So we once again have a good stack of funnybooks to discuss this week, recent columns having been rather focused affairs. We’ve got new Craig Thompson, a first-season cliffhanger for Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s The Green Lantern, and new chapters of Criminal and East of West. First, though, let’s take a look at the end of the beginning for Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men…
House of X 6 / Powers of X 6
by Jonathan Hickman, RB Silva, and Pepe Larraz
So, holy crap. Hickman somehow managed to end this thing on both a happy note and a sad one.
(And what follows is almost entirely SPOILERS, by the way. So if you haven’t read it yet, and don’t wanna know… I’ll just say that it was one hell of an ending to one hell of a series, one whose final-issue revelations rippled back through the series, putting previous issues and events in a new perspective, and making greater sense of the whole. And with that, you can go on ahead and skip to the next review…)
Anyway. We got an ending that’s happy and sad at the same time. Mutants have their own homeland, free from persecution, with international deals in place that force a sort of happy detente on the rest of the world. And they’ve got effective immortality, to boot. Pretty sweet deal. Except that they’re also almost certainly doomed, either to be exterminated by the humans and their machines, or to be replaced by a race of genetically-engineered super-people destined to usurp the mutants’ role as the future of humanity.
So… Yeah. Turns out that far-future “X-Men Year 1000” stuff was pretty important after all. As many had theorized, it was the future of Moira’s mysterious sixth life, and it makes everything else we know kind of fall into place. The revelation of Homo Novissima explains the development of the chimera in the “Year 100” period (from her ninth life, I believe). If you know you’re going to be replaced, after all, why not try to take control over the method of your replacement?
Also, something from the conversation Moira has with the Novissima Librarian may explain the development of the mutant immortality plan in this life:
So if all reality blinks out when Moira dies, it would seem to be in the best interest of, well, EVERYONE IN THE UNIVERSE to make sure that she doesn’t die again. We still don’t know how she was still alive after 1000 years in her sixth life, or why she hasn’t done that again. But we have to presume that, if her consciousness survives to be transferred to a new body, she won’t be reborn and the universe won’t end.
Of course, the Librarian may have just been working on a hunch, there. She might not KNOW. It would be difficult for anyone TO know, I would think. But why take chances, right?
At any rate. This Homo Novissima stuff has me thinking. It’s been characterized as a side-step to evolution, and in a way I suppose it is. It’s not change brought on as a means of survival, after all. It’s just the natural next step in the development of human intelligence. Of course, human intelligence IS an evolutionary change made possible because it helped the human race survive. So… Homo Novissima actually ARE an expression of human evolution. And apparently a better one than the random activation of an X-gene that might make you smarter, faster or stronger, but is just as likely to make your life a living hell.
Poor mutants. Turns out they’re Neanderthal Man after all.
Anyway. Back to this whole “doomed” thing. It appears that Xavier and Magneto have rejected that notion, and sort of gently pushed Moira out of a decision-making role. This is entirely in keeping with their characters, I think: both are ultimately utopian thinkers. And the slaughter of 16 million mutants has pushed their respective utopian dreams closer together than ever before. But as I sat watching them tell Moira that it was time for her to move out of the way, I couldn’t help but think it was folly.
And it’s further folly to be too proud of what they’ve put together on Krakoa. The bulk of their ruling council is made up of rigid, insane, or amoral assholes, and this perfect mutant society they’re building looks to me like it’s going to be ripped apart in the ugliest possible way, sooner rather than later.
But I’m thinking that Moira’s playing a longer game than them, anyway. Krakoa may simply be one more step in her plan, getting the pieces she needs together when and where she wants them. Because now, knowing what we know about all nine of her previous lives, here’s what we can put together: After trying various takes on human / mutant relations, Moira’s figured out that for the mutant race to survive, they need to 1) Prevent or delay the rise of the machines, and 2) Genetically engineer themselves into a superior race before the humans do.
We already saw the X-Men pull off the first of those tasks, stopping Nimrod from coming on-line (not preventing his existence, understand, because that seems to be impossible). And now we’ve learned that Mister Sinister has already developed mutant gene-splicing technology, putting them on the path to the second. They can’t trust Sinister, of course. But they’ve brought him close, and Moira already has some idea of how he might betray them, from what he did in her ninth life. So I’d still put that in the positive column, because they seem to be years ahead of the game.
This matter of having time seems especially important now. Time, the Novissima Librarian tells Moira in her sixth life, is what gave her people dominion over the Earth while the humans and the mutants were relegated to living in zoos. Of course… If the mutants genetically engineer themselves into something better, what’s to keep their superior offspring from just building the zoos all over again?
Which brings us back to doom.
I like that Hickman’s managed to wrap up the major threads of his reboot while still leaving us with big questions to ponder as he launches off into the new mutant status quo. He also dropped enough red herrings along the way to inspire delirious – and often incorrect – fan theories, but has left us with just enough mystery that we’re bound to come up with more (what, for instance, are we not being shown beneath Xavier’s helmet?). This, I think, is how serial fiction is supposed to work.
And I would feel remiss if I wrapped up the nerd farm’s coverage of this 12-week interlocking mini-series experiment without mentioning how much I’m going to miss the artwork of RB Silva and Pepe Larraz. Though neither of them has a style that I’m particularly drawn to, they’re both quite good at things like expression and body language, and that’s breathed life into a book that might have felt sterile without them.
At any rate. The House of X / Powers of X experiment was a rousing success beginning to end. It’s been tremendous fun having a weekly series to rush home and read every Wednesday, and I’ll miss that. It’s probably not something they could maintain for very long before burning out the creative team, though, so I suppose it’s a case of all good things coming to an end.
Not quite yet, though, because Hickman’s first monthly issue comes out this week! Way to keep that momentum going!
Ginseng Roots 1
by Craig Thompson
This book just popped up in my local funnybook store a week or two ago, but in reading about it, I’m seeing indications that it was released in late summer. Ah, well. It’s new to me, anyway, and new Craig Thompson is always a good thing. This time around, he’s writing about the history of ginseng, as filtered through his own childhood experiences working in the Wisconsin ginseng industry.
Yeah, I didn’t know Wisconsin had a ginseng industry, either. But there you go.
It’s early going yet, and Thompson has said that the series will ultimately be as much or more about ginseng itself as it is his personal experience. But it’s all drawn with his delicate line and excellent cartooning, accentuated this time out with some beautiful red spot color. So I’m along for the ride, wherever it goes.
The Green Lantern 12
by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp
The first season of Morrison and Sharp’s Green Lantern comes to a close this issue with a series of nasty surprises and a cliffhanger of epic proportions. This book has been tremendous fun over the last year, bringing back obscure Silver Age concepts alongside a very modern “space cop” take on the Green Lantern Corps as a whole. It’s been a great mix of wonderment and cynical reality that would be the best corporate spandex book on the stands today if Hickman’s X-Men hadn’t turned out to be so very good.
Though to be honest, it’s not missing the top spot by much. Where Hickman’s work has surpassed it, I think, is simply in making more sense. As glorious as the chaos of The Green Lantern can be, sometimes the story just gets lost in its own bullshit. And while that’s part of the fun while you’re reading it… I didn’t find myself as anxious to read the next chapter as I did with Hickman’s work. And we’ll see. Once both books have calmed down to a monthly dose, the X-fire may be tamped down a bit.
For now, though, this was a good season ender. All manner of crazy shit happens, we get to spend some time with classic pencil-thin-mustache Sinestro (courtesy his anti-matter universe double), and Our Hero (that’s Hal Jordan, in case you’d forgotten) is faced with his greatest challenge yet: DOING WHAT HE’S TOLD.
East of West 43
by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
Hickman’s OTHER great book slouches on toward armageddon at its usual deliberate pace. And you can tell we’re into the home stretch now, too. Prophesies are being fulfilled, great nations are colliding to their mutual destruction, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse plot and scheme on the outskirts of it all. The action is quite literally epic.
I’m finding it hard to feel truly excited by it all. I don’t know whether it’s that the story’s gone on too long, or that it’s taken too long to tell. I feel like, if I were to sit down and read it all in one go, it might be quite thrilling. But with all the breaks and delays… all the long gaps between issues… it’s hard for the story to keep its momentum. I think maybe the publication schedule might have worked better if things had been structured differently, with more definite breaks between seasons, or even more of an editorial voice letting us know that we’d reached the end of one chapter, and were taking a break before moving on to the next, it might have gone down better. As it was, it felt like the book just kept disappearing, and I lost track of the story.
So this grade may have less to do with the quality than it does with my own personal perceptions. But it’s the only grade I can give. And it’s still pretty good. Just not as… epically good… as I suspect it ought to be.
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
“Cruel Summer” continues, with an issue from the perspective of the last character I ever expected: Jane, the femme fatale at the heart of all the action. Brubaker’s been keeping her at arm’s length so far, and I didn’t expect to get her perspective on things until much later in the story. But here she is, being humanized by her desire to help Teeg’s son Ricky and making a kind of mistake I didn’t think she’d make. So just when you think you’ve got Jane figured as the good time girl who uses men to get what she wants… You find out that she’s just as desperate as anyone else, and kind of a good egg to boot.
You know… If you can call somebody who’ll kill a junkie for her lover’s kid a good egg…
That’s one of the things I like about Brubaker, though: he gives good noir, but never fails to play with the genre’s tropes to good effect. I always think it’s funny, then, when he apologizes for telling his story in a more sophisticated way than you might expect. I know he’s been dabbling in TV and movie writing of late, so maybe he’s been told not to trust his audience to pick up on subtleties. And, hell. I’m sure I’ve missed some things on my first read-through of his books over the years. Having come to him through his super hero writing, I tend to underestimate him. But he rewards second readings, and that’s the kind of writing I like best.