The Messiah Complex crossover, plotting through the pages of various X-books in 2007 and 2008, is one of the most memorable arcs from the previous decade, for better or for worse. There is a lot to love about this trade, published under the new X-Men Milestones reprint, but ultimately feels like an era of our merry mutants that I would rather be left firmly in the past.
This is a direct continuation of 2005’s House of M/Decimation storylines, where the mutant population was drastically reduced. These stories were editorially mandated, as Marvel felt the mutant population in the MCU had grown too large and they wanted a return of the X-Men as a besieged minority struggling to survive. While both arcs have great flashes and some fine writing, it ultimately found the X-books in a decade-long slog where characters spent every moment of exposition lamenting the state of mutant kind. The Messiah Complex arc was meant to provide closure to said era, but did not land a decisive direction for the books to follow. This entire era of the X-Men feels reminiscent of the Spider-Clone debacle from the decade prior; what started as a novel idea was dragged out far too long for anyone’s curiosities to sustain.
Having said that, the pacing and overall cohesiveness of Messiah Complex is rather good. At its core, this is a rather simple crossover event: the first new mutant baby (Hope) has been born, and everyone wants the child. Each individual X-book has something to do, but the stories are entwined closely, giving this trade an agreeable consistent focus. While our heroes are racing to get the child in Alaska, the Purifiers and Marauders also have their sites on the baby, resulting in many battles between the convergent groups. I quite enjoyed the space Beast was given in this story arc to reflect on the importance of Hope, and Cable and Bishop have major essentials of their backstory expanded on. We have the death of Professor X and the beginnings of the slide towards megalomania in Cyclops.
Unfortunately, this arc perfectly represents what I did not like about the X-Men during this time period. Everything is dark and gritty; everyone is exhausted and bitter. While the book is competently put together, the years spent in a negative state following House of M is regrettable.
There are some excellent writers at the helm here, but as with any tightly-woven crossover, their voices rarely rise to the forefront. Mike Carey and Christopher Yost do some very fine work, with Brubaker continuing his existing narrative style. Peter David and Craig Kyle feel the most constrained by this arc as it took their characters out of their existing subplots and forces them into a much dimmer arc. I remember loving New X-Men (the teen book that followed Morrison’s run), but once House of M materialized, the book pivoted from an enjoyable school-based drama to gloomy tragedy. It was an unfortunate turn, but the creative teams behind each book pull off the adjustment relatively well.
There is also some excellent art from Humbert Ramos and Chris Bachalo. In fact, their contributions to this book are the standout elements and what I will likely return to in the future to take in. Billy Tan and Scott Eaton produce detailed, clean line work throughout as well. Regrettably, Marc Silversti starts this arc off and sets an adverse artistic tone for the run. I respect his skill as an artist, but the way he turns every female character into a porn pinup is unfortunate. It is off-putting and unhelpful to the narrative at hand.
This trade sits comfortably next to other editions in the Milestones line of trades. The paper stock is thick, the colors are vibrant (they actually look better here than in the individual issues I purchased back in the mid 2000s) and enough bonus material is provided to justify picking up this crossover. Like with recent trades, the variant covers are reprinted in the back of the book and provide a nice gallery of talent from this era. Additionally, the annotations in the last few pages of the book note all the major narrative changes left in the wake of this book. While dated, I wish every trade offered this context for readers coming to this book without the decades of continuity under their belt.
So, while I am not a huge fan of this era of X-Men, this trade collects an important arc in mutant history in an affordable and visually appealing manner. If you are just coming to the X-Men following Hickman’s House of X, this would be a fine introduction to where the X-books were 15 years ago.