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Sunday, November 11, 2012

X-Force/Cable: Messiah War

Title: X-Force/Cable: Messiah War

ISBN: 9780785131571

Price: $39.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009

Artist: Mike Choi, Sonia Oback, Ariel Olivetti, Clayton Crain

Writer: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Duane Swierczynski

Collects: The Times and Life of
Lucas Bishop
#1-3, X-Force/Cable:
Messiah War one-shot,
Cable #13-15, X-Force #14-16, X-Men: Future History - The Messiah War Sourcebook

Rating: 3.5/5

The first question is always “what happens?” Maybe this is where
Messiah War is lacking, because it can be summed up too easily. Bishop teams up
with Stryfe to kill Cable and Hope. That’s kind of it. Of course, Bishop
doesn’t tell Stryfe about Hope or how important she is—good or evil. To gain
Stryfe’s allegiance, Bishop tracks down a weakened Apocalypse and helps Stryfe
kill his father…or maker. Meanwhile, Cyclops is freaking out and has Beast make
time machines for X-Force so that they can go the future, retrieve Cable, and
bury Bishop six feet under. When X-Force arrive in the future, they find
themselves trapped in a time net…thing. There seems to be a lot going on for a
seven issue story, but the one criticism I do have on the series is that it’s
about one issue too long. There’s a bit of padding early in the story,
especially dealing with Deadpool.

Which brings us to the writers. This goes for all three—their writing
in the second half of the crossover is much stronger than the first. The
consistency that was so strong in Messiah Complex got off to a rough start in
War (yet there will still be a worse example) as Swierczysnki didn’t seem to
understand Kyle and Yost’s style, and vice versa. By the fourth chapter,
however, they begin to move as one, and for the rest of the story, that unity
of storytelling is much stronger. We also get into the heads of the characters
a lot more than we did in Complex or we will in Second Coming. Our three
scribes move between Cable, Bishop, Stryfe, Archangel, and finally Apocalypse
(though only Kyle and Yost write from his point of view, sadly) in a way that
doesn’t feel unnatural. What hurts the writing most, early on, was the need to
recap the events of Messiah Complex and Cable for the reader. And Kyle and
Yost, who wrote the first chapter, actually take a while to do this—again,
stretching time. It makes sense that they would, considering that a lot of the
readers coming on would be new ones wanting the sequel to Complex, but it was a
bit much.

On art, we have three of my personal favorites. Choi and Oback give us
the first chapter.  There are literally a
dozen examples of how great their art is, but for me, the spot that does it
most is after Laura, X23, meets Hope and takes off her mask. Hope, at this
point, is about 9 or 10 years old and seeing these people running around in
grey and black, with masks that have red eyes. Yet when Laura takes off her
mask, Hope—and the reader—see just how young Laura is. Choi and Oback capture
this in such a magnificent way. X23 is really just a child who was never
allowed youth or innocence. As much as Cable protects her and provides for her,
is Hope that much different? By the age of ten, she had already had to survive
one apocalypse (the roach people…one of the more bizarre stories to have come
out of Cable),  she has about the same
odds of turning into a normal teenage girl as Laura had—maybe slightly better
since Laura did have all that mind control stuff. But it’s a marginal line. And
yes, all of this brought on from one panel. Crain (X-Force) and Olivetti
(Cable) provide art for the rest of the series. Their two very different styles
can sometimes clash, but the uniqueness of each actually help. Being a shorter
crossover, there is more room for variation in art than in a 13 or 14 issue
crossover that hinges on being able to connect each chapter. Both artists have
some amazing work in this series, especially when it comes to Apocalypse. They
draw the character in much different styles, but both provide the most menacing
interpretations of the character (when he gets his strength back. The downside
is that Crain was certainly rushed to finish, and some of his art in the last
issue and a half show it. Yet when it counts, he brings it well. In the last
chapter, the full page of Apocalypse and Archangel is without a doubt one of
the most breathtaking images in the entire series.

So, back to the story. Messiah War can easily be compared to The Lord
of the Rings: The Two Towers. In the grand scheme of things, was the story of Saruman
and the Uruk-Hai actually needed to tell the story of Frodo and the Ring?
Sauron was already an extremely powerful foe, why throw in Rohan and Ents and
all of that? Meat. Sweet, succulent story meat. That’s a lot of what Messiah
War is—meat to the trilogy. But besides meat, there are actually more
subtle—but important—aspects to this story, especially for how it works in the
trilogy. Get ready for a lot of symbolism and literary criticism, folks,
because that’s what Messiah War is truly asking for.

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way. Hope, that baby from
Messiah Complex hiding out in the future with Cable, is heavily tied to
biblical themes. As Deadpool says, she’s the “little annoying Messiah Child.”
When you’re throwing around phrases like “Messiah” and “Second Coming,” it’s a
necessity to dig more into that connection. Because of this, the inclusion of Apocalypse,
one of the most Christian mythology inspired characters, is essential to the
story of Hope, the Messiah. Hope is literally growing up in the end times, but
to actually face the embodiment of Apocalypse is quite another thing. Yet, she
is ten years old, after all, and she doesn’t actually fight the big bad
(though, now that Hope is an adult and Apocalypse is the main villain in
Uncanny X-Force, a Hope vs Apocalypse story is a possibility and would
certainly be a badass moment in X-Men history if done right).  In fact, Apocalypse is somewhat a good guy in
this story…which says something about Bishop. When the most evil mutant to have
ever existed is less evil than you, Bishop, you’ve lost your mind. Hell, even
Stryfe was shocked by Bishop’s craziness. Anyway, back to Hope and A-Poc. What
does it say that in the end, neither Cable nor X-Force could save Hope, but
Apocalypse and his horseman of death had to instead?

Loss of innocence.  In the fourth
chapter of Messiah War, Swierczynski shows Hope’s innocence right before it’s
crushed. Hope is trapped in a force field by Stryfe and looking up at the guy
who just beat the crap out of Cable and X-Force. Bishop uses the opportunity to
finally kill her, and releases a nanite cloud to distract Stryfe. When the
force field breaks and Stryfe keels over, the first thing Hope does is reach
out to him and ask if he’s okay. This is last time we will see an innocent
Hope.  Messiah War is the story where
Hope loses that belief that Cable will always be there for her, that there is
clear good and clear evil, and that the X-Men are some angelic force watching
over her. Her first meeting with the X-Men should have been a joyous occasion,
or she would have probably believed. 
Instead she is greeted by all six of Wolverine’s claws. Instead of
seeing her father relieved to see X-Force, he’s troubled and a little more than
pissed off.  Even worse, with an entire
team there to “protect” her, she still gets captured by Stryfe, watches as
Warpath is tortured, and witnesses Stryfe completely kick X-Force’s collective
ass three times. Suddenly that notion of “these people will keep me safe” isn’t
ringing as true anymore. There’s also the inclusion of Stryfe himself, a clone
of Cable. Stryfe tries to use Hope as a host body, and as noted before,
tortures Warpath with a lot of joy in from of the little girl. When Hope
finally sees Stryfe’s face, she is rightfully confused. She’s thinks it’s her
father coming to save her and pretending to be the bad guy. Of course, it isn’t
long until she figures out that Stryfe is most definitely not Cable, but the
psychological damage has been done. She has now seen an evil version of her
father, and much of Cable after this series shows Hope at odds with Cable.
Teenage rebellion is bad enough, but having to look at the same face as the guy
who was going to kill and possess you? Well, it might add a bit of fuel to that

Yet, while her meeting with the X-Men—even though X23 tells her they
are not X-Men—wasn’t the best she could have hoped for, it still made them real
people and not stories Cable would tell her to keep her spirits up. This was
her reference point to the X-Men. Now she knows that yes, there are a lot of
people who want to keep her safe and are willing to die for her. She might be
nine years old, but she understands that now. This will be even more important
in Second Coming, when quite a few people die for her. It also showed her that
there is another time, another place, where they could go where they don’t have
to eat fried rats or boil their water to drink it. And it’s a place where she
could have friends (sure, she finds her first love in the next Cable arc, but
she’s still in hiding and can only talk to him) like Laura and Elixir, the two
youngest X-Force members whom, along with James, she calls out for right before
pushing away from Cable mid time-jump (that was unwise). The meeting with
X-Force created a fantasy world for her of what the present day would be like,
another important aspect that comes up in Second Coming.

And then there’s the ending. Cable and Hope become separated in time,
and the X-Force are left having to complete the mission that Cyclops literally
ripped them from. In the beginning of the crossover, when they arrive in the
future, X23 marks a big X on a scrap piece of metal, marking where they landed.
At the end, the entire team—exposed to the future for too long (Beast and the
X-club had to make these time machines in a short amount of time, and they were
imperfect, giving X-Force only 20-something hours to complete their
mission…they go over this limit by a lot) are dying. It ends with X23 crawling
to that mark, to return to the present at exactly the right spot to complete the
mission. Endangered Species ended with the burial of a mutant-kind; Messiah
Complex ended with the death of a dream; Messiah War ends with the fact that
the X-Men must continue to struggle, but more importantly, to fight on. This is
the closest thing to hope that they’re going to get for now.

A few more notes before I wrap up. First is the set itself. The
hardcover is 39.99…and the crossover is only 7 issues. Granted, it also
includes The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop as well as Wasteland Blues, the two
issues of Cable that took place before Messiah War. Those two issues are worth
having. It’s a good story and this is a great place for it. It’s the first time
we actually get into Hope’s head, as Cable is passed out from dehydration.
Times and Life…sure, this might justify the price, but it’s nothing but a three
issue mini to recap Bishop’s life and, worst of all, it’s some of the most
appalling art I have ever seen in comics. Ever. Every character looks more like
an amorphous blob and it’s not the first time I’ve used that criticism for this
artist. He did the same thing in Peter David’s X-Factor for a couple of issues.
I don’t even want to name him, it’s so bad.

And despite that I like Swiercynski’s work (he seems to be a writer
people appreciate in retrospect), I think he missed a big opportunity. The last
we see of Apocalypse and Styfe is Apocalypse turning his “mistake,” as he calls
Stryfe, into his new host body. The only place we could have followed up on
this is in Cable, being that it was in this specific timeline. Yet two years
into the future, there is no mention of Apocalypse at all. He could have been a
new major villain in Cable, besides Bishop. Apocalypse did tell Cable that he
would one day return for Hope. If only we actually got that story.

But that’s just a small complaint. Messiah War, though not as good as
Messiah Complex, is still a great crossover 
for all of its character and crisis development. And next week is the
end of the trilogy, Second Coming. Will it live up to Messiah Complex, simply
be on par with Messiah War, or will it crash and burn? We’ll find out soon!

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