X-Men Forever 2 #s 1-5, $3.99 US, published by Marvel Comics
Writer: Chris Claremont; Art: Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Rodney Buchemi & Greg Adams
Rating 4 out of 5 stars
The second year of X-Men Forever starts off with a bang — literally!
Marvel decided, rather than having the biweekly X-Men Forever run as an open-ended ongoing, to instead publish it as a series of “seasons,” starting off with a new issue #1 every twelve months. While I’d prefer to have the numbering remain intact (it would be great if the book could go to issue #100) if this helps to increase sales and maintain the longevity of the series, well, I can live with it.
As was seen in the epilogue to Giant-Size X-Men Forever, the nefarious Consortium has continued their infiltration of SHIELD, and presented falsified evidence to the Avengers framing the X-Men for the death of Tony Stark. And so, in X-Men Forever 2 #1, Captain America leads a squad of Avengers to bring in the X-Men for questioning. The normally level-headed Cap is unfortunately distraught over the death of his long-time friend. This causes him to approach the X-Men in an overly aggressive manner, quickly resulting in a massive fight. However, this actually works in the X-Men’s favor, as it allows them to initiate their contingency plan.
During the battle, Xavier’s mansion apparently explodes in a massive fireball, leaving nothing left but a gaping crater. To the Avengers and the rest of the world, it appears that the X-Men are all dead.
In fact, this is an elaborate ruse. Shadowcat, adapting alien Shi’ar technology, shunts the mansion into a “tesseract field,” in effect moving it one second out of phase with the rest of reality (I think I’ve seen that done a few times on Doctor Who). This enables the X-Men, Nick Fury, and a contingent of loyal SHIELD agents to fake their deaths and operate underground, out of the prying eyes of the Consortium.
Of course, the X-Men have a reputation for cheating death, and a number of people are left wondering if the X-Men are still somehow alive. Among these is Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. He begins his own quiet investigation, one that eventually leads him to a very much alive Rogue who, due to recent events, now has the powers of her teammate Nightcrawler.
Of course, if anyone understands what it is like to be “hated and feared by a world he has sworn to protect,” it’s Spider-Man. So the X-Men know that the secret of their survival is safe with the wall-crawler. Unfortunately, other parties also begin to discover the continued existence of the X-Men.
The sewer-dwelling Morlocks learn of the X-Men’s survival. They kidnap Moira MacTaggert and Sabretooth, the former in the hopes that she can help them find a cure for “mutant burnout,” the later to punish him for his presumed role in the Morlock massacre orchestrated by Mister Sinister.
More alarming, the devious shape-shifting Mystique also tracks down the X-Men. She approaches them during a battle with Neo-Sentinels and requests team membership. Alarm bells immediately started going off in my head.
Now, I will admit, I was very dubious when Sabretooth joined the team. After all, he is a vicious murderer. However, there are mitigating factors. First of all, Sabretooth is brutally honest about what he is. He’s proud to be a predator, at the top of the food chain, as it were, and he’ll tell it to anybody who asks.
Second, he explains to Moira in X-Men Forever 2 #5 that the Sabretooth who was a member of the Marauders, and murdered countless Morlocks, was really a clone created by Mister Sinister. I don’t see any reason for Sabretooth to lie about this. Even though he’s a prisoner of the surviving Morlocks when he gives this alibi, Sabretooth is, as I said, not ashamed of what he does. He’s also not the type to beg for mercy. So, if Sabretooth really had killed all those Morlocks, he would have insolently admitted it to his captors, and then dared them to do their worst.
Sabretooth will be the first to acknowledge that the reason he has joined the X-Men is to avenge Wolverine’s death and destroy the Consortium. After that, all bets are off. So, when it comes to Sabretooth, what you see is what you get.
Mystique, on the other hand, is one of the most untrustworthy of individuals on the face of the Earth. She is motivated solely by self-preservation. The only reason she ever reformed the Mutant Brotherhood and attempted to assassinate the anti-mutant Senator Kelly (as seen in the classic “Days of Futures Past”) was to protect her own skin. Later on, when she sensed the winds of fortune changing, Mystique cut a deal with the government to gain amnesty for herself and the Brotherhood, in return agreeing to hunt down unregistered mutants.
To quote a line from an old Archie Goodwin Wolverine story, there are “wheels within wheels” turning in Mystique’s head. You never know what she is really up to. She is a talented manipulator who knows how to use people, and has no moral compunctions against doing so. I’d definitely classify her as a sociopath.
Besides, am I the only one who remembers that Mystique brutally murdered Ms. Marvel’s boyfriend Michael Barnett? Mystique beat him to death with her bare hands, an evil, sadistic grin on her face the whole time.
In other words, I don’t trust her one bit.
But I digress with my analyses of Sabretooth and Mystique’s differing motivations and personalities. On the whole, the first five issues of X-Men Forever 2 were very good, with some fine writing by Chris Claremont. He does address the question of Mystique’s credibility to some degree. Nightcrawler and Rogue, Mystique’s son and adopted daughter, believe that she wants to turn over a new leaf and are willing to give her a chance. The other X-Men and Nick Fury are much more skeptical of her motives, though. As well they should be.
I enjoyed the interaction between Rogue and Spider-Man. Rogue is still disconcerted over having transformed into a female version of Nightcrawler, complete with blue skin, pointy tail, and funny hands & feet. Spider-Man, more than anyone else, helps Rogue to become more at ease with herself. There’s even the suggestion of a romantic attraction between the two. I’d like to see that followed up on — assuming that in the X-Men Forever continuity, Spider-Man isn’t married to Mary Jane Watson. It’s so difficult keeping straight which realities he’s still in wedded bliss, and which he’s a single, swinging bachelor!
Anyway, it was a good idea for Claremont to utilize both the Avengers and Spider-Man to show how various characters outside the X-Men are reacting to the series’ events.
Claremont also lays the groundwork for the return of Mister Sinister, who at this point everyone believes to be dead. It looks like Claremont is going to be utilizing his original conception of Sinister as a shape-changing century-old mutant who physically ages only one year each decade. So, even though he’s over a hundred years old, in his true form Sinister looks like a ten year old kid. Which explains perfectly why Mister Sinister has such a ridiculous, over-the-top name and costume. It’s just the sort of thing a ten year old kid would find cool and frightening.
For a long time I thought Mister Sinister was a silly villain, until I read in interviews what Claremont’s original intentions for the character were. Then he suddenly made perfect sense. And it’s a much more original, believable motivation for the character than the Victorian mad scientist background that Marvel came up with for Sinister years after Claremont had left Uncanny X-Men.
Also returning is Doctor Robyn Hanover, who was introduced in the back-up story in Classic X-Men #s 41-42 by Claremont, Mike Collins & Joe Rubinstein. That unsettling two-part story was probably one of the most effective uses of Mister Sinister. It appears that poor Robyn is still under the thrall of Sinister in X-Men Forever 2.
While mostly good, there’s a couple of glaring plot holes in these issues. During the “Fall of the Mutants,” when the universal guardian Roma resurrected the X-Men (see, I told you they die and come back quite often) she made them invisible to electronic recording devices. I thought that “ghost effect” had worn off by the “X-Tinction Agenda” crossover. But in X-Men Forever 2 we are told that Rogue is still hidden from electronic surveillance. Which makes me wonder how earlier that issue Mystique was in possession of a very recent, post-transformation photograph of Rogue and Nightcrawler. If Rogue is invisible to cameras, how’d Mystique get a snapshot of her?
Also, in issue #4, it seemed like the Morlocks detected the X-Men’s tesseract field and breached it to snatch Moira and Sabretooth much too easily. The Morlock’s leader Masque attempts to wave it off by saying that many of his mutant followers have “powers that put even [the X-Men’s] abilities to shame.” If that’s the case, why were the Morlocks so easily slaughtered by the Marauders during the “Mutant Massacre” storyline? Believe me, that was as one-sided a fight as you can get, a complete & total bloodbath.
As far as the art goes, I have no complaints. What I refer to as the “semi-regular art team,” namely Tom Grummett & Cory Hamscher, turn in some very fine work for the first three issues. Great job on the face-off with the Avengers in the first issue, and the battle with the Neo-Sentinels in the third. And, I have to say, their rendition of the “new” Rogue is incredibly sexy.
Issue #s 4 and 5 are illustrated by Rodney Buchemi & Greg Adams. They previously worked on a couple of issues of X-Men Forever “season one.” Their return is welcome, as they do a fine job rendering the X-Men’s encounter with Masque and the other ultra-bizarre Morlocks in the sewer tunnels of Manhattan.
My one art-related complaint concerns the cover to #4. Grummett penciled it, and he did a fine job. Unfortunately, the decision was made to print the cover directly from his pencils, and the finished, colored result just looks fuzzy & blurry. I really wish Hamscher had been allowed to ink it. Either him, or the legendary Terry Austin, who’s done superb work over Grummett’s pencils on a number of X-Men Forever covers.
In any case, despite a few flaws, the first five issues of X-Men Forever 2 are quite well done, and certainly enjoyable. I am definitely looking forward to future issues. Especially after seeing the final surprise splash page of #5. Things just got even more intriguing.