Thursday, March 1, 2012

GN Review -- X-Men: Deadly Genesis / Ed Brubaker, Trevor Hairsine, & Scott Hanna

What happens when you find out that a significant moment in your history is nothing like you actually remember it, and that you've been lied to, or even flat-out manipulated to protect someone else?  What if that someone is a mentor, a friend, and benefactor whose integrity has been, until this moment, unimpeachable?

X-Men: Deadly Genesis explores this question by reintroducing and adding to a critical period in the X-Men's history: the period during which the original team was kidnapped by Krakoa the Living Island, which led directly to the formation of the new team that everyone knows and loves to this day.

When a shuttle mysteriously crashes in upstate New York, the X-Men scramble to investigate.  Cyclops, Wolverine, and Rachel Summers are quickly overpowered and rendered unconscious by the shuttle's occupant, who leaves Wolverine for dead and takes the other two prisoner.  Meanwhile, Banshee has been investigating Muir Island for Charle Xavier's whereabouts, and comes across a disturbing recording about him left by the facility's caretaker, Dr. Moira MacTaggert.  He is killed along with the occupants of his flight by the X-Men's jet, the Blackbird, crashing into his plane just as it is about to land in New York, prompting Wolverine and Nightcrawler to sneak around the wreckage to retrieve the tape.

As the X-Men begin to piece together the remnants of Moira's recording, Scott and Rachel learn through the more aggressive methods of their captor that he knew Charles Xavier, and hated him intensely.  What's more, he had known Scott, who has no recollection of this powerful, unstable mutant captor of theirs named Vulcan.  Rachel manages to escape, and leads the other X-Men to Muir Island, where he's taken Scott and to where Xavier suddenly shows up.  Vulcan demands Professor X tell him what really happened on Krakoa, and he does so, revealing that he'd sent a previous team of X-Men--consisting of Vulcan and several other mutants--to retrieve the original team.  They had been children Moira had taken off the streets, and they were viciously killed by Krakoa.  Furthermore, Xavier had altered their recollections of the island so that it had appeared sentient to the X-Men, when in fact it had been no more intelligent than an animal.  Finally, he had erased some of Scott's memories of the events.

The X-Men, shocked at this revelation about their founder, nevertheless fight Vulcan to rescue him.  An enraged Vulcan flies off into space, proclaiming his hatred for the X-Men is renewed.  Meanwhile, the X-Men discover one of Vulcan's teammates, Darwin--a mutant with a continually evolving body--has survived, and is growing a body from pure energy in front of them.  A funeral is held for Petra and Sway, the two X-Men who died on Krakoa, and Scott tells Xavier that after his crimes, and because he isn't a mutant any longer, he no longer has a place at the Institute.

While I suppose Charles Xavier's character is far from unimpeachable by the time this story was originally told, I was nevertheless bowled over at the depths to which his character sank by the end of this story.  He took Moira's mutant students, used an experimental training procedure to "ready" them for their mission, then sent them to a powerful, living island that had made easy work of the original X-Men, who by that point had been veterans of combat against numerous powerful foes.  That Moira should think him a complete and total bastard is pretty understandable.

I think the writing here is amazing.  Ed Brubaker is known for writing strong noir and crime themed scripts, but this is a major retcon about a milestone moment in the X-Men's past, and he really knocks it out of the park, as far as I'm concerned.  Using erased memories, a desperate man's willingness to compromise his moral code, and the long, fading fingers of the past, he shows that this could have plausibly been pulled off--and kept hidden--by Xavier, but for Vulcan's reemergence.  Even that reemergence is given an explanation, albeit a comparatively flimsy one, having to do with the energy released by the Scarlet Witch's infamous "No more mutants," proclamation.

I also like that this story was dark enough and high-stakes enough that a member of the X-Men got killed in the course of its telling.  Sean Cassidy was never one of my favorite X-Men, but I know he was a favorite to many, and that Banshee had been a fairly constant presence on the team over the years.  To my knowledge, he hasn't been revived by the powers that be yet, and that shows me that, at least at the time, this was not an easy or idle decision on the part of the writers and editors.

The mini-backstories of the "lost X-Men," as I prefer to think of them, are also a nice touch.  They make for an appropriate addendum to each tale, and set up the denouement to the main story very nicely.  I actually found myself quickly becoming attached to Darwin, Petra, and Sway, and horrified at their demise on Krakoa when it was finally revealed.

The art in this story is really good, particularly the covers by Marc Silvestri, the first of which depicted a grotesque skeletal homage to the original Giant-Size X-Men cover and basically guaranteed that I would be reading this story.  Everything is modern X-Men with a hint of homage to the vintage looks of the late 70s and early 80s.  Hairsine knows these characters and draws them well, from appropriate expressions and body language to harrowing action shots like the destruction of the Blackbird crashing into Sean's flight.

Overall, this is a must-read story, and an unsettling insight into the formation of the "new" X-Men team that was made so famous.  It's also a good read for anyone who likes a decent crime thriller or mystery, as Vulcan's claims throughout the story are pretty hard to believe until the end.  Highly recommended.

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