Wednesday, May 16, 2012

X-Men Second Coming: or, The Meta that ate Itself

If you are going to discuss the X-Men war across America known as Second Coming, you will have to get Nightcrawler's death out of the way first.

Let's do it as glossy as possible. Great, thanks.

There, was that so bad?

In all seriousness, the first arc of the storyline focused on the supreme Nimrod-like Bastion and his gang of resurrected racists taking out the X-Men's resident teleporters.  Ariel, the Vanisher, and Illyana Rasputin fell before a jet missile, a hail of bullets, and an arcane banishment payload, respectively.  All of this due to the arrival of Hope from her junkyard future in the 31st century with Cable, of Liefeld ages gone past.

Bastion, being from the future, has insider information on Hope.  He knows what the end of Avengers vs. X-Men will be. He's also a mutant-hating robot with a mission to exterminate the mutant race.  He wants her dead because the x-gene will activate more if she is left alive.  The Gold Celestial's proximity to San Francisco is no coincidence.  Kurt teleports her there after Bastion puts his hand through him.

Not a dry eye in the house there, guys.

As we can see, the cost of messianic fervor is paid by the moral conscience.  Nightcrawler represented, in many respects, the team's heart. He held a relgio-spiritual status among a band of blatant outcasts. He internalized the weight and responsibility of a Catholic sense of morality.  Directly prior to his death he discovered that Cyclops had sanctioned a mutant hit-squad led by Wolverine, good old X-Force. Nightcrawler of course took issue with the blatant killing of innocent or helpless enemies, no matter how bad.  In the course of Second Coming, morals are continually compromised, and murder happens at an alarming rate.  A human supremacist begging Wolverine for his life is gutted.  X-23 pops a helpless man in the brain with her claws during interrogation.  Warlock is convinced by Doug Ramsey to steal the lifeglow of Cameron Hodge and his smiley face followers.  Archangel, having become dominant for Warren Worthington III, cuts people to pieces and never even changes expression.  

When this was first drawn on a bar napkin, it seemed cool. In 1986.

When I see all this mutant carnage I call to mind the old Chris Claremont era, where in one instance Wolverine gutted and nearly killed a confused Rachel Summers (Phoenix by proxy from parallel timeline) for wanting to murder mutant witch Selene for enslaving her.  Claremont wrote in an odd moral code for a man whose power is constant regeneration and unbreakable claws.  The X-Men of that era would often say "X-Men don't kill."  Once the ingratiating  and peaceful influence of Charles Xavier gave way, in recent years, to the crashpad of Magneto, that motto seems to have long gone by the wayside.  Since Scarlet Witch's heavy trip, Mutants are a desperate aberrant in the Marvel Universe once more, nowhere near the scope of evolutionary step predicted in Grant Morrison's Planet X.  

Foreshadowing, anyone? With red eyes, grr. We're tough, our eyes are all red. Grr, moral dubiety.

Throughout the X-Men's long standing career nigh coming on about forty some odd years now, they have undergone dramatic shifts of cast and presence of mind within the framework of what constitutes a story. When mutants bottomed out after the last reality warping schizophrenic lost their grip (felt like the subtle influence of Sublime behind the scenes), and relocated from the bombed-out Xavier estate and come correct with Magneto on Asteroid M turned mutant sanctuary Utopia. 

Seemed like so much recycling of old fears and worries for the same characters that once found themselves faced with a nightmarish Holocaust-level scenario.

For all the brightly colored spandex of the past we can see hints of mixing and matching old Claremont storylines in the midst of all this.  New Mutants meets Days of Future Past meets the myriad Sentinel hunts, the Master Mold of a dystopian tomorrow, personified in a brick wall plastered with those inefficient posters of dead mutants, disturbingly current in their appearances.  Which brings us to the idea of this whole storyline being metaClaremont.

The precise moment that this trope jumped the shark.

The Claremont era of X-Men has been the most fertile grounds for future storylines for decades now. To revisit that waterhole again and again compounds itself, as stories continue emerging from stories and characters develop and react throughout.  Once you've committed yourself to sending up or rooting out Claremont's old pastures, you're muddy with backstory.
Recent issues of the X-titles, leading up to and in fact catching its stride in Avengers vs. X-Men, have worked towards a new set of myths to create templates of arcs off of.  Easy examples come from the Morrison, Whedon, or even the fairly recent Fraction era, where new villains and challenges emerged, blended, and were ably handled.

In Second Coming, the other end of Messiah Complex, the refinement of new "big deal" Hope continues, as it will soon be coming to a head in current continuity, and we should take a moment to acknowledge other odd-run revamps being called forth in the war (everyone says the entire series run that it's a war), Professor X's schizophrenic son of an Israeli mother, Legion.  Legion did, some time back, spawn the Age of Apocalypse universe by accidentally killing his father when he went back in time to kill Magneto.  His imprisonment/rehabilitation in Utopia was played out in another alternate reality he spawned, The Age of X.  So when Professor X calls upon him to unleash his multiple personalities to defend San Francisco, it's an interesting throwback to remind Marvel readers that all powerful characters have ultrapowerful offspring (Scarlet Witch, Jamie Braddock, and Franklin Richards come to mind).      

Actually, pretty cool set up in your head. But that hair...

2011 was the year that all of 2012 X-continuuty and the Avengers vs. X-Men was laid out, with the return of Hope, sent to the 31st century with Cable, son of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey, who is dead but died at least three times, rose as a Phoenix and was killed again by a clone of Magneto run amok on mutant power enhancing drugs. But I digress. Hope is blatantly the forthcoming Phoenix by the end of this series, but I am going to appraise its overall structure and hope to make sense of the plot, which expects the reader to have kept reasonable pace with the story and all of Chris Claremont's run including the New Mutants, for the past ten to thirty years. Nimrods and Bastions and recycled plots via recycled characters via constant Resurrection countered by constant death. Officially, Professor X has also died at least three times, too.

The X-Men are the most ridiculously injured by and least affected by death in the Marvel Universe. The avatar of this odd trope is of course the nearly unkillable Wolverine. His ubiquitous nature in the Marvel Universe expresses this as well, as characters live, die, are ressurected by contrivance of plot, and Wolverine can outlive them all and fight the Hulk in the ashes of civilization.  In the Ultimate Universe, Logan, or James Howlett, actually, was mutant zero in the human creation of mutants through attempted weaponization of mutants via Weapon Plus, the outcropping of Captain America's super soldier program.

In any event, the plot plays itself out in various psychodramas that emerge from the team dynamic and whatever confrontation the team must face.  Second Coming, in all of its metaglory, is worth a reassessment after the final throws and lashes of Avengers vs. X-Men dies down.  In the meantime, see it as a (hopeful) last hurrah for direct sips of the Claremont pool, at least until other water sources, or better yet, a running river of fresh concepts can be located, perhaps even in as recent and well refined an example as Rick Remender's bizarrely perfect Dark Angel Saga.

And sometimes the foreshadowing is just like a mallet upside the head.

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