Marvel Pick Of The Week – September 23, 2015 [SPOILERS]


Pick Of The Week:

X-Tinction Agenda 4, by Marc Guggenheim and Carmine Di Giandomenico

Back when I was starting to read comics, Marvel had a few volumes of a concept book called What If? The idea gets resurrected every so often, but the main premise is usually this: a popular storyline in a Marvel comic gets a twist, and readers get to see extrapolations on the impact of that twist through an alternate reality. Spider-Man keeps his extra arms he grew that time he fought Morbius, Captain America’s Avengers fight off Galactus in the early 60’s, Wolverine becomes king of the vampires, Dr. Doom seeks help from the Ancient One and becomes Dr. Strange, and Rogue lifts Thor’s hammer decades before Jane Foster brings that to the main continuity. Most of me loved the book for the thrilling way it played off of established characters, often bringing emotional beats that an ongoing series couldn’t afford or pulling in charming alternate versions of our characters. Some of me loved the book for the history aspects, the concise summary of relevant storylines.

But a hidden part of me loved the book for the blood. Sometimes, a reader would get a powerful glimpse into the way fate pulled on a  character. But most of the time, it seemed like any change to the Marvel continuity gave the writer a chance to kill a crap-ton of characters. Spider-Man goes to the deli before the bank, and the streets run red with what’s left of Daredevil. Aunt May runs out of wheat cakes, and all the mutants drop dead of brain parasites. Franklin Richards stubs his toe, and Apocalypse gets to slaughter everyone in the western hemisphere. It was silly and outrageous, and though I’d roll my pretentious proto-hipster eyes, I’d go back and reread and gasp at what everyone got away with.

It’s not always a guilty pleasure, either. There was a two-parter where the Avengers lost Operation: Galactic Storm, and a lot of the team members managed to make heroic sacrifices to preserve what was left of Earth. Mutant X, a grim series about a dark alternate reality, was pretty awful until the penultimate issue, when the author threw all hope for serialization out the window and let an overpowered Dracula eat pretty much all of his main characters, and Havok and Iceman blew up the moon, and the book rolled around in a camp aesthetic that would have played well to modern audiences as a black comedy.

X-Tinction Agenda #4 is Guggenheim’s chance to smash all the action figures together, and because this series has been so darn respectful thus far, he gets away with it. After three issues of Genoshan mutants kidnapping X-Men from Westchester to help stop the plague killing all the mutants within their quarantine, the writer has had a chance to establish clear voices for his main characters and build up a believable tension between Havok’s team and Rachel Grey’s. Each side is wrong, but each side has clear justifications. The book has echoed the complicated morality and tense danger of the original Agenda, and at the end of last issue, the whole plot was revealed as a trap to use Warlock’s dead alien body to bring monstrous Cameron Hodge back from the dead. As Wolfsbane cutely summarizes, “Cameron Hodge hates mutants. He was dead and now he isn’t.” The final battle unites all the mutants on Genosha, but it costs many lives, including Rictor, Wolfsbane, Havok, and Bombshell.

Part of me loved the carnage, an author realizing that in the last issue of a temporary summer event tie-in miniseries, he doesn’t have to leave all his toys in the box. But Guggenheim is better than that, and he manages to place an emotional beat behind each loss. Characters die to protect loved ones, or to avenge their lost, or to atone for their sins, or to defeat the bad guy in service of the greater good. The original series saw the death of innocent charmer Warlock, and this book pointedly ends the series with a picture of the little alien rising from the dead, a comment on the revolving nature of death in superhero books. Guggenheim knows he’s breaking a lot of toys, but he’s returning them, too.

This series did what a Warzones tie-in was supposed to. It called back to a memorable previous story, it moved the themes forward, it told an entirely new plot, and it stood largely apart from Hickman’s main series. What a success.

Honorable Mentions:

Runaways 4, because this book has showcased how utterly normal it can be to have bisexual characters in a teen superhero action book, and now we get to see a classic romantic trope with two women, and I am so proud of Noelle Stevenson and Marvel comics for including diversity without exploiting it.

Weirdworld 4, because I love Jennifer Kale, and Mike Del Mundo’s paintings are amazing, and Jason Aaron’s speech is lovely and stirring, but I find it a little hard to take seriously anyone who would call herself “Queen Of The Man-Things” and not giggle.

Captain Marvel And The Carol Corps 4, because some Asgardian got up this morning and put on his cape, his hammer, and his sarcastic sassy pants.

Catch up on previous Picks here!

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