Thursday, October 13, 2011

X-Men Regenesis Review and the Future of the X-Men

So, Schism is over. Scott and Logan got scary feral, then they got British and went with the cold, civilized silent treatment. Uncanny X-Men is about to restart, and Wolverine and the X-Men will be debuting as well. The team is now divided, and the issue I've been waiting for, the one where we see all the characters I love, all the mutants on Utopia, choose their side? It was just about everything I wanted to be.

Click onwards for a review of the X-Men Regenesis One-shot, some excerpts from a recent interview with the writer Kieron Gillen, and a little taste of what's to come ahead in the world of X.

Gillen has proven himself not only to be quite adept at handling the legendary figures of the X-Men, but he also tells good stories with them and has a pretty decent track record at introducing new characters to the mix. However, the idea of sitting down and examining each mutant on Utopia, looking closely at their history and their psychology and trying to figure out what they would decide at a major crossroads in their lives? That's the fanboy fantasy place I like to go to while I'm falling asleep.

Needless to say, the X-Men Regenesis One Shot was an important issue. Schism kind of left us hanging; the inevitable Scott and Logan fight was pretty and exciting, but at the end Wolverine hopped on a Blackbird, that already had a few people on it, and took off. The actual schism of Schism seemed to be happening off panel. Few things are more dramatic and rich in opportunity than a house divided, so it was imperative that something like Regenesis be released.

Gillen takes us systematically through most of the main players on Utopia. Whether they're veterans, former students with baggage, reformed villains or brand new members of the species, every major character and group was given a voice. And a convincing one at that.

Wolverine gives Iceman the credit and respect due to him as a good-hearted original X-Man. He takes on troubled cases to nurture and assist, like the traumatized Idie, the going-through-a-bad-place Guthries, consistently scary X-23, and the sociopathic Quentin Quire, albeit the last one is taken by force. He also gets Rogue (her pages were brief but I imagine the final X-Men Legacy issue will clarify her positions right up) and Frenzy and Rachel Summers (also from Legacy), as well as a good chunk of the kids. Recruiting Toad as janitor was a pretty fun twist, but the suggestion he makes to Alex and Lorna about X-Factor Investigations was my favorite.

We were shown in teasers that Havok was joining X-Factor but I couldn't really understand it, aside from a history with the name and a desire not to go back to being in Scott's shadow after leading the Starjammers and playing a major role in several universal imperial wars and successions. Instead of pushing them back into the mutant hero life, Wolverine floats the idea of X-Factor, of being with "your own people", of being on the street, doing good, trying to help, and generally avoiding the giant robot death machine day to day fight for survival. I think it's one of the several perfect, believable insights that Gillen cranks out in this issue.

The other one was Storm. After a year of mutants being united and standing firmly behind Cyclops, Storm, when she was on panel with an actual voice, was the one most disenchanted with his decisions and directions. In the past, as leader, she had certainly been equally harsh and ambitious and aggressive in her policies, but more than anything, for her the X-Men were family. Not an endangered species but a group of spectacular people with the power to protect the world and each other. I knew in advance she would stay on the island, but I couldn't conceive why. This was by far Scott's best sales pitch, the fact that he needs her more than Logan. His team are powerhouses, but overwhelmingly comprised of either ex-villains or Russians with a history of a demonic possession. With the true blue stalwarts like Kitty Pryde and Iceman taking of, he needed a figure of courage and heart and morality. He appealed to Storm's sense of duty, and if there's one thing that will override Storm's fiercely held beliefs and deeply felt emotions, it's Duty.

Scott's other interesting idea was to have Dazzler become their defacto PR department, assembling a street team of the younger mutants to be seen in public and gain some respect and admiration, to strengthen community ties and show that the X-Men, though global and kinda scary considering their concentration of power, are also fun and young and accessible. The final debate with Emma was a bit forced, however, as the tension of Will-she-won't-she wasn't even remotely present. Of course she's staying, she loves him. She does, however, take the opportunity to express her love of teaching (always a nice thing to hear though honestly I don't know if I've ever read a scene with her in a classroom that has gone at all well) and heap some guilt on Scott for making her sacrifice what she cares about while underappreciating her. It felt more like a snarky business meeting between married partners than the final decision in a new world order.

The other complaints I had were few, but worth mentioning. Beast coming out of the cold and joining up with the school makes sense, but his unbelievably petty and frankly bitchy call to Cyclops on the phone, basically saying "I told you so" to his voicemail tells me that either Gillen strongly dislikes Hank, or now I do. The other dissatisfying exchange was between Kitty and Colossus. Yes, he's got a demon in him now or whatever, and is all dark so he just stays in steel form and doesn't connect with people. Yes, Kitty asked him not to become the Juggernaut and he did anyway. But honestly, ever since they brought Kitty back, the systematic destruction and/or suffering of their relationship has been unendurable. They don't deserve it! It was always star-crossed and ill-fated, but now, years later, it was supposed to be solid. The only couple in the X-Men can't be Emma and Scott, plus some flirting between Magneto and Rogue. How about a little joy? And even sticking with the misery, Kitty would have been much more eloquent in what was in effect not only a break-up scene, but a "see you when I see you, good luck with the monstrous crap you're dealing with" scene.

Despite those couple missteps, this was a great issue. There's tons to find upon rereading, characters to dive into, and even an appropriate amount of mutants left out of the main panels, leaving speculation for us fans and fodder for upcoming stories. And the particularly skillful thing about this issue is that it didn't just go down the list and show the X-Men picking sides, it showed all the different, strong reasons people have for needing to choose a side at all.

In truth it gave us the widespread motivations that were missing from Schism, finally illustrating that the philosophical divide between Cyclops and Wolverine wasn't an isolated incident. Think of how many people left willingly and with excitement to restart the school; up till now the voices of protest had either been mild or entirely off-panel. Wolverine is following his conscience, yes, but he ended up embodying the dissatisfaction felt by a large amount of island residents. We didn't really know the discontent present on Utopia, but take a look at their lives on a floating asteroid off shore from San Francisco, fighting for survival, making food runs, isolated from the world and living like soldiers, and tell me it's not believable.

Still, the future of Uncanny looks pretty exciting, according to a recent X-position interview on Comic Book Resources with Gillen himself:

[What type of threats can we expect for this squad of X-Men going forward?

It's a logical escalation of what I've been doing so far in 'Uncanny.' Each of the arcs has had a big external threat, which also allows the X-Men to face internal, emotional threats. We just amp it up to the scale the "Extinction Team" operate on. In that way, Mister Sinister makes a perfect first villain -- he's a character who threatens the team both physically and personally. And, in terms of the ways I've refreshed him, philosophically.

I'm of the school which believes the most interesting villains are ones which actively challenge the heroes' reason for being. You know -- Magneto as the flip of Xavier's dream, Dark Phoenix as the embodiment of the idea that mutantkind is dangerous, Apocalypse as a bloody-red reading of Darwinian Evolution, etc. Sinister's had a lot of style, but he's generally swapped mysteriousness and personal grudges for specific, intellectual frisson. That's what I've tried to add to him.

After the first arc, we've got a one-off issue with Brandon Peterson on art which is a really intense, personal little story. The second arc involves a setting that you may be familiar with from "X-Force," which takes a more rescue/exploration approach. It's less a threat and more a problem for the team to deal with -- which, at the same time, introduces new villains which act as distorted mirrors to the team (as in, following the above philosophy). And the third arc is serious globe-trotting, with me reintroducing a villain I've been dying to have the X-Men say "hello" to for ages.

Physical threats. Emotional threats. Philosophical threats. And, of course, internal threats.

Is Cyclops' team just those revealed on the cover (Danger, Emma, Magneto, Storm, Magik, Colossus, and Namor)? Will it change as things go on? What about the Science Club?
You forgot Hope!

Yes, that's the field team. It's been picked by Cyclops to be able to deal with pretty much anything they should be facing. If you scan the team, you can see you've got specialists of all sorts -- including a rare supernatural specialist in the form of Miss Rasputin. Hell, there's even a little redundancy in the form of Hope.]

I sincerely anticipate great things from both the ending and the re-beginning of Uncanny X-Men, and the fresh start/return to Westchester that will be Wolverine and the X-Men, not to mention the shake up on Peter David's hands over at X-Factor. There is one question still bugging me, though....

...where is Professor Xavier in all this?

Granted he's no longer a leader, or apparently even a team member, and he certainly wouldn't stay with Scott. And while Logan's re-opening the school, it's named after Jean not Charles. Still, will he teach? Contribute? Where is he anyway? Mourning Lilandra? Walking around San Fran? It seems his dream is still alive, despite its constant mutations (see what I did there?) so why not have a little Xavier presence, show us what he thinks of this new state of the world.

A glimpse at the near future and this new X-era:

This November, history is made with Uncanny X-Men #1! From the superstar creative team of Kieron Gillen and Carlos Pacheco, Cyclops and those who have stayed with him on Utopia rise from the rubble of X-Men: Schism renewed & refocused. Cyclops has created the most powerful X-Men team ever gathered and called them the X-Tinction Team. Except when Mr. Sinister makes his diabolical return, is this new team up to stopping Sinister's current style of extinction? Find out as a bold new era of mutantkind begins in Uncanny X-Men #1!

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