The following is a video from my YouTube Channel, Jack’s World. As someone who has followed and praised X-Men comics for years, I wanted to make a video that articulated just how important the recent House of X/Powers of X story by Jonathan Hickman is in the history of the franchise. I tried to do it justice while trying not too hard to geek out. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: Storm
Happiness and joy often come in small doses, but like good investments, they compound quickly. I learned that early in life when I discovered how much more joy I got from a $3 comic than I did by trying to be the most popular kid in school.
Don’t get me wrong. Having friends is great. Being popular is great. It’s just easier to pay a few bucks for a comic than it is to jump through all the assorted hoops that come with seeking more elaborate forms of happiness. In terms of the simplest things that make me happy, a comic is one of the best bargains out there.
They’re not very expensive. They’re colorful and easy to access. You can even take them with alcohol. Kids and adults alike can appreciate them. Once you find a few series and titles you like, you’ve got a consistent source of joy to look forward to every week. That’s a big part of what makes New Comic Book Day such a delight.
My comic book consumption has changed over the years, but I’ve always found a way to enjoy every Wednesday. Thanks to Comixology, it has never bene easier. In a year like 2020, we need whatever sliver of joy we can get. New Comic Book Day can be part of that effort. To that end, here’s my pull list and picks for the week. Enjoy!
My Pull List
My Pick Of The Week
Giant-Size X-Men: Storm #1
For the past two months, it seems everyone is longing for or agonizing over a sense of normalcy. They look back on the days of being able to go to a movie theater, sit inside a crowded restaurant, or smell someone’s breath while they stand in a crowded subway car. While that last one might not be that fond a memory, it still symbolizes the same idea.
We miss that sense of normal. Even if the concept of “normal” had its problems, as it often does, we miss it. We’ve all spent the last two months enduring extended isolation while watching increasingly grim news surrounding a global pandemic. People don’t agree on much, but they can agree that this abnormal experience sucks.
I’m of the opinion that we can never truly go back to the “normal” we once knew. I’m also of the opinion that “normal” is an overrated concept. At the same time, I long for some aspects of that pre-pandemic world. That’s why the prospect of New Comic Day returning is such a relief.
It’s still not back to full capacity, but it’s getting there. Books that were supposed to come out back in late March are finally starting to hit both comic shops and Comixology. This week marks the first week where all the major comic companies make a concerted effort at returning to normal. I can’t speak for all comic fans, but I’m rooting for them to succeed.
As part of that effort, I’ve assembled a pull list and pick. It’s still too early to call this a return to normal, but I’ll take it.
My Pull List
My Pick Of The Week
There’s an inescapable law in superhero comics that’s right up there with characters not staying dead or Deadpool being annoying. If you invent a certain technology that can be used by villains, then there’s no uninventing it. You can scrub your computer. You can burn on the schematics. You can even try to mind-wipe everyone you told about it, which is possible in worlds that have telepaths.
There’s no getting around it. Some asshole will find it and use it to inflict harm, suffering, and chaos. That’s a lesson that Forge, and all of Krakoa, learn in “Marauders #10.” For the last several issues, someone with ties to corrupt, mutant-hating Russians has been using power dampening technology to abduct mutants and harass Krakoan exports. It has cost Krakoa money and it may have cost Kitty Pryde her life.
I say “may” because X-Men comics have really twisted the meaning of death and dying after “House of X/Powers of X,” albeit in a very awesome manner. However, Kitty’s status among the living is only secondary. What happened to her is just more motivation for Emma Frost and the rest of the Marauders crew to get back at the Russians who think they can get away with trolling Krakoa.
It’s a serious effort that has serious ramifications for Krakoa’s emerging status among nations. That doesn’t stop writer Gerry Duggan and artist Stefano Caselli from having fun with it. This isn’t some standard clash where the X-Men take down a few evil minions and blow up a few killer robots. There’s some real strategy and cunning employed.
By that, I mean Emma Frost weaponizes her tits in battle.
Yes, that really happened.
Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.
Naturally, Emma Frost steals the show, but there’s a bigger picture in “Marauders #10” that goes beyond stopping a bunch of renegade Russians. It’s another step in Krakoa’s growing pains as a nation. Mutants have established themselves as a world power. They’ve shown that they have valuable resources to trade.
Naturally, those resources are going to come under attack. Like any nation, Krakoa has to deal with competitors, enemies, and rogue elements from unfriendly nations. When mutant powers are involved, both the threats and the geopolitical implications are compounded. Smaller conflicts are now much bigger in scope.
It doesn’t help that things like power dampening technology and mutant killing robots are still out there in the world. Chances are the schematics are available on the dark web for a few bitcoins. When mutants were just scattered or on the brink of extinction, these dangers were localized. Now, they’re a matter of geopolitics.
That’s the kind of world that the X-Men live in now and “Marauders #10” builds on it. There are still plenty of obstacles for the X-Men and Krakoa to deal with. Some will be harder to overcome than others, as the loss of Kitty Pryde has shown them. However, even if they can’t undo technology like Sentinels and power dampeners, they can still fight through it and thrive.
It’s a testament to both Krakoa’s emerging power and Emma Frost’s uncanny tits.
At their most basic, superhero comics involve extraordinary characters saving the day against extraordinary threats. Whether it’s battling invading aliens, fighting giant robots, or thwarting evil scientists, a simple superhero comic makes the most of this dynamic. To become something better, though, it has to do much more than the basics.
X-Men comics have never relied heavily on the basics. While they’ve fought their share of aliens, killer robots, and mad scientists, that has only ever been a small part of their story. From the early days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to the heyday of Chris Claremont, the X-Men are at their best when they’re more than just superheroes. They’re a family.
They may not be a family in the traditional sense. Then again, part of the X-Men’s defining trait is that they’re not traditional. They’re mutants. They’re outsiders. They’re different, but uncannily so. That’s the spirit that and
They still fight bad guys. They still save the day, living and fighting in a world that can’t resist the urge to slaughter them with killer robots. They also live, love, and cherish one another, as any other family. Theirs just happens to be more uncanny than most.
Hickman affirms that at every turn in
The battle they fight is only a small part of a more intimate story. Just saving the day and further crippling Orchis isn’t enough. The most endearing moments of
That home doesn’t just include his friends and fellow teammates. They include his father, his brothers, and his kids, including ones from dystopian timelines. Given the many complexities and complications surrounding the Summers family, it’s refreshing to see this family come together again. If anything, it’s downright refreshing.
It shows that the X-Men aren’t just about going from battle to battle, saving the day and stopping the next great extinction event. They have lives they wish to build. They have close personal connections they wish to foster. Beyond making them better superheroes, it helps show that they’re still very human at their core.
However, this personal touch doesn’t just apply to the X-Men, Cyclops’ family, or superheroes in general. Even their enemies have a personal stake in this new post-Krakoan world. Just as he did inHickman makes it clear that Orchis aren’t just another generic threat to mutants that rely heavily on killer robots. It’s personal for them too.
Many of the individuals involved in Orchis are still unknowns, but their motivations become much clearer in
It’s a bold new era for the X-Men. Hickman deconstructed and rebuilt the X-Men through “House of X” and “Powers of X.” However, the core components remain the same and as strong as ever. There’s heroics, killer robots, and sweet family moments. It’s a big part of what makes the X-Men so uncanny.
These are exciting times for X-Men fans. The Fox era of X-Men movies is over. With Disney’s purchase of Fox, a new era is set to begin. There are no more divergent timelines or soft reboots. The X-Men are coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It may not happen for a while, but the process has already begun. It’s only a matter of time.
As a lifelong X-Men fan, I’ve discussed both the possibilities and the immense potential of this development. I’m sure I’ll discuss it plenty more as news, rumors, and what not emerge over the next few years. Until then, there isn’t much to go on.
While there are plenty of details to explore, in terms of story, there’s one logistical issue that I feel is worth addressing. It has to do with who will help guide the X-Men into the MCU. Now, it’s a given that Kevin Feige will be the mastermind behind it all. He is, after all, the alpha and omega of all things Marvel Studios. He’ll be the one with the vision, but he’ll still need someone to turn that vision into a tangible product.
That’s not going to be easy for the X-Men. This isn’t the same as making “Ant Man” a viable franchise. The scope and scale of the X-Men franchise is immense. There’s a reason why it lasted 19 years with Fox. It has a wealth of characters, iconic stories, and endearing themes that are as relevant as ever.
Bringing X-Men to the MCU will be a massive undertaking. With that in mind, I’d like to make the case that there’s one director who is uniquely qualified to take on this challenge. Most already know his name and he has already left his mark on the MCU. I think he’ll leave an even bigger mark by taking this on. That name, of course, is Joss Whedon.
Now, I know Whedon’s name doesn’t carry the weight it once does. His success really peaked with the first “Avengers” movie, but since then, he’s somewhat faltered. It hasn’t helped that he suffered some bad press, some of which I’ve touched on. Even with these setbacks, and even because of them, I believe he’s the best choice for leading the X-Men into this new era.
As always, I know there will be those who vehemently disagree. I understand that and even welcome those counterarguments in the comments. That said, I’d like to offer five reasons to make my case that Mr. Whedon is the man for the job.
Reason #1: He Has (Successful) Past Experience With X-Men
Joss Whedon is no stranger to the X-Men. In fact, he probably has more experience with this franchise than he did with the Avengers. He did script work on the first X-Men movie. He was also on the short-list to direct multiple X-Men movies at one point. He’s gone on record as saying that he’s an X-Men fan.
Outside the movies, Whedon’s credentials run even deeper. In the early-to-mid-2000s, he penned an acclaimed run for the Astonishing X-Men comic. If you were to talk to any X-Men fan during that time, myself included, they would’ve said the same thing. Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men was one of the best of its era.
Through that run, he demonstrated a strong appreciation of these character. It wasn’t just the female characters either, although they definitely shined. He understood the personalities, dynamics, and quirks with characters like Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, and Kitty Pryde. He gave them all a chance to demonstrate why they’re so iconic.
While the Fox era of X-Men movies did plenty for Wolverine, Charles Xavier, and Magneto, they rarely succeeded for other major characters. Some, like Cyclops and Rogue, were outright butchered. While Whedon has mishandled characters in the past, his experience with X-Men should help avoid that.
Given the size and scope of the MCU, the margin for error will be small. Having a director who knows, understands, and cares about these characters will go a long way compared to one who is unfamiliar with them. Just ask Josh Trank.
Reason #2: His Style Will Give The X-Men The Right Tone For The MCU
Whether it’s a movie or TV show, Joss Whedon’s work has a distinct tone and style to it. There’s often a tight blend of light-hearted character moments mixed with serious drama. There are also plenty of jokes and quips, but not nearly on the level of an Aaron Sorkin script. For the most part, Whedon works to humanize his characters while making them lovable and relatable in their own way.
That kind of approach is exactly what the X-Men need in the MCU. It’s an approach that has already been proven with the first “Avengers” movie, as well as “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In each case, both the heroes and the villains had moments where they could joke around, but still have heated arguments when necessary. It was a big part of what made these movies so entertaining and memorable.
The X-Men have had their share of funny moments during the Fox era. Unfortunately, most of them came from Deadpool and the always-charming Ryan Reynolds. By the standards of modern superhero movies, the original X-Men trilogy was very serious and even a little dark. Granted, that was necessary, if only to distance itself from the excessive camp in “Batman and Robin.” Things are different now.
The X-Men franchise has had plenty of bleak, serious moments in recent years. As great as “Logan” was, the franchise could benefit from something more uplifting and Joss Whedon’s style fits that perfectly.
Reason #3: He Knows How To Balance Action, Character Development, And Melodrama
This is something else that’s readily apparent to anyone who read Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men or seen at least one season of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.” Say what you will about his feminist credentials. The man knows how to strike that critical balance between action, character development, and melodrama.
He did plenty of balancing with action and character development in “Avengers,” but X-Men will need a lot more melodrama to succeed. That’s because all those soap-opera elements that tends to complicate other action franchises are a core part of the X-Men’s DNA. They have been since the heyday of Chris Claremont’s run on the comics.
I’m not just talking about romantic sub-plots and love triangles, which have been a detriment to previous X-Men movies. Being an X-Men and a mutant is full of both personal and interpersonal drama. It’s part of what makes these characters relatable and iconic. People might not be able to relate to the Asgardian God of Thunder, but they can relate to someone who is born different and struggles to cope with those differences.
Add clashes with killer robots and murderous bigots to the mix and you’ve got plenty to work with. In the MCU, where superheroes and super-powers already exist, these are exactly the kinds of complications that can keep things interesting and Whedon has experience doing just that.
Reason #4: He Has Something To Prove (And So Does The X-Men Franchise)
As I noted earlier, Joss Whedon’s career and personal life have taken quite a downturn in recent years. In addition to his divorce, his creative decisions during “Avengers: Age of Ultron” were subject to controversy. Some may argue the extent of that controversy, especially given the box office of that movie, it’s still telling that Whedon hasn’t been involved with the MCU ever since.
On top of that, Whedon name has been unfairly linked to the massive commercial failure of “Justice League.” Now, there’s a lot to be said about the problems with “Justice League,” but I think it’s wrong to lump them on Whedon. He came into a movie that was radically different from his usual style and was already grossly overbudget and behind schedule.
Fair or not, Whedon’s credibility has taken hits on multiple fronts. By spearheading the X-Men’s arrival into the MCU, he has a chance to rebuild it. His career is far from over. Even with the upheavals in his personal life, he hasn’t burned too many bridges or completely lost the trust of fans.
If he has any kind of ego, and most people in Hollywood do, he’ll be more motivated than most to succeed with the X-Men in the MCU. At the same time, the X-Men franchise has just as much to prove. Even with the success of “Logan” and “Deadpool,” not one X-Men movie has ever topped a billion dollars.
As a franchise, the X-Men have fallen behind in the superhero hierarchy. Entering the MCU is their chance to show that they deserve to be in the same world as these multi-billion dollar success stories. To some extent, both Joss Whedon and the X-Men franchise need each other.
Reason #5: He Knows How To Balance New Ideas With Classic Elements
The X-Men that show up in the MCU will be different from the X-Men we saw in the 19 years of movies. That’s a given. It’s only a question of how different they’ll be. That will likely be a key consideration because while the X-Men movies had their share of flaws, they did a number of things that worked exceptionally well, Deadpool being the most notable.
While it’s likely that Marvel Studios won’t do much to change Deadpool, there will definitely need to be some fresh nuance to the X-Men. As it just so happens, Joss Whedon is better than most when it comes to balancing new ideas with classic themes. He did that with Astonishing X-Men in the comics. He did that in both “Avengers” movies, as well.
While some elements worked better than others, they still came together in a polished product that made billions. The X-Men will need that balance as they enter the MCU. Unlike other characters and teams that have been introduced, the X-Men come in with 19 years of cinematic baggage. It must distinguish itself in this new era.
That’s not going to be easy. Depending on when they show up, the MCU could be very different from the one that just culminated with “Avengers Endgame.” Whedon, given his experience, is certainly up for that challenge.
There’s little doubt that mutants coming to the MCU will be a huge upheaval. How Marvel Studios and Disney go about it could determine whether the MCU continues to dominate at the box office or finally runs out of steam. This incredible cinematic world has delivered time and again, overcoming immense challenges and breaking box office records along the way. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.
Joss Whedon may or may not be the one to lead the MCU into this new era. I think he has what it takes. I hope he gets a chance. There’s a lot of uncertainty with the X-Men franchise right now, but this is a franchise that has overcome major struggles before. With the Disney machine and the MCU behind it, I don’t doubt for a second that it can become uncanny once more.
In life, there are usually a handful of moments when you can say that you’ve had your finest hour. Whether it’s winning a championship, finding the love of your life, or winning a buffalo wing eating contest, those moments are special. They reveal just how good and capable you can be. For the X-Men, “House of X #4” is that moment.
Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz have been redefining, revamping, and at times revolutionizing who the X-Men are and what they stand for. As a lifelong X-Men fan who will find any excuse to write about them, I could fill a pool with the tears of joy I’ve shed while reading this series. With “House of X #4,” however, those tears are mixed with a host of other feelings besides joy.
Since it began, House of X has put the X-Men and the entire mutant population in a bold new situation. They’re no longer hiding in fancy mansions, isolated islands, space stations, or hellish dimensions. Hickman has gone heavy on the world-building, turning the living island of Krakoa into a vast, expansive sanctuary for mutants. The results have been both functional and awe-inspiring.
However, building a new world for the mutants of the Marvel universe is just part of the story. Protecting their future and preventing their extinction at the hands of Nimrod and the Sentinels are a much larger part. That part of the story is what culminates in “House of X #4.”
It’s not overly elaborate. Hickman doesn’t try to reinvent the nuts and bolts of how the X-Men go about saving the day and their species. He simply raises the stakes while Larraz makes it a visual spectacle. It effectively builds on what was set up through the events of Powers of X and the many lives of Moira MacTaggart.
For once, the X-Men aren’t on the defensive. They’re not the ones caught off-guard by an army of Sentinels or some new mutant-killing menace. They know what’s coming. They know that Mother Mold will give rise to Nimrod and Nimrod will be the end of mutants, humans, and everything in between. Now, they’re in a position to stop it.
They don’t send the B-team for this mission, either. They throw the X-Men’s heaviest hitters with Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Mystique, Arcangel, and Nightcrawler. They even add in some lesser-known, but still-effective names like Husk and Monet. Their mission is simple, but the logistics are not. It’s an opportunity for the X-Men to be at their best and they take full advantage of it.
The struggle is intense. The battle is dramatic. Larraz’s artwork is simply stunning every step of the way. There’s never a sense that this is a mission from which the X-Men will escape intact, unscarred, and completely triumphant. This isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon or a movie where the good guys have to win outright. This is a battle for the present and future of the X-Men. Battles like that will come at a cost.
There’s definitely a sense that this mission is a suicide mission. There’s no teasing this mission will require heavy sacrifices. That sort of thing has been par for the course with X-Men comics for years, now. After they killed Wolverine for a while, the death of any character become much more trivial.
Making anything count in any comic these days is a challenge. Fans who have been reading the books for more than a few years know that nobody stays dead, nothing remains stable, and Deadpool never shuts up. The key is giving the conflicts weight and substance. In that, Hickman definitely succeeds in “House of X #4.”
The previous issues help establish why the X-Men need to take down Mother Mold. They also establish what happens if they don’t. The past, present, and future are all at stake at the same time and for once, it’s not because someone is abusing a time machine. For any superhero comic, especially an X-Men comic, that’s nothing short of revolutionary.
It all comes down to this single mission. Cyclops takes lead. Wolverine does something incredibly badass. Nightcrawler is astonishingly charming. Jean Grey has a flare for the dramatics. Even Monet gets a chance to cut loose. It’s a dire sequence of events, but one that has depth and meaning.
If someone ever wants to show who the X-Men are and why they’ve resonated so much since the Kennedy Administration, they would be wise to cite “House of X #4.” It doesn’t just depict heroes saving the day. It shows what the X-Men are willing to fight for and sacrifice for the sake of their future.
It’s not just about defeating the villains and winning the day. There are many personal moments in this battle that show the strengths and bonds of each character. Some shine more than others, but they never stray far from what makes them great. The stakes are high, but the characters stay consistent.
At their core, the X-Men are mutants and mutants are human. They’re not these larger-than-life icons in the mold of Superman, Captain America, or Spider-Man. They’re real people who didn’t get their powers by choice or circumstance. They were born that way. They can’t escape who and what they are. They don’t want to, either. They want a future for their kind and those who hate them.
They fight for that future in “House of X #4.” They know what will happen if they lose. There’s no ambiguity in what they do or why they do it. This is just X-Men being the kinds of heroes they need to be when everything is at stake. The story isn’t over, so their finest hour may still be ahead of them. However, the astonishing events of “House of X #4” are going to be very hard to top.
Comics are a unique form of media in that its structure allows a certain kind of story to be told. It’s not like a movie in that it comes out once every few years and costs over $150 million to produce. It’s not like a TV show either that requires broadcast rights, streaming services, and dealing with cable companies.
The simplicity of comics, unfolding on paper and needing only ink and text to convey the story, gives it near unlimited capacity for telling big stories with bold concepts with vibrant imagery. There’s no need to pay Michael Bay or a special effects team to bring it all to life. It just requires a bold idea and someone with incredible art skills to make it real.
A comic like “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” is one of those books that fully utilizes the greatest strengths of the medium. It builds entire worlds while exploring bold concepts on a level that, if it were a movie, would take the gross national product of a small country to make real.
Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, alongside artist Simone Buonfantino, created an incredible world. Mutants, the X-Men, and their struggle took on an entirely new context within a new realty, courtesy of Nate Grey, one of the X-Men’s most overpowered characters. Age of X-Man has been a story about the strengths and flaws in this reality. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” brings that story to a close.
From its inception in “Age Of X-Man Alpha #1,” this world that Thompson and Nadler created has been an elaborate thought experiment. What does a perfect, Utopian world look like for mutants and the X-Men? Given the many dytopian timelines the X-Men have explored, it’s not an unreasonable question.
Over the course of multiple books that cover multiple characters and concepts, we get to explore that world and all its complexities. Thompson and Nadler go heavy on the world-building, revealing the best parts of this Utopian vision, as well as price it incurs. With “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” the full story of this world is complete. Now, it’s up to the X-Men to decide what to do with it.
Like all Utopias, the Age Of X-man comes at a cost. On the surface, everyone is safe and happy. However, there are some dark, disturbing reasons for this. The X-Men of this world, which include the likes of Jean Grey, Storm, Magneto, Nightcrwaler, Mirage, Colossus, Beast, and Bishop, have been uncovering those reasons over the course of the series. Now, they know the full truth.
However, this isn’t just a matter of fighting the source of these harsh truths. Nate Grey is not a mustache-twirling villain. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” goes out of its way to justify his actions and the logic behind them. In the grand scheme of things, his logic isn’t that twisted.
The greatest strength of “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” as well as the overall event, is that none of the conflicts were born out of total malice. Nate Grey didn’t create this world to toy with the X-Men or get revenge. He did it because he had the power to end the never-ending struggle that only ever brings them pain and suffering.
It’s at the heart of every Utopian vision, attempting to eliminate suffering so that everyone can be happy. It always comes at a price and Nate Grey understood that price. He even goes out of his way to justify it to the X-Men as they’re opposing him. To some extent, he has a point.
He highlights how the relationships the X-Men forge have been a liability in their efforts. He points out, ironically, how some of their most human traits are the very reason why they suffer so much. His world worked to subvert that and, even though it meant manipulation and subjugation for some, it succeeded in its own perverse way.
That’s exactly what makes the ultimate conclusion in “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” feel dramatic. It’s not entirely framed as the X-Men escaping from a prison or uncovering Nate Grey’s secrets. There is a final clash and it definitely maximizes Buonfantino’s talents. However, that clash doesn’t end because the X-Men defeated Nate Grey.
Without spoiling too many details of a story that has such an immense scope, I’ll note there are some powerful moments in which the X-Men and the mutants they’ve sworn to protect make some difficult choices. They’ve lived in this Utopia. They now know the price of such a Utopia. What they do with this knowledge is less about the battles they fight and more about the choices they make.
For once, there’s no army of killer robots to fight. There’s no deranged, mutant-hating villain to thwart. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” puts the burden on the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe to decide the course of their fate. Being heroes, their decisions aren’t that surprising. Even so, those decisions carry a great deal of weight.
As a final chapter, “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” caps off a bold story within an exotic world that dares to explore some weighty concepts. The idea of a Utopia is not new, but it’s a concept that still resonates in both real and fictional worlds. As long as people live in imperfect worlds, fictional or otherwise, it’ll continue to resonate.
The Age of X-Man built a story around an ideal life for mutants, free of conflict and killer robots. That story didn’t bring an end to the X-Men and their mission, but it did put it in a very different context. That, in my opinion, is an uncanny accomplishment.
For comic book fans, Wednesdays are basically our weekly holy days. It’s the day when we take a moment to stop obsessing over the latest casting rumors for the MCU and just enjoy a stack of new comics. After all, superhero movies wouldn’t be the multi-billion dollar draw they are without these comics.
The over-arching narrative of superhero comics is powerful. They embody the best parts of the classic hero’s journey that often finds their way into our most iconic stories. They can inspire, as well as guide people down a particular path. In “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5,” however, someone finds a way to weaponize that narrative.
For the past several months, the X-Men comics have undergone a strange, yet colorful upheaval. Nate Grey, an overpowered mutant capable of warping reality on a level that makes “The Matrix” look lazy, basically lost his mind and decided to go out with a bang. That bang involved taking nearly every major X-Men character with him and putting them in an entirely new reality with an entirely different history.
On the surface, it’s a utopia. Granted, love and intimacy are outlawed, but there are no mutant internment camps so that counts as an upgrade for the X-men. Everyone lives in peace and the X-Men aren’t just celebrated. They’re basically real-life holy figures. There are no more killer robots to fight or extinctions to avoid. They basically won.
However, that’s just the primary narrative of this world. That finally starts to unravel in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”
Since the whole Age of X-Man story began, Nate Grey has basically been the architect of his own world. He’s built the society, crafted its history, and completely changed the life story of every individual. This isn’t just another case of wiping someone’s mind to think they once dated Taylor Swift. This is an entirely new world, but to the X-Men, it’s the only world they’ve always known.
This huge gut-punch to reality isn’t something Nate did out of malice. Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler establish from the beginning that Nate’s intentions are good, albeit tragic. There’s never a sense that he created this world for selfish reasons. He genuinely believes that this world is one in which mutants can live in peace and everyone he loves can be happy.
Even his power and the narratives he weaves around them have limits, though. While investigating the murder of Moneta, the X-Men finally uncover unambiguous clues as to just how much Nate has been manipulating things. The signs have been there throughout the Age of X-Man story, but now there’s no avoiding the truth. They know the story he’s trying to tell and the lies he’s using to tell it.
When Nate wrote the history of this world, he did so knowing that it wasn’t enough to make everyone happy. Even in a world without killer robots or convoluted movie rights, people need something to strive for. That means it’s not enough to give the heroes a good story. He has to give the villains a story, as well.
That means that even Apocalypse, Nate’s biggest enemy, has to be part of this narrative. His role is very different from the murder-happy social Darwinist he’s always been, but he still acts as this powerful threat to this utopian world. He makes the X-Men necessary and creates discord that requires more than just fighting.
Even as Thompson and Nadler finally peel back the curtain, Nate’s efforts to maintain this narrative never waiver. In some parts of the issue, Nate acts as the narrator, trying to justify the story of this world. There’s still no mustache-twirling evil in his story, but it’s clear there are a few plot holes that he just can’t plug.
“Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” isn’t entirely built around the X-Men uncovering the truth. There’s no existential crisis or mental breakdown upon learning the truth. Instead, there’s a sense of anger and betrayal. Nate isn’t just some unhinged, overpowered mutant. He’s their friend. He’s family. To them, he was a hero before he tried telling this bigger story.
In many respects, that’s what has made Age of X-Man such an engaging story. “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” effectively doubles down on the tragic elements of that story. This is very different from the Scarlet Witch going crazy and committing mass genocide. Nate comes off as disturbingly sane as he tries to protect and maintain this world that he’s created.
In any superhero narrative, intentions matter. Villains, by definition, tend to have selfish and destructive motives. By that standard, Nate is not a villain. He is certainly misguided, though. The extend of just how misguided he is finally plays out in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”
For many of the characters involved, especially characters like Jean Grey, Storm, and Nightcrawler, it’s devastating in ways that go beyond having their lives manipulated. Nate Grey is their friend. He’s helped them in the past. Hell, he goes by the code-name, X-Man. He’s supposed to embody the best aspects of who they are.
Now, they have to take him down. After learning about what he did and how much he warped their lives, the X-Men have to be the ones to end Nate’s story. It’s tragic, but fitting. In terms of ending a story, though, that can be a potent combination.
It’s never easy, trying to capture the essence of an iconic story. It’s even harder when you’ve tried once before and failed miserably. To say that “Dark Phoenix” faced more challenges than most movies would be like saying tobacco companies have an image problem. Many of those challenges go beyond the story, the franchise, the studios, and even the movie industry, as a whole.
Despite so many confounding circumstances, the most important challenge of “Dark Phoenix” was always the same. After this iconic X-Men story was horribly botched in “X-Men The Last Stand,” this movie’s primary goal was to do that story justice. The director and long-time X-Men producer, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying he failed in his first attempt. This movie gives him a chance to rectify that.
Before I get into the fiery details, which may include light spoilers, I’d like to offer my personal sentiment after having seen the movie. I understand that not everyone will agree with me, but as a long-time lover of X-Men, this movie means a lot more to me than most in the superhero genre so I like to think that sentiment is strong.
Yes, “Dark Phoenix” does justice to the X-Men’s most iconic story.
Yes, “Dark Phoenix” is a satisfying conclusion to this era of X-Men that has spanned nearly two decades.
I realize that many might disagree with my assessment. That’s perfectly fine. Every movie impacts people in different ways. For me, though, “Dark Phoenix” struck all the necessary chords and then some. It focused on the core components of what makes the Phoenix Saga so endearing and runs with it.
That means that there aren’t multiple plots being juggled constantly. From the very first scene, the focus is on Jean Grey and her journey towards becoming Dark Phoenix. It’s a journey that has a foundation in tragedy, lies, love, betrayal, and loss. What happens to her is never just a matter of circumstance. There are tough, meaningful decisions made before, during, and after the darkness consumes Jean.
At every turn, there is plenty of drama. Jean Grey isn’t just some obscure side-character. She’s surrounded by people who love her. Charles Xavier loves her like a surrogate daughter. Mystique loves her like a sister. To Cyclops, she’s the woman he loves and for once, there’s no terrible love triangle that detracts from that love.
That love gives the drama incredible weight, which is critical for any story derived from the Phoenix Saga. It also ensures the losses leave a major impact and, as one of the trailers revealed, those losses are pretty devastating. They’re not just glossed over or forgotten, which was a huge issue with “X-Men The Last Stand.” They resonate throughout the story and inform the decisions of multiple characters.
That’s not to say every aspect is caught up in personal dramas. “Dark Phoenix” still utilizes a villain to maintain some basic superhero dynamics. That villain, played by Jessica Chastain, isn’t as iconic as Magneto or Apocalypse. She and her villainous henchmen are aliens known as the D’Brai, who actually play a critical role in the original story from the comics.
While Chastain is no Thanos, she and her fellow D’Brai have clear, understandable motivations. They’re not just there to cause more suffering and upheaval. They sense the power in Jean and they want to use it to serve their agenda. That’s perfectly consistent with what Jean and the X-men faced in those same comics.
It also firmly establishes that the Phoenix Force in “Dark Phoenix” is not at all like the one on display in “X-Men The Last Stand.” The Phoenix isn’t some split personality within Jean. This movie actually embraces the more cosmic aspects of that story. While it only does so to a point, it helps raise the stakes in a way that goes beyond trying to save or kill Jean Grey.
Even with these cosmic elements, however, “Dark Phoenix” never loses its focus on Jean, her struggles, and the X-Men’s efforts to save her. The pace of the movie rarely slows down. Things happen quickly and concisely. There are still plenty of intimate character moments along the way, but they never drag. The plot keeps unfolding until the very end.
I won’t spoil too many of the details, but I will say that the ending is far less dire and depressing than what unfolded in “X-Men The Last Stand.” Jean isn’t a coward this time around. She doesn’t constantly whine or beg others to kill her before it’s too late. She is the one who ultimately decides her fate. More importantly, she is the one who makes those difficult choices.
Making all this drama and action work wouldn’t be possible without Sophie Turner turning in a truly uncanny performance as Jean Grey. She goes through many emotions over the course of the story. There are scenes in which she goes through more in five minutes than Famke Janssen did in the first three X-Men movies combined. She carries herself wonderfully through the movie’s most intense moments.
The collective efforts of James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Tye Sherridan as Cyclops, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast perfectly complement Turner every step of the way. They capture those essential elements of family and team that’s so critical for every X-Men movie. This being their last ride with these characters, they make the most of the opportunity.
Unfortunately, some characters don’t get as many chances. Alexandra Shipp’s Storm and Evan Peters’ Quicksilver have fairly limited roles, although Shipp turns in a powerful performance in the final battle. Chastain’s alien character, and the D’brai in general, only gets so much refinement. However, that doesn’t make “Dark Phoenix” any less effective because it is, at its core, a story about Jean Grey.
There are other flaws in the movie. To some extent, the constant focus on Jean and the rapid pace of the action prevent other characters or side-plots from getting much emphasis. The long-running romantic sub-plot between Beast and Mystique had some moments, but not nearly enough to maximize the impact of the story.
There are also times when the visuals of “Dark Phoenix” aren’t as colorful as they could’ve been. To some extent, that’s more a reflection on the overall style of the X-Men movies, going back to the first one in 2000. These movies have never focused too much on the flashy costumes that are so prominent in the comics. Considering the iconic styles teased at the end of “X-men Apocalypse,” it’s somewhat disappointing.
This movie might have been able to get away with that 10 years ago, but the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its embracement of iconic superhero attire make the overall style of the movie seem uninspiring. For most of the movie, nobody even wears a uniform or costume. While a movie like “Logan” can pull that off, it doesn’t work nearly as well in “Dark Phoenix.”
There are some moments where the visual effects really shine, but not in the ones that would’ve really complemented Jean Grey’s journey. While that fiery halo does show up at one point, it feels like it doesn’t show up enough and wasn’t quite as radiant as its brief appearance in “X-men Apocalypse.”
The finer details of the story aren’t flawless either. While they remain concise until the end, there’s a bit of ambiguity in terms of how the events in this movie tie to the epilogue in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There’s certainly enough to imply that this movie does not completely undermine that ending, but a lack of specifics leaves a lot of gaps for the audience to fill in.
Even with these shortcomings, the most important components of “Dark Phoenix” still work. It seeks to tell a focused Phoenix story for Jean Grey and it never loses sight of that goal. The acting, the drama, and a brilliant musical score by Hans Zimmer simply add more gravitas to the mix.
Over two years ago, I wrote an article that laid out how the “Dark Phoenix” could succeed in this golden age of superhero movies. Pretty much everything on that list came to pass. This movie embraced the passion surrounding this iconic story. It made use of the Cyclops/Jean romance, kept the Phoenix as the primary plot, and ensured every dramatic moment felt genuine. It didn’t check every box, but it came pretty damn close.
Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is among the greatest superhero movies ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, especially when it came out the same year as “Avengers Endgame.” The bar for superhero movies is higher than it has ever been before and it’s a difficult standard to apply to a movie like “Dark Phoenix.”
Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is the greatest X-Men movie ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, either. There are other X-Men movies that rank above this one in terms, but it still captures the most important elements that makes these movies so endearing.
Is it a great movie in general? Yes, I certainly would say it is. If I had to score this movie, I would give it an 8 out of 10. It sets out to do a fitting adaptation of the Phoenix Saga and it succeeds, utilizing all the necessary drama and action along the way. It also caps off 19 years of X-Men movies.
It’s been a long wait since the first trailer for “Dark Phoenix.” In that time, there have been plenty of distractions and upheavals, from who would host the Oscars to trolls attacking the “Captain Marvel” movie for asinine reasons. Plenty still find excuses to whine about this movie, also for asinine reasons. Finally, despite all that proverbial noise, we get a second trailer and it was so worth the wait.
It had drama.
It had devastating emotional upheaval.
It had elements of cosmic influence.
It had inner turmoil.
It had heartfelt sorrow.
It had despair.
It had desperate people trying desperately to save someone they loved.
Even if you haven’t read the originals story, these are all important components for a powerful story. It’s part of the reason why the Phoenix Saga is often identified as the greatest X-men story ever told. Unlike previous attempts, this movie is making that story front and center.
That, more than anything, should give me and other X-men fans hope that this one will be done right. I’ve seen more than a few people whine about how similar this movie is to “X-men: The Last Stand.” I don’t blame those people for seeing this as a bad thing, given how poorly that movie handled the Phoenix plot.
However, this trailer does much more than the first one to set itself apart. Yes, Jean is still wearing a large red overcoat instead of her iconic Phoenix attire, complete with the waist sash, but attire was not the reason why the previous attempt to tell that story failed.
As I’ve noted before, the most critical part of telling any story about the Phoenix Saga is capturing the right emotions with the characters. With all due respect to Famke Jansen, Sophie Turner shows more emotional range in this trailer than Ms. Janssen did over the entire course of “X-men: The Last Stand.” Moreover, it highlights the emotional impact that her growing powers have on everyone Jean loves.
That impact includes a heavy loss, as evidenced by the funeral scene. It also shows in how both Jean’s friends and enemies react to handling her. Some, even those who think themselves her friend, think she’s beyond saving. Others, namely Cyclops, are still determined to save her.
Not ignoring the fact that Cyclops is actually playing a major role here instead of getting killed off in the first 10 minutes of the movie, thereby worsening the worst love triangle of all time, this trailer leaves one other important element unspoiled and up in the air.
We know there will be death and loss in this movie, as is often the case in any X-men story involving the Phoenix Force. I even uncovered some critical hints during my trip to New York Comic Con last year. There’s still one burning question that will likely determine how this movie is received.
What is the ultimate fate of Jean Grey?
This is one instance where the answer could take us down many paths. If Jean Grey ultimately dies, as happened in the original story, it would be keeping in the spirit of loss and sacrifice. It’s difficult to pull off, but given how bland, cowardly, and unceremonious her fate was in “X-men: The Last Stand,” it wouldn’t be that hard to improve upon.
If she lives, though, which actually was the initial ending to the story in the comics, it would require a very different recourse compared to the previous movie. That may ultimately be the best way to silence those who keep bemoaning how much this movie resembles “X-men: The Last Stand.” However, getting Jean to a place where she could survive, even after losing control, would be a difficult task.
Whatever the outcome, the stage is set. “Dark Phoenix” is coming and will likely be the swan song of this era of X-men movies. With Disney about to take over Fox and set to bring the X-men into the MCU, it would be perfectly fitting if this movie ended on a high note. We saw how powerful that kind of story can be with “Logan.” After seeing this trailer, I believe this movie has that potential, but with more cosmic flare.