Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Review: Guardians of The Galaxy & X-Men: Black Vortex

The awkwardly-titled hardcover collection of "The Black Vortex" crossover storyline is a huge one. Enlarged from the standard 6.5-by-10-inch format to a 7.5-by-11-inch format, its 300 pages or so worth of story are taken from 13 issues of seven different ongoing titles and two one-shots published especially to bookend the storyline. There is a fairly significant event that could potentially have big ramifications for the two franchises named in the title, and it has next to nothing to do with The Black Vortex; Marvel could probably have entitled this Guardians of The Galaxy & The X-Men: Maguffin, for all the scary space artifact has to do with the actual event, Guardian of The Galaxy Star-Lord Peter Quill and X-Man Kitty Pryde deciding to take their relationship to the next level.

For that pair of characters in particular, this story is potentially a big, game-changing deal–although given what happened the last time an X-Lady married a character from outside the franchise, perhaps it's really not all that big a deal after all. Storm and The Black Panther's marriage simply fizzled in the corner of a panel of a crossover story having little to do with either of them, and their temporary union is already on its way to becoming a minor footnote in both characters' Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entries.

Regardless of how the plot point plays out, however–and we won't know for sometime, thanks to Secret Wars preempting any and all other non-Secret Wars ongoing plots–it certainly didn't need a 300-page story involving far more characters than the storyline's primary writers Sam Humphies and Brian Michael Bendis can even keep track of, let alone find things to keep them occupied (For the sake of comparison, Avengers & X-Men: Axis is only 264 pages, Original Sin 240 pages and X-Men: Battle of The Atom about 250 pages). One might expect Marvel to be much better at crafting crossover stories at this point, given the fact that they are almost always engaged in at least one line-wide story of that nature, but this one is noticeably poorly put-together, reading more like one from the '90s, when they were transparent boosts to flailing and failing titles. Which explains the participation of not only Guardians of The Galaxy, Legendary Star-Lord, Guardians Team-Up and All-New X-Men (the X-Men book currently featuring Kitty Pryde), but also Cyclops, Captain Marvel and, most random of all, Nova.

The story would be big and unwieldy without the extra books, but it would also be a lot tighter, a lot less meandering and a lot less transparent in its mercenary conception. It would also significantly reduce the numbers of cooks in the kitchen. Star-Lord writer Humphries scripts six of the 13 issues (makes sense; this is basically a Star-Lord story arc gone mad), and Bendis four (the issues of his regular titles Guardians and All-New X-Men), while the inclusion of the hangers-on titles mean John Layman, Gerry Duggan and Kelly Sue DeConnick also script about 20 pages apiece. There are nine primary artists (not counting the inkers), a number which could have reduced by at least two without the less necessary tie-ins. Of course, the artists are so numerous and so varied, it hardly matters: Ed McGuinness, Kris Anka, Valerio Schiti, Andrea Sorrentino...there was no way that this storyline would have looked like it fit together visually, anyway.

...and Sorrentino, who aren't exactly on the same page when it comes to drawing Rocket.
So, what's a "Black Vortex," anyway...?

Well, it is a full-length mirror seemingly created by a black Celestial referred to as "Godhead" 12 billion years ago in answer to the prayer of an alien named Gara who looked like final-form Frieza with breasts and capri pants. If you look into the mirror, you see a redesigned, more powerful and somehow vaguely "cosmically enhanced" version of yourself. If you "submit" to the mirror, you turn into that version of yourself.

In other words, it's a character-redesigning maguffin, capable of giving the way-too-many characters new, temporary looks, but, more importantly, it's something for the huge cast to chase around for 13 issues. It had fallen into the hands of Star-Lord and Guardians villain Mister Knife/J-Son and his new ally, Thane, son of Thanos. Kitty Pryde, on a space-date with her long-distance boyfriend Peter Quill, made a post-coital decision to steal it from Knife (Peter's dad) mainly to annoy him. Naturally, this gets them in trouble, as Knife sends his already-upgraded team of mercenaries The Slaughter Lords after them.

To their aid come the X-Men and The Guardians.

The former are Kitty's current "class," the time misplaced original teenage X-Men Angel, Beast, Iceman and Jean Grey, plus X-22, as well as Magik, grown-up Beast and Storm. Magik and the kids make sense, as they are all Kitty's close allies at Grown-Up Cylops' New Xavier School (I'm not sure of the publishing order, and if this was published before, after or simultaneous to its dissolution in the pages of Bendis' Uncanny X-Men), but Beast and Storm seem particularly random. I'd say they were wholly unnecessary and simply clutter up the cast, but Beast at least has something to do in the story, which is more than many of the other characters get.

As for the latter, they are Rocket, Groot, Gamora, Drax, Venom/Flash Thompson and Captain Marvel. So that's sixteen heroes so far, and we haven't even got to Teen Cyclops or Nova yet! A brief argument breaks out over whether or not to use the magic mirror, with Kitty and Peter finding themselves on opposite sides of the argument, testing their relationship (Kitty says no, because evil magic artifacts probably have bad side-effects; Peter says why not, because why not?) When The Slaughter Lords and Gara arrive to take it by force, the fighting and transforming starts...and pretty much doesn't let up for the next 280 pages or so.

Gamora and Beast immediately submit, the former getting a better new look, the latter getting a much worse (and thankfully temporary) one; she wants power to beat up the bad guys, he want cosmic understanding to help him fix time and space, which he's afraid he sort of broke when he brought the teenage X-Men forward in time a few years ago our time (that gets a full two panels worth of explanation, so look close!). Angel follows right behind them, getting a weird skull-shaped mask and fire wings.

Fearing the 16 heroes might not be enough to stop the cosmically enhanced bad guys, Peter makes an emergency broadcast for help, and turns up exactly one more character: Nova. He'll hang around for the duration.

Then things get complicated.

The transformed Beast, Gamora and Angel take off with the mirror, which Gara, The Slaughter Lords and our heroes all want to get back from them. Meanwhile, Knife and Thane are making a deal with the Brood, in which a cosmically-enhanced Thane promises to freeze a planet in amber (that's his super-power, by the way, covering things in amber) for The Brood so they can eat and breed in its population at their leisure. Hala, homeworld of the Kree Empire, gets attacked, and Ronan looks in the mirror and submits, getting a not-too-severe new look, in order to defend it; he fails though, and it's destroyed. Cyclops and his dad, space pirate Corsair, show up. The Collector briefly shows up. There's a lot of fighting, shouting and flying around. Other characters get upgrades. The narrative takes over-long detours to accommodate the participation of other books (There's 20 pages of Nova visiting Earth with the Vortex and The Collector meeting his family, because it's an issue of Nova, for example; later Carol Danvers get something to do, and rather than spending a panel or four on it, they spend 20 pages on it, because now it's an issue of Captain Marvel and so on).

This particular team-up is referred to as a "Locket Heedcoon."

At the end, all that really matters is that the characters who submitted get a chance to de-submit and resume their normal forms, and most of them do (I believe just Ronan and Gamora remain completely enhanced), while a handful of characters get mild, lasting redesigns: Teen Iceman is no longer made of snow when iced-up, but made of ice, looking as he did in Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends; Groot looks like a slightly different type of tree-man  (I think); and Angel keeps his fire wings and his dumb new costume, sans mask. The latter is the only one I really hate; partly because as far as X-Men go, Angel is one of the few perfect superheroes whose codename, appearance and powers all reinforce one another, and in part because the earthbound angel with fire wings schtick was already done in the pages of Peter David's Supergirl (and was fairly dumb then).

The important thing, though, is that Kitty and Peter get past their argument–regarding whether submitting to ancient magical artifacts is good or bad or not–and Kitty makes a realization about space (Earth is in space, it turns out!) and he gets down on one knee and proposes.
I did choke up a little on this page; I'm a critic, not a stone.
And then the Marvel Universe went on hold for like a year to accommodate Secret Wars.

Humprhies and Bendis are both fun writers, and despite what weaknesses there are in the plotting of both, they are both on pretty solid ground when writing dialogue and witty repartee, of which there is a lot, given this book's cast of thirty or so smart-asses.

I liked some of the art (particularly McGuinnesses'; dude draws the best Rocket) and hated some of it (particularly Sorrentino's photorealistic work, which couldn't be more out of place here among the cartoonier style of most of the other artists).

All in all, it's a complete mess though, and an at-times challenging slog. It's actually a decent argument for not waiting for the trade, as this likely would have read better if readers had a chance to self-currate it, and were savvy enough to skip the unimportant chapters...but then, the first and last chapters are really the only important ones. Everything else is just filler. And that's a lot of filler.

1 comment:

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

They blew up the Kree Homeworld? At this rate in a few years humans are going to be the only species in the Marvel universe whose homeworld hasn't been blown up.