Comics // Review // X-Men #26

Concise

G. Willow Wilson continues to deliver some excellent character work, even if the central plotting is a little lacklustre, as this four-part adventure draws to a close. At times the division in this book between those great character moments and the slightly ropy story beats is a little too great, but ultimately this is a perfectly sound mini-adventure for the X-Men. And the dénouement is a killer.

X-Men #26 Cover

Spoilerful

There are plenty of things to like in this book. It is at times funny, and sweet, and full of characterisation. And yet I don’t love it. I didn’t get much out of the story, and the two middle issues are mostly redundant from a story telling perspective. Not much really happens, and what does has little consequence. And yet, and yet, there are plenty of things to like in this book.

The central narrative here touches very lightly, and with very little nuance, on the development of massively destructive weapons, the dangers of scientific hubris, humanity’s disregard for nature, and the darker impulses of mankind. Unfortunately, these huge and worthy topics are swept through with very little sophistication – evil science types wanted to make a ‘bigger’ bomb using Kree debris and were rightly punished by a monster of their own making. Dark Krakoa has no agency and is simply an unknowing monster who killed its creators by reflex not by choice. Those science types; who are they and what did they want the bomb for? The Kree crash and subsequent rescue mission is just a macguffin/red-herring combo. And what of spending the better part of three issues with the team underground and separated from Storm? Well everyone just spontaneously jumped out of the hole and teamed up again when it became necessary. This environmentalist plot hasn’t been particularly strong from the outset and it’s resolution here is very much by the numbers (‘maybe I can reason with it!’). Fortunately Wilson’s story has never really been about its story, it’s been about the characters at its heart.

For me this book didn’t really come to life until the final few pages; seeing the team working together is always worthwhile and even if taking care of Dark Krakoa was a relatively perfunctory affair it did yield a few nice moments (“Gah! Hey!”). However, it is the quieter scenes afterward that are the greatness of this book. I am a sucker for any time with Dr. the Beast and pretty much any science-y scene as well so a little geology debrief is always welcome, but the particular stand out scene was Storm and Jubilee taking a moment to remember their lost friend Wolverine. Jubilee says she feels like she’s “not supposed to say anything“; this is a common problem for shared universes like this – huge status quo changes in one book go un-remarked upon in another for all kinds of mundane reasons (like publishing schedules and conflicts) and that can make the whole thing a little less real. The death of an important figure like Wolverine would leave an indelible mark on his friends, so sharing their grief and supporting one another through communication and friendship is incredibly humanising and realistic – these characters feel more like real people (and stronger ones at that) as a result.

This is really a book of two halves; if you come seeking a rewarding high concept narrative you’ll likely be a shade disappointed, but if you want some strong moments of personal reflection and characterisation you’ll definitely get something out of this story. In some ways this is a shame as the more intimate moments are very well done, and are worthy of a much grander story-arc. Then again it is always a pleasure to see great characters like Storm and Jubilee brought to life with believable and meaningful dialogue and interactions. After all they are too often written as cardboard action heroes who feel and think nothing at all. And even if I wasn’t sold on the overall story I have to admit to being incredibly touched by that final page – it may have been a little bit cheesy but it captured the spirit and optimism of the X-Men in general, and Jubilee in particular, in a very sweet way.

X-Men #26 Panel

Notes and Observations:

  • Honestly, if your heart didn’t melt reading that wonderful last page then it is made of stronger stone than Krakoa’s!
  • Wilson’s writing for Jubilee has been pretty strong though out this run – I’d love to see a solo Jubilee book from Wilson at some point in the future.
  • The rotation of the narrative viewpoint between Storm, Psylocke, Monet, and now Rachel, is a great device that Wilson has mostly capitalised on well. As per my above point though I would have loved to have seen a Jubilee led issue (especially since she was mostly a spectator in this story).

All art belongs to the copyright holder

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Comics // Review // Millennium #4

Concise

In the penultimate issue of this five-part Frank Black revival there are a few answers apparently on offer, but writer Joe Harris is smart enough to keep everything just the right side of ambiguous. Whether or not we really know now who is working for whom and why, this is another strong instalment of this mystery as it takes the opportunity to dig a little deeper into Black family history and the resurrected Millennium Group itself. With a skilled hand Harris is putting his pieces in place for some final revelations and yet he is still able to write a thrilling issue as he does so.

Millennium #4 Cover

Spoilerful

The primary driver of this issue is establishing Jordan Black’s history, her relationship with her father, and her subsequent relationship with the Millennium Group, and each element is handled deftly and with a strong sense of narrative weight. Frank and Jordan have become estranged over the years and the resurgent Group has taken the opportunity presented by Jordan’s vulnerability and unique powers to inculcate in her the Group’s new agenda (whatever that may actually be). Frank handles the entire situation poorly, driven mostly by the understandably still raw emotions regarding Catherine’s death, but even he is not above the old adage ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ when it becomes clear what the Group’s immediate priority is.

The cold open is a triumph of atmosphere, theme, and horror; a young woman appearing only in silhouette, arrives at a frat house party and visits upon the unsavoury womanising guests some dark visions, finishing with the seemingly intentional murder of a young apparently would-be rapist. This is a flashback to 2011 and the young woman in this scene is revealed to be Jordan Black. Thematically this is tremendous – this book has always used these teaser scenes to evoke the format of the original show and this sequence reminds of the best of them, as well as referencing countless slasher and horror movies that start or end in a similar environment. An eldritch figure wreaking havoc in an everyday setting is typical of the cold opens in the show, but it is subverted here when we realise that the ‘monster’ in question is actually ‘little’ Jordan Black. When the deed is done a handler appears on the scene from the Millennium Group, a group that we know deals in monstrous acts, so the horror of what Jordan has become is escalated further. And finally there is the colouring and structure of the scene, the deep red of the environment (that fades-in in a way reminiscent of the show’s static opening shots), the way that Jordan is only a silhouette and offers dark visions reminds of Legion in the first issue of this story. This is a deeply meaningful sequence that provides some solid back story at the same time as working to raise our concern for Jordan Black’s soul.

Artist Colin Lorimer and colourist continue to work wonderfully with Harris’ scripts – the atmosphere of Frank Black’s world, even at parties and in skyscrapers, is oppressive and dangerous. This is a world shrouded in darkness, but that is not to say that the art is unclear or messy, rather that darkness is expertly rendered with all of the nuance and shading that you would expect from the ambiguous world of Millennium. The shadow and light that falls on Jordan and Frank as they silently sit waiting in a corridor, the darkness of Jordan in the flashback versus the brilliance of light enveloping Frank in her vision, the expression of knowing malice on Legion’s face in the final panel – all of these moments, and more besides, demonstrate a winning combination of art and colour that serve to tell and enhance the story on every page. This is a great creative team all round.

So do the Millennium Group really want to work with Frank solely to bring down Legion, and if so why now? Is Mulder really in danger, and will Frank compromise his principles to work with his daughter and the Group to protect the unwitting Fox? Harris clearly still has some tricks up his sleeve, even the presumed location of the confrontation next issue, the old Black house in Seattle, is a brilliantly evocative choice; it is a place heavy with memories (and is another something Frank has long since abandoned). This has been a much smarter, sharper, and more thrilling Millennium follow-up than I ever could have hoped for – I am looking forward to the finale with bated breath, but I am hoping it doesn’t come too quickly because then this revival will be over all too soon.

Millennium #4 Panel

Millennium #4 // Writer – Joe harris / Artist – Colin Lorimer / Colourist – Joana Lafuente // IDW

Notes and Observations:

  • I was a bit disappointed to see that Frank became such an inadequate father. Even accepting that everything he does is to protect Jordan he is apparently completely unable to communicate with his daughter and even seems to have abandoned her at some point (and don’t get me started on that slap). The show ended on a relatively optimistic note, that Frank would protect Jordan to the ends of the Earth, but then I suppose the X-Files Millennium episode undid some of that with Frank in an institution for some reason – either way I never thought Frank would screw things up with Jordan this bad.
  • I’ve been a little down on the consistent presence of Agent Mulder in this book, but it seems I should have been far more trusting of Joe Harris all along. In previous issues Mulder has given Frank someone to speak to and a simple way to get a little exposition out of the way organically, but using that this relationship as leverage over Frank is a smart move. Frank has shed his place in the world, his friends and contacts (even his family) for precisely this reason; his collegiate friendship with Mulder is a danger to them both.
  • It was very nice to see a little name drop for now-Captain Bob Giebelhouse as Mulder gets in touch to try and find leads on Frank.
  • Jordan is quoting some Latin from the Bible (Daniel 11:35) in the flashback scene “et de eruditis ruent ut conflentur, et eligantur usque ad tempus statutum quia adhuc aliud tempus erit“, before she goes on to translate it “And some of those understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, until the end of time because it is still the appointed time“. Well, I guess we can rule out the Millennium Group being the good guys now!

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Silk #3

Concise

This is such a wonderful book. Stacey Lee continues to shine as the art propels Robbie Thompson’s intriguing story forward a little way. The events of this issue aren’t momentous, but they are well handled and things are moving into place for the back-end of this narrative arc – Cindy appears more vulnerable than ever and there are wheels in motion to keep her that way. This is another great read with enough hints of the overall arc that things continue to progress, even if we don’t have many answers just yet.

Silk #3 Cover

Spoilerful

Writer Robbie Thompson plays it relatively safe with this issue of Silk – we see more of a lot of things we’ve seen before (Silk and the Pokemon dude fighting across the city, Cindy getting the fight footage on the news, people watching said fight on the news, sad times in the bunker, Spider-Man making himself awkwardly available), but everything is done in such a meaningful, and at times melancholic, way that none of it is boring or repetitive. And whilst on the surface not much appears to happen there are some potentially big narrative things in play; we are getting a deeper glimpse into Silk’s past as well as into her future. Cindy wasn’t as eager to enter the bunker as it previously seemed, Black Cat has some big plans in motion, Cindy may still be suffering some PTSD or at the very least has some unresolved issues from leaving the bunker. In fact in each issue so far we learn just a little bit more about the road that brought Cindy here and why she is the mixed-up-happy-sad person she is now. It has been said that this book is weakened by it’s lack of a clear supporting cast, but I think that that is entirely the point – Cindy Moon is alone in this world. Or at least she feels that way.

Much of the brilliance of this book stems from lead character Cindy Moon being the perfect combination of confidence and self-doubt, capability and inexperience; she is the star of both a comedy and a tragedy – emerging from the bunker has given her a chance to experience life, take on the challenges and freedoms of being a superhero, but it has also confronted her with the things she has missed in her youth, and the still unresolved disappearance of her family. Cindy’s sense of loss seems palpable and that is as much due to the sharp characterisation by Thompson as it is to the warm depiction of her by Lee – Cindy is a charming and engaging character and it is heart-wrentching to see her feel like this. All of which makes the last page reveal that much more surprising and fun – it seems that the cavalry has finally arrived to help! Thompson continues to find ways to insert some great comedy into the book, and whilst much of it is in the dialogue (“diet smaug“) there are plenty of laughs in the situations and the art too – I love the dumpster moment when Silk dejectedly looks up at the shadow rapidly making its way towards her.

Stacey Lee is putting together some excellent pages in this book. The momentum and speed of aerial combat is on full display in the initial pages, as is the physical cost of fights like this – each hit and throw has a ton of impact and the weight of a landed punch or incoming van-projectile is easy to see; when Cindy and Harris Porter take a time-out after the brawling is done you can really feel the aches and pains they both have. Lee also does more great work capturing facial expressions and feelings, especially for slightly world-weary Cindy, but also for the beaten down Harris, cheerful mini-Harris, self-important Black Cat, and even judgemental (but right) Mrs Bump.

Colourist Ian Herring is also keeping up an incredibly consistent and high quality performance on this book. Skyline fights could easily become monotone blue affairs, but Herring has been able to create a unique feel for each so far by setting them at different times of day; here the blues and greens of an early afternoon make for a gorgeous backdrop, and then later we see the warmth of sundown as Silk makes her escape from Black Cat. When called on to enhance the characterisation or narrative Herring is equally capable – take for instance the ‘red’ rage draining from Cindy after the fight with Harris; the silent grey despair of Harris’ run-down home; or the similarly drab surroundings of the bunker Cindy is camping out in.

The story of Silk continues to gather steam and whilst the events of this issue may have resembled previous ones a little too closely there is more than enough in the smart characterisation, delightful art, witty dialogue, and escalating narrative to make keep this a great read. The stack of open questions remain (what happened to the Moon family, who has been watching Cindy, what’s Black Cat’s master plan), so hopefully we’ll start progressing towards answers soon, but in the meantime this book is simply a lot of fun to read.

Silk #3 Panel

Silk #3 // Writer – Robbie Thompson / Artist – Stacey Lee / Colour Artist – Ian Herring // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • Is it me or did something seem a little ‘off’ about Spider-Man at the end? He knows something is wrong with Cindy’s powers just by watching a fight on the news? Hmmmm. I do hope that’s the real FF though!
  • I love that Reed and Sue are so sweet that they’d even wave hello to you through a locked bunker door
  • I’m a little surprised that more hasn’t been made of Cindy’s civilian life so far. Then again, I guess the point is that Cindy finds it easier to live as Silk than to fully reintegrate with civilian society after 10 years in the bunker. OK, in that case I am not surprised, and am in fact impressed that so little has been made of Cindy’s civilian life so far.

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Media // Other Stuff This Week #150426

Finding time to put together full write-ups of all the great books out there each week can be tough, so this quick run through will hopefully provide some pithy (and in some cases spoilerish) thoughts on some of the stuff that I wasn’t able to spend more time on recently

Avengers: Age of Ultron – The question on many fans’ minds in recent weeks has been ‘can Joss Whedon perform the impossible a second time?’. Although A:AoU is not perfect I think the answer is a pretty resounding ‘yes’. This movie is one hell of a ride and despite the feeling that it is the middle part of a far bigger story (a lot of different threads are entwined in this film) there is so much here to enjoy that it is simply a great watch. And of course it is very funny.

Black Widow #17 – The art by Phil Noto in this issue is lovely, and Natasha is written well by Nathan Edmondson, but the Prophet and his vague future-talk was a little woolly. Prophets are often charismatic and persuasive, but this guy had nothing particularly unique or engaging to say to Natasha. I’m not surprised Nat doesn’t go for it. All in all this issue was fine, but not a stand out.

iZombie (TV) #1.6 – This show is pleasing enough and the central cast remain on consistently fine form, I’m just not entirely sold on the whole thing long term. The various crime plots so far have been perfectly good, however, they are already feeling quite formulaic so it is a good thing that the overarching plot threads are starting to emerge more strongly. Unfortunately Blaine’s plan still seems somewhat short-sighted (and the coincidences are starting to rack up) so I still need more convincing.

Kaptara #1 – Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod launch their exciting new scifi adventure with a great first issue – there are moments of great character building, some big surprises, and an interesting core narrative. The art is fun, but the colouring throughout really steals the show. This is a good start to a fun new book.

The Flash (TV) #1.19 – As the show moves towards it’s final arc the revelations are starting to mount up. I’m very glad the team are closing in on the Reverse Flash, yet I am a little nervous – Wells is my favourite character in this show, his sage yet suspicious advice is always delivered magnificently by the wonderful Tom Cavanagh, and so the prospect of a Wells-less second season is not a pleasant one. Also, when will this show sort out it’s weird sexist issue regarding Iris – all the men in her life get to decide how she should be kept ‘safe’ and she is regularly denied agency by everyone.

Comics // Review // Wonder Woman #1 / Convergence

With this book being so closely tied to the Convergence cross-over (unsurprisingly) it has proven difficult to separate the two so this review is as much my thoughts about the event as it is a consideration of this Wonder Woman book.

Concise

Wonder Woman’s Convergence title revisits a continuity when she apparently lived in Gotham, was dating Steve Trevor, and working as a nurse/social worker. This is very much a tie-in to the wider Convergence event and without a thorough knowledge of Wonder Woman of that era or a soft spot for Red Rain Gotham (an Elseworld from 1991!) I’d be surprised if most readers get much out of this mostly meaningless adventure. Despite a couple of nice scenes the story is slight and the stakes real low so it was hard to get all that excited by the plot. That said, it is great to see Joshua Middleton on a superhero book again.

Convergence Wonder Woman #1 Cover

Spoilerful

The events of Convergence have dimmed Diana’s powers and a doomsday cult is growing in popularity as people look for an explanation of the Convergence dome around the city of Gotham. This is a neat set up, and the initial scenes with Diana and Steve are well written – these characters feel like they are in a real relationship and their concern about each other and the situation is palpable. And yet they are also heroes and a little end of the world dome action won’t stop them from getting out there and helping people.

Diana’s friend/co-worker appears to be fully invested in this doomsday cult talk of angelic saviours and she uses her influence (knowingly or not) over a vulnerable older woman to make her believe this rhetoric too. Again this is an interesting proposition, yet I started to lose my way at this point. Diana has a valid argument in her conversation with street-tough Julio, that this lady should be allowed to deal with the situation in any way that helps her, but I was surprised that she so quickly acquiesced to taking Vera to the creepy doomsday church – a pretty suspicious place overall, especially in the midst of a potentially world shattering situation. In the church itself the leader of the cult proves to be pretty uncharismatic and talks in only vague terms about angels and such – none of this feels threatening or particularly important, and Diana seems out of place in this entire plot (plus she gets knocked out in one hit from a walking stick?!). And all that is before we even get to the arrival of Joker, Ivy, and Catwoman from the Red Rain Gotham.

These versions of the classic Batman villains are vampires with wings (and it seems Selina is an actual cat-woman-vampire or something) and they intend to fight a spontaneously re-powered Wonder Woman as per the mysterious instructions from dome-maker Telos. And so this is where I get a little frustrated; Telos has gone to all this trouble, stealing cites, choosing super-opponents, setting up battles, but then he has no intention of enforcing rules of any kind? You can just team up with as many of anyone you can find and head over to the random next city for a fight with someone you choose (and how did Joker know where Diana was again)? How is it even determined who is fighting whom and from which city? Sure, I know this is all old-school comics nonsense and none of it really matters at the end of the day as it is just an excuse for some cross-continuity fisticuffs, but when the ‘rules’ and context of the entire event are so unclear it just makes everything that little bit more confusing and consequence-less. And when there are no consequences for the characters involved it makes everything kind of meaningless and low-stakes, so why as a reader should I care what happens next?

This event came into being as a way to cover a disruption at DC head office; whilst DC editorial moves coast the New 52 universe and it’s ongoing creative teams have been given a couple of months off to sort stuff out. So in the meantime the Convergence two-parters have brought back classic creative teams and characters that are out of current continuity, but they don’t seem to want to do anything with this opportunity. The problem I am having with these books at the moment is that whilst they are taking the chance to revisit retro incarnations of DC superheroes they are also having to do some serious contortions to tie into the Convergence series. These are not genuine revisits to the older heroes’ worlds, but rather fleeting check-ins before the Convergence fighting starts. Sadly that means that they are neither one thing nor the other and the result is a pretty confusing and unsatisfying mess; characters reappear out of context but they can’t pick up where they left off, because they need to get converging straight away. So why even have the intro stories at all? Couldn’t we have just jumped into a ‘battle world’ of sorts where the heroes have already been gathered?

In any case the saving grace of this book is the wonderful art from Joshua Middleton. After stepping away from the capes and tights books for the most part it is great to have Middleton drawing for one of the big two again. His art has a brilliant crispness to it, even as it takes on an air of the ethereal and fantastic (check out the Joker in that terrifying “May we enter?” panel). Middleton also handles the colouring duties and he does a terrific job here too; the palatte is muted, but clean, and he captures light and shadow in a tremendous way.

The art in this book is great, but the story is by turns meaningless, slow, and confusing. Convergence has quickly started to feel like the publishing stop-gap it is, a business decision rather than a creative one. These stories aren’t a real chance to revisit by-gone interpretations of characters because they all too quickly jump into the Convergence plot, but then they aren’t essential to the Convergence story either. If you have a real affinity for a character or a particular era (I’m very tempted to revisit 90’s Steel!) then these have a little of something to offer, and similarly if a favourite author or artist is involved, but for the casual reader these books all seem a bit out of reach.

Convergence Wonder Woman #1 Panel

Convergence: Wonder Woman #1 // Writer – Larry Hama / Art & Colour – Joshua Middleton // DC

Notes and Observations:

  • Does Gotham just stop at the edges? Like, I get that the visual of the lava beset island is great, but I was very surprised when Steve was just like, ‘here’s the literal end of the city’!
  • I liked the idea that beyond the dome the sky is just nothingness – pretty creepy existential threat right there
  • Wonder Woman looks so ace storming out of the church, ready for business! (Even if her dissolving clothes were a bit of a mystery to me)

All art belongs to the copyright holder