Sunday, September 15, 2013

Uncanny X-Periment Special: Top 50 Stories - Part Three!

40) Inferno

Madelyne Pryor has sold her soul to the demon N’astirh.  She then goes a little nuts, calls herself the Goblyn Queen and goes and confronts Mister Sinister about her origins.  He reveals that she’s a clone of Jean, given life from a small piece of the Phoenix force, and only created to have a baby with Scott.  She seeks revenge on Scott and Sinister by being willing to sacrifice baby Nathan, and a bunch of other babies, all to use this sacrifice to help N’astirh invade the Earth.  The X-Men and X-Factor intervene, learn the truth about Maddie/Jean/Phoenix (Jean gains all three memories), and eventually defeat her and the demons.  Meanwhile, the New Mutants fail to help Ilyanna into being manipulated by S’ym and N’astirh and opening a portal to Limbo.  Colossus helps her focus, and then she overcomes a new transformation, and seals Limbo off from the Earth, then reverts to childhood.  X-Factor and the X-Men track down Sinister back at the mansion, where they battle it out.  Cyclops blasts Sinister apart and the two teams go their separate ways.

Why’s It’s # 40:
I’m not a big fan of sorcery and demons in X-Men, but this is a good story.  It’s epic in scope, full of huge revelations, big splashy fights, and a ton of character bits.   Everyone gets something to do, there’s a real sense of drama and danger and the stakes are appropriately high.  We get lots of resolution to the “who is Madelyne Pryor” question and a satisfying conclusion to Magik’s journey.  The art is beautiful, capturing mood, character, and conflict very nicely.

Bottom Line:
Excellent payoff, great art, and a compelling and revealing story.  The threats are terrifying, if a little overly-fantastic.  

39) Murder at the Mansion (New X-Men # 139 -141)

Jean catches Emma and Scott having a telepathic affair.  She confronts Emma and goes through her memories, forcing Emma to revisit several horrible moments in her history.  Scott goes to Jean and makes her see that he never had a physical affair with Emma.  Scott takes off.  Hours later, Emma’s diamond body is found shattered.   Bishop and Sage arrive and put the school in lock-down.  A spiraling murder investigation takes place – and in the X-Men’s world, that includes oozing eggs, mind control, temporary amnesia, fake confessions, a resurrection, and a traitor amongst the team.

Why It’s # 39:
A key chapter in Morrison’s run, this arc peels back several layers of characterization and shines a light on a growing mystery within the team.  Jean’s confrontation with Emma is great; the payoff of Jean discovering their affair is excellent.  Bringing Bishop and Sage in as outsiders adds a sense of credibility to the investigation.  If this was just Scott or Logan walking about, asking questions, you’d wonder too much if they were involved.  Bishop and Sage are excellent additions to the story.  There’s some great X-Men weirdness and some classic X-Men tropes that make it a solid read.  Plus, the art is great too.

Bottom Line:
Good art, an intriguing mystery, some good characterization, and just a nutty walk through the X-Men’s little world.  Can’t ask for anything more!

38) House of M

The X-Men and the Avengers come together to confront the Scarlet Witch after she went crazy and destroyed the Avengers.  But after arriving on Genosha, where’s been being helped by Professor X and Magneto, the world burns white.  Suddenly, Magneto is ruling the Earth, Mutants are the dominant species, humankind is going extinct, and all the Marvel heroes are living their dream lives, having gotten what they’ve always wanted.  Except Wolverine always wanted his memories and now that he has them, he remembers everything that happened on Genosha.  With the help of Luke Cage, Hawkeye, and mysterious young lady named Layla Miller, Wolverine gathers members of the X-Men and the Avengers to attack Genosha.  They do, find out that Quicksilver was behind it all, piss off Magneto, and then Scarlet Witch, in one final act of revenge, declares “No more Mutants,” thus ridding 98% of the Mutant population of their powers.

Why It’s # 38:
From its opening panels to its final splash, House of M is a huge ride through an alternate reality – that has major consequences on the Marvel Universe.  The main mini-series smartly focuses on the attempts at getting the world back to normal, leaving the world building to spin-offs and tie-ins.  A lot of characters get the spotlight, with Cyclops, Magneto, Quicksilver, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Doctor Strange lead the charge.  There are some powerful moments, like when Quicksilver confronts Magneto about Wanda’s fate.  There’s also some creepy stuff, like Wanda’s meeting with Doctor Strange during the final battle.   There are some interesting bits about this might be the way that Mutants rise to power and become dominant.   It’s some interesting bits like that, along with great action sequences, and character pieces that bring this comic together and make it greater than the sum of its parts.

Bottom Line:
An intriguing alternate reality, an unstable Marvel family, some solid character beats, and ramifications felt throughout the Marvel Universe.  Nothing to lose here.

37) Second Coming

Cable and Hope arrive from the future and hit the ground running.  They are immediately hunted by the Right, the Sapien League, and the Purifiers.  The New Mutants and the X-Men intercept them and help them get to Utopia, though they take some loses on the way, including Nightcrawler and Vanisher.  Everyone makes it back to Utopia, but Bastian manages to encase both Utopia and San Fracisco in a force field.  He then opens a time portal and sends Nimrods from the future to wipe out Mutantkind.  The X-Men and co. do their best to fight them off, but it’s a mission into the future with X-Force that saves them.  Ultimately, Bastian himself becomes involved, but is brought down by a power-mimicking Hope (with some help from Wolverine and Cyclops).  The X-Men take their hits, as Cable is killed as well, but they find their faith in Hope is justified.

Why It’s # 37:
This story is an epic rollercoaster.   Once it gets going, it takes off.  The writers do a great job maintaining the story’s pace from issue to issue.  Cyclops really takes the cake here, putting all his faith into the X-Men and into Hope.  Cable plays a great role as caretaker to Hope.  I loved the use of all the player available and the build-up to this story.   Most of all, Hope has a great role in this story.

A big story building for a long comes together nicely and neatly.  

36) Avengers vs X-Men (The Uncanny X-Men # 40-42, Avengers # 47-49, The Uncanny X-Men # 43-45, Avengers # 53)

After the Black Knight accidentally helps Magneto and Toad escape the Strangers prison planet, Magneto lures Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch into a trap.  They agree to join with Magneto in order to give the Avengers time to get into action against him.  Unfortunately, at the United Nations whilst demanding Mutants get their own country, Magneto manipulates them into truly joining his cause. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch then leave with him back to his giant-rock-in-the-water base.  Meanwhile, the X-Men are given new costumes by Professor X and go and fight an underground monster named Grotesque.  Professor X helps them and is killed, but it turns out he also had an incurable disease and was going to die anyways (not really).  At the funeral, Quicksilver arrives to mourn with them.  Quicksilver suddenly thinks the X-Men are going to attack him and he takes off.  The X-Men convene at the mansion and watch a tape that Xavier has left them, asking that they carry on with his dream and also defeat the returned Magneto.  They figure out that Magneto is building a mind-control machine and put themselves on the ship carrying the last component.  Magneto takes the ship and the X-Men use it to get aboard his base, but are swiftly defeated.  Quicksilver asks Magneto to keep them alive and Angel manages to escape.  He goes to get the Avengers, but is distracted by an adventure with Red Raven.  Cyclops is able to free himself and then gets in a fight with Quicksilver and defeats.  Of course, that’s when the Avengers arrive and behold Cyclops standing above their defeated comrade.  Magneto uses his mind-control device to force the X-Men and the Avengers to fight, but Angel turns it off and they go after Magneto.  Toad, fed up with being abused by Magneto, activates the self-destruct.  Everyone manages to escape – except Magneto.

Why It’s # 36:
This is a classic Silver Age epic, complete with twisting subplots and larger than life villains.  Magneto is boisterous and fun.  The X-Men and the Avengers are dynamic.  Quicksilver’s mad as hell; Wanda is flailing about.  The Avengers and X-Men play greatly around the Magneto-Quicksilver-Scarlet Witch trio, which is really the core of this story.  It’s interesting to put this story up against related tales, like “Bloodties” or “House of M,” because it kicks off an arc of manipulation that Magneto doles out on his children like candy.

Bottom Line:
Fun Avengers/X-Men that swirls around a great Magneto family drama.  Classic!

35) Schism/Regenesis

A newly-formed, all pre-teen Hellfire Club manipulate Quiten Quire into attacking a UN summit, forcing many countries to take up new Sentinel programs (being produced by the Hellfire Club).  As the X-Men around the globe trying to take down Sentinels all over the world, Wolverine insists on going after Quire and bringing him to justice.   Of course, that’s when Quire shows up looking for asylum.   Wolverine wants to march him out to the Avengers, but Cyclops insists on keeping him there.  Wolverine complies, but is pissed.  Meanwhile, there’s a Mutant Museum opening that night and Cyclops decides to send some X-Men and Generation Hope there as a sign of peace.   Of course, the Hellfire Club attacks and take down everyone except for Idie.   Cyclops wants Idie to use her powers to defeat the Hellfire Club; Wolverine wants her to run.   Idie ends up using her powers and murders all of them.  A bomb goes off and a new giant, Sentinel begins to rise.  Wolverine and Cyclops go back to Utopia with Generation Hope; Cyclops wants them to fight since they’re the only ones there.  Wolverine wants to them to run.  After a confrontation, Wolverine shows up with a bomb, ready to blow Utopia up when the Sentinel shows up.  He and Cyclops tussle and continue to fight when the Sentinel shows up.  Eventually, Generation Hope shows up.  Wolverine throws away the bombs ignition and joins in against the Sentinel.  It falls and the X-Men win . . . except Cyclops and Wolverine are completely at odds.  Logan decides to reopen the school in Westchester.  Half the X-Men and most of the students follow him; the rest stay with Scott at Utopia.

Why It’s # 35:
I think what appeals to me so much about this is the philosophic divide that breaks the X-Men up.  It’s far less the actual fight between Scott and Logan as it is the moral and philosophical direct they want to the take the X-Men.  It’s smart, it’s interesting, and it’s shocking.  Of all characters to take the X-Men back to the school, Logan would be the last one I would have expected.  On the flipside, Scott is the one I would not have expected to go the militarization route.  It’s good stuff to chew on.

Bottom line:
Division in the ranks, deep philosophical divides, good art, and excellent action scenes.  It’s the perfect 35th!

34) Fatal Attractions

Humanity and Mutantkind are skirting the edge of war.   The Acolytes, at the command of Fabian Cortez, attack a hospice.   X-Factor then learns that they are about to attack a new government Sentinel program called Project Wideawake.  X-Factor is able to overcome them.   Meanwhile, shortly after the return of Cable, the mysterious Exodus approaches some of X-Force with an offer of sanctuary.  Some of them take up the offer, just to infiltrate Exodus’ base.   Cable rescues them, then is confronted and severely injured by Magneto.  Shortly afterward, Illyana succumbs to the Legacy Virus.  Magneto crashes her funeral and engages the combined forces of the X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, and Excalibur.  He offers them a place on his orbital space station of Avalon.  Colossus, feeling failed by Professor X, accepts this offer.  Professor X takes control of Magneto’s mind and accesses his powers to throw Avalon away from the Earth.   After a failed assassination attempt whilst visiting Magda’s grave, SHIELD and the United Nations institute a protocol to magnetically seal the Earth from Magneto.  Magneto retaliates by unleashing a worldwide electro-magnetic pulse.  A small team of X-Men attack Avalon, leading to a battle in which Professor X uses manipulated memories of Magneto’s failures to undermine him.  Magneto then rips Wolverine’s adamantium off his bones.  Desperate, Professor X wipes Magneto’s mind out.  The X-Men return to Earth and save Wolverine.  Some of them head to Muir Island, kidnap Colossus, and help cure him from being stuck in his metal form.   He still refuses to return to the X-Men.  But in the aftermath of this mission, a new Excalibur team is formed.

Why It’s # 34:
I’ll be honest, even though the summary I gave is for the proper issues of the actual crossover, you almost need to add to it Uncanny X-Men 298 – 306 and Annual 17, X-Men # 24, X-Men Unlimited # 2, Uncanny X-Men # 315, and X-Men # - 1.  These books provide context for what is happening in the X-Men’s world during this crisis – attacks by the Acolytes, the manipulations by the Upstarts, the growing threat of the Legacy Virus, the rise of the Friends of Humanity hate group.   These all frame the larger threat of Magnetos’ return from his latest supposed ‘death.’   It’s some dark times for the X-Men, that’s for sure.  This crossover does one of two things, thematically.  Firstly, it shows just what lengths Professor X and Magneto will go to in order to stop the other.  The assaults of visceral, the attempts making peace are genuine, and the annihilated friendship between them is almost painful.   The second is that it challenges the various stars of the titles in deep, personal ways.  X-Factor’s trust in their government allies is tainted.  X-Force is torn between their old teachers.   The X-Men are brought down by tragedy and fairly unethical methods of attack.  Wolverine must confront the demons with his own mind to survive.   Excalibur, scattered and diminished, has to discover a new role in the world.  Coupled with these excellent framing issues, we have what is one of my own personal favorites.

Bottom Line:
Possibly the defining X-Men 90s story, along with some extras, makes for an exciting and action-packed story.

33) Intifida (X-Treme X-Men # 31 – 35)

In the small city of Valle Soleada, a family is killed after some Mutant teens buzz their van.  The only survivor, a young woman by the name of Marie, later puts on an explosive vest and plans to bomb a Lila Cheny concert.  Rogue and Cannonball, who are attending, manage to stop her and bring her in.  Rogue learns that after the accident, the relatively peaceful and pro-Mutant/Human community, has been trying to push for more Mutant homes.  She refuses to sell her parents house, but is haunted by horrible nightmares – bad enough to push her uncle into selling.  It turns this move is being sponsored by that branch of the X-Corporation, which is headed by Sunspot and Empath.  The X-Men – including Bishop and Sage – look further into this.   Valle Soleada was the manifestation of Xavier’s dream, but is on track to being Mutant only, thus causing tension between the species.  The X-Men track down Revenant, who has been responsible for the dreams.   They confront Sunspot, who assures them that he’ll look into his.  Meanwhile, the kids responsible are found not guilty due to lack of evidence. Marie, in the meantime, is taken in by the X-Men and comes to grips with her anger.

All the while, Gambit and Storm infiltrate an informal Mutant-related meeting in Texas, which consists of both major world leaders and fictional characters like Val Cooper.

Why It’s # 33:
I’m betting some people are a little surprised to find this one here, but it’s one of the most realistic takes on the Mutant/human conflict I’ve ever read.  It’s not a battle between Sentinels and Evil Mutants.  It’s dumb kids with super powers and families in mini-vans.  It’s by-standers at a rock concert.  It’s politicians and world leaders.  It’s cops trying to deal with a crazy, untrained Mutant teenager.  It’s a hate group getting to the youth of America.  It’s lawyers knocking on the door with absurd pitches.

It’s not perfect, of course, and it doesn’t close this story up completely, as it started in “Schism” and ended in “The Burning Eyes” (or something).  But it paints a picture of a community caught in a transition and seeing the race card handed out.  Most people don’t care, but those that do are doing it loudly. 

I also liked the politicians at Bush ranch.  It’s always neat to me to see real politicians alongside fictional ones.   It’s also kinda interesting to see how much impact just saying “9/11” had; not mention the frequent use of “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”  Geez.

Bottom Line:
Not the most perfect story, but definitely one of the best of Claremont’s “second coming” (as it were).   Nice realism and decent intrigue.

32) The Phoenix Saga (Uncanny X-Men # 98 – 108)

The X-Men are attacked on Christmas Eve by some Sentinels and Wolverine, Professor X, Banshee, and Marvel Girl.  The X-Men mount a rescue and arrive at an orbital space station, where they fight Sentinels before being confronted  robotic versions of the original X-Men.  More fisticuffs ensue, and the X-Men  eventually engage Stephen Lang, the guy behind the Sentinels, and after a confrontation and explosion, he is killed.  Unfortunately, the shuttle is damaged and there’s a big ol’ solar flare coming.  Jean volunteers to fly the shuttle and they end up crashing into the ocean.  Jean then rises as Phoenix.  Meanwhile, Professor X is haunted by strange, alien dreams and visions.  Eric the Red, a Shi’ar agent, unleashes foe after foe against the X-Men, including a revived Magneto, Juggernaut and Black Tom, and Firelord.  Eventually, the X-Men make to the heart of the Shi’ar Empire, where it’s revealed that the empire is under the control of the vile emperor D’ken, who wishes to use the M’kraan Crystal to . . . take over the universe?  Something like that.  The X-Men team up with the space pirates the Starjammers and D’ken’s sister, Lilandra.   They fight D’ken and then Phoenix rises and uses her power and her love for the X-Men to bind the crystal.   And then the X-Men pack it on home.

Why It’s # 32:
This is basically like the X-Men’s answer to Star Wars.   It’s a huge, sweeping space opera that pits our heroes against intergalactic warlords, space pirates, kings and queens, spies, and revitalized old enemies.  There’s a love story between Charles and Lilandra that, I feel, is very unique and interesting.  Jean’s sacrifice into becoming the Phoenix is such a great, monumental moment.  It’s solid storytelling that, while it sways into silliness sometimes (Leperchauns?), is really quite awesome.

Bottom Line:
A huge X-Men space epic that serves as such a focal point in their narrative.   This is the first big story that Clarement takes on and he knocks it outta the park.

31) All New X-Men (All New X-Men # 1- 14)

Beast decides that, to show the present day Cyclops the error of his ways, to teleport the original X-Men to the present.  Things . . . kinda go wrong after that.  The team decides to stay, they encounter Cyclops’s X-Men, they meet up with the Uncanny Avengers, Angel leaves for Cyclops’ team, and they fight Mystique, Sabretooth, and Lady Mastermind.

Why It’s # 31:
If you had ever told me that Bendis would be writing an X-Men title about the original X-Men time traveling into the present and then staying there – and that it would be good – I would have laughed in your face.  But the fact of the matter is, Bendis nails it.   Placing these characters, who during the time period they taken from were barely sketches of themselves, into a new context and a new situation brings out new strokes and new characterizations.  Scott, troubled by his future self, goes inward.  Jean, confronted by her demise and her future, steps up as a pseudo-leader.  Warren becomes more a rebel.   Bobby and Hank basically remain the same, but are a lot more fun.  The threats aren’t anything to be fussed about, but it’s the character moments that sell this story, especially in terms of Scott and Jean.

Bottom Line:
Despite a few continuity blips, this is opening story. I know including the first 14 issues is a bit of a cheat, but it’s the best open and close of this particular saga.  All New X-Men is an interesting example of taking Silver Age era characters and placing them in the modern world.

Sorry this took so long to get together, but I hope it was worth the wait.  30 - 21 should be here soon(ish)!