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X-Men Reload: Remember When...?

 

(The following was presented as a companion to the inaugural, two-part installment of my column of commentary for The Comics Journal's print edition, and was posted to the website with the release of TCJ #263.)

The end of Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men marked the final stage of an experiment first begun at the behest of Marvel executives Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada some four years ago, an attempt to make the company's flagship line more attractive to newer readers. Morrison in particular performed some amazing transformations upon the X-Men: abandoning the traditional Spandex costumes, outing Professor Xavier as mentor of the X-Men and his school as their headquarters, providing said school with a full 200+ member student body, and generally dialing back on the superhero clichés and giving the series a new, more science-fiction-oriented emphasis.

Morrison significantly changed the world in which the X-Men operated as well. He destroyed the island nation of mutants known as Genosha, seemingly killing off arch-enemy Magneto in the process, only to later reveal that Magneto had been hiding among the X-Men in disguise as Xorn, a mutant with a star for a head and the ability to heal with a touch. Once revealed, Magneto proceeded to destroy first the Xavier Academy, then much of Manhattan before being thwarted by the X-Men and — after killing off Jean Grey again — unambiguously murdered by Wolverine. After a final riff on the ever-popular "Days of Future Past" motif, Professor X leaves the school, and Scott Summers and Emma Frost decide to soldier on as headmasters in his absence. If the Internet buzz is any indication, Morrison's run on New X-Men seemed to have attracted a significant number of readers who ordinarily wouldn't be caught dead reading an X-book. I should note that I was one of them.

Alas, we weren't enough to hold Marvel's interest, and the new market for X-Men comics and graphic novels apparently never arrived, which means it's time to hit the reboot button and return things to the way they were. Given the changes Morrison made, it's actually something of a significant task, but never mind that: Having decided to dance with those that brung 'em, Marvel is currently dolling itself up to be the very spitting image of the girl its audience first fell in love with as teenagers. Nostalgia is the name of the game, here: The primary Direct Market readership is between 25 and 35 years of age, and is looking for the same junkie thrill they first experienced as young nerds reading comics. Now that Marvel has finally decided which side of the fence it needs to be on, the company is bound and determined to give the readership what it wants. The end result is "X-Men Reload," a marketing campaign centered around the Big Reboot.

Are any of the resulting books any good? How high is the nostalgia factor, anyway? To answer these questions, I spent a small chunk of Gary Groth and Kim Thompson's money on the first two months or so of the post-Morrison X-titles. Work, circumstances and the need to maintain my own sanity kept me from buying and reading beyond that, but I think what I've read is sufficient to provide a proper snapshot of Marvel's post-experiment editorial philosophy. (Okay, there's one exception to that assertion, the new X-Force series by Fabian Niceiza and Rob Liefeld. Fantagraphics just doesn't pay me enough to endure that kind of pain.) So what does the post-Morrison X-Men family look like? Let's start with the books published immediately after Morrison's departure, but before the start of the big "Reload" campaign....

 

New X-Men #155-156
Written by Chuck Austen, illustrated by Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki
Nostalgia level: 6 out of 10

Notable mainly for not being awful. Before finally walking away from the House That Jack Built muttering inane clichés about "artistic expression" or some such, writer and cartoonist Chuck Austen had been pilloried by fans for being one of Marvel's worst writers. It's not an unjustified reputation, either. Austen's comics are noteworthy for their embarrassing plot holes and ridiculous contrivances, the cataloging of which has forced online critic Paul O'Brien to dizzying new heights of creativity. This two-issue story, however, has the very modest goal of placing a capstone upon former writer Grant Morrison's run of the series, and perhaps due to the limited mandate, Austen manages to observe the first law of the Hippocratic Oath and do no harm.

Well, almost no harm. Remember in the previous issue, when Scott Summers agreed to Emma Frost's proposal to reopen Xavier's school? Apparently Austen saw the art for the last few pages before they were lettered, since in the subsequent arc Summers decided he doesn't want to reopen the school after all. In these two issues, Austen throws a bunch of events at the uptight mutant to convince him to change his mind and stay on — if I told you it ended with Summers holding a dead mutant child in his arms, would you hold the last paragraph's opening sentence against me? For all that, it's really not bad as such things go, but you have to forget that the entire two-issue arc was pointless to begin with to really give Austen credit for writing it.

The art is pedestrian and serviceable to the task at hand.

 

X-Treme X-Men #46
Written by Chris Claremont, illustrated by Igor Kordey, Greg Adams, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Pepoy
Nostalgia level: 10 out of 10

As I noted above, the principal purpose of the "X-Men Reload" initiative is nostalgia, and this final issue of of X-Treme X-Men offers the promised experience in spades.

For the past few years, Claremont has served as something of a safety valve for Marvel's experiments in X-Men rejuvenation. Regardless of how convinced many diehard fans became that Grant Morrison and Chuck Austen were doing unwholesome things to their favorite storytelling environment, X-Treme X-Men was always there to provide them with their daily sustenance. The basic set-up of the series — that Storm and her compatriots disliked the way X-Mansion had changed in recent times, and had consequently run off to do things The Way They Were Supposed To Be Done — was geared to stroke precisely the most conservative elements of the fanbase. Of all the various permutations of recent X-books, this series was always the most deceptively named. I suppose Safe-As-Milk X-Men probably wouldn't have gone down well with the readers, but it certainly would have been more honest.

This issue's minimal story involves Claremont's band of anti-Morrison refugees returning to New York to assist in the clean-up after Magneto all but destroys Manhattan. Despite the seeming momentousness of such an activity, it takes all of six pages, leaving plenty of time for us to wallow in this issue's real purpose: hangin' out with the X-Men as they sit around and chat. The occasional plot-point is resolved — Gambit lost his powers some time back, so two other characters get together and restore them with a process that they seemingly could've used at any time, choosing to wait until now for no other reason than that It's Time To Reload — but this is really a just a distraction from the issue-length chance to bask in the glow of our collective youthful diversions.

For the most part, this issue does its job amiably enough, but you can't have a Claremont book without the Claremontisms. Case in point: Storm has apparently been to Japan, and according to her teammates is now once again letting her freak flag fly. For the moment, let's ignore that the writer is recycling this painfully old and well-worn plot point. Even so, I gotta tell you — for a woman who grew up a thief in Africa, Storm has some of the most boosh-wah character conflicts imaginable. The first time Claremont pulled this stunt, it basically amounted to the character getting a mohawk and wearing lots of leather. I had friends who dressed in similar fashion, once upon a time, and every last one of them was an imagination-starved, middle-class joiner who naïvely assumed that dolling himself up as a punk-rocker was the gateway to a fascinating new personality. It's the sort of empty gesture that leads people to suspect television as being the culprit, and more often than not they're absolutely correct. Storm hasn't even gone that far this time, leading me to wonder exactly what all the fuss is about. Is she secretly knocking over liquor stores or something? My suspicion is that it all amounts to either enjoying more wild sex, or feeling mildly less guilty about the wild sex she currently enjoys.

All in all, it feels like Claremont's just going through the motions here, and why not? He's been writing X-Men comics for some 25 years now, and at this point has a ready arsenal of tried-and-true storytelling tropes that can be plugged into the pages as circumstance requires. More to the point, there's no reason for him to do anything else. The fans want their classic X-Men, and Claremont is in a unique position to deliver the goods. Chris Claremont is "classic X-Men." One of these days, advances in artificial intelligence will lead to the existence of a proper Chris Claremont Storytelling Generator, and then fans will be able to hang out with their imaginary best friends, Kitty and Storm and Gambit and Rogue and all the others, well into old age, safe in the womb-like security of an environment as consistent as their favorite meal.

 

New Mutants #13
Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, illustrated by Khary Randolph and Rich Perotta
Nostalgia level: 9 out of 10

The cover shows the surviving, original New Mutants together again, and the story delivers what the cover promises: an opportunity to watch our heroes hang out together and go on one last adventure before splitting up for their various Reload assignments. Like X-Treme X-Men #46, it does the job in satisfactory fashion — DeFilippis and Weir have a solid handle on what makes these characters work together, and are saddled with none of Chris Claremont's many, many defects as a writer. The results are pleasant enough. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call the characterization three-dimensional, but then neither the plot nor the mood to which the story aspires really requires more than what is provided. The art is cartoony and expressive: This isn't reflected on the cover, but it could be worse. Of all the books under review here, I suspect that this issue's creators would be the least offended if I refered to their work as a satisfactory children's comic. I've grown out of this sort of thing, but I'd heartily recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet.

 

Uncanny X-Men #442-443
Written by Chuck Austen, illustrated by Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki
Nostalgia level: 5 out of 10

Now this is what I call a crappy comic-book story. Let me tell you everything that happens in these two issues, for the express purpose of helping you resist any urge you may have to buy them yourself.

Nick Fury — drawn by Larroca and Miki to resemble a petulant college dude with a bad haircut and an eyepatch — flies Professor Xavier and Wolverine back to the ruins of Genosha so Magneto can be buried. He's none too happy with the assignment, and abandons them on the island as soon as they arrive. Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, the X-Men are cleaning up some of the more picturesque wreckage left behind by Magneto. Back to Genosha: Professor X begins to eulogize Magneto, before Wolverine interrupts him to note the obvious moral disconnect involved in such a speech: "The man just murdered — in cold bloodhundreds of innocent people," Wolverine says.

Wolverine kicks Magneto's coffin over. This summons some of Magneto's disciples among the Genoshan survivors, who decide that now's as good a time as any to pick a fight. Meanwhile, back at the Avenger's curiously pristine Manhattan mansion, Polaris, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch all agree that being Magneto's kid is a real bummer. Back to Genosha: Wolverine kicks his allotted amount of ass for the issue and then, to emphasize his point, climbs a Sentinel refashioned into a likeness of Magneto and...

...okay, a brief pause, here. The Sentinel in question is the lifeless husk of one of the machines that destroyed Genosha in the first arc of New X-Men, comparable in size to the Statue of Liberty — maybe a little bigger. Following that arc, a group of X-Men returned to Genosha and discovered that Magneto's henchman The Toad and a few of his buddies were reshaping said Sentinel's face to resemble their allegedly fallen leader as a memorial. This part is important: The X-Men confront the Toadies inside the head of the Sentinel, for it is big enough for two good-sized groups of people to stare each other down and still have room for dramatic staging.

Back to the story at hand. Wolverine sticks his claws into the outer housing of the Sentinel-turned-Magneto statue, and slides down the front, cutting the Sentinel in half and causing it to collapse.

Think about that. Wolverine's claws are no longer than the length of his forearms, since that's where they're housed when retracted. (Okay, there are panels where Larroca draws 'em to be longer than Wolverine's arms altogether, which must make bending the elbow a real bitch, but work with me here.) By making one cut down the big robot's length, no deeper than its outer shell, Wolverine causes an object big enough to pick a fight within to completely collapse, literally splitting in two as he slides down its body. From this, we can conclude that it's no wonder the X-Men were able to defeat the Sentinels time and time again: Obviously, they were constructed from the eggshells of inbred, anemic hummingbirds. Putting an exclamation point on his actions, Wolverine strikes a dramatic, crouching pose for the benefit of his observers when he hits the ground, the mark of a true tough guy.

Now, you'd think that this physics-bending display of destruction would be enough to cow all concerned into silence, but no, Toad responds by wrapping his mutant tongue around Wolverine's neck. Wolverine cuts it off, and is about to slice the renegade mutant in half like a forty-foot-deep giant robot when Polaris intercedes — apparently, she can travel from Manhattan to the South Pacific in a matter of minutes — and offers to play "devil's advocate" on Magneto's behalf. End of chapter one, and I suppose being Magneto's daughter isn't that big a bummer, after all.

Uncanny X-Men #443 picks up where we left off last issue, with various Genoshians bowing down before Polaris, providing an opportunity for some subtle cameltoe action in a worm's-eye-view panel. Denying that she is their new queen, Polaris namechecks the Stockholm Effect to explain the Genoshans' subservience to Magneto for the benefit of Professor Xavier and Wolverine, and all in all spends some five pages defending Magneto by pointing out that humans built the Sentinels, and therefore deserved what they got in Manhattan despite the nagging fact that it was actually Xavier's mutant-ish twin sister who launched the attack that destroyed Genosha. Xavier replies with a three-page speech about how genocide is always wrong, prompting Polaris to threaten to kill Xavier. When he offers up no resistance, she gives in and uses her magnetic powers to rebuild the Sentinel that Wolverine destroyed, this time giving it both Xavier's head and Magneto's now-angelic, unmasked head. Satisfying denoument now achieved, everybody walks away, leaving Xavier to make a wistful bon mot to Magneto's corpse. The end.

It took two full issues to tell this blitheringly stupid story. If you actually bought both of them for any purpose other than mocking Chuck Austen in public, please take a moment from your busy schedule, find a felt-tipped marker and write "SUCKER" on your forehead in big block letters. The people around you need to be warned.

 

Astonishing X-Men #1-2
Written by Joss Whedon, illustrated by John Cassaday
Nostalgia level: 7 out of 10

Having dispensed with the immediate post-Morrison books, let's move on to the products of the actual Reload campaign. Marvel had something of a minor problem in replacing Morrison, though it probably wasn't keeping the editors awake at night worrying about it. After all, you could basically say that Chuck Austen's entire run on Uncanny X-Men was devoted to proving once and for all that you could throw a typewriter and a few sheets of paper at a trained monkey, illustrate the results, and the hardcore X-fans would still eat it up and ask for more. That said, Morrison's contribution to the series was imaginative enough that unless the company snagged at least one genuine A-list writer, the rebooted line was going to look and feel pretty lackluster. No matter what they did to the rest of the mutant books, one of them had to be interesting enough to make the inevitable comparisons to what had come before seem at least somewhat favorable.

In the end Marvel chose writer Joss Whedon, creator of the cult-hit television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for the job. As these two issues demonstrate, it was an inspired choice.

The storytelling is "decompressed," as superhero fans unfamiliar with manga or Cerebus refer to extended moment-to-moment comics storytelling, so summing up the contents of these first two installments is fairly easy. Kitty Pryde returns to X-mansion to join Cyclops' new team of mutants. The next morning, Wolverine picks a fight with Cyclops over his relationship with Emma Frost. The rest of the team drags them to the Danger Room to chill out — it's here that Cyclops proposes a return to superhero costumes. Later that night, a superpowered villain and assorted henchmen interrupt a high-society gathering and take the participants hostage, prompting the X-Men to suit up and fly to Manhattan to intercede by force. While they're doing this, a respected scientist named Dr. Kavita Rao holds a press conference in which she announces that she's found the cure to the genetic strain that causes mutations in human beings. Upon completion of their rescue mission, the X-Men learn of this, and return to X-mansion to deal with how this news affects the student body. There's a minor confrontation between Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde. Later that night, Hank McCoy breaks into Dr. Rao's laboratory ... and asks her if the formula really works.

Laid out like that, it doesn't sound like enough to fill out two whole issues, does it? It works nonetheless, and this is largely due to Whedon's very capable handling of characterization, mood and pacing in the service of a simple, well-told story. The character interactions in particular are the major attraction of Whedon's writing. They read with a smooth naturalism that recalls dialogue between actual people, using mannerisms and thoughtfully-assigned motivations to create an engaging rapport both between the characters and with the reader. Astonishing X-Men has what the rappers call flow, and it plays no small part in leaving the reader genuinely curious as to what happens on the next page.

The contrast with Grant Morrison's first two issues of New X-Men are instructive. Morrison's run started out with a bang, shifting quickly back and forth between scenes and tossing out wild ideas and restless novelty like they were confetti. Rereading Morrison's first story arc, I'm impressed by just how seldom it stood still. Whedon, by contrast, shuffles in like a college student returning home for summer vacation. After a brief opening teaser for the story to come, his reintroduction of Kitty Pryde to X-mansion feels like a superhero version of The Big Chill, with our heroine wandering the halls and fondly remembering her previous life as a superhero, before joining her teammates in X-Menland for a student orientation.

(In fact, Whedon's usage of this character deserves special note. I've heard it mentioned — I forget the source of the quote — that Kitty Pryde was many a fanboy's "first girlfriend," and the skills that Whedon developed while writing female characters for Buffy get put to good use in reintroducing her as such here. She's simultaneously sure of herself and unsure what she's doing with a superhero fighting team, unusually calm and collected for a twentysomething woman yet still occasionally betraying the winsome nature of an earnest, Midwestern teenage girl. I strongly suspect that she'll play a major role in any fanbase the series gathers.)

Where Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon meet is in their reverence for the source material. Like New X-Men, an obvious love for the environment first established by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne exudes from the pages of the Whedonized version of the series. The comparison ends there, but Whedon manages not to look the smaller for it. Wisely sidestepping the futuristic pop-culture snap that Morrison injected into the longrunning mutant soap opera — an act one suspects he probably couldn't have matched — Whedon instead wanders amiably amongst the collected memories of an army of longtime fans, concentrating on emblems and tropes that have worked for decades and making them shine with the skill of a master young-adult novelist. Even the reintroduction of the costumes, an edict handed down from on high, feels right when presented in the warm and fuzzy atmosphere of longtime familiarity, and the bullshit explanation for same that Whedon puts in Cyclops' mouth be damned. Also, the captions are kept to an absolute minimum, which is a welcome antidote to anyone reading the current Chris Claremont version of the series.

John Cassaday's art and Laura Martin's coloring complete the circuit, adding a nuanced realism that gives weight and depth to the sense of passable reality. It won't be a revelation to any Planetary reader, of course, but one can almost imagine the average Marvel zombie's eyeballs popping with the turn of every page.

Astonishing X-Men reads like good escapist television, which one would imagine was rather the point of hiring Joss Whedon in the first place. It's not New X-Men — there's nothing really new about any of this — but if any of the Reloaded X-books manages to appeal to the people who only started reading due to Grant Morrison, it'll be this one.

 

Uncanny X-Men #444-446
Written by Chris Claremont, illustrated by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer
Nostalgia level: 9 out of 10

One of the better, albeit arbitrary, edicts from the former Bill Jemas regime involved a de-emphasis on captions and thought-balloons. I haven't read enough Marvel comics over the last three years to tell you how strictly this was enforced, so I can't speak to what extent it actually resulted in better comics, but it seems like a reasonable assumption to me. Robbed of the two most convenient forms of omniscient narration and expository monologue, your average funnybook writer would, it stands to reason, be forced to place more of a given story's functional plot into things that the characters actually do and say, resulting in a greater fidelity to the old visual-storytelling maxim, "Show, don't tell."

Exhibit A for the prosecution: Chris Claremont. It may or may not be interesting to note that Claremont's writing was one of the things that drove me away from comics for several years, back when I was a teenager. It's not just that his habit of having characters sum up entire story arcs in their dialogue, issue after issue, got old fast. It's not just that he seems to think that the principal use of thought balloons is to have each character sum up their various character flaws and struggles with all the dull recitation of a psychiatrist in a 1950s B-movie. It's not just that unless they were carefully written in a given character's voice, I could never read caption boxes without hearing them spoken aloud by radio-personality-turned-Untouchables-narrator Walter Winchell. It's not just that Claremont has the annoying habit of recycling the same character subplots every fifty issues or so. It's not just that once I discovered the diaries of Anaïs Nin, I realized how hilariously inept Claremont was at writing romantic subplots. It's not just that the more fantastic elements in Claremont's stories were better executed by the science-fiction authors and film directors from whom he had stolen them. No, it's all of the above, and more. Much more. If it weren't for Alan Moore's prose in Saga of the Swamp Thing, I'd probably never have read another comic book in my lifetime.

Don't get me wrong: If you're fourteen years old and susceptable to the combination of high adventure and turgid soap opera in which Claremont excels, his X-Men stories are almost guaranteed to be your cup of tea, at least until you discover dating, adult responsibilites and better writing. The fact remains, however, that there are distinct limits to Chris Claremont's abilities as a writer, and a sustained exposure to his work, month after month after month, will eventually rub your nose in them.

And rub your nose in them he does here. The story opens on an X-Men baseball game, with Mirage and Karma acting all cute in that treacly, annoying Claremont way, and Emma Frost serving as the Grant Morrison stand-in for Claremont's gleeful come-uppance. (Anyone looking to Claremont's Frost for the delicious, Machiavellian bitch-goddess previously served up in New X-Men will be sorely disappointed — here she has all the personality of Cruella DeVille slumming in an episode of Scooby Doo.) We cut briefly to Sage channel-surfing through the Mansion's various security cameras, which allows a brief summary of subplots, before settling in on a Danger Room sequence that Claremont has written 7,436 times before.

Then it's mission time! We're treated to a group of "Weaponeers," generic Arab villains in Ming the Merciless costumes, as they menace a small African village just long enough to establish them as bad guys before a group of X-Men show up to dole out the asskicking. Elsewhere, Wolverine and Nightcrawler are dispatched to protect a group of teenagers from a young, confused mutant not totally in control of his powers, which all ends in tragedy and melodramatic handwringing thanks to a one-dimensional law-enforcement bigot. The scene then cuts to Sage channel-surfing the resulting media fiasco — the one new and interesting storytelling device in Claremont's bag of tricks. Night falls, and Storm and Nightcrawler have a chaste romantic moment where back-stories and character motivations are rehashed in declarative sentences — a far older, less interesting storytelling device from said bag. Meanwhile, in England...

I suppose I could go on, but why bother? If you went through an X-Men phase during your teenage years, it's all going to seem like déjà vu to you anyway. With Grant Morrison gone and his changes in the series ordered rolled back by management, Chris Claremont has now been redeemed as the One True Visionary of Marvel mutants. With no need to stare over his shoulder and worry about the new kid coming up behind him, there's also no need to stay on his toes and sweat the details — not that he ever really did to begin with, but now there's not even the slightest iota of pretense that we're going to get anything other than the same contrivances Claremont's been serving up for a quarter of a century. If you've read any 25-issue run of X-Men he's ever written, you've already read this story before cracking open the covers.

Then there are the captions. Please read the following from #446:

"Storm's electromagnetic pulse crippled the cyborg nanites infecting Sage, and the cyber-glasses from which they were created... but Sage can feel them adapting. She has but a moment to act. And only this one chance."

Now re-read that in a Walter Winchell voice.

 

X-Men #157-158
Written by Chuck Austen, illustrated by Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki
Nostalgia level: 7 out of 10

Armed with Rogue, Gambit, and a group of B-list mutants, Chuck Austen proves that the machine is easily assembled from spare parts in these two perfunctory issues. The opening sequence provides your Minimum Daily Requirement of X-Men soap opera and subplot maintenance, with guest-appearances by a smattering of A-listers to keep the fans interested. The mission which follows features your Minimum Daily Requirement of witty banter and superhero slugfests. The bit about the school bulletin board was mildly amusing. I'm mildly perplexed as to why Cerebra suddenly became the version of Cerebro from the film series, but hey, whatever.

I suppose I should dump on somebody-or-other for the central reason for this story's existence: the return of Xorn, revealed not to be Magneto after all. The problem is, there's a certain inevitability to the whole affair. Someone on high at Marvel wanted a popular character to return, and Austen & Co. were charged with making it so. It's idiotic, to be sure, but the Hidden Hand of the Marketplace as Determined by Management lurks behind the situation, and it's difficult to argue with the logic at work, here. The fans want their Perfect Moment, and Marvel wants its licensable properties to do the job as well as possible. Welcome to work-for-hire and the world of commerce. Anyone complaining about how this new turn of events betrays the imaginative work that came before simply doesn't understand the game being played. Also, they're too smart to be reading these comics, and should probably stop now.

 

New X-Men: Academy X #1-2
Written by Nunzio DeFillipis and Christina Weir, illustrated by Randy Green and Rick Ketcham
Nostalgia level: 7 out of 10

I'm not sure that I have a lot to say here that didn't already get said in my New Mutants review. The story is competently told from the vantage point of a group of teenagers. If you were a fan of Claremont's original New Mutants series and aren't expecting too much, you should be able to while away a few minutes on these comics without feeling too cheated. Danger room sequence? Check. Kids learning to control their powers? Check? Rivalry with Emma Frost's Hellions? Check. It isn't a particularly thrilling or imaginative story, but it gets the job done, and sets up the series to follow with adequate skill. It doesn't insult your intelligence, but neither does it tickle your imagination. Meet the new New Mutants, same as the old New Mutants. Grading on a curve, I'd give it a C+.

 

Excalibur #1-2
Written by Chris Claremont, illustrated by Aaron Lopresti and Greg Adams
Nostalgia level: 5 out of 10

We turn now to the most unnecessary of Marvel's "Reload" series. Let me get straight to the point. Excalibur is a mess, its only purpose being the dirty work of undoing the most far-reaching of Morrison's changes to the X-Men cosmology: the destruction of Genosha and the death of Magneto. As established above, I'm not exactly Chris Claremont's biggest fan, but even I can't help but wonder if he didn't get the Marvel writer's version of latrine duty on this one.

It certainly smells like latrine duty. Bundled under a thoroughly misleading cover depicting all the major X-characters — all but two of whom don't appear in this issue — the first issue picks up right after the end of Uncanny X-Men #443, with Charles Xavier sitting in the Genoshan ruins and staring at "Magneto's coffin." An inner monologue begins and promptly refuses to shut the fuck up, as Xavier laments at endless length the calamity around him. He begins fiddling with the coffin, revealing that it holds a number of supplies in addition to a dead body. Xavier puts on more military-looking clothing, as well as a gun which disappears after a few panels. Equally inexplicable is a shot of the giant Sentinel rebuilt by Polaris, which now once again depicts Magneto wearing his helmet. Did I mention that this story picks up where Uncanny X-Men #443 left off? I did? Oh, good. From this, we may therefore assume that the average Marvel editor's job involves lots of liquid lunches.

An imaginary Moira MacTaggert materializes for no other reason than to provide accompaniment to the endless bloviation, as Xavier begins carting the coffin across the landscape. It's a duet for two, in the key of bullshit! When two groups of mutants lazily enter the scene — one friendly, the other not — the temptation to shout "Hallelujah!" is almost irresistable. There is a fight, which really serves no purpose other than to mark time between the solliloquies and dialogues, but at least there's mildly less verbiage on the page during this sequence, so I'm all for it, and sorry to see it go once it ends and the mutants all go home for the night.

Then Magneto appears. More conversation ensues as we move on to issue #2, but what we all really want to know is this: How did he survive being beheaded by Wolverine? Magneto's answer is par for the course in this series, running along the lines of, "Well, I woke up one morning and I wasn't dead." Also, the Magneto who destroyed Manhattan was an imposter, a fact that Xavier swears he knew all along despite showing all evidence of having been bamboozled when it all took place in Morrison's New X-Men. This is brilliant storytelling in the mighty Marvel manner, true believers! I mean, seriously, why not just have Magneto say, "Well gee, Charles, Avi Arad needed me alive for the action figures and movie sequels, so here I am," and be done with it? It has more plausibility than what we've just read, and the added bonus of actually being true.

I have now become completely demoralized. Everyone involved with this shambling mound of a story deserves eyeball acne, the kind with lots of pus.

 

I should probably note that there were other titles involved with "X-Men Reload," including Starjammers, Exiles, Alpha Flight, District X, Emma Frost, Weapon X, Mystique, Rogue, Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: X-Men 2004, a "director's cut" of Astonishing X-Men #1 and — really, have I mentioned how completely demoralized I've become? There's just no way I'm even reading all of that, let alone reviewing it. This isn't a "new editorial direction," it's a marketing opportunity, an experiment to see just how much money Marvel can milk off of fans while simultaneously declaring Grant Morrison an unperson as quickly as possible. I shouldn't complain about this, as it's not the first time that Marvel has gushed forth with a fountain of X-crap... but then it's one thing to lament the foolishness of this sort of thing from a distance, and quite another to swim a couple of laps in its murky depths.

It also doesn't make sense from one book to the next. Characters change radically in temperament from one book to the next, writers commenting on one another's work sometimes don't know what took place there, and just how many clones of Wolverine are running around in these titles, anyway? I could probably kill a paragraph or two making headless-chicken metaphors, but the more pertinent thing to do is to ask where the hell the editors have been throughout all this nonsense.

If nothing else, "X-Men Reload" answers the question many Morrison fans have probably contemplated at least once: Should I continue reading any of this? I suppose you can buy Astonishing X-Men if you're feeling up to it — it's really not bad at all — but otherwise the answer's an emphatic Hell No.

 

All artwork ©2004 Marvel Characters, Inc.

 

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