Sunday, April 21, 2013

The History of the X-Men in April

UNCANNY X-MEN #495 (2008)
The first post-Messiah CompleX issue with the Xavier Institute once again destroyed, Professor X presumed dead (though not for long) and the X-Men having disbanded, though they’re all still in contact so it seems more like a quick hiatus than anything else, backed up by the plots that unfold here. I was a few months into my tenure at Marvel when this came out, and X-Men editor Nick Lowe was one of the folks from editorial I quickly got along with (especially after he made me host a company-wide “mustache pageant” in front of four dozen people like my second day on the job), so both through talking with him and his office as well as being privy to upcoming plans, I had a pretty good idea of where the X-Men were headed, which altered my reading of issues like these a bit just as starting at Wizard a little over three years earlier had. I really dug Cyclops and Emma Frost’s Savage Land vacation, with Ed Brubaker taking the lead on making Scott Summers a more likable relatable but simultaneously take charge character with a mix of humor and focus; it was a baton passed to him by Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon that he’d in turn hand off to Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen and today Brian Michael Bendis. In the other two subplots, Wolverine takes Colossus and Nightcrawler on a Russian road trip that felt like a throwback a bit to the Claremont days while Angel investigates a freaky time portal to the 60’s in San Francisco that would lead to big, cool changes. Mike Choi and Sonia Oback did the art on this arc, and it’s gorgeous.


UNCANNY X-MEN #439-440 (2003)
By this point, Chuck Austen’s tenure on Uncanny X-Men had gone full-on soap opera tilt, with these two installments of the “She Lies with Angels” arc being a pretty prime example. The story had Husk—Cannonball’s younger sister Paige—bringing Angel home to Kentucky where one of her other siblings, Josh, has gained wings and other similar-to-Warren powers and anti-mutant unrest has cropped up. It ends up being a country version of Rome & Juliet with Josh and the daughter of the mutant-hating sheriff being in love, some of the bigoted good ol’ boys getting high tech weaponry they plan to use to kill all the Guthries, and the X-Men getting caught in the middle. Parallel to this, Paige and the far older Warren have feelings for each other and are trying to find the courage to admit as much. As a dyed in the wool fan of Melrose Place and other such adult melodrama, I didn’t mind this period of X-Men history, though I know others got annoyed that there was a lot of angst and kissing without as much punching and kicking (I’m actually surprised the aforementioned Nick Lowe, who loves angst and kissing, wasn’t editing at this point). Regardless, you had beautiful Salvador Larroca art—with Danny Miki and UDON knocking it out on inks and colors respectively—and he’s a guy who can draw proclamations of love as well as he does big battles.

UNCANNY X-MEN #354 (1998)
I…don’t think I have this issue. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even read this issue. It was during the Steve Seagle/Joe Kelly period, which Kiel raves about but was one of my bigger blind spots. I’ve tracked down some stuff from this era, but not all, and not this; too bad, looks like a fun one.

UNCANNY X-MEN #299 (1993)
I remember this issue well, coming as it did a couple months post-X-Cutioner’s Song, right before the big issue #300, and just prior to Fatal Attractions. These quiet months between big events are some of my favorites from when I was a kid as it allowed Scott Lobdell to slow down and focus on some of the emotional connections he was making between characters while also ramping up the drama to come. The story kicks off with Forge being called in on an excavation of a crashed Asteroid M and making the discovery that Magneto’s body was not among the wreckage. I basically had started reading X-Men comics regularly only a couple of months earlier, so I had never actually encountered Magneto, what with him being “dead” at the time, so my only knowledge came from trading cards and the like; this seemed like a much bigger deal for me than it likely did to the more seasoned fan trained to expect such resurrections. We also learn more about the Upstarts and the Gamesmaster—more folks I only knew because I had their trading cards—including the introduction of Sabretooth’s son, anti-mutant rabble rouser Graydon Creed. My most vivid memories of this issue, though, are of two characters that appear out of nowhere and then were never even mentioned again for as long as I was collecting regularly through high school: a waitress whom Bishop thinks “seems familiar” and a campaign aide working for Senator Kelley who tips to Jean Grey that he’s a telepath. Only very recently via Marvel Handbooks and the Internet did I learn that the waitress was revealed as Fatale—who?—during around Onslaught when I stopped reading and the aide returned years later during Joe Kelly’s Deadpool run as Noah Dubois.

UNCANNY X-MEN #228 (1988)
Bridging the gap between the end of Fall of the Mutants and the X-Men’s rebirth into the Australian Outback, this is a one issue flashback tale—probably an inventory story—featuring Wolverine and Dazzler helping a bounty hunter character from the Dazzler solo series clear his name. Not much of note aside from Rick Leonardi on fill-in art, always a delight.

UNCANNY X-MEN #168 (1983)
A memorable issue for multiple reasons, first and foremost that it opens with the famous “Professor Xavier is a jerk!” splash page with Kitty Pryde whirling around and pointing her finger at us, as perfectly rendered by Paul Smith. Following the lengthy Brood epic, the X-Men have returned to Earth and met the New Mutants, and since there’s now a team specifically for mutants her age, Professor X wants to bump Kitty down off the adult roster. A pissed off Kitty spend the first half of the issue pouting like any teenager, than discovers and defeats—with Lockheed’s help—a nest of alien Sidrian Hunters, proving her worth and earning a spot back on the X-Men. Wolverine heads off to Japan for his first limited series while the rest of the cast check in with their loved ones; just good, classic Claremont stuff. The last big moment, however, comes on the final page, with the introduction of Madelyne Pryor, an Alaska-bound pilot who looks exactly like the deceased Jean Grey.

UNCANNY X-MEN #110 (1978)
Another seeming inventory issue—or close to it—with another legendary guest artist: Tony DeZuniga. Iron Fist villain Warhawk, a Claremont co-creation, storms the mansion, trapping most of the X-Men in the Danger Room while he goes one-on-one with Wolverine until the others bust free (Warhawk would return years later in a Maverick back-up story drawn by Mark Texeira that I didn’t understand at all when I was 10). There’s some relationship advancement with Wolvie and Jean Grey as well as Banshee and Moira MacTaggert, but mostly a downtime story coming off the original Phoenix Saga. There is one big moment here though: what I believe is the first X-Men baseball game, which would become a tradition in the franchise—and one I daresay we’ve gone too long without. Where’s that Nick Lowe character?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Justice League of America

The basic premise of the new Justice League of America series from Geoff Johns and David Finch is that the U.S. government wanted their own super hero team that they could control and that could also be used to potentially take out the original group if they get out of hand. The aspect I most love is that Geoff, being the type of nerd after my own heart who likes arranging his toys to match one up against the other, constructed the JLA with members specifically meant to counter their opposite numbers in specific one-on-one showdowns in the inevitable conflict (Amanda Waller shows a chart with arrows and everything in the first issue).

This is building block comics as you loved them when you were a kid stuff that tickles me whenever it showed up. There’s a reason every good super hero has an opposite number enemy (Bizarro, Venom, Sinestro, Sabretooth, etc.) and every super hero team has a villain group made up of one bad guy to counter each member (Injustice League, Dark Avengers and so forth). It’s good old-fashioned comic book-y fun, and as the guy who realized there was gold in taking the color green and splitting it across the rainbow, Geoff as much as anybody realizes that can be the jumping off point for a great story.

In the past on this very blog, I’ve ridden the coattails of various writers—usually Geoff, actually—and stories—usually Geoff’s again—and come up with my own takes on who would fill what slots in the fantasy draft that is comic book brainstorming. Since I enjoyed writing those—and if I recall correctly they all got a lot of hits…and that’s why we really do this—here’s my crack at a Justice League of America roster to call my own, with the caveats that I didn’t re-use any of Geoff’s picks and am still getting to know the New 52 mythos (but I also have the benefit of not having to coordinate with other writers or, y’know, actually write any stories, so there you go).

When casting an anti-Superman, I always go straight for his weakness to magic, since it’s the one thing he seems to have never developed a true defense for (there’s always a way around Kryptonite) and practitioners of the mystic arts tend to be powerful besides. Whereas I’d usually opt for Captain Marvel, the New 52 version is still an untested kid; on the flipside, Frankenstein is a battle-hardened warrior with centuries of experience who may be mostly a product of science, but I wager has enough magic fused in that patchwork body—or at least that he can gain access to—to give Supes fits. He’s a powerhouse who can serve as the team’s tank, but also a strategist and proven leader. Oddly enough, he seems to have a level head in the heat of battle, which would come in handy here.

Since his creation, Midnight has generally been played as a more ruthless Batman, and that’s something you’d need badly to counteract the Justice League. What he may lack in the Dark Knight’s cerebral capacity for game plans—and not by much—he makes up for in sheer brutality as well as a degree of fighting ability that can be considered superhuman (depending on who’s writing him). Additionally, as a member even briefly of the New 52 Stormwatch—for the sake of this, let’s ignore the Jim Starlin reboot of last week for now—he’s been privy to the workings of another organization tasked with potentially taking down the League that has access to centuries of data. Other members of this team can try to match up with Batman in the game of human chess, but if he gets a crack at him straight up, Midnighter can potentially take him off the board.

To the best of my knowledge, not many warriors on Wonder Woman’s level have popped up yet in the New 52—I know Big Barda made a cameo in the last issue of Earth 2, but she hasn’t really shown her stuff yet—but in terms of sheer power, Karen Starr can match and perhaps exceed her. Added advantages PG possesses are that she’s still a relative unknown in the Justice League’s dimension who they wouldn’t have time to adequately prepare for—and who could probably be fairly easily talked into this role by the government—and that she boasts training from a more experienced incarnation of Superman, making her a threat to multiple targets here. If Power Girl comes in like a house of fire, she can bowl over Wonder Woman quick then look to do more damage.

I’m sure if they had their druthers, Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor would much rather go after a more experienced Green Lantern than neophyte Simon Baz to counteract Hal Jordan, but they probably correctly assumed none of the more tenured ring slingers would go against their brother. However, if any is going to turn at this stage, it would likely be Kyle, not because he’s dumb or evil, but because he’s trusting enough to be talked into thinking Hal—a guy he met as a villain…presumably still—is making another bad call (John wouldn’t listen, Guy is too much of a wild card). Again, it’s a long shot, and it probably wouldn’t work, but if it did, you get not only a powerful Green Lantern, but the only one who’s proven able to wield every emotion on the spectrum, making him potentially far more powerful and versatile than Hal Jordan; then again, worst case scenario, you get a pissed off uber-Lantern on your case…

A recent debut in the pages of The Flash, Turbine is a military man who spent 70 years in the Speed Force, mastering most aspects of the dimension and going nuts along the way. He’s a tentative ally of Barry Allen at this point, but a proven unstable commodity who’s used to following orders from Uncle Sam. His reckless nature means he may not have quite the finesses over his abilities that the Flash possesses, but he also has more raw power and knows tricks that no other speedsters have tapped into yet. Besides his ability to rankle and take out a major Justice League player, it’s just never a bad idea to have somebody with super speed on your side from every tactical angle.

You’re going to be hard up to find many people who can hold their own against Aquaman if he can get them to his native environment, but Buddy Baker may be one of them. With his ability to mimic any animal’s abilities, Animal Man can at least keep pace with the king of Atlantis under the sea until an opportunity arises to hit him with a power set snagged from other creature. Back on land or in the air, Buddy remains a tricky opponent for any member of the Justice League; he’s among the more versatile fighters in all of the New 52. As far as his attitude, following the events of Rotworld and the death of his son, Buddy’s more hardened than ever, but also in a terrible emotional place where he’d potentially welcome the direction of belong to a team; if he’s stable enough, he’s got the people skills to be a decent leader.

Take everything I said about Batman and Midnighter, and then transfer it over to Cyborg and the Engineer. However, besides that edge in ruthlessness and access to Stormwatch, she’s also got a nod in experience and may have dealt with an even greater variety of threats and adversaries than most of the Justice Leaguers (hard to say with much of the history of the New 52 DCU still unaccounted for). She’s more likely to override Vic Stone’s toolbox than vice versa, depriving the League of their go-to support staff. Also, again depending on stability, like Animal Man or Frankenstein she does have the potential to lead with a great mind for organization and strategy.

You might not buy this book, but would these guys stand a chance against the Justice League?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Young Adult

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

From the director and writer of Juno with none of the charm of Juno. Admittedly, this is a very different movie from Juno, but given how it was sold on its creative pedigree, you go in expecting some of that film's quirky appeal and rat-a-tat dialogue and come up fairly empty. Rather than a high school student trying to navigate teen pregnancy, here we've got a 37-year-old Young Adult Fiction writer with clear maturity and stability issues coming back to her hometown hoping to reunite with her ex, a happily married new father. It's ostensibly a comedy, but it's not that funny, and as a drama it falls apart because none of the characters seem to have any real arc (they come close but always stop short). I guess the "appeal" is supposed to be how outrageously horrible Charlize Theron's lead is (that's how I recall the trailers and commercials being skewed), but the shock value approach dies out quickly. To Theron's credit, she's actually pretty good, fully committing to the bit, and tries to drag this thing to at least limited success on sheer force of will, but she's working without any support. The dynamic between her and Patton Oswalt as a nerd she ignored in high school is probably the most interesting subplot going, but he doesn't seem to buy in and thus doesn't come off believable. The dialogue isn't terrible, but it's flat, and the plot spins its wheels. Patrick Wilson and the rest of the cast are ciphers. Reitman seems game on one hand as the piece is beautifully shot with well-chosen cuts and close-ups, but I wish he'd spent as much time coaxing his cast. It's too short a movie to be torturous or anything, but I was definitely hoping for more.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Art Attack: June 2013's Coolest Covers

-Working in comics, one of the downsides is I don't get surprised a lot, but I had no idea 100 Bullets was coming back and I was thrilled to be taken off guard by the news. Dave Johnson's cover takes you right back.

-That's a really different kind of cover for Astonishing X-Men by Phil Noto. Iceman is hardly the type of character who typically gets placed in a fantasy setting, but the unique juxtaposition here coupled with beautiful colors and the cool array of past and present love interests works really nicely (and makes you realize what a weird romantic history Bobby Drake has had). Noto is the consummate pro.

-Paolo Rivera really first got on the map beyond being the painter of Mythos when he drew that Punisher team-up issue of Amazing Spider-Man, so it's cool to see him back on both characters (after a fashion) with this month's Avenging Spider-Man cover, as he's got a great grasp for them. I'd love to see some regular Paolo Punisher.

-Jae Lee is a master of taking the familiar and making it striking, as he does on Batman/Superman #1. Two iconic figures, not a lot of busy scenery, just beautiful fine art.

-Great use of blacks on Georges Jeanty's cover for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I wonder how long he tinkered before settling on that approach?

-If that Daredevil cover by Chris Samnee doesn't fill you with a tingly excitement, this blog may not be for you (wait! Come back!).

-These Skullkickers homage covers have yet to miss for me.

-Nobody in comics is doing covers any more inventive than Mark Brooks on Fearless Defenders right now. I'd love to know where he gets his ideas from. Hey wait, I run a web site that could probably look into just that...

-Juan Doe on G.I. Joe! It just feels right.

-Was talking with Impact Wrestling's Samoa Joe about Paolo Rivera's Indestructible Hulk cover the other day when he visited the Marvel offices and it caught his eye. We both dug beyond the humor aspect that the style is very old school in a lot of ways, but has a slick modern polish. Paolo is really on fire.

-I didn't put that Mind the Gap cover on just to try and avoid Jim McCann whining in the comments section again, I really like the idea and Rodin Esquejo executes it perfectly (it could have come off really sloppy in the wrong hands).

-Enlarge that Superior Spider-Man cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli and then scroll up and down your screen for a bit. It's trippy.

-Thor: God of Thunder #9 is currently the desktop wallpaper of my work computer.

-With Ultimate Comics X-Men, B.P.R.D. and the aforementioned 100 Bullets, Dave Johnson makes my list three times this month. He's still the master.

-Declan Shalvey may be the most underrated artist in mainstream comics. He has a knack for dropping the fantastic (like an alien symbiote) into a world that looks more mundane and realistic than a lot of others depict with very compelling results.

100 BULLETS: BROTHER LONO #1 by Dave Johnson

ABE SAPIEN #3 by Sebastian Fiumara

ASTONISHING X-MEN #63 by Phil Noto

AVENGERS ARENA #11 by Mike Del Mundo

AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #22 by Paolo Rivera

BATMAN: LIL GOTHAM #3 by Dustin Nguyen


BATWING #21 by Ken Lashley

B.P.R.D.: HELL ON EARTH #108 by Dave Johnson


CABLE AND X-FORCE #9 by John Tyler Christopher

DAREDEVIL #27 by Chris Samnee


DIAL H #13 by Brian Bolland


FF #9 by Mike Allred

G.I. JOE #5 by Juan Doe

GREEN ARROW #21 by Andrea Sorrentino


IT GIRL AND THE ATOMICS #11 by Mike Allred

JUPITER'S LEGACY #2 by Frank Quitely

JUSTICE LEAGUE #21 by Gary Frank

LAZARUS #1 by Michael Lark


MIND MGMT #12 by Matt Kindt

MIND THE GAP #12 by Rodin Esquejo

NOVA #5 by Ed McGuinness

SAVAGE WOLVERINE #6 by Mike Perkins

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #11 by Giuseppe Camuncoli

SUPERMAN #21 by Tyler Kirkham

SWAMP THING #21 by Jock


THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #9 by Esad Ribic


ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN #27 by Dave Johnson

VENOM #36 by Declan Shalvey

WINTER SOLDIER #19 by Declan Shalvey

WOLVERINE #4 by Pascal Campion

YOUNG AVENGERS #6 by Jamie McKelvie