Welcome back to Mutantversity, a class offered at the Stately Xavier Mansion. This isn’t a place to find big reviews of X-books, but it’s a great way to keep up with one of the most complicated superhero series around. We’ll learn, we’ll laugh, maybe we’ll make some new friends, maybe we’ll stare right into the heart of darkness and question our very identity. Most of all, we’re going to celebrate the return of the queen- ahem, the king- of the X-Men, Emma Frost. As your designated X-Pert, I will do my best to help you work through everything Marvel’s Merry Mutants have to offer!
First we’re going to recap the last month of the ongoing superhero soap opera that is “X-Men.” Next, I’ll tell you which X-Men books I looked at this month, and whether I thought they were worth reading. Then, we’re going to spotlight a creator who brought a rare level of X-cellence to the line. Finally, we’re going to award our Monthly Mutantversity Medals of Merit. Stick with me true believers, and maybe we’ll survive this experience!
This Month in X-Men
June 2019 is the month of Emma Frost. She’s back, and like any good X-villain, it turns out she’s actually been here all along. The X creative team has made no secret about how much they love Emma and finally, she’s here with a plan worthy of her genius. Because she’s so prominent in this story, let’s quickly follow Ms. Frost’s career.
Emma is one of the best X-villains of all time. She’s also one of the best heroes. Her only real competition is the great Magneto. Emma used to be the headmistress of the Massachusetts academy, a rival mutant school to Xavier’s. The whole time, she was secretly part of the Hellfire Club, a fetish club for rich folks that manipulates global events. Then, a series of tragedies that took Emma away from her various teams including the Hellions, Generation X, and the Genosha School. That last one is sorta notable because not only did it end in a genocide committed by a super-robot, it also triggered Emma’s diamond body powers for the first time. Reeling from this, Emma joined the X-Men. It wasn’t long before she and Scott were having an affair. Well, an imaginary affair. Well, Scott was married to a psychic and cheating on her with another psychic so… man, Scott messes up a lot.
Emma co-led various incarnations of the X-Men until “Avengers vs X-Men,” where she weirdly broke up with Scott for no sensible reason but kept following him around (also for no sensible reason). And after the X-Men fought the Inhumans, she was vilified, so she returned to the Hellfire Club and took it the hell over. And what’s she been doing since then?
Manipulating… everyone. As the new Black King, Emma is reforming a new Hellfire club and has been puppeting everything we’ve seen in “X-Men” this year. Like, remember all those months ago, when Anole betrayed Beast to let news of the serum out? Turns out, Emma was manipulating him! The Marauders, Mister Sinister, everything has been because of a shadow war Emma is waging with the US government. By her side are the new lineup of the Hellfire club- Elixir (awesome!), Vanisher (uh, fine!), and Marrow (wait, really?). Emma holds her own against the evil General Callahan until he melts Vanisher into bloody goo. Vanisher’s dead! Wait wasn’t he already dead? Is there any explanation on how he came back?
I think I can No-Prize this… um, when Molecule Man and Franklin Richards restarted the universe in 2016, they brought back Vanisher. Molecule Man has weird marks all over his face, saw Vanisher, and recognized game. And now he’s dead. Again.
In a fun bit of continuity, the US government also picked up Cassandra Nova and stuck her in their mutant camp, and she didn’t put up much of a struggle. If you remember, Jean Grey sort of lobotomized her at the end of “X-Men Red.” Cassandra was given a sense of empathy and went near catatonic with guilt for her previous actions, which included the aforementioned super-robot genocide. Yeah okay, if lobotomies, concentration camps, and genocide are what I call “fun continuity,” I probably need to get my head examined. But not by Emma Frost, for reasons that I hope are clear by now.Continued below
But holy crap you guys! Emma ate dinner with Scott the night he re-formed the X-Men! She met Logan and poured him a drink! She’s masterminded this whole thing. But the biggest whammy of all… she had Mystique posing as Captain America. Ho.Ly. Crap. It’s been going on since after Cap and Scott’s altercation at the rally. Scott punched the real Captain America on TV, but it’s been Emma and Mystique who have been rounding up mutant criminals. But you keep thinking of little moments, and they are all made even more awesome. When Val Cooper told the X-Men not to trust Captain America, was that Mystique? When Captain America told the X-Men not to trust Val Cooper was THAT Mystique? This! Evil! Plan! Rules!
But of course, Logan doesn’t hold with any sort of plans, evil or otherwise. He and Revanche show up to fight Emma and Mystique! The fight itself is sort of one of those transitional villain fights. Nothing really changed, but information was exchanged. Basically Wolverine let Emma and the gang know that he is on to them. Fighting as communication. Very superhero comic.
While this is going on, the X-Men get a not-so-shocking revelation: Dark Beast is not really on the level. I know, right? Turns out he poisoned the anti-mutant vaccine. If a kid doesn’t have an X-gene, nothing happens. But if that kid is destined to grow up to be a mutant, they die. Violently. Dark Beast justifies it as a sort of test. If parents really hate mutants so much they’d rather painfully murder their own child than let them be a mutant, well that’s on them. Everyone else will stop with the freakin’ vaccine. It’s dark stuff, but I enjoy the twisted extreme logic of it.
What’s absolutely CRAZY though is that pretty much the second Scott finds out that something is up, Doctor Nemesis just happens to be walking by. Scott is like, “Yo doc, you’re with me!” And he just scoops Nemesis up, who instantly starts doing non-evil science. Or at least not as evil as the way Dark Beast does it.
But Cyke, bro, if you knew Doc Nemesis was walking around then why the hell were you letting Dark Beast do his thing? You know Nemesis is way less evil. SMH. SMH to the max, Scott Summers.
After her fight with Wolverine, Emma is approached by the Callahan, who places her under house arrest. Things are getting worse for the Black King of the Hellfire club so she also does something extreme. She asks for help. But first, she’s gotta take care of one little thing. “Now don’t be mad,” she says in the minds of all the X-Men, “but I’m gonna give you your memories in three… two… one…”
Meanwhile, in the Age of X-Man… a lot happened this month! Which is not what I usually say. The truth about this universe has always been that its a dystopia masquerading as a utopia. This month we found out how true that really is. This world was created by X-Man sure, but he’s been ruling it in collaboration with his arch-nemesis: Apocalypse!! X-Man pulled out the old “they will need a villain to unite them” canard, so he chose Apocalypse for the job and told him to represent deviance. In this case, that means love.
But that’s not all! Colossus decided he needed to be with Kitty, quit the X-Men, and joined the X-Tracts. Apocalypse sacrificed his son to keep his cooperation with X-Man hidden. Jean, Magneto, and Nature Girl found out the truth and brought it to X-Man. Bishop is slowly exposing Legion, who seems to be the real power behind the Danger Room prison. Nightcrawler finds the star within himself, even as he lets Meggan run off with his daughter. And Glob Herman along with the rest of the his friends, go to frickin’ jail. That last one was a huge, horrifying bummer. I was hoping that Glob would at least pull a Rorschach’s journal and get the truth out after his capture, but no, all of his suffering is meaningless and now he needs the real heroes to rescue him. Glob deserved better.Continued below
While the monthly series were starting to drag in the middle, this rush of excitement makes it seem like the ending will be worthwhile. Which is good, because this has been the most I’ve liked characters like Bishop, Psylocke, Eye-Boy, Nature Girl, and Blob in a very long time (if ever!). The real question is whether or not some of the cooler developments will find their way into the regular series, especially with a new creative team taking over.
X Titles June 2019
“Uncanny X-Men” #19 – Emma is a great character. This was a great Emma issue.
“Uncanny X-Men” #20 – Good issue, hell of a last page.
“Age of X-Man: Prisoner X” #4 – ‘Devil in Cell Block D’ through the filter of David Lynch. This series rules.
“Age of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men” #5 – Finally, finally something happened in this series. Everything happened. You can’t miss the ish.
“Age of X-Man: Apocalypse and the X-Tracts” #4 – eh, it was OK. But a lot happened!
“Age of X-Man: Amazing Nightcrawler” #5 – this was not my favorite mini, and it ended on a really down note.
“Age of X-Man: Nextgen” #5 – Really exciting ish, really sad ending. Wish these kids didn’t get so short-changed.
“Age of X-Man: X-Tremists” #5 – A masterpiece. I’m not even kidding.
“X-Men: Grand Design- X-Tinction” #2 – Would be worth it for the art alone, but overall was a fantastic issue.
“X-Force” #9 – of course this book would click with me right before it got canceled. Good Rachel Grey issue!
“Major X” #5 – I’ve not been a huge fan of this project, but this issue had some cool sci-fi action.
“Major X” #6 – It’s over. This was the weirdest damn series. I’m sure someone out there loved it. But I haven’t met them.
“Mr. and Mrs. X” #12 – I still have trouble caring about their supporting casts, but after this series I have no trouble loving Rogue and Gambit.
“War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men” #3 – New Mutants + Asgard is like chocolate and peanut butter. An inessential but fun issue.
“Wolverine: Exit Wounds” #1 – three ‘forgotten tales’ from classic creators. Coulda been better, coulda been worse! Aficionados should check it out!
Special Spotlight: Ed Piskor
Ed Piskor hasn’t done a lot of mainstream superhero comics, so you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a small-time indie guy, but Piskor is as comics as you can get. This dude went to the Kubert School, did work with Harvey Pekar (“American Splendor”), did work with Jay Lynch (“Garbage Pail Kids”), he won a freaking Eisner Award for “Hip-Hop Family Tree.” He’s a comic creator’s comic creator. And his foray into “X-Men” has been consistently incredible, but hasn’t gotten the rapturous attention it deserves.
“X-Men: Grand Design” starts at the dawn of Timely Comics just before World War II, and tells the origins of Magneto, Professor X, and Namor. The series takes us through the Silver Age, turning those first 67 issues that you are never going to read into one economical story. Piskor then takes us through the entirety of the Claremont run, from the debut of Wolverine and Storm to the beginning of the 90s. Throughout it all he focuses on decades-long arcs, snarls in the continuity, and massaging out retcons to make sense out of the notoriously complex “X-Men.” Fans will know for example, that Jean Grey did not die at the end of ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ but was placed in a cocoon at the bottom of the sea. That weirdness entered the story later, but Piskor benefits from decades of hindsight which he implements to get maximum impact from his story.
But you guys, it’s really all about the art. It’s generally great, but Piskor puts deep love and attention in the way he draws hairstyles, fabric, and costume changes. His violence feels violent, despite being more cartoony than your average comic. So famous stories like the ‘Mutant Massacre,’ or the early Genosha issues are worth retelling just to see how he draws them. Piskor looks to the entire history of each character to mix and match their best outfits and hairstyles, doing extraordinary things with Jean Grey, Banshee, and Mister Sinister. “Grand Design” was released to much fanfare, but quickly snuck down to the bottom of peoples’ pull lists. But love yourself true believer; and treat yourself to 40 years of X-Men storylines, boiled down into one gorgeous fanservice package.Continued below
The Mutantversity Monthly Medals of Merit:
The Cable’s Pouch of X-Treme Grittiness Award
Given to a mutant for demonstrating badassitude and commitment to the 90s aesthetic
Unfortunately, the “Cable’s Pouch” aesthetic is very masculine. There are a few exceptions- Domino comes to mind, as does Psylocke- but for the most part, 90s raditude tends to be reserved for jerky-chewin’, cigar-chompin’ men. But what of Rachel Grey? Sometimes called Phoenix, sometimes called Prestige, she’s been yo-yoed through time a space, brainwashed, tortured, covered in knives, covered in studs, and now she’s an unhinged demon death bird. Around here, Torture+time travel+studs ‘n’ knives+a wave of immolation earns you the Cable’s Pouch award.
“Call Me Alex” Award
Given to a mutant filled with self-loathing about their identity
My heart breaks for young Master Herman. He wakes up in a dystopia as the only kid who remembers the world as it was. Any time any of them discover the truth, they are psychically brainwashed. But his mutant power preserves his memories. He finally comes up with and executes an escape plan… only to be arrested alongside all his friends, who are brainwashed AGAIN but this time they also don’t remember him. Twilight Zone doesn’t even begin to cut it. That’s some I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream level shit. It’s like the entire Age of X-Man was made to personally torture Glob. This poor kid wishes he never was born a mutant and got tangled up in all this X drama.
“Professor Xavier is a Jerk” Award
Given to a mutant who acted like a real jerk
Heroes and villains can be a muddy concept in the X universe, so I’ve been careful to avoid antagonists for this category. After all, Mister Sinister is nothing but a jerk. That’s the essence of his being. I try to reserve this category for X-Men team members acting like a jerk. But it’s getting harder and harder to argue that Dark Beast hasn’t been part of the team. He’s a prisoner, but he’s been trusted enough to surgically remove a bullet from Cyclops’ eye so I think he’s doing X-related business. And what did he do with this freedom? Created an insane poison that murdered at least a dozen kids. He kept this a secret from the rest of the team, who only found out when the bodies started falling. Using your status as a trusted member of a superhero team to poison kids? Makes you a jerk!
Merriest Mutant Award
Given to a mutant who found a rare moment of happiness
Finding happy X-Men in 2019 is hard. But it also is giving me a chance to think about happiness, and what it truly means. Take our friend, Jubilation Lee. She was the star of this month’s excellent “X-Tremists” #5. On page six of said issue, Jubes says, “For the rest of my days, this’ll pretty much remain the lowest and most traumatic point of my life.” Which really doesn’t describe happiness. But there are sixteen more pages of this comic issue, and the rest of them are all about catharsis. Jubilee remembers her son Shogo, robs a bank (or three), throws a big gay riot with a few of her pals, and starts to make amends for the worst thing she’s ever done. Flip through the pages and you’ll see Jubilee with tears in her eyes, but smiling. And the issue ends on a positive note- she remembers her love for her kid. The moment you turn things around from the lowest point of your life isn’t the most exuberant, but there’s something profound about all the love and joy Jubilee is remembering. After the numbness of the Age of X-Man dystopia, Jubilee’s experiences represent the sudden joy of waking up.
Fastball Special Award
Given to a duo who exhibited great friendship, collaboration, and teamwork
X-Man and Apocalypse
Every so often you get this old superhero storytelling chestnut: someone creates a “perfect world” but comes to the meta-realization that they are in a story, and stories can’t exist without conflict. So they create a quest with a somewhat meaningless objective to give people something to strive for. That’s what X-Man and Apocalypse did, and the thing is, it totally worked. Some mutants chose En Sabah Nur and the radical love movement. Some people chose Nate Grey and his promise of a peaceful community. But of course, the whole thing was a lie. Nate and Apocalypse were working together. What makes this such a profound moment is how antithetical these two are supposed to be towards each other. X-Man was destined to be a mutant messiah, to topple Apocalypse and end his tyrannical reign. But the big takeaway from the “Age of X-Man” is another beloved cliche: in the end these two aren’t so different. But it points to an underlying truth. Nate is formed by his experiences living under Apocalypse, and when given a choice to remake the world, he decides to dominate it- exactly like his nemesis did. And in his insecurity, he turned to his bitter foe to help him realize his vision. Apocalypse wants the strongest beings to thrive, for there to always be a conflict, and Nate Grey delivered. By embracing each other, these two have become fast friends and a successful conspiracy. I hope they continue to collaborate, because they are that much more interesting and frightening in each others corner.
Let’s Talk About X Baby Award
Given to the sweetest, sexiest, bestest romantic couple
Jean Grey and Lucas Bishop
One of the earliest shocks in the “Age of X-Man” was the romance between Jean and Bishop. Besides being a forbidden love, these are two characters who have never been portrayed as particularly close. (I know they were on Gold Team together in the 90s, but they always came across as amiable colleagues). Here at the end of the “Age of X-Man,” Jean and Bishop are remembering each other, and it is their love for each other that is driving them to destroy this false world. The thing is, the two of them make a weird sort of sense as a couple. Since returning from the dead, Jean has been the closest thing Marvel has to a Superman. She’s practically omnipotent, but instead of being corrupted by her absolute power, her cosmic senses just make her more compassionate. The only thing holding Jean back is her messy past and well Bishop, he’s all about the future. Besides literally coming out of the future, all of Bishop’s conflicts are about changing the past to fix the future. The present feels unreal to him, like a video game where the NPCs don’t matter. But Jean grounds him in the now, and Bishop helps Jean look away from all the deaths, and rebirths, and alternate universe babies, and unwanted sexual advances. All the triumphs. All the traumas. These are two people who need to take stock of their present lives and them being together allows them to do that.
MVX: Most Valuable X-Man
Given to an X-Man who embodied the values of the team and showed all around X-cellence
Since her first appearance, Lin Li has been a total bit player. She was one of the background students in “Wolverine and the X-Men” and one of the least used characters in the latest “Generation X” series. I was happy to see Lin’s promotion to the main team in this alt universe because she’s actually a pretty rad character. Nature Girl is a radical environmentalist, both in that she’s totally rad, and in that she puts the needs of people below the needs of plants and bugs. This gives her a really neat perspective. While the X-Men are punching Apocalypse because he wants to kill a bunch of people, Lin is making sure that anthills aren’t getting stepped on, and that fish aren’t get boiled by Sunfire’s atomic blasts.Continued below
This month was the first time Nature Girl has been at the center of a superhero dilemma, and not only did she solve it, she may be the most powerful mutant on this side of Storm. Lin can talk to plants and animals, but she can also talk to microbes. When the X-Men found the dead body of hotheaded cop Moneta, Lin asked the bacteria decomposing her body how she had died. Not only could they answer that question (sharpened super-finger to the forehead), but they also relayed to her the conversation Apocalypse had with X-Man, which solved the entire mystery of “Age of X-Man” in an instant.
I have a hard time believing that bacteria can hear and remember a conversation in English, but nope, Nature Girl can get that information out of them. I hope this is a sign that she’s sticking around. Lin is powerful, has totally different priorities from the rest of the cast, and proved that she can be one of the most valuable X-Men. This month, Lin Li embodies the virtues of the strangest teens of all!