Sunday, October 28, 2012

The History of the X-Men in October Pt. 2

…continued from last time.

UNCANNY X-MEN #222 (1987)
If you’re looking for an example of when X-Men was truly an episodic experience, this is it. In 1987, when the franchise was an untouchable sales juggernaut followed by scores of diehard fans, Chris Claremont wasn’t so concerned with giving new readers an easy jumping on point every month as he was with crafting a huge, epic story that spanned literal years, great news in particular for those of us who would pick it up in large chunks over a decade down the line.

This story took place just before Fall of the Mutants and was another battle between the X-Men and Marauders, of which there were dozens in between Mutant Massacre and Inferno. I just mentioned three big summer crossovers that were lynchpins not just of the X-Men but Marvel as a whole, and it’s impressive how Claremont was able to just keep his larger narrative trucking along while working those checkpoints in along the way.

Here, the Marauders have captured Cyclops’ wife, Madelyne Pryor—Cyclops was off being quasi-unfaithful in X-Factor—so the X-Men head to San Francisco to get her back. While there was a quick Wolverine vs. Sabretooth fight per usual and per advertisement on the cover, the thrust of the story was Havok learning that Polaris has been possessed by Malice and is now leading the Marauders, in the process causing him and his teammates the requisite X-Men angst.

Meanwhile, the Adversary, posing as Naze, is convincing Storm she needs to kill Forge, which probably would have saved the X-Men a lot of grief down the line had she gone through with it.

Interesting to note this was one of many X-Men stories from around this period set in San Francisco, as it seems Claremont was toying with getting them out of New York and moving them to the very place Ed Brubaker would settle them in 20 years later before he opted for Australia instead.

UNCANNY X-MEN #162 (1982)
If you’re a Marvel Comics fan, you like are familiar with the Brood, but many have not read the earliest stories that introduced them, which is a shame because they are unheralded classics. This issue was part of the lengthy on-off saga in which they were introduced by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, and like a lot of stuff that came in the years following the Dark Phoenix Saga but before the 80’s boom really set in, I think it goes overlooked.

The creepiest aspect of this issue, which begins the Brood saga in earnest, is that the X-Men have already been infected by the aliens, but they don’t know it; they’re all in a trippy state of going through the motions where they have tinges that something’s wrong, but don’t know what. They just go about their business unaware of the ticking time bombs nestled inside them.

Only one person does know the score, and that’s Wolverine. He busts out of the mental prison the Brood have the X-Men in and is unleashed on a planet full of crazy Cockrum-designed monsters where he can really cut loose, so you get a nice dose of action with your pathos. The latter comes from Logan’s realization that even if he can survive the environment, not only does he have an enemy within waiting to take over, so do all his friends, and he knows since his healing factor will allow him to stave off the infection that much longer, he will have to kill all of them rather than let them become Brood.

It’s a great sci fi story and a great horror story with all the X-Men twists you’d come to expect from two of the masters. The psychedelic nature of the general team’s fugue state and the bizarre landscape Wolverine fights his way across really push the boundaries of what Cockrum’s capable of and let him excel. The best was still to come in this story, but if you can track this issue down or get it in Essentials, I strongly recommend it, as you’ll understand why so many creators love to use the Brood.

UNCANNY X-MEN #107 (1977)
As you can see by the cover blurb, this was the kick-off to the “incredible saga of the Starjammers,” aka the final act of the initial Phoenix Saga that introduce the Shi’ar to the X-Men specifically and Marvel Universe as a whole. As you can also see from the cover, this issue marked the full force debut of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Imperial Guard, from when I was a kid just because they had brightly colored costumes with awesome Dave Cockrum designs and an array of cool powers, to when I grew up and realized they were an homage to the Legion of Super-Heroes as designed by classic Legion artist Dave Cockrum. Half the fun for me when the Guard shows up is trying to figure out who is who’s Legion analogue, as after all these years I still have trouble nailing down much beyond Smasher being Ultra Boy, Oracle being Saturn Girl and Fan being Timber Wolf (who is Hussar supposed to be, darn it?).

This issue is a great fight between the X-Men and the Guard, but also amazing mythology building by Chris Claremont, as he’s setting up the Shi’ar, the M’kraan Crystal, D’ken and Lilandra’s crazy family drama, cool elements like the Soul-Drinker and Dath-Stars, and so on. It’s a testament to his skill and also to the strength of the X-Men that even though the franchises core message is really rooted in social drama as far as intolerance and acceptance, it’s always been fodder for great stories set in other genres and been one of the Marvel franchises most conducive to going cosmic.

Any enough can’t be said about how much Dave Cockrum rocks the issue, a true showcase of why he’s one of the all-time greats. Maybe the best pure designer when it comes to costuming and exotic looks in the history of comics, he’s also a master of the emotional expressiveness needed to convey the crazy stakes and wrenching twists of something like the Phoenix Saga.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Magic Mike

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

This was a movie with an intriguing premise, a fun movie, even an entertaining movie in large part, but it just couldn't pull it together enough to make its positives overcome the problems for me and be something I'd want to watch again or recommend. Channing Tatum delivers an amazing performance, there's no question about that; he's got a charisma that's both laid back and fun, he feels more natural here than in anything else I've seen him in and he carries his end of the workload, delivering with every line and every performance. Tatum is so strong here that it makes you root for the movie to be better because he deserves it. Steven Soderbergh seemed to give strong direction for the most part, as it's interestingly shot and the big performance numbers are well done. The problem is that the plot meanders; a lot of time is spent up front establishing the characters and their situation, but then it feels like the story doesn't know where to go, so it just treads water with dance numbers sprinkled in until it reaches its end abruptly and without delivering satisfaction. I enjoy Tatum's Mike and I'm interested in Matthew McConnaughey's Dallas--that's the other spot-on casting as he lives it up playing the sleazy showman papa bear of the group--but their arcs don't go anywhere surprising or riveting. The main romantic plot between Mike and Cody Horn's character typifies the problems with the movie, as they flirt with no seeming stakes for an hour and a half and then we're supposed to believe they have a connection and care about where they end up. Beyond the story stuff, I found Alex Pettyfer too angsty in his role as Mike's protege gone amok, and then you've got great actors like Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello being criminally underutilized with maybe four lines between them; Olivia Munn and Kevin Nash get a little more to do, but not much. There are great parts to Magic Mike, mostly in the beginning, but it feels like the people putting it together got really excited about how well their first act was going and then just called it quits; disappointing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The History of the X-Men in October Pt. 1

For the gist of what this is, see the last time I did it…

UNCANNY X-MEN #489 (2007)
This was (I believe) the penultimate chapter of “The Extremists” by Ed Brubaker and Salvador Larroca, where Masque was trying to twist ancient prophecies to serve his own ends and rally the Morlocks around him while Storm and the X-Men were trying to stop him. This was the issue with the “Skids is an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” reveal I liked. That would be a neat plot thread for somebody to follow up on even today. Skids is an interesting character in that she was something of a blank slate personality-wise when she first showed up in X-Factor (spunky teen girl), but probably because she was seen as expendable, she’s been subjected to so much trauma through the years (getting brainwashed by Stryfe, getting brainwashed by Magneto, watching Rusty get killed, getting kidnapped after trying to start a normal life) it makes her a potentially interesting character by default, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. angle would be cool to explore.

The Morlocks are another X-Men standby that to the best of my recollection have been recently untouched, possibly even since this story. They’re a great classic Claremont creation—the mutants so ugly and disenfranchised they make the X-Men seem accepted—who have actually always translated well to other mediums for my money (I love the Morlock episodes of the 90’s animated series and there was some great stuff in X-Men: Evolution as well). I’ve also always been intrigued/disturbed by Masque, who doesn’t seem to have a particularly dangerous power, but uses it in aggressive ways like taking away people’s ability to breathe, and makes up for physical shortcomings with a cult of personality approach.

This issue also guest-starred The Thing, as Storm was part of the Fantastic Four at the time. That was a fun era that flew by too briefly, but what I liked here was getting to see a relationship between Ororo and her new teammates, as her hubby The Black Panther got the bulk of the attention elsewhere.

UNCANNY X-MEN #410 (2002)
With the first part of a story arc called “Hope” began the controversial X-Men writing tenure of Chuck Austen, so because while he had some fans, he had more—or at least louder—detractors who point to his run as among the weakest in franchise history.

I’m not going to talk about that run as a larger body here, though, but rather this issue, which I dug at the time and felt represented a great jumping on point for new readers and a nice more classic super hero alternative to what Grant Morrison was doing over on New X-Men (and Joe Casey had done in his preceding work).

The issue began with the introduction of Sammy, a boy with a squid head who would become the poster child for those who did not enjoy Austen’s work, but here represented a mutant living with an outward curse and no real awesome gift to balance it—he could breathe underwater—tormented by bullies and without a stable home life. Professor X and Beast come to retrieve him and bring him to the Xavier School, basically his wish fulfilled, and in the process Austen gives a nice microcosm of what X-Men is all about: outcasts who are able to find safety and grow in a safe haven populated by those with similar experiences.

On the action end of the spectrum, the X-Men team Casey left behind of Archangel, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Iceman and Stacy X plus somewhat random addition M respond to a distress call from Muir Island and end up crashing. Professor X must psychically coach Stacy to save the lives of the others and then Juggernaut shows up for the cliffhanger.

There was a lot more character development and soap opera than fighting, which would become a knock on Austen’s run, but I still like this 10 years later as a decent comic to hand to a neophyte and say “Here, this is X-Men.” One of the best of all-time? Not even in the discussion to be in the discussion, but a story that accomplishes what it set out to.

UNCANNY X-MEN #348 (1997)
I’m pretty sure I’ve read this issue. I may even own it. But I don’t really remember it. It came out during the period I wasn’t reading comics in high school, so it’s likely I picked it up during my binge attempt to fill any X-Men gap I had around 2003-2004 (still haven’t read much of Claremont’s second run or the next issue on this docket).

What I can recall from context is, given that it’s two issues prior to #350 and Rogue and Gambit are on the cover, it probably focuses in large part on the latter’s secret past finally being revealed as a result of machinations by Magneto. I can also see from the cover that this group of X-Men was still clad in the weird Shi’ar space miner outfits Joe Madureira put them in for an outer space storyline—which also means this issue had sweet Joe Madureira art!

Searching the Internet tells me this issue was significant due to Rogue and Gambit having their powers dampened and thus sleeping together for the first time (or so it was heavily implied in those innocent days!), so there’s that, but this was really during the period where Scott Lobdell seemed to be spinning his wheels after the awesome run that extended over most of my childhood, so not much more to say.

UNCANNY X-MEN #293 (1992)
Another issue I’ve never read, and another Morlock story, in fact (billed as “The Last Morlock Story,” which, if you didn’t make the odd choice to start reading this post from this section, you know was not true). I believe this was the story where Colossus and Magik’s crazy brother, Mikhail Rasputin—who was first mentioned way way back around issue #98 or so as an astronaut who died on his big mission but was revealed to be alive, living in another dimension and a mutant like 15 years later because X-Men—drowned most of the Morlocks because he had been named their leader and though that was a the only solution to their suffering. I know this mostly because I just read a flashback about it in Cable Classic Vol. 3 recently.

I would like to someday get to checking out the brief blank spot I’ve got from between Bishop’s arrival and X-Cutioner’s Song, and I believe the Essentials should allow me to do so soon if not already.

To be continued…

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Ruby Sparks

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

This movie is a bit all over the place, and when it's good it's very good, but when it goes off track, it's not so much bad as incongruous and weird. The central conceit of a writer falling in love with and unwittingly giving life to his own creation is a neat one as is the idea of exploring how he tackles the challenges and temptations of building and maintaining a relationship under those unique circumstances. Problems arise when the story feels like it gets bored of its initial premise and starts wandering into romantic comedy and even psychological thriller territory without sensible transitions; what I mean to say is while I enjoy the excursion to Calvin (the writer) and Ruby (the creation) visiting his kooky mom and her hippie new lover (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas, who both absolutely kill it), it feels like a different--and potentially good--movie wedged into the existing one awkwardly and then not fully explored. Zoe Kazan--who is a revelation starring as Ruby, incredibly magnetic and able to nail a wide range of emotions--wrote a good script as far as the dialogue and the basic gist, but I think she overreached at times with her plot and wanted to add on too many additional story points. I also feel like Paul Dano, who plays Calvin, while a fine actor, comes off way more genuine during the parts where he's manic, which is fine, but also makes it tough to buy his performance during the all-important tender moments. Chris Messina holds the whole thing together as Calvin's older brother, managing to be both a condescending jerk and also a believably caring and intelligent brother--no easy feat--while Elliot Gould makes the most of a small role as Calvin's therapist; Steve Coogan doesn't do much for me as the sleazy would-be mentor type you'd expect Steve Koogan to play. I didn't really notice the directing, which is to say Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris did a good if not memorable job, but it's really Kazan's movie, so perhaps it was best for them to stay out of the way. I enjoyed this well enough, but I think I'd more heartily recommend it were it a half hour shorter and a measure more focused. I do expect great things to come from Zoe Kazan.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Presidential Election thoughts from an undecided voter

Posted this on my Facebook this morning; a spirited discussion followed, so if you're friends with me there, do go check it out.

After watching the latest debate and getting a lot of helpful info from all of you, here are the scrawled and still woefully less informed than I’d like (by my own fault) impressions of an undecided voter:

I think President Obama has accomplished more over the past four years than I was giving him credit for, particularly in terms of efforts to end war and to advance equal rights across gender and other lines. I’d still like to know more about how he handled the Detroit situation, because my main concern with him is that after a term in office, he hasn’t really done much to help our economy. Moreover my concern with President Obama is that he doesn’t give an impression that he feels like he needs to do more or that he will make an effort to work much harder than he has. I don’t think his first term was a complete failure, but if he considered it a huge success, I’m disappointed. I also don’t like how quickly he seems to go to the “well I wanted to do this, but the Republicans wouldn’t let me” card, because it tells me he will use that as an excuse rather than move to the middle and find compromise Bill Clinton style. I feel like President Obama has something of an unearned cockiness and I’d be concerned he’d be willing to stick to business as usual rather than push to do better. I line up with him on social issues 100%, but I don’t want to vote simply based on that because I think there is much more at stake in this election.

Having lived in a state where he was governor, I know Mitt Romney is a smart, capable guy who could potentially do a good job as President, but he hasn’t really demonstrated that to me, at least not in his recent public actions or in this most recent debate. He keeps saying he has plans to fix the economy, and he’s a guy with the intelligence and background to do it, but I felt like every time he was pressed for details on what that plan was, he ducked the question (and if he’s already said what said plan is, I apologize); the part of the debate where President Obama noted that Governor Romney’s plans would cost trillions of dollars and Governor Romney didn’t give a particularly eloquent counterargument concerned me. I also worry about Governor Romney’s awkwardness as a public speaker and his gaffes; yes, I do think they matter given what a large stage he’ll be on. I didn’t care about the whole “binders” thing (feels like a mountain out of a molehill), but it did strike me when he said he helped the women in his employ by (I’m paraphrasing) giving them hours that allowed them to pick up their kids from school and how (I’m simplifying) one of his gun control solutions is that people who have kids should get married to provide a more stable home.

At the end of the day, as noted, I line up with the President on social issues; I feel like Governor Romney should/could have a better grasp on economic issues, but I’m waiting for him to demonstrate it in full. The kicker for me will likely be foreign policy, since as I’ve said in the past, that’s the one area where I feel like if it gets mishandled the most people die.

If the election were today, admittedly I would vote for President Obama, but more because of a “devil you know” stance than anything else. I’m not blown away by either candidate (though both have their strong points). Ultimately, I hope one candidate does actually inspire to vote for them because I believe in them, not because they’re the lesser of two evils (strong word, probably unnecessary), but the clock is winding down.

Regardless of where my vote goes, I’m glad this election has encouraged me to at least try to be more active in the process and discourse, and more than anything, I am grateful to all of you who have shared your knowledge and opinions with me; I encourage you to keep doing so.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Art Attack: December 2012's Coolest Covers

-Cyclops' optic blasts are as cool as an artist wants to make them, really. And that's a full team effort, from pencils to inks to especially colors. For decades, it was just a matter of Jack Kirby or John Byrne or Jim Lee drawing two straight lines and the colorist filling that in, but over the last decades, the evolution of digital art has really opened up the visual possibilities. If the two All-New X-Men covers I'm featuring this month are any indication, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia are up to the task of raising that bar once again.

-The great Paolo Rivera is my cover artist of the month, and I'd say fully cemented as one of the best in the business now when it comes to creating evocative images, be they creepy, complex or (on rare occasions) playful. Can you believe a few years ago this handsome fellow was thought of primarily as a painter?

-I want a 22-page comic just explaining how Mr. Garcin created that cover for Amazing Spider-Man #700.

-Two issues in and I'm really digging Avengers Arena's cinematic homage covers. Want to know a secret? I've seen some more and the best is yet to come.

-As good as David Mack's figures and structuring is, it's generally his stark, simple backgrounds that strike me the most.

-I didn't realize I could love the Flash's costume, probably my favorite of all-time, anymore until Francis Manapul came along.

-I'm not sure and have not been able to determine definitively who designed the visual aspect of Ghost--the most likely result I've found is either Matt Haley or Adam Hughes--but the way Alex Ross' take on the character revitalized my interest in his work and now Phil Noto's interpretation is a whole new level for another artist I already enjoy and respect makes me even more eager to learn.

-There are some great Mike Deodato variant covers across Marvel NOW! coming in December, but I think Iron Man #4 is my favorite for the morbid playfulness and clever integration of the logo.

-Jeff Dekal's cover for Journey Into Mystery #647 is a bit sexually evocative without being so in an exploitative, way, no easy feat sometimes.

-If anybody was still wondering if Ivan Reis could hang as an A-list artist (why?), I would imagine they're not after seeing the cover to Justice League #15.

-I wouldn't even begin to know how Eddy Barrows designed the cover to Nightwing #15, but I know I like it.

-Todd McFarlane continues to make me smile with his Spawn homage covers. He seems to be having a good time.

-I can't think of a better way to close out Rick Remender's run on Uncanny X-Force, one of my favorites in recent memory, than with that awesome Julian Totino Tedesco cover to issue #35. Out with a friggin' bang.

ACTION COMICS #15 by Rags Morales

ALL-NEW X-MEN #3 by Stuart Immonen

ALL-NEW X-MEN #4 by Stuart Immonen

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #699 by Paolo Rivera

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700 by Mr. Garcin

AMERICAN VAMPIRE #34 by Rafael Albuquerque

AVENGERS ARENA #1 by Dave Johnson

AVENGERS ARENA #2 by Chris Bachalo

AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #15 by Gabrielle Dell'Otto

B.P.R.D.: HELL ON EARTH #102 by Ryan Sook

COMEBACK #2 by Michael Walsh

DAREDEVIL #21 by Paolo Rivera


FANTASTIC FOUR #2 by Adam Kubert

THE FLASH #15 by Francis Manapul

GHOST #3 by Phil Noto

THE GOON #45 by Eric Powell

HAWKEYE #6 by David Aja

HELLBLAZER #298 by Simon Bisley

THE HUMAN BOMB #1 by Jerry Ordway

IRON MAN #4 by Mike Deodato

IT GIRL & THE ATOMICS by Mike Allred



JUSTICE LEAGUE #15 by Ivan Reis

MIND THE GAP #7 by Rodin Esquejo

NIGHTWING #15 by Eddy Barrows

NOWHERE MEN #2 by Nate Bellegarde

RED SHE-HULK #60 by Carlo Pagulayan

SCARLET SPIDER #12.1 by Ryan Stegman

SECRET AVENGERS #35 by Art Adams

SPAWN #226 by Todd McFarlane

SUPERMAN #15 by Kenneth Rocafort


SWAMP THING #15 by Yanick Paquette

TALON #3 by Guillem March

THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #3 by Esad Ribic

UNCANNY X-FORCE #35 by Julian Totino Tedesco

X-MEN #39 by David Lopez

YOUNG JUSTICE #23 by Christopher Jones