Saturday, September 12, 2009

drive-by readings TPB: Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire

Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire (Marvel)
Ed Brubaker
Billy Tan
Clayton Henry
Danny Miki
Allen Martinez
Mark Morales
Frank D'Armata
Wil Quintana
Joe Caramagna
Chris Eliopoulos
John Watson (other covers)
picking up from where he left off in Deadly Genesis, Ed Brubaker lays in the foundations for the ascension of the third Summers brother Vulcan as a powerhouse villain to be reckoned with, culminating in last summer's War of Kings.

with ol' Charlie Xavier messing up by not telling everything to Scott and Alex, he tries to make up for it by putting an ad hoc team together and try to stop Gabriel/Vulcan from annihilating the Shi'ar Empire - surprisingly, Scott doesn't put up much resistance, considering that team includes Alex and his alternate timeline daughter, Rachel. Xavier's lineup of choice also has Warpath (link to "second" X-team), Nightcrawler (perfect swashbuckler), Darwin (link to the real "second" X-team), and Lorna Dane/Polaris, whom they rescued just for this mission. Xavier's a real sneaky bastard, ain't he?

Vulcan prepares for any pursuit from Earth, so as soon as he gets the chance (by hijacking a Shi'ar military ship) he disables all Shi'ar stargates needed to jump back to the Shi'ar homeworld Chandilar. Xavier, himself commandeering an old Shi'ar ship (see, i told you he's sneaky), is stunned when he finds out (actually, he's also pleased, considering he trained Vulcan). now, where's Richard Dean Anderson/McGyver to cobble up a stargate when you need him? no McGyver, but a small Shi'ar space station (think 7/11) provides the stranded mutants supplies - and a challenge, as it turns out its manned by Skrulls (altogether now: "Secret Invasion!"). saving the two remaining Shi'ar in it, they proceed through Shi'ar space. unknown to Xavier, the two Shi'ar recognize his bald plate anywhere (he's like the Bin Laden of Shi'ar worlds) and wait for the chance to deliver his criminal mind to the bosses.

Vulcan, meanwhile, has grabbed the attention of the Shi'ar high command, with his stargate-destroying habits, and has come face to face with the Imperial Guard. he gives them a run for their money, but goes down for the count. meanwhile, the Shi'ar dispatch a new character, Korvus, who wields the Blade of the Phoenix (don't ask - just play SoulCalibur IV) and can track down the host of the Phoenix Force (currently Rachel). as you all know, the Shi'ar hate the Phoenix Force with a passion equal to their love of feathered helmets. Korvus slips into Xavier's ship, takes everybody down, except Rachel who bonds with the sliver of the Phoenix Force in his blade (don't take that figuratively, dirty minds! - maybe later). too late, the two sneaky Shi'ar take Xavier hostage and get away using Korvus' own ship ... with the inimitable Darwin in tow. Darwin, for those who don't keep up with Marvel's merry mutants, has the power of surviving - he can adapt himself to anything and you can't use the same tactic on him the second time. so the only way to defeat him is to kill him the first time around. wow, another near-omnipotent individual in the Marvel U. i'm at a loss how they haven't destroyed themselves by now.

Korvus, a contrived character whose sole reason for existence is to have a male romantic Romeo for Rachel - kidding! - helps them use their powers to use to bypass those pesky stargates, and find the - yes, of course, they'll be in this one - Starjammers, who are preparing for war. apparently, a coup de'tat has occurred in that time, as Chancellor Araki makes his move, takes Lilandra captive, and unleashes the biggest reversal of all Shi'ar-related X-Men stories - the resurrection of once-Emperor D'Ken! why?? because they KEN!!!

but wait, wasn't he Vulcan's target in the first place? hell, yeah - if you were forcibly ripped from his mom's womb and force-grown to become an adolescent slave, you'd certainly have issues. captured by the Imperial Guard, he's set up to meet Lilandra's sister Deathbird, imprisoned and hidden for years, as part of Araki's scheme to bring all the Shi'ar GOP party together again. Vulcan's hatred for D'Ken is tempered by the still-smolderingly sexy Deathbird, who understandably, has been without uhm, a male companion for a long time (hello, Bishop, how goes the baby-hunting?). Vulcan agrees to team up with the right-wing crowd up until his wedding to Deathbird, with the casual tossing of a captured Xavier into the M'Kraan Crystal as a digestif ...

... that's when all hell breaks loose as Lilandra's forces (including a former general - think Maximus in Gladiator, only much older) and the Starjammers crash the party. in the segue between the last two issues, two major characters bite the dust - and by only one hand (you can tell whose)! Lilandra would have made it the third, but as it turns out, this was a temporary reprieve. she sends a recovered Xavier (thanks to the crystal), Darwin, Warpath, Nightcrawler and a wrong-place-wrong-time Hepzibah back to Earth, especially to the latter's consternation (temporarily, as she would soon get over her grief by knocking boots with Warpath), before continuing the fight against the other half of her divided empire.

as fate would have it, Alex would become the new leader of the Starjammers, along with Lorna and Rachel and Korvus, joining holdovers Ch'od and Raza. current readers would know where this would all lead to.

with such an ambitious-sounding title, a 12-issue run should hold up, and Brubaker masterfully makes it so. this was artist Billy Tan's coming-out party, although he reminds me more of David Finch and a raw Michael Silvestri (there's that Top Cow influence and training) and there are times the characters have disproportionate limbs. i love Clayton Henry's three-issue contributions (the Vulcan parts). in light of the much-hailed Messiah CompleX (comprising a much wider X-cast), this one holds it own, and will be a joy to re-read for years to come (completists should have Deadly Genesis and Emperor Vulcan, and possibly War of Kings).

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