Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Tempest: Part 4 (Marvel comics)
Ultimate X-Men #49 When: September 2004
Why: Brian K Vaughan How: Brandon Peterson

The story so far...
A mysterious serial killer called Sinister has been murdering mutants throughout the Manhattan district, raising the concerns of the X-Men. Though reluctant, Professor Charles Xavier solicits the deployment of six of his most notable and seasoned students in the pursuit of the killer.

Though Wolverine and Storm track Sinister to his lair, they are horrified to discover the killer has already eluded them, and unbeknownst to the youthful X-Men left behind, he's coming for them.

Unable to detect Sinister's presence, Professor X is unable to prepare his mutants for the threat that is coming for them. Dazzler, Angel, Kitty Pryde, Rogue and Ice Man will have to fend for themselves, or die trying.

Previous Form:
Angel (#36): Has defied logic to be ranked inside the top 300.
Iceman (#42): Aided Beast in the defeat of the Lizard.
Kitty Pryde (#50): Defeated a Hydra posessed Wolverine with lethal results.
Rogue (#54): Led the X-Men to a defeat against Nimrod.
Sinister & Dazzler: Each making their first appearances in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Rogue 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Sinister 6 (Genius)
Speed: Rogue 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Sinister 6 (Generator)
Agility: Ice Man 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting Ability: Kitty Pryde 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Professor X 6 (Mass Destruction)

Some of the more astute readers of the Infinite Wars will have noted the absence of Ultimate Marvel titles, and perhaps even reached the deduction that I have a particular distain for them. While that wouldn't be far from the truth, we finally prepare to usher in this new take on Marvel's merry mutants.

For the most part these X-Men resemble their aged counterparts, lacking only the lengthy experience and control over their powers otherwise attained by the originals. That said, they remain a potent force to be sure, even with Angel dragging the team down.

The exact extent of Sinister's abilities are potentially untested, but there are noteworthy differences in the offensive of this character. Gone is the Darwinist mad scientist of immense intellect, in his stead, an ex-Oscorp employee who may very well have gone completely insane.

Believing he is in the servitude of one Lord Apocalypse, he uses good old fashioned .45 pistols to do his mutant hunting, with the added bonus of an ability to avoid detection, and a telepathic influence graphically represented by the classic red diamond on his forehead. It is something of an evil eye, one might say, allowing him hypnotic influence over his subjects.

These powers all make Ultimate Sinister a worthy adversary, but against the likes of Rogue, you have to wonder how far he's going to get.

Recalling the long hours spent in the danger room, this team of mutants has a well rounded foundation of powers to call upon in the name of team work.
Iceman provides a strong offensive/defensive role, capable of both protecting his fellows with icey walls, while also attacking with shrapnel attacks, and his own icey, rocky exterior. On the projectile front, Dazzler also brings her colourful pyrokinetics to the game.

Kitty Pryde's phasing powers potentially provided an elusive defensive for the team, being that she can share intangibility with whomever she comes in contact with. If unwilling to attempt to phase-attack Sinister for fear of succumbing to his evil eye, she can at the very least ensure the ammunition rounds of his forty-fives don't hit their marks.

GUY IN TANKTOP: Sinister pushes Xavier, not Wolverine...Finally, there's Rogue, who even without the Ms. Marvel capabilities of her counterpart, remains a threat capable of gaining energy and abilities at the expense of her opponent. The only question concerning Rogue's power stealing, is whether or not she can cope with the dark insanity of Sinister's mind.

Professor Xavier is counted, but absent for the majority of this battle, falling victim to Sinister's brutality before the game really begins. Apparently immune to Xavier's telepathy, Sinister exploits the most mundane weakness in Xavier's arsenal -- stairs.

Angel is present, and summarily useless.
His mutant power? The ability to fly away.

The Math: X-Men (Total) Sinister (Average)
The Pick: The X-Men

What went down...
Sneaking in to the mansion undetected, Sinister counters Xavier's telepathic suggestion with his own, wealing the apparently helpless mutant out into the hall only to dump him down a staircase.

Ready to murder the battered mentor, Sinister is discovered with pistols drawn by the icey Bobby Drake -- Iceman! He calls Sinister to freeze, utilizing his mutant gifts to gather a frost around Sinister's hands, to freeze them.

Sinister shoots his way out of his freezing restraints, and continues the hail of bullets, striking Iceman in the chest! The ammunition cracks and shatters his chiseled chest with an explosion of ice!

Rogue wanders out of a hall to witness the shocking event, too shocked to avoid another two-shots from Sinister's guns. Even so, both she and Sinister are stunned to find her unharmed, until the hand of Kitty Pryde slides it's way up Rogue's leg from the floor.

Shadowcat drags her fellow X-Man down through the floor, pulling her to safety in the level below. Alone, Sinister begins the hunt again, relishing their resistence as though it were meaningless sport.

As he charges through the mansion, his guns are suddenly knocking from his hands by the swipe of feathered resistance. The unhinged man finds himself on one knee, bowing before an angel of earth -- Warren Worthington III.

ANGEL, doing what he does best! Absolutely nothing!...Angel takes a superior attitude, surprised to find himself unafraid of Sinister once disarmed. Unfortunately for him, Sinister has tricks up his sleeves, and Angel finds himself the victim of his telepathic suggestion. He compells Angel to do the unthinkable -- choke himself!

Angel drops to the ground gasping for air as he crushes at his own windpipe.

Sinister gives a brief sermon on his interests in evolution, and beliefs in reincarnation rather than heavens and hells. Before he can satisfy his biological curiosities he's blasted through a window by a volley of coloured beams!

Freed of Sinister's suggestion, Angel finds himself rescued by tearaway student - Dazzler!
The punk rock plasma chick leaves Angel to finish Sinister off for daring to invade their mansion. Before she can strike the finishing blow, Sinister counters, wrapping her arms behind her back in a cobra clutch, whilst drawing a blade from concealment.

He puts the knife to her throat, sharing the prospect of finding out what colours she has inside of her, when a stand off is reached.

Believing Iceman to be dead, Rogue holds one of Sinister's own guns on him with the intent to fullfil an eye for an eye. Fortunately for Sinister, Kitty Pryde phases through the floor to join Angel's pleas for peace, informing her Iceman suffered a broken rib or two at best, his ice absorbing the impact of the gunshots.

With a potentially lethal hostage situation still before them, Rogue insists on taking the shot, much to the dismay of Worthington. Loathed at an X-Man taking a life, he grabs Rogue by the arm, catching the gap between her long glove, and short sleeved t-shirt.

The contact proves sufficient for Rogue to begin sprouting giant angel wings from her back, while Angel drops to the ground, suffering the sapping effects.

Sinister takes pleasure in the girl's inadvertent skill to incapacitate her fellows, provoking her rages further. She leaps from the window, swooping down to snatch Sinister by the shirt, to drag him into the air.

Asking for a reason not to drop him to his demise, Rogue soon learns the depth of Sinister's insanity. With glowing red eyes, Sinister dares her to drop him, influencing her with his powers of suggestion, believing he has the greater odds of survival, perhaps by way of further powers of invulnerability or healing.

Fortunately, as Rogue begins to fall under the evil charms, Storm descends, having arrived by Blackbird with the other mutants who had been sent to the city to track Sinister. She summons a mighty storm, breaking through the suggestion with clarity and confidence. She compells the southern belle to abandon her bloodlust, and return to Earth before her borrowed wings expire.

Though it takes some doing, Storm finally talks Rogue down from the edge of murder. Though Sinister continues to try to influence the young girls decision, she proves strong enough to resist, content with knocking him out with a stiff shot, before she and Storm return him to terra firma.

A few hours later, Nick Fury and his SHIELD operatives arrive to take Sinister into custody. While locked in the SHIELD Triskelion detainment centre, Sinister has a visit from his master, Apocalypse. Emerging from the shadows, the Lord asks of his unworthy servant suffocation.

Crazy, or frighteningly real?

The hammer...
With the assist from her fellows, Rogue leads the X-Men to victory over the mansion incursion of Sinister!

Y'know, this is kinda like having all the planets in perfect alignment. This entry represents a rare occurance for the Infinite Wars. One, I've indulged in reviewing an issue of an Ultimate title, and two, it's an X-book! Rare are the days when I would be compelled to review such genres outside of some kind of forced and labored theme.

Of all the things to lead to this conclusion, a restless late night viewing of a few episodes of the 1990's X-Men cartoon, and some scenes from the Brett Ratner directed, X-Men 3. Though each have their fanbases, they're not typically what I think you'd expect to provoke decision making on a blog like this.

It was the notable downscaling of the Rogue character in X3, and her Jim Lee inspired prominence in the cartoon that really brought me to this title.
As far as I know she's absorbed some of her Age of Apocalypse style role, currently serving as a team leader for the team in the adjectiveless title.

Even so, while watching the cartoon it occurred to me that Rogue isn't the character she used to be. I mean, particularly out of the eighties and into the nineties, Rogue got to be a pretty big deal! Rogue was a character you'd find on lunchboxes and in lists of kid's favourite superheroes, whereas now, even for her elevated status, it feels to me that the character has slipped into relative obscurity.

Perhaps that's mostly a symptom of her core association with the X-Men.
We've discussed before my feelings on the progression of the X-Men in the years post-Grant Morrison, which I feel have been a drastic series of steps backward. [New X-Men #124, #150]

On a whole, I would say the X-franchise has been generally squandered to the point of total irrelevance. Only through the integration of a character like Wolverine, who serves up a six degrees of Kevin Bacon special by officially joining up with the Avengers, do the X-Men even really hit my radar.

It's probably an even sadder occasion when Angel is one of your most prominent characters, earning some spotlight through his appearances in Incredible Hulk for the World War Hulk crossover event. I mean really, Angel?!

I suppose it's fair enough to say the movement of popular stories is cyclical, and attentions have been redirected to titles that were suffering during the X-Men's previous reign of prominence. Certainly the Avengers is a prime example of the shift in vitality, bringing those characters to the forefront in a way the X-Men seemed to be for large sections of the passed decade.

Also in mind, the discussion regarding feminine concerns in comics that perpetuates many niche movements in the blogosphere. While my interests are limited, it's a subject we've touched upon before [Spider-man Family #1, New Avengers #27, Superman/Batman #15], albeit also in the hopes of getting a link on When Fangirls Attack, because let's be honest: The hits wouldn't hurt!

Something that's always attracted me in particular to the Rogue character, apart from the skin-tight yellow and green spandex bodysuit, was the fact that her character was relatively well developed within and of itself.
It seems to be typical of super heroines to be excessively derivative of existing properties, often spinning out of male counterparts. Even at the best of times these characters struggle to maintain my interests, often suffering in general.

Supergirl is probably a prime example of an unconfident and confused approach to a character inherently weakened by a redundancy complex. Without getting cringe worthy tales of super menstruation, you struggle to imagine anything unique coming from a bubbly young Kryptonian girl that hasn't already been approached with the Smallville tales of a young Kal-el.

Something the mutant women have always exceeded at is outdoing those constraints, with characters like Rogue certainly owing a lot to the creative influence of Chris Claremont. With X-Men as a vehicle, Claremont seemed to successfully champion original female characters, notching up other noteworthy works with Storm, Jean Grey and perhaps the most beloved, Kitty Pryde.

It's hard to say whether there's really any basis of mysoginism here, or if it's just a case of cheap and easy writing.

The X-brand affords a writer the creative hook of imagining a specific fantastic ability. With it instantly comes all the conceptual baggage, good and bad, of mutant society, making for a very simple, one-step hook that appears unique on it's own merits.

It more efficiently serves the purpose of spinning a character out of Superman, or the Hulk, or Batman, or Captain Marvel. Instantly granting a character a sense of identity, without distracting or lending the concept to lesser interpretations based purely on a big red S, or green hair.

Rogue definitely remains a great example of how the mutant hook presented a fairly basic slate of an idea, but eventually expanded it through the tugs and pulls inherent to that universe. It took some time, but like a Scarlet Witch, Rogue grew beyond the timid and uncertain young girl, to join the more assertive and well defined characters.

Seen here, developments derivative of the character conflicts Rogue experienced under the guidance of writers like Claremont. Rogue grapples with emotional concerns regarding her powers, and how her interactions with her friends can be potentially dangerous; while also struggling with her own rages and connection to the dark side. Certianly her association with Mystique in the core universe a defining quality to her interpretations here, and even in something like the X-Men: Evolution cartoon.

Layers like these have made Rogue one of the enduring characters to come from the 1980s. I only hope she becomes that significant, to me, again.

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4
[Vaughan fails to fullfil the excellence expected of his less mainstream projects, but competently lives up to the contemporary styles of the Ultimate brand. Skims over character, falling a little 2D as it grabs at broad strokes of concepts.]

NOTE: Prof. X also takes a defeat. Storm's involvement, inconsequential.


electric goldfish said...

Exceptionally well written. Attaches me further to Rogue as my favorite character - I didn't realize that was even possible.

Mike Haseloff said...

electric goldfish: Thanks very much! Far too kind! :-p

I'm no X-phile, but I've always thought Rogue was a pretty neat X-Man!

One of those great examples of an empowered character: Acknowledged for her weaknesses, but known for her strengths.

Hopefully her position as leader can actually lead to something more than a massive fashion faux pas.