Reviews of WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN: ALPHA & OMEGA and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY: THE TERRORISM MYTH
Given my focus on New 52 titles and DC collections, one can easily assume in the ever futile war between DC and Marvel, my allegiances fall squarely with DC. However, I do have a soft spot for a few Marvel characters, mainly those I was exposed to in animated form in the Saturday mornings of my youth: X-Men, Spider-Man, and The Fantastic Four though Iron Man and Hulk flew under my radar. And while what Spider-Man comics I’ve read both engendered and solidified my absolute hatred for the character (at least in comic book form) as well as encapsulates all the things that annoy me about Marvel and their approach to their characters, the X-Men faired a great deal better despite Marvel’s continued efforts to dismantle and obliterate them from the foundation up.
In fact, given the X-Men’s general propensity to act like complete jag-offs in the majority of stories where they appear, you’d think they’d get on my nerves even more than Spidey. But the X-Men, in general, are put upon in a far greater degree than Spider-Man, whose own miseries seem to be self-generated more than anything. The X-Men can’t help being mutants while Peter Parker could easily abandon his role and retire to Nebraska with Aunt May where the supervillains won’t bother them anymore (I’m sure plenty can argue how completely wrong I am, how I fail to graps the essence of Peter’s character, or whatever, but, frankly, I just do not care at this point). The X-Men at least have an excuse for being angry assholes because everyone else in the Marvel universe has shat on them at one point or another. So I cut them some slack.
Journey into Mystery is another beast entirely, but first thing’s first.
Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega
Following the events of Schism, the X-Men split into two faction: Cyclops’ west coast group of mutants working to keep the mutant race alive while pursuing their usual superheroic antics resplendent with clones, aliens, super-evolved dino-creatures and so forth; and the newly renovated Westchester school reopened and headed by Wolverine of all people, harkening back to Grant Morrison’s New X-Men which placed heavier emphasis on the operation and activities of Professor Xavier’s school. Similarly, Wolverine and the X-Men takes the usual weird science adventures of the X-Men and suffuses them with a healthy dose of high school drama.
While Kieron Gillen may be my favorite writer of Marvel’s current stable of talent, Wolverine and the X-Men just manages to outdo Uncanny X-Men for the sheer fun of the stories therein. Every superhero and their mother can fight off a cosmic threat or monsters from the depths, but not many can deal with the true horror and evil that is teenagers. There’s just something inherently interesting about seeing Wolverine trying to be the sympathetic headmaster, rising to the occasion despite all the obvious personality problems one would expect to hinder him. Certainly more interesting than watching Cyclops continue to be the same old jerk he’s always been for the past…however many decades at this point.
And Alpha & Omega brings us a new spin on one of the most classic of school conflicts: the insolent, anti-authoritarian student against the stern, oppressive headmaster. Okay, it’s not quite Animal House but it’s got some things going for it. Here, we have Logan as the ornery headmaster and Kid Omega, Quentin Quire, a Grant Morrison creation right out of New X-Men, as the irascible, self-righteous student willing to stand up to that crusty old dean…urr, headmaster. Only, without the bad boy charm of a John Bender, Quire’s revolution remains one-manned.
But rather than the usual schoolboy mischief of tacks on chairs, bullfrogs stuffed in desk drawers, or other Bart Simpson-esque antics, Quentin ups the ante by outright kidnapping Logan’s consciousness, injecting it into a psychic video game-inspired construct. And, of course, everything goes swimmingly, Logan concedes victory to Quire, and our heroes celebrate with punch and pie…Oh, of course everything goes wrong! This is an X-Men comic! Since when has the overuse of psychic powers not led to horrific outcomes? Sure enough, Quentin loses control of the construct while Wolverine’s dislodged id takes control of his body, rampaging through the school on a mad hunt for Quire.
A mini-series composed of five issues, Alpha & Omega deviates from the normal Wolverine and the X-Men storyline to deliver a standalone adventure. Authored by Brian Wood, creator of DMZ and Northlanders, Wood brings a fun sensibility to the book without delivering much else in the way of exceptional prose or characterization.
In fact, the worst that can be said about this book is that it provides few dramatic twists or plot complications. I mean, we’ve captured Wolverine’s consciousness in an altered reality and Wood’s first instinct is to put him in post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk future sure to evoke memories of Age of Apocalypse. Except without the dramatically altered character personalities and circumstances…you know, the things that made Age of Apocalypse interesting.
Here, Logan remains Logan, just without his normal memories and the universe of Quire’s construct never gets explored beyond the surface details. It’s a hodgepodge of various science fiction memes, characters, and tropes, including visual cameos from Appleseed’s Briareos, Panzer troops out of Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, and an escapee from a Final Fantasy game. Putting Wolverine in Quire’s head seems like the perfect opportunity for some Psychonaut-inspired antics with Logan forced to navigate the self-obsessed consciousness of the Jean Grey School for the Higher Learning’s most troublesome student, each learning a bit about the other until they can begrudgingly admit a bit of mutual respect by book’s end, but the two barely interact until the last two issues and even then it amounts to the usual antagonism we expect from these characters. Quire’s underlying insecurities and self-doubt lead to his loss of control over the construct, yet we get very little of Logan exploiting that or the two characters bonding over their common hubristic foibles. In the end, it doesn’t feel like much has been achieved with this story. Sure, maybe Logan and Quire grow a little closer, a smidge maybe, but it’s nothing exceptional. At most, they gain a modicum of respect for each other.
Regardless, Alpha & Omega remains a fun episodic adventure, a break from Wolvie’s trepidations with the school and confrontations with the likes of the renewed Hellfire Club. Plus, more of Kid Omega’s affably unwarranted narcissism that makes him such a lovable bastard for fans of the character like myself. Nothing essential but harmlessly enjoyable nonetheless.
Journey into Mystery: The Terrorism Myth
Journey into Mystery, beginning with its reinvention during Marvel’s Fear Itself event quickly became one of Marvel’s most noteworthy books. Bringing on writer Kieron Gillen and shifting focus from Thor to his resurrected brother, the god of mischief and trickery himself Loki — now, of course, kid Loki, complete with a new sense of conscience — . While I enjoy Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men, Journey into Mystery is the only book being put out by Marvel that I really love to read.
No doubt due to Gillen’s amount of creative freedom to explore odd and different aspects of storytelling, Journey into Mystery doesn’t read like many other Marvel books. There’s an unadulterated joy and affection for its central character that you rarely see in other books where writers regularly pile heaps of woes on characters to elicit drama and investment rather than developing character and honing dialogue. Meanwhile, Journey continues to build on Loki’s development from one of the Marvel U’s chief nemeses into a good-hearted lad shouldering an undue legacy.
The fallout from Fear Itself continues to plague the Marvel universe in The Terrorism Myth, only now the Lords of Fear once again step to the fore as Nightmare goes about collecting the raw fear created by the Serpent in the minds of those he terrorized. The task falls to Loki and his companions — Hela’s former ward Leah, and Marvel’s resident shirt-allergic exorcist Daimon Hellstrom — to penetrate the victims’ nightmares and strike at the Lord of Fear before he fulfills his…vaguely defined malevolent plan. The Lords of Fear, while bubbling with creative methods for dispensing their namesake, lack in the way of big picture ideas. But none of that before a one-shot Christmas special where Loki must find homes for seven wayward hellhounds foisted on him by Mephisto. It may be July, but I can sure feel the holiday cheer.
In many ways, Gillen’s Journey into Mystery reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman — and more than for the mere presence of a dream lord. The blending of myth and reality, the bending of traditional storytelling devices, the invasion of the mundane into the mythic and vice-versa, it all has a very Gaiman sensibility. But Journey errs much more on the lighter side of things, eschewing the heavy metaphysics that occasionally assailed Sandman in favor of plucky adventures of an underdog. The focus remains ever fixated on Loki, his friends, his relationships, and his journey for redemption in the face of a monolithically villainous legacy while the mythopoetics remain at the outskirts, complementing the character drama without overshadowing it.
Gillen’s exceptionally well crafted prose also stands out as one of the book’s greatest assets. It simply wouldn’t be the lovable book that it is without Gillen’s snarky, self-aware narrator, Loki’s twists of phrase, and the collision of Asgardian faux-High English with modern speech. In the same way Sandman isn’t quite Sandman without Gaiman, so too follows Journey and Gillen.
So continues the adventures of Marvel’s trickster god, ever enjoyable as they have been for the past two volumes. With Marvel’s recent announcement regarding the revamping of their entire line, the continuation of Journey into Mystery remains up in the air. Frankly, Marvel would be remiss to even consider canceling Journey given all the potential and genuine love for the characters and stories therein.
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