November 27 2019 – the day before Thanksgiving – was the first new comic book day in approximately 4 months with at least three new X-Men comics released on the same day.
Appropriately, my varying reactions to the releases are a healthy reminder that more is not always better, and that one of House of X and Dawn of X’s greatest strengths has been a healthy sense of curation (Marvel as a whole is otherwise comically overproducing books these days). Big picture, New Mutants is a book I expected to enjoy, and lo and behold, nothing has changed, whereas X-Force had a make-or-break second issue actually sell me on many of the comic’s bolder first issue choices.
And then there’s Fallen Angels #2, which I’m increasingly convinced is the only absolute dud of the Dawn of X.
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Two issues into Fallen Angels and I have no doubt that Fallen Angels is a let down, and the only real dud of the Dawn of X. This book will of course have fans – many of them have chimed in on the Comic Book Herald Youtube channel, and I’ll encourage them to continue to do so! I’m genuinely interested in other perspectives and why people enjoy work that isn’t working for me – so it’s important to me to go beyond simply “comic=bad” and explore specific elements that I find objectionable.
Starting big picture, I respect the hell out of Hill and Kudranski’s pitch for a book about Kwannon reclaiming the Psylocke “shell” as she refers to it as truly her own. There’s conceptually a bold meditation on identity and the X-Men’s history of racial body swapping (it’s more than just Betsy & Kwannon, just ask the New Mutants “Demon Bear” saga), somewhere in the idea of Fallen Angels.
As far as I can tell though, all of this is secondary to a substantially less interesting exploration of the role of violence in a utopia. This is particularly less interesting alongside a lineup including X-Force, where the concept of peaceful Utopia is so feverishly upended. The premise doesn’t match the reality *already* and we’re only two issues into Dawn of X!
Just as messily, Fallen Angels is also sprinting headfirst into the surest way to mediocrity: It’s a ninja Hand book without a compelling leader of the Hand. It’s not like mutant-kind don’t have a history with Madripoor and the Hand – obviously this is especially true if we’re talking about Betsy Braddock and Kwannon – but to me this feels like another instance where the focal point doesn’t really tie with the rest of Dawn of X and the development of Krakoa.
In every other title we can at least see ways the book contributes to the new world. Fallen Angels is still extremely unclear.
Perhaps this is all because Fallen Angels didn’t need to be a team book. The comic Hill and Kudranski appear interested in writing is just called Psylocke. And that’s a fine, if bold choice for an X-book to launch – I mean it’s not like that would have been any less marketable than a comic book title connected to an off the wall late 80’s miniseries?
Not only do I think Fallen Angels didn’t need to be a team book, it didn’t need to be a book with *this* team. This is probably the aspect of Fallen Angels that irks the comic fan in me the most – Teen Cable and X-23 do *not* make sense for this book, and the work is not doing anything to convince me otherwise.
Bryan Edward Hill is at odds with other writers on many of the characters he’s writing. From Hickman’s off-the-rails comedic Mr. Sinister to Hickman’s goofball meathead Teen Cable, to Tom Taylor’s years of character work on X-23 (more on this in a moment), Hill’s writing them all muted and reduced to ominous talk of war and violence. Forget which version is even preferred – it’s blatantly inconsistent. This is far from the first time two writers have had different takes on their caretaking of Marvel’s property, but it’s happening in concert during a Dawn of X that is otherwise cohesive and wholly connected. It’s an approach incongruous with Dawn of X, and so is the comic book.
In order to more specifically discuss the regressive nature of Fallen Angels, I think it helps in particular to define Laura Kinney’s regression.
X-23 is a clone of Wolverine, created in a lab, born and bred in violence. When she speaks aloud the following it’s not just a return to her early 2000’s identity, it’s a nonsensical attempt to ignore the fact that literally no one understands her better than Logan, aka Wolverine: “There is an anger in me. A rage. I gave up any hope that someone could possibly understand it.” She has clones like Gabby and Wolverine, but only Psylocke can understand her rage now? Since when?!
Another piece of Fallen Angels that bugs me is the lack of a plan for all mutants on Krakoa. Like, the planners *know* Kwannon’s deal, and X-23’s. Look at X-23’s last series, she has clear missions and assignments using her skills. But on Krakoa she’s expected to just sit by the same campfire? It makes the planners look dumb and short-sighted!
Now there’s no question that historically X-23 has a lot of rage and trauma to overcome. Again, she is a young girl born and bred in violence, for no other purpose than killing at the behest of her cruel masters. What is so frustrating about this particular take though is that it immediately follows years of work to give Laura something else.
I’m referencing a particularly goofy example, but in All-New Wolverine written by Tom Taylor, Laura proves she’s more than X-23, more than the weapon, and develops a life with her sister Gabby, and yes Jonathan the Wolverine. She is angry, still, and it’s not like you just get over being made to murder, but Laura at least develops into a person with real empathy and connection to others.
There’s definitely blame to throw Marvel’s way as well, for forcing the regression to begin with. Following All-New Wolverine and X-Men Red (both Tom Taylor written productions), Laura moving back to an X-23 series is inherently regressive, taking the clone name.
So, no, I don’t put this all at Hill’s feet because Marvel as a whole clearly saw the return of OG Wolverine as a mandate to restore Laura to her late 2000’s/early 2010’s days on X-Force.
As a real fan of what Laura Kinney was becoming, though, it feels a lot like one of the worst parts of superhero comics, a blatant and unconvincing character regression in order to maintain a perceived status quo. It’s every time Spider-Man’s relationships fall apart, or every time Daredevil’s identity goes back under wraps, or every time Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man return to lead the Avengers. Progress is often on a clock lest boundaries get pushed too far.
It’s really not that different than ignoring the decades of character work that have made Wolverine the character fans know and love today. In 2019, Logan’s been an X-Man, a husband, a father, a teacher, an Avenger, and a man in grieving more times than we can count. If you strip that away and return to his late 70’s ferocity and rage, it’s just not the same character. The work that’s been done is an asset, not an albatross, and should be treated as such.
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