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Bellarius takes a look at one of the worst X-Men limited series of the decade, Deadly Genesis by Ed Brubaker.
“I can only imagine the pitch was “The total character assassination of Charles Xavier.”” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
If you’ve been reading these reviews before you’ll know that my views on the modern Marvel universe are dim to say the least. With its pointlessly nihilistic attitude to events, determination to ignore all previous logic and continuity, and any good series often being crushed beneath the utter stupidity of their next big event; it’s enough to make the bottom-of-the-barrel worst of the New 52 look stellar by comparison. While there are ultimately many factors which contributed to this state, there are two which continue to enforce it to this day: Letting Brian Bendis treat the universe as his personal playground, ignoring anything which isn’t in his comics, and the themes of the Ultimate universe bleeding over into the mainstream universe. X-Men Deadly Genesis is arguably the most infamous example of the latter, and easily one of the most damaging.
First let this be clear: This isn’t a jab at the Marvel Ultimate imprint. It has interesting stories, and a reason to keep being printed even after the disaster of Ultimatum. However, that place isn’t Marvel 616 and the Ultimate universe was specifically created to try things which wouldn’t be acceptable to try there. Despite this fact, authors now keep inserting themes and even characterisations from the Ultimates into their original counterparts.
Following directly on from the trainwreck which was House of M, the X-Men are still reeling from most of their species being wiped from existence. As the energy of mutantkind’s powers dissapates into orbit, something is awoken and returns to earth. Something old, something very powerful, and something very angry. Even as the team begins to try and deal with this, the oldest among their number begin to realise something is amiss. An old secret lies within their past, a dark one which lies back to the very origin of many members and the heart of their founder…
A warning to all who read this, the review will contain spoilers. While this is something which would usually be avoided, the story hinges so heavy on a secret, and shoots itself in the foot so badly with said secret, that it cannot not be talked about. For those who don’t want spoilers: The comic is terrible and wrecks all prior characterisation of Charles Xavier. Avoid reading at all costs, use only as recycling material should you encounter it.
That done let’s get onto the meat of the story.
The entirety of Deadly Genesis is one massive retcon, with prior events screwed with in order to fit the author’s new direction. At the same time it’s also supposed to solve the long standing dangling thread which was the identity of the third Summers brother. He turns out to be someone we’ve never seen or even heard of before, but is in fact suddenly a critical part of their whole history. In fairness this character, named Vulcan, is given an interesting build-up. In the story’s single true saving grace there is a genuinely interesting sense of mystery behind the character’s identity and just what happened to him, as be begins to emerge we see signs of something bigger than just a new threat and the story does try to make use of this. Unfortunately while this starts off well, the pay-off ultimately means very little.
Despite his past connections, Vulcan reads like a generic doomsday bringing bad guy wheeled out of a factory than thought from the ground up. As a result many scenes and much of the plot surrounding him feels pointless, like a theme we’ve run through multiple times before and with nothing truly innovative on the paper. He offers nothing truly interesting on a personal level and any interesting details which do arise are the result of concepts surrounding him than the actual character. In this respect, Vulcan might as well be a badly done Onslaught. Yes, by comparison Onslaught is a well rounded villain. At least in that figure’s case we had Xavier’s personality and history to work off of, showing just what it would be like if he ever went completely off of the deep end. A point which is unfortunately rendered moot due to this tale’s big reveal:
Xavier is retconned into be a monster and a manipulator. A person willing to brainwash people to do his bidding, wipe the memories of those who he believes cannot handle their thoughts and potentially even subtly influence how people see him via telepathy. When the original team of Iceman, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel and Beast were trapped on the living island of Krakoa, the team of Colossus, Nightcrawler and co. were not the first he went to. No, Xavier instead goes to the group of mutants his former lover is helping with her teachings, brainwashes them with crash courses in combat and gets them seemingly all slaughtered trying to save his personal team.
As complete character assassination goes this is up there with Gwen Stacy sleeping with Norman Osborn and siring him two children, One More Day, and Iron Man in Civil War. Xavier was never portrayed to be a perfect man, even a harsh teacher at times, but always a caring figure. One who didn’t wish to unnecessarily risk the lives of his students but was often forced to for the sake of their species and better control of their powers. Many stories enforced this point clearly with a major subplot in the New Mutants comic focusing upon his desire to make sure the characters were prepared for combat long before they ever genuinely faced it and his reluctance in using them in battle. While having great mental powers, he was constantly careful to avoid unwilling mental intrusions or any kind of mind rapes which would violate those he was mentally contacting.
Thanks to Deadly Genesis, this long standing charcterisation, his whole history and attitude in countless classic comics and famous storylines, is reduced to a facade. A performance put on by someone, faking their true personality and intentions to hide their real persona. Thanks to Deadly Genesis, you can’t look at things like God Loves, Man Kills, the soon to be adapted Days of Future Past, E Is For Extinction or any previous installment you might have enjoyed in the same way as before. If you can still enjoy them.
So why is Xavier written from a figure who had respect for the damage his own powers could do and the rights of those around him to someone who would happily erase a man’s entire history, alter their perceptions and very will on a casual whim? Two reasons: Firstly because the Ultimate universe did it. Because it pushed the tone of the character there, and was so well received, someone felt it needed to be replicated here. Because the idealistic figure does not fit with the “grim and gritty” approach Marvel is now thoroughly obsessed with and they needed something to keep pushing Cyclops down the road towards supervillain. Secondly, because they needed a earth-shattering revelation to try and force Vulcan into being a major part of the mythos in as short a time as possible. Apparently the best way to do that was with cheap shock factor.
The cheap shock factor doesn’t end with Xavier however, as long time character regulated to the background Banshee is violently killed by Vulcan. Why? To prove “he for realz yo” and a serious threat the team needs to combat. It’s a cheap marketing ploy and one which never fails to feel like an insultingly lazy attempt to get readers invested.
Even completely ignoring the total disrespect for long standing major characters and an uninterested villain, the plot of Deadly Genesis has many gaping holes it fails to fill and the retroactive continuity is sloppily handled at best. Chief among these is the mission to the island of Krakoa. As well as retconning it from being a sentient creature to a collection of impulses and basic animal instincts. This not only robs it of any threat or reason for the X-Men to investigate it initially, but the point is specifically made that Xavier made it a vastly bigger threat than it actually was for no reason. This plot hole only gapes wider with the handwaved effort to explain why the Vulcan’s team took casualties against it is that “it was angry at them” for taking Cyclops’ first team. Yet somehow it wasn’t angry at the third X-Men team when they showed up trying to do the same damn thing!
Believe it or not this is the short list for that specific plot hole. Trying to cover everything would require an article longer than this review.
The final big nail in the coffin with Deadly Genesis is its length compared to its actual content. As with many comics, it follows an ultra-decompressed format which feels as if it’s less of a style and more of an effort to pad out the plot. You could easily fit the same tale into half the issues it took to tell this tale in the formats we saw only five or six years ago. It’s dragged out and at far too many points scenes feel like they’re dead air, especially after Vulcan properly reveals himself. As nice as Hairsine’s art might be to look at, there’s no disguising just how poorly paced the comic really is.
Between complete disrespect for continuity, terrible characterisation, and generally embracing many of the worst aspects in the current comic industry, there is no redeeming Deadly Genesis. For X-Men fans it’s a betrayal of a major figurehead and storyline. For newcomers, it’s dull and plodding with far too many problems with basic logic in many scenes. Pretend it never happened, all you’ll do is save yourself a lot of time, money and pain.