Welcome, dear readers, to X-Men: Bland Design, the weekly multi-part recap column that strives to answer the question: "What if Ed Piskor had no art skills, a juvenile sense of humor, and less classic material to work with?"
Each week, we aim to recap what happened in all of the X-books that come out that week, praise the things we like about them, and complain about the things we don't. This week, there are seven X-Books in stores, which will make a dent in your wallet. But are these comics worth taking out a second mortgage to read?
Let's look at X-Men Blue #23 and find out…
X-MEN: BLUE #23
CULLEN BUNN (W)
JORGE MOLINA (A/C)
NEW MUTANTS VARIANT COVER BY CLAYTON CRAIN
Cry Havok Part 1
• With the X-MEN lost in space, EMMA FROST, HAVOK, BASTION and MISS SINISTER hatch their devious plans!
• Is there a worse time for their most dangerous enemies to strike?
• And wouldn't it make matters much, much worse if POLARIS once again fell victim to the body-stealing MALICE?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
The crossover with Venom, Poison X, is mercifully over. The original five X-Men are trapped in space. Solicits have advertised this issue will see a new team formed in X-Men Blue. The issue is titled "The Last X-Men Standing." We're a sucker for a good issue title. Oddly, the title page, which kicks off the issue and does a good job of explaining the status quo: the original five X-Men are lost in space, leaving just Jimmy Hudson (son of an alternate-dimension Wolverine) and Bloodstorm (an alternate-dimension version of Storm who is also a vampire), but for whatever reason, fails to include Bloodstorm on the roster.
Cullen Bunn, Jorge Molina, Matt Milla, Jay David Ramos, and Joe Caramagna kick off the new storyline: Cry Havok. It begins with the Wolverine fan club from Madripoor, the Raksha, attempting to break into the X-mansion (yes, the X-mansion is in Madripoor in this book). The teens are caught by Polaris, who is kind enough to use X-pository dialogue to name the group as the Raksha and point out their past alliance with the X-Men. Polaris also introduces herself, and the Raksha with an eye-patch, Norio, says they have urgent business with Magneto. Magneto is currently strategizing with Jimmy Hudson, Bloodstorm, and Briar Raleigh, who comes to us via the recent Magneto series (which was also written by Bunn). We do get a quick summary of their opponent, though. They're plotting against Miss Sinister, who is using something called Mothervine to catalyze secondary mutations on mutants. Magneto thinks the The White Queen and Havok are working with her. Briar thinks Magneto shouldn't be too quick to judge, being as he was a notorious villain, and the original X-Men work with him. Still, with the X-Men offworld, Magneto can't take chances, so he sends Bloodstorm and Jimmy on their way, and tells them to kill if necessary.
Polaris brings the Raksha into the strategy room. Norio tells Magneto they've recently had a run-in with some bad guys, and he shows Magneto a Hellfire Club mask. Magneto says the White Queen must be looking for them. Briar says it's just a distraction though. They agree to stay the course on whatever their plan is. Briar leaves. Magneto says goodbye to the Raksha and also leaves. Polaris remains behind to help out with Madripoor business.
Next, we switch to Columbia, where some Sentinel Primes are being released from their factory with a mission to investigate secondary mutations and kill the mutants. But they're interrupted by Bastion, who destroys them. He's accompanied by Havok. Is Havok a bad guy? Seems like it. When he appears to show sympathy in using X-pository dialogue to explain that the Sentinel Primes were once living humans, converted into mutant killing machines, Bastion asks him if he's going soft. Havok replies, saying he meant to call them "flatscans." Through more X-pository dialogue, we learn that things have changed for Bastion. Instead of wanting to eradicate mutants, he believes the mutant gene must survive. Havok and Bastion destroy them some sentinels.
Back in Madripoor, Polaris and Gazing Nightshade, the Raksha with the X-shaped bandages over her eyes, expose in some expository dialog about Havok and themselves that is a textbook example of the sort of thing the X-Books should be doing more often. Behold: a perfectly X-ecuted X-pository page:
This page names Gazing Nightshade, a recently created character. It explains her powers, it recaps backstory for both Polaris and Havok, it explains the current status quo, it highlights some character traits about Polaris, Gazing Nightshade, and Magneto, and it even features a caption linking back to the story you should read for more info. This is what a serious effort to make a long-running comic penetrable for a new reader looks like.
Back to the story, we switch scenes to the Hellfire Club in London, where Magneto is infiltrating the building. He confronts Sebastian Shaw. Shaw wants to have a drink and some X-pository dialogue with Magneto before Magneto kills him. They talk about how they both previously teamed up with the White Queen. Magneto says Emma turned against her own kind. Shaw says Magneto is a hypocrite. It's time to fight.
Shaw's powers usually work by Shaw getting hit. He absorbs the kinetic energy and converts it into power. But now, Shaw can absorb kinetic energy from the air itself. He reveals this is thanks to Mothervine, which gave him a secondary mutation. He says it will save mutantkind.
As the fight begins, we cut to the Mojave Desert, where Kid Wolverine and Bloodstorm are sneaking around. Jimmy senses something familiar, something from one of his lost memories (all Wolverines have lost memories), but he can't quite remember. Then he picks up a different scent: the Marauders from his Universe (the Ultimate Universe). Toad has located a shrouded figure for Mach 2 and the other Marauders to have a meeting with. Jimmy and Bloodstorm don't recognize him, but it's Xorn, and he's not happy to see the Marauders.
We cut away again, to an unnamed secret lair where Miss Sinister, Bastion, Havok, and the White Queen are meeting. They're going to release Mothervine, which will quadruple the global mutant population overnight. The White Queen is worried that there are still too many loose ends, like Magneto, but Havok thinks Magneto will come around and join them. Bastion still thinks 4X mutants isn't enough mutants, but Sinister assures him that mutants will be the dominant species on Earth within a year. X-pository dialogue reveals that Bastion wants mutants to grow so he can kill them in the future, and Sinister wants to control them. Emma Frost telepathically communicates with Alex, asking if they're doing the right thing. They're working together, maybe for reasons slightly less evil than the other two. They assume they'll be betrayed, but they aim to betray the others first. They won't let anything stop them.
Back at the Madripoor X-Mansion, Polaris, Gazing Nightshade, and Magneto's robot butler, Ferris are hanging out. Ferris was snooping through Teen Jean Grey's stuff while she's off in space, and he found a strange amulet, which Polaris isn't happy to see. That's because it's Malice, who has a history of possessing Polaris. And that's exactly what happens again here. TO BE CONTINUED!
The Venom crossover seemed like it dragged on forever, and we had to suffer through reading it despite out hatred of Venom. However, this issue more than makes up for all of that. Lots of X-intrigue is in motion, everything was adequately explained within the issue, and it felt like a lot moved forward in this one issue. Maybe X-Men Red has lit a fire under X-Men Blue's X-behind? Whatever it is, keep it up!