Today, Taylor and Ethan are discussing All-New X-Men 21 and Uncanny X-Men 16, originally released January 15th, 2014.
Taylor: Ah, the father/son relationship. Daddy issues have basically been around since the birth of man, both literally and figuratively so it’s no wonder they often pop up in the stories we tell one another. After all, who hasn’t inherited some odious trait from their father or wished they had a better relationship with the man? So rich is the vein of paternal relationships that it can told time and time again and still be entertaining. Throw in a dash of mutants and a pinch of augmented super powers and you got yourself the makings of an interesting story. Given these ingredients, you think it would hard to cook up a story that resound with its fan base. However, in All-New X-Men 21 this proves to be the case. The story is a bit bland and one you slog through just for its narrative nutrients.
The X-Men of future past have been caught by William Stryker’s super-augmented son, who is acting in his father’s place to rid the planet of “sinful and impure” mutants. He straps them to some pipes and calls A.I.M. to take a look at them for the sake of science. While this is going on, Jean Grey awakes from her catatonic state and helps the rest of the X-Men escape, who make quick work of their captors.
This issue bugged the hell out of me. From the very beginning it seems unfocused and, well, a little pointless. It open with a flashback of Stryker preaching to his congregation about the evil nature of mutants. After that he has a discussion with an obviously evil scientist about curing his son of some mysterious disease. My guess is this flashback is supposed to give us some insight into Styker Jr.’s character but it all rings a bit hollow. Sure, we get he’s inherited most of his hatred for mutants from his father and that he got his super powers from science, but is that anything we couldn’t have guessed ourselves? The only way I found the flashback informative is that we know Stryker Jr. must have an appreciation for science since that’s the thing that saved his life. It’s the only possible explanation for him calling A.I.M. later in the issue to deal with the mutants as opposed to killing them when he had the chance.
Why else would a Christian zealot call a scientist? And while this flashback is what I’m directing most of my ire against, there is a lot I also found distasteful in this issue. The entire issue is basically grey in color and a fair chunk of the action I found to be confusing. On top of that, what’s the point of having the X-Men captured in one issue only to have them escape in the very next? Aren’t there more interesting things that should have happened?
Ethan, I am upset because I like this title, but ever since Atom event ended, it’s kind of let me down. Is there a silver lining I’m missing? Should Stryker’s daddy issues be more at play in this issue given that the issue is set up in a way that makes us believe that will be the case?
Ethan: First, I will agree that this title’s felt a little awkward for the past few issues. Partly because Brandon Peterson’s art weirds me out — he has a way of drawing faces that makes even the good guys look a bit terrifying, and the characters always seem to be striking a pose that’s more designed to show off the uniform, or add some kind of visual drama, rather than actually show a conversation or action. I know that’s a bit harsh, and it might just be me, but I had to mention it. Next, I am confused by Stryker Jr. — I think he is the least self-assured and savvy villain I’ve seen in a while. Part of me wants to give him some pointers and the rest of me wants to pat him on his head and say “there, there, you’re doing fine.”
That said, what I did really enjoy was the reintroduction of Laura Kinney, aka X-23. She’s fun for many of the same reasons as Wolverine is (absurdly strong healing factor, always trying to stab something, etc) which, given she’s a female clone of his DNA, makes sense. I don’t think Brian Michael Bendis has done anything interesting or original with her yet, but I’m happy that she’s at least on the radar.
Honestly, my favorite part of this issue was the one scene in which it makes an allusion to a different title. Stryker Jr. tries to mess with Laura’s head by showing her footage from her time in Murderworld, documented in the recent, mildly controversial, and highly addictive series Avengers Arena.
For those who didn’t read that one, basically a bad dude named Arcade kidnapped a bunch of superpowered kids, locked ‘em all up together in a hidden arena, and tried to get them to kill each other. In the case of X-23, he just dosed her with a pheromone that made her homicidal and set her loose on her friends. So, I enjoyed the reference, and I can see why Stryker Jr. thought that it would be a nice bit of leverage or something to hold over Laura’s head, but at the end of the day, the whole concept of showing the young X-Men chained to big pipes and being threatened just did not accomplish much in the way of tension or interesting plot.
Ethan: Changing gears, I’m pleased to say that Uncanny X-Men 16 was a world of difference, both in the tightness of the narrative and the art. Erik Lenhsherr (Magneto) is the man of the hour, and for a character who hasn’t gotten much action or limelight lately, he sure makes up for it here. While he’s standing at the back of a pro-mutant rally, he’s approached by Agent Alison Blair (Dazzler), who gives him a tip about some kind of massive influx of mutants into the Hydra-controlled city of Madripoor. Magneto follows up on the lead, bonks a few heads, and learns three important things: 1) someone is selling a LOT of mutant growth hormone on the streets, 2) Dazzler is actually Mystique in disguise, and 3) Mystique is now in control of Madripoor. If Mystique is hoping for a happy reunion with her old boss, she is mistaken: Magneto proceeds to flip out and apparently murder her, Sabretooth, Silver Samurai, and the blob in a fit of psychotic rage.
Erik has been keeping things together, holding his tongue, working alongside Scott Summers to train new mutants. It was starting to seem as though he had really turned a corner, and though he was still very different from his new teammates, it looked like he was resigned to following someone else’s lead rather than his own. In this issue, we see that things inside of Erik’s head are clearly not as calm as we thought.
At the rally, listening to the pro-mutant activist on stage getting himself all worked up, Magneto fantasizes about murdering the entire crowd of humans and screaming his name in the sky above their corpses. Chris Bacahalo’s rendering of this expression of apoplectic fury is a gem — the flecks around Magneto’s face are shavings of metal caught in his field, but they could as easily be spittle or droplets of blood. Between the inhumanly wide mouth stretched open in the homicidal shriek and the little reverse-color pupils shining out from his darkened eyes, he looks more demon than man.
Yes, that scene was just a daydream, but given the way he brutally murders Mystique and his other former associates later, he’s willing to act on at least some of his darker thoughts. It’s an understatement to say that something isn’t quite right in the mind of Magneto, but I do wonder what’s really going on up there. Mystique-as-Dazzler makes a remark that some people are saying that Charles Xavier’s death “messed [Magneto] up,” and while “everybody was so focused on how damning [the death] was to Scott Summers… no one really paid attention to what it did to you.” I want to say that she’s nailed it — that the death of his friend and foe broke something in Erik’s brain, loosened what few inhibitions or self-restrictions remained, taking away the only thing left preventing him from being an all-out insane killer. At the same time, his towering ego and the lessons that have been beaten into him over years of losing battles keep him just enough in check to further whatever new agenda is cooking on the fires of his damaged psyche.
What do you think, Taylor — does Magneto seem more vicious than usual to you too, or is this just a return to his old norms? And after all her planning, doesn’t it seem a bit weird and naïve for Mystique to let herself be killed so easily and abruptly?
Taylor: Indeed, it would be odd if this is actually the end of Mystique. Sure, she has a rapport with Magneto, but it seems silly that she would meet him with a giant metal samurai right next to her. That’s just begging for trouble and only the most foolish would expect nothing to go wrong in that scenario. I’m not sure who Mystique is working for or if her story is true. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if she was being controlled by the Xavier from beyond the grave. This intrigue is what really makes this issue fun, and thankfully much better than All-New X-Men 21. Seeing Magneto go to exotic locations and killing people people all lone wolf style reminds me of a James Bond movie in a lot of ways. Magneto as rouge agent with an agenda makes for a pretty good story and so far the pieces are in place to make his individual narrative a most interesting read.
Also, yes, the art in this issue is a delight. While I greatly enjoy Bachalo’s style, what I found myself most drawn to is the colors he employs in his art. Throughout the issue different scenes are dominated by different colors, which makes for a read that is colorful in more ways than one. For example, Magneto’s murderous day dream, pictured above, is in an appropriate red mode. Later, when Magneto meets mystique, the page is dominated by a vibrant blue.It’s a dramatic change and it’s effective in setting the mood of what is supposed to be future mutant paradise. It also helps that the blue matches Mystique’s trademark color. This makes her appearance more dramatic and it focuses the attention of this scene on her entirely. Later, when Magneto goes totally bat-shit crazy, the tranquil blue dissipates as it becomes clear Magneto will have nothing to do with a mutant island, whether it’s Mystique’s or Cyclops’.
I loved this issue and I think it’s a testament to the strength of the X-Men family of comics right now. Even when one kind of lets you down, there is another released the same day that reminds you why you liked reading about these characters so much. Aside from what’s happening with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles family of comics right now, it’s hard to say there is a better collection going right now in terms of pure entertainment and enjoyment. Basically, while some issues may be tasteless, there’s always another waiting in the wings to liven up the pallet.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?