes an excellent month-by-month artist. Sadly, compared to the other artists though, his art feels the least accomplished and thought out, and sometimes looks static and cold. There's a definite sense of one to watch here, but he doesn't feel up to his A game yet, unlike the others.

Now, I bet some of you thought I was going to say the weak link was Greg Land. I normally agree with the internet folks who like to diss Land's work for it's gratuitous use of referencing, in particular when he appears to be simply tracing from pictures (worse yet when he appears to be tracing from porn pictures). For example, Land's work on major Ultimate Marvel event, Supreme Power, was filled with so many porno style faces; all women had a 'Cock goes where?' expression, and all men had a 'eeech, cummming!' look, it wound up making what was meant to be a serious event come across as a farce. However, here Land serves up some brilliant artwork. There seems little evidence of tracing, rather simple harmless referencing, which all artists do to some extent. His action sequences flow much better, and frankly it's some of the nicest work he's put out in ages.

Terry Dodson's more stylised cartoonish style manages to be very different yet fit wonderfully, and looks as gorgeous as ever. And Mike Choi and Sonia Oback produce some of their best art ever; in fact, it's them that have to deal with both major death scenes, and they do so with ease. Nightcrawler's is by far the best, handled with such care and warmth as the character deserves.

The assist by Nathan Fox and Lan Medina is a welcome surprise in the latter end of the series, as the more indie comic style art takes us inside the head of Legion and seems like a perfect choice for it. In fact, I could have happily seen more of it!

The book ends too largely look great, with Immonen and Ribic delivering some wonderfully detailed and poignant scenes with ease. David Finch's issue to kick off the event is a little odd to look at sometimes, with some peculiar anatomy and faces, but is largely gritty, powerful and heroic.

Finally, the presentation of the hardcover's epic. You get loads for your money in this book, not just the main series but some nice extras and all the covers too, all beautifully laid out and reprinted. It's one of the nicest collections this year, only just being trumped by the Batwoman GN released earlier this year.

So all in all, X-Men: Second Coming is a must read, featuring some of the best writers and best artists around, and is well worth forking out the large sum of cash for.

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