A really long post about comics
Recently, I've found myself reading a lot of comics - specifically, Marvel Comics, both old and new. I'm not sure why it is that I love Marvel as much as I do. There are plenty of reasons to give up on them: Their stories are generally less literate and fascinating than DC's, they constantly spoil major upcoming developments in their comics, they keep giving Jeph Loeb titles in the Ultimate Comics line, and so on.
Even with all that, Marvel still has my loyalty because I can't turn away from the X-Men. They will keep me coming back.
It helps that, for the most part, I really like what's going on in the X titles at the moment. Astonishing and Uncanny are both somewhat underwhelming and slow, but the newest volumes of X-Factor, New Mutants, and especially X-Force are more than enough to please me.
It's funny, all three of these titles are in their third iterations, but their worst issues are more fresh and exciting than the three main books (Uncanny, Astonishing, and Legacy) have been since Messiah CompleX last year. [To be fair, New Mutants has only been around for four issues, but that may just further prove my point.]
Out of these titles, the new X-Factor has the most diverse cast and promising concept. The book focuses on Multiple Man/Jamie Madrox, as he runs X-Factor Investigations, a mutant detective agency that employs a whole bunch of kick-ass characters who aren't on any major X-Teams.
The three X-Factor titles over the years have all been very different, but they're practical purpose was basically the same: to give the secondary mutant characters something to do. However, unlike the first two books, this version of X-Factor never feels like a knock-off of the classic X-Men; this can be attributed directly to the cast of characters, and their chemistry together. [To be fair, the first version of the team was literally the classic X-Men line-up, so they couldn't help it.]
From its first issue, this title has had a growing cast of B-List awesomeness, effectively saving some great mutants from the dreaded Comic Book Limbo - a place characters go when they are not being used a background filler in Uncanny. In its run so far, the cast has been a virtual who's-who of mutants that used to be important: 90's X-Factor members Strong Guy & Wolfsbane (who is currently a member of the new X-Force); 90's X-Force members Siryn, Shatterstar, and Rictor (the latter two shared a man-on-man kiss recently...very un-90s); as well as the mullet-sporting 80's castaway Longshot, who I'm certain no other writer would go near with a ten-foot pole.
Peter David (the book's creator and writer) has proven that he can make any character work, and has even gone out of his way to include problematic characters from one-shot stories like the unkillable, ever-adapting Darwin (a strange invention from the continuity-obliterating Deadly Genesis storyline) and the creepy, precocious Layla Miller (who was invented as a thin plot device for House of M, basically). The usefulness of both these characters had seemingly been spent, but David has given them new purpose and life. Thanks to their team chemistry this motley bunch of has-been mutants has really blown away almost every other X-title.
With all this high praise, I still haven't mentioned my favorite inclusion on the team roster: the ridiculously overpowered M/Monet St. Croix. I've loved her ever since her days on the woefully under-appreciated Generation X. Now, if Peter David could rescue her fellow Gen-Xers Husk, Penance, and Skin from CBL, I'd just pee myself with joy. Now that I think about it, GenX supervillian Emplate (who also happens to be M's older brother) was just reintroduced in the pages of Legacy, so maybe we're in the middle of a Generation X revival. I can hope...
While I haven't read the whole series, I highly recommend X-Factor to all mutant lovers. Especially those who lost faith in the X-Books and have not returned. It's a good way to learn to love Marvel's Mightiest Mutants again.
In the history of secondary X-Teams, the new incarnation of X-Force is a very special case. You see, this team actually has a specific mission, and there is a larger purpose for their continued existence; they're not just an edgier version of the X-Men with slightly different surroundings.
The original X-Force debuted in 1991, and was essentially a collection of every awful comic book trend of the early 90s. Big guns? Check. Ludicrously gigantic upper bodies on every dude? Check. Insensitive racial stereotypes that the writer intended to be progressive? Check. Zero practicality to a single character's costume? Check. Big mysterious stranger from the future with random metal body parts ? Check.
The set-up was simple: The time-traveling cyborg soldier Cable takes over the leadership of a young team of mutants, partially composed of former New Mutants. The book was meant to appeal to a younger audience who had not grown up with the X-Men or New Mutants. It was basically a carbon copy of the main team with a different, angrier cast. It was successful for a while, but it had already run out of steam by the time Age of Apocalypse rolled around, and was put to rest soon after. [BTW, AoA, for my money, is still the best comic book crossover of all time.]
I don't see the latest team running out of steam anytime soon.
The new X-Force first appeared during the Messiah CompleX crossover, which would lead into their current series. Unlike the first X-Force, the current team is a deadly squad of X-Men assembled covertly by Cyclops. Their mission? To hunt down and kill anybody that he asks them to.
Totally bad ass premise, am I right?
Like X-Factor, this version of X-Force has a dynamite, and diverse, cast of characters. While Cyclops ultimately calls the shots, Wolverine is the team's field leader. This is an interesting dynamic, because, believe it or not, Wolverine has never actually led a team of mutants before. This new position of responsibility provides room for Logan, one of the X-Verse's most familiar faces, to actually develop and grow - something he hasn't done since the whole "bone claw" era. In addition to Wolverine, the team is currently made-up of Warpath, X23, Wolfsbane, Angel/Archangel, Elixir, Domino, and the petty criminal/teleporter Vanisher (against his will). Notice that, with the exception of Angel, there isn't a single big-name X-Man on the team. Instead of a team full of unrelated famous faces, X-Force acts as a cohesive unit, with each member contributing vitally to almost every mission.
Similar to Peter David's willingness to adopt underused or problematic characters, X-Force's writers, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, seem to always be on the lookout for characters to revive or enchance. [But we don't even have to focus solely on their current title to see how good they are with developing unknown character properties; their last X-Book, the underrated New X-Men, introduced more successful and popular new characters than the team has had in about a decade.]
Now, let's talk about some classics!
This year, I finally got around to reading the original Secret Wars crossover from the 80's, which introduced me to one of my favorite non-X-Men Marvel characters of all time: MOLECULE MAN! (pictured above) I love the idea that this little shrimpy guy could destroy the universe if he had any perception of his true power; but instead, he just keeps using his powers clumsily, and accidentally putting the fabric of the universe at risk. Molecule Man is awesome because he's got all this destructive potential, but all he really wants is a simple life with a family. One of Marvel's great reluctant villains. (Incidentally the big double-M seems set to make a major comeback in Marvel's upcoming Siege storyline. I'm psyched.)
Besides introducing me to the overwhelming awesomeness of Molecule Man, Secret Wars taught me another important lesson: The X-Men used to kind of be assholes to everybody else in the Marvel Universe. In fact, their anti-social behavior is one of the major plot points of the entire story. When the big ol' team of heroes needs to band together, the X-Men basically get super cliquey and form a third group, seperate from either the heroes or the villians. I guess mutants were more naturally agressive and seperatist back in the day. These days, the X-Men are a lot more integrated into the regular world...oh wait, no, they just formed their own nation on a floating fort in the middle of San Fran Bay.
[Small gripe about Nation X for a second: I don't even think they're in international waters. Seriously...how is an artificial island less than two miles offshore a seperate country?]
So, continuing my old timey Marvel Comics catchup, I just downloaded the entire Acts of Vengeance crossover [a whopping 68 issues long!] also from the 80s (Marvel has always been about the big Events, it ain't a recent development).
The first issue of the storyline is Iron Man #250, in which Iron Man and Doctor Doom are thrust into the future to do something or other. The reason I mention this, is because I think I have discovered my favorite comic book panel of all time. Witness its glory:
I love the narrator's confirmation of their situation at the bottom there. Truly hilarious.
I'm gonna wrap up before this gets any longer.
PS: Read X-Force & X-Factor, please!