Event Fatigue: Second Coming

Second Coming
Written by Zeb Wells, Mike Carey, Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Matt Fraction
Art by Ibriam Roberson, Esad Ribic, Greg Land, Terry Dodson

If you are wanting to jump into some of the most dense, hard to navigate continuity in comics today then look no further than Marvel’s X-Men titles (New Mutants, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy, X-Force, X-Factor). The X-Men characters have always seem to occupied their own little corner of the Marvel Universe, only occasionally linking up with characters like the Avengers and Spider-Man. So, when an event goes down amongst the mutant community its always very self-contained but rarely simple. The most recent event, Second Coming was all about the rebirth of the mutant race. Five years ago, Magneto’s daughter, Scarlet Witch used her reality bending powers to erase the majority of mutant powers from the face of the earth, leaving only 200 mutants left. Over the next few years, some of these mutants died and the creeping fear that their species would be wiped spread over the community. That is until one new mutant was born.

The X-Men rushed to Alaska, where the new mutant registered on their computers. Other competing groups of mutants, and anti-mutant hate groups were their competition. In the end they learned the mutant was an infant whose powers manifested at birth, defying all the medical knowledge that had gathered about mutant genes. Present day was deemed too dangerous for the baby girl, named Hope, so Cable, Cyclops’ warrior son from the future, took the baby with him on a roulette journey through time, staying one step ahead of their enemies. Once Hope was fifteen, she decided that she wanted to return to her time period to rejoin her people and learn what it was to be a mutant. Her arrival alerted Bastion, another time traveler and cyborg who was programmed specifically to wipe the mutant race from the Earth.

Since Cable had left, Cyclops had established a haven for mutant on the island Utopia, off the coast of San Francisco. Here they fended off attacks from forces that wished them dead, and Cyclops formed X-Force, a black ops team led by Wolverine that drew first blood on their enemies. This would be seen as a complete 180 from the dream Professor Xavier hoped for, so Cyclops kept it secret from the majority of mutants, even his long time lover Emma Frost. When Cable and Hope dropped on the East Coast, expecting the X-Men to still be there X-Force was dispatched, along with staples Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. A battle on the freeway ended with Nightcrawler being killed and Cyclops’ bloody secret being revealed. Storm was disgusted, and Beast could no longer consider Cyclops a friend or ally. Hope and Cable eventually got to Utopia, where Bastion erected an impenetrable globe around the island and San Francisco. Portals opened inside, releasing Sentinels, mutant-killing robots on the population.

X-Force went on one final mission to the future, where these Sentinels were being dispatched and destroyed the Mastermold which made them. In the present, Hope unlocked her power and completely disintegrated Bastion and his forces. Cable, who went with X-Force, realizes that they are unable to return to the present unless he allows a technovirus that has plagued him his entire life to be unleashed. By allowing his body to become non-organic he hold the portal open and X-Force jumps through. Once on the other side Cable’s body crumbles and Hope is left to mourn the death of her adoptive father. A bonfire memorial is held that night on Utopia to the mutants that fell, and it is here Emma Frost witnesses the source of Hope’s power: The Phoenix Force. Suddenly around the globe hundreds of mutant genes are activated in humans and the mutant race is saved. Emma realizes in this moment that Hope is the reincarnation of Jean Grey, Cyclops’ late wife and that its only a matter of time until Emma loses him to her.

This series would be near impossible for someone without a dense familiarity to enjoy. I’ve read over four hundred issues of Uncanny X-Men in my life and it was still tricky for me to follow. It’s also built on seeds planted by Brian Michael Bendis five years ago in The House of M event, wherein Scarlet Witch erases a ton of mutants. It would also be a tricky event to follow if you hadn’t read the most recent two year long Cable ongoing series which followed the development of Hope. AND if you hadn’t read a few arcs of the recent two year X-Force ongoing you’d not understand why everyone freaks out when they find out what Wolverine has been up to with Cyclops. In many ways, this is the definition of a completely new reader inaccessible story. I think there’s definitely a place for rewarding loyal readers by pulling in a dump truck load of plot points, but the X-Men rarely open their doors for new readers to easily jump on. The next event has already started, the SAME WEEK Second Coming ended! While the latest event, Fall of the Mutants, is a little more accessible, it still makes me wonder what happens when the current fans die. They aren’t doing a good job of nurturing new fans.

Event Fatigue: The Thanos Imperative

The Thanos Imperative: Ignition
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Brad Walker

The Thanos Imperative #1,2
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Miguel Sepulveda

The year I really got into reading comics seriously (1991) was the same year Marvel released the epic mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet. At the time, it was just a really cool cosmic story with all the big Marvel superheroes (Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, etc.) battling a cosmic despot named Thanos who had gathered the Infinity Gems, jewels imbued with great power and sought to sacrifice existence to Death, his lover. He actually succeeded, destroying reality, with a few heroes saved inside a pocket with him. Captain America eventually got his hands on the Gauntlet and brought back all of creation and Thanos was exiled. For years since, Thanos has returned, seeking the sweet relief of Death, which is what he believes is perfection. About five years ago he was finally killed off, but it seems someone doesn’t want him to have the rest he craves.
For the last six years, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been redefining the cosmic elements of the Marvel Universe. Starting with a mini-event called Annhilation, they brought together The Silver Surfer, Thanos, Nova (think Marvel’s Green Lantern), and many more to tell a story that created a status quo for the space faring characters. Since then there have been two more Annhilation mini-series, a War of Kings storyline, and then a Realm of Kings storyline. It sounds like a lot, but instead of doing monthly series its all been pretty much contained to 3 to 6 issue minis. Along the way Nova has gotten his own ongoing, and some of the characters have assembled into a team known as The Guardians of the Galaxy, but its the sort of epic crossover event that isn’t taking up a billion titles and becoming too complex to follow. Abnett and Lanning really cut their teeth on handling a huge cast with DC Comics’ Legion of Super-Heroes in the 90s, a futuristic science fiction series featuring over two dozen adolescent metahumans and aliens. What they’re doing at Marvel is taking all these disparate elements that made up the cosmos and finding logical connections that make the whole thing much more cohesive.

Storywise things kicked off when the Inhumans, an earthbound race of people genetically modified by aliens decided to track down their creators and usurp them. Their creators were the Kree Empire, a militaristic society devastated during the aforementioned Annihilation storylines. The Inhuman leader Black Bolt took the throne of the Kree Empire and went to war with neighboring Sh’iar Empire. If you are familiar with your X-Men comics, you’ll know the Shi’ar are partially responsible for poor Jean Grey becoming the Phoenix. At this point in time, the Sh’iar were ruled by Vulcan aka Gabriel Summers, brother of Cyclops. Vulcan was a cruel leader and he and Black Bolt clashed in a epic battle that ended with them both dying and a tear forming in space. Over the next few months, both the Kree and Shi’ar dispatched vessels to probe this growing tear in space time and what they found was parallel universe where death no longer existed. Sounds good, right? Well, the way death was nullified appears to be through some sort of arcane pact with Lovecraftian elder gods. Now the forces of this parallel reality are swarming into the Marvel Universe attempting to “bless” them with undeath. When you have a character like Thanos who has a bizarre romantic relationship with the embodiment of Death there’s bound to be some conflict.

The first thing that stands out about the three pieces of these mini-series so far is the stellar artwork. There’s a two page spread in Thanos Imperative #2 that involves joined fleets of Kree, Shi’ar, other species, Galactus, The monolithic Celestials, and other cosmic beings battling the enemy fleet emerging from the tear in space. Its one of those moments where a still image is anything but static. Despite the lack of sound in real space, you can hear the unloading of thousands of laser cannons, energy blast explosions, and all out cosmic war. The Silver Surfer is drawn in a very interesting way as well by Sepulveda. He is almost featureless, his face simply a blank silver head and it really works. The effort has always been to humanize the Surfer but I like the idea of really making him alien and distant. The level of power he possess should eventually make him feel that he has little in common with mortals.

The series has shown great pacing and made its shocking reveals perfect. Every issue so far has ended on a well earned cliffhanger that’s making me chomp at the bit for the next issue. It was also a brilliant idea for the ongoing series of Nova and The Guardians of the Galaxy to go on hiatus till the end of this mini series. It helps avoid the glut of cross overs that fill space until we can get back to the core of the story. Because these are not core Marvel characters the stakes actually feel high. Reading an earthbound Marvel title, you know that Iron Man isn’t going die and that Spider-Man will make it out alive. With these characters you know its not beyond the possibility that they could die, that the heroes could lose. Because of the quality of work of Abnett and Lanning with the Marvel cosmic line so far I have huge confidence in this story to deliver. It’s definitely worth your time and puts a lot of summer blockbuster films to shame.

Event Fatigue: Shadowland

Shadowland #1
Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Billy Tan

Daredevil #508
Written by Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston
Art by Robert de la Torre

A few months ago if you had told me I would be excited to read the new issues of Daredevil I would have said you were nuts. Daredevil has been one of those characters that never clicked with me, not even the critically acclaimed Frank Miller run or Bendis’ over 100 issues on the series. Blind lawyer vigilante just never appealed. However, Andy Diggle’s current run on the character seems like a shift towards a very interesting change in the fundamental aspects of Daredevil. The once by the books lawyer has abandonded the law in favor of pure street justice and has walled in Hell’s Kitchen, turning into Shadowland, his realm under his protection. And those who get in his way will die.

It began with Norman Osborn. The former Green Goblin assumed control of America’s top security forces after saving the world from an alien invasion and some epic PR. Put in charge of SHIELD, renamed HAMMER, Osborn set out to turn New York’s heroes into criminals in the eyes of the public. HAMMER agents were told to target an tenement in Hell’s Kitchen labeled as a hiding place of the notorious ninja clan known as The Hand. The building was firebombed and 100 innocent people were killed. Daredevil blamed himself for not being able to protect his fellow residents of the Kitchen and pledged himself to The Hand, his long time enemies. They promoted him to the leader of the clan, over all else, and along with his lieutenants Black Tarantula and White Tiger they drove the NYPD from his kingdom. Unbeknownst to Daredevil, the other leadership in The Hand are pushing him down this path in an effort to unleash a level of power their group has never experienced. In the background Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin is slowly reassembling his crime cartel after being released from a long stay in prison.

The events of these first two parts finds Luke Cage and Iron Fist, two fellow street level heroes venturing into Shadowland to talk to Daredevil, who has distanced himself in the preceding months. What they find is that he is unwelcoming to any interference. Just around this time, Daredevil’s arch nemesis Bullseye arrives, newly escaped from a prison transport. How Daredevil deals with his longtime enemy shows Cage and Iron Fist just how different their old friend is. Foggy Nelson, Daredevil’s former law partner and Dakota North, a private eye and former lover of Daredevil, drive to the borders of Shadowland but are stopped by White Tiger and some Hand agents. As the two leave they are attacked and their card explodes due to a masked archer on the rooftops. Needless to say things are getting worse and worse in Hell’s Kitchen.

The idea of making Daredevil a villainous figure is very intriguing to me, and the main reason I have started reading this current run of the series. The blind superhero part of Daredevil/Matt Murdock has always been a yawn for me. What is more interesting is the fact that he is/was a lawyer. How does a man who has devoted himself to the law justify vigilantism to himself. The Shadowland story is revealing how years of tragedy (the murders of Elektra and Karen Page first and foremost) have scarred Murdock. The embrace of some of his worst enemies in The Hand, while pushing away his closest friends marks a major change in the psyche of the character. This is one of those character arcs that you can’t see them coming away from the same every again. In many ways this is probably as close as we would get to a storyline where Batman takes over the Gotham crime families, a story that would be amazing.

Next up: Shadowland #2 in August!