In the realm of single issues the X-Men are getting off to their latest relaunch in the wake of the “Inhumans vs. X-Men” event. (Though not without some controversy, sadly.) The idea this time is a back-to-basics approach that emphasizes the characters superhero escapades more than anything else. Actually, it’s more of a back-to-the-90’s approach given that the titles of the two core series, “Blue” and “Gold,” are meant to harken back to the best-selling days of the Jim Lee-illustrated “X-Men #1.” For those of us like me who follow the franchise in collected form, we’ve still got the entirety of the event to go. As the latest volumes of “Uncanny X-Men,” “Extraordinary X-Men,” and “All-New X-Men” show, this new approach will be welcome in the hopes that it can get the quality level up to something better than “okay.”
“Uncanny X-Men: Superior vol. 3 — Waking From the Dream” at least manages to be better than the previous volume. If you’ll recall, that one was the least interesting part of the “Apocalypse Wars” event as it tried to reconcile Angel/Archangel in a garbled manner while also calling back to the excellent “Dark Angel Saga” in a disappointing fashion. Things get back on track here as the focus returns to the Magneto/Psylocke rivalry along with the business of what the Someday Corporation is doing to the mutants in their care. Even though they’re on the same team, Magneto has been keeping plenty of secrets from Psylocke and he springs a new one on her here: He’s joined up with the Hellfire Club to increase his power base. Upset though she is about being kept in the dark about this, Psylocke goes along with this after it becomes clear that someone else is now running the mutants collected by Someday for their own ends.
The dynamic between Magneto and Psylocke is the best part about this series. While both are willing to cross certain lines to protect mutants, they’ve got different ways in going about that. It’s all the more troubling for Psylocke because Magneto is generally holding all the cards in a given situation and she can’t be sure even if rebelling against him isn’t actually playing into his hands. The final issue, which has her going against Mystique and (I can only hope) “curing” the treacherous shape-shifter of her untrustworthy nature, is a great example of this. Still, while the general plot is solid enough it’s the kind of thing that I’d say would make me optimistic about the book’s general direction. Except that direction is a dead end as we head into “IvX” unless writer Cullen Bunn picks up some of these threads in “X-Men: Blue.”
Writer Jeff Lemire apparently saw the writing on the wall with the issues collected in “Extraordinary X-Men vol. 3: Kingdoms Fall” and at least does his best to wrap them up here. Which is a trickier task than you may think given that vol. 2 left us with Apocalypse returning to this timestream, Colossus turned into one Death of his Dark Riders, and Magik’s protege Sapna falling under the influence of some mysterious entity. All three threads are addressed here as Magik and Storm head through the multiverse to track down Sapna, Bobby and Nightcrawler go after Colossus, and Forge is left to deal with Apocalypse in his lab.
The Apocalypse-related subplots get the short end of the stick here as the once-mighty A-list villain is reduced to taunting Forge behind bars while Colossus is brought back in fairly short order. Lemire does continue to milk this thread for drama as there is the question of whether or not they can trust Apocalypse to return Colossus to normal, but the main focus of his issues in this volume turns out to smartly be on Sapna’s plight. It’s disappointing that the force controlling her turns out to be a generic world-eating entity (I honestly thought it was going to be the Shadow King, which would’ve been timely, but no) yet the writer manages to ramp up the action for an impressive climax that allows all the various plots to come together. Nothing special by “X-Men” standards, but it’s solidly constructed and Lemire continues to demonstrate a good handle on all of the characters’ personalities and voices.
Much the same can be said of the annual collected in the volume here from writer Ollie Masters and artist Carlo Barberi. It features the cast of “Extraordinary” working to break two mutants out of a British jail before the Terrigen Cloud rolls over the prison and kills them both. The banter is fine, and the plotting is solid enough with the chaos you’d expect from the break-in plans going awry, while the art gets the job done. Even if my life wasn’t enriched by reading this story, I didn’t feel it was a waste of my time to have read it.
Finally, for a title that I wasn’t planning to pick up initially, “All-New X-Men” has probably been the most consistently entertaining of “X-Men” titles this go-round. “All-New X-Men: Inevitable vol. 3 — Hath no Fury” continues that trend with a series of demonic-focused issues here. Things kick off with some relationship troubles between Wolverine and Angel, leaving the former to find ways to blow off steam that lead her right into the heart of these troubles. Iceman gets some dating advice from the two members of the team least equipped to offer such — Idie and Evan — and winds up having to help take down an Inhuman rampaging through town. Meanwhile, Cyclops is at home and plagued by curiosity regarding Beast’s latest round of experiments only to find out firsthand that they’re more of the eldritch variety.
All of these escapades eventually converge once the Goblin Queen shows up to take over Miami Beach. It’s not a development that’s completely out of left field, as writer Dennis Hopless lets you know pretty early on that she’s due to show up. The problem with using her is that I’m honestly not sure what her deal is these days beyond simply lording it over a host of demons as we see here. Anyhow, the fight is decently staged thanks to artist Mark Bagley — who provides quality work throughout the volume — and we’re promised some long-term ramifications for Beast. I’m not sure if those will actually be followed up on, but the character-driven stuff in this volume is still as solid and enjoyable as you’ve come to expect from this title.
Even so, I’m still not averse to seeing Marvel roll the dice again with these characters, including the casts of “Extraordinary” and “Uncanny” to see if we can’t get something better. Bendis did the general direction of the core titles no favors with his run while Lemire and Bunn haven’t been able to thrive under the “vs. Inhumans” remit imposed on them. The best work on these titles over the past few years has either been done on the fringes, in books like Si Spurrier’s “Legacy” and “X-Force,” and this version of “All-New” (most of what they were doing here was off to the side of the core titles) or by writers not afraid to go full-bore crazy as Jason Aaron did on “Wolverine and the X-Men” and his one arc of “Amazing.” Can Marc Guggenheim and Bunn provide a solid direction for things on “Gold” and “Blue?” I want to believe that’s true so I’ll be picking up those titles when they’re collected.
We do still have “Inhumans vs. X-Men” to get through first. If its prologue is any indication, then that’s going to be a pretty dispiriting process…