Monday, August 6, 2012


 So can we safely say that the X-Tinction Agenda crossover was the flashpoint moment where the 90's became The Nineties and all the good and bad that entailed was unleashed upon an unsuspecting comics world? I suppose we can, as both in form and in content, X-Tinction (abbreviated in the name of preserving my typing fingers and my sanity) pretty much wraps up the 80's for the X-Books and signals a definite change in direction.

 I've talked before about The X-Books changing direction in the past, and how it can sometimes work very well (and save a book from its own worst tendencies) and how it can just screw up everything. X-Tinction . . .does neither of these. But before we get too deep into that, let's run the clock back a bit, something this X-Tinction Agenda hardcover I picked up during yet another liquidation of Marvel's trade/HC stock allows us to do.

 In 1988, during the bi-weekly summer run of Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont did a 4-part story in issues #235-238 that introduced the island nation of Genosha, which was, and still is, a pretty on-the-nose extrapolation of South Africa and it's then-current policy of apartheid. Genosha was an inhospitable island nation that had raised itself to the pinnacle of technological superiority by enslaving its mutant population, making them more or less mentally retarded, forbidding them to breed, isolating them, and manipulating them genetically to whatever the Genoshans required to keep their economy going (this isn't, I should add, actually what apartheid is, as that was minority oppression of the majority--Genosha, we are commonly told, has a small mutant population) The Genoshans keep their slave labour project a tightly-guarded secret and hunt down and retrieve any mutant who tries to escape, which, in a roundabout way, is how the X-Men come to the place.

 While all too often Claremont's stories can be a bit too on the nose and mawkish when it comes to trying to land the "mutants and metaphor for the Civil Rights struggle," revisiting these issues, I was really surprised by how good and strong they were for late-model Claremont. The issue of Genosha is handled with some nuance and complexity (the son of Genosha's head scientist, whose girlfriend has been enslaved, tries to rebel, and is told several times as his eyes are being opened to it, he is no less guilty for ignoring the truth of Genosha than the people who actively engaged in it) and very darkly puts the X-Men out of their depth, putting them in real jeopardy for what felt like the first time in a long time (after the Fall of the Mutants, wherein the X-Men were "dead" and gadding about the world as "legends," it was very hard to get them credible opposition, outside of the latest big crossover) and it's got some things to say and it doesn't shy away from the darker implications (hell, Rogue, after being depowered is nearly raped, which was. . .not quite as commonplace in comics as it is today and was handled with real conscience here, I thought) It also had, in a subplot left dangling too long (it is late-model Claremont we're talking about here) that the X-Men basically lay waste to the country and get all Authoirty on them, telling them if they don't get their shit together and behave, they'll be back.

 Naturally, we had to sit on that story for two years (give or take a few instances where the Genoshans showed up essentially to just shake their fist and say "ooh, I'll get you wascawwy X-Men!") because of the Siege Perilous, the Shadow King, and associated crap, but then it was 1990, long past time for another X-crossover, and time enough to tie up the whole Genoshan thing, hence: X-Tinction Agenda.

 I can't really say the X-Tinction Agenda is that great a crossover. Part of it might be that taken as a whole, the main takeaway from it is "this didn't need to be nine parts" and "reading alll nine parts, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense." But no fear, neither did Fall of the Mutants (and whatever version of that they'd picked, it never would have) But X-Tinction is very interesting because things are shifting. It's a writer-driven crossover being done with two artists who want everyone to stop talking and get to the fighting.

 Here is, so far as I know, as coherent a summation of X-Tinction as I can muster: manipulated by Cameron Hodge, long-running dangling X-Factor plot thread and also-ran in the Evil Human Bigot sweepstakes, gets in the ear of the Genoshan president and cons her into essentially declaring war on the X-Men who are in the process of getting everyone back together (finally) His motives change about five or six times in the course of the crossover and he doesn't seem like he's in all that much of a rush to turn into Warlock or kill all mutants or whatever he's supposed to be doing. Eventually, in the final issue of the crossover, the X-Men finally kill Hodge and a few people die and none of this is gonna matter in about ten issues, except that Genosha is never really "saved"--it just exists in a state of "permanently fucked" for most of the 90's until, in a rare good idea from the late 90's X-Office, they give the country to Genosha, but fail to do anything with it, and in the next decade, Grant Morrison blows it up.

 The main selling point of this is Jim Lee tearing up Uncanny X-Men, filling pages with tons of dynamic action, hyper-detailed battle mechs, and pacing everything at this relentless breakneck speed. Unfortunately, he's only doing a third of the art. Rob Liefeld, fresh from giving New Mutants a shot in the arm, lasts for about two issues that he could be charitably said to have drawn ("sketchy" hardly does it justice, but what can you expect from someone with this going on in his head all the damn time?) Art on X-Factor's third of the crossover is handled by Jon Bogdanove and Al Milgrom, and while Bogdanove is a good fit for certain characters, X-Factor (itself slouching through its publication life in search of a point) was not one of them, especially not by comparison. The X-Factor bits are a right slog to get through, not least because there is an almost Liefeldian inability to understand what the hell is supposed to be going on on the page. As the final chapter is an X-Factor issue, you can imagine how that messes with things.

 So, if it's so misbegotten, why look at it? Well, because it plainly sets the stage for what to come. In less than a year, Claremont will be out, Lee, Liefeld, and the Image guys will be the new vanguard for the next decade, and the tone of the X-Books will change dramatically. And this is the flashpoint. It's not great, it manages to show the reason why a change was needed and the worst excesses of the next generation that illustrate that while change is necessary, it's not guaranteed to be good, but without it, things get stale, and the audience starts wandering off in search of something more vital.

 How lucky we are that no one's tried to arrest change in superhero comics or anything like that, huh?

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