Friday, March 17, 2017

'Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny' review

It's a wonder any fan of the various X-MEN titles can keep track of their history. At all. So imagine when I choose carious trade paperbacks -- a hardcover, in this case -- that interest me at the library.

UNCANNY X-MEN: MANIFEST DESTINY covers the "Pixies and Demons" story from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2008 and UNCANNY X-MEN Nos. 500-503 plus the vaguely related short stores in X-MEN: MANIFEST DESTINY Nos. 1-5.

Essentially, "Pixies and Demons" is a five-part story.

Set in San Francisco, it focuses on Megan Gwynn (aka Pixie) and how she deals with the brutal beating she sustains by the Hellfire Cult in Oakland. Scott Summers/Cyclops has settled the X-Men (Emma Frost, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Beast and the barely-there Storm) into the San Francisco tower owned by Warren Worthington III (Angel) so the team can live in a city that will be most accepting of mutants.

After the introductory FCBD story by Mike Carey, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction's story briefly jumps into the a short battle vs. a powerless Magneto, who still manages to defeat the X-Men even while using a high-tech suit from years and years in the future that mimics his power and brings a couple of faux-Sentinels to life.

The rest of the story focuses on Pixie's struggle in finding herself while the X-Men hunt down the Hellfire Cult. The Pixie subplot by far is the more interesting portion, especially as she struggles with figuring out where life should take her since her wings were severely damaged after the violent mugging.

As Pixie recovers, we are treated to a cameo by Alison Blaire, better known as the light-manipulating mutant Dazzler. What better way for a young girl to recuperate than have a hospital visit by the singer she saw in concert?

When Dazzler was first introduced (in UNCANNY X-MEN No. 130, February 1980). she was perceived as a cheap way for Marvel Comics to take advantage of the roller-disco fad; her tacky costume didn't help give the character any further legitimacy. Strangely, the popularity of disco music started coming to an end when she debuted. Regardless, Blaire/Dazzler has had some staying power -- she starred in her own solo series that ran for four years until it was cancelled in 1985.

Why Dazzler has regained popularity in the last several years is beyond me. It could be that modern writers treat her for what she is: An singer and entertainer who is focused on her career and not being a superhero.

Blaire/Dazzler looks stunning in MANIFEST DESTINY, thanks to pencilers Greg Land and Terry Dotson. Both men are masters of drawing gorgeous women and Blair has all the right parts in all the right places, complemented by a killer smile.

This story also gives us a much more assertive and confident Cyclops than I've seen in recent years. Maybe ever! The big twist here -- 9-year-old spoiler alert! -- is that his dead ex-wife, Madeline Pryor, may be alive and is masquerading as the Red Queen, whom the X-Men don't know is running the Hellfire Cult.

Despite a disjointed beginning and the unecessary battle against Magneto, the story is solid, but not one of Brubaker's best by far. The art outshines everything else. Grade: B-

The seven MANIFEST DESTINY solo stories are character studies, the kind of fluff that's good for the end of an issue -- what we Bronze Age comic-book fans would call back-up stories. Except in the 1970s and beyond, those stories had a beginning, middle and an ending with a resolution to the conflict in the super-short story.

Each of these stories left me thinking "eh" with a shrug of my shoulders.

I can respect what each of the writers attempts to do, but there's not much substance here. The concepts for the most part are at least intriguing.

A former New Mutant, whose name escapes me (and it's not like it really matters!), realizes she needs to learn self-control and get a handle on her life. In another story, Juggernaut has a has group discussion, philosophizing about the concept of hero vs. "bad guy" with some bar flies who may or may not be held there against their will. Emma Frost is determined to think her teammates are skeptical (at best) of her turn from her evil ways when she led the Hellfire Club. (The Hellfire Cult is inspired by this original and more captivating group of evil mutants.)  Wolverine attempts to get Colossus to at least smile and maybe feel better after Kitty Pryde's death.

Most, if not all, of these stories have an ironic ending. Grade: C

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