There are some ideas that are just so wrought with failure that the mere act of entertaining them again is akin to giving Deadpool an unlimited supply of napalm. It’s one thing to revamp and reconsider a failed idea. Sometimes, ideas are just too ahead of their time or not properly managed. Others, however, are akin to fixing a cracked windshield with a sledgehammer.
When it comes to ideas that fail in the most spectacularly destructive ways possible, the Weapon X program and the gamma experiments that made the Incredible Hulk are basically co-champions. These are experiments with simple, albeit devious goals. One seeks to create the ultimate living weapon. The other seeks to create an unstoppable monster that can be controlled and directed like a bomb that never stops going off.
They are weapons that anyone, be they the Avengers or Hydra, wouldn’t mind having in their arsenal. When it comes to developing them, however, there sheer breadth of the failures are so staggering that even the most deranged James Bond villain wouldn’t dare attempt them again. Even with the combined efforts of the Scarlet Witch and every good luck charm that ever existed, the odds just aren’t in anyone’s favor.
That’s why the premise for Weapons of Mutant Destruction is akin to waiting for a demolition derby where every car is armed with a machine gun and a rocket launcher. Weapon X and all things gamma related have done enough damage to the Marvel universe to buy Hulkbuster armor for every man, woman, and child. Greg Pak and Mahmud Asrar believe there’s still plenty of entertainment value in that level of destruction. Weapons of Mutant Destruction #1 shows that even if that value is there, making it compelling is a challenge that even heavy doses of gamma can’t help.
The foundation of the story is built on ongoing stories unfolding in two of Pak’s other books, Weapon X and Totally Awesome Hulk. From a structural standpoint, the transition is seamless. A narrative that begins in Weapon X #1 starts to culminate in Weapons of Mutant Destruction #1. The key, with respect to the actual substance of the story, is that the culmination only starts. It just doesn’t go very far. It’s akin to a drag racing car that makes a lot of noise, but stalls just as the race commences.
That’s not to say the ingredients are there. Pak makes it a point to give the conflict in Weapons of Mutant Destruction #1 larger implications that go beyond his own books. Mutant-killing living weapons, as overdone as they may be, still pose an existential threat to the rest of the X-men. The use of gamma power poses a similar threat to anyone still affiliated with the Hulk. Every character involved has a purpose and a clear motivation in the story. Nobody ever gets involved in a living weapons program for fun. Even Deadpool isn’t that deranged.
As the story unfolds, though, there’s a sense that it’s trying to avoid the familiar tropes associated with conflicts built around living weapons. There’s a lot of exposition, not all of which is necessary. There are some mystery elements, which are organic extensions of the events unfolding in Weapon X. However, the very fact they involve living weapons somewhat limits the mystery.
The obscenely poor and exceedingly violent track record of living weapons programs in Marvel Comics doesn’t hint at any major twist. In an era when Skrull agents and Hydra agents are overused, twists like that are limited in terms of impact. There’s never a sense that Weapons of Mutant Destruction is going to break new ground. It has mutant-killing cyborgs and gamma-powered monsters. For both the X-men and the Hulk, these kinds of stories are aren’t exactly as rare as adamantium.
Even though the story has many familiar elements, Pak does manage to mix in some unique details along the way. Teaming Amadeus Cho up with the likes of Old Man Logan, Sabretooth, and Lady Deathstrike adds some much-needed novelty to the story. Unlike Bruce Banner, Cho is less experienced with smashing mutant-killing machines. At the very least, though, Pak gives him plenty of incentive to learn quickly and not hesitate.
At one point, Cho is a little disturbed at the brutality of living weapons programs. Considering how Lady Deathstrike and Old Man Logan barely bat an eye, that’s pretty revealing in terms of how common these stories are and how inexperienced Cho still is as the Hulk. From his perspective, fighting mutant killing machines isn’t something he does every other Monday, like the X-men. His role creates some new dynamics that help make the story feel fresh to a limited extent.
That extent still isn’t enough to make Weapons of Mutant Destruction more than the latest in a long line of living weapons programs that need to be crushed by adamantium claws. The story’s reliance on exposition, as well as its slow pace, isn’t going to make anyone hulk out. With the way the events plays out, the story acts more as a teaser rather than a culmination. That kind of structure works when a story is breaking new ground. It doesn’t work quite as well when it’s relying on the kind of living weapons tropes that have played out any number of ways since the disco era.
The concept of Weapons of Mutant Destruction is still sound. The story is, by no means, bereft of value. By most measures, Pak’s handling of the story is competent and concise. The characters are spot on and the plot never gets too convoluted. Asrar’s artwork complements these efforts as well, creating the kinds of dark, sinister undertones that are to be expected with any story involving living weapons or anyone who has ever had to deal with Lady Deathstrike and Sabretooth.
There’s something to be said about a story that’s so familiar that nothing short of clowns and Cosmic Cubes can make it feel novel. The concept of living weapons in the Marvel Universe will make anyone who has ever had to clean up blood stains roll their eyes. It can still make for a fun story though. Like a cold beer for Wolverine, it’s a familiar and comforting experience. There will always be a place for stories like that in Marvel.