Oh yeah, I post here, don't I?
I've been a bit swamped by what I refer to lovingly as "Thesis-Ma-Geddon" and also trying to get a story ready for this quarter's Writers of the Future contest. Though I do have a new article in a spanking new issue of the Intergalactic Medicine Show. There are pictures in it so you should read it.
And, much like my bowels, things will be looking more regular without the stress of school come June.
In the meantime, though, here's some thoughts on a couple of X-Men stories.
‘Twas a time when nothing could topple the stranglehold the X-Men had on the comics world. Through the 80s and most of the 90s, the work of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Jim Lee and a multitude of others married traditional superhero sensibility with a prejudice, hatred and fear of the heroes. X-Men, looking back, was the great predictor for some of the best work ever done in comics, later in the 80s, when Alan Moore and Frank Miller, among others, explored the madness that superheroes would inevitably bring to the world. X-Men was the book every writer mined for ideas.
The big one is the classic “Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Published in Uncanny X-Men #141 and 142, (for a little context, the book has now passed 500 issues) this story was the first story I know of where someone travels back from a dark dystopian future to warn the people in the past that they have to somehow prevent that future from happening. In this case, it was a future overrun with Sentinel robots, who sought to eradicate mutants or keep them in prison camps, a future that had come about because an evil mutant, through a senator’s assassination, set off a wave of hysteria. The X-Men of the present’s storyline was pretty standard—fight the evil mutants, stop the assassination, and get out before anyone throws things at them. In the future, though, things were a different story as a group of mutants attempted to destroy the Sentinel Master Mold and were slaughtered. The classic Byrne-penned image of a Sentinel burning all of Wolverine’s flesh off, leaving only an unmoving metal skeleton, is burned (pun intended) into anyone’s mind who read the story. (Of course, it’s silly now to think Sentinel beam could kill the unstoppable Wolverine who has, in Marvel canon since 1981, survived reentry, been nuked, and regenerated from one drop of blood.)
The dialogue hasn’t aged as gracefully as I’d like it to have for my sentimental reasons, Writer Chris Claremont had a bad habit of having each character review their powers every few pages. “Razor-sharp adamantium claws emerge from Wolverine’s hands, slashing through even the strongest steel.” “Without this ruby quartz visor, beams of force from my eyes would burst out and destroy everything in my path.” But the plot still holds up, not only for the sheer visceral power, but the way in which it predicted so very many stories over the years.
On a totally more obscure note, Exiles: Down the Rabbit Hole is a ton of fun, even for those who haven’t read all the various spinoffs and crossovers and well… every X-Men comic, ever that they tie into. Basically, the Exiles are various characters from different universe incarnations of X-Men who have become “unstuck” in time. They must travel around writing wrongs in different timelines, often variations on our own Marvel Universe, which can be a ton of fun for the longtime fan. But the stories are still accessible to new fans. Some characters, Blink and and Morph are familiar from the “Age of Apocalypse” crossover, an alternate-universe dystopian crossover that channeled “Days of Future Past.” Others are plucked from other various timelines and stories. Thunderbird, a member of the X-Men long dead, is here a bionic horseman of the villain Apocalypse, Nocturne, Nightcrawler’s daughter, hails from a future of the modern X-Men comic.
The writing by Judd Winick (oddly enough, a former star of MTV’s the Real World) is funny and heartbreaking, as they must often face old teammates and deal with their isolation apart from everything they know. The art by Mike McKone is beautifully alive and animated without being cartoony, especially with the treat of seeing Morph turn into something different on nearly every panel. Plus, every few missions they lose a teammate, only to have them replaced by another from a random universe. It's sad!
This is one of the things about spinoffs in a big superhero universe like Marvel. With characters like Cyclops, Wolverine and Storm, who have become iconic figures, there is little that can be done to truly change the characters. But when a good writer gets ahold of some minor characters and actually invests them with depth and power, the story is more memorable than the main titles.