Top of the Pile: An Uncanny Holiday

My pile of unread comic books is huge. So huge that I spent the last two Thanksgiving breaks whittling it down to a reasonable size. Those efforts are working; after spending a good chunk of the long Thanksgiving weekend reading I’m within striking distance of the Inhumans vs. X-Men crossover event from Summer 2016. That puts me over 12 months behind in my reading, but it’s closer than I’ve been in years.

Uncanny Avengers

Uncanny Avengers topped the pile over the weekend. It continued the bonkers storyline from the big Axis crossover event, in which the Red Skull grafts the telepathic portion of Charles Xavier’s onto his own. This gives him omega-level telepathic powers and lets him manipulate his opponents with ease.

He’s up against the “Avengers Unity Squad” comprised of Rogue (X-Men), Quicksilver (whatever he is these days), Synapse (Inhumans), Doctor Voodoo (Avenger), Deadpool (freelancer), Cable (X-men, and the Human Torch (formerly of the Fantastic Four), with Steve Rogers / Captain America (Avenger) calling the shots.

The Red Skull showdown didn’t disappoint. Deadpool — who can be a perpetual screw-up — steps up and leverages his chaotic strengths to bring the fight to the uber Hydra agent when the rest of the team is taken out. The addition of Cable, who traditionally plays Deadpool’s straight man, was great since it gave the writers access to all sorts of backstory and in-jokes (not that you needed to understand them to enjoy the book, but if you did, all the better). It’s one of the most enjoyable Deadpool stories I’ve read in a long time, and I’m happy to finally see Xavier’s brain laid to rest.

Extraordinary X-Men

In this X-Men offshoot, team leader Storm and sorcerer Magik come up with a plan to save their people from the M-Pox plague that’s killing and/or sterilizing mutants: transport the X-Mansion to the demon-filled plane of Limbo, then launch rescue missions to bring the survivors to them.

It’s not a great plan. While it does have the upside of eliminating possible exposure to the terragen mists that cause the plague by removing mutants from Earth, the downside is near-constant attacks by demons! Although this drawback would seem to be self-evident, it takes most of the comic book’s run for the X-Men leadership to realize this.

In addition to the ongoing Limbo storyline, the Extraordinary X-Men get caught up in 2016’s Apocalypse Wars event. The Wars event was a different one for Marvel; instead of forcing crossovers between the X-Men comic books, each title got to tell its own story based on the long-standing X-villain Apocalypse.

Extraordinary X-Men‘s story was one of the better ones to emerge from the event, with the team taking on Apocalypse in his far-future “Omega World”. This construct features a handful of post-apocalyptic biomes designed to survive the end of the world (much like Doctor Doom’s Battleworld). The story sees Colossus become one of Apocalypse’s horsemen and gives the latest generation of X-Men (Glob, No-Girl, Ernst, and Anole ) a chance to step up and actually be X-men.

The title also features the “Kingdoms Fall” storyline in which Magik’s protege, Sapna, is possessed by a magic-consuming entity known as the “World Eater”. The fight with a creature forces the X-Men to confront the wisdom of moving their refuge to Limbo and sets up their return to Earth. Extraordinary X-Men seems all about good people making bad decisions, and in some cases, decisions that don’t make sense in light of their characters. The sticking point for me was Storm; I don’t see her going along with this mad plan to relocate to Limbo. If it was Magik stepping up to lead the team in her absence, everything would have clicked, but with Storm there it feels too contrived.

Darth Vader

I still have Marvel Unlimited, which may seem unwise given how far behind I am on reading my comics. If I can’t read the print comics I have, why add a few thousand more digital books? In truth I have it because it’s reasonably priced ($9.99), lets me easily fill in story holes when I reach a big crossover, and gives me the chance to try out new books.

One of those new titles was Darth Vader, which a number of my online friends had praised as pile-worthy. They were right. It starts off just after the destruction of the Death Star. Darth Vader is dealing with of his failure. Palpatine is furious with him. Grand General Tagge, who correctly foretold that the rebels were a threat to the Death Star, is ascendant. The Empire is struggling to hold together without the structure of the Senate or the power of the Death Star to maintain order.

The comic strongly reminds me of Darth Vader in Rogue One, particularly in the final moments when he’s fighting his way through rebel soldiers trying to recover the Death Star plans. That was Darth Vader at his most vicious and powerful; this similarly shows him at the height of his personal powers. The series shows him trying to find Luke Skywalker, whom he only knows as the strong Force user responsible for the Death Star’s destruction. The comic illustrates Vader’s intelligence and villainy as he recruits subordinates (it doesn’t feel right to call them a team) including a Wookie bounty hunter, a sort of anti-Lara Croft, and a deadly protocol droid named Zero-Zero-Zero. It’s an engaging read and one of the reasons I’m glad I kept Marvel Unlimited.

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The Avengers Unity Squad, the featured team in Marvel’s Uncanny Avengers. Credit: Marvel.

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