Monday, July 21, 2008

Uncanny X-Periment # 151: "Messiah CompleX"

I’m going to lay out the “Reader’s Digest” version of Messiah Complex, because, honestly, most people that are reading this have read it all ready.

The X-Men learn that the first Mutant child has just been born in Alaska. They get there too late, as the Marauders and the Purifiers showed up before hand and clashed. The X-Men press on the Acolytes into revealing where Sinister is. The New X-Men take on the Purifiers, jeopardizing an undercover mission by Richter – they soon find out that the baby is not in the hands of the Purifiers.

Meanwhile, Forge discovers that two new timelines have appeared with Mutants in it after the baby’s birth. Two Maddrox’s are sent into these timelines, and Layla jumps into one of them. They are beaten up and captured and tossed into a Mutant internment camp . . . where they meet Bishop and learn what has happened.

Back in the present, the X-Men collide with the Acolytes in Antarctica, only to learn that they don’t have the baby either. At the school, the ONE Sentinels suddenly go hay-wire and the bodies of their pilots are taken over by the nannites and are unleashed against the school. The X-Men destroy them and the strike team returns, having found out that none other than Cable has the child. To bring Cable in, Cyclops assembles a new X-Force squad consisting of Wolverine, Caliban, Wolfsbane, X-23, and Hephzibah. They meet up with Cable . . . and the Purifier’s new allies, Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers. X-23 takes down Deathstrike and Cable escapes. Caliban is eventually killed during the battle.

Cable makes it to Forge’s lab, where he hopes to spirit the baby and himself into the future. He arrives, only to be ambushed by Bishop, who believes the child is responsible for creating his own dark future. Before Bishop can kill the baby, the Marauders show up and kidnap her. Cable makes it to ousted Xavier and Bishop lies his ass off to the X-Men.

As this is all happening, Predator X is hunting down more Mutants, heading back to the school and killing Peepers along the way.

The X-Men get Cerebra back on-line and use it track the child to Muir Island. There, Mystique uses Rogue’s comatose body to kill Sinister and takes his place, hoping the baby will save Rogue. Gambit is unsure and feels that Rogue would protest to a baby being possibly killed to save her life. The X-Men show up to take the baby back. The New X-Men, injured X-Men, and Predator X are all suddenly accidentally teleported there as well.

The baby saves Rogue, then is given to Professor X, who then gives it to Cable. Bishop goes after Cable, but is attacked by Predator X. Emma Frost takes down Exodus and Wolverine rips Predator X in half from the gut out. Cable in finally confronted by Cyclops, who takes the baby himself, and then decides to trust his son and gives it back. Cable teleports into the future just as Bishop leaps up and fires . . . accidentally killing Professor X. With Professor X dead, Cyclops declares the X-Men are no more.

I’ve been trying my best to figure out just how to judge a story like “Messiah Complex.” It’s a hard story to judge, to be honest. I mean, a lot happened and things got changed, but when it comes to X-Men, things change a lot.

Let’s start with the story first, I guess.

Overall, we have a number of threads being born (no pun intended) out of the birth of a Mutant girl who is so powerful, it actually caused a psychic backlash that fried Cerebra. We’ve got a Maddrox dupe and Layla in the future (Bishop’s future). We’ve got the Purifiers, who unleashed Predator X – both of whom are after the baby. They also recruit in Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers. We’ve got Sinister and the Marauders, who have teamed up with Mystique and the Acolytes in an effort to take the child for themselves. Then, there’s the X-Men themselves, who have to face down ONE and eventually create a new X-Force.

In addition to this, there’s Cable, who has the child and hopes to take it into the future; and there’s Bishop, who wants to prevent the future he grew up in (as seen by Jamie and Layla). There’s also Rogue, who is in the clutches of Sinister and the Marauders.

On top of and along with this are all these character arcs and history from not only Endangered Species, but also Decimation, House of M and even as far back as Endgame.

That’s a lot of material. And while there is some fight scene padding, I’d have to say that in this case, the story is executed nicely. The pacing moves rapidly enough for the reader to hold and the threads all get the right amount of attention. Each character gets a moment in the spotlight (except for Guido), though some more than others.

If there is a flaw in the story, it’s that there’s too much going on. Our attention is too divided. We’re caring about all these different characters – so much so that it’s hard to focus on just the heart of the story. Which is something that can be dealt with, but if there’s one problem, that’s it.

In addition to the whole ‘the future’ story thread that remains the grounding for this crossover, there is also a great “let’s kick some ass” feel to it. The X-Men have had their ass handed to them for a good while now. They’ve been on the defensive as opposed to the offensive. But seeing them take on the Purifiers (even if it is the New X-Men going at it) was a blessing (again, no pun intended). The X-Men have been the Marauders bitches for years and I loved to see them get the jump on Sinister’s assassins. The Acolytes have always kinda been push-overs, but again, it’s nice to them kicked their asses kicked. While I am very uncertain about this New X-Force, I liked the idea of the most violent X-Men being unleashed against the most violent of their allies and their most violent of enemies.

The effectiveness of these fight scenes in their many incarnations is the glue that holds “Messiah Complex” together. The meaning of the crossover is very evident in that everyone has a different agenda and a different ideal goal for the baby, but it’s the clash of these ideals and goals and agendas that pulls it all together.

This story deals with the fundamental shake-up of the X-Men’s corner in the Marvel Universe. We witness the destruction of the mansion/institute (again), as well as the end of the ONE Sentinels. Then there are a number of deaths here – including those of Professor X, Sinister, Lady Deathstrike, Predator X, Caliban, and Peepers. While Caliban and Peepers are more than likely to rot in the ground for a long while, one has to wonder just how long it will take for Professor X to pop out of the grave or for Sinister to be revived or Deathstrike to be rebuild. I mean, this is X-Men, right? These things happen. Professor X has either been dead or in a coma about five times all ready.

The scripts are effective. Even the death of Professor X is rather effective. It’s just that I can’t help but question its ramifications. In fact, I was a little bothered by Cyclops’ statement that the X-Men should end with the death of Professor X. Why should it? Just because Charles is dead, doesn’t mean the X-Men shouldn’t exist.

This also really rattled me because one of the major themes of this story is that Cyclops is breaking out on his own and is becoming the leader we all want him to be. He’s grown out of Professor X’s shadow. Part of this builds from what we’ve seen in Astonishing, though don’t get me started on the continuity there. It also steems out of House of M, where he was pretty much in command, as well as during Decimation and all the revelations and ramifications of that story. Cyclops is fully realized here. Doubtless, certain, but also very human. The flashbacks, the memories, the dialogue . . . this is Cyclops in his element and perhaps at his best. We’re even allowed to see some of his angst and anger over the death of Corsair – finally.

Then there’s Wolverine. The dynamic between Scott and Logan has really changed and it’s very evident here. I think there will always be that sense of uneasiness around each other, but the relationship between the two is stronger than it’s ever been. Scott trusts Logan now more than ever – hence why he gave Wolverine his own team to do “what he does best.” Logan certainly gets some awesome moments – his going after Gambit was pretty neat, as it immediately reminded me of the old “Bang, you’re dead!” moment from Crossroads. I also very much like when he took down Predator X. It screamed summer blockbuster, but damn it, if I wasn’t excited to see it happen.

On Cable’s end of things, given the direction Cable has been moving towards over the past few years, this is exactly what I’d expect him to do. I thought that Cable came through quite well throughout and the dynamic he had with Cyclops was especially enjoyable. The fact that Cyclops, in the end, entrusted Cable with the baby spoke volumes of their relationship.

Man, did I feel bad for Professor X. I think that both the reader and the X-Men themselves have learned that it’s time for Professor X to turn the reigns of the X-Men over to Cyclops. The scene where Professor X is effectively kicked out of the mansion’s ruins is pretty depressing. The Professor just comes across as lost most of the time. His death? Well, I can deal with it.

Bishop was one character that I felt needed fleshed out. We saw young Bishop’s whole POV on these events, but the POV of adult Bishop was missing big-time. In the end, he came off like an evil, crazy person. Despite the fact that Bishop has been a good guy for as long as we’ve known him and has played pivotal roles in key stories in past, it’s a little jarring to see him in such a terrible light. A little more fleshing out would have been appreciated here and remains the biggest flaw in Messiah Complex.

As far as the real bad guys are considered, there’s not a whole lot to say. Predator X wants to eat the baby. Lady Deathstrike is honoring a promise. The Purifiers hate Mutants because they think they’re from Hell and the baby is the Mutant Antichrist. Sinister wants the baby because . . . uh, well, with a name like “Mr. Sinister,” I’m sure it’s simply because of evil reasons. Though giving us reasons why would have been really nice. Ditto with as to why exactly Exodus and the Acolytes were there.

Mystique and Gambit are both there out of pure hope for Rogue, which played to their strengths. Actually, I thought Gambit was great here. You know he’s a good guy, he knows he’s a good guy, but he’s doing what he has to. And falling in with Sinister – plus his reaction to Sinister’s death – are both good signs of his character. Mystique’s pure desperation to save Rogue was well handled, as was Rogue’s reaction.

On the art front, it’s all pretty much on par, though Billy Tan still needs to work on his anatomy/perspective. It’s just awful sometimes. Most of his work is pretty good, but at times, I just shake my head and go “No!” His work blends well with Scot Eaton’s and Marc Silverstri, just as Chris Bachelo’s blends with Humbert Ramos’. We’ve got two very different art styles – more realistic and more cartoony – but they do come together nicely. It works out that the bigger action scenes are dealt with more by Ramos and Bachelo, who are well-equipped for this.

I mentioned how it’s hard to judge Messiah Complex, and in an overall sense, that remains true. A story this large, this complex, and with so many shake-ups is very hard to judge. In some ways, it works out better. In that changes the status quo of the X-Men, it rules on high. But is it perfect? No. Motivations aren’t explored and the story is a little too chaotic at times. It does have a number of high points. Characterization and character development, for one. Great battle scenes, for another.

By crossover standards, it’s perfect. It goes seamlessly from comic to comic, the only differences being in the art style. As an event, it stands tall, though it’s a little too early to see the immediate outcome. With “Divided We Stand” coming, I’m a little uncertain and it makes the long-term effects next to impossible to weigh in on. It shakes things up, as I said, but for how long it’ll all be like this, I have no clue.

It’s a focal point story. We see old plot threads pulled together and new ones begun. It reminded me a lot of the crossovers of old. However, much like the futures seen in Messiah Complex, the aftermath could be rather great . . . or pretty bad.