Monday, December 22, 2008

X-Men: Legacy #219

X-Men: Legacy #219
Writer: Mike Carey
Penciller: Phil Briones
Inker: Cam Smith
Letterer: Cory Petit
Colourist: Brian Reber
Editor: Nick Lowe

Following the "Original Sin" crossover, X-Men: Legacy returns to its normal business - Professor X revisiting characters from his past. In a change of pace, though, this is a single-issue story, and the subject is the Juggernaut.

If you're going to explore Charles Xavier's back story, then at some point you've got to deal with his stepbrother Cain. He can't really be omitted. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that he doesn't really fit into Carey's wider agenda, which is why we're covering him in a single issue.

Xavier shows up to meet Cain in a bar, and - this being X-Men: Legacy - they talk about old stories. For once, Xavier is clearly the hero here, and the voice of reason. It's perhaps overdue for Legacy to use him in that role, and remind us that even though it's exploring the dodgier parts of his back story, he is still primarily the hero.

As for Cain - well, this could be a divisive one. A lot of writers have invested a great deal of effort in reforming Cain. For quite a while, the prevailing wisdom was that he wasn't all bad. During his much-maligned tenure on Uncanny X-Men, Chuck Austen pulled the trigger and had him switch sides to join the team - one of the few elements of his run that was generally well-received. That was followed with a starring role in New Excalibur.

All of which is perhaps understandable, because as originally conceived, the Juggernaut is a bit one-note. In fact, that's arguably the strength of the character: he's single-minded and unstoppable. But if you're going to keep bringing him back, you need something a little more, and that leads in the direction of a kinder, gentler Juggernaut.

It's surprising, then, to see Carey try and reposition Cain as an outright bad guy again, beating up innocent bystanders and talking about how this whole "reform" thing has been a weak-minded error sparked by his insecurities over his failing powers. Now that he's fully powered again, we're apparently back to the sixties. Carey plays with Cain's half-hearted attempts at redemption as a counterpoint to Xavier's storyline, and flags up the essential hollowness of Juggernaut as a villain character (he wants to kill Xavier and... then what?). But there's no doubt that this Juggernaut is back to being one of the bad guys.

Perhaps that's no bad thing. The X-books are short of decent villains (because M-Day idiotically wrote most of them out), and there's something to be said for Cain as Xavier's occasional nemesis. We haven't done it in a while.

And was there much more to do with Cuddly Cain, the Gentle Giant? I'm not sure there was. It was a nice enough arc so far as it went, but once you've reformed Cain, where do you go from there? He becomes just another strongman hero - and his "unstoppable" gimmick has to be toned down to allow tension. As a villain, he may have a restrictive role, but at least it's a unique one.

It's a well-told story, though it suffers from the usual Legacy problem that readers will need to be reasonably familiar with continuity if they're going to appreciate it - and if you are that up on continuity, then Cain's backsliding may feel a little contrived. But it's all very cleverly done, with a neat ending that makes clever use of Xavier's psychic powers, bringing some intrigue and visual interest to what's essentially a conversation issue. For those in the target audience, it's a good little story.

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