[21 July 2006]
X-Men: Deadly Genesis is intended to be a prestige series, one that would shake up the status quo and jump start a storyline that writer Ed Brubaker was to take with him when he took over the reins of Uncanny X-Men, one of the flagship X-Titles.
This is a good place to put a Spoiler Warning, because I am going to discuss plot points in detail. If you are waiting to read the series in trade paperback and wish to keep these revelations secret until then, you might want to skip to the last paragraph. Because these story points are what make X-Men: Deadly Genesis, and many other comics published today, so disappointing.
The story opens as the House of M “mega-event” ends. All the displaced energy from all the de-powered mutants from that story escapes through the Earth’s atmosphere, killing a Space Shuttle crew and awakening a powerful being on a rock floating in space.
This powerful mutant returns to Earth, causing Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Wolverine to investigate in the hopes that it will be their lost Professor X, still missing after House of M. At the same time, other members are starting to experience nightmarish hallucinations, and in Scotland former X-Man Banshee is directed to a video tape that hints the Professor has done something horribly wrong in the past.
The strange being from space attacks our heroes, quickly gaining the upper hand. He appears to know that Cyclops is Scott Summers and kidnaps both him and Marvel Girl, the former to torment, the latter to help his cause.
Who is this mysterious stranger? We find out that his name is Kid Vulcan, and he was a member of the second X-Men team, a team sent to rescue the original X-men team before the international crew seen in Giant-Size X-Men #1 were gathered. A team that met their destruction at the hands of the mutant island Krakoa. Now he’s back to get his revenge on the man who sent him there, Professor Charles Xavier.
Never heard of this team? Well, that’s because they never existed in Marvel continuity before now. This is yet another case of Marvel performing a retroactive change in pre-existing continuity (or “ret-con” as they are known in the comics community). Much like the “Sins of the Past” arc in the Amazing Spider-Man book, this storyline is shoehorned into the past of these characters, changing everything we knew.
And also like “Sins of the Past”, which turned sweet and innocent Gwen Stacy into a woman who had pre-marital sex with Spider-Man’s greatest enemy—the much older Norman Osborn—and even bore him two children, X-Men: Deadly Genesis changes the character of Professor Charles Xavier from that of a caring, father-like mentor into an Machiavellian manipulator who sends children to their deaths without proper training and then covers it up.
The character of Charles Xavier has always been portrayed as being overly cautious with his charges. One of the major subplots in the early days of the New Mutants title was the extreme reluctance to expose them to combat before they were adequately prepared. This once showed Xavier as a caring and empathetic teacher. Now, he becomes a man who screwed up once before and doesn’t want it to happen again. Both views of the character fit the situation, but Xavier is now tarnished.
But perhaps the most odious of the changes is the way Xavier used his mental powers. One of the things that defined Professor X was his reluctance to even causally pry into the mind of a stranger. In this series, he violates Cyclops’ psyche by erasing his memories of the second team. He even misleads the two remaining teams into believing the island is more of a threat than it actually is. This changes Xavier from a man who had a respect for his own powers and the rights of the people around him into a man who would mess with another person’s mind if it served his purpose. Again, it can fit into the character, but makes Professor X less appealing.
Perhaps newer readers, ones who have not been exposed to the X-Mythos as long as I, find this new, darker version of Xavier appealing and more in line with the “grim and gritty” realism in comics today. I prefer the kinder, gentler Professor X. Charles Xavier was always portrayed as the antithesis of Magneto. He was a healer not an agitator. Magneto would go to any end to accomplish his goals; Xavier recognized boundaries of right and wrong and worked within them. This series has brought the two characters closer together in philosophy and their history suffers for the lack of that dichotomy.
The character assassination of Xavier is not the only reason I cannot recommend this book. The retroactive continuity is sloppy. Making Krakoa a collection of impulses instead of a sentient being (as in the original story) makes me ask, why were the X-Men there at all? I work under the assumption that “collection of impulses” meant that outside of a few basic survival instincts, the island was not capable of independent thought. Xavier presumably knew this. So this island in the South Pacific which was minding its own business all by itself doesn’t seem like it would be a mutant threat worthy of investigation. It wasn’t like it was going to decide to attack the mainland United States because it was incapable of deciding anything!
And if this island was as powerful as to decimate this second team of X-men, a team as powerful as the first and almost as powerful as the third, then why didn’t the other teams suffer more casualties? Brubaker gives a throw-away line that the island was “angry” that the second team freed Cyclops. Wouldn’t the island be even angrier when the third team showed up? It doesn’t make sense.
Giant-Sized X-Men shows us that the island was feeding off the mutant energies of the first team. Wouldn’t it want to feed off the energies of the second team? Instead of having more fuel, it decides to kill them? And, again, if the island is just a collection of impulses, how could it decide anything? And wouldn’t the impulse for sustenance outweigh the impulse for revenge?
The original team was joined by Havok and Polaris when they visited the island in Giant-Sized X-Men, but are missing in any of the flashback sequences in X-Men: Deadly Genesis. Is this poor research or another retroactive change? Polaris was the one who launched the island into outer space, not Jean Grey as it is mentioned in this series.
Two other “landmark” events in the series are the revelation that Kid Vulcan is the brother of both Cyclops and Havok, and the death of Banshee. One fares better than the other. Vulcan being Scott and Alex’s brother is well thought out and makes sense in continuity. The death of Banshee, a character relegated to the background of the X-mythos and therefore expendable, seems included just for shock value. Vulcan states that his death was intended to draw Xavier out from hiding, but that seems like just an excuse for using his demise to add shock value to the series.
This series employs the decompressed storytelling style that is so prevalent in today’s comics. I’m not sure if the fault lies with Brubaker, Hairsine or both, but the story could be comfortably told in half the issues. The padding is especially glaring in comparison with the eight-page back up features that run in the first five issues. While the main story plods along in the front of the book, the back features full stories which introduce each of the members of the second X-Men team and make us become emotionally invested in them, all in under half the pages.
The artwork is distracting as well. Trevor Hairsine was supposed to be the penciller all the way through the series, but only completed the first issue before he switched to layouts only. Layouts, as many of you know, refers to the practice of an artist loosely “laying out” a page and a “finisher” completing up the artwork, adding definition and detail. Only three men are named as finishers, with Scott Hanna appearing to do the bulk of the work, but the artistic style is too fragmented. The style changes from page to page, panel to panel in some case, and it appears that perhaps one or more pencillers were involved in the mix.
Reviewing this as a long time fan, X-Men: Deadly Genesis seems to be a needless exercise. I really am not interested in characters I grew up with being sullied. And for a title that is so dependent on past continuity for its existence, I would have expected more effort to making sure the story fit into said continuity. I might be in the minority here, but I can’t recommend the series.