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Inverted Youth Serum

In the last few days, I've been attempting to catch up on years of backlogged X-Men. The last time I picked up an issue, I was probably about 20, and it kills me to say it, but that's actually turning out to be a long time ago. This is the part where I'm supposed to go into my youth spent bankrupting myself on Marvel, Will Eisner and various combinations of Bone and DC/Vertigo, but that's like saying I actually grew up. When you've not read something episodic with gajillions of characters across various different universes in a long time, the best strategy I can think of is to go wiki a handful of your favourite characters, read up where they've gone since you left them and jot down issue numbers and plotlines you like.

100+ back issues later, you can read some of the ramblings I picked up along the way. Alphabetical order.

The Good

Banshee

They killed him. But they also killed Moira McTaggert. That last one was expected, but still sad.

Chris Claremont

By way of X-Treme X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and X-Men Vol. 2 #165. Chris Claremont is many things. He is verbose. He writes dialogue like there's no punctuation. His prose is more purple than Barney. But remember, he is the Guy Who Brought Us the Dark Phoenix Saga (tm). He knows the characters and he knows what they're doing better than most - for the most part. X-Treme was a mixed bag. I had trouble with the Stryker plotline for its entire Dune-movie-style "thinking inwardly yet the audience can still hear you"-type hijinks, and I'm not sure we had to see Storm get partially undressed and mud wrestle again, even if the bondage gear was actually nice. Banter and humour is Claremont top-notch. (Fanservice! Fanserviiiiice!)

His characterization is also still second to none. I particularly appreciated what he was doing to develop the older members within X-Treme - though I admit a lot of that instant connectivity could be in part because I knew those characters beforehand, there are glaring differences under different writers (more on that later), I have good reason to believe the writing is no small part of the equation. He's particularly good at writing a team of individuals, and perhaps the most demonstrable products of his skill happen whenever he has to write a large X-family get-together. It is also Claremont who writes those larger issues of racism so well. It is Claremont who reminds us of the human element under the fantastical story. It is Claremont who speaks through Kitty as Barkeep: "Anyone who wants the hard stuff, talk to the dragon. But remember, he knows who's legal... and he breathes FIRE!"

Alan Davis

Back at the Uncanny X-Men, along with Chris Claremont. After all the malarkey Marvel's thrown at older fans, I can only imagine this is some cosmic suck-up to the readership. It works. And they're beautiful again.

Notable illustrations: Nightcrawler (mid-air kicks of DOOM!), Storm (who looks like a kind of Naomi Campbell) and Sage (hooded with a staff -- just gorgeous). There is such a cool hand-to-hand combat sequence of Nightcrawler vs. Sage in Uncanny #446.

Salvador Larroca

He has an incredible way with profiles and expressions. I read the X-Treme X-Men series first thing, and the first thing that blew me away was this guy. I don't remember being this excited about looking at X-Men art since the brothers Kubert (Fleer Ultra X-Men '96) and Chris Bachalo (Generation X), and this beats that by a few Hulk tons. WOW. Him and Liquid! did amazing stuff for X-Treme X-Men. Watercoloured detailing. Fluid line art. Very nicely done physiques. Dangerous curves. Again, incredible expressions. The nuances are mind-blowing. The girls of X have never looked so good, or defied gravity so well. While we're on this, the men are nothing to sneeze at either. If I survive the dodgy writing in X-Men now, it'll be because of him.

Special reference to the illustrations of: Storm (the gear! the gear!), Gambit (shadows and silhouttes - it's a kind of applied grace), Rogue (her profile in ponytail and yellow/green costume of late has been wonderful), Polaris (gravity-defying -- how does her costume do that?), Emma Frost (most artistic application of a choker as a enhancement of natural assets) and Sage (the hair! the hair!)

Gambit

Last I saw him, he was on trial for murdering Morlocks. Since then, he's been walking through Antartica (OMGZ tropical guy in freezing snowy wastes!111), taken over the Assassins and Thieves Guilds, lived in semi-retirement with Rogue in California, gone blind, taught his own squad of young mutants and taken over as the cutest Death since Archangel (more on these last two points later). Between Chris Claremont and Fabian Nicieza, his character has really fleshed out. Way back during the nigh-on worshippable Gambit limited series in '93, Claremont and Jim Lee did a darker treatment of Gambit that spawned a number of spin-offs and far too many failures. Nicieza's Gambit from the 1999 on-going Gambit series is probably the first real continuation of what Claremont/Lee began. The first on-going series covered Gambit's leadership of the Unified Guilds, and it was really nice to see him in his own element. Nicieza's Gambit takes after Claremont's Pierce Brosnan pro-thief - still charming and smart mouthed, yes, but also very much a professional thief, with the added benefits of being tall, dark and broody. The earlier short arcs were filler, but the story-at-large was good. Given that Nicieza worked with a much longer timeframe (an actual on-going series), he kept things at an admirably brisk pace. Gambit also gets his powers enhanced (re-enhanced, thanks to the whole Sinister/Mutant Massacre debacle), which is quite a plus -- charging up Mystique's skirt by sight has some hidden Bond benefits. I must say it was neat to finally have a character taken apart for his bad Japanese *cough* *Wolverine in Japan* *cough*. This being Gambit, he got his arse kicked by a little Asian girl for his English too.

Gambit x Rogue

Yeah, I'm still a girl, thank you. I like my comicbook soaps. Claremont went and did the ultimate fanservice. He depowered them both. 'Nuff said.

Kitty Pryde

She's back! With Lockheed. And Colossus. Why? Probably because it sells, but you have Kitty Pryde and Colossus, and more importantly, Lockheed. Pity, really. I liked Pete Wisdom. But, Lockheed!

Nightcrawler

I heard a lot angered mumblings about how his character was handled by Chuck Austen. I'm not sure I want to read through the arc(s) about these issues, which I guess is odd -- it's a highly religious arc in one of my favourite comics -- but I don't think I want to right now. Having read the short notes on events and seen samples of Austen's X-Men tenure, it simply doesn't appeal. It sounds too far outside everyone's favourite, "Bamf!", and if I'm reading the new Claremont takeovers of Uncanny correctly, he has returned to a reasonably familiar state. He's broody, dark, very much a moral compass and he still goes, "Bamf!"

Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters

Now really a school! With lots of students. Neet! It's not Generation X (which fell to awful pieces after Lobdell/Bachalo), and it's probably fluff, but I haven't read the student-edition titles as yet, and don't think I'd like to. On the other hand, it is good to see the school as a school with an actual participating and schooled student body. Emma Frost as headmistress again is also a nice touch.

The Bad

Archangel/Angel

They killed him. Or they did damn close. Gone are the razor wings. Gone is the blue skin. He's also dating Husk. Never mind the age difference. How could you dump an anatomically-correct girl ninja for a living chrysalis, anyway?

Chuck Austen

I mentioned before I deliberately skipped the problematic Nightcrawler arcs after sampling bits of Austen's other work on X-Men. I started on his Day of the Atom 4-parter (X-Men #157-160) as it picked up right where the new X-Men team under Havok was announced as a primer. Day of the Atom is an arc set in China, with the adversaries being largely Chinese. From the first page, we are treated to conversations in Cantonese around a temple, complete with simple translations, monks, soldiers and a guy in a straw hat with a rickshaw. Guy screams for his kid to hold on, they'll escape the black hole trying to suck them in, and they all perish. We later meet the X-Men's first adversaries in China, a team of mutants calling themselves the Eight Immortals (who are nothing like the Eight Immortals). And there's this other guy, like Multiple Man, except he's Chinese, in red spandex modeled after the Chinese national flag. I know we might still be a long way from accurate representations of multiculturalism in comics, but the X-Men has a special thing about that subject, probably because the point of the series, was, and still is, a reflection on racism. My cultural gripes about this arc, in short:

a) The official language of China is Mandarin.
b) Rickshaws haven't been used in China since 1949. They're also inherrently Japanese.
c) I suppose in the way of Communist Chinese media, if they had a mutant crime-fighting unit, the Eight Immortals would be a plausible naming choice. And spandex Chinese flags might a militarily-sanctioned mutant officer make. Something about this just itches at me. I wished I knew what.

As for the characters themselves, Gambit has a card blow up in his face the first time he genuinely tries to use his powers after being "jump-started". This is lots of room for characterization, we think. Austen has Gambit whining like a small child the entire time his eyes are burnt and getting in everyone else on the team's way during what is otherwise a very dangerous and covert mission. I know we're not talking Wolverine, but Gambit's been stabbed a good enough number of times over the course of a long history of getting stabbed by pretty crazy people, and I'm sure it's all very traumatic, but he's the last character I could imagine who would whine during a covert, dangerous mission like a small child all because he can't see. In fact, he continues whining after they get back to the mansion and starts blaming the world for every wrong thing. That said, I wonder if Milligan's "no anaesthetic" treatment wasn't some kind of vindication of his character.

By the time I reach the next arc, a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants attack on the Xavier Institute, I'm pretty much tuned out. Austen has a way with banter that makes the characters snippish and almost juvenile in their concerns. Team dynamics are at an all-time low as a result. Though there is purpose to this -- Havok's team is meant to be one with the most teething problems under the new management -- it was jarring. Among the odd concessions regarding this subject is the Juggernaut, who, as part of the X-Men, came off as a interesting, certainly intriguing, fit. Juggernaut's death and redemption, as this arc covers, seems also fitting. Austen though, I won't miss.

Gambit

Him again. Y'see, according to the standard account of Morlock doom, the Marauders had nothing to do with Gambit. It's kind of neat they built a whole revenge/trial arc just to give the guy something to do, but then again, it's not really. Next thing you know, they'll be killing Jean Grey and doing a Dark Phoenix on us aga-- all of which they did. Damn them. And then, there were the character conflicts. As recently as the 2nd on-going Gambit series (Hamp Note: fun series, quite more in line with the affable goofball aspect of his character; notable for topless Storm and various dirty movies), Remy sleeps around because he can. No surprises there. In the second filler arc of post New X-Men (post the last time Magneto ruled the world in an alternate reality, circa 2006), he gets tempted by a young student in his troupe called Foxx. This is the point of the arc: he gets tempted by Foxx. (Don't worry, the X-people laughed at it too.) While undergoing psychic sex therapy (it's all Claremont's fault for fanservicing here) with Rogue, presided over by Emma Frost (theoretically how Cyclops cheated on Jean Grey, thus ending one of the most haggardly dull romances in X-history). After it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt he's a ladies man, anyway. Now, I'm handing it to Peter Milligan (more on him later) in that he did cover some very interesting characterization in his time thus far as a writer for X-Men, and there's some humour invoved in Gambit going sexual neurotic on everyone (as accused by Wolverine -- this needs some seeing to be believed). But it's a strange aspect of his reputation to play with this way. Again, fun arc, but weird arc.

And then, there was Death. When I last read things to do with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death was a guy called Archangel (more on him later), with razor-sharp, poisonous wings. He was cool. He dated Psylocke, psychic ninja, who fought mostly in anatomically perfect girl ninja clothes. You can't find a better Death than Archangel. (I've heard about Wolverine as Death, but my brain fails to wrap.) In yet another resurrection of Apocalypse, Gambit approaches him (for no or perhaps as-yet-unfathomable reason) to voluntarily get turned into Death. We do hear he did it out of love (for the X-Men), not like that makes any sense. Do people really volunteer to be prodded with no anaesthetic by sharp, pointy claw-things because they can't have sex?

Then again, there was that one documentary about the guy with the really small penis who was on a quest to get a better penis I saw once -- I think I may need to watch this one out.

Igor Kordey

Responsible for in X-Treme X-Men #25-46. He has a rather odd way of drawing faces and expressions, especially mouths. It's probably personal taste, but after #25 issues of aesthetically pleasing Larocca, getting squished and blocky people-shapes was a bit disturbing.

Meggan

They killed Meggan. Captain Britain's reformed Excalibur, but with a new team I'm not all that interested in pursuing as yet. Losing Meggan is just bad.

Peter Milligan

I admit to spazzing, since this is the guy who did The Eaters. True to form, his first arc as writer for the X-Men involves ctulhu from outer space and nights of the living dead. It's weird, it's kooky and the banter is great. He is primarily responsible for the Foxx and Death debacles (see above). I'm still hoping it's going to turn out into some kind of weird social observation about celibacy and incest at some point, and not just an excuse to put Mystique in Havok's X-team. By the way, his banter is great. It's quick, it's believable and it's fluid. I'm reminded a lot of the kind of in-game banter I liked from older X-Men team dynamics. Milligan's Polaris is completely psychotic. She's also into mothering giant blobs of slime from outer space. I'd argue his Wolverine is rather toned down. The current direction for his character across the titles appears to be headed towards a mentor character though, so it could be keeping with that. The two pairings in his team, Iceman/Polaris/Havok and Gambit/Rogue, are nicely nuanced. You've heard my misgivings about the latter. I'm still waiting for someone to eat someone else. Somehow.

I have much larger gripes to stomp on. Apocalypse, let's look at him. He's vicious, he's arrogant, he's cruel and he's merciless. Under Milligan, Apocalypse is conflicted, with Messiah-complex and a bit flabby. He worries after deodorant (I'm not kidding). He depends on a sidekick (kind of like Azrael, cat to Gargamel) to remind him he's not nearly vicious enough. I'm not looking for the resurrection of Magneto (again! They just killed him, again), but I can't help feeling there's something awfully wrong with this version of Apocalypse. It's not un-fun, but is is disconcerting.

Rogue

She's been overcomplexified, thanks to X-Treme X-Men. If Claremont did one thing wrong, it was that he matured Gambit and left Rogue more of a kid -- in spite of the fact that the Rogue-centric nature of most of X-Treme's plotlines had at least one arc of solid character growth (Larocca's shot of Rogue on top of Gambit with a broadsword through the both of them is classic). While I understand Rogue's entire appeal hinges on her being emotionally retarded due to her incapacity to touch, and the immature destructiveness ("hotheadness") is an offshoot of this frustration, but I don't know. Claremont's treatment makes Rogue prone to emotional breakdowns and manipulation -- plausible, yet flimsy. There was a while (I think it was under Lobdell or Nicieza, I forget) where Rogue was actually growing up as a character. This was worked on further in the Rogue limited series (like the Gambit limited series, solid writing and good art won). Under Milligan, she seems more of an angst puppy than ever. I'm not sure if having about a year of actual relationship time and getting stabbed was supposed to make her more obsessive, but the obsessive part of her character under Claremont-Milligan isn't working for me. I think it could be a play on the girl-woman complex, but I also think it's unnecessary. Rather, by far, unecessary. This also bothers me because some of the other female characters appear to be playing with the same mechanism and doing just fine. Kitty Pryde, for example, is very much grown up, but also very much a balance of a girl still growing up. I suspect though, even on the sliding timescale, Rogue is still older than Kitty.

When Gambit gained his own on-going series, so did Rogue. I don't particularly recommend the on-going series -- writing is very shifty, and clearly aimed at a 13-year-old female audience. Especially in the latter part of the on-going series, the dialogue and plotting is weak. Also, Rogue's powers were changing for the better under Claremont (she lost the Ms. Marvel abilities, gained a power-up to use all the powers she'd previously imprinted at will, then lost everything completely), and in her on-going series, she regained flight and flames from Sunfire for apparently no other reason than it lets her fly again. Between the ongoing series and under Austen's reshuffled X-Men, she's mysteriously regained at least the absorption powers. At the end of X-Treme, Sage is responsible for jump-starting Gambit's powers. When Gambit asks after Rogue's powers, Rogue seemed to dislike the idea. There has been, to my knowledge, no attempt at explaining why her powers have returned. She's also seemed to have lost the ability to recall imprints.

Point of note: Why is it after the combined might of Shi'ar tech, Xavier tech, Sage powers, White Queen sex therapy and all manner of cosmic entities has Rogue not yet used an inhibitor and simply dragged Gambit to bed, anyway? (It sells is not a valid answer anymore -- at least, I don't think it is after X-Treme X-Men, so why are they still playing with it?)

Psylocke

They killed her. And made her appear in one of Bishop's dreams, where we also learn Bishop is aborigine in a bit of Claremont-style cultural immersion. *foreheadslap* But gone is the anatomically-correct girl ninja wear. Gone are the psi-blades. Gone are the sexy ninja moves. Woe. Woe and doom.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
atomicduck
Apr. 9th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)
My god... I've been a casual fan of the X-men universe through the 90's animated series mostly, so it's been years since I had any clue what was going on. your post hastened me to go indulge in wikipedia, and I am SO lost, haha. It was like everything after Madelyne Pryor wandering off doesn't exist for me.

I'm a little bitter about Archangel, too. ><;

Man, it takes a serious amount of commitment to keep up with this stuff. It's hard for me to believe anyone could be an expert in all the stuff published since the 60's and all the spin-offs!
vampyrichamster
Apr. 9th, 2006 08:18 pm (UTC)
I just gaze in rapturous awe at the dedication it took to write those wikis. How do people know, let alone remember and catalogue all that stuff? I keep thinking there be fans with filing cabinets and graphs somewhere. :)

I started on the animated series too. The older one, with Nightcrawler and Colossus still on the team (they call it 2nd generation X-men by now, that's how scary old it is), and really followed the later version with Gambit and Rogue. The TV threw me at the comics, which replaced all my Enid Blyton books (Harry Potter without magic for girls). I've spent the last few days kicking myself for selling off most of my comic collection as a broke teen. :/

Coming back, it's mostly been, "Who the heck is that person? And that one? And...hey, Cyclops is dating Emma Frost?!" Veeeeeery lost in space. *nods*

PS: I discovered a new secret tool in the quest for grasping X-Men. P2P. Suddenly, even obscure spin-offs from the back ends of time are no longer so far away!
atomicduck
Apr. 11th, 2006 06:56 am (UTC)
Yeah! Those wikis are so thorough, I find it hard to believe it's ONE writer. Maybe multiple users uploaded different information chunks for a single entry. It's still damn impressive though.

Oh I came across the Cyclops/Emma Frost thing too. I was totally incensed, because a) it was like, "lsjgklsjgklsd, Emma Frost?!!!", and b) "I can't believe they killed Jean Grey.... again?! I've always taken Jean and Scott to be a mainstay of the X-verse... it's blasphemy otherwise, lol.


these comics are available through p2p? XD;
vampyrichamster
Apr. 11th, 2006 09:03 am (UTC)
Yeah, I have a feeling the wikis are contributed by fans of certain characters, who just do specific sets. It's amazing stuff. I was actually able to find characters I last saw in my uncle's vintage comic book collection -- from 1974.

They've apparently managed to kill Jean Grey at least twice since I last saw her, I think. The last time was actually voluntary limbo, after she "consented" to having Scott go out with Emma in her absence. That said, I like Emma Frost because I really liked the Generation X series, but going out with Cyclops is quite a combination. Jean and Scott are mainstays of the X-verse. I guess it's realistic their marriage got into trouble, but...y'know...it's *wrong*. ;)

And yep. P2P. eMule has scans of every X-Men issue ever made. Just plug in a title, say, "X-Men" and "#1", and voila, defrosted issue #1. I'm flabbergasted. We didn't have this when I was little. ;)
scanner_darkly
Apr. 9th, 2006 09:23 pm (UTC)
Woe and doom about Psylocke. Also, didn't they do awful things to Scarlet Witch? I'm fairly bitter about that. They went very women-in-refrigerators the last few years, it seems.

I have more to say, but feel spazzy and have to get going. The last X-men stuff I read was the New X-men series, which I hear is a different universe than Ultimate or Amazing. And they're all different! Bah.

But...didn't the White Queen sex therapy stuff happen in New X-men? Or did it just also happen there?
vampyrichamster
Apr. 9th, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC)
They have done awful things to the Scarlet Witch -- in fact, she's the latest reason Magneto was killed/universe reset/mutant populations everywhere shrunk. This was something called House of M, apparently finished late last year? They also threw Jean Grey off a proverbial cliff again.

New X-Men is actually X-Men in the universe as we know it, with "New" added on for emphasis. They changed it back to X-Men recently, probably because everyone ran away in terror. Astonishing X-Men, the new Joss Whedon thingamabob, is a third team of X-Men begun because we now have too many last generation X-Men. Ultimate is alter-verse. Sticking with Uncanny and X-Not-New-Men myself, so as to save brain cells.

White Queen was sex therapy-ing Cyclops in New X-Men, thus wrecking his marriage. When the title went back to X-Men (where I'm at now), she's providing sex therapy for Gambit/Rogue in a less adulterous fashion. It's like the O.C. Just nuttier.

That said, X-Men (#165 upwards, with Pete Milligan), is pretty good. Dig the ctulhu aliens from outer space. It's kooky. Uncanny, with Chris Claremont, is better. Looks a lot like a much older X-Men, actually. The, "Bamf!" is there. :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )