Ultimate X-Men #1-6
My first experience with the X-Men came in the animated form. I remember many Saturday mornings spent in front of the television watching the X-Men stick it to Magneto and his cronies. Years later, I saw Bryan Singer’s take on the X-Men, and while the first one was okay, the second one really blew me away. Going to the comic book store, I found lots of X-Men titles, and I realized that there was so much history that I had missed, maybe it wasn’t worth the hassle of getting into them. Then I read Ultimate Spider-Man, and knowing what I knew about the Ultimate Universe, I just had to give Ultimate X-Men a chance.
Ultimate X-Men jumps right into the whole human versus mutant fight. A trial run of Sentinels takes out a mutant cell in Los Angeles. Despite protests by Amnesty International, the Sentinels were unleashed as a response to an attack by the Brotherhood of Mutants on Capital Hill. Their leader, Magneto, preaches that mankind has reached its expiration date, and mutants are just waiting to take over their world. I love the eerie look of Magneto’s appearances on television. With his son and daughter, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, behind him, sitting in a high-backed chair, fingers steepled in front of his face, he projects an evil yet powerful demeanor; Darth Vader of the Ultimate universe. I thought it was the best-drawn scene in the whole book.
Watching this take place is Doctor Henry McCoy. Sitting in a bar proves dangerous for Henry, whose ape-like posture and gorilla-sized feet make him a target for ridicule. I get hassled for this all the time too, so I know how it feels. Dodging a pool stick, Hank leaps to the ceiling, kicks his opponent to the side, and eventually gets booted out of the bar. On his way out, he meets a young red-haired girl who tells him about a place where people aren’t itching to lynch him. This stunning girl, named Jean Grey, makes another stop, this time in Texas, to pick up a jailed car thief, Ororo Munroe. Next, Jean journeys to New York. In an arms deal gone sour, she meets Piotr Rasputin, a young Russian whose entire body turns into an impenetrable metal.
Later, these four outcasts gather at a special school known as the Xavier Institute for Gifted Children. Behind these walls, the reader is introduced to Scott Summers, aka Cyclops. Standing before him is the inaugural class of Xavier’s school, each with their own code name: Storm (Ororo), Colossus (Piotr), Marvel Girl (Jean), and Beast (Henry). At first I thought all the students getting together this soon was a bit rushed, but any other way would have ruined the pacing and looking back I’m glad it was done this way.
Assembling in the library, the students meet Professor Charles Xavier. Confined to a wheelchair, Xavier tells his students their names are a reflection of their skills, not insulting high school nicknames. He also sheds light on his own past. Years ago, he helped build Magneto’s own sanctuary for mutant refugees, known as The Savage Land. However, the two men had a disagreement on how mutants and humans should coexist. Xavier ended up paralyzed, escaped to New York, and founded his own school. When asked how he found them, Charles introduces them to Cerebro. A helmet that amplifies his psychic abilities, Cerebro keeps him a step ahead of Magneto when it comes to locating mutants.
Aided by Cerebro, Xavier sends his students on a trip to Times Square to find Bobby Drake, a fifteen-year old boy who is unsure of what powers he possesses. Now here I thought the flow of the story jumped too far ahead, maybe we could have seen a page showing the students hitting the books or learning some self-defense tactics? I wouldn’t have been too convinced to go on this mission so soon. In the city, Beast spots him on a bus but the Sentinels interrupt the mission. Storm takes out two of them with bolts of lightning, and Colossus knocks down a third by throwing a truck at it. Intentionally getting scooped up by a Sentinel, Cyclops unleashes his power upon it: optic blasts from his eyes. This causes the Sentinel to drop him but places a crowd of people in danger as it falls to the ground. It’s here that Bobby Drake shows off his power, blasting the falling Sentinel with ice, causing it to freeze in mid-air. Despite all the heroics, the mutants are booed off the scene by a throng of New Yorkers.
Meanwhile at the Savage Land, Magneto watches the footage of Bobby’s rescue. Recognizing the work as Xavier’s, Magneto then meets with the same arms dealer Colossus crossed paths with earlier. Having lost the nuclear weapon, Magneto demonstrates his powers by destroying the pacemaker in the dealer’s chest, killing him instantly — and leaving the Scarlet Witch, to clean up the mess. Quicksilver, who strives for his father’s respect, volunteers to kill Charles Xavier. But Magneto has little faith in his offspring and calls for a professional assassin named Wolverine. I have read and reread these pages, and every time I still cannot get over how cold and calculating Magneto is portrayed. He is like Tom Cruise in Collateral, the bad guy you think is so cool.
Issue two starts off at JFK International Airport. It’s here that a member of the Brotherhood picks up Wolverine. As they leave the parking lot, Wolverine senses danger just before a mysterious military group guns them down. Back at Xavier’s school, the students are practicing flying their personal fighter plane, the Blackbird, when Charles calls his students to the viewing room. Through Cerebro, the Professor has located Wolverine being transported to Canada. He proceeds to explain to his new students Wolverine’s past as a black ops soldier. Since he’s new to the team, Bobby is offered a chance to sit out from the rescue attempt, but refuses. At this point in the book, I’m a lot more comfortable seeing the students in action.
A fleet of trucks is making their way to Syracuse. In a prison cell on board the truck is Wolverine. Standing before him is John Wraith, a colonel in the Weapon X program. With his adamantium claws, Wolverine tries to break out, but the colonel saw to it that the bars were made of the same indestructible material that lines Wolverine’s bones. However the ride to Syracuse gets held up by Xavier’s students: Storm blows them away with strong winds while Beast and Colossus break out Wolverine, who escapes on a motorcycle in pursuit of Wraith.
Catching up to Wraith’s jeep, Wolverine is about to kill the colonel, but Jean stops him with her mental powers. The students flee the scene with Wolverine before any Sentinels arrive. Back at the Savage Land, Toad gripes to Magneto about Wolverine’s escape. But Magneto explains that everything is going according to plan and has bigger fish to fry. If I were Toad, I would be hopping up and down trying to get Magneto to reveal his plans. But Magneto plays his cards close to his chest.
Issue three opens up with Bobby, Storm, and Piotr having a night out on the town. They’re discussing a wide range of topics such as the Professor, Cyclops, and the newest team member, Wolverine. All three agree they haven’t warmed up to Wolverine yet. It’s nice to see the students relaxing, even if they are discussing school-related matters. At the mansion, Wolverine is running a training exercise in the Danger Room. Xavier and Cyclops are surprised that Wolverine has stayed this long given his reputation as a loner. The relaxed atmosphere is suddenly broken by the news that the President’s daughter has been kidnapped. The Brotherhood takes credit and threatens to kill her if a Sentinel kills another mutant.
A rescue mission is launched to Croatia where the Brotherhood is holding the First Daughter in a rundown house. With Colossus lifting up the foundation, Beast snatches up the girl, and Iceman creates a slide of ice to Cyclops’s waiting car. Speeding away, the car is stopped when Quicksilver swipes the keys. Cyclops blasts him off the windshield and ditches the car, taking off on foot with the girl. Quicksilver gives chase, only to bump into Wolverine, who’s relieving himself in an alleyway. Great scene, it really sets up Wolverine’s “I do whatever I want to do, bub” attitude. Toad jumps Cyclops; as Iceman and Storm come to his aid, Wolverine picks up the First Daughter and burns rubber to the Blackbird.
He’s not the only one making a landing: Magneto arrives on the scene. But the students are faced with two dilemmas: Beast is trapped under a pile of rubble, and Croatian snipers start taking shots at them. Magneto dispatches the snipers, and the students come face to face with the leader of the Brotherhood. Heated words are exchanged, and not the “I know you are but what am I?” type of debate. Magneto questions why they would sacrifice themselves to save the life of a human but lets them go since they are so hell-bent on suicide. I was thinking this was Magneto’s chance to turn the students over to his cause, show them how stupid Charles Xavier’s way of thinking was, like Emperor Palpatine did to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.
Returning to the mansion, Beast is placed in the infirmary. Wolverine and Jean stroll through the garden, eventually sharing a passionate kiss, and Cyclops sees it all go down. A romantic interlude here—a nice touch by the writer—since we all know in the regular Marvel U., Wolverine, Jean, and Cyclops are involved in a love triangle. Meanwhile, Xavier accepts an invitation to the White House for their daring rescue of the President’s daughter. Cyclops overhears and confronts Charles. The Professor and his student argue the merits of making nice with the human race, and Cyclops storms out of the mansion. The issue ends on two blue notes: Beast waking up in the infirmary discovering his blue hair; Cyclops flies to the Savage Land and joins Magneto’s cause. Although I started to wonder, if Cyclops had such a crush on Jean, wouldn’t he stay for her sake at least, instead of losing her to Wolverine?
The next issue opens with the bombing of the British Parliament, an attack staged by the Brotherhood with their newest members: Cyclops, and a guy wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. I made that last member up, it’s just Cyclops who has joined the fold. Back in the States, Xavier and his students meet with Ultimate President Bush—perhaps in the Ultimate U., he has a higher approval rating? Apologizing for the London bombings, Charles hopes that this latest assault hasn’t changed the President’s mind on putting the Sentinels on hold. The President informs him that there is one last mission for the Sentinels: the Savage Land. Having located Magneto’s hideout — or weapons of mass destruction, as he likes to call them — the Sentinels will be unleashed, despite Xavier’s protests that one of his own students is on the island.
As the Sentinels make the trip to the Savage Land, Cyclops and Magneto trade barbs over the progress of mutants versus humans. Magneto paints mankind in the darkest shade, citing the Holocaust as a reason why they need to be replaced; Cyclops refuses to kill in name of Magneto. Meanwhile, as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are lounging by a lake, the Sentinels arrive. Once Magneto sees this, he takes to the air and takes control of the robots, reprogramming them to kill anyone without the mutant gene. He plans on making an example out of the United States, and when other countries see Magneto triumphant, the rest of the world will fall in line. What a great improvisation by Magneto here, he gets thrown lemons and he makes lemonade. I’m sure reprogramming the Sentinels wasn’t part of his plan.
Cyclops is upset, and Quicksilver tries to reassure him, telling him to let evolution take its course. But Scott Summers has another idea: contacting Professor X and informing him of the current situation. In Washington D.C., Jean learns the real reason why Wolverine has stuck around. He confesses that it was because of her that he didn’t carry out Magneto’s orders. The fight gets put on hold when Xavier broadcasts to the entire D.C. area that Sentinels are on the way to destroy all humans. He promises that he and his students will do everything they can to protect them.
In the Savage Land, Cyclops returns to the Blackbird, and Quicksilver pleads with him to stay. Cyclops snaps and tells him that he, Quicksilver, is the only person able to stop Magneto. In the nation’s capitol, Storm is taking out Sentinels with lighting as Magneto captures the President and brings him to his knees with the whole world watching. He’s about to drop the presidential limo on him when Professor X arrives on the scene. Magneto and Charles pick up where they last left off, and after tossing the Professor from his chair, Magneto points multiple guns at his head, asking for any last pearls of wisdom, when suddenly…
…Wolverine stabs Magneto in the back and takes him down. Even as he bleeds out, Magneto is able to knock Wolverine away with a lead pipe. Then he fires off a magnetic pulse to override the controls on every nuclear missile on earth. When Quicksilver hears this, he runs past his father, removing the helmet that blocks out Xavier from his head. With the helmet gone, Charles invades Magneto’s head and turns him into a super-magnet. All the remaining Sentinels drawn to Magneto, Charles sends him up into the atmosphere and detonates him up there. After reading all this, I thought to myself: Wow, they are going to have to do something really big to top this one. I would have expected a battle like this to be built up to in previous arcs, not happen in the first one.
A nuclear holocaust averted, Xavier welcomes Cyclops back to the mansion. Over drinks, Charles tells him that despite recent events and the public’s newfound acceptance of mutants, everything is going according to his master plan. The last words out of Charles Xavier’s mouth is the mention of a phase two, which he promises to be a lot more interesting.
I must admit, I compared these first issues to the first issues of Ultimate Spider-Man. I believed that there should have been some origin story before the big brouhaha. Then I remembered that Peter Parker wasn’t born Spider-Man, whereas these special teenagers were born with their gifts. There was no need for an origin story, and I applaud Mark Millar for avoiding that. Instead, he jumps right into the mutant versus human debate. Although, I wish he would have waited a page or two to send the students out on their first mission. As much as I hate the bad guy, Magneto is just too good to dislike. Any scene with Magneto simply delivers. This guy is hell-bent on destroying mankind to make way for mutants. I felt like I was actually seeing him on television delivering his message, what with the dark shades and moody setting of his speeches.
The final confrontation scene between Chuck and Magneto was brilliantly paced; just when you think Wolverine has him down for the count, Mags pulls another trick out of his hat, or in his case, helmet. It’s an epic battle with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, and this is just the first arc. For an X-fan or an avid reader of the Ultimate titles, I would definitely recommend this book.
Next Issue: Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 1: The Fantastic