Comics // Weekly Pull List // 04/11/15

New comics! Plenty of issue one’s this week (not sure that’s always a good thing though!)

Doctor Strange #2 – Issue one has the visual flair and complexity that you would expect from Chris Bachalo and the premise of Strange as a kind of mystical James Bond is a compelling one, but it wasn’t without it’s faults. Issue two should be a chance to see how this book functions

Joe Golem Occult Detective #1 – Mike Mignola has delivered some amazing work in the space between pulp action and supernatural horror and this book looks like it will be another one to add to the list. Just the setting, a flooded mid-20th century New York, is compelling enough, and the source novel (with collaborator Christopher Golden) is said to be excellent too.

Monstress #1 – I’ve been excited about this book since it was announced earlier this year. The creative team, writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda, did some solid work on X-23, but it is really the inspired concept and setting that makes me eager to read this: the story of a young warrior woman in a post apocalyptic world plagued with giant monstrous creatures.

Paper Girls #2 – This is a great concept and a well put together book, I’m interested to see how Brian K. Vaughan takes things forward (even if I can’t believe issue 2 is out already!)

Uncanny X-Men #600 – So this is it, Brian Michael Bendis’ X-Men run finally comes to a belated end. It’s no secret that I’ve found this run to be full of meandering, uninspired nonsense and some loopy characterisation at the best of times so I’m not sorry to see it finish. Previews have confirmed that the awful ‘young X-Men in modern times’ story is sadly not coming to an end, but hopefully some of Bendis’ other storylines get appropriate closure (rebel leader Scott for example).

Extraordinary X-Men #1 – I am trying to keep an open mind with this book; Lemire and Ramos are perfectly good creators and the line-up could be interesting. Alas, Marvel editorial’s insistence that mutants be sidelined in favour of the inferior Inhumans continues to rankle me, and this book seems explicitly designed to tell the story of why there will soon be no more X-Men stories.

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Comics // Review // Uncanny X-Men #34

Concise

There is a lot to like in this issue, and even if there are a few things that don’t work here my hesitation to fully embrace it more likely stems from my wider feelings about this run. There are some smart ideas, some well deserved (if a little too neat) closure, some good jokes, and a couple of intriguing nods to the future. And Kris Anka is dependable as ever, drawing some attractively clean and simple panels that work well with the narrative content. This issue doesn’t have the power and focus of the previous one, nor does it really delve deeply enough into the character dynamics at play, but it is a solid read non-the-less.

Uncanny X-Men #34 Cover

Spoilerful

There are more than a few characters from writer Brian Michael Bendis’ time stewarding the X-Men who have had inconsistent characterisation and erratic story arcs. Whilst for some characters, such as Cyclops, it is a major problem for the two characters taking centre stage in this issue it is actually a boon. Mystique has long been a multifaceted villain, sometimes fighting the good fight (even as a “one of Xavier’s soldiers” which is an interesting choice of words*), but more often she has walked a darker path and the fact that she has been on the run since Madripoor and the Dazzler impersonation adds a certain credibility to this tale of ice cold revenge. Mystique is a changeling both in power and in personality and her motives are rarely clear, but Dazzler on the other hand is a champion of light and a true hero. The fact that she has a very legitimate grudge against Mystique was always going to be a difficult story to bring to a satisfying conclusion, and I’m not entirely convince this issue gets things quite right. A knock down drag out fight wouldn’t have been the way to go either, but I wonder if a slightly sharper script wouldn’t have served this quieter approach better. That said, one of the most interesting elements of this issue is the conversation that takes place at its centre.
The use of Cyclops in this dialogue was a smart move by both Bendis and Dazzler. It was immediately intriguing to see Scott suddenly casual and chatty in Mystique’s apartment. In fact I was quickly of the opinion that this was exactly what Scott should have been doing all along – a revolution is at its heart about persuading people to see the world your way, and wouldn’t Scott having a few calm conversations with key mutants around the world have been an interesting way to show the founding of a new mutant-rights movement? Where things don’t quite work is in some of the clunky dialogue or unimpressive philosophising, for example, the constant repetition of dialogue that works once or twice but becomes a little grating; “again“, “really talk“, “I need more“, that entire “technically” conversation between Dazzler and Hill (plus “can I see them?” surely can’t be followed by another person saying “I could if you were still an agent“). In any case the reveal that this was Dazzler all along was nicely played, especially considering that the intercut conversation with Maria Hill took place a week earlier and would have given Dazzler plenty of prep time (hands up if, like me, you were expecting Dazzler to swing through a window or something!) It was also really nice to see the new mutants from Scott’s defunct-revolution helping Dazzler out (plus the idea that Mystique was using anti-psychic nano-technology is super cool), and that she was intent on showing them a better way of dealing with the darkness in the world.
Kris Anka is a very safe pair of hands when it comes to the X-Men; he often draws with a simple elegance and confidence that supports the core storytelling and that is mostly the case here. The big moments this issue are primarily dialogue driven so Anka is restricted to drawing close-up one character panels with a few static long shots thrown in to break the pace up. That is a tough thing to keep fresh and interesting so it’s not surprising that the art never really comes to life. After the reveal that Cyclops was in fact Dazzler it made his sudden easy going attitude and posture make a lot more sense, and that is a great detail that helps given this world more believability. The changing layouts spice things up a little but I must admit there were a couple of times I read ahead a panel or two due to the sudden switch from single to double page spreads. Also, how many repeat close-ups and block back grounds were there in this issue?! Things do liven up somewhat in the final few pages as Dazzler displays her mutant and musical abilities in quick succession, and Anka draws the ‘new X-Kids’ in a pleasantly wholesome way. Similarly colourist Marte Garcia doesn’t have a great deal of room to do anything more than solid work, we’re mostly looking at the interior of Mystique’s apartment and the Helicarrier bridge, but there are some really nice moments scattered throughout, particularly those at Dazzler’s gig.
This issue was another solid move towards wrapping up Bendis’ run; Mystique got her punishment, Dazzler got her revenge and a reaffirmed future, the X-Kids got enigmatic. Nothing in here was particularly surprising or unexpected, in fact much of it felt like a neat tick in the box, and so it wasn’t quite as cathartic an experience as it perhaps should have been. Mystique has been a true villain in this run so no amount of hand-wringing ‘what about the good times’ dialogue can distract from the fact she kidnapped, abused, and exploited Dazzler. The fact that Dazzler brought her down is rewarding, as is it that she did so in a remarkably efficient and effective way, but then it’s all over and everyone is at the club all of a sudden. There wasn’t the emotional impact I was expecting here; I get that this is comics and things like this are happening all the time, but the really great stories manage to deal with the bombast of superheroes alongside the intimate and personal moments too. This was a worthy effort, but it didn’t quite resonate with me as powerfully as it perhaps should have.
*Bendis has regularly written Xavier as a bit of an aloof and impersonal jerk, but his ‘mission’ has traditionally been considered one of altruism and inclusion. The phrase “one of Xavier’s soldiers” gives the whole thing a much darker tone – this is Dazzler talking, but I can’t help but hear Bendis’ voice here given his characterisation of Xavier, and it sounds derisive of Xavier’s ‘man of peace’ credentials. Does Bendis consider Xavier to be closer to Magneto in his methods?
Uncanny X-Men #34 Panel
Uncanny X-Men #34 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Art – Kris Anka / Colour Art – Marte Garcia // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • So how did Dazzler track down Mystique?
  • So how did the Cuckoo’s overpower Mystique’s mental blocks, especially given she has found a way to shield herself from Charles Xavier and/or Cerebro?
  • Golden Balls is in full control of his powers now (he was only popping small targeted balls) so that’s pretty cool.
  • I like no-nonsense Maria Hill a lot, and Dazzler making the deal to protect the kids was a strong moment, but I still can’t understand why a mutant ‘revolution’ is considered an off the charts “insane” idea. Especially considering the X-Men were doing stuff like moving to an island off the US coast and forming a mutant nation not so long ago.
  • There’s a panel where Scott has a gun to his head that is very reminiscent of the cover for Uncanny X-Men #18, which was a curious coincidence.

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Uncanny X-Men #33

Concise

Bendis delivers another* two-hander that offers up great opportunities for character insight, humour, humanity, and exciting visuals. Despite the presence of giant monsters this is a small story and the most is made of the dialogue between Kitty and Illyana; the latter in particular gets much more nuance and shading than we have seen in many recent issues of Uncanny. This is a sweet little adventure that sheds the burden of mutant politics in favour of two great characters reconnecting after too long apart.

Uncanny X-Men #33 Cover

Spoilerful

I don’t know if it is writer Brian Michael Bendis or just me, but I much prefer Bendis’ X-Men work when he cuts through the murky politics of Cyclops’ revolution and instead focuses on characters getting a little out of their comfort zone. Sometimes that means physically, but oftentimes, as it does here, it can mean emotionally – Kitty and Illyana are never under any physical threat on Monster Island, yet there is still a tension and excitement and fascination in this story owing to the intimate character dynamics at play.

Magik and Kitty appear deep in the forests of the island and although it first appears that there is a bit of friction between these erstwhile friends Kitty quickly comes to realise that Illyana isn’t in a good place at the moment. Removing the external factor’s of recent X-Men stories really pays off in this issue as the dialogue is left free to tell a story, be funny, and, in parts, be touching too – Illyana’s confession to being hurt by Kitty’s jokes was a really tough little moment and it laid bare more of Illyana’s vulnerability than we usually get to see. In fact this issue was really all about Illyana’s vulnerability; the abandoned mutant child Bo is a manifestation of that exposed and raw vulnerability, and the futility of fighting these monsters (they take no damage and aren’t really aware of why they are fighting at all) becomes a representation of the endless conflict Illyana faces – they are just a never ending obstacle to rage against.

It is never really clear why Illyana ‘kidnapped’ Kitty to go on this specific mission (she could easily handle the monsters herself and it is only revealed that the mutant is a little girl whom Kitty could more readily comfort after they get there, plus it seems like she does this kind of thing alone quite frequently); perhaps it is just that this is the first time in a while that Kitty has really been available for a mission (what with her recent intergalactic dating schedule). Whatever the catalyst this adventure takes place against the backdrop of Illyana’s turbulent emotional state, her frustration with Scott and the events of the last couple years, but the details are pretty much irrelevant; this mission is a release for Illyana and she wants to use it as an opportunity to reconnect with her friend Kitty.

Anka takes the opportunity to have a lot of fun in this issue; the monster designs are all wonderful (I’m especially fond of the furry wendigo-type guy), and there are a lot of great expressive faces on display. Both Kitty and Illyana get a chance to contort their chops in all manner of fun ways (“I was raised in a hellish dimension“, Kitty’s defiant features during that entire first fight), and the monsters have some fun too (the furry guy’s ‘I dunno’ expression was great, as was the monster pile-on on top of Illyana). The rainstorm, the powers, the shadow and light is all well captured in the colouring too – this is a good looking comic book that tells a good story with flourish.

Whilst this book doesn’t affect the bigger picture much, it is a great issue anyway. Ultimately this is lovely one-shot story that takes the time to explore an X-Man who hasn’t really had a lot of character focus recently. There is a real warmth to this issue as a defunct friendship is brought back to life and a young mutant is given a second chance – this is what the X-Men are really about and it is rewarding to see them doing their ‘jobs’ well and putting friendships first. I’ve found Bendis’ run to be a bit of a slide into confusing politics and unclear motivations so the return of a crystal clear focus, sharp characterisation, and good clean fun is very welcome – this is a great issue.

Uncanny X-Men #33 Panel

Uncanny X-Men #33 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Art – Kris Anka / Colours – Antonia Fabella // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

*Bendis’ most recent two character story was All-New X-Men #37 which I absolutely loved

  • In some ways Bo reminds me of Boo from Monsters Inc. which I’m guessing is intentional given this is Monster Island!
  • Nothing to do with Anka’s art, but this issue definitely reminded me that Illyana and Kitty both need costume updates as soon as possible – why does Magik still have a Power Girl boob-window (?!) and Kitty just looks crazy retro by now.
  • I wasn’t keen on Kitty telling Kurt he is “scaring the bejeebus” out of Bo – that just seems really mean, and all things considered I imagine Kurt would be great with kids.

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Uncanny X-Men #32

Concise

At long last we are getting some answers in Brian Michael Bendis’ over-wrought Uncanny X-Men saga, yet for every smart or interesting moment there is a boring or inexplicable one. Scott Summers has made up his mind to bring an end to his mutant ‘revolution’ and some of what follows is strong character work, even despite the ultimately anti-climactic nature of the narrative. At least Chris Bachalo is on hand to make every single panel look characterful, complex, and unique.

Uncanny X-Men #32 Cover

Spoilerful

Writer Brian Michael Bendis has started moving his pieces into place for the run up to his big finish on the X-books in the next few months. The upside of this is that we are finally beginning to see some resolution to the overarching plots and labyrinthine character dynamics that Bendis has been spinning-up over his tenure as writer. Unfortunately there is also an unavoidable sense that there was no satisfying end game planned – Cyclops’ entire arc feels like a road to nowhere; Scott Summers spends this issue regaining his humanity, but there are still no good reasons as to why he lost it.

At this point I feel bad about beating up on Uncanny X-Men every month; I’m a huge X-Men fan and Chris Bachalo is one of my favourite artists in all of comics so I should love this book and although it started strong I’ve become consistently frustrated by the narrative choices and unclear driving forces behind the various arcs in this book. I have enjoyed Cyclops’ secret school (and the choice to house it in the old Weapon-X facility is great) and the introduction of the new X-kids has been a success. Sadly, things like the broken powers, Scott’s culpability for Xavier’s murder, and the entire revolution angle for this book have never been all that clear to me. That said, this issue takes some steps towards clearing all of that up, even if it does so by walking back almost everything we have seen so far this run.

After the big showdown and time travel rewind on the Jean Grey School lawn last issue Cyclops has decided to shut down his secret school, send the kids to study under Storm, end his ‘revolution’ and turn himself in to the appropriate authorities for the murder of Charles Xavier. Whatever epiphany it was that Scott had last issue he fails to effectively articulate it here, even as he spends most of this issue talking to Alex Summers about it (speaking of whom, did Alex call ahead or did he just turn up out of the blue – there’s no door bell at Weapon-X that I can see). Scott tells Alex how badly his students took the fact that the school was closing, which is perhaps not surprising given how cold he is in delivering the message. This is the same problem Bendis has with writing Xavier’s dialogue; they both come across as incredibly obtuse, cold, and impersonal people and I don’t know why he’d want that. Scott is telling these kids, kids who have lost or sacrificed everything to join his cause, that he is washing his hands of them, and yet the way he does it is so unsympathetic. I can’t buy this version of Scott. Sure, maybe he is still in the middle of his so called breakdown or whatever, but he just doesn’t make for an interesting and likeable lead.

So to sum up, the only mutant training will be taking place at the Jean Grey School, Emma’s powers now just ‘work’ again (so the broken powers story came to nothing), Scott remains both accountable and unaccountable for Xavier’s death (seriously, he was possessed by the Phoenix Force!), and Cyclops’ mutant revolution is essentially over. It’s this final point that is most effectively executed – Scott’s speech about the near extinction of mutants and that an idle threat is the only option left is actually quite a heartfelt and believable sentiment. After all Scott has seen, not least the recent deaths of Xavier and Wolverine, I have no problem believing he could be at the end of his tether with the state of mutant/human relations so to throw out a final hail Mary play kind of makes sense – leave us alone or we’ll do exactly what you’ve always been afraid we’d do. This works, in a way, as it gives the impression that all of this time Scott has been scrabbling around looking for a way to protect mutants, deal with his fear, and get over his grief/guilt about Xavier; it was a stalling tactic and a wild gambit. Unfortunately, though, it also means that this whole time Scott has been selling smoke – there’s nothing backing any of this up and we’ve just been reading about a group of people with no idea what they were doing. I guess that’s ok, but it doesn’t feel like the X-Men, and it’s not really an X-Men book that I am eager to read.

As we run into the final issues of Bendis’ time with the X-Men it is nice to see that there is some closure being dished up, but much of it comes at the expense of satisfying story arcs. Most of what has happened in this book seems to have served only to take us to a place where Cyclops can be arrested for killing Xavier and all the other X-Men can hang out together at the Jean Grey School. It seems like that could have been the case over a year ago though so this book mostly seems to have been spinning its wheels. I will admit to being intrigued by whatever ‘big’ plan Alex and Scott have in mind for Scott’s next move, so I guess Bendis can still get me hooked. This is perfectly solid, if uninspired, X-Men writing but I long for something as smart and exciting as the Morrison or Whedon X-Men of yesteryear. Maybe after Secret Wars is over whoever takes on the X-Men will deliver the big, bold, and brilliant stories that the characters deserve.

Uncanny X-Men #32 Panel

Uncanny X-Men #32 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Artist – Chris Bachalo / Colourist – Chris Bachalo & Rain Beredo // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • Fabio ‘Goldballs’ Medina’s continued queries about Eva are welcome continuity after she vanished in time last issue; where exactly Eva has gone remains unexplained though.
  • The Chris Bachalo cover featuring Cyclops standing over the bodies of his previous iterations is pretty great, both thematically and artistically (the Quitely outfit is still the definitive one for me).
  • Bachalo and Beredo’s colouring on diamond-form Emma is wonderful, one of the best versions of her powers I’ve seen.
  • The character overlap between the X-books is a bit of a mess in this issue, if you’re not reading everything then not much of it makes sense – where did Kitty come from and where has she been, where did Illyana take Kitty, what has Alex been up to? Kitty is here long enough to mention her relationship with Starlord, but it is so fleeting that I can’t really understand why it’s in here at all.

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Review: Uncanny X-Men #31

Concise

I have no idea what Brian Michael Bendis is attempting with this book, besides an exercise in tortured plotting and indecipherable character motivations. Chris Bachalo’s art is excellent as ever, but Bendis gives him nothing particularly interesting to draw. This is dry, plodding, and nonsensical story-telling with characters about as interesting as door frames.

Uncanny X-Men #31 Cover

Spoilerful

I find this Brian Michael Bendis book to be incredibly frustrating. Every character in the story remains at odds with Scott; with one voice they scream that he is a feckless, dangerous, monster who has become obsessed with…something about mutants. Yep, it is so unclear what exactly these characters are upset about. Sure, Scott is at least some part complicit in the death of Professor Xavier, but he was possessed by the Phoenix Force (a power with a proven history to corrupt) and he is clearly full of regret yet no one gives him the time of day (even Emma, who is on his side, acts distrustfully). Similarly everyone has some kind of issue with Scott’s school and new mutant agenda, except his school is just training new mutants to stand against oppression. It is in no way different to Charles Xavier’s school, and Scott has yet to employ mutant power to do anything other than save mutants, fight evil sentinels, save mutants, help his friends, and save mutants. Save mutants. Even this latest unending & dumb Xavier’s-dark-secret plot is about Scott being the ONLY character who wants to help Matt Malloy rather than end him. Literally every other character seems to be happy to kill Malloy, a man who has no control over his powers and doesn’t want to do anything bad. What? This is absurd and out-of-character writing, and Bendis yet again fails to demonstrate how Scott is wrong and why everyone else is right. So what to do, huh, Bendis? I guess ‘prove’ Scott was wrong to try to help Malloy by having him accidentally kill everyone. The morals here are as bad as the writing.

Having killed Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Magik last issue with the weakest immediately-going-to-be-reversed-cliffhanger I have ever read, this issue wastes about 20 pages reversing their deaths. Eva went back in time to get young Charles Xavier to sort everything out. And here again Bendis evidences disdain for the characters he is writing – for some reason Xavier is just a stand-offish jerk. I guess this is a nod to those early Stan Lee issues where Xavier was a little on the arrogant side, but he just comes across so badly in this issue, taking Eva to task for fixing a problem in a not unreasonable way (especially given Beast’s recent time crimes). I actually like the reaction of Scott’s students to meeting the professor, they are awestruck by his appearance (although the Cuckoo’s reaction inexplicably seems to be as if they had never met him before, but they were at his school whilst he was still alive and shared a number of scenes with him). I also quite like the idea of still-a-straight-arrow Scott Summers recording a hundred different emergency messages, and it is nice that he still considers the Jean Grey School to be a safe place for mutants.

Eva and Xavier’s little time travel ploy, to prevent Malloy’s parents meeting and conceiving him, is actually a neat sequence and one that harbours more than a little existential terror – this is a very dark act. It could have been at the core of an exciting and interesting story, but this entire arc has been so ham-fistedly bad that it is just another act of grim awfulness in a book recently full of them. And then it changes literally just one thing – Matt Malloy is not born, but the entire rest of the Marvel 616 universe is unaffected, we return to the X-Men in the exact same spot at the will reading and in the same configuration. Oh boy, this is just laziness. All of this arc was simply a distraction to get Eva to somehow feel aggrieved at Scott’s behaviour. Eva spontaneously decides, for some reason, that Scott attempting to save a mutant is a terrible crime and gives him a lukewarm dressing down/threat combo that honestly wouldn’t have convinced me to change my socks, let alone make Scott reassess his entire world view (not to mention that if he is having a genuine nervous breakdown I’m not sure stern words would just ‘snap’ him out of it). Eva’s respect for Xavier is actually quite nice, as are the panels where Xavier wipes his own mind of this poor story), but it still feels like this time-travel-merry-go-round was all for nothing.

It may be an acquired taste, but I love Chris Bachalo’s art. His frenetic and askew action compositions are unrivalled and he can fill a panel with debris like no one else. I also love it when he just draws talking heads (his Avengers: Fear Itself issues were largely these and they were amazing). I’m lucky then, because Bendis doesn’t really give Bachalo much to draw here. There are some great reaction moments (again the students meeting Xavier, and also the X-Men threatening Malloy), and I was particularly impressed by the tonal shift to the calm past where Malloy’s parents are directed away from each other – there is a poignancy to the moment.

My problem with this book, I think, is that I just don’t believe in any of the characters actions. I don’t understand why everyone hates Scott, or why they are all stepping up to Malloy for a fight when he is clearly mentally unstable and unable to control himself. Instead of talking and thinking out problems these characters just act entitled, get angry, and throw fits – it is like watching a bad X-Men sweet 16 birthday show. The art still gives me something, but at this point I am looking forward to Bendis moving on from the X-Men altogether.

Uncanny X-Men #31 Panel

Uncanny X-Men #31 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Pencils – Chris Bachalo / Inks – Tim Townsend, Marc Deering, Wayne Faucher, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba & Al Vey / Colours – Chris Bachalo & Antonio Fabela // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • Time travel adventures resulting in Scott quitting the school, that reminds me of that time in Grant Morrison’s outstanding New X-Men run when time travel adventures resulted in Scott not-quitting the school. An homage? Maybe, but that was amazing and this is not so much.
  • Xavier is reading The Once and Future King (though they get T.H. White’s middle initial wrong); this is a recurring device across X-Men media and I love it! It dates back to the nineties X-Tinction Agenda arc and Magneto even reads it in prison in X2.
  • I don’t know why there were a million inkers on this book, but there were!
  • What is going on with the covers to this book; they rarely match up with the content, but this is an especially weird one – Havok isn’t even in this issue! Previously they have put Bachalo covers on Kris Anka interiors and vice-versa, there was even an issue that said Bachalo drew it on the cover, but had no Bachalo art in it at all!

All art belongs to the copyright holder