Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year! (Still Alive, but barely!)


On the whole, this has not been a pleasant year. We suffered through probably the worst election possible, with our country divided more than ever. We are now narrowly averting the ramifications of the fiscal cliff - but with the next battle concerning the debt limit coming in February. The Doc Fix, the Farm Bill, unemployment extensions; every single easy piece of legislation has been delayed to the breaking point. While both sides are part of the problem, the obstruction and hostage-taking on the GOP side has been sickening. Mark my words - the GOP are going to damage this country with another Debt Ceiling debate (we already lost our AAA credit rating. We might loose the second A this time.)

So, wearily and with the faintest of optimism - here's to a New Year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best of Comics 2012

Warning: Spoilers

2012 has been a really good year for comics. I can't remember a time so many good titles where being put out, from Marvel's Marvel NOW, to DC's continuing New 52, there are a lot of good books out there. (You do have to look for them, though). Here's what I thought was best in comics for 2012.

Best Event/Mini-Series: Avengers vs X-Men


This big summer event promised defining changes for both the Avengers and the X-Men, and it delivered. The culmination and resolution to the Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers was long in the making - and tied together well, as both teams where split on how to handle the returning Phoenix Force.


There where several writers and artists working on different issues during the 12-issue 6-month schedule - but a coherent voice and message continued to ring throughout. Besides the fighting between characters, there where some wonderful defining moments for characters. Wolverine steadfastly stood against Cyclops, was even betrayed by Captain America, and still managed to work towards doing the right thing, amid a constantly shifting battle field.


Spider-Man had a great moment in issue #9, where he faced down a Phoenix-Empowered Colossus - and was beaten near to death, as he tried to protect everyone; he even used his smarts, in playing Colossus off of his little sister - leading them to fight each other instead of finishing him off.


Cyclops, though, was the biggest recipient of change during this series. The already militant-leaning mutant leader was desperate to use the Phoenix force to save the mutant race - and things simply went to heck, when he accidently became bearer to the Phoenix Force. A decent into madness inevitably followed, with the death of a major character at Cyclops' hands.

A wonderful mini-series, it hit all the fanboy wish lists, while also delivering a compelling story.

Best Creative Team: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang


I only started reading the new Wonder Woman recently - but already I can see the magic springing to life between Brain Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Issue #0 was an excellent example of how well these two mesh - as Azzarellos hardcore and uncompromising story, mixes elegantly with Cliff Chiangs classic/noble looking art style. The New Gods are now stepping up to the plate next, with Wonder Woman due to go toe-to-toe with Orion. The re-interpretation of the New Gods simply couldn't be in better hands.

Best Story Arch: Doctor Octopus is Spider-Man

Having read comics for quite a long time, there is an inevitable jaded-outlook to things you read. When a comic promises that this character is dead, and will never come back -- you're almost guaranteed to see a resurrection in no time. So to actually surprise me - shock me, even - is quite a feat! Dan Slott did it, though!


The best reveal in Comics in a long, LONG time, came as a dying Doctor Octopus, from his death bed, began saying "Peter Parker". My first thought? Oh, OK - Doc Ock knows Spidey's identity. Been there; done that. When Spider-Man is brought in, to find out what Doctor Octopus knows - its an utter bombshell when the words "P-peter P-parker..." turn into "I'm Peter Parker..." Doctor Octopus has done the unthinkable - he's managed to switch his mind with that of Spider-Man! This is all leading into issue #700 - upon which the series will end, and a new Doctor Octopus/Spider-Man era will dawn, with "Superior Spider-Man". Yes, yes - things will get reversed, in time. Still - this was such a bomb shell, and so well planned and lead-up to. Dan Slott has remarked that after this issue came out, he'd have to hide from angry Spider-Man fans. That may well be true; but they aren't angry - they are excited, as the series and character are being taken in such an amazingly unexpected direction. Good job, Mr. Slott!

Best New Series: All New X-Men

A new era of X-Men comics have begun, under the new tenure of Brian Michael Bendis - who is going to write Uncanny X-Men, and the new series "All New X-Men". The X-Men, simply put, are back! After years of isolationist policies, the X-Men are finally back - fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them.


Cyclops' tenure as the Phoenix has indeed given the world reason to fear mutants. Now that the race is revived, and new mutants are popping up - its in a world that hates them more than ever. Cyclops, though, isn't about the learn the error of his ways. Breaking out of prison, with Magneto and Magick at his side, Cyclops has started a revolution - and is in a race against Wolverine's School, to reach new mutants first. Its sort of like the old days, when Xavier and Magneto where waging a war of capturing the hearts and minds of new mutants. Cyclops, sadly, is firmly on the side once held by the Brotherhood.


Beast, who in the first opening pages is revealed to be undergoing a new mutation (which will probably kill him), decides on a radical course of action to try and stop Cyclops from committing mutant genocide. Going back in time, Beast brings back the original 5 X-Men - bringing them face to face with a future they will consider a horror. The idea is for younger Cyclops to confront, and show the elder Cyclops, how far he's actually fallen.

I don't know if its simply a case of Bendis tapping into the rage against the machine, the 99% mentality, or the undercurrent of new racism in America -- but Bendis perfectly captures whatever it is that makes the X-Men the stellar team, and morality tale, that it has always striven to be. The spirit of the X-Men, as an analogy for race relations, hasn't been this palpable in years! This is the start of the grand new era for the X-Men, and here everyone has a perfect jumping on point - as the Younger X-Men confront their older selves.

Best Ongoing: Batman

Here's a concise way of telling you how good Batman has been the past year: I had planned to drop the book after 6 or so issues. Once the Court of Owls storyline ramped up, suddenly I'm swearing to drop it once that story was over with. Now, 14 issues later, I'm still firmly on the book - as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo deliver one compelling issue after another. The Court of Owls, which concluded with "Night of the Owls" pitted Batman against his greatest (and newest) foes ever - as an illuminati-style organization, dating back centuries in Gotham's past, have revealed themselves as the true masters of Gotham -- and some rich billionaire in a Bat costume isn't going to stand in their way.


Nearly being driven insane, trapped in the the Court of Owl's Labyrinth maze, Batman fights back against this shadowy organization - and manages to escape the Court's clutches.


A full scale attack is launched on Wayne Manor, as Court assassins, called "Talons", are revived en-mass. The entire Batman line of books tied into this, but never once was it required to enjoy this single narrative. Oh, and Batman broke out his awesome new Bat Armor!


There's even a personal revelation given at the end, supposedly revealing Bruce Waynes' lost younger brother. There simply hasn't been this good of a modern Batman story since No Man's Land!

The series continued afterword with a wonderful one-shot story about a young girl, who works the electrical grid beneath Gotham, and her confrontation with Batman.


The next big storyline, though, promised the long awaited return of the Joker -- who, last we saw him in Detective Comics #1, had cut off his own face. Well, he's come back, with his cut-off face strapped to his head - making for one of the scariest version of the Joker, ever! I don't know wether a re-transplant will occur, but for now Joker is on a mission to hurt everyone in Batman's inner circle. The stakes have never seemed higher - as I'm unsure wether certain characters will come out of this story alive or maimed.

I was thinking of dropping the series after the Joker storyline was over. If things go as expected, I won't be dropping this title until Snyder ends his run. Its seriously been THAT good.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Video Games of 2012

There are three games I wanted to highlight for 2012, that for me where the best games of the year.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance


I already went over this title (click here), when giving my thoughts on good games finally being released for the Nintnedo 3DS. Suffice to say, the game still stands as one of the most outstanding games released for the system.


So much of what they did with in this game, simply shouldn't work. The 3D performs elegantly - despite mad-dash action and bright colors -- this should literally be giving you a seizure, instead of a fun video game.


The story is meaningful, and finally pushes forward the Kingdom Hearts narrative into new frontiers. Simply a stellar game, and a Must Have for any Nintendo 3DS owner.

Fortune Street


This game, technically, came out near the end of December, 2011. Its so close to 2012, when I rented and then bought a copy, that I'm including it on this list.


A game about finances, and playing the stock market! What shouldn't be a fun game has actually been a long standing franchise in Japan. With Monopoly-like sensibilities, the game gives you a challenging experience, as you try to outmaneuver opponents and rise to the top with the most amount of cash. Its a very fun and enjoyable experience - and would make a great party game for family and friends. (Especially for family members not up to moving around a lot, like other Mario Party games). To make the experience more palatable, stars from Mario and Dragon Quest games proliferate the board. The characters are fun to interact with, and are given a nice dose of personality when competing against the AI. The games supports on-line play, which worked pretty decently - once a match is found and people start playing. Its not perfect, but it works - and playing against real people can either make things easier, or harder, depending on who you're facing. I really just adore this title, becoming a valued addition to my collection of Wii games. It only came out just at the end of last year - so its still available online and in stores.

Okami HD


Okami is an older game, but the recently released Downloadable-version improved on an already stellar product, achieving new levels of beauty. Once a PS2 title, the cell-shaded Okami stunned players with its unique calligraphy animation style, alongside excellent Legend of Zelda-style gameplay. Now those graphics are made crystal clear - giving a new sense of vibrancy to literally EVERYTHING! Colors pop like never before, and details in characters are now more visible than they use to be. (Below are comparisons, with HD screen on the left, and the PS2 version on the right.)


I wasn't able to use the Playstation Move control scheme - but my worries of going from the Wii version, to the regular controller-setup completely vanished. The brush work and gameplay works exactly (sometimes even better) than it did on the Wii. It originally was a PS2 title - before motion controllers - so I suppose it isn't a surprise that it works; but I didn't know exactly how well it would work in comparison.


There isn't any new content to the game - but there doesn't have to be. The story and land are huge - giving you hours upon hours of gameplay. There are even several points in the game where you think the story is ending -- but it then continues right along, to even more haunting dangers. The funny, exciting, and above all emotional story continues to impress me to this day.

If you've never played Okami, the $20 price for this PS3 exclusive downloadable title is a great value. Even for long-time Okami fans -- the graphics really are that good.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dragon Quest Commercials


Being of the most popular franchises in Japan, it comes as no surprise that some effort is put into the advertising for commercials. I thought I'd highlight a few, and also list some of the odder ones. (Sorry, I didn't see many videos with translations.)

Dragon Quest VI Ad (featuring cos-playing)


Dragon Quest IX Ad - This one is American, featuring Seth Green


Dragon Quest V Making of Advertisement - The Cosplay might look silly, but you can see its not shabbily put together. Click here for the finished advertisement.


Dragon Quest X Ad - Anime


Dragon Quest - Original Game, Advertisement (with other ads listed as well)

Dragon Quest III Ad - Cosplay; not best quality (its old, after all)

Dragon Quest III Gameboy Color Ad

Dragon Quest IV Ad - Cosplay

Dragon Quest VII Ad - Cosplay

Dragon Quest VII Ad

Dragon Quest VIII, Two Ads - Creepy Weird

Dragon Quest IX Humorous Ad

Dragon Quest X Ad

Dragon Quest Monsters Ad

Dragon Quest Monsters Joker Ad - American Ad

Dragon Quest Rocket Slime Ad - Anime, and here's another

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dragon Quest X


I do not like MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games). Given their immense popularity, I've on occasion tried some, to see what everyone was talking about. For me, it's basically the combination of a monthly fee, and also not being able to play the game after the servers have dried up, and the company has moved on. There is the one exception I'm making in my life, though, and thats going to be for Dragon Quest X. If it has a pay subscription (it does in Japan), then its the one title I'm going to go all-in on.

Dragon Quest, besides being a pop-culture hallmark of my favorite foreign country - it has a good deal of resonance for me, as it was one of my first NES games - and the first (and only) time my Dad participated playing a game with me. Not only that, but its a classic-style of gameplay that has stood the test of time - and has always been a fun series to play.

A US Release date for Dragon Quest X hasn't been announced, but a promising hint, was revealed in a press release.
"This might be an hint to a possible western release. Why mentioning that the series is “actively expanding” in the foreign market in a press release related to Dragon Quest X, if you aren’t planning for it to be part of that expansion?"
So far Nintendo and Square-Enix have yet to let us down on a US Release of the main series, and accompanying side-titles. It takes time, though, to properly translate the series to english. An MMORPG is a much larger thing - but I have confidence it will be brought to America. (The Wii U, frankly, needs all the new quality titles it can get)

If released over here, we'd likely get the Wii U version, which is releasing in Japan soon. Its exactly like the regular Wii version, but with HD Graphics. Add in the touch screen, which can handily be used as a keyboard, and I think it will be a great experience for players. Here, below, is a trailer for Dragon Quest X on the Wii U.



I don't know a whole lot about what to expect from the series, but from all that I've heard - it blends traditional roleplaying with MMORPG mechanics. I can, however, give you an idea of what the story is going to be about. Titled Mezameshi Itsutsu no Shuzoku, or "Rise of the Five Tribes" - the story has your character transformed into one of 5 different races.


The different races include Ogres, Wedi, Elves, Dwarves, and the cute and adorable wee-little Pukuripos. They all feature different strengths - Ogres are obviously more physical in battle, Dwarves excel with machines, and Pukuripos excel in magic.


The game features an extensive storyline, being regularly updated - with plans, I've heard, extending for 10 years. Japan loves Dragon Quest, and this game isn't going to become obsolete for a very long time. Given the amount of money put into this series, I'd think it would be a shame, both financially and creatively, to not expand into the worldwide market. Plus, given that this is a Nintendo-Exclusive game - it gives players the first unique chance to join an MMORPG, exclusively through a console (instead of a PC). While Dragon Quest isn't as popular in America, its been making significant in-roads -- and this could be the type of game to rival World of Warcraft, for more casual players, uninterested in the complexities of a PC set-up.

I hope the series get a US release, and that it is announced soon. Fingers crossed!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mega Man Music


Even when I was very young, I thought Mega Man (and Capcom games in general) had the best music. I loved it when a really inspiring tune made its way onto the NES, even with its limited sound capabilities. The connection of Mega Man and Music isn't imagined, though -- you need only look to his actual name, in Japan, "Rockman". His sister is named Roll; thus "Rock and Roll". The series has always boasted an impressive soundtrack, some tunes that I'll always remember fondly.

I'm apparently not alone in my appreciation for Mega Man music. Remixing NES tunes have produced some popular memes (I think they where memes, right?) - and for the 25th Anniversary of the series, music group Sound Holic is releasing a CD of wonderfully remixed tunes. "Rockman Holic" can be found here, releasing December 19th.

Some samples of the group's songs are offered to promote the CD. Airman Ga Taosenai, or "Can't Beat Air Man", I think is one of those memes - proliferating on youtube. They even have a funny and cleaver animation to go along with it. (Animated sprites already look like they could be dancing)

One of the best songs of the whole series, Dr. Wily's Level in Mega Man 2, is re-interpreted as a catchy optimistic song "Together as One". This one is in English.

From the Mega Man X series, a more heavy emphasis on real rock-and-roll is shown, along with amazing Anime action!

Those are the preview songs available on youtube. This looks like its going to be a good CD Collection to pickup.

Before I end, though - there is one song I wanted to share. "Okkusenman" is loud and screechy - but its a tune I really like (again using Dr. Wily's Level has a basis). As the animation in the video likewise demonstrates, along with the translated subtitles, the song is about looking back on old times as a young kid, versus life as an adult. This is from Japan, so the focus on childhood hero Ultraman (with many references to him) are prevalent in the video. It just seemed very touching - especially for me, as I likewise get older and look back at things from my childhood.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trying Wonder Woman Again


Wonder Woman is a hard character to enjoy. Swinging back and forth between feminism, mythology, and regular comic book action - her character has been all over the map. Yet she still remains an iconic character in American culture, still on par with the likes of Superman and Batman. Her stories have progressed and become much better and more sophisticated with age - largely due to the refocus on the mythological aspects of the character. George Perez, when updating the Wonder Woman in the late 80s, reinvigorated the character by making Wonder Woman not just a super hero, but a modern-day Greek Myth. Fast forward 20 years later, and a brand new reboot of Wonder Woman is taking a similar approach, to much fan fare... but also controversy.


I largely ignored the title, even though the likes of 100 Bullet's Brian Azzarello was writing the title. I was somewhat burned by J Michael Straczynski's failed reinterpretation of Wonder Woman, and given the violent stories Azzarello can write, I wasn't eager to jump into an overly violent title either. Also, this is beyond silly - but I was disappointed with the decision not to give Wonder Woman pants (seriously - this was a HUGE debate!) DC eventually favored the more classic, tights costume - which actually turned out to be the right move; the character is portrayed as being very naive to the modern world - and the super-hero look helps reinforce that picture. Plus, when dealing with what she knows - her world of Greek Mythology - the original look works excellently as an adventuring style.


I actually tried one issue of the new Wonder Woman, upon hearing about the revelation about the Amazons. Reinterpreted more closely to the war-like culture from the Greek Myths, it was revealed that Male Amazon children where given up in favor of female children. The children where traded into slavery, to Hephaestus, in exchange for weapons. Wonder Woman, having been sheltered from the truth all her life, was ignorant of this revelation. This sent shockwaves throughout the comic book community, as it seemingly damaged the mythology of Wonder Woman (and so soon after being rebooted!). I was thrown by it as well - until I realized the commentary that was being portrayed - about the Chinese's abortion of female children, in favor of the male children. I've come to consider a change to Wonder Woman's mythology to be a fair trade, as it highlights a horrible real-life practice; one of the reasons it seemed more shocking in the comic, I feel, was because the genders where swapped.

Anyway - in comparison to that revelation, the announcement concerning Wonder Woman's parentage seemed insignificant - but has opened up a wealth of ideas. WW's original origin had her being made of clay, and given life to give Queen Hippolyta a child. That was the lie told to Wonder Woman all her life -- now it was revealed that Wonder Woman is the illegitimate daughter of Zeus. (Zeus is quite the adulterer - as the actual Greek Myths will attest)


Wonder Woman's mission, during the first 12 issues of the new series, has revolved around the impending birth of a new child of Zeus, who Wonder Woman has to protect. Apparently there's a prophecy concerning the child - that a child of Zeus would one day kill a god to take the throne of Olympus. The main villain of the series, Apollo, has his eyes set on Zeus' throne. In issue #12, Apollo seizes the throne - remaking Mount Olympus in his image.


After Apollo has taken the throne - Wonder Woman is faced with a fight against Artemis. In a stellar scene, Wonder Woman takes off her cuffs - which smash into the ground like 100-pound weights. Being arrogant, Artemis mocks Wonder Woman for giving up her best defense when facing a god. Wonder Woman corrects her - the cuffs aren't for her protection, their for Artemis' protection; a surge of glowing power unleashes in Wonder Woman's entire being - the true power of her linage to Zeus on display. Wonder Woman handily beat Artemis, and was able to achieve a truce with Apollo, for him to no longer seek out and kill the child.


All the Greek gods that populate the Wonder Woman comic are all reinterpreted in modern ways. They all have agendas, and can be confusing where everyone stands; which is befitting the family of the Greek Pantheon. Eris, who goes by the name Strife, for example, is depicted somewhat like a car-wreck celebrity debutant - which is fitting for the goddess of Chaos.


Hermes, messenger of the gods, is a key ally to Wonder Woman, helping to protect the mortal mother, Zola, and her unborn child. In a shocking twist - another aspect of Hermes is revealed, as he escapes with the child right after its born. Hera mockingly says asks what would you expect, from the god of thieves? (Hermes represents a lot of things). So now finding the child will be first on Wonder Woman's list.


It should be noted, from all that I've seen, Cliff Chiang is a fantastic artist - and has perfectly been capturing the look and style of modern-day Greek gods. The action and beauty of his pencils belies the complexity of the story being told. I hope he continues to work on the title - as he helps elevate it from mere comics, to high art.


Issue #0, taking a look into Wonder Woman's past, reveals a cool new reinterpretation of the god of War, Ares. Once always portrayed as one of Wonder Woman's most fearsome enemies - in this version Ares is the estranged mentor of Diana.

Issue #13 has already come out - and will soon lead to the next big revelation of this new Wonder Woman series: Jack Kirby's The New Gods are being introduced - quite appropriately setting them right alongside the Greek Pantheon. They might not be legitimate mythological figures from history - but given their importance in the DCU (Darkseid already having appeared in the pages of Justice League) - it seemed quite right to see the New Gods taken as seriously as the Greek Pantheon has been.


Wonder Woman is first going to be facing Orion - the savage warrior of New Genesis, and bastard son of Darkseid. I can't wait to read it! In the meantime I'm getting the first Hardcover released by DC, featuring the first 6 issues of the new Wonder Woman series. The subtitle of the HC is "Blood" - with January releasing volume 2 being titled "Guts".


If not clear beforehand, this title is mature - dealing with violence, controversial subjects, and - really - all the mess that is the Greek's Mythology -- all with Wonder Woman acting as the arbiter of peace between all warring sides. (It should be noted, though, to achieve said peace - Wonder Woman will use violence. Serious violence.) The series looks like its raw, uncompromising, and mythic. It just looks like a fabulous series - which I wish I had jumped onboard for right away. Luckily, with the releasing Hardcovers and TPBs, new fans can quickly catch up.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Okami HD



Okami HD is going to be released at the end of this month, Oct 30th, on the Playstation Network. It's a downloadable HD version of the game, which should give new and old fans a chance to play this incredible game.

Okami has been one of Capcom's most enduring modern-day classics - creating a fan following, despite smaller sales in the shadow of Nintendo's Twilight Princess (two games where you play a wolf, and coming out near the end of the PS2's run, didn't help matters.) Despite that, the game received a welcome re-release on the Wii, taking advantage of motion controls, which perfectly complimented the celestial brush gameplay. Okami even recieved a sequel, of sorts, on the Nintendo DS with Okamiden, which featured Amaterasu's son Chibiterasu. While the world was condenced a bit, to fit on the DS - it still managed to give a riviting storyline, with a lot of indicators for a proper Okami sequel.

Capcom has supported Okami, but they really need good sales indicators to make a project happen. Okamiden sold well, and I think the Okami HD release will be used as a testing ground, to see if they really want to push through with a sequel. (Capcom, frankly, would just be plain stupid to pass a sequel up - especially with the motion controls available on systems today - and the Wii U, which seems tailor made for drawning-based gameplay.) So I'd urge anyone who's interested, or longtime fans who want to support the franchise - consider buying and downloading Okami HD, for the PS3.

Okami HD also supports Playstation Move - so brush strokes can be used similar to the Wii. I don't have Playstation Move, but if there ever was a game I'd want to get it for, this is that game.



This video here has more stellar music, and showcases Amaterasu's partner and guide, Issun. You see a bit of the emotional high-lights from the game's ending.

This really is a wonderful series, and well worth $20.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Original X-Men, Then and NOW


Brian Michael Bendis' new series "All-New X-Men" is shaping up to be one of the more exciting titles in Marvel's Not-a-Reboot Relaunch "Marvel NOW" event. Its exciting because its proposing an exciting new idea - of taking the original students of Xavier's - transporting them to the future - and having them meet their future selves - some of who didn't turn out like they would have expected. Bendis describes it as somewhat being like Pleasentville; obviously the picturesque 50s-style characters will be shocked to see the present day, and what has becomes of their individual futures (if they even have a future).


(Warning: Large Image)

There was a recent TPB I picked up, that intrigued me - called "X-Men: First to Last". (You can find it here on Amazon.) Written by Christopher Yost, with art by Paco Medina and Dalabor Talajic - this title proposed a similar back-to-the-past style story, featuring the original X-Men.


The story revolved around a new foe - self-described protectors of evolution, called the "Evolutionaries". They where augmented and hyper advanced apes - charged with the mission of protecting newly emerging species. How is a newly born race suppose to survive, given all the predators around it? They essentially pick winners and losers, in the fight for evolution. Where humanity was once a protected race, suddenly now mutants are. The Evolutionaries appeared before Xavier and Cyclops, seeking out a representative for the mutant race. Xavier of course shunned this position, given it's logical conclusion was the genocide of homo-sapiens.


Magneto, and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, where more than happy to claim leadership of the species. In the end the X-Men where able to convince the Evolutionaries to withhold their judgement. They did just that - but flash-forward to the modern day, after the House of M and a decimation of the mutant population, and suddenly Cyclops finds himself being held responsible for lying to the Evolutionaries - who where expecting mutants to be the dominant race by this point (or at least well on their way); instead they find less than 200 mutants still in existence. The X-Men of course fight them off - but the shifting between former and modern day made for a deeply compelling storyline. This series almost seems like a primer for what Bendis is doing - so it's well worth reading.

I thought I'd take a look back and where the original 5 X-Men started, where they have been, and where they are now.

X-Men


You have to first look at the title itself, and it's beginnings. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the X-Men where presented as a very different super-hero team. Instead of cobbling together different heros, sometimes from other titles, this series instead focused on mutants - characters who, simply by a twist of fate, where born with their powers. Instead of a traditional super-team, this was a school of students, coming to Xavier's to learn how to control their powers - and to protect a world that hates and fears them.


Although it wasn't heavy-handed, the subject of bigotry, hatred, and race relations where discussed - but through the lens of a Super Hero team. Jack Kirby being Jewish, having fought in WWII - and knowing what horrible things where brewing in Germany - this was an extremely relevant subject matter. The series premiered in the 60s - so, imagine, before Kennedy was shot, there was still a 1950-style vibe to the country. While American citizens where general good upstanding people - any minority group during that time would tell you there was a level of ignorance, fear, and hatred among people. The X-Men merely took such topics, and placed the fight between homo-sapiens, and homo-superior - Magneto being akin to Malcolm X, and Xavier being akin to Martian Luther King. Those comparisons, though, generally where established later. They generally where Super Heroes and Super Villains.


The X-Men actually didn't fare that well in the market place - falling into the background of Marvel Comics for a very long time. It wasn't until the struggling title was taken over by Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont, that the series exploded into one of the most powerful and vibrant franchises in comics, standing tall for well cover 2 decades as the most popular comic book series out there.

The subject matter of the series became more mature, more adult - but always action packed. It really was a wonderful way to teach children about prejudice, through an engaging and wonderful action/drama series.

The X-Men where so popular, with so many mutants running around, that Marvel decided to do something unexpected and very different: they made the mutant race an endangered species. Before that, it was being postulated that there where so many mutants, that within 4 generations humans simply would stop being born. Reduced to 198 mutants left on the planet, Cyclops and the X-Men began to become more isolationist and militant. At the end of the recent Avengers vs X-Men series, the effects of the House of M where reversed - and mutants are once again being born. Though they are now hated more than ever -- something Captain America is tackling head-on, forming the Uncanny Avengers - a mixing of both teams, to help make mutants more accepted by humanity.

Cyclops

How he started


Scott 'Slim' Summers was Xavier's first student - a young man with a mutant power he could scarcely control on his own, as whenever he opened his eyes - a well of kinetic energy was unleashed from his eyes - so powerful they would blast through steal. With a pair of Ruby Quarts glasses, Cyclops is able to contain his eye-beams, and is equipped with a visor allowing him to unleash his abilites at different power settings. He was the clean-cut leader of the group - which made many fans think he was rather dull - but he held the group together and lead them forward. He also formed an immediate attraction to the first female student at Xaviers, that of Jean Grey, the seemingly perfect girl next door.

Where he's been


Cyclops continued to lead the X-Men, but found himself challenged when Xavier's new multi-cultural students where added to the team. Wolverine, especially, challenged Cyclops on everything - and even acted as a rival for Jean Grey's affections. When Jean Grey tragically died, after being driven mad by the power of the Phoenix (a cosmic entity that bonded with her), Cyclops left the group and fled to his home state of Alaska. He found and married another red-headed woman, who bore a striking resemblance to Jean Grey, married and had a child with her. When the real Jean Grey surprisingly returned from the dead, Cyclops abandoned his wife and child - and helped to establish the new group "X-Factor", a government sponsored team, meant to help mutants. X-Factor, in all actuality, was a revival of the 5 original X-Men, together once again. They served on the team together for many years, until eventually re-establishing with the X-Men. As for Cyclops' wife and child? For a time he thought his wife was dead, having perished along with the X-Men (who where letting the world think they where dead, at the time).


Cyclops had reclaimed and was raising his son, along with Jean Grey. Nathaniel Summers, sadly, was infected with a terminal illness - a techno-organic virus, from the villain Apocalypse. To save Nathaniel's life, Scott and Jean where forced to send the baby to the future - where a group called the Askani, who in a future where Apocalypse has taken over the world, they have a cure for said virus. (Their lives where wicked complicated, right? ^_^) That son eventually returned to the present as an adult -- as the soldier Cable.

If you think that was a convoluted summery, things got more complicated. Cyclops' look-a-like wife, turns out, was a clone of Jean Grey, created by Mister Sister - a terrible villain who had an obsessive curiosity with the DNA of Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Sinister, in fact, shadowed Cyclops through his entire life - and his interest in both of their DNA is actually well founded -- as Cable, if not for the techno-organic virus he struggles to still suppress in adulthood, would have the potential to have nearly god-like powers. During a big event called "Inferno", Scott's wife and Jean Grey where merged together - containing memories of both their lives.


So, given the insane level of manipulation aimed at Scott, his leaving his wife and son for Jean Grey doesn't sound half as bad, right? (No, not really. But go with me on it.) Scott and Jean eventually married, and together helped shepherd the X-Men into the future. Jean Grey and Scott, though, gradually became more and more distant. Cyclops ended up having a psychic affair with Emma Frost - which ruined his marriage. It was OK, though - Jean was well on her way to achieving a high state of being, as the Phoenix, and after dying (AGAIN), achieved that higher state, while seemingly giving her blessing for Cyclops to move on with his life.

Where he is NOW


With Emma Frost by his side, Cyclops helped gather and protect the remains of the mutant race, after the mutant population was decimated. Facing near-extinction, Cyclops became willing to do anything to revive his species. The X-Men, under his leadership, began to be more militant. Cyclops, also, became a firm believer in the supposed Mutant Messiah, a young girl named Hope - the first mutant born after the decimation of the mutant population.


It was thought that Hope was destined to be the next host for the Phoenix - but in a battle between the Avengers and the X-Men, Cyclops, Emma, and three others accidently became recipients of the Phoenix's power instead. That power, of course, drove them mad - with Cyclops raining down destruction on the world. Hope fulfilled her supposed destiny, by defeating Cyclops - and obtaining the Phoenix Force for herself. She was, however, able to give it up - but not before restoring the mutant race.


Cyclops, meanwhile, is in jail - behind a ruby quartz jail cell, to pay for his crimes as the Phoenix. Cyclops is more than happy to accept that fate - because, end of the day, he was able to save the species homo-superior.

Jean Grey

How she started


Jean Grey was the fifth student to join the Xavier institute, taking on the code name Marvel Girl. At first her psychic and telekinetic abilities where limited, but over the course of her life she would reach new heights. During these early years she began dating Scott Summers.

Where she's been


Jean Grey notably became host to a cosmic entity called "The Phoenix". The creature, a raging storm of destruction and rebirth, helped save Jean and the X-Men's lives. The purpose of possessing Jean would later  become clear, as the Phoenix was instrumental in stopping the Shi'ar Emperor D'Ken from using the M'Kraan Crystal, which could destroy the galaxy.

The Phoenix force, at first benevolent, eventually became corrupted from being in a mortal form. The range of human emotions Jean allowed the Phoenix to accesses drove it mad - eventually becoming Dark Phoenix. The Phoenix went out of control, even destroying an entire populated planet! Things where made worse when the Hellfire Club, a group of mutants dedicated to their own self interest, tried to harness the power of the Phoenix - by manipulating Jean Grey. The X-Men broke Jean free of that hold, but the ability for Jean to control the Dark Phoenix was too far gone. In response to the planetary destruction, the Shi'ar arrived on Earth - demanding the life of the Phoenix. The X-Men fought to defend Jean, but ultimately Jean Grey killed herself - knowing she could never control the Phoenix, and let it run loose like it had done before.

Where Jean Grey's story should have ended, a new chapter began - as she mysteriously was found alive again, but without the Phoenix. Apparently the Phoenix, when it first possessed Jean, protected Jean's body - a copy of Jean's body was used during the Phoenix's mission, and into it's death as Dark Phoenix. Jean was rejoined by Scott Summers, Iceman, Beast, and Angel - coming together as the group "X-Factor".

As detailed in Cyclop's history, Jean Grey eventually merged with a clone of herself - which was used by Mr. Sinister to manipulate Scott Summers. Sometime after this, Jean Grey accepted a proposal of marriage to Scott Summers.


Jean and Scott continued to lead the X-Men, but their marriage began to drift apart. The power of the Phoenix was re-emerging in her body once again - though this time tempered and under control. Her abilities and powers surpassed Xavier, as Jean was slowly elevating to a higher form of life. She eventually discovered Scott having a psychic affair with Emma Frost, which ruined their marriage. During a crisis, Jean Grey died for a second time - and then reached a higher state of being, where she seemingly gave Scott her blessing to move on.

Where she is NOW


Jean Grey's death and subsequent resurrection is one of the most hotly debated subjects in X-Men lore. Even though she technically died, and was reborn, only once - she became a standard bearer for over-used superhero resurrections.


The Jean Grey of the past will see a future in which she is no longer alive. The repercussions of that, and finding Wolverine's new school named after her, will be quite interesting to see.

Iceman 

How he started


Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, was the youngest in his class at the Xavier institute - which lead to him being somewhat of a prankster. His abilities to control snow, and transform his body into ice, showed rapid improvement - even during the first year, changing from a frosty-the-snowman like appearance, to a more human icicle-type style.

Where he's been


Iceman served with the X-Men for a very long time, and later served with his fellow alumni in X-Factor. All throughout Iceman never really changed much. He was always the more juvenile of the group - a trait he retained into adulthood.


Iceman's powers would continually increase - but it was only on the occasion, when Emma Frost invaded and took over his body, that Iceman was revealed to be an Omega-Class mutant - turning into and commanding ice being only the beginning of his powers.

Where he is NOW


Over the years Bobby has demonstrated higher levels of his powers, but never stepped up to his potential. When Wolverine asked Bobby to help run his new school, he asked for Bobby to finally step up, and bring his A-Game to the table. Where once Bobby has essentially coasted through life, it was here that he lived up to his potential - creating and controlling an entire army of Icemen, to defend the institute from attack. On an impulse, during the attack, Iceman kissed Kitty Pryde; the two have been dating since then.

Essentially, Iceman is perhaps the most well adjusted of the original 5 X-Men. He is now acting more responsible than he has in his whole life, and is maintaining a solid relationship. His younger self meeting his future self, though, will no doubt not be as simple as you'd think.

Beast

How he started


Hank McCoy joined the Xavier institute, where he showed a true aptitude for science and study - earning a doctorate in genetics and biochemistry. The most literate and well spoken of his peers, his code-name of Beast, deftly contrasted with his high intelligence.

Where he's been


After his studies where over at Xaviers, Beast took a job as a genetic researcher for the Brand Corporation, where by using a formula Hank was able to enhance his mutant abilities - but at a horrible cost, growing fangs and grey fur (later is turned blue); becoming more Beast-like than ever before.

Hank McCoy was able to achieve a dream of his, when he was able to join the Avengers. He developed a long lasting friendship with fellow Avenger Simon Williams, alongside they where both compared to 'the odd couple' (Beast, surprisingly, being the messy one). Hank's jocularity and relaxed attitude perhaps was because he was on a team simply as a super-hero, and not an advocate for mutant rights.

Beast later joined "The Defenders", before rejoining the mutant cause, alongside his fellow alumni, in X-Factor. Beast was experimented on a man named Maddicks, who was attempting to discover a cure for his son's mutancy. This made Beast loose his blue hairy appearance. Beast would later be afflicted with his blue-form once again, when struck by the villainess Infectia.

When X-Factor folded back in with the X-Men, Beast was faced with several medical challenges - the biggest being his attempt to find a cure for the mutant-disease "The Legacy Virus". This work consumed him for several years, with a cure often times out of reach, or requiring a significant sacrifice.


Beast's mutation took another turn, when he underwent a secondary mutation - becoming more cat-like in appearance and form. His new form drove his on-again, off-again girl friend Trish Tilby away from him for good -- making him quite resentful of his beastly form. When the X-Men where faced with a possible cure for mutancy, Beast was temped to utilize the cure - though Wolverine (violently) talked him out of it.

Where he is NOW


Beast has been serving with Captain America on the Secret Avengers, while also helping to maintain Wolverine's school. Depending on which artist is drawing him, Beast will either appear more cat-like, or more like his appearance in the 90s. His cat-like form was notable for having only 4 fingers -- one of which apparently grew back. (Different artists simply have different takes.) While Beast's third mutation was debated quite a lot, it ultimately was embraced by fans -- much like designer Frank Quietly said people would.


As far as Beast's personality and disposition - he is much less care-free these days. He was very vocal in his opposition to Scott Summer's militant side of the X-Men - eventually leaving the team. He has found a seeming Yin to his Yang, in Abigail Brand - who has a hardline, take no prisoners personality, in complete opposition to Beast's more liberal and cerebral opinions. He also acts as an advisor to S.W.O.R.D., the world's space-focused intelligence agency -- alongside his girlfriend/boss, Abigail Brand.

Archangel

Where he's been


Warren Worthington the Third comes from a rich family - who sent him to Xavier's when he sprouted wings. He is able to fly,  and through use of the Danger Room, is taught how to maneuver and utilize his flying abilities to their fullest.

Where he's been


After graduating from the X-Men, Worthington later joined Hank McCoy in the Defenders - and later in X-Factor. It was during his tenure with X-Factor that Warren suffered a severe injury to his wings, which was made worse when his wings where amputated. This created an opening for Apocalypse to take advantage of - bestowing Warren wing new Wings, made of techno-organic metal, able to retract fully into his back - and shoot his metal feathers like daggers. This process also turned Warren's skin blue. There was a deep price to all of this - as Warren was brain-washed into becoming Apocalypse's Horseman of Death - and fought against X-Factor.


When Apocalypse was defeated, Warren was free from his control - but the damage done to Warren's personality and soul where irreparable. Where once he went by the code-name Angel, he now went by the name "Archangel", and was tortured by his own anger and rage at what Apocalypse had done to him. Over time he would recover, with his attitude being tempered.

When X-Factor folded back in with the X-Men, Archangel found the seeming true love of his life, Elizabeth Braddock, who he began dating for quite a long while.


Archangel eventually underwent a mysterious change - where his metal wings cracked and shattered - revealing a newly grown set of feathered wings. His skin still remained blue for a long time, until another incident also reversed this. The dark mark left on his soul was seemingly reversing -- but it all was stripped away when he joined with Wolverine in X-Force - where his feathery wings morphed back into metal, his skin turned blue again - and he was consumed by an uncontrollable bloodlust.


Warren was able to maintain his cured appearance and attitude when with the X-Men -- but unleashed his inner fury and desire to kill with X-Force. The turn-around of his powers and personality, though, where leading to something. Betsy tried with all her psychic powers to cage and restrain the Horseman of "Death" personality in Archangel's mind - but it was a loosing battle.


After an attempt to eliminate Apocalypse for good, it seems the legacy of Apocalypse over powered Warren, as he betrayed X-Force, and took up the mission Apocalypse once championed. Finally willing to loose Warren, Betsy Braddock made the sacrifice of trying to kill him. Mad with power, and acting like Apocalypse more and more - a Life Seed was used to defeat Archangel. X-Force thought Archangel was lost, but from the wreckage of Apocalypse/Archangel's plan, came a mind-wiped Warren.

Where he is NOW


Archangel now has no memories of his former life, and is innocently naive - like a child. He is accepted into Wolverine's school, to relearn all the things he has forgotten. For a long while Warren thought he was an angel - and even demonstrated healing abilities.

Being a complete blank, after all the horrible darkness in Warren's life, will be quite a shock to his younger time-displaced self.

Professor Xavier


Xavier has dedicated his whole life toward peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. His dream has been championed by an army of dedicated and loyal students, all of who started with the original 5 X-Men, of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and Angel.


Xavier tragically died at the hands of his very first pupil, Scott Summers, when he was consumed by the Phoenix Force. Bendis has stated that he thinks Xavier works better dead, rather than alive; before this Xavier was cast to the sideline by Cyclop's militant push.


Being dead, though, things aren't done for Xavier. The new villain of Uncanny Avengers, the Red Skull, has big plans in store for Xavier -- or at least, for Xavier's brain, which has been harvested from his corpse. The most powerful mutant brain in the whole world is in the hands of the Red Skull now - and I'm sure this plotline will be tied into between Remenders' Uncanny Avengers, and Bendis' All New X-Men.

Villains


The foes the original X-Men faced primarily consisted of Magneto, the Brotherhood of Evil, and Sentinels. Inbetween they also faced more conventional villains, though it was the Brotherhood and Sentinels that would follow the team for years to come.


Sentinels, at first simple, become vastly more complex - with the potential and desire to destroy and take over the world. Several future time-lines show a future where Sentinels have taken over, running mutant concentration camps. The entire mutant nation of Genosha was wiped off the map by Sentinels, making these government-created abominations a long-feared threat to mutants and the X-Men.


The Brotherhood of Evil, as formed by Magneto, consisted of Toad, Mastermind, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch betrayed Magneto early on - with other mutants coming in, and claiming the name of the Brotherhood.


Magneto has changed often through the years, having been given back his youth at one point - and becoming Headmaster of Xavier's school. His tenure as headmaster would no lost long - as Magneto's temperament and legacy, ultimately, was that of a villain. Magneto, though, found new favor with the X-Men recently - when he began following Scott Summer's lead, in trying to restore the mutant race. When possessed by the Phoenix, even Magneto's harsh temperament and tactics paled in comparison to how far Cyclops was willing to go.


I'm sure the villains of the X-Men, new and old, will be dealt with in this new series.

I'm very much looking forward to this event. It is something different, harkening to the X-Men's past - but also used to push the X-Men forward. For anyone who doesn't know much about the X-Men (or got lost in the convoluted history I just wrote about) - this series might be an excellent jumping on point for new fans, as everything will be brand new to the 5 time-displaced students.