X-Man 2 – Sinister, the Horseman of grooming?

Credits: Written by Jeph Loeb, pencils by Steve Scroce, inks by Sellers, LaRosa, Conrad and Hanna, all edited by Bob Harras.

Cast: Nate Grey, Forge, Theresa ‘Sonique’ Rourke, Brute, Jason ‘Mastermind’ Wyngard, Sauron, Domino, Grizzly, Caliban, Arkady Rossovich and Sinister/Essex

Plot: Whilst Domino and her aides Grizzly and Caliban hunt and kill a black marketeer called Russovich for information about a rogue telepath, the rogue telepath in question is training. Forge is trying to train Nate, as part his theatre based resistance group, to fight without using his impressive psionic powers. He is too hard on Nate, beating him enough for Nate to lose his temper and end the fight with his telekinetic powers. Nate storms off and Forge recognises that he is now confiding in the mysterious Essex.

Speaking of Essex (who is Sinister, the comic is acting like there’s doubt, but it is Sinister, one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen) he is grooming Nate to be more assertive and independent in his exploration of his powers. He even suggests that Nate try to fly. Which he does, causing nose bleeds and a feeling of, well that was a mistake. Essex then interrupts a meeting of the troupe, who are planning to take out an Infinites patrol. Essex wants to go bigger and take out an Infinites factory. Forge isn’t stupid and realises the danger, so agrees only to a recon mission to check it out. Brute looks at Essex and feels that he knows him and it’s not a good thing.

At the factory Essex explains what the Infinites are. Doctor Henry McCoy, the Dark Beast of Apocalypse’s pens, worked out how to grow these soldiers from an extract derived from human bone marrow. It takes several lbs of extract to make each Infinite and over 100 humans to make each gram of extract. This has led to the factories being a meat grinder for the humans trapped in Apocalypse’s America. Essex guides them into the main area and sees the Madri, priests of Apocalypse. Thing is, Nate has seen enough and attacks the guards in the factory. Everyone starts fighting and Nate tears through the facility, showing tremendous power. He is brought down by the Madri, but he is able to shut off their minds. This takes a lot out of Nate and Forge calls a retreat, incensed with Essex for pushing Nate into this.

The next morning and Nate walks away from the camp, followed by Theresa. Nate is upset over the horrifying things that he has seen and wants more answers than either Forge or Essex are keen to give and he’s had enough of waiting. He and Theresa astrally project and fly to what was once called Westchester New York. In an old mansion he finds Magneto spending time with his son Charles. Charles sees the astral forms of Nate and Theresa and Magneto demands answers. Nate appears before him and stammers out the first part of a sentence and Theresa breaks their link so they go back to their bodies. Nate recognises that it was Magneto he saw and wants more information from Forge as to what is going on.

Back at the camp, now housed at an abandoned farm, Brute confronts Essex. He knows who he is, he remembers being experimented on and who by and despite him looking different, knows its the same man. Essex is disappointed to be found out, but quickly gets over this by killing Brute. Essex just finishes hiding the body when Forge arrives to officially kick Essex out of the group. Essex queries what Nate will think, but Forge has no time for that. Essex is about to monologue over Forge’s arguments when Domino, Grizzly and Caliban arrive to bring Nate in.

Notes: The older I get, the more I sympathise with Forge. He is trying to keep this little family together and his teenage son keeps throwing himself into trouble. Then Essex comes along. There’s little attempt to hide from the reader that this is Sinister. So it’s clear we’re not going for subtlety here. This is one of the only titles to show the desperation of living in Apocalypse’s America. Everyone is either trying to escape, or are engaged in battle, but Forge’s troupe and the population they are entertaining are actually trying to live through this and each character carries this weight in their own way.

But this is Nate’s story, so the focus gets pulled back to him. The issue tries to showcase how his power levels fluctuate as much as his emotions, leaving him super powerful one minute and drained the next. The story does give us a better look at one of the Infinites factories, where the scale of the buildings that kill hundreds for a few grams of useful extract. This lets us know, the regular people are expendable. This issue tries it’s hardest to remind you why the Age of Apocalypse is such a dystopia that needs to be destroyed, describing cullings and forced human experimentations. I don’t know how well it does it, but I can see the efforts.

One thing this series does it highlight the drama. We have the over-arching dystopian setting, but we also have the generational battle between father and son and the divided loyalties as Nate leans towards Essex, who tells him what he wants to hear. (Hint: He’s grooming him!) but on top of that we get Nate trying to work out his place in all this and the interesting moment with Magneto. But it’s the demise of Brute that actually got to me, his recognising Sinister, without being able to recognise him was a nice touch, but you knew the second he did that he was a goner. Forge and Essex finally come to the inevitable impasse, before other bad-guys come in to stir up more trouble.

Verdict:

Writing: 3 out of 5 – Leob is good at the teen melodrama stuff and after the 90’s spent time doing TV work which benefited from this experience. His weaving of plots doesn’t feel forced and none of the story elements outstay their welcome.

Art: 4 out of 5 – I enjoyed Steve Scroce’s work in the Cable title before X-Men Alpha and it continues to work here. His flourishes showing Nate’s powers and their differing uses work well and the garishness of it all is mostly to do with the colouring of the time. The design of the factory, the redesigns of Domino and Omega Red and the numerous splash pages showcase an art team that knows exactly what it is and runs with it. Yes there are serveral inkers, but Scroce’s style is such a strong presence that although you notice the changes, it’s never jarring enough to pull you out of the story.

Overall 7 out of 10 – This is a solid issue of a solid series, it’s a bit of a mid-card title, but it’s still leaving me with the feeling that re-reading the Age of Apocalypse is a good idea.

Next Time: Spider-Men, killers and clones… oh my!

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