Sunday, August 05, 2007


Superdestroyer (Marvel comics)
New X-Men #124 When: May 2002
Why: Grant Morrison How: Igor Kordey

The story so far...
Cassandra Nova, a malicious Shi'ar mummudrai, had her first encounter when drawn to arch-nemesis Charles Xavier in the woom. There, Nova duplicated Xavier's DNA to sustain a physical form, but with his mutant fetal brain developing in fantastic ways, Xavier became aware of the creature's viciousness and attacked, resulting in the Xavier twin being stillborn.

Decades later Nova would set into motion plans to annihilate all that her "twin" held dear. It would be Nova that would set off events that decimated the mutant nation of Genosha, before facing Xavier and his X-Men herself, taking possession of her nemesis' body before her own was crippled, thus leaving Xavier in the incapacitated body.

Under the guise of Xavier, Nova continued her scheme to destroy Xavier, linking up with Lilandra of the Shi'ar to convince her the mutants had become infected and would need to be destroyed for the good of the universe. Thus, Lilandra reluctantly sends her army to Earth, where they descend upon the X-Mansion.

Previous Form:
Wolverine (#4): Victories over the Invaders, Silver Samurai and others.
Beast (#17): Aided in defeats over the Lizard and Xorn.
Phoenix (#97): Was crucial in the detaining victory over Executioner.
X-Men [#1]: Defeated only once, by the rampage of a disapproving Sub-Mariner.
Shi'ar Imperial Guard: None of the Imperial Guard have been featured previously.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Gladiator 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Beast 6 (Genius)
Speed: Gladiator 5 (Super Speed)
Stamina: Gladiator 6 (Generator)
Agility: Beast 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Gladiator 5 (Lasers)

Having just spent the time to identify each and every relevant member of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, I'm not particularly inclined to break this fight down on a person-by-person basis. Honestly, given the numbers involved here, it's probably safe to say the math favours the Shi'ar. Gladiator alone is arguably a match for the small clan of X-Men defending the mansion at this particular interval, so he can represent the Shi'ar in the tape, alone.

With most of the X-Men already captured or galavanting in other disjointed X-titles, we're left with a conveniently small bunch of X-Men to look at, in no particular order: Wolverine, the Stepford Cuckoos, Emma Frost, Angel, Jean Grey and Beast. And since Emma Frost spends the entirety of this issue with a golden bucket over her head, she's cut from the team.

So, what chance does a split team of those particular X-Men have of overcoming the might of the Shi'ar super Imerial Guard?

The tape paints a pretty grim picture for the X-Men, but there are a few factors yet to be considered. Telepaths still remain grossly underrated by the tape's factors, so while Jean Grey is rated on par in the energy projection stakes, her mental capabilities make her a much more versatile and interesting opponent than is otherwise expressed.

Likewise, the true measure of Beast and Wolverine's potentials are perhaps slightly under estimated by the tape. On their home turf, Wolverine's stealth and tracking abilities could give him a strong advantage in picking off their opponents, while the brilliant Beast could man the technological defense systems built into the mansion grounds, while also providing a worthy last line of defense should it come to hand-to-hand combat.

Jean Grey, particularly in Phoenix mode, also represents a cosmic force of nature, the likes of which has been halted by the Shi'ar before, but not without considerable cost. Grey potentially represents a force even more encompassing than Gladiator, who stands as the invincible totem of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard.

The Math: Shi'ar Imperial Guard (Total)
The Pick: The X-Men

What went down...
Crouching Wolverine; Hidden KillerA team of Guardsmen sweep the Mansion from above, ascertaining the presence of powers and peoples. The injection team engages in small talk, before falling victim to the unseen Wolverine who leaps at Neosaurus and slices his brilliant brain from one of his many bodies.

Gladiator descends in the company of Schism and Blimp, joining his team as a sicking howl echoes across the grounds. An already detained Emma Frost reveals, from within a helmet of psychic shielding, that they're hearing "the noise Wolverine makes when he's chopping people like you into quivering lumps."

Also detained in the yard are junior X-students, Angel Salvadore and the Stepford Cuckoos. Reunited after one of their number had fallen for the disguised Stuff, the Cuckoos set about taking advantage of the Guard's poor estimation of their infant telepathic abilities. Together, the five-as-one overpower the telepathic watch of Oracle, and defeat her swiftly.

Angel lashes out at Stuff, also charged with guarding the students, before the Cuckoos exact their revenge, making of him a "perfect boyfriend", while they manipulate the metamorphic creature's "pathetically simple" mind.

Inside the mansion, Beast and Jean Grey are forced to take matters into their own hands, aware of the incursion outside. With human-mutant relations at a delicate crossroads, rather than risk the lives of the large group touring the school; Jean Grey violates her code of ethics to mentally persuade them all to herd into the lower vaults where they will be safer.

Ailed by the sub-molecular threat of nano sentinels swimming in his blood stream, Beast remains a potent force to be reckoned with. With the visitors safely contained, Beast enters willingly into the field, charging violently at the first of the Shi'ar intruders, Monstra.

He quickly overpowers the four-armed lady-beast, slashing with his bestial claws at goggles, leaving the alien blinded. Beast's agility provides the necessary mobility to avoid a laser beam, fired by a foe unseen. Fader, the Guardsman hiding within the frequency of ultraviolet light, quickly learns that Beast's resemblance to an animal extends further than his good looks.

Using his heightened senses, Beast smells and hears his way to Fader, knocking him out with a nearby statue of the thinker.

Manta swoops in next, narrowly avoiding Beast's wild slashing as he lets out a Wolverine-esque gutteral growl, and heads for Phoenix. Immune to mental attack, Manta assumes Jean Grey vulnerable, but quickly learns Jean Grey has developed more than her mind during her years as an X-Man.

Grey follows her kick with a jagged elbow and palm striking combo, putting the alien Manta down hard to the shock of student on-lookers.

While Beast does battle with the suited gestalt entity, Squorm, he compels Jean Grey to seal the inner vault doors. Reluctantly, Grey does so, while Beast suffers the electric charge of Arc, who mocks the mutant's sense of bravado.

At that moment Wolverine smashes his way through a window, slashing Blimp and Schism on entry by way of a stolen imperial flight patch.

Blimp begins to vent the bio-helium that makes up his internal functionality, leaving him to swirl around the room like a deflating balloon.

Wolverine encourages Beast to resume the fight, while throwing down with the black and white diverged halves of Schism.

Arc contacts Gladiator, before being dragged into the smackdown. While Wolverine deals with Monstra, Beast uses Blimp's limp body as insulation to wrap the electric Arc up, and smack him with a healthy dose of super strength.

To Beast's dismay, the wall begins to melt away, signifying the heat-vision led entrance of Gladiator; zealous praetor of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard.

Wolverine does his best to emplore the better sense of the Shi'ar's greatest soldier, but the desperate and lethal retaliation of the X-mutants registers as proof to the Gladiator, that these are not Charles Xavier's mutants.

Acting under order based upon Cassandra Nova's lies, Gladiator stands confident in his charge to exterminate the infected mutants, all of whom have nano-sentinels undermining their defense.

Though Beast and Wolverine retaliate, the incredible alien strength of Gladiator quickly overwhelms them.

Cosmo and Gladiator effortlessly bypass the high-tech security of the lower depths of the X-Mansion, pulling apart the metal blastdoors as though they were breaking bread.

Inside, Jean Grey makes an appeal of her own to Gladiator, but her inclination to test Gladiator's mind-shielding only serves to further provoke his suspicions.
Ready to exterminate the mutant threat, Gladiator is halted only by the intervention of one of his own. Plutonia enters, carrying in her arms the broken body of Smasher, one of the elite who had stood against Cassandra Nova's lies, and suffered for it.

Having crash landed on Earth, Smasher brings word of the truth to his superior, his dying wish that the Imperial Guard remain pure. Recognising the toxic influence of Cassandra Nova, Gladiator stays his hand, only to see the X-Men suffer the effects of the nano-sentinels infecting their bodies.

The hammer...
I was all ready to declare this with certainty, but I think it's safe to say that as much as Gladiator turned the tables in the final hour, the X-Men controlled much of the battle. Thus, I declare this result on the basis of scoring and conclusion, a draw!

Now remains the task of inputting the results for every damned member of the Shi'ar. For reasons of streamlining, the battle in space between a captive Cyclops and Xorn was not included in this encompassing look at the Shi'ar's assault on X-Men mansion.

This entry, of course, was part of the on-going Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Mondays initiative. The chances of this having been an entry otherwise, are fairly slim.
I generally prefer my X-Men, if anything, to be dealing with Earthbound matters, and struggles more specific to human/mutant concerns. That said, this was actually a surprisingly easy issue to get excited about reviewing.

Maybe it's some of the spacey fun that's cropped up in conjunction with the Annihilation series [Nova #2], or maybe it's Grant Morrison's unique handling of the X-Men that made me a regular X-reader for the first time in my comics reading history.

For all the press about Morrison's pseudo-intellectual-rockstar-man-witch pretentions, there's a delicious indulgence in his approach to books like X-Men. Morrison seemingly succeeds where a Warren Ellis might falter, willfully enjoying himself as he writes unashamed four-colour fanboy moments, like Wolverine's explosive flight-patch entrance to the mansion, or Jean Grey's stiff-kick.

It's the marriage of fun moments like these, and a progressive story that made Morrison's run on the series one of the most memorable. In fact, it's perhaps not since Claremont that a writer has had a run so significant that wasn't cringe-worthy, as so much of the X-lore tends to be.

In many ways I think it's the logic of Morrison's work that makes it so strong. Four decades later, you'd like to think humanity might have gotten a bit beyond the fear and loathing, and what we see here is the forward development of social and racial change serving as a backdrop to sci-fi heavy superhero action. All this, balanced with the familiar soap opera of Marvel comics, makes New X-Men scientifically difficult to debate.

By extension the apparent editorial shift toward undoing much of the good done in these pages, is scientifically stupid. In fact, if you look up stupid in a dictionary, you'll likely find a toothy characature of Joe Quesada playing guitar in front of a burning wedding dress. See the crowd for sub-sections on Bendis, Austen, and even Claremont, the kings horses and kings men who succeeded in not only undoing some of the best X-Men work of the past twenty years, but also making it a regrettable affair. [See; New X-Men #150, for more on Xorn.]

It's amusing to note this issue [#124] features the return of the letters page, complete with a lengthy love note from Bruce Timm who largely laments on similar points already discussed here. The only glaring divergence of opinions between monsieur Timm and myself is the opinion on Igor Kordey's work, which I personally rate particularly low, with characters often appearing hideously disfigured, or attrociously under defined.

I'd pass the blame to the inker, who slathers the pencils with distgustingly ill defined blocks of black, and completely under does some lines, but it would appear these unflattering inks were done by Kordey himself, so... Ouch!

We've had three years of X-Men since the end of this run.
Right now Ed Brubaker is putting his stamp on the Uncanny team, while also revisiting the Shi'ar for the first time since this story, I believe. I'd love to have something nice to say, but I don't.

The best the X-Men have had to offer has been Joss Whedon's work on Astonishing X-Men, which has avoided a return to the boggy, garbled self-referencial stylings, opting instead for the thoroughly expendable and derivative.

The Fight: 6 The Issue: 6
[The best X-Men you'll see in a long time! Smart, slick and fun, let down only by sloppy artwork. A thoroughly enjoyable romp, featuring a to-the-point invasion, that makes even the uncomfortable Shi'ar sci-fi, fun!]

NEXT WEEK: Spotlight on the Shi'ar Praetor, Gladiator!

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