After a lengthy hiatus of reading actual novel-type books (you know, the ones that’ve been around for a few dozen centuries longer than good ol’ comics) I’m back into reading some graphic novel-related material. The number of comics I have still to read from Comic-Con remains quite extensive, and I will be getting to them in due course. This week, however, I’ll be tackling one that I’ve had since April 2010 but haven’t had the chance to read fully.
Those who know me or follow my posts will know that I’m not a huge Marvel guy, and that the furthest I tend to get with them versus DC is the fact that they have X-Men. Ever since hitting up Joss Whedon’s Astonishing run and the wonderful work Grant Morrison did with New X-Men I’ve been getting further and further engrossed with the mutant misfits and their wacky adventures through time, through space and through several layers of dream-woven material in-between.
Near the top of the list of X-Men recommendations I received from friends was the 2007 seminal classic Messiah Complex, the first in a trilogy of stories that also includes Messiah War and Second Coming (both of which will be reviewed a little later on). I happened to find it on special for $20 at my local comic store way back, before I went to America, but was told that it wasn’t a good thing to read it without some preceding ancillary material (specifically House of M and Endangered Species) and by having the next two parts on standby.
To them, I say to sod that.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that the other stuff is important to the story (particularly Second Coming, which I will later rave about regarding how it’s now my second-favourite X-Men story of all time) but I was really, really eager to read it. I managed to find Endangered Species and some other stuff in the States, but I really didn’t feel like wading through Beast-angst and other such stuff without getting to the core masterpiece, which Messiah Complex most definitely is.
At its heart it’s a streamlined, relatively easy-to-follow story that almost any new X-reader can pick up and get straight into. Even without the opening paragraph of text that gives you the cliff notes on House of M and Decimation it’s made pretty clear what the backstory is throughout the first couple of chapters. There were very few moments where I was scratching my head going “Wait, why is that happening now?” or “What’s the significance of that guy turning up?” from not having read the previous instalments.
The novel follows the first mutant birth since the Scarlet Witch’s commandment of “No More Mutants” caused the world’s population of superpower lottery winners to plummet from thousands to a mere 180-ish. After trying to track down the child the X-Men discover that she’s been taken by time-traveling tech-head Cable – also known as Cyclops’ grown-up son from the future – in order to keep her away from a bunch of really nasty religious zealots and church militants who are hell-bent, in every sense of the term, on slaying the child like the demonic little mutant Antichrist they see her as.
This then gets compounded by Lucas Bishop – yet another time-traveler from far off mutant-dystopia-land – also trying to off the little girl, despite being allied with the X-Men. While later reading gives you clear insight into exactly why Bishop is trying to add a baby to his body count, it still left me feeling kinda pissed at the writers twisting him into a bad guy. During the latter half of Morrison’s New X-Men run, when they investigate Emma Frost’s shattering, Bishop was one of the characters I really enjoyed them showcasing. He seemed like a big black badass – if possible, the second role Samuel L. Jackson could’ve played besides Nick Fury – and he seemed like an intriguing, if slightly rough-edged, ally of the protagonists.
Now, however, he’ll go down in history as an attempted child murderer and the would-be assassin of Charles Xavier (not sure whether the resolution to this was a retcon or not, but it certainly felt like one after Complex ended). I hear he does further battle with the good guys in Messiah War – the one part of the trilogy I’ve yet to read – and I’m dreading that aspect of it a little. It’s not like they took a character I completely adore and turned them into an antagonist, but it still leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth when I read that section.
Apart from this, however, Messiah Complex is utterly sublime from start to finish. The characters are written consistently, despite the fact that the story covers about three or four different monthly titles with a plethora of separate authors and artists, and the story is quite easily accessible to newbies like me. The character interactions are believable and fit well with the story, ranging from minor banter to big take-thats against Scott Summers and his faith-minded mission to secure the mutant child at the expense of a buttload of bodies.
This brings me to a big point that I’ll be looking at in greater detail over the next two parts – Scott Summers, Cyclops, the current leader of the X-Men. I’ve just got one question for everybody:
Who the hell put him in charge?
During his stint as a second-in-command during New X-Men and his new-installation as de facto leader during Astonishing, Cyclops was portrayed as something of a fallible, tortured soul with redeeming qualities underneath the Order-of-the-Phoenix-level angst and marital/relationship issues with Jean Grey and Emma Frost respectively (to be honest, I far prefer him with the latter, and not just because she cleans up nicely). Cyclops as an equal member of the team gave the story a different angle to follow, and it was an intriguing one at that.
Now, in mutantkind’s darkest hour, he’s just a massive penis with spandex and a Geordi La Forge visor.
I’m really disliking Scott from his antics here and in other stories like Utopia and X-Force, but not in a way that casts negative aspersions towards the writers. It’s obvious that he’s meant to be a huge dick, and the writers pull it off with just enough scant redeeming quality to prevent him from falling to whiny jerk-ass-level lack of story-wise redemption. It’s a credit to the varied team of writers that they manage to keep his douchebaggery consistent and believable throughout.
After I read this I went and examined some of the other material related to it that I picked up from Comic-Con, but found that a lot of seemed rather superfluous (Endangered Species in particular). This is the kind of book you can read with or without the supporting stuff and still have a pleasurable experience.
The varied forms of artwork can be a little jarring at times, but overall it detracts so minorly from the experience that I didn’t notice after a while.
All up, Messiah Complex is an excellent addition to any comic reader’s bookshelf and a definitive instalment in the X-Men mythos.