Mike Carey has been the regular writer on “X-Men” for just over a year now. His first six-issue arc, “Supernovas” was a pretty good start. He set up a nice rogue squad of X-Men led by Rogue and introduced a fairly interesting new team of villains in The Children of the Vault. After that, though, his run went quickly downhill with two bad three-parters. “Primary Infection” and “Red Data” were each confusing, featuring poorly conceived (or at least poorly communicated) villains, inscrutable plots and haphazard art. So there was some question in my mind about X-Men #200. Would we get the good Mike Carey that we saw in his first six issues or the bad Mike Carey that we saw in the last six issues? The “Endangered Species” one-shot seemed to indicate that the good Mike Carey was back.
Pages One and Two: A prelude featuring two seemingly new characters. One is the hunted. The other the hunter. It’s a nice quick teaser that gets you into the story. We don’t know who either of the characters are. The victim mentions his name- “Quiet Bill”- and a ‘guild,’ indicating that he might be associated with either the Thieves or the Assassins Guilds, two organizations that have had many dealings with Gambit. The killer is revealed later in the issue: he’s Riptide, a member of the Marauders. But even new readers know all they need to: someone is hunting people down and killing them.
Page Three: Rogue leads her squad of X-Men to her childhood
home in Caldecott County , Mississippi
Page Four: The squad includes Cannonball, Iceman, Mystique, Lady Mastermind and Omega Sentinel. The fact that the last two are still around indicates to me that they’re more than temporary allies. They’ve got to be full-fledged X-Men by now. This fact is confirmed by the pin-ups in the back- one which features every member of the X-Men and the other which features the current members of the X-Men, New X-Men and X-Factor. Personally, this makes me happy. I kind of like seeing new members added to a team. Darwin and possibly Hepzibah are pretty good additions to the Uncanny team. Lady Mastermind and Omega Sentinel aren’t quite as cool as those two, but I’m glad that they’re sticking around.
Pages Seven and Eight: A romantic interlude between Iceman and Mystique. I have to admit that I’m intrigued by this pairing. I’m glad that Iceman and Polaris are no longer an item as they were during Peter Milligan’s run. I’ve long thought that Iceman and Rogue would make for an interesting pair, the foundations of which were laid during Scott Lobdell’s run in the mid-‘90s. However, Rogue isn’t exactly in a position to start a relationship so I find it interesting that Iceman is running into Mystique while on the rebound.
Page Nine: Cable back on the island of Providence Mississippi
Page Ten and Eleven: The villain cover has shown Lady Mastermind and Omega Sentinel on the same side as the Marauders. Lady Mastermind made sense to me. She’s always been presented as someone who would betray the X-Men if given half a chance. But Omega Sentinel surprised me. She has a truly heroic heart. Now, I know why she’s on the villain cover. In these pages, a computer virus takes control of Omega Sentinel. She’s about to become a bad gal but not of her own volition. The virus happens to be the former Marauder Malice, as shown in the final panel of page eleven and stated clearly later in the issue.
Page Twelve: The killer from the opening scene makes another appearance. However, he’s no longer alone. There are at least three others working with him now as they kill their second victim. We still don’t know who these mysterious killers are yet, though long-time X-fans will recognize them as Arclight, Scalphunter and Vertigo, three more of the Marauders.
Pages Thirteen and Fourteen: Back to Cable for one of the big revelations of this issue: the return of Gambit! This isn’t exactly a surprise as advanced solicitations have been hyping this fact, but it’s still well-handled within the issue itself. Plus, I personally consider this a great thing. Gambit has long been one of my favorite X-Men. I know that he isn’t popular with the older fans but to me he’s a noble rogue, not unlike Han Solo.
Page Fifteen: “Penny for ‘em.” “What?” “Your thoughts. Usual market price.” I just like that exchange. It feels Whedonesque, which is a good thing.
Page Eighteen: And another former X-Man makes a return: Sunfire. Carey is doing a great job of jerking us around. When we last saw Gambit, he had been conscripted by Apocalypse as one of his Horsemen. Gambit brushes that aside by mentioning that he had dropped his “new look.” So it seems that Gambit is back with the good guys. However, he sets up Cable to get taken down by Sunfire and Sunfire was also last seen as a Horseman of Apocalypse. So are they good guys or bad guys? We don’t know. Some people may not like the ambivalence, but I find it intriguing. I want to keep reading. I want to know more.
Page Twenty-Three: Another nice touch by Ramos. It’s not easy to tell Emma Frost and Lady Mastermind apart as they’re both beautiful blondes. He has to rely on the colorist to give Lady Mastermind a slightly richer color to her hair. Then, he has Lady Mastermind give us a look that indicates she might be ready to finally betray the team. This is getting good.
Page Twenty-Six: The third big explosion that Chris Bachalo gets to draw for us. I think he’s having a lot of fun with Sunfire.
Pages Twenty-Eight and Nine: And here’s the big betrayal. Omega Sentinel turns on one group of X-Men and quickly takes down Emma Frost. Then, Lady Mastermind tricks another group of X-Men allowing the full team of Marauders to get close without being noticed. Hoo boy! This is getting really good!
Pages Thirty and Thirty-One: Not the best big spread I’ve ever seen. The coming to blows between the X-Men and the Marauders should be bigger than this. It’s kind of funny: usually Ramos gets the big stuff right but not all of the little details but this time around, I’m more impressed with his little details than his big stuff.
Something else to note: I’m really happy to see the return of the Marauders. They were the big villains in the Morlock Mutan t Massacre, one of the first and best crossovers. They were pretty much overused for a while after that and I, at least, got a little tired of that. But I don’t think we’ve even seen them in a flashback since Uncanny X-Men 350. By now, I’m more than ready to run into some classic foes and this is a pretty triumphant return. I’m also amused that Brubaker is bringing back the Morlocks in Uncanny X-Men while Carey is bringing back their killers at the same in X-Men. I wonder if that’s a coincidence or if this was planned and it’s heading somewhere. I’m hoping for the latter.
Finally, as the fight goes against them, Iceman voices what we’re all thinking: someone must have betrayed the X-Men. They have the traitor. The issue has been setting us up in such a way that we naturally think of Gambit. After all, he’s worked with the Marauders before. He’s betrayed the X-Men before. It’s got to be Gambit, right?
Page Thirty-Four: I thought we’d already seen all of the betrayals that we were going to see for one issue. I was wrong. Carey throws us one last curve. Mystique takes down Scalphunter just before he shoots Rogue. But she doesn’t do it to save Rogue. No, she does it because she wants to be the one to shoot Rogue. And then she does it. Mystique shoots Rogue! Wow, I didn’t see that one coming. Not with the burgeoning relationship between Mystique and Iceman. Not with all of the hints that it had to be Gambit. Well-played, Mr. Carey, well-played!
Endangered Species back-up feature, Part 1
Pages One through Three: A nice summation of “House of M.” I hadn’t that story and this summary gave me all of the background I needed to move forward.
Page Four: I know that some reviewers have complained that the main X-titles haven’t done enough with the Decimation events. Well, complain no longer. It looks like X-Men is about to tackle the issue head-on. Also, I liked the depictions of the mutants who had lost their powers. I’m pretty sure that Blob was one of the former mutants featured in Generation M, though we’ve seen him more recently in X-Factor. Magma lost her new boyfriend to the volcano in the first issue of The 198. And Dani Moonstar was kicked out of the X-mansion in the pages of New X-Men (a turn of events that still doesn’t make sense to me but I’m glad to see it referenced here).
Page Five: Loved this sequence of events. It’s nice to see Hank McCoy consult with Reed Richards, Tony Stark and the other Hank (Pym) about his research. And was that Rictor lying on the examining table in the background of panel three? If so, it’s a nice touch.
Page Eight: What a great cliffhanger. I thought that Beast had only been talking to one other person. I love that he was making his pitch to nine super-villain scientists. It doesn’t entirely work in that some of his earlier remarks had been mutant-specific and some of the people he’s addressing aren’t mutants (like MODOK and Dr. Doom). But I’m willing to forgive the lapse if it results in a surprise this good.
As recently as a couple of weeks ago, I was ready to drop
X-Men from my regular reading list. I
had a few preordered issues to go and then I was most likely done. Now? Not so fast. Mike Carey has got
me excited about both the main story and the back-up. My curiosity is piqued. How does Gambit fit in with all of this? Who will take Hank McCoy up on his
research? What do the Marauders have
planned next? I want to know. But this is about more than just idle
curiosity. I enjoyed this issue. A lot. I want to see where we’re going and for the first time in a while, I’m
pretty sure I’ll be able to enjoy the drive there.