Sunday, December 30, 2012

The History of the X-Men in December

UNCANNY X-MEN #491 (2007)
This was the conclusion to Ed Brubaker and Salvador Larroca’s “Extremists” storyline, the final issue of Uncanny before Messiah CompleX kicked off, and—to the best of my knowledge—the last really significant appearance by the Morlocks. There’s an interesting cameo from Magneto as we learn part of Masque’s whole plan in unearthing/fabricating ancient Morlock prophecies was to rile the Master of Magnetism up into being a mutant baddies again, but instead Skids turns out not to only be a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but also have loyalty to Mags, whom she reports on the whole event to as he plots his comeback (it would happen about a year later when the X-Men relocated to San Francisco); neat continuity nod by Brubaker, as Skids was a former Acolyte of Magneto. My favorite bit about this issue though was a conversation Hepzibah has with Cyclops asking his permission to basically have sex with Warpath, because she was dating Scott’s dad but he’s dead now; it’s awkward and weird and somehow made perfect sense because Hepzibah is a crazy alien humanoid skunk so why not. I greatly enjoyed the Hepzibah/Warpath pairing—and Hepzibah as an X-Man in general—so it’s a shame it got more or less cut off when the latter moved over to X-Force and they drifted apart; either or both character would make a great addition or additions to either current X-Force book. Where’s Sam Humphries’ number (speaking of which, in the Endangered Species back-up, Beast tries to get Spiral—of Uncanny X-Force by Sam Humphries fame—to help him with his mutant extinction problem, but it’s no dice, so off to Doctor Strange)…

UNCANNY X-MEN #414 (2002)
I remember this story well as Chuck Austen’s first standalone issue of Uncanny X-Men, and one I thought boded well for his future writing the book. Northstar is the focus as Professor X offers him a teaching position, which he turns down, but he does agree to transports a young boy with an uncontrollable mutant power causing his to explode from Canada to the U.S. for treatment (he can’t travel by plane because he might blow it up, but Northstar can move fast enough to escape the explosion—there are probably holes in the plot, but I liked it enough to ignore them). It’s a clever structure that allows Austen to introduce the various aspects of Northstar—he’s arrogant, he’s gay, he doesn’t have a lot of patience—to an audience that might now know him while also keeping a compelling story going with a literal ticking time bomb. Some of it comes off a bit heavy handed (the stuff about homosexuality), but not so much that it derails the rest of the story; by the end, I felt connected to Northstar, but his edgier qualities weren’t diminished. Sean Phillips provides art and turns in really strong work, demonstrating how good he is at conveying tension and making quiet moments dramatic.

UNCANNY X-MEN #350 (1997)
I picked this issue up of eBay or some other online dealer during my post-college attempt to acquire the full run of the series (I did not complete it, but did pretty well). It’s got a holo-foil-something cover and features the “Trial of Gambit,” revealing at long last Remy Lebeau’s secret past that had been touted as a huge deal for several years. The big revelation was that when he was a mercenary/thief, he took a job for Mister Sinister and recruited the Marauders, who then went on to perform the Mutant Massacre. I guess playing a fairly key role in such a big tragedy in X-Men history is significant, but I always felt like this was a letdown, in that Gambit didn’t actually do anything bad directly—arguably—he was just the guy who enable bad stuff to happen; it made him redeemable, but also lacked punch in my opinion. It certainly didn’t seem like enough for Rogue to leave him stranded in Antarctica, which she does at the conclusion of this issue. There were some nice touches, like Archangel—who lost his natural wings as a result of the Massacre—being forced to play the role of Gambit’s defense attorney and then freaking out on him midway through the trial when the truth is unveiled. There’s also Spat and Grovel and the end revelation that the guy conducting the trial is Magneto dressed as longtime X-Men in-joke Erik the Red, a pretty poorly kept secret. Great art by Joe Madureira, who was winding down his X-Men run, I believe.

UNCANNY X-MEN #295 (1992)
Now we’re talking—“X-Cutioner’s Song,” aka my favorite X-Men story of all time! When I was 10 years old I was racing to the card shop a few blocks from my house each week with my friend Matt to grab these and then tear the polybags off ASAP. The big draw in this installment was the full-fledged return of Apocalypse, and since I was still  newbie, this was my first real exposure to the character. It was only later when digging into back issues I’d learn Apocalypse was more of a behind the scenes schemer, because here he wipes the floor with Storm, Colossus, Beast and Iceman (I think) and looks darn impressive doing so. Brandon Peterson’s art style was completely different back then from what it’s evolved into today, but I thought he rendered a bad ass Apocalypse, particularly post-battle when he’s shifting back into his usual form, excess mass literally dripping back on as he stands all cool. This issue was also notable for one of the crossover’s many classic melodramatic soliloquies from Stryfe, Cable running into Wolverine and Bishop to set up a big fight the next week in X-Factor, and a fun scene in which Havok and Gambit good cop/bad cop Cannonball into helping them track down the Dark Riders. It’s also noteworthy as the Uncanny X-Men chapters of “X-Cutioner’s Song” had the Uncanny part of the logo running up and down to the left of X-Men as opposed to above, the only time I can ever recall that happening.

UNCANNY X-MEN #224 (1987)
I honestly have no idea what happened in this issue. I own it, but I can’t remember what happens in it. Something with Longshot and Havok, presumably. Marc Silvestri drew it and it’s the final issue before Fall of the Mutants—that’s all I’ve got.

UNCANNY X-MEN #164 (1982)
In the midst of the Brood saga, this is an issue of transformations, where Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel, gets messed with by the aliens turning her into Binary, while back on Earth between pages Colossus’ little sister Illyana gets kidnapped to Limbo and returns as Magik. Obviously Magik remains a vital part of X-Men lore today—despite dying for a decade or two—while Binary went back to Ms. Marvel then to Warbird then back to Ms. Marvel and now she’s Captain Marvel. I’ve enjoyed Carol Danvers in all her incarnations, but Binary always get a bit of the shaft, I felt, joining the Starjammers then not being seen for years at a time. Dave Cockrum gave Binary a great design and the idea of the Earthborn hero exploring the cosmos is one I always feel has juice; her powers weren’t anything special, but there’s something very neat in her having not adjust merely to having them, but that they’re different from the Ms. Marvel abilities she’s used to. Indeed I think the fact that Carol had years of experience as a tenured but very different hero could have been the twist that accelerated her, but oh well, what we’ve got now is pretty great too. This issue also contains the crushing scene where Wolverine finally lets his teammates know they’ve got Brood eggs growing inside them, essentially delivering a death sentence and leading to some intense and emotional stuff to come, particularly from Colossus and Kitty Pryde.

X-MEN #108 (1977)
The conclusion to the original Phoenix Saga, written on a grand scale by Chris Claremont with Dave Cockrum really getting to show off with dozens of characters and the most exotic settings imaginable. The X-Men and Starjammers team up for the first time, we get introduced to the impish but nigh omnipotent Jahf—who punches Wolverine through space—and Phoenix prevents D’Ken from getting his hands on the M’Kraan Crystal, setting the table for years of cool stories featuring the Shi’ar. There’s also a nice quiet moment after the action where Corsair learns via Phoenix that Cyclops is in fact his long lost son, but requests she not tell him, feeling like the absence of a relationship where there could have been one will hurt more than thinking one another dead. This whole story was adapted pretty perfectly for the animated series in the 90’s, particularly a feat when considering any adult or violent themes had to be removed and the likes of Colossus and Nightcrawler got subbed out for Rogue and Gambit.

Paragraph Movie Reviews: The Queen of Versailles

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

Near as I can tell, documentary maker Lauren Greenfield set out a few years ago to do a film about billionaires David and Jackie Siegel's attempt to build the largest house in America, but once the economic collapse hit, instead got the opportunity to tell a more complex and interesting story about the rich attempting to adjust and survive trying circumstances. If indeed this was not the movie Greenfield originally intended to make--and unless she's a financial wizard above and beyond anybody were on Wall Street in 2008 I don't see how it could have been--she did an incredible job course correcting, as this is a compelling, smoothly moving and well done documentary I don't think I could find much fault with if I tried (which I am doing). David and Jackie are fascinating subjects; initially you're tempted to roll your eyes at their excesses and revel a bit in their misfortune, and that seems to be the direction the piece is headed in, but as Greenfield introduces them through revealing and humanizing interviews, you find that they're actually pretty decent people and feel for their predicament. Yes, Jackie spends a ludicrous amount of money on seemingly trivial things, but it's wealth earned, both through David's hard work and her own determination (she's an engineer-turned-beauty queen who escaped an abusive first marriage). David comes off pompous and grumpy on one hand, but on the other genuinely seems to genuinely for the people he employs to the point where he becomes obsessive about saving his company even at the cost of his marriage. While the main narrative has enough twists to hold your attention, Greenfield effectively sets it against a wider backdrop by profiling tangential but important figures like David's son from a previous marriage who runs his company, the Greenfield nanny who is supporting grown children she hasn't seen in over two decades and more (at first I wasn't interested in Jackie returning to visit her old neighborhood in New York, but it has a payoff). Greenfield takes full advantage of the story dropped in her lap, capturing a microcosm of a much bigger American story and making a near flawless documentary in the process.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Ted

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

I admit that I laughed out loud a few times watching this movie, but not as many times as I feel like I should have. It's a pretty inventive premise--boy wishes for his stuffed animal to come to life, it does, but then both age together and by their mid-30's while they're still best friends the bear is a foul mouthed slacker somewhat hampering his buddy's progression into adulthood--written and directed by a very smart, talented dude in Seth MacFarlane, but the problem is it ultimately seems like he's writing as if it's a TV show and can't break free of that format's restrictions. With a half hour episode of Family Guy (or American Dad or The Cleveland Show), MacFarlane only needs to string together a bare bones plot, because as long as he nails three or four funny lines or visual gags, he can consider it a success given the genre; there's pretty much the same ratio here, where Ted says or does something hysterical every five to ten minutes and the dialogue is full of hilariously quotable lines, but at over an hour and a half, you find yourself wanting something more than an extended sitcom. To try and stretch his plot, MacFarlane digs into kids movie and romantic comedy tropes that you'd hope he'd subvert, but more often than not he sticks to what's expected. The actual living actors aren't given a lot of room to shine either, as the MacFarlane-voiced Ted is clearly the star--a funny one at that, but again, not capable of carrying a whole movie. I credit Mark Wahlberg with how willing he is to throw himself into comedy, but his man child John isn't much more than Ted's straight man. Mila Kunis is a cookie cutter love interest. Joel McHale seems like he's enjoying himself as her sleazy boss, but he's really just playing the same character he always does. Giovanni Ribisi is the only one who really gets to shine as a disturbingly creepy dad obsessed with Ted and wanting to acquire him for his son; he's enough of a weird caricature that he can stand out even in contrast to Ted. Matt Walsh, Patrick Warburton, Laura Vandervoort and others all seem to have supporting characters that could be interesting if they weren't jammed into background scenes and that's all. Again, Ted has flashes of brilliance and if you watch it I wager you'll have a good time and be quoting the best lines, but the more I think on it, the more I see its failings as a transition to film for a very talented TV guy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Paragraph Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

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

This is a movie where April from Parks & Recreation and Nick from New Girl work at a magazine in Washington state together--he's a writer, she's an intern--and go on a road trip with a third guy to do a story on Mark Duplass from The League, who put out a personal ad for a partner to accompany him on a time travel mission and may or may not be crazy. I used Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson's well-known character names above because they really aren't straying very far from them, but that's actually quite a good thing as they're both great at playing those characters and also shift them just enough degrees to the side that they've got something new to offer and can thrive in a feature length film as opposed to a half hour episode. Duplass on the other hand plays Kenneth, an intense and eccentric possible genius/possible madman who is nothing like Pete on The League and in the process shows the dramatic and emotional chops I pretty much knew he had because the guy's got mad indy cred, but had never seen on display before and was really impressed by. The story is divided up perfectly, with a heavy bulk focusing on Plaza's damaged Darius getting to know Kenneth under the pretense of working undercover on the story but in the process getting wrapped up in the purity of his out there beliefs, but another good chunk about Johnson's Jeff coming to terms with the fact that he's getting older with a sweet, kinda sad attempt to rekindle a teenage romance with his old girlfriend Liz--endearing Jenica Bergere--and then trying to get his other shy male intern laid. Even though Plaza's calculated jumps from cynicism to hopefulness and back coupled with Duplass' laser sharp performance carry the plot, I got the most joy out of the little touches Johnson put in, from the gleam of joy in his eye when he gets to go on a 15 mile per hour car chase to a depressed quick shot of him chugging a flash in a bumper car; they're all brilliant. The way writer Derek Connolly splits the script down the middle and jumps between two distinct storylines that interweave only through a couple shared characters reminded me of TV plotting, but did not feel out of place and made for a great, tight, under an hour and a half package. There are fun cameos from Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jeff Garlin and Kristen Bell, plus at least two great twists toward the end in a movie you think you've got figured out pretty early. I loved the heart, I loved the comedy, I loved how much fun everybody seemed to be having, and I loved that I was thinking a lot right up to the final shot; really well done all around.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Art Attack: February 2013's Coolest Covers

-Does anybody know if the Avengers Arena #4 and #5 covers are movie homages and if so to what? I could ask Bill Rosemann but his office is way on the other side of the building from mine.

-As much as I miss Paolo Rivera on Daredevil interiors, I’m really enjoying his work on covers for Avenging Spider-Man. No, Spidey is not a new character for Paolo, but with his flexibility and quirkiness—Spider-Man’s, not Paolo’s—he’s a perfect fit. Cool to see him drawing the Future Foundation as well. More Marvel characters I want to see Paolo draw: Beta Ray Bill, She-Hulk, the Guardians of the Galaxy and every other one.

-Pat Gleason draws shadows really well; it may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.

-At first glance, that Captain Marvel cover from Joe Quinones would appear to have very little action, and it doesn’t have much in the way of the physical, but the emotion in Carol Danvers’ face, the longing, is just as action-packed as a big punch in its own manner. That logo treatment is cool too.

-Chris Samnee brings one of the best parts of the amazing Daredevil movie to comics! You rock, Chris Samnee! I am not being sarcastic!

-Mike Del Mundo’s Deadpool Killustrated is just…brilliant. Know what I love? That Tom Sawyer hooked that little fold on the top of Deadpool’s hood. The little things.

-What exactly is going on there on Ross Campbell’s Glory cover? Is the mouth opening to envelop Glory? Is Glory trying to pry the mouth open with her fists? It’s got me asking questions and that’s the way you sell comics.

-Aaron Kuder is going to be a big deal.

-I'll miss you, Simon Bisley Hellblazer covers.

-Marcos Martin is back! That Morbius cover is clever, setting a decisively different urban tone for the book, and the Nova piece is just strikingly beautiful.

-That Jae Lee Phantom Stranger cover scares the crap out of me!

-I’m a broken record on the Todd McFarlane Spawn homage covers by now, right?

-Gorr the God Butcher by Esad Ribic is one of my favorite designs in ages. It’s simple but effective; awesome because it’s so primal and stripped down.

-Shane David draws a delicious sandwich!

-Another home run from Mike Del Mundo on X-Men Legacy! The fastest rising star in comic book covers for my money.

ACTION COMICS #17 by Rags Morales

AVENGERS ARENA #4 by Bobby Rubio

AVENGERS ARENA #5 by Joe Quinones

AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #17 by Paolo Rivera

BATMAN & ROBIN #17 by Patrick Gleason


BATWOMAN #17 by J.H. Williams #17

BLACK BEETLE: NO WAY OUT #2 by Francesco Francavilla

B.P.R.D.: 1948 #5 by Dave Johnson

CAPTAIN MARVEL #10 by Joe Quinones

COLDER #4 by Juan Ferreyra

DAREDEVIL #23 by Chris Samnee



DIAL H #9 by Brian Bolland

FF #4 by Mike Allred

GAMBIT #9 by Clay Mann

GLORY #33 by Ross Campbell


HAWKEYE #8 by David Aja

HELLBLAZER #300 by Simon Bisley



NOVA #1 by Marcos Martin


RED SHE-HULK #62 by Jana Schirmer


SCARLET SPIDER #14 by Ryan Stegman

SECRET AVENGERS #1 by Tomm Coker

SPAWN #228 by Todd McFarlane

STAR WARS #2 by Alex Ross

THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #5 by Esad Ribic


UNCANNY AVENGERS #5 by John Cassaday

VENOM #31 by Shane Davis

WINTER SOLDIER #15 by Declan Shalvey


X-MEN LEGACY #6 by Mike Del Mundo

YOUNG AVENGERS #2 by Jamie McKelvie

YOUNG ROMANCE #1 by Kenneth Rocafort