I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
Let's get this out in the open right from the start. . .
I don't like the X-Men. I never have.
It's not that I HATE the X-Men, it's just that I'm not a big fan of "mainstream" costumed superhero comics (with a few exceptions like Captain America, Moon Knight and Batman), and I'm even less of a fan of "team" books. So where I'm a fan of Batman and Captain America, I'm not a reader of Avengers or Justice League. I just prefer stories to concentrate on one character and their supporting cast.
So I've never really followed ANY of the regular X-Men titles. I like some of the individual characters. . .Gambit and Nightcrawler come immediately to mind, but X-Men to me has always represented a superhero soap opera more than any other series I've ever seen. That and the continuity is absolutely daunting and NOT friendly to casual readers based on my limited experience with them. So except for a few mini's here and there, I tend to stay clear of Marvel's Merry Mutants.
BUT. . .
I've tasked myself with giving some mainstream Marvel superheroes a closer look for a while, and when I think "Mainstream Marvel" the X-Men jump into my mind right off the bat. And so here we are.
This mini actually comes from my daughter's collection. She has a bit more tolerance for the tangled continuity of modern Marvel comics than I do and she pulled this for me as one of her personal favorite X-Men stories.
I have no idea where this story sits in X-Men continuity beyond learning from Wikipedia that it takes place during Uncanny X-Men #460. . .which means nothing to me. Also, beyond the more famous characters such as Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Beast, Wolverine and so on, I have no clue who many of the supporting characters are.
SO. . .let's sum it up:
Characters I have very little knowledge of from a series I've never liked.
That said, I'm gonna give this a fair chance because why not? Let's do it!
SCRIPTS: Greg Pak
PENCILS: Greg Land
COVERS: Greg Land
First off. . .that cover! Now THAT'S an eye-catcher to be sure. This issue will be taking a while to find itself back in my daughter's collection because it's going to be taking a turn in a frame on my office wall soon. If nothing else, this cover is worth the price of admission alone. Moving along. . .
The Shi'ar resurrect the dormant Phoenix Force in an attempt to destroy it in a weakened state. Phoenix manages to escape to Earth and is drawn to Xavier's Mutant School in search of its host, Jean Grey. During the search, Phoenix comes across Cyclops sleeping with Emma Frost and causes an emotional explosion of memories of him and Jean.
Seeing in Cyclops' memory that Jean is dead, Phoenix goes to her grave and resurrects her dead body. Jean tries to convince Phoenix that something is wrong and neither one of them should be alive at that time. . .they need more time in the "White Hot Room" before they can fully rise. Phoenix doesn't listen and once again possesses the body of Jean Grey.
In the woods, Wolverine witnesses the explosive resurrection and rushes to the scene to find a confused Jean alive and well. The inner conflict between Jean Grey and Phoenix shows itself to Wolverine as she keeps switching between her Phoenix and Dark Phoenix costume. Wolverine realizes that Jean wants him to kill her, but Phoenix forces her to flee before he can.
The energy released during Phoenix's resurrection of Jean Grey shows up on the Shi'ar scanners and they head for Earth to complete their mission to destroy the Phoenix Force. . .
End of issue.
Okay. Not bad at all. For someone such as myself who doesn't really like the X-Men, this first issue isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. As a matter of fact, I find myself looking forward to the second issue and wanting to find out what happens next.
The story is definitely rooted deep in continuity, and there are supporting characters I have absolutely no clue who they are. . .the Shi'ar, Quentin Quire, The Stepford Cuckoos. . .that I had to wiki up on, but generally speaking this story has a pretty straight narrative of an alien being woken in a weakened state and being drawn to the last things it remembers.
The art had a lot to do with my enjoyment of this story, so let's address the elephant in the room. . .
Because I'm more of a DC fan when it comes to my mainstream comics, I haven't seen a lot of Greg Land's art beyond some Birds of Prey issues in my daughter's collection. I really wasn't aware that there WAS controversy concerning his art until I had to hit Wikipedia to look up a few things about this mini and it popped up in references.
I guess "Controversy" isn't the word to describe it. "Extremely Divisive" would probably be more accurate. There are people who feel SO strongly about allegations regarding Land's art that they won't buy anything with his name on it. It seems that he's been accused (frankly with some pretty strong evidence, from what I've seen) of straight up copying from sources such as magazines and even porn, and has a reputation as more of a photo-reference tracer than an actual artist.
After reading a bit about it, here's where I stand:
Alex Ross is one of my favorite artists. His extremely-detailed and realistic style is based on photo-reference and models. There are many artists in comics AND otherwise who base their style on photo-reference and models. I don't have a problem with it at all. Therefore I have no problem with Greg Land's art. I think it's actually pretty damn good, in my extremely humble opinion.
The photo-referencing is REALLY obvious, and I have to admit that Land DOES seem to be inclined toward sexy ladies to the point that this comic is pretty much the exact opposite of modern Marvel's "SJW" direction (which also gets Land's work plenty of flack). But objectively-speaking, if I have a choice between this. . .
And this. . .
I'm going to have to go ahead and choose the one that is finished, perfectly-polished, and doesn't make my eyes bleed. I know comics aren't ALL about the art, but as far as I'm concerned art is definitely half the appeal of comics, or else I'd just read more novels and save myself money and weekly trips to the comic shop.
SO. . .
If you have a big problem with Greg Land's art because he cribs from porn (which seems to be a main point of contention) I apologize that I can't muster up the amount of indignation to join you on that side of the fence. Like I said above, anyone can plainly see that his style is photo-referenced, but I have no problem with it and find his art to be what elevates this series into something even a non-X fan like myself can enjoy.
And that's it for MY Greg Land opinion for the rest of this review. I'd like to see a comment or two on the subject from those who read it in order to see where other people stand, though. 'Nuff said by me on this for now.
Overall, in this first issue I found a surprisingly engaging story that makes me want to see what happens next backed up by some incredible art. A very nice start. On to the next issue!
Once again, a VERY nice cover! I love these kind of multi-picture combo covers. This is another one that will take a while to find its way back into my daughter's collection so it can take a turn up on the office wall at work.
Wolverine informs Cyclops that he witnessed Jean Grey risen from the dead and possessed by the Phoenix Force, but also that she seemed to be confused and fighting against herself. Cyclops is immediately like "We have to find her and kill her." The other X-Men are like "Whoa. . .slow your roll, fearless leader. She's our friend and your ex-wife." Cyclops counters with the fact that Jean Grey is dead and shouldn't be walking around and the last time the Phoenix Force showed up, it destroyed a planet with five billion. . .with a B. . .people. And so the X-Men prepare to find and kill Jean Grey.
While the team starts getting ready to do what has to be done, Emma Frost detects an Omega Level mutant (which I guess means the most powerful kind, based on the reaction) in the X-Mansion. It turns out to be Quentin Quire (AKA Kid Omega) escaping from captivity in Beast's lab and hell-bent on finding his girlfriend, Sophie. . .one of the "Stepford Cuckoos" (a group of identical girls with strong psychic powers) who was killed in some sort of destructive event called "Open Day" that took place shortly before the events of this story.
Using his mental powers on Beast and the remaining Cuckoo's, Quire discovers that Sophie is dead and refuses to accept it, blasting a hole in the side of the mansion and heading for the graveyard to see for himself.
In the meantime. . .Storm and Nightcrawler are investigating a strange weather pattern that turns out to be the Shi'ar ship in disguise, having tracked Phoenix to Earth and now trying to locate it.
At the graveyard, Quentin Quire pulls the decomposed body of Sophie from the ground, finally accepts that she's dead, and decides that since the Phoenix Force freed him and revived Jean Grey, it can also revive Sophie.
While all that is going on, Wolverine goes on the hunt for Jean Grey by himself, and he ends up being the one to find her just sort of hanging around in the woods waiting for him.
End of issue.
In the second issue, the story begins to get a bit more convoluted than in the first. . .bouncing around between The various X-Men, Quentin Quire, Wolverine, and the Shi'ar. It also introduces a sub-plot (Quentin Quire and his dead girlfriend) that requires knowledge of X-Men continuity that I just didn't have, so I had to hit up Wikipedia to find out what was up, making this issue much less new reader friendly than the first issue.
That's not to say that the story is bad. It's still pretty engaging, but the whole Quentin Quire thing just feels like padding to fill this mini out to trade length. Looking forward through the remaining issues, it seems like this series is ACTUALLY a 3 issue story, with the subplot fat trimmed. It's sort of a shame because this is actually a pretty good story as is without watering it down.
As in the first issue, the polished, realistic art really brings the whole thing up a notch .
Overall, the story is still a good read backed up by some stellar artwork, but it's starting to get some obvious trade padding that distracts from what should be a fairly straightforward "Hunt the deadly alien wearing our dead friend's body!" narrative.
Okay. . .this cover confused me a bit. On the first look, I was like "Phoenix and X-23 lesbian shenanigans? Niiiiiiiiice!" But then I flipped through the book and saw that X-23 wasn't in it. And THEN I realized that's WOLVERINE sporting what looks like a set of double-D's and a pretty face on the cover. And then I was. . .uncomfortable.
Greg Land, I defended you and you do this to me? That $hit on the cover just ain't right, son. Ahem. . .moving along.
Storm and Nightcrawler confront the Commander of the Shi'ar ship and discover that they are there to destroy Phoenix. The Shi'ar escape, but the two X-Men set off in pursuit, unsure of whether to try and stop the aliens or help them.
Back at the X-Mansion, Beast informs the rest of the team of Quentin Quire's escape, but that has to go on the back burner because Wolverine has sent a mental message to Emma Frost that he's located Phoenix and is getting ready to engage. The rest of the team loads up in the jet and heads out to assist.
On the way to the battle, there's another discussion among the X-Men over whether or not they are doing the right thing in attacking Phoenix. Cyclops reminds them that Phoenix has already destroyed one planet and Earth might be next. There's no other way, and if Jean is really inside Phoenix fighting, then they have to take the shot if she is able to give them the chance.
As the rest of the X-Men are in flight, Wolverine goes on the attack, even though he knows he's way outmatched. He's come to the same conclusion as Cyclops. . .if Jean can give him a shot, he's going to take it. . .if he can survive long enough.
As the X-Men get close to the battle, they encounter the Shi'ar, who fire on Wolverine and Phoenix with a devastating weapon that creates a miniature black hole of sorts, seemingly destroying both. The X-Men confront the commander who lets them know that he did their job for them and they should be thanking him. . .and that they are tracking another Omega Mutant (Quentin Quire) that they believe the Phoenix might try to use as a host. They intend to destroy Quire and tell the X-Men to either help or get the hell out of their way. The X-Men agree to help, but only if Quire is captured, not killed.
Meanwhile. . .unknown to everyone, Phoenix saved both herself and Wolverine from the Shi'ar attack. With Jean Grey temporarily in charge due to the energy expended doing so, she tries to have Wolverine kill her, but Phoenix quickly regains power and Wolverine "kills" her over and over again, only to have her rise and taunt him each time. Finally, Wolverine weakens Phoenix enough for Jean to take over again and she drills down into the ice, freezing herself in order to give the rest of the X-Men enough time to arrive.
BUT. . .
It seems that was Phoenix's plan all along. As soon as the rest of the X-Men arrive on the scene, the Phoenix Force leaves Jean's body and attempts to take over the stronger body of Cyclops in order to feed on the energy of his optic blasts.
End of issue.
The third issue returns to the more straightforward narrative established in the first, leaving out much of the trade padding that made the second issue a Wikipedia referencing nightmare for someone like me not familiar with X-Men continuity. There's a sense of urgency as the X-Men and Shi'ar converge on their target and as Wolverine engages in battle. . .shown nicely as the panels diminish in size as he "kills" Phoenix over and over. Without the Quentin Quire subplot, the story moves forward at a nice brisk pace and has much more momentum.
Overall, this issue is a great read without being bogged down with past continuity and unnecessary subplots. It concentrates on the story at hand and is better for it.
A nicely-done Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 homage cover here. And although Cyclops IS sporting more cleavage than Emma Frost, at least I can tell it's Cyclops. . .moving along!
Quentin Quire moves toward the battle between The X-Men and Phoenix, closely pursued by the Shi'ar. Storm disables the weapons on the Shi'ar ship when the commander breaks their deal to capture Quire instead of kill him.
Quentin senses the X-Men are getting the upper hand on Phoenix, so he uses his psychic powers to turn the tide, hoping to gain the favor of Phoenix to resurrect his dead girlfriend. The Shi'ar commander, Storm, and Nightcrawler quickly subdue Quentin, but not before Phoenix has gained strength by forcing Cyclops to feed it with his optic blasts.
Emma Frost is able to force Phoenix away from Cyclops, but Phoenix tries to convince him that it is Jean Grey and that she has returned to him, and that they will be together forever. Emma's psychic powers finally reveal the truth during the exchange. . .that Phoenix is only there because of the residual memories of Jean Grey and it wants what she would have wanted, but Jean is dead and everyone knows it, therefore Phoenix will never be willingly given what she wants.
Emma offers herself up to the Phoenix as host, and as she becomes possessed, the rest of the X-Men jump into action and capture both Emma and Cyclops in a containment unit that Beast had built previously just in case Phoenix ever returned. . .all part of the plan, yep.
As the X-Men congratulate themselves on their plan being perfectly carried out and try to figure out how they're going to get Emma and Cyclops out while keeping Phoenix in, Quentin Quire arrives and uses his psychic powers to weaken Emma so that the Phoenix Force begins gaining massive amounts of power. . .
End of issue.
Yeah. . .back to the trade-padding Quentin Quire subplot again in this issue. To make matters worse, where he WAS sort in in the background in previous issues, he becomes a Deus Ex Machina ally to the Phoenix Force in this issue. . .with the author using Quire's psychic powers to pretty much dominate all opposition and positioning him at the end of the issue as just as big a threat as the Phoenix Force itself.
There's a good story at the heart of this issue. . .An extremely dangerous alien is pursued and trapped by exploiting the confusion between what it wants and what it THINKS it wants. . .but once again it's watered down by unnecessary baggage that is VERY obviously trade padding to bring what should be a three issue story up in page count to five issues.
Overall, despite the trade padding, there's a good story here backed up by fantastic art.
And finally, we come to the big finish!
The X-Men realize the battle isn't over as Quentin Quire tries to breach the containment unit and free the Phoenix Force. They know that his mental powers are too strong, but manage to keep him off balance with physical attacks, but between Quire on the outside and Phoenix on the inside, it's not long before the Phoenix Force (still using the body of Emma Frost) breaks free.
As The X-Men face the combined powers of the Phoenix Force and Quentin Quire, the Shi'ar set their ship on a suicidal collision course, agreeing to wait just long enough for Storm and Nightcrawler to try and rescue their teammates.
Quentin Quire petitions Phoenix to bring back Sophie from the dead in return for his assistance, Phoenix agrees, but as Sophie comes back to life the truth is revealed. . .her being Quentin's girlfriend is all in his head. In reality, Sophie is disgusted by him and prefers being dead to being anything to him. The revelation mentally breaks Quentin and because of his psychic connection to Phoenix, it also mentally breaks it to the point that it decides to decimate Earth, once it realizes that nothing it wants will be gained without conflict.
Cyclops and Wolverine quickly decide that the only one who can save Earth now is Jean Grey, so they free her from the ice that she had previously trapped herself in and Jean forces the Phoenix Force to leave Emma Frost and possess her again. . .leaving Phoenix weakened, but Jean realizes that even in a weakened state, Phoenix won't stop until Earth is destroyed. . .be it today, tomorrow, or sometime in the future. Phoenix is just too confused and petty, almost childlike and ready to destroy when it doesn't get its way. If it can't have Cyclops, everybody dies!
Cyclops suddenly understands how to give Phoenix what it wants and enlists Emma Frost to use her psychic powers (amplified by the Stepford Cuckoos at the X-Mansion with Cerebro) to contact X-Men around the world who were friends and teammates of Jean Grey in an effort to show Phoenix that there's more than one kind of love. The plan succeeds and Phoenix understands that besides the romantic love it craved for Cyclops from Jean's residual memories, there's also the love of family and friendship. It doesn't have to be JUST one thing or another.
As Phoenix comes to understand it was wanting something that wasn't real while there was real love for Jean Grey in the world, Jean Grey is able to take control and sacrifices herself by flying into the blast as the Shi'ar ship explodes in a massive wave of destructive energy, seemingly destroying both Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force. . .but not before Jean manages to teleport her friends and comrades to safety.
Back at the X-Mansion, one of the Stepford Cuckoos wakes up and welcomes a small spark of the Phoenix Force into their room. . .Dun-Dun-DUN!
End of issue.
Not a bad ending at all. I like that instead of just punching and powering Phoenix into submission, the X-Men managed to win the day through love. Yeah. . .it sounds kind of cheesy, and in a way it is, but for this story it works well. It's a nice explanation for how a team of heroes with decidedly un-cosmic powers can manage to defeat an almost godlike alien being capable of destroying entire planets.
The ending is completely wide open, and I'm not sure where things went from here, but judging from all the comics with Jean Grey on the cover at the comic shop, she didn't stay dead for long. But as far as THIS story is concerned, the emotional victory that comes with Jean Grey's self-sacrifice for her friends and loved ones is a very nice ending.
For someone who is not a fan of the X-Men, I found Endsong to be a surprisingly engaging story, with fantastic art, plenty of action and an emotional punch at the ending that really sticks the landing.
Is it perfect? Not at all. There is some obvious trade padding to bring what should be a three issue story up to five issues with an unnecessary subplot. It's firmly rooted in the convoluted X-Men continuity, so it's not very friendly to non-X fans such as myself. There's a major focus by the artist on extremely sexy women that's somewhat questionable.
But despite those few faults, I enjoyed this story a LOT more than I thought I would. I'm not sure how this story was received by X-Men fans, and it's not going to make me an X-Men fan, but I'm glad my daughter tossed this one my way when I asked her for an X-Men story to review. It's not the greatest comic story I've ever seen, but it's definitely worth a read, whether you're an X-Men fan or not.
Up Next. . .
More Merry Marvel Mainstream Madness!
Marvel Age: Team Up 5 issue series.
Fantastic Four! Captain America! Kitty Pryde! Thor! Storm!
All teamed up in 5 one-shot stories with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Be there or be square!
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