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Sep 14

Weapons of Mutant Destruction

Posted on Thursday, September 14, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

I’m way, way, way behind schedule on reviews at this point – this storyline is now two issues in the past – so time to start blitzing through the backlog.  “Weapons of Mutant Destruction” is a crossover, running through Weapon X #4-6 and Totally Awesome Hulk #19-22, with a lead-in one-shot on top of that.  Two of those issues are labelled as preludes, but it’s not altogether obvious why, since they’re both essential to the plot.

For a new series to hurl itself into an eight-part crossover with issue #4 is a strange choice.  The original Generation X series did something similar, because it was launched only four months before “Age of Apocalypse”, and it did no favours for the book’s momentum.  With Weapon X, it turns out to be less of a problem.  Partly, that’s because both titles are written by Greg Pak, even if the tone clash is pretty substantial.  Mainly, though, it’s because this is a continuation of the plot of Weapon X, guest starring the new Hulk, and taking over his book for four issues.  Hope the Hulk readers liked it.

The first few issues of Weapon X were a pleasant surprise, because it turned out that Weapon X weren’t the stars at all, they were the villains – the stars being a makeshift team formed from mutants who Weapon X were hunting down to try and get their powers.  (Quite how Lady Deathstrike wound up on this list, given that she’s a cyborg, not a mutant, is still beyond me.)  That remains the format.  By the end of this story, the team is vaguely calling itself “Weapon X”, but it’s still principally a name for the baddies.

There are some interesting ideas in here.  That’s not to say that it’s a home run, but it’s not just an interesting failure either.  It’s an interesting mixed bag, I guess.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.  It’s too long, and it feels like there’s a lot of running around and busy-work to fill out the plot.  There are some downright clumsy bits, like Logan calling up the X-Men to tell them that every mutant on earth is in peril, and Kitty needs to keep watch on every single one of them, which is so over the top that it makes the threat feel silly rather than epic – especially when the plot is focussed more on the possibility of one random new recruit being turned into a killer cyborg.  The Weapon X prologue chapter is drawn by Greg Land, who seems to be working from an entirely different character design from everyone else for the main villain, Reverend Stryker, and appears unfamiliar with what old people look like.  Carla, who was given the big fanfare introduction in the Weapon X preview story, is still just kind of floating around doing nothing much.

But the art picks up on Weapon X‘s main story chapters when Marc Borstel is on art; his characters have much more life to them, and he can sell the banality of evil stuff far better.  Robert Grill’s work on the Hulk chapters isn’t bad at all either, though it’s a bit more house style.  And, underneath all the killer cyborgs nonsense, there are some ideas at play here.

The new Weapon X Project is, as noted, the work of good old Reverend Stryker.  There is a big compound full of scientists and thugs working on evil things.  But it’s not a straightforward cult, nor are these people full time villains.  Not the majority, at any rate.  The compound seems to be part of a gated community, Serenity Hills, and the story is unusually keen to stress the idea that these people are going home to their families at the end of the day.  There are increasing levels of security and access, so the really dodgy mad scientist stuff is only known to the people right at the core.  On the outskirts are seemingly normal security guards and ordinary family members; somewhere in the middle are scientists who realise that they’re working on dodgy technologies for questionable people but don’t know that their work is actually being deployed.  Or perhaps they’re in denial, or just rationalising it all away.  The point, seemingly, is to have something as crackers as Weapon X shading imperceptibly into relatively normal life, and play up how things get subtly normalised at every level.

At the core are two competing power centres.  Stryker is on a religious crusade to wipe out mutants, and is determined to carefully recruit like-minded volunteers who are spiritually ready to be transformed into supersoldiers and sacrifice their humanity for the greater good.  But the people actually doing the work, by all appearances, are not especially religious.  They need the true believers for cyborg duty; the actual Weapon X project is a mixture of mercenaries, morally flexible scientists, and by all appearances some people who just filled in the wrong job advertisement and may not have noticed yet.  Since Stryker is paying no attention to any of them, the real power belongs to Dr Alba, the chief mad scientist, who couldn’t care less about religion, or even particularly about mutants, but just wants to take Stryker’s money to fund her experiments in mad supersoldiers.  She also doesn’t care in the slightest about whether her volunteers are spiritually ready, because they’re going to wind up as mindless zombies anyway by the time she’s finished with them.  Stryker is too busy recruiting and praying to notice any of this.

Stryker is plainly a dangerous nutcase leading his followers to a grisly fate at Alba’s hands – but it’s plain that the story has much more sympathy for him and his volunteers than it does for her.  Pak clearly sees the volunteers as lost souls looking for purpose, and being manipulated into something they see as a genuine act of sacrifice for the greater good.  Even Stryker is at least trying to make the world a better place as he sees it.  Alba, in contrast, is a straight psychopath. She’s a completely one-dimensional character, but also the only one in the building who really understands what they’re doing, and that it has no real purpose beyond whatever intrinsic interest it might hold.  In herself, she’s not especially interesting; what works is the way that other characters allow themselves to believe that she’s on their side.

So what the hell is the Hulk doing in all this?  Three things, I guess.  First, he’s got a pure plot role: Weapon X needs to get a Hulk sample so that it can create its new supersoldier Weapon H, who’s the focal point of the next arc.  Second, he’s there to be a conventional hero and serve as a contrast for the regular cast.  With villains like this, it’s very easy for the regular cast to look like heroes while actually being quite dodgy in their own right.  This is a team that includes Sabretooth and Lady Deathstrike – but by superhero standards, even the likes of Logan and Domino are fairly relaxed about the use of lethal force.  Amadeus is there to react to them and try to dragoon them into acting like proper heroes.

Third, and linked to that, this is ostensibly a Hulk story too.  From that book’s point of view, the angle is that Amadeus is maybe too nice to be the Hulk.  He has all the Hulk’s strength in theory, but he never gets angry enough to access it.  And his attempts to get the regular cast to play by his moral code are all a bit impotent.  So there’s a story going on here about whether Amadeus is maybe going too far in the nice-guy direction to get the job done.  (He’s also the token Christian on the heroes’ side, just to bring a bit of balance to the portrayal.)

This could be tightened up, and it would probably have worked better as just a Weapon X arc with the Hulk as a guest star.  But there are worthwhile ideas in here, and this version of Weapon X is outperforming my admittedly sceptical expectations.

Bring on the comments

  1. Jerry Ray says:

    Still waiting on a second printing of TA Hulk 22 here – I was out of town the week it came out, and by the time I made it to the comic store, speculators had cleaned out every copy everywhere (including online) from what I can tell. Frustrating.

  2. Brian says:

    “The Weapon X prologue chapter is drawn by Greg Land, who seems to be working from an entirely different character design from everyone else for the main villain, Reverend Stryker, and appears unfamiliar with what old people look like.”

    Do they have old people in pornography or muscle magazines to trace from?

  3. Paul says:

    If Land’s take on Old Man Logan is anything to go by, apparently they do.

  4. Voord 99 says:

    – Brian beat me to it!

    But someday I want Greg Land to draw someone else’s stereotypical artcomix autobiographical piece about an unlovable schlub and his personal life. Someone else’s! I do not want to know what emerges when Greg Land explores his own psyche.

    – It’s interesting that all these years later, X2: X-Men United seems to have left behind it a sense that Stryker and the Weapon X project, and Stryker and Lady Deathstrike, somehow go together as things that should be part of the same story, despite the gulf between comics Stryker and film Stryker. (Has anyone backfilled in a previous military career for comics Stryker yet?)

  5. Zachary Adams says:

    I thought God loves Man Kills had a brief reference to Stryker being a vet. Nowhere near the massively influential general of the movie though.

  6. jpw says:

    Wasn’t Deathstrike in GLMK2, though? Bad story that was obviously just movie promo, but I believe the first acknowledgment that the original GLMK was in-continuity.

  7. Voord 99 says:

    Yes, and I remember that our host Paul O’Brien commented it about it in the X-Axis at the time.* But that was back then.

    But, hey, it may just be that Greg Pak really liked the film.

    *Hmm. How far is the X-Axis away from its 20th anniversary?

  8. Voord 99 says:

    And a bit of searching suggests that the 20th anniversary has come and gone.

  9. SanityOrMadness says:

    Deathstrike’s character design is one of the few movie-inspired redesigns of the early-2000s that has completely stuck, hasn’t it? Maybe even the only one?

  10. Nu-D says:

    Stryker was always military. He was active duty when his wife died and he chose to murder his own mutant baby. His subsequent spiritual downward spiral included alcoholism and military discharge, presumably dishonorable or administrative. When he hit rock bottom, he found God and became an anti mutant religious evangelist. He was entirely out of the military by the time he makes an appearance on the Xmen´s radar.

    On a different note, I just finished reading A Good Country, a book by Laleh Khalidi about a California teen seduced into joining ISIS in Syria. Reading Paul´s summary of this arc, I´m led to wonder whether there´s any intentional effort by Pak to use these villains as allegories for ISIS. Genuinely spiritually disaffected people being recruited by charismatic religious leaders, who are in turn being manipulated by sociopaths. Just a thought.

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