Graphic Novel Review: X-Men round-up

Death of X

Death of X - Credit: Archant

All-New X-Men Inevitable: Hell Hath So Much Fury Extraordinary X-Men: Kingdoms Fall The Death of X

Extraordinary X-Men: Kingdoms Fall

Extraordinary X-Men: Kingdoms Fall - Credit: Archant

(Panini Books)

Pity Marvel’s much-maligned mutants, the past few years haven’t been kind. Conspiracy theories suggest an editorial edict which has restricted the print profile of the X-Men while Fox Studios continued producing movies in competition to Marvel Studios’ own series of films, and whether you give credence to this or not, there’s no doubting the diminishing returns associated with the once profitable franchise.

It’s been suggested that Marvel wanted to raise the profile of their Inhumans characters as a viable alternative to mutants, as not only does the Kree-spawned genetic offshoot of humanity feature regularly on TV show Agents of SHIELD, but they’re set to star in their own big budget movie in the not-too distant future. The release of the Inhumans’ “mutagenic” Terrigen Mists, capable of unlocking the powers of any descendents of their race, has the unexpected consequence of proving fatal to mutants, and could wipe them from the face of the Earth. Meta or what?

But back to the X-Men, and reboot after re-launch, plot twist after retcon, nothing has really worked for the line-up in recent years, with Brian Michael Bendis’ run in particular sidelining many of the most popular characters to fulfil his own narrative direction. Now we’re a year into the latest volumes for the main series, and things are still floundering.

On the one hand we still have the time-tossed heroes of the original X-Men, as featured in the Inevitable title, now twisted and altered by their experiences in the present day, and then there’s the Extraordinary line-up, in so many ways reminiscent of an earlier team of X-Men, counting Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and a version of Wolverine among their ranks, but at the same time finding themselves based in the nightmarish dimension of Limbo, which doesn’t exactly prompt your average run of stories.

These latest instalments continue the ongoing plots established in earlier volumes, with the All-New team running into the Goblin Queen, aka the clone of Jean Grey and ex-wife of the now deceased older Cyclops. Yes, it’s as complicated as ever in the X-books this year, and you probably need Wikipedia close at hand to follow all of the background details in this title alone. The main thrust of this volume, however, is teen Hank McCoy’s realisation that he is hopelessly out of his depth when it comes to contemporary science, and his decision to explore the realms of magic as an alternative. It’s a surprising, but no less likely conclusion for the young Beast to make, and sets this incarnation of the character in a fresh direction which includes his mystical transformation into a parallel version of his older self’s blue and furry guise.

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Writer Dennis Hopeless, ably assisted by Mark Bagley on art, is doing things with this series that his predecessor Bendis had all the opportunities to achieve, but depressingly ignored. He might have set up a fascinating new premise for the X-Men, with their earlier versions brought into the present day, but he repeatedly failed to tell any stories which justified the big ideas of this initial concept. Hopeless, in contrast, seems to be delivering on every front.

That can’t quite be said for Jeff Lemire’s Extraordinary book, which has been saddled with the Limbo-located Jean Grey School shackle, and now finds itself floundering with anything to do with the idea beyond make it the target of numerous demonic attacks. Ho-hum.

In fact, it’s only when the team heads back to Earth, as in the hunt for the Apocalypse-corrupted Colossus featured in these issues, that it actually becomes any sort of interesting. The other plot thread, which sees Storm and Magik hunting young mutant Sapna through various adjacent dimensions, only to come into conflict with an ancient evil lurking in the shadows of reality, not only prompts contradictory comparisons to what’s happening in Doctor Strange these days, but just isn’t that interesting. Only the moral dilemma about what to do with the imprisoned Apocalypse, who claims to hold the solution to the X-Men’s sorcerous siege, has anything substantial going for it. Disappointing.

The main event in this latest collection of X-books, however, has to be The Death of X, which had the unenviable task of explaining what it was that caused a fundamental breach in relations between mutants and Inhumans in the eight months immediately after Secret Wars, but more importantly how Scott “Cyclops” Summers went from being a reactionary freedom fighter to loathed terrorist.

Unfortunately, there appears to have been some sort of editorial oversight in the preparation of this title, as it certainly doesn’t deliver on all of the previously mentioned plot threads, and instead leaves the reader thinking that someone didn’t properly brief writers Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule on what exactly they were supposed to be achieving from a narrative perspective.

So although we finally learn how the two superpowered factions came to blows over the deadly effects of the Terrigen Cloud on mutantkind, a consequence previously unknown to both factions, and discover what Scott did to so upset the Inhumans. Except nothing is as straightforward as it seems, there are plot twists which cast a new light on Summers’ motives, and he never actually does anything to warrant his despicable reputation in the X-books set after this series…

Although there are some great ideas and strong character moments in this book, the overarching storyline just doesn’t work, and after all the hype surrounding the X-Men’s “missing” eight months it really should have been so much better.