Messiah War picks up a few months after the close of Messiah CompleX, with Cable having escaped into the time-stream with his adopted daughter, Hope. Hers is the first mutant birth since M-Day, a holocaust that reduced the world's mutant population from several million to fewer than two hundred. She is either the savior of mutantkind or the one that damns them all. Cable believes she is the key to preventing the dystopian future, where mutants are corralled into prison camps in a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
They are hunted across the centuries by another time-traveler and former X-Man, Bishop, who believes she is responsible for the nightmarish future that follows her birth. He has teamed-up with Stryfe, an old enemy of Cable's, and is setting them all on a collision course that could reshape the future-history of all mankind. Working to stop Bishop is Wolverine and his X-Force team, a covert black-ops squad tasking with finding and protecting Hope.
Messiah War is the middle volume of the saga surrounding Hope, the mutant messiah. It's slower paced, allowing for a bit more breathing room and considerations regarding this child and her role in the destiny of mutantkind. Each side has a reason to either protect or kill the young child, and beneath the furious action there is fairly deep mediation on fate and the unknown consequences of choice and the impact of nature versus nurture. Cable does his best to guide Hope and be the father figure she needs, believing that his protection and guidance can prevent a war that will forever destroy the fragile peace and politics between human-mutant relations. Bishop, himself an outcast from the apocalyptic future where mutants are branded and imprisoned, believes he can correct the future-history and that there can be no changing what this little girl will become. She must die.
It's a thoughtful examination regarding the birth of the messiah and her role in the world, taking the time to reflect on the possible repercussions of the decisions made in Messiah CompleX. There are generous amount of violence that have a darker edge to it than the prior book, largely because the writing team for the X-Force sections are skewing toward an older audience. Even the artwork there is darker and dingier than the overall body of work shown in Messiah CompleX, but it works very well and looks beautiful. The art for the Cable issues have a cleaner, painterly effect to them, which is an odd contrast to the grungy, bloody panels of the X-Force chapters.
The book is presented in an oversized hardcover collecting the issues of X-Force and Cable that comprise Messiah War, along with plenty of bonus material. In addition to the main story, Marvel has chosen to also include X-Men: The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop, a three-issue miniseries that chronicles Bishop's childhood in the future concentration camps and his eventual journey through time to join the X-Men. It helps to give a bit more background behind Bishop's reasoning for betraying the X-Men and why he wants to kill Hope. There are also plenty of character bios, dubbed the Cable Files, which flesh out the background to all of the main characters and some closely affiliated people that are mentioned. Also included is an interview with Cable writer Duane Swierczynski, in which he discusses some of the editorial and collaborative decisions in writing for that series in the wake of Messiah CompleX and working with X-Force writers Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost to craft the Messiah War crossover.
While Messiah War has a slower pace than the frenetic Messiah CompleX, the X-Force/Cable crossover serves as a vital follow-up and sets the stage for Second Coming, the third and final part to the saga of the mutant messiah. It is a meditative work, yet filled with the requisite action set pieces and some deft character moments, that helps propel the larger narrative toward its conclusion.
-- Michael Hicks