Part One: Introduction and Issues 1-9
Sometimes, I wonder why I didn’t buy this series when it first came out. And sometimes, I’m glad I didn’t. Eventually, every series or franchise goes through a low point. And while I may have a certain loyalty to some concepts, at one point or another over the years, I’ve dropped pretty much every personal favorite including JLA, The Avengers, Teen Titans and yes, even, the X-Men. X-Treme X-Men debuted at a time in which I was becoming disenchanted with the franchise. I was dropping the entire line.
X-Treme X-Men #1
My initial reaction to X-Treme X-Men #1 was spot on. The issue is a mess. The X-Treme team is already in Spain when they’re suddenly attacked individually and taken out of commission. It’s not a bad “before the credits” type of opening. The one major flaw is that Claremont’s newest addition to the team, Sage, is the only member not immediately defeated. It’s a typical move for Claremont, and a typical bad one. It’s the kind of mistake that writers of fan fiction are known for. We’re supposed to believe that long-time superheroes like Bishop and Storm can be taken down so easily but not the new girl and we don’t.
From there, the story backs up to show us how and why the X-Men came to
Next up is a quick scene with a mysterious villain named “Vargas.” We actually met him at the beginning of the issue and there’s supposed to be some confusion as to whether the X-Men are being attacked by Vargas or the Spanish Action Force. This scene clarifies that the Action Force is actually attacking the X-Men, which the villainous Vargas doesn’t approve of as he wants to be the one to dispose of them. But by this point in the story, it’s been so long since we read about the attack that I’m not sure we care.
Finally, we return to the X-Men. Five members of the team have been dressed in their costumes and dumped in a sewer. As they try to figure out what’s happened to them, they’re ambushed by the Action Force which leaves me trying to figure out what’s happened as well. Didn’t the Action Force already defeat them in the opening scene? Why would they dump them in a sewer instead of a holding cell and ambush them a second time? I understand that it’s a classic story structure- open with action, explain with exposition, end with action- but it just doesn’t make sense. At least this time, the X-Men actually defeat the Action Force. But while they’re still trying to figure out what’s going on, the floor implodes beneath them and they’re capture for a second time in the same issue.
Like I said, this issue is a mess. Chris Claremont is displaying all of his worst characteristics. There’s the new pet character that looks good at the expense of everyone else: Sage. There’s the heavy-handed exposition. There’s the mysterious new villain with vague powers: Vargas. By the time I finished this issue, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. However, I had paid for the entire series and I wasn’t going to be dissuaded so easily.
X-Treme X-Men #2-3
The second and third issues are marginally better than the first. With all of the exposition out of the way in the first issue, Chris Claremont is able to settle down and tell his story. We’re still treated to a few flashbacks- such as a scene in which Storm conscripts Rogue onto the X-Treme team in issue two- but they’re not as long and they’re more germane to the story being told. We also learn that Sage wasn’t the only X-person to have survived the initial attack which alleviates some of the nepotism problem. Rogue crashed into the ocean and was left for dead. Now, she’s on the loose and is determined to find out what happened to the rest of her team. Rogue is the star of the second issue, not Sage.
But that only addresses a few of the problems. The rest of the X-Men are still involved in a running battle with the Spanish Action Force who inexplicably let them go in the previous issue. Maria Pilar Cortes is now arguing that the operation should never have been started, despite arguing in its favor in the previous issue. The antagonists simply aren’t making any sense. The story gets slightly better when Vargas interrupts Rogue’s attempt to rescue the rest of the X-Men. Although his motives are still mysterious, his goal is quite clear and his sword battle scene is effective. However, the sword fight turns into another example of a new character being made to look impressive at the expense of others. Vargas and his two minions defeat veteran X-Men like Rogue, Beast and Psylocke too easily and Psylocke’s death is too abrupt.
The third issue slows down again as it serves mostly as a
eulogy for Psylocke. The continuing
fight with the Action Force is repeatedly interrupted by flashbacks of
Psylocke’s life. It’s understandable
Claremont would want to remind us of the life of this character who so recently died. Unfortunately, he tries to do more than just that in these scenes which muddies them. He inserts Sage (then known as Tessa) into one flashback again attempting to elevate her as major character. And he tries to set up the new Thunderbird as someone who had been a love interest for Psylocke, which might have worked if he had been doing a bit more of that before she died except he didn’t. The first two issues had hinted at a possible relationship with Beast not Thunderbird so we again have flashbacks telling us a story that seemingly comes out of nowhere.
By the end of the third issue, things don’t look good for the X-Treme team or the title. The team has lost two members: Psylocke is dead and Beast is heading back to the mansion to tend to his injuries (and join Grant Morrison’s team of New X-Men). While they may have reached an understanding with the Spanish government, Vargas is still on the loose and planning to kill them. The dynamics of the title are in the same sorry shape. The two new members don’t exactly fit in: Sage keeps being made to look better than the others, while Thunderbird is weak and ineffectual in both fight scenes and in life. The story is occasionally nonsensical and too frequently interrupted by back-story and exposition. I can still find a few things to like- the gorgeous Salvador Larroca art, the swordfight between Vargas and Rogue- but that’s because I’m looking for things to like.
X-Treme X-Men #4-9
To my surprise, X-Treme X-Men started to improve with the fourth issue. Which I suppose is a good thing since I had still had more than forty issues to go. There are a couple of contributing factors to the improvement in the title. One is the arrival of Gambit. I realize that Gambit’s arrival wouldn’t be a plus for everyone. Kurt Busiek once answered the question, “How would you fix Gambit?” with a blunt, “A hole in the head.” However, I’ve always seen Gambit as a Han Solo-type. A guy who’s spent the better part of his life on the wrong side of the law but who shows heart, loyalty, virtue and nobility when pushed. And in this case, Gambit makes a perfect counterpart to Vargas: they way that they dance around each other, the way that they verbally spar when they meet, the way that Gambit gets on Vargas’ nerves. Vargas is a villain who thinks he’s noble, while Gambit is a hero who acts like a rogue and it’s a pleasure to see them interact.
The other contributing factor is the increasing prominence of Destiny’s diaries. The diaries had been mentioned in the first issue. But it’s in the fourth issue that the X-Men actually sit down and look through them. The result is that the team is given a purpose, a reason for being. They suddenly have two goals- to find the rest of Destiny’s diaries and to act on the information that they find within. And both goals set up a future conflict with Vargas. The diaries show that Vargas is fated to die at the sword of an X-Man. And Vargas has gotten his hands on one of the diaries. Before reading the book, I had thought that the entire Destiny’s diaries mission would prove to be boring. Yet it’s actually had the opposite effect of making the title more focused, and therefore more interesting.
The fifth issue offers a couple of other improvements. For one thing, we get a clear description of Sage’s powers. In her former life as Tessa, she had always been presented as a telepath. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t care for her addition to the team. With Professor X, Jean Grey, Rachel Summers, Psylocke and the White Queen, the X-Men have had an abundance of telepaths and they didn’t exactly need another. But now Sage is being described and depicted as a “living computer.” She suddenly has a very specific role which doesn’t duplicate that of other team members. Plus, she’s defined as a character by what she does rather than by looking good at the expense of others. Much to my surprise, I find myself liking Sage and appreciating what she brings to the team.
Bishop is similarly given a stronger role. In one issue, Bishop takes the “rookie” Thunderbird aside and gives him advice. In another issue, Sage falsifies a badge for Bishop and he spends some time working as a homicide detective. While his undercover role sometimes takes him too far afield from the rest of the team, it’s nice to see him using his brains as well as his brawn. There is a bit of confusion that results from the team’s sudden relocation to Australia from Spain but that’s explained a little later by the 2001 Annual.
At this point, Chris Claremont adds a couple of other
elements to the title. While figuring
out Destiny’s diaries has given the team a focus, it’s a story that’s a little
light on action.
Chris Claremont introduces two potential heroes as well:
Heather and Davis Cameron. Heather is a
lifeguard.Davis is a surfer. Unfortunately, their introduction doesn’t go
quite as smoothly.Claremont
plays up Heather’s heroism as a lifeguard a bit too much in his narration which usually has the effect of making us resent a character more than admire her. Thunderbird develops a crush on her as well. And while it makes sense that Thunderbird would be attracted to a strong woman, it does seem odd considering that he was supposed to be in love with Psylocke who had died fairly recently. Even worse,
Davis seems like little more than a surfboard slacker. It’s understandable that he might hit on Storm. It’s not as believable that she would be interested in him.
Over the next couple of issues,
However, the best issue so far is easily issue number nine. The fights are mostly over. The plots are mostly tied up. And the X-Men are recuperating from what they’ve just gone through. The strongest story is actually a psychic conversation between Storm, still in Australia, and Jean Grey, back at the mansion. Often, these psychic conversations are painful to read- heavy on dialogue, spoken exposition, deep emotional or psychological admissions and metaphors- but not in this case. Storm and Jean are treated as old friends. They update each other on what’s been happening to their various teams. And their responses provide some interesting perspective. Jean Grey tells Storm about the many goings-on in and around the mansion, including all of the major elements of Grant Morrison’s first year on New X-Men: the arrival of Cassandra Nova, the destruction of Genosha and the public outing of the Xavier Institute as a refuge for mutants. Through Jean, Chris Claremont is able to update us as readers. Through Storm, he’s able to respond to those events and it proves to be both an interesting personal conversation between two friends as well as an interesting professional response to someone else’s story.
There’s also a surprising development regarding Lifeguard. I’ll admit that I was predisposed to dislike her. Based on comments I had read in several places, I was of the opinion that she was yet another example of Chris Claremont’s super-strong-woman with a power that screamed deus-ex-machina. But she proved to be a more interesting character than I had suspected. Her lack of control kept her from being the plot contrivance I had feared. Indeed, in one scene, she needs Thunderbird to rescue her brother because she can’t control her sudden ability to fly. And in this issue, I saw the attraction. There’s always been an element of wish fulfillment in comic books and superheroes. There’s always been that moment when the reader is supposed to think “I wish I could do that. I wish I could fly like Superman, or that I could blast someone with a look like Cyclops.” At one point, Lifeguard is thrown into the ocean by Lady Mastermind. She suddenly develops a dolphin’s tail and I thought to myself, “Wow, how cool would it be to have that power.” And I got it: Lifeguard is a great wish fulfillment character, with just enough restrictions to her powers to keep her from being an immediate out for any story obstacle.
I could hardly believe it myself. I was all set to dislike Sage and Lifeguard,
ready to merely put up with them while reading about characters I liked such as
Bishop and Gambit and Storm. Yet
Claremont had turned my expectation around and I found myself warming to both Sage and Lifeguard. I was accepting them as a part of the team. I was truly interested in them and in what they brought to the title. That isn’t to say that X-Treme X-Men was a perfect title at this point. I still have no idea why Davis Cameron is in this title, other than to play boy victim. And Thunderbird, despite having a moment to shine when he saves Davis, still doesn’t seem to belong. Yet I will say that these six issues proved to be entertaining and fun. They were a definite improvement upon the opening story in the first three issues.
Part Two: Issues 10-24
X-Treme X-Men 10-18: Invasion!
I had been pretty disappointed in the first few issues of this series. The first issue had been one of the worst first issues I’d ever read. The second and third were marginally better yet still plagued by problems. However, much to my surprise, the series started to improve with the fourth issue and I found myself really enjoying the Australia arc through issue number nine. But the Australia arc was nothing compared to what was coming up next.
The opening wasn’t all that good. The first scene was of Davis Cameron who apparently now has powers as well. He’s a group teleporter, able to surf a wave of teleportation and bring others along in his wake, and yes it’s just as stupid as it sounds. There’s also a bit of play between Davis and Storm, a relationship I don’t believe at all. We then jump back in time and the X-Men are again trying to decipher Destiny’s diaries. Their progress is interrupted by a beast who claims to be the vanguard of an invasion. He abducts Gambit for reasons unknown and Lifeguard manages to go along. The X-Men debate what to do next when Sage reveals that Davis is a latent mutant with powers that would enable them to follow the beast.
At this point, X-Treme X-Men is losing the good will it had built up in the previous six issues. Sage is again a super-woman, able to do pretty much anything. She’s a living computer, but how does she know that Davis is a latent mutant? And how does she have the power to activate him? We aren’t given satisfactory answers other than that Sage is Sage.
Claremont also tries to carve out a role for Thunderbird but it doesn’t work. Way back in the first issue,
Claremont had included some extra notes about the characters. He mentioned that Thunderbird was supposed to be the reader’s point-of-view as the character who is new to all this. And eventually, Thunderbird was supposed to find his place on the team as a conscience and a moral center. But this is Thunderbird’s first time stepping up as a moral voice and it’s to argue that they have no right to activate Davis’ powers despite the fact that Davis clearly wants them to. Davis even smartly throws their own ideology back in their face by asking them if they’re ashamed of what they are. Instead of being a moral center, Thunderbird looks weak and afraid. It doesn’t endear him to us in the least.
Obviously, Davis gets his way. After all, we had already seen him teleporting the team in the opening scene. The team goes to Madripoor where the enemy is establishing a beachhead. Plus, we meet the enemy and his name is Khan.
Despite the weak opening chapter, Khan’s invasion turns out to be a great story. Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca pull out all of the stops in order to make this a big story. Larroca draws some great lizard-like invaders as well as multiple battalions in the background.
Claremont includes a few scenes in which the world responds, such as a meeting in the White House situation room and another of the Avengers. We eventually learn that Khan has created a force-field around the island of Madripoor while he brings his troops through an inter-dimensional portal. The world’s military forces and the Avengers are stuck on the outside- though still fighting to get in- while the X-Men and a few select allies like Red Lotus and Viper are stuck on the inside alone. Despite the complaints that the X-Men form their own little universe, this story clearly includes other heroes and gives us a plausible in-story reason why they aren’t centrally involved.
The story takes an interesting turn when Khan captures Storm and brings her back to his own dimension to be his queen. Admittedly, we’ve seen this before. It’s not the first time that a heroine has been added to a villain’s harem. But I think that Claremont handles it very well. Khan has a shape-shifter named Shaitan take Storm’s form in order to oppose and distract the X-Men. Meanwhile, Storm plays along, pretending to surrender to Khan’s love while we get hints that she’s waiting for the right moment to strike back. And back in our world, the X-Men look pretty good as a guerrilla fighting force. We even get some nice heroic scenes for Lifeguard as she rescues civilians and for Thunderbird as he gets to play veteran to the rookie Davis.
Eventually, Rogue –not Sage!- comes up with a plan to defeat
Khan. The only way to stop him is to
shut down his portal. With Storm
missing, Rogue takes over as team leader. She sends the bulk of the team through to Khan’s dimension. Meanwhile, she and Davis will try to keep
Khan’s forces contained on the
island of Madripoor. It’s nice to see Rogue step up as a leader. We can certainly see her potential, and we can see why Mike Carey will eventually choose Rogue to be the leader of the team in his title.
I also like how Claremont continues to complicate the action. Vargas reenters the title, still vowing to kill Rogue before she can fulfill the future predicted in Desiny’s diaries. And with only Davis as an ally, Rogue is certainly vulnerable. Storm’s role is complicated by a rivalry within the harem. And even Khan’s role is complicated when his Storm simulacrum argues against him. Yet the biggest complication belongs to Lifeguard. Her power has always been the ability to change into whatever she needs to be in order to save her life or the life of another. Her power has also always been uncontrollable. For example, in a previous issue, she hadn’t been able to activate her power for a situation that was less than life-threatening. But in this story, her power takes a scary turn. Apparently, what she needs to save herself from Khan’s forces is to be an alien. Heather begins to turn into a Shi’ar, a complication that completely scares her.
From this point, the story just keeps getting bigger. We’re treated to fight after fight, battle
after battle. Yet these aren’t simply
fight comics. Each battle has a specific
goal- to defend a world, to rescue a friend. And Claremont does a great job of jumping from one moment of action to another: Davis
fighting the invasion forces, Rogue fighting Vargas, Sage fighting Shaitan, Storm fighting Khan. I was seriously blown away by how exciting and how good these issues were. This is probably the best story
Claremont has written in more than fifteen years. Multiple villains, complicated but not confusing action, sub-plots that pay off right away, impossible odds and moments of triumph- this is really an example of superhero comics at their best.
However, that’s not the end of the story. Just as Claremont spent some time building up the story, and lingered on the climactic battle, he also treats us to a real denouement. In issue 17, we see the X-Men pick up the pieces, literally. Most of the X-Men help clean up debris from Khan’s invasion. But not all. Gambit and Rogue have been severely injured. Khan had used Gambit for his ability to charge things with kinetic energy as a way of powering his portal device. Freeing Gambit from that device drained him of his power and nearly killed him. Rogue had been stabbed by Vargas and while that didn’t kill her, it did cause her power to go haywire. And in issue 18, we see all those who had been kept outside of Khan’s force-field enter the remains of the battlefield. We see Avengers carry X-Men to their hospital beds. We see members of the other X-teams, such as Nightcrawler, Phoenix and Beast, arrive to help minister to wounds physical (Beast), psychic (Phoenix) and psychological (Nightcrawler).
Phoenix manages to call Storm back from the dead in a psychic conversation that’s reminiscent of issue 9. Beast manages to save both Gambit and Rogue, though both have apparently lost their powers. And Nightcrawler counsels Davis who has rejected his sister as an alien. In its own way, this issue is as exciting as the battle. As a reader, you feel like you’ve truly been through a war- beginning, middle and end.
X-Treme X-Men 19-24: Schism
After the enormous events of the past nine issues, Chris
Claremont gives us a bit of a break. Issue 19 is a quiet issue. The
X-Men are celebrating Thanksgiving in
Over the past couple of issues, Claremont has strengthened the ties between his title and the characters appearing in New X-Men and Uncanny. With his next story, he ties the titles even more closely together. It begins with a murder in Alaska. As he did in Australia, Bishop inserts himself into the investigation. The trail leads Bishop and Sage to Xavier’s mansion. The killer was apparently a young mutant and he has now sought refuge with the X-Men.
At first, this story reminded me of everything that I disliked about Grant Morrison’s run. Previously, the X-Men had been champions of equality and co-existence. They insisted that they were homo sapiens superior, a sub-set of the human species but still human nonetheless. It was the villains like Magneto and the Hellfire Club who insisted that they were homo superior, a new species that would eventually replace humanity. But when Grant Morrison took over the title, the heroes began to spout the same rhetoric that was once the province of the villains. The White Queen moved into the mansion but she didn’t sound start to sound like the X-Men. No, the X-Men started to sound like her. And all of this came to fore in this story, especially when the students at the school attack Bishop and Sage simply for being outsiders.
Claremont, however, saved this story for me with his second issue. The White Queen may have been spouting militant mutant rhetoric but Bishop, Sage and Storm weren’t about to join her. When a riot accidentally triggered one mutant into transforming into a dragon, Bishop fought to bring her under control and told her, “You’re not a monster, you’re a human being.” When Storm found out about the activities at the school, she confronted Emma Frost and challenged her approach. And rather than being a feeble toady to the White Queen, Professor Xavier inserted himself as a potential mediator. It was nice to see so many of my problems with Grant Morrison’s approach dealt with so directly in this series. As the title for this arc suggests, the White Queen’s approach has created a “Schism” within the X-men.
Even so, Claremont makes sure that this is more than just a story about ideology. It turns out that the youth had been manipulated by an evil mutant named Elias Bogan. And now that Emma Frost has allowed the child sanctuary in the mansion, Bogan is able to get his psychic claws into her. The story suddenly turns as the X-Treme X-Men are now trying to rescue the child and Emma from a villain, rather than trying to arrest them. Once the X-Men are able to separate Emma from Bogan, she and Storm are able to set aside their differences in order to go after the immediate threat.
But that doesn’t mean that the “Schism” is over. While the hostilities may have been set aside for a moment, they aren’t buried and gone. Once Bogan is defeated, Storm confronts both Professor X and the White Queen about offering sanctuary to a murderer. Both sides stand their ground and the X-Treme team finally walks out in order to go their own way. “Schism” is almost as good as Khan’s invasion. There’s a clash of ideas plus enough plot twists to keep a reader squirming. At this point, X-Treme X-Men has been on a roll for more than a year.
In “Schism,” Claremont dealt with what was going on in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. He follows that up with a one-shot that looks at what’s been going on in Joe Casey’s Uncanny. Cannonball had been a part of the X-Corporation. His group had recently been involved in a battle that nearly destroyed the Channel Tunnel connecting England to France and they had lost Darkstar, one of their own. After the battle, Cannonball decides not to return right away with the rest of X-Corp. Instead, he joins the rescue effort helping to pull wreckage and survivors out of the tunnel. He realizes that it’s been a mistake for the X-Men to separate themselves so much from the rest of humanity. This realization is confirmed when his fellow rescue workers welcome him openly as a mutant. At the end of the issue, Storm invites Sam to join the X-Treme X-Men. Sam accepts. Storm’s team isn’t about separating themselves from humanity. It’s about fighting for peace and protecting humanity from mutant terrorists. That sounds pretty good to Sam. And it sounds pretty good to me, too.
Part Three: Issues 25-46
X-Treme X-Men 25-30: God Loves, Man Kills II
By this point, X-Treme X-Men has had a strong run for about twenty issues. And since the next arc- the sequel to Chris Claremont’s classic graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills- is the most-hyped story of this title, there’s no reason to think that it won’t maintain its level of quality. Unfortunately, that doesn’t turn out to be the case.
The first mark off is the artistic change. Salvador Larroca drew the first twenty-four issues without a break. Now, he’s being replaced by Igor Kordey. Kordey is actually a competent artist. It’s not that he’s bad; it’s that he isn’t quite as good as Larroca. And since Larroca stays around as the cover artist, we’re constantly reminded of that fact. I do have a few specific complaints. Kordey has the tendency, like Frank Quitely, to flatten heads abnormally. It’s especially a problem with his depiction of Storm. Plus, he dresses Kitty Pryde in a trampy leather outfit. I realize that she’s tending bar while putting herself through college but it just doesn’t fit with her character. However, it’s not all bad. I think he does a great job with Kitty’s body language and facial expressions when she’s talking to a shrink. And I have no problems with his depictions of Bishop, Deathstrike or Sage.
The story starts out with a few problems as well.
Claremont’s graphic novel. So the movie sequel is the reason for the comic book sequel. But the result is a weird blend of influences.
Claremont’s Stryker was a reverend who had advocated a holy war against mutants- not unlike modern ministers who preach publicly against gays and lesbians. The movie Stryker was a military man who was using military tactics and decommissioned bases to strike out at mutant-kind. This Stryker is supposed to be the minister of the original story but he has some odd connections to the movie version. For example, the military Stryker had Lady Deathstrike working for him as an operative. It made sense in the movies as Stryker was the man behind Wolverine’s adamantium and memory loss. In the comics, Lady Deathstrike and Stryker are allied as well. She even breaks him out of custody during a prison transfer. But while Deathstrike refers to the alliance that Stryker struck with her bosses, there’s no real explanation why the two of them should be working together other than the fact that they’re connected in the movie. Plus, Stryker has some unexplained connection with the creators of the Mandroid armor and he ends up running around in a metal suit for most of the story.
I also became annoyed with the way in which Stryker would constantly quote Scripture. It worked well for his introduction and for a few other scenes. But it was overdone and a few of the quotes were either taken wildly out of context or had little to do with the scene at hand. The problem was multiplied when we were introduced to Paul, another pastor with a quote for every occasion. Now, I admit that I have a particular sensitivity to the portrayal of pastors as a pastor myself. I don’t automatically object to a pastor as a villain but I want a certain level of characterization and complexity to go along with it. In the first couple of issues, I wasn’t sure I was getting that.
However, Paul and his Mount Haven sanctuary turn out to be just what we need. This story doesn’t devolve into the X-Men vs. the evil preacher. Instead, while running from Rev. Stryker, Kitty Pryde is taken in by another pastor who has been creating a mutant haven in the Rocky Mountains.
Claremont introduces the complexity I was looking for by setting two pastors on opposing sides. Even better, this story doesn’t devolve into good pastor vs. bad pastor. Paul has been creating a sanctuary for mutant children but he’s also been killing the flat-line families that bring them. He’s every bit as deluded as Stryker and the X-Men soon find themselves caught in the middle. Yet Claremont doesn’t let this story become a screed against everything religious. While fighting for the middle ground, both Cannonball and Shadowcat refer to their own faith as the reason why they believe in peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants. And even the evil preachers are shown to have some light in them by the end. Paul is discovered to be a computer construct. But rather than destroying it, Stryker offers to try and rehabilitate Paul. After all, he believes in the possibilities of redemption. “God Loves, Man Kills II” turns out to be a morality tale against intolerance and absolutism, but not against faith. Although it’s not quite as good as “Invasion,” “God Loves, Man Kills II” turned out to be a lot better than I had expected based on its beginnings.
X-Treme X-Men 31-35: Intifada
Next up is “Intifada.” With “God Loves, Man Kills II,” Chris Claremont had begun to explore the issue of co-existence between humans and mutants. He had created what appeared to be a mutant paradise- a sanctuary in the Rocky Mountains- only to reveal a dark underbelly. “Intifada” explores similar territory. This time around, the supposed paradise is a community outside of Los Angeles called Valle Soleada in which humans and mutants live together openly. It’s reminiscent of San Francisco and its thriving gay community. This particular community also includes a pair of former mutants who are living out their “happily ever after”: Gambit and Rogue.
But again, there are problems lying under the surface. The first problem is that some of the young mutants aren’t happy with a status quo of peaceful co-existence. They believe in the Magneto rhetoric of mutant superiority. And they’re terrorizing local “flat-lines,” including one incident in which they force a car off of a cliff resulting in several fatalities. The second problem is that there appears to be a real estate agency that is trying to turn Valle Soleada into a fully mutant community with no humans allowed. And to get their way, they’re using mutant powers of coercion to convince humans to sell their property and get out. The third problem comes from pro-human groups like the Friends of Humanity and Purity who want to get rid of all the mutants. They find true believers in the victims of mutant crimes- including a girl who survived the car accident mentioned earlier. This girl, Marie D’Ancanto, becomes a key figure in the story after she attempts to bomb a dance club in Valle Soleada. And finally, there’s one last problem featured in a sub-plot. The leaders of the world are worried about the growing mutant problem, especially about the kind of mutant hostility that’s been shown in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, and there’s a mutant problem summit at the president’s ranch in
As he had done in several of the previous stories, Chris Claremont begins to weave most of these plots together. For example, Jarod Malloy, the real-estate lawyer, tries to work his mojo on Rogue since she’s without her powers and no longer a true mutant. And Marie D’Ancanto tells her story to the X-Men which sets them on a path to stop the mutant hoodlums. Claremont also works in strands from earlier stories. Evangeline Whedon, the mutant who can turn into a dragon as seen in X-Treme X-Men #21, is also in L.A.
She agrees to defend Marie D’Ancanto as a client after hearing her story. And Elias Bogan, the behind-the-scenes villain from “Schism,” has another mutant under his control and is using her to get at the X-Men. Usually, it’s interesting to see several strands of story come together. However, in this case, there are a lot of characters to keep track of and it does become a little confusing. There’s probably enough going on in the story without bringing in Bogan.
There are a couple of reasons why I liked this story and
they’re fairly similar to the reasons why I liked “God Loves, Man Kills
II.” Once again, Claremont works with the theme of mutual and
peaceful co-existence. In this story, Claremont expands on that
theme to show the difficulties that the X-Men face in trying to control a younger
generation that doesn’t believe in Xavier’s dream. It’s eerily reminiscent of our real world
situation in which black celebrities like Bill Cosby and Jim Brown have spoken
out against the actions and attitudes of the younger generation. Plus, it shows that even an old writer like Claremont
is able to work with new themes. Another theme that Claremont works with in both “God Loves, Man Kills II” and “Intifada” is the theme of redemption. In “God Loves,” we saw Rev. Stryker change his stance and offer to rehabilitate a mutant criminal. Through “Intifada” we follow the journey of Marie D’Ancanto who, by the end of the story, is labeled a traitor to her race by her former “friends” in the Purity movement. These are positive themes and positive developments and they’re good to read.
That doesn’t mean that “Intifada” is a perfect story. As I noted earlier, the plot did get a little too complicated. Also, the Storm and Gambit sub-plot is occasionally a nice counterpoint to what’s going on in Valle Soleada: the global perspective and the local perspective. And I like what comes out of it. The various governments agree to form the Xavier Security Enforcers so that mutants like the X-Men can police their own- a major element in Claremont’s return to Uncanny X-Men in 2005. But that’s only occasionally. It’s also sometimes stretched out and sometimes silly. It certainly wasn’t the strongest part of the story.
X-Treme X-Men 36-39: Storm: The Arena
So far, so good. While the two latest stories weren’t quite as good as “Invasion” and “Schism,” they were still well worth reading. Unfortunately, X-Treme X-Men’s string of success stops here. This next story is set up during the Storm and Gambit sub-plot. Storm agreed to the proposal that the X-Men serve as an international security team to deal with mutant threats. Russian spook Alexei Vashin challenges Storm to prove her intentions and her competence by taking down a mutant slave smuggler named Tullamore Voge. This is already a bad sign as far as I’m concerned. As Gambit reminds the readers, the X-Men have previously tangled with Voge during Claremont’s less-than-successful return to the team in 2000. I like the idea that the X-Men are going to target a villain but Claremont’s 2000 return had left such a bad taste in my mouth that I didn’t want to deal with its dangling plots and leftover villains.
The next misstep is that Claremont sends Storm in undercover and alone. Gambit had been a part of the conversation with Vashin but he apparently opts out of the mission because he doesn’t want to stay away from Rogue too long- despite the fact that he has as much personal interest in stopping Voge as Storm does and his skills as a sneak would come in handy. The rest of the team offer to work as back-up but Storm brushes them off. It’s dumb and several of the X-Men say so, but Claremont goes through with it anyway. That leads us to another misstep: an X-Treme X-Men story that is, for all intents and purposes, a Storm mini-series.
The biggest mistake however is the story itself. Storm’s plan to uncover and stop the slave ring is to… join the slave ring as a slave. She becomes a gladiator. And apparently, the rush of excitement is so much that she isn’t even sure she wants to put an end to it. This is so stupid. This certainly isn’t the Storm who flirted with danger in “Invasion” but only so she could bide her time until it was opportune to strike. This is a Storm who wants to give him to her dark side. Personally, I’m sick of gladiator stories. I’m sick and tired of seeing heroes dragged into medieval fight clubs. And I’m tired of the heroes relish the purity of combat. No, no, a thousands times to. The X-Men have fought to defend a world; they’ve fought to save a friend. They’ve even fought for an ideal. But- with the possible exception of Wolverine- they don’t fight just to fight.
Claremont tries to make this work by reminding us of great Storm stories of the past. He reunites Storm with Yukio as a way of releasing her wild side. He replays the classic bout between Storm and Callisto as Callisto is also part of this gladiatorial gang. But these moments only serve to show how far Storm has fallen since then.
Not even an appearance by Strong Guy can save this mess. Strong Guy is also a prisoner and a gladiator. Yet instead of welcoming Storm as a potential liberator, he pushes Storm to be a champion so that he might ride her coattails to the top. I tell you, nobody in this story is thinking clearly. Eventually, Storm does manage to defeat most of the ringleaders. However, while she puts masters like Masque out of commission, she never does work her way all the way up to Voge. This is an ugly, stupid story and easily the worst arc of the title.
X-Treme X-Men 40-46: Prisoner of Fire
After the drek that was “The Arena,” I was hoping that X-Treme X-Men would get back to form with the next story, “Prisoner of Fire.” And there’s reason for hope. We’re back in Valle Soleada, the site of the pretty good “Intifada” story. And the first issue shows some nice character interaction. We see Rogue and Gambit as a couple and in love. We see Evangeline Whedon (the dinosaur mutant) and Marie D’Ancanto. And we see Cannonball reconnect with his old friends and former teammates on the New Mutants, Sunspot and Magma, who had both become involved in “Intifada.”
Unfortunately, a story is only as good as its villain. Elias Bogan has twice been used as a background villain: once to good effect in “Schism,” and again as an unnecessary complication in “Intifada.” Now it’s apparently time for this simmering feud to come to a boil. But it’s not because the X-Men decide to go after him. No, it’s because he decides to go after them and sends in a bunch of unimaginative patsies like Manacle, Bludgeon and Cudgel. There’s also a woman in black who has red eyes. The patsies defeat Bishop and torture him until Elias Bogan is able to take over his mind and use him as another pawn.
The X-Men bring in reinforcements and prepare for battle. Cannonball comes up with a decent plan, but it’s hard to take this story all that seriously. After all, they’re fighting a couple of guys named Bludgeon and Cudgel who swing big, heavy sticks. Yeah, I can see how a woman who can turn into a dragon and a guy with the strength of the sun would have problems dealing with that. Skids, the former New Mutant, even gets them to bang their heads against each other. The story tries to take a serious turn when the X-team goes up against a brain-fried Bishop but doesn’t manage to pull it off. The evil Bishop is an almost laughably over-the-top villain.
Meanwhile, another squad led by Sage tries to go after Bogan in his hideout underground. With Shadowcat’s phasing ability and Magma’s ability to control lava, they try to sneak into his compound from the earth rather than through the front door. This is actually one of the better issues in this story. It’s always nice to see heroes use their powers in inventive ways and for reasons other than fighting. Of course, once they arrive, they’re going to use them for fighting anyway first against some of Bogan’s dumb minions and then against their teammates who have been defeated by Bishop and turned against them. There are some supposed-to-be surprising revelations, such as the fact that Gambit only feigned being turned so that he could get close to Bogan and that Magma has really been turned the whole time. But neither moment is all that shocking as we’re long past the point of ridiculousness.
However, for all of that, “Prisoner of Fire” isn’t nearly as bad as “The Arena.” There are even a couple of developments that, while not quite making the entire story worthwhile, insure that the end isn’t as bad as the middle. In the fifth issue, Sage is hit with a psychic attack. Up ‘til now, Chris Claremont has been inserting Sage in various flashbacks and sharing her back-story in dribs and drabs. But now we get the whole tale. We learn all there is to know about Sage. And it’s actually pretty interesting. Plus, Sage had tried to keep her past hidden because she thought that the X-Men wouldn’t accept her if they knew the truth. It was nice to see Sage, one of Claremont’s typical super-women, actually be vulnerable. And of course the X-Men accept her.
The other significant development is that the X-Men are finally able to defeat the woman in black with the red eyes. She had been plaguing the X-Men since “Intifada” and was the only one of Bogan’s stooges who had caused them any trouble. But when they finally free her from Bogan’s control, they discover that she’s actually their friend and former teammate, Rachel Summers. It’s not quite enough to make this a good story but it is nice to have Rachel back in the fold.
And that brings us to the finale. Chris Claremont uses the final issue as both an ending and a beginning. He ties up some of his stories from this series such as giving Gambit his powers back. But he’s also scheduled to take over Uncanny X-Men again and he uses this issue to put his new team in place for that title. Plus, he uses this issue to tie the X-Treme team back to the other titles, something he hasn’t done since “Schism.” Angel updates Storm as to the death of Jean Grey and the team is welcomed back to the mansion by Dani Moonstar and Wolfsbane who are helping to run the school as seen in New Mutants and New X-Men: Academy X. It’s actually a pretty decent final issue. There are some rough spots- I didn’t care for the way in which Gambit’s powers were restored- but it serves as a good coda, especially compared with the last two arcs.
And that’s X-Treme X-Men. It was really bad in the beginning. It was really bad at the end. But in the middle, Chris Claremont managed to spin some amazing stories. I’m glad I read them. Though I’m also kind of glad that I waited five years.
(Originally Published at the Captain Comics.us as three-part series, titled, From X-Cellent to X-Cruciating: X-Treme X-Men Series Review Part 1 of 3, Published Feb. 23, 2007, X-Treme X-Men: An X-Cellent Series Review Part 2 of 3, Published March, 9, 2007 and X-Treme X-Men : From X-Cellent to X-Cruciating Part 3 of 3, Published March 16, 2007)