X-Over And Over Again - Part 11: Messiah CompleX

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Following Operation: Zero Tolerance, the line-wide X-over vanished as a concept for a decade. Shifting trends in comic-book publishing and economics, the higher profile of the franchise following the release of the 2000 Bryan Singer film, and editorial reshuffling at Marvel kept the X-Men confined to their individual books, barring small-scale crossovers such as Eve Of Destruction or company-wide stories like House Of M.

All of that changed this past October, as the X-over returned for the first time in ten years with the beginning of Messiah CompleX. Harvesting seeds that were sown in House Of M and the Endangered Species backup feature, the story kicked off in a special one-shot issue before wending its way through Uncanny X-Men #s 492-494, New X-Men #s 44-46, X-Factor #s 25-27 and X-Men #s 205-207. With the final chapter being published this week in X-Men #207, it is time to sit back and assess where Messiah CompleX stands in the annals of X-history. The remainder of this article will contain SPOILERS for the conclusion of Messiah CompleX, so proceed at your own risk.

Following the events of 2005’s House Of M, the mutant population had been reduced to a few hundred individuals, with the remainder depowered by the reality-altering Scarlet Witch. Never before had mutants been so vulnerable as a race, as became clear when in-fighting and opportunistic attacks began to take their toll on the handful of survivors. Moreover, no new mutant children were being born. The Decimation, as it came to be called, was a major element of the X-books for the next two years, with the X-Men and their allies becoming increasingly desperate to find some way to reverse the species’ decline.

The Messiah CompleX one-shot seemed to provide an answer to their prayers, as their computer Cerebra detects a mutant birth in Cooperstown, Alaska. Unfortunately, the X-Men are beaten to the punch by the Marauders, responsible for a recent series of attacks on various mutants, and the Purifiers, a religiously-inspired human hate group.

The rest of the crossover essentially boiled down to a large-scale chase, with the baby being pursued by the X-Men, the Marauders, the Purifiers, a mysteriously resurrected Cable, and Bishop. The conflict between Cable and Bishop’s agendas provides much of the intrigue for the latter half of the storyline, with Cable bent on saving the child’s life to avert certain future events and Bishop driven to eliminate it for much the same reason.

Subplots, meanwhile, abound. One of Madrox’s duplicates travels into the future with Layla Miller, and she forces him to leave her trapped in the prison camp where Bishop grew up; Mystique conspires to use the child to heal a comatose Rogue, manipulating the Marauders from behind the scenes.

The climax of the story sees some drastic changes to the X-universe. As Cable prepares to depart to the future with the child, Bishop makes one last attempt on her life and accidentally shoots Xavier in the head, apparently killing him. Cyclops disbands the X-Men in response. Major villains Exodus and Sinister also appeared to meet their demise, while Rogue emerged from her coma and attacked Mystique, absorbing her mind before leaving for parts unknown.

Just like any of its predecessors, Messiah CompleX has both strengths and weaknesses. The story itself essentially consisted of a string of fight scenes, interspersed with quieter moments that seemed to exist for only expository reasons. Individual character arcs were ignored in favor of the large-scale spectacle, a necessity given the size of the cast involved. While there was certainly nothing subtle or nuanced happening here, the writers at least did not try to shoehorn layers of complexity into the straightforward action. This was a widescreen epic that didn’t have time to slow down or indulge in much navel-gazing; there wasn’t anything going on beneath the surface, but the skilled plotting and intricate, flash art kept you from thinking about it.

Messiah CompleX certainly fulfilled its promise of changing the status quo of the X-universe. Aside from the obvious and drastic consequences of its final pages, it also re-established Cable and Bishop as forces to be reckoned with, hearkening back to the early days of both characters, when they would act in the past to change the future without regard for the immediate consequences. The New X-Men continued to come into their own, while Wolverine took command of a “black ops” squad with the new X-Force.

Moreover, it left a lot of questions. What exactly happened to Rogue? What will be Layla’s ultimate fate, and what happened to the second duplicate Madrox dispatched into the future? How could the child have such different roles to play in Cable and Bishop’s respective pasts, and what might those roles be? Who were the child’s parents – are they, or she, anyone we’ve seen before?

The legacy of Messiah CompleX will depend largely on the follow-up efforts on these topics, and the willingness of Marvel to stick to their guns on the changes that have been made. So much of the criticism of superhero comics stems from their unwillingness to let their characters grow and change, as we expect fictional characters to do in other media. The major publishers want to keep their franchises in stasis, frozen exactly as their aging audiences remember when they first began reading, rather than attempting to entice new customers with any sort of change in mood or dynamic.

The wisdom of this practice is debatable, but is also outside the scope of this article. It will be interesting to see how long Professor X remains dead, and whether Marvel will use this as an opportunity to explore how the X-Men react to their controversial leader becoming a martyr and to allow Cyclops to ascend into a permanent role of the team’s figurehead. Or if the quick buck will win out and Xavier returns in two years as the centerpiece of the next big X-over. The smart money, of course, is on the latter.

The X-books will be revamped in the months to come. Uncanny X-Men will be at the center of Divided We Stand, a story arc designed to establish a new direction for the team. X-Men will be renamed X-Men: Legacy beginning with next month’s #208, and will apparently somehow focus around the late Professor X. New X-Men has ceased publication with this month’s #46, replaced with Young X-Men beginning in April. A new X-Force book is in the works, while Cable & Deadpool will be replaced by a Cable solo title. As the X-franchise continues to forge ahead into an uncertain future, Marvel has an opportunity to launch out of this landmark event and introduce true change into their much-loved but often creaky and staid mutant adventures. Whether they will take advantage of that opportunity remains to be seen.

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