Thursday, January 27, 2011

Death In Comics - SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now that that's out of the way....

Above are a trio of images that have stuck with me throughout my comic book reading life.  Three images that coincide with death and sadness: two from the early 90's, one from this last year.  One of those images is definitely iconic and forever memorable to readers, while the other two are probably less so, but for me are much more powerful in the response they generated. 


I think I know why but let's explore death throughout my own personal comic book history and see what pops up.

I think the first time I was faced with the death of a prominent comic character within my world would have been in 1989 when Madelyne Pryor died, willing herself to die, in an attempt to kill Jean Grey as well.  The effect on 10-year old me...sadness.  This was a character I had been reading for the last two years, one I had gotten attached to as she sacrificed herself alongside the X-Men during "Fall of the Mutants", as she became the eyes & ears of the team in Australia, and slowly became seduced by the "dark side" during the build towards "Inferno".  There was a bond, not terribly strong, but a bond to that character that made it rough to see her die, especially as part of a spectacular fall from grace.

As I moved forward in my X-reading years, I also backtracked into the "Classic X-Men" world which...although I already knew the outcome...brought about a great sadness as well by the time I read the historic "Dark Phoenix Saga".  The death of Jean Grey was so powerful that I can only imagine how it felt to those fans reading it as it happened.  This was the ultimate good guy, the heart of the X-Men, being corrupted by absolute power, and finding her only salvation (as well as that of the universe) in her death.  And with it coming only one or two issues after the proposal moment between Jean and Cyclops, it made it all the more heart-wrenching reading it for the first time several years after the fact.

The same was the case for Jason Todd and "A Death In The Family".  By the time I read that landmark story, the "Knights Trilogy" had occured, Dick Grayson had completed his 1st stint as Batman in "Prodigal", & Tim Drake had been established as Robin and was rocking it in his own regular series.  So why, before I even read the story, did I have an emotional connection to Jason Todd?  Because the Bat-Writers of the time (Chuck Dixon & Doug Moench among others) made sure that the readers knew of the impact JT's death had on Bruce.  It was included in flashbacks throughout "Knightfall", the presence of his costume in the cave, his "Zero Hour" appearance in "Robin", the memory of Jason Todd was ever-present to the point that he may as well have been an existing character in each issue.  So by the time I read his death, I felt like I was connected to JT and to this day, Bruce Jones run aside and thanks to Judd Winick, he remains one of my favorite characters.  I don't know how I would have voted though....

Sometimes, no matter how high profile the character, the death can hit you with all the impact of a feather.  "Superman 75" in all its media hyped, death armband packed, black polybagged glory was an amazing hit and sold some 6 MILLION copies (between the original run and reprint), only topped by "X-Men #1 (Vol.2)" (8 Million or so) and that had 5 different covers!!!

Yet, for me, that death was not so impactful.  It was crazy that DC Comics would kill off Superman, and I wasn't a cynical enough reader yet at 13 years of age to dismiss it all just because you knew he'd get brought back sooner rather than later.  I think it's the simple fact that I was not a reader of Superman comics, thusly I had no emotional investment in Clark Kent, Lois Lane, or any of the supporting cast.  Add that into the fact that it wasn't a surprise moment (the internet didn't own the world yet but the news did manage to become public in September in Newsday and other newspapers), but it was a comic that...while holding no emotional value for me...was something historic that EVERYBODY had to read.  Now that I think about it, I actually didn't even buy the issue, a good example of how little it meant to me, just read through it and bought the trade when it came out.  At least that way I had a record of this historic moment.  This was a huge moment in comics, but for me it wasn't even worth dropping a couple bucks to buy the book.

One year later (give or take) it was time for "Uncanny X-Men #303" and the death of Illyana Rasputin...a character that was, quite honestly by that point, window dressing in the larger character arc of her brother Colossus.  As a matter of fact, "UXM 304" came out before #303 so the whole damn story was ruined but that didn't take away from the emotional impact of watching the former Magik succumb to the Legacy Virus.  Here was a little girl who had been force-aged, now with an opportunity to live her life again after returning to her proper age, but fresh off having her parents slaughtered.  Now she's diagnosed with a virus designed to exterminate mutants, and she hadn't even developed powers yet.  The story was tragic as it was, but what really broke my heart reading the story was the character interaction.  The current youth of the X-Team, Jubilee, playing the hard-ass while Shadowcat, the once best-friend of teenage Illyana, cares for the youngster version as if nothing has changed.  The bedtime story reading, the shock as her body fails, and the page where they have to tell Peter what happened all led up to leaving me with tears in my eyes.  This probably would have been the most heartbreaking death in comics for me if it wasn't for "Identity Crisis".

See while "Identity Crisis" does get some critical panning for reasons I will never understand, I find it to be utterly heartwrenching.  It's a story of loss and pain, of betrayal and lies, and ultimately death.  The sad death of Sue Dibny and the utterly painful, shocking, tragic death of Jack Drake (Robin's father).  The build to Jack's death, given the relationship building in Robin's own comic, was probably the most painful thing I have ever experienced in comics. 

Maybe it comes from being someone who almost lost their father at a young age, but even as I write this and look at that panel, I find myself with tears in my eyes.  No bullshit, that's how hard this death hit me.  Not only was I connected with these characters from years of reading them, but the personal element of the way it happened made it so much more painful.  No one dies from battling a raging alien super-villain or being shot by lasers on the Moon, but people die everyday from gunshots.  And the utter despair from Tim, his right foot in the blood, Bruce so uncharacteristically holding him...all those little touches add up to the most painful moment of my life as a comic book reader.  I didn't read this, I experienced this.

The next time I felt that, though definitely not with the same level of intensity, was during "Second Coming" when Nightcrawler sacrificed himself to save the life of the mutant messiah Hope.  Here was a character that I had read since the very beginning of my career as a comic book reader, and now he was dead.  Noble and heroic as it was, he was dead.  And I cried, not hard, not like I did with "Identity Crisis" but certainly more than I expected to as it became increasingly obvious that Elf was soon to be shuffling the mortal coil.  This was a character I suffered through a crisis of faith alongside (his not mine, no worries there), went through devastating injuries with, saw the evolution of the character from supporting cast to team leader to bedrock of the team.  His trials and tribulations have been been a big part of my interest in X-Men & Excalibur (although let's forget the whole Azazel demon daddy thing...why "X-Men: First Class: The Movie" is using that character is beyond me and a story for another time), and his friendship with Wolverine is something I have cherished.  Yet it was the type of death perfect for 'Crawler's character as it represented the culmination of his faith in what Hope represented, and as it appears now, his faith was well placed.  Do I think 'Crawler will be back?  Probably in some fashion, but that doesn't make the storyline impact of his sacrifice any less spectacular nor does it take away from the impact his death had on me as a fan.  He is already missed...

Now, this brings me to the whole SPOILER ALERT that kicked off this little piece: "Fantastic Four #587" and the death of Johnny Storm.  This, for me, was like the death of Superman but even more so.  Superman is, at the very least, a character deeply entrenched in our cultural lexicon.  He is Americana in so many ways and as such, the impact of his death was a little more...felt....than that of Johnny Storm.  If I was disconnected from Superman, than I am light years removed from the world of the Fantastic Four.  In fact, the only FF issues I ever bought were the "Heroes Reborn" issues as well as the first 3 "Heroes Return" issues that followed.  I did purchase "Books of Doom", but that's a Dr. Doom story and even that was only on persistent recommendation.  But despite this total disconnect, I read the most recent FF issue to see just who died (managing to avoid spoilers in the process), and when it was done I said to myself, "Okay that's done".  I may as well have read the phone book for all the emotional impact it had on me.  Not because it was badly written, but because I have no context and no ties to these people.  In fact, the most intriguing thing in the book for me was Leech because I've been wondering what happened to him for quite some time.  I dig Jonathan Hickman's writing for the most part, and I do find myself interested in perusing his entire FF run to see what brought it to this point, so I suppose that's the best case scenario for a series I didn't have interest in.  Perhaps that will generate the emotional investment, but it won't be like the decades of connection I had with Nightcrawler.  But then again, I could find the same love for the characters that I found for Jean Grey & 'Crawler in reading "Classic X-Men".

So there's a little run through my life of....errrrr....death in comics.  And what's the one thing that connects the big moments: the connection.  I doubt that's something ground-breaking, a huge revelation, or a "holy shit" moment but that's my big idea.  The history between the reader and the subject creates one bond, if a story has an emotional resonance that's another bond, and if the writer can hit a truly personal connection that's the strongest bond I believe.  That's the "Jack Drake" moment so to speak, and that's the moment that can elevate a comic book death from "just another one" to "a historical one".

Before I go, let me quickly mention two seperate things that can ruin deaths: retconning and the internet!  With the first I'll just use Magneto as an example.  He had to two great deaths that I can think of; the first being "X-Men #3 Vol. 2" and the second being "New X-Men 150".  Each one was a great, appropriate death in my opinion, yet rendered pointless by retconning.  Resurrection isn't bad, but when it's done in such crappy fashion, it ruins the whole thing.

The second ruiner, the internet, is the place for everyone to find out anything sometimes before it even happens.  Look at the last FF issue where Marvel put it out early to try and counteract internet spoilers, but the internet just jumped it up a day anyway.  So here I am avoiding the internet in order for the purpose of avoiding spoilers, and Howard Stern spills the beans in such an off-handed fashion I didn't even realize he said it at first.  It's damn near impossible to avoid spoilers in this day & age, and that sort of thing can certainly ruin the impact of death in comics.

Neither of those things are something that are going to change anytime...well ever we must suck it up and deal.  It amazes me though how strong an impact something like a comic can have on the reader.  Like a novel, a movie, or a TV show, comic books can linger just the same.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What do Bane, Doomsday, Carnage, and Azrael have in common?

Four of the biggest comic book characters of the 90's who, inexplicably to some, are still kicking around their respective universes to this day.  Two of them,  Doomsday and Carnage, are getting a renewed focus with the "Reign of Doomsday" story arc and the new "Carnage" mini-series while Bane is featured every month in "Secret Six" and a different take on Az has a monthly as well. 

So what is it about these character that keeps them hanging around long after one would think their expiration dates had passed?  And what is it that makes these characters, and others like them, inherently flawed?  And why am I thinking about this at all?

Well the answer to the last one is pretty simple.  It's because of "Reign of Doomsday" that these thoughts came back into my brain.  See I bear a certain love for the whole "Death/Funeral/Reign/Hunter/Prey" saga that introduced Doomsday to the comic book world starting in 1992 and, as far as I was concerned, ended his existence as well.  It was probably a few years after it actually happened, but I became aware of Doomsday no longer being dead, and thought "wow, that's stupid".  I mean, being left at the absolute end of time, trapped in entropy, seemed like a pretty solid indication of death. I felt like Dan Jurgens was doing his best to kill off the character he helped bring into the Super-verse, and did so in a fashion that was pretty tough for any other writer to get out off.  Well, obviously I was wrong, and the "monster that killed Superman" was unleashed once again for whatever purpose.

Skip over to the Batman corner of DC comics at roughly the same time (October 1992 & Jan. 1993) where Denny O'Neil & Chuck Dixon introduce Azrael & Bane in to the Bat-Family.  "Sword of Azrael" was a mini that brought another protege into the Bat-Cave in the form of Jean Paul Valley and seemed like a pretty off handed mini with no long term purpose.  "Vengeance of Bane" was a one-shot that gave us some guy in prison obsessed with Bats for no real reason other than some nightmares he had as a kid.  Like "Sword", well written and drawn,  but seemingly little purpose in the grand scheme of things.  The story that unfolded over the next several months/years would see Bane break Bruce Wayne's back, Azrael take over the mantle of The Bat and crush Bane, Az go crazy, Bruce eventually take back the cape & cowl, while Bane returns to form in "Vengeance of Bane II" after kicking his Venom addiction.  Meanwhile Azrael does a lot of nothing for 100 issues and eventually gets the "his body was never found" death scene until he shows up as a Black Lantern during "Blackest Night".  There's a lot more to both of their stories than that, but let's face it, most of it was blargh.

About two years before any of those three characters were introduced, Marvel Comics brought in Carnage, the even more evil version of Venom, needed because Venom had been left on a desert island thinking Spider-Man was dead.  So Carnage (who was like a Joker-ized Venom) takes on Spider-Man and Venom, gets stopped, then recruits damn near every villian in the history of...well ever...for "Maximum Carnage", gets reabsorbed by Venom, and eventually tossed into the sun by The Sentry after quite some time away from the spotlight.

Now, with all that said about their back story, the question I'm looking at is why the hell are they still around after all this time and why have they, creatively, failed so miserably? And why do I feel Bane is the only one who could have expanded beyond his creation?

Essentially the problem stems from these characters only being created for one express purpose: Doomsday kills Superman, Bane breaks Batman, Azrael becomes Batman, and Carnage replaces Venom.  So once they accomplish those goals and the heroes eventually get their revenge, what happens?  Where do they go from there?  In the case of all of them, they basically go nowhere.

None of those characters ever progressed beyond their origins because no writer bothered to give them any deeper motivations or characterizations beyond step one.  Doomsday and Carnage popped sales in their initial introductions because readers knew something cool was going to happen.  Once Knightfall got rolling, Bane and Azrael's intital appearances jumped in value as well.  But as for the characters themselves, well they were stuck.  

Bane and Azrael are the two I'm most familiar with so I'll start with them, and this is a conversation my friend and I have had in the past, as well as something I wrote about several years ago on the old Wizard World message board.  Bane's sole purpose was to break Batman and take Gotham.  He accomplished the first goal, and thus the second goal if only for a few issues.  Once AzBats broke him in a very public fashion, the only thing left for the character as he stood then was to face Bruce Wayne once more so Brucie could face his demon and conquer it.  Unfortunately, and probably in order to prolong the characters' existence, that confrontation never really happened.  "Vengeance of Bane II" wasn't quite it, their "Legacy" confrontation was the most satisfying, the "Gotham Knights, we might be related" thing was silly, and I think his "Infinite Crisis" apperance (he breaks Judo Master's back) sums up his whole character.  He's the guy who broke Batman's back, nothing more than matter what any writer has done with him. I always held out hope someone would make him more, and from what I understand Gail Simone has taken steps in that direction with "Secret Six" (of which I have only read a couple issues).  I'm interested in checking it out to see what she has done with a character that I wanted to become a strong member of Batman rogue gallery, but have felt that no writer has known how to evolve him.

The Jean Paul Valley Azrael was the exact same.  Denny O'Neil flat out said he was created with the sole purpose of temporarily replacing Bruce Wayne as Batman, and no other reason.  Thus his backstory was pretty bare bones, his character was virtually non-existent (computer geek at Gotham U with no social skills), and there was this whole System thing in his head.  During the build-up to his run as AzBats, JPV started to show some character beyond the tech-nerd (if overly violent and obsessive can be called personality) but all that disappeared as soon as Wayne dethroned him.  JPV spent the next 100 issues of his own series wandering around the world at the whims of others, never truly developing a personality of any depth beyond that of his intial introduction, and "married" to Batman more or less.  He had no identity outside of Batman, fought Bat Villains, did Bat Missions, and was as enthralling a character as a block of wood.  If there's a reason why the current "Azrael" series is so divorced from the ideas of the original, I would surmise that it is because of how damaged the concept of the original Az mythos are.  The Order of St. Dumas, the System, LeHah, all felt damaged and pointless by the end of the run and I think the fact that a 100 issue series only warrants 100 or so words on Wikipedia is very indicative of how little was done with this character.

Doomsday's story arc was fine up until he was resurrected sometime after "Hunter/Prey".  He rampaged, killed Superman, they meet again after both are revealed to have lived, and Superman faces his fears & his demon and wins.  Great character arc, it told the origin of the villain in the process, and allowed the hero to conquer & move on.  I understand bringing back popular characters, but I'll never get bringing them back with no real story to tell.  I won't speak specifally on anything written between "H/P" and now, because I haven't read a damn thing save Wiki pages and internet recaps, but I have read the first part of "Reign of Doomsday" and I think that issue alone screams of the problem.  Doomsday is the same now as he was nearly 20 years ago, his character growth seems to be limited to his ability to grow new powers and that's not very interesting nor does it justify keeping him around all this time.  There was some potential in the idea of Doomsday growing a heart & soul but that didn't last too long.  I'm going to continue to check out "Reign of Doomsday" if only to see how DC justifies this story, but I'll be damned if I pay for it. 

And the same goes for Carnage.  How a character who was so devoid of anything interesting managed to notch #90 in Wizard's Top 100 Villains is beyond me.  His claim to fame is that he was supposed to be a Venom replacement but never actually replaced him.  Instead he occupied space, was the subject of one of the most critically-panned stories of the 90's, pointless mini's, and got tossed into the sun.  I'm not sure if that "New Avengers" panel was an expression of Bendis' thoughts on the 616-version of the character, but he did use it in Ultimate-land with a different sort of origin story.  Now the character is coming back in a new mini and I am wondering why.  Is it because Venom is being transformed into a hero character just like in the 90's? I don't know, but I guess I will wait and see when the mini wraps up.  I just don't get the neccessity for it, nor the draw of a character who had no purpose after his first three issue arc. 

All of these 90's era creations suffered (and may continue to suffer) from a lack of identity of their own.  The Joker, Magneto, Dr. Doom, Scarecrow, those are all examples of characters who can show up in other books and not feel totally out of place.  Doomsday, Bane, Carnage, and Azrael are all so entwined in their respective birth-books that their appearance without Spidey, Bats, or Supes feels wrong.  They can't exist without them, and as such, are really not all that interesting of a character.  Now, I firmly believe both Bane and JPV-Azrael have/had all the potential in the world to become something more.  One never had the opportunity, while the other is being given second life by Gail Simone.  Doomsday & Carnage, not so much. 

Characters can, and sometimes should, fade away, even ones who are responsible for killing The Man of Steel.  The question is, can the people who grew up reading these characters realize that instead of wanting to fulfill their dreams of writing said characters?  Who knows....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How I Learned To Love Matt Fraction....

Yup, that's Matt of Marvel's Architects. Interesting looking guy, and a writer who has developed into one of my favorites at the moment, and possibly my fave X-Men writer since Grant Morrison(it's either Fraction or Joss Whedon).  To be honest, I have never read anything by Fraction besides his run on Uncanny X-Men so that's all I have to judge and thusly all this lil' blog will be about.  I'm told his Iron Man has been great stuff sooooooo someday I'll get around to checking that out I'm sure, but for now, this is the story of how I once hated Matt Fraction, and yet have grown to love him.

So Matt Fraction joined the "Uncanny X-Men" writing team, alongside Ed Brubaker, beginning with ish #500 and the X-Team's official move to San Francisco.  Along with Fraction came the art teams of Greg Land and Terry/Rachel Dodson.  This is the part where I get it out of the way how much I can't stand Land's "art" and dig the Dodson's art.  Suffice to say my eyeballs melted after looking at three issues in a row of Land's work.  Now that that's out of the way, let's move on to why we are here.

So the Fraction/Brubaker era kicked off with team relocation to San Fran, Magneto making a return with his powers back, a Celestial living in the park, The High Evolutionary, Simon Trask starting his crusade, and the Hellfire Cult making its debut. That's just all in 500!  I was immediately off put, feeling like this guy was throwing way too much crap at the wall and hoping something stuck.  Right off the bat I was mentally comparing him to Chris Claremont and his propensity to run a dozen storylines simultaneously.  Suffice to say my comparison wasn't positive, but I decided to give him a few more issues before writing him off.

 NOW, since Uncanny X-Men was my first comic book, there was now way I would ever quit reading it, but, if after a few issues, I still wasn't feeling this Fraction guy, I had resigned myself to survival mode just as I had done with Chuck Austen.

Well I'm glad I stuck it out and didn't write Fraction off immediately because the arcs that he has written have been beautifully constructed, with most plotlines having some payoff, in the same fashion that 80's Claremont & Morrison crafted the book during their runs.  It took a few months, probably not until Brubaker left, but eventually I grew to love the pages I was reading.

Now as I wrote about previously, Claremont was notorious for hinting at a sub-plot and not coming back to it for months, if not years, but that was generally doable because it really felt like he would be writing the book forever.  Fraction thus far has approached his version of Uncanny in the same fashion, and only by sitting down and re-reading his entire run (31 issues plus 2 X-Overs & an annual) have I really come to appreciate his craftmanship. 

From jump street, Fraction lays out several major plot points that would carry his book through the first year of stories.  Magneto's return, his technological repowering, and the answers to why are only teased at in 500 and very slowly addressed over the course of many issues. In fact it's pretty much left in the background until 507 where his relationship with the High Evolutionary is paid off as Mags gets his powers back for real.   Skip ahead past "Utopia X" to 515 and Magneto bows down at the feet of Cyclops, offering his services to the man who finally united mutantkind, a task neither he nor Xavier was capable of.  The following issue Mags' backstory is told, answering the question of how he firstly got to issue 500 and how he ended up pledging his fealty to Cyclops.  The following year of story is spent with Magneto proving his sincerity to the X-Men by helping to solidify Utopia's base by building the Atlantean tower, by bringing Kitty Pryde back to Earth, by fighting Bastion and armies, and, in a crazy turn of events given their history (read X-Men 25), being the man to help keep Wolverine alive in Quarantine.  And that's just one arc...

Along with Magneto's return in 500 comes the revelation in the same issue of the Dreaming Celestial setting up shop in Golden Gate Park for some unknown reason.  It just kind of hung out there, got lobotomized by The High Evolutionary to help bring back Magneto's powers, and that's about it.  Jump ahead to issue 512, the X-Club heads into the past to try and find a cure for the mass depowering of M-Day, and we get the answer to why the Celestial picked that spot to stand, as well as the first look at an early Sentinel, the grandfather of Sebastian Shaw, and how Dr. Nemesis' parents are involved in it all.  A seemingly WTF plot point with the Celestial turns out to be a much more important thing than it first appeared.

And that's a reoccuring thing for much of Fraction's run; the little things that seem unimportant, and disappear into the background, that later become major plot points.  The Hellfire Cult (500) and how that all plays into the unveiling of The Sisterhood (508), the seeming random dream of Emma Frost (506) that foretells her fate in "Utopia X" (506), another random Emma dream (510) that returns at the close of "Second Coming", and all of the random moments that build to X-Force being forced out into the open (505 & Utopia X for example).  Fraction proved quite adept at sprinkling these moments throughout his run, knowing he would be able to pay them off as he built his stories.  This is something only a quality writer is capable of doing as long as he is given the time by the bosses to flesh it all out.  For a great example of how this fails read "Shadowland".

In addition to his sub-plot sprinkling, Fraction also does a nice job of throwing in little homages to Chris Claremont & Grant Morrison moments.  Maybe I'm just reading into these moments, but there's no denying how they harken back to earlier X-Moments.  Ish 503 features a night club scene with Cyclops/Emma Frost/Madelyne Pryor that reminds me of the the Dark Phoenix moments where Jean Grey sees Jason Wyngarde while the plight of Kitty Pryde  (522-present) is one Claremont played with following "The Mutant Massacre).  The re-introduction of The Sublime Corporation (515-521) is obviously Grant-inspired, even Elixir's character talks like he belongs in "Invisibles", and the psychic tryst between Scott & Madelyne Pryor (503) includes dialogue that feels like it was plucked straight from the Emma/Cyclops moments from "New X-Men".  The wonderful thing about these homages/tributes/inspirations from the two most groundbreaking X-Writers of their time is that they come off inspired and not as just rip-offs.

Another great thing from Fraction's run has been the evolution of Cyclops into the mastermind/general that just seems like a logical progression of his teaching.  In the face of everything the X-Men have faced in recent years and with the leadership role falling primarly on Cyke's shoulders, it feels natural for him to have evolved into a "Batman" of sorts.  He is constantly game-planning and working on scenarios, but unlike Bats, Cyke freely admits when he's just winging it and reacting to situations moment by moment.  His fears and doubts are still there, but they don't plague him like they did before.  Whether it be the authorization of X-Force or the decision to move to Utopia, Cyke stands by his decisions  The only question now, the one posited by several people, is what does the general do now that he doesn't have a war to fight?

His handling of characters from Cannonball (finally someone besides Warren Ellis who doesn't treat him like just a hick) to Pixie to Nightcrawler has been spot on, not to mention how he has treated Hope since her return in "Second Coming".  And speaking of the Elf, I just want to point out how...upon 3rd reading...his death STILL brings tears to my eye. 

Now that's not to say things have been perfect with Fraction's run, although after my re-read I don't find much fault, but one story arc in particular has probably been lacking: the Sebastian Shaw situation.  Emma faked his death in Annual #2 to convince Namor to join up, and then apparently hid him in the brig.  The problem being that in recent issues it has been played up that Shaw was a big secret.  Problem is, until Danger came around, there was no one to monitor the prisoners (Shaw being the second), and they were all just locked up and depowered.  Shaw was kept with Empath and the others, not exactly a secret.  And whether it be an artists mistake or just oversight, Shaw is shown during "Second Coming" (now on Utopia) as a prisoner right alongside Danger's other prisoners.  It doesn't ever seem like Shaw is a secret until Emma (527) states he IS a secret prisoner at which point she has to spirit him out.  Maybe I'm thinking too hard, but if it's so hard to sneak him out, how the hell did she sneak him in?  How the hell did he get from Graymalkin Industries to Utopia when the facilities moved?  And why does Madison Jeffries have absolutely no reaction to Shaw's presence when Danger tells him Emma kidnapped Sebastian?  Little things, and probably the only arc that has bugged me.

So now with the apparently impending departure of Fraction from the book, I'm anxious for what the future may bring.  I'm excited to see where this HX-N1 arc goes, or how the Atlantean troubles recently introduced play out.  I'm hoping Fraction is here to play those out, as well as this Black Dragon/Wolverine connection that was just introduced in Chinatown, and to see if Emma's most recent dream (528) turns into a plot point like the previous dreams. 

It's been a fun 3 year run, great to see how all the things I listed (as well as all those I left out) have tied together, and it's gone by fast!  So let me say thank you to Matt Fraction and Marvel for these 40 or so issues, and for however many more Mr. Fraction has left in his Uncanny run.  It's introduced a new status quo, not unlike that of Grant or Claremont before him, so let's just hope Marvel doesn't decide to ret-con everything important as soon as you depart ;)

If you're interested in checking out Fraction's X-Work, click on the link....I don't get jack for it, just want people to experience different stuff: Matt Fraction's X-Men Work