In House of M, the mutant population was eradicated from 16 million souls to only a few hundred. Facing numbers too low to ensure the continuation of their species, the survivors face extinction. The first mutant to be born since M-Day, Hope, was hunted down by rival factions of mutants seeking to control her and antimutant hate groups that wanted her dead. Rescued by the X-Men, she was sent into the wastelands of a future America with the time-traveler Cable, where he raised her as his daughter. Now, in Second Coming, they have returned to the present, finding the Xavier Institute in ruins and more enemies waiting for them.
Led by Bastion, a highly advanced Sentinel (robots built to hunt down and exterminate mutants) with knowledge of the future, an antimutant extremist group launches an all-out attack, sending Hope and Cable back on the run. Hunted by enemies who are able to keep one step ahead, nowhere is safe, not even with the X-Men joining the fight to keep Hope safe.
Second Coming is the third part of a saga that began with Messiah CompleX and continued with Messiah War. Like those two trade collections, Second Coming was originally published as a giant crossover between Marvel's major X-comics over the spring and summer of 2010. Whereas Messiah War was a slimmer, slower, and more introspective volume of the series, Second Coming returns to the nonstop action and rapid-fire pace set by Messiah CompleX.
It's a big story, filled with some heady violence, lots of thrills, but also moments of thoughtfulness. At its best, and like most good sci-fi works, the various X-Men titles are a reflection of societal ills, tackling issues of racism and feminism, equal rights, and terrorism. Throughout the Messiah series, which follows in the wake of a massive global genocide, there have been overtones of religion and faith. Characters question their role in dealing with the Mutant Messiah, particularly as the mutant population continues to erode further towards extinction.
Scott Summers, leader of the X-Men, rationalizes much of his actions around his faith in Hope, a belief that she can and will save the mutant race. When it becomes apparent the lengths Summers is willing to go in the name of faith—such as assembling X-Force, a black-ops group of killers led by Wolverine, charged with hunting down and exterminating their enemies—many are disgusted. "That's the problem with faith," another X-Man tells him. "The stronger it gets, the more people tend to die."
It's a prescient statement, given the harrowing circumstances surrounding Second Coming. For both the X-Men and the antimutant extremists, faith is a driving motivation. One side believes Hope will be the savior; the other side believes she will bring about a holocaust that will eradicate mankind. Each are engaged in a violent game of chess that has the body count rising, claiming the lives of multiple X-Men while others are severely wounded or permanently maimed.
Second Coming is a very strong story produced by a collaborative talent of writers, artists, and inkers working on the four X-titles the book was originally spread across. The multiple writers plotted out the story perfectly, tackling the multiple battles, chapter-ending cliffhangers, and future-history mumbo-jumbo with finesse. The group of artists all put forth a top-notch effort as well, particularly Mike Choi and Sonia Oback, the penciler and inker for the X-Force chapters. With exquisite, vibrant coloring and incredible attention to detail (one page featuring Wolverine leaping from the flames of an exploding gas station is impressively detailed with such terrific separation of space that it almost looks like he's leaping out of the page), they deliver the strongest and most stunning visuals of the book, particularly during a devastating moment of loss when a long-time X-Man and fan favorite is murdered by Bastion.
The Messiah trilogy has been some of the strongest work the X-titles has seen in years, and the best series of crossovers since the big-event stories of the ’90s. While it dabbles with the past and future of the X-Men, paying homage to works like Days of Future Past, casual readers will not need a crash course on the past 20 or 30 years of X-lore. The narrative and beautiful action pieces will be enough to draw most in, but long-time fans will find an awful lot to enjoy here. Second Coming layers on the action and suspense, building the storyline to a point of constricting hopelessness before releasing the valve. The climax is violent, sad, and, yes, even hopeful.