X-Men Forever 2 #s 6-10, $3.99 US, published by Marvel Comics
Writer: Chris Claremont; Pencils: Tom Grummett, Ron Lim, & Mike Grell; Inks: Cory Hamscher, Andrew Hennessy & Nelson; Covers: Tom Grummett
Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars
As the second arc of X-Men Forever Year Two begins, the Machiavellian villain Mister Sinister makes his move, dispatching both his cloned assassins the Marauders and Doctor Robyn Hanover in a two-pronged scheme to kidnap Cyclops’ son Nathan. Sinister, despite being a slow-aging near-immortal, has found that he too is beginning to suffer from the effects of mutant burnout. He hopes that young Nathan Summers might hold the cure to that lethal affliction.
The Marauders launch an attack on the Summers homestead in Alaska, engaging the alien Starjammers in battle. Meanwhile, Robyn spirits away Nathan, ostensibly to take him to safety. Corsair, Nathan’s grandfather and leader of the Starjammers, quickly summons his son and the rest of the X-Men to the field of battle.
The fight to save Nathan is exciting, suspenseful, and very well done. The X-Men, Starjammers, Havok and Polaris engage in a brutal, high-stakes confrontation with the bloodthirsty Marauders. Although I was leery in the past of criminals such as Sabretooth and Mystique joining the X-Men, in a fight like this one, their ruthlessness definitely gives the team a needed edge. Especially as the Marauders have a clone of Sabretooth among their numbers.
Ron Lim, the guest penciler on issue #s 7 and 8, does some fantastic work illustrating this battle. I’ve been a huge fan of Lim’s art ever since he worked on Captain America twenty years ago. Lim previously collaborated with writer Chris Claremont on Sovereign Seven in the late 1990s, and it’s nice to see them paired up again. Lim really gives the fight between the X-Men and Marauders a high-energy intensity. I loved the page in #7 where Shadowcat and Ch’od do a variation on the classic “fastball special” maneuver.
The whole cloned nature of the Marauders notches up the tension of the battle. Since they’ve died before, and because Sinister can easily resurrect them again in new bodies, the already-brutal Marauders have an almost-reckless disregard for their own lives, which means they’re much more apt to take dangerous chances. On the other hand, this also provides the X-Men, who normally shy away from killing their enemies, more of a motivation to utilize lethal force, since they know that any of the Marauders who die are more than likely to just be cloned again by Sinister.
Actually, Sinister’s faculty at cloning enables him to strike a devastating blow against the X-Men that is simultaneously physical and psychological, as he creates an evil duplicate of a certain deceased individual. Especially feeling the effects is Shadowcat, who gets put through the wringer in these issues.
Claremont is doing an interesting job with Kitty Pryde. Not only has she acquired one of Wolverine’s adamantium claws and some of his healing factor, but she has also inherited certain aspects of his personality and knowledge. Shadowcat finds herself becoming more ruthless. She is now also fluent in Japanese. Already reeling from these changes to her mind and body, the impact of Sinister’s twisted efforts in cloning on Kitty is almost the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This sends Shadowcat on a one-woman mission to bury the past in issue #s 9 and 10.
Claremont also comes up with an interesting use of Shadowcat’s powers. By phasing completely out of sync with the Earth and letting it rotate while her intangible self stands still, she can reappear miles away on the globe. I don’t know if this is scientifically accurate (surely she would get shot into outer space?) but I guess it doesn’t pay to analyze the plausibility of such an act too closely, considering Kitty has teammates who can shoot laser beams out of their eyes, turn into living steel, duplicate the appearances of other people, etc.
There are also major developments with the Consortium subplot. The new head of that villainous cabal is finally revealed. It turns out I was wrong in my guess. It is not Lady Deathstrike, but someone else from Wolverine’s past. At first it seemed out of character for this person. But then I recalled what Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, namely that “Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment.”
The Consortium, the Hand, Clan Yashida, and the evil duplicate of Storm enter into an alliance. This has dire possibilities for the X-Men, as not only does it see several major enemies working together, but among those groups’ various resources are SHIELD, the Sentinels, and the high-tech nation of Wakanda. Of course, another way of looking at it is that a collaboration between four ruthlessly ambitious players is quite likely to self destruct as they turn upon one another.
Actually, considering the forces arrayed against them, I’m surprised that the X-Men haven’t attempted to ally themselves with the Hellfire Club. I believe that at this point in time the X-Men and the Club, while certainly not friends, had agreed to form of detente. So the atmosphere exists to make an entreaty to Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost. Considering the anti-mutant agenda of the Consortium, the X-Men could argue to the Hellfire Club that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Besides, once you’ve allowed both Sabretooth and Mystique to join your team, well, all bets are off!
Speaking of Mystique, Claremont allows us a rare glimpse into her thoughts in issue #9. Beneath all her games and manipulations, Mystique genuinely wants to save Nightcrawler and Rogue, her son and adopted daughter, from mutant burnout. Of course, Mystique is still up to some of her old tricks, such as surreptitiously making off with the necklace containing the essence of the disembodied Maurauder known as Malice. But whatever Mystique’s ruthless actions, they do seem directed at helping her children. Of course, many evil acts have been done in the name of good, so we shall have to see just what lengths Mystique goes to.
All in all, the writing by Claremont is very good. He has written some great scripts that are full of both action and emotion. Claremont is also doing a great job at throwing out cliffhangers that leave you blurting out “Holy crap!” and waiting with breathless anticipation for the next issue.
The only misstep that Claremont makes is at the beginning of issue #9. He devotes five pages to what is immediately obvious to be a dream sequence. I can understand that Claremont wanted to use a nightmare to show us just how unsettled Shadowcat really is. But I felt it went on too long, and a couple of those pages could have been used to advance some important plotlines.
Other than that, though, Claremont does solid work on these five issues.
As for the art, the various creators drawing these issues do a good job. Tom Grummett, the more-or-less regular penciler of the biweekly X-Men Forever, draws issue #6, plus all the covers. He does a very nice job on these. My favorite was the creepy cover to #6 with the shadow of Mister Sinister being cast by his true, youthful-looking self. The cover to #8, with the X-men fighting the Marauders, was also good. And I really liked #9, which had the ninja-like Shadowcat leaping through a Japanese city. Oh, yeah, cute gag having “Hello, Kitty!” on the cover. Has anyone done that before?
Ron Lim, as I mentioned above, did absolutely fantastic work on his two issues. He really is a great artist. It’s a shame that, after two decades in the comic biz, Lim has not received more recognition for his superb art.
The last two issues are penciled by Mike Grell. It was great to see him back so soon after his wonderful work on the Giant-Size X-Men Forever special. He does a superb job illustrating Shadowcat, conveying through facial expressions and figure posture the conflicting emotions playing out in her head. I would have preferred to have Grell do full artwork. But both Nelson and Andrew Hennessy do work on the inks.
Actually, having seen scans of Mike Grell’s X-Men Forever work at the Catskill Comics web site (which represents his original art sales) it appears that he did some very tight, detailed penciling. So it’s not at all surprising that so much of Grell’s style comes through in the finished, inked art by Nelson and Hennessy.
Having enjoyed these issues so much, I was perturbed to learn that X-Men Forever 2 is apparently coming to an end with issue #16 in January. At least, that’s according to the solicitations on Marvel’s website. I realize the series was not one of their top sellers. But I was hoping that Marvel would at least give Claremont a full second year. I don’t know how he is going to now tie up everything he has set up in the next six issues. Hopefully it won’t be too rushed.
In any case, it is a real shame that X-Men Forever is coming to a premature end. It is currently one of the few ongoing titles that I am buying. As I’ve written in past reviews, despite a few hiccups by Claremont, it has been an enjoyable series. Well, I will be around until the finale, that’s for sure.