Monday, 27 October 2014

The Uncanny X-Force and The Profoundness of an All-Star Hit Squad

(Some spoilers, but nothing major, for the most part. You'd probably find worse on one of the wikis.)

I bought the first trade paperback of Uncanny X-Force, in the first run of the series under writer Rick Remender for my son, either as a Christmas or Birthday present in the last couple of years. He likes Deadpool, and I figured it would be something to read other than just Deadpool on his own. The story was called The Apocalypse Solution. After reading that story I never felt a need to follow up with it all that quickly. I knew I would eventually and did mention it more than a few times to the Mrs. There were other books that were more important that I kept running across.

Then about a week or two ago (mid August 2014 as of the first draft) I noticed they released a large volume that contained the already mentioned story, plus Deathlok Nation, and The Dark Angel Saga, at Rogue's Gallery (because a shout out is needed). It might seem silly to buy a book that already contains something that was already in the house, but I can easily explain. Those three stories (plus there is actually another one-off in there, that does relate to another section in the X-Men Universe) are actually devided over four tades, and would cost more to buy. Plus I wanted my own copy, because eventually my kid will move out and take his comics with. I also was at a point in my story buying, where I needed to start filling some gaps in my modern 616 X-Verse.

I am very happy that I did pick up this book though, because the other stories are pretty good, but it's The Dark Angel Saga that it all builds up to, and I thought the story was fantastic. It does help to know the most basic of Archangel's story line, but even if you don't they do give you the bare minimum you need to know. I just finished reading that as of the day I started writing this article.

Now I want to explain to you, the best that I can, how sick and broken your soul can become when you spend too long having to kill.

Now for those that need to know the basics, that you can find anywhere. Archangel was originally Angel. He was then twisted and mutated further by Apocalypse, a very old and ancient mutant, possibly one of the first on Earth. Angel then became Death the Horsemen Of Apocalypse. Eventually over time, Angel sprung forth from his perverted version that had long ago managed to regain some humanity, and his real feathered wings erupted from the metalic ones, and his skin went from blue back to a normal hue. Then a bunch of other stuff happened and now he has a slight split personality disorder issue, with Warren Worthington III being in control of both, as needed, for the most part. The rest is being kept in check by his girlfriend Elizabeth "Betsy" Braddock, also known as Psylocke. That last part can be figured out with the first five pages of the story.

You pretty much need to know that to read The Dark Angel Saga, in which we also get to see some of the best parts of Science Fiction all rolled together into a strong coherent story, with a great pace. Alternate realities (Age Of Apocalypse, a.k.a AofA), super evolved terra forming with the purpose of wiping out humanity and starting over, body snatching, but most importantly wicked character development, and no skimping on doing what needs to be done. Let me fill you in on the rest of the cast first, since we have established Angel/Archangel.

Wolverine is Wolverine in a post M Day world, which is to say a little more cerebral and a little less stabby stab. Well there's still lots of that, but it's under a controlled purpose, most of the time. One of the most interesting parts about what was going on in these stories is that Logan was also an Avenger, because he couldn't handle working with Cyclops anymore. Yep, he's that damn bad ass, that he started his own secret kill squad funded by Warren, while being one of the "good guys."

Then there are the mercinaries they hire to help fill out the team.

What they do with Deadpool in the series is interesting, because you get to see a real broken down and battered Wade Wilson. I mean he's still the wise cracking merc with a mouth, that everyone either loves or hates, both for the same reason, but he's more than that in these stories. For starters, he of all people has developed issues with some of the killing that's needed to be done, and on top of that is developing a complex because of how the rest of the team views him. To be fair they do really bully him verbally, although some people may also view it as putting the loud mouth in his place.

Then there's Fantomex. I've gotten into Jean Phillipe pretty good already, in my first article, so I won't go over him much more here. Other than to say that I have really enjoyed this character and without finishing this story's whole story line, and therefore not knowing how anything happens, hope I get to see more of him. After all when the last story is called Final Execution, you can't help but worry that the guy is going to bite it. Then again, he does seem to regenerate (not as well as Wolverine, but who does) and I've seen him take some pretty good hits. (Side note: I finished the last story and became even more intrigued to see how things continue with Fantomex.)

Some other things I will mention about Fantomex is that he seems to be wrapped up in the Weapon Plus program (as in the group that made Wolverine Weapon X), which I need to look into more, and this has allowed me to see Weapon III (which I'll get to shortly). Then there`s all the crazy stunts he pulls, which would make anyone question his motives. Plus, being a masterful world class thief doesn't hurt. (Spoilers) I`ve also recently come to discover that he is the only version of himself in the entire Marvel Multiverse. I have no clue what that means at the moment, but that`s pretty cool if you ask me. After all, that fact alone makes the Captain Britain Corps want to kill him, if not for his heinous offence of killing a child in cold calculated blood.

And speaking of the British, there's the Psy Ninja, Psylocke, she's decent enough in the series. I mean after all she's the only female on a kill squad, and oh how she can kill when needed. But she doesn't start getting overly interesting to me until I reached Otherworld, which is the first story after The Dark Angel Saga. From there on she just spirals into some variation of world gone mad, and copes with it beautifully, in a sick and disgusting, never been so disturbed because I'm on a kill squad, kind of way.

There are a couple other characters I've gotten to spend some cool time with on the hero side (I use that loosely). Deathlock for example, is through most of the large volume I have, and seems to exit with little or no mention afterward. May need to double check that. Then right about the time he checks out, the team adds Kurt Darkholme. This is Nightcrawler from the AofA universe. It's all in The Dark Angel Saga for your reading pleasure. Then things do come full circle in the end, with The Final Execution. Which tidies most of it up nicely. Always need little plot gaps to move other stories along.

When it comes to Deathlock, I know about him, and I like how he's been included in the Marvel's Agents of Shield on television, but this is my first chance to really get to read him in a continuing comic story line. I do have the issue with him in it as a secondary character, or at least one version of him. During my recent X-Factor reading, I got to read about some other variations as well. This one however, was rather cool, and gave some interesting insight into the world (possible future to be technical in this case) in which this character resides.

As for Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner), he's dead in the Marvel 616 universe (core universe of most of the comic stories marvel releases if you didn't already know). So when you bring a character who's died from one dimension to another, some interesting antics happen. Not to mention the adjusting to the new character that everyone still sees as the old character. Wolverine, for example, always refers to him as Elf, which was his nickname for Kurt Wagner, estranged son of Mystique. This Nightcrawler hates the name, and was raised by his birth morther Raven Darkholme (Mystique). Which also makes a huge difference.

I would like to get into more of these alternate characters, but there's just so many that it'll have to wait. As I've mention I haven't read the last story, or finished the second last, in this run of Uncanny X-Force, which is technically Uncanny X-Force vol. 1 #1–35 and ran from October 2010 to December 2012. I plan on being done the series before I write any more of this article, but that's okay.

Even I as I pick up this article again right now (September 2, 2014), I like how it's going to play out. See, the first volume (collection of the first four trades) is a great story arc on it's own. It feels mostly complete and you don't have to continue on if you don't want to. I think that would be a silly mistake, but what do I know, I've just read it all. However, to lend a proper feel to this article I think it's good to see it split in such a manner.

The story that takes place in Otherworld is sort of a continuation on what had happened in The Apocalypse Solution, but it also acts as a pivot point, to swing the story into the final arc. This is when we get real heavy into Betsy Braddock, because we are now dealing with Captain Britian, and the nexus of all reality, that him and the Corps are sworn to protect, plus some of their family history. The good Captain is Brian Braddock, then there's also Jamie Braddock (the formerly mad brother, that is responsible for ressurecting Psylocke in the past), with some mention of their father as well. Also because Otherworld is a place of magic, it allows Deadpool to slip in a Dungeons & Dragons comment. You may think it's a joke, but his level 16 Ranger is no laughing matter.

There's a sick story with a moral in there, and it's not the type of moral that has you yelling "Yo! Joe!" No, it's the kind of moral that makes you want to go crawl into a bottle of booze and remember why it's never truly cool to be the best there is at what you do, even when it needs to be done.

This is also where we get to find out about Weapon III, which was story worthy of Clive Barker. Basically he starts off as a mutant who can use his skin, like Mr. Fantastic moves his whole body, but can even read stuff through his skin. Then one day he gets magically skinned, so he can continue fully living, but with no skin. He would need to recover his own skin, in order to have any. Then eventually he's able to train his muscles to do what his skin could do. That's the dumbed down version, of a great nightmare creature.

And just one more quick note to this walking hellish nightmare, his skin was stolen from his punishers by Fantomex. It was then turned into a very specific kind of super amazing bullet that you have got to read about. That's why Weapon III get's involved in this whole mess to begin with, and yet again proving that Fantomex is totally bad ass.

Which takes us into the last leg of the complete story arc that is Uncanny X-Force Volume 1. Final Execution, is the end of this team. It's been fun while it lasted, but eventually the killing just gets to you and you have no choice but to slink away, while you still have some sort of soul. But there's always that one last job.

Spoiler) Now, if you read the X-Factor series (2005-2013) You'll know that Blob was a mutant depowered after M-Day, with disgusting side effects. However, Nightcrawler was not the only mutant from AofA to make it over to the 616 Universe. Dark Beast had actually been around for a while, and is how The Dark Angel Saga gets so crazy, and during that time they also bring back an alternate version of Blob, as well as a couple of others that have nothing to so with these Uncanny X-Force story lines.

By the very end of Final Execution there is one new hero in training, that looks forward to a brighter future, and a whole bunch of other people that most likely would love a Mojoverse mind wipe. This really gets dark. I mean it gets dark in some of the scariest Dystopian kinds of way.

That reminds me, I didn't mention anything about the future world this team visits, that shows them what a paradise their advance killing mentality creates. Oh yeah, it's the thought police with only one form of punishment. You thought about killing? Ooops, I'm sorry.

Yes, this series gets dark.

I really want to give you more food for thought, but I don't want to give much more away, because you should read the series for yourself. The best way I could describe this series is X-Men with Clive Barker as a heavy influence.

Welcome to the sick and twisted underbelly of the Marvel Universe.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

An Introduction to Myself Through Recent Character Discoveries

(Some spoilers, but nothing major.)

This was originally going to be a nice short little post, on my facebook wall. Ooops...

In the last year or so I've been bingeing on comic trades, and thankful for it, along with the fact I have a s/o that enjoys them as much as I do. While doing so, I have discovered that there are some characters out there, that I really have come to enjoy. Most of them have been older characters that I've just recently given some attention to, and others are honestly newer characters.

Also, as a good little Canadian I would like to apologize in advance that this is totally Marvel. Even though I also read Batman (Andria's favourite) and Walking Dead (Because it's just so damn good).

Before I really get going there are some terms I should clarify first, for those that don't know, or those that may get confused. When I say single issue, I mean that cute little magazine that comes out every month. A trade is generally 1 story collected into a thinner book, from the single issues. Think the size of an issue of National Geographic, but with a thicker cover. Then there are volumes, which is a collection of trades put together into a thick book. That specific term can cause confusion in some cases, because when a specific title is stopped and restarted it then is listed by volumes. Uncanny X-Force I recently discovered has begun a volume 2, which I did not know until I went to check what I needed to complete the collection I was currently working on.

Now moving on to what I really want to get into.

Let me start by saying that I have not bought a single issue comic since the summer of 1995, and even that was a set of 5 single issues pre packaged, Wolverine 51-55, right after he had his adamantium ripped out by Magneto. Granted these were bought a while after the story line had happened, and when I think about it, might have been the last comics I outright bought until recent years. But, I digress.

Flash forward back to present time and I've now picked up a fair amount of trades and large volumes for my viewing pleasure. Most of what I've read has been mainly centered around the X-Men side of the universe, with the exception of major event collections. For example Secret Wars and Infinity Gauntlet were among some of my early grabs, when I started reading again. After all you have to read the classics. You also need to have Civil War and Secrect Invasion if you want to be even somewhat relevant in the modern Marvel age, and Planet Hulk followed by World War Hulk, if you love the green guy. But, if you ask me the most important story to follow in modern years that sums them all up for your enjoyment is Avengers Disassembled, then House Of M, and finish off with Avengers vs. X-Men (AvX). Then even after that you are still a couple of years behind, but have a half ass idea about what's been going on.

Some of the series I got into were Exiles, X-Factor and Uncanny X-Force. In the case of the latter I just completed picking up the entire series, and will most likely be done reading it by the time you read this.

Now before I really get going let me start with some friendly advice. Always get to know your comic book guy. Learn what their likes and dislikes are. If they are the same as yours, ask their advice about what to pick up, and they will never steer you wrong. Exiles was recommended to me and X-Factor, I believe was suggested to Andria, because he's taken the time to pay attention to our tastes. Those two series are the reason why I have no problem throwing a shout out to Shawn Cousineau at Rogue's Gallery, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Everyone who is a client of the shop knows he is the man.

Shawn best described Exiles to me as Sliders meets X-Men. Pretty much the perfect description and enough to get me hooked to pick up the first volume of a six volume set. That first volume instantly had me itching to read the rest. I would love to get into those characters, but it would require an article of it's own, which I will eventually get to. I had plans for writing a detailed essay about that series months ago. Well theories about plans, but I'm getting off topic.

I will mention Longshot and Psylocke which were both characters I've now gotten to follow a fair amount. These are the classic characters we know, not alternate dimension versions, and both are important in this write up for multiple reasons. Just bare with me as I'm going to take you the long way around to these characters, which do have linear reasons if you study the time lines.

Let me start with the fact that I love Mojo and the Mojoverse, and I have since I was a kid. I think he is one of the greatest villians of all time (that isn't a cosmic being), because he is completely honest about what he does, and why he does it. How can you not love a psychopath that's driven by achieving huge Mojovision (t.v.) ratings. Did I mention he's a yellow spineless blob that crawls around on a mechanical platform with spider-like legs. Oh yeah, and he literally designs his characters for his shows. Has them genetically created to take all the abuse and death he can cause to achieve his goal. That included creating Longshot.

Now with Mojo you have to use him carefully as a villian or he loses his charm. You don't want another case of, "Oh, look. Mojo kidnapped the X-Men again to show for sweeps week." On the other hand, you can take what I would start off thinking is a completely stupid story line, then show it's the spineless one behind it and all of a sudden everything makes much more sense. I would say more but it kind of ruins the surprise twist if I told you which comic I was referring to.

Longshot, on the other hand, I've gotten to experience in excess you might think, and it really has been fun. But the basic info you need to know to begin with is he's got a few special abilities, but the core one is luck, oh and the ability to bed just about anything without trying. Seriously, all he pretty much needs to do is say "Hi." He's clearly not human either, since he was produced in another dimension, the Mojoverse.

Let me start by saying he's Shawn's favourite character, so of course he recommends pretty much anything the four fingered, mullet man is in. Like there's Longshot, his self titled debut to start, followed by Exiles, then X-Factor and Longshot Saves The Marvel Universe. And the last three on that list pretty much covers a huge chunk of what that character has been up to from 2006ish to almost present day. Also, I didn't read those in that order. I did everything all wibbley wobbley, timey whimey. I read the middle on both ends and the ends in the middle.

Here's three things I will say about Longshot, don't bring him to a casino if you want to keep a low profile, he may have met you, but most likely wouldn't remember because he tends to get his mind wiped, and don't let him near your girlfriend. Bonus point, he also had a Mullet right up until he saved the Marvel Universe.

Keeping with X-Factor I have to mention Jamie Maddrox, Darwin, Rictor and Shatterstar. Jamie is the more important one of the bunch, so I'll save him for last. Darwin I only mention because (SPOILER) the guy evolves into Death. His mutant ability is to adapt to anything to survive. In the X-Men First Class movie they chose to make him a joke in comparison to his comic book self. The guy literally evolves into an avatar of Death so he could not be killed by Hela the Asgardian Godess of Death.

I mention Rictor and Shatterstar because they are the first gay couple I have read about in comics, and they are normal. Not some stupid cliche, they are two guys, one from the same world as Longshot (Shatterstar), and the other for quite a while was a former mutant stripped of his abilities after M Day (Rictor). They are tastefully written secondary characters. Okay, the characters aren't secondary. Well, Rictor isn't secondary, in fact he's a bit complex. Shatterstar is a bit more secondary, because every X group should have a sword swinging teleporter that's not quite the same as everyone else.

Jamie Maddrox on the other hand is totally my kind of character. Let's start with his nick name Multiple Man. A moniker given because of his ability to create replicas of himself through impact to his body. So you punch him in the face, and there's two of him. Punch him really hard and you may get three. On the other hand he could just as easily stomp his foot on the ground, and get a whole battalion. I'm not over exaggerating either. Also for reasons that, so far as I've read, no one can explain, he also duplicates what he's wearing and if he's holding anything. And I won't even get into the re-absorbtion of material objects.

Now the first time I ever read anything about Maddrox was back during the second line up of X-Factor in the early '90's. Back then I remember him having an issue because he had two dupes (what he calls his duplicates) that he couldn't seem to re-absorb. Now jump ahead a decade and a half, give or take a year, and Jamie has started sending dupes all over the world to learn different skills and then bring them back, because he doesn't just take them back into his being. He also gets everything they know. Seriously, he was a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, a priest, studied in a buddhist monistary, and the list goes on.

The down side is it caused personality side effects when he started spawning dupes later, some of them had some real personality issues, or character flaws. This also allowed him to do some very nice things, or cool things you would make jokes about. (Spoiler) Like his wedding night. It was Maddrox and the girl who knows things, and Maddrox. Or early on in the series when he tries to kill himself, and it was homocide, not suicide.

At the moment I've read up to X-Factor's 19th trade. Once I finish the series I'll most likely write something about it, sadly I need to get my hands on the 20th trade first. I don't want to read 21, which is the last story for that version of X-Factor, until I've read the one before it. You know it's something cool, based on what happens in the 19th.

Now moving back to Psylocke, but later after her time with the Exiles, we are looking at Uncanny X-Force and Uncanny X-men in some cases. Both of which she's a part of, and Betsy is pretty damn cool. And the more Uncanny X-Force I read, the more I like her, but I don't know if it's out of pity. But, I'll take her X-Force team mate Fantomex any day.

Now when you are on a team with Wolverine (which of course is my favourite X-Men, because I am so typical that way) and you also have Archangel (who is probably my second favourite, and I like even more now a days) and Deadpool, there's a lot of stiff competition for fair panel time. However, any comic book character that references Danzig songs is pretty damn cool in my books. It was Deadpool referencing Frank Zappa that won me over with him.

Jean Paul (Fantomex) is pretty cool in his own right, though. He's a Sentinel that rebelled against his programming, and is tricked out with one hell of an odd background story from what I've gathered so far, which involves him having three brains, which later becomes huge spoiler material, which you need to read about. But it's the other things about him that make him cool. For starters one of his skills is to make illusions, distractions, or temporary mass hypnosis is another way I like to look at it. His ship is linked direct to his nervous system and E.V.A. kind of has a quirky personality of her own. Also he's a mecernary, which means he's fine with killing. That's pretty much what the entire Uncanny X-Force is all about, at least during the first volume.

Some other funny moments with Fantomex include a conversation with Gambit from the Age Of Apocalypse Universe in which they mock each others French accents, and I do really enjoy the play between Jean Paul and Deadpool.

Since I have mentioned Age Of Apocalypse I feel I should mention Creed (Sabertooth). He's a major character in Exiles, and even shows up in Uncanny X-Force later on, where Psylocke vouches for him, based on their past team up. He's not one of my favourite characters, but I do really love what they've done with him, and the elements he brings to the table. He's kind of like the mature Wolverine, but still Sabertooth. I haven't read enough of the full Age Of Apocalypse story to know him very well yet (slowly working on it, due to printing errors). That will be yet another article at a later point. But watching him and Logan talk to each other through out the Uncanny X-Force is rather funny. Especially since in the later trades the Sabertooth we all know and love is running around. Yeah, to the best of both worlds.

I also have discovered that the Richards children (Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman's kids) are interesting as well. I've gotten to read about Franklin in a couple different spots through out the universe, mainly in X-Factor, and AvX. I think it was AvX, might have been Uncanny X-Men, would need to double check. Either way, I'd be pretty interested in reading a collection that followed him pretty much exclusively. I was never overly interested in the Original Fantastic Four line up as main characters, but the kids might be another story.

There are many more I could and will eventually get into, but for now that will cover it. I'm not sure when I'll get to the next opinionated essay that reflects my views on graphic novels and the stories and characters that lie within, but there will be one coming in the near future. In fact I'm just about to start writing it, as I rough out some other ideas.