Monday, February 4, 2013

My 2013 Pull List Ultimate Comics X-Men

When I think about it I've been reading Ultimate X-Men pretty much straight through since Robert Kirkman's run started around #72 to now( with a drop off during and post Ultimatum). I've always had a love/hate relationship with this particular series. It's always been so close to what I've always wanted the X-Men to be and at the same time it can be kind of painful to me because it never quite hits that mark, always veering into territory that makes me groan.
Mark Millar scribed the original run of Ultimate X-Men and these issues greatest appeal, to me at least, was a cast of five young X-men who were completely unburdened by continuity. None of them had died and come back to life, were raised on Mount Wundagore by an anthropomorphic cow, or spent the early half of their life in an alternate dimension being raised by their own sister who was also from the future of a completely different dimension. I love me some comic book schlock  but the idea that before they had put on their X-duds Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake, Peter Rasputin and Ororo Munroe were just normal people who been living their reasonably normal lives made each one of these young heroes deeply human and relatable.
However at the same time they could also feel incredibly shallow and vapid. Remember when Storm and Jean Grey went roller skating and talked about how much they dreaded turning twenty and becoming "old and fat and uncool" or when Beast revealed the secret location of one of X-Men's most powerful enemies because he thought Blob was a chick on an internet dating site? This problem stems from the combination of two things.
One is the Ultimate Universe's continuous, desperate effort to be edgy, hip, modern and just generally spelling cool with a K and a W. The other is Mark Millar and the all encompassing feeling of loathing, contempt and utter hatred for ALL OF HUMANITY that seems to seethe within the pages of every book of his that I have ever read. It was in The Ultimates and it was certainly in Ultimate X-Men.

No one is likeable, everyone hates/ mistrusts every one else, the X-Men don't even really seem to want to be heroes and the book pounds home at every opportunity that humanity is repulsive, loathsome and not even worth protecting. By the end the only thing that really seems to separate the hero's from the villains is the that the heroes have killed slightly less innocent people over the course of their lives than the villains have.
       This got off track quick but I've had that stored up for awhile. The Ultimate Universe has a weird draw that both attracts and repulses me. As much as I claim to hate it I find myself wandering back and rereading it because there is alot there that is exciting, engaging, new and genuine. I leave and come back and slowly the resentment boils until I can't contain it anymore. It might as well come out now. The point is that I'm constantly drawn to the Ultimate X-Men, constantly intrigued by it's potential despite the result never quite hitting the mark I've set for it in my head. But despite my totally biased and unrealistic personal tastes, Ultimate X-Men is usually pretty good(Ultimatum and that general period not withstanding). I liked much of Bendis's run though it was marred by the whole thing where Beast dies to prove how edgy and unpredictable Ultimate universe is. My favorite runs were by Brian K. Vaughan and the first half of Kirkman's because both focused on expanding the stories of less appreciated characters like Nightcrawler,  Havok, and Rogue by using smaller scale but more personal stories. Ultimatum has pretty much been covered and I was not reading at the time Loeb's Ultimate X and Nick Spencers' Ultimate Comics X-Men were coming out so I can't talk much about those.

That brings us to the newest face in Ultimate X-Men line up, popular independent writer Bryan Wood. His run has much the same effect on me as previous ones, there is some recurring stuff that rubs me the wrong way but I have to keep reminding myself that overall these are really good comics. Wood's premise is very interesting so that while, yeah, the idea of a mutant nation is not completely new I don't think it's ever been done from this very "on the ground, nuts and bolts" sort of level. Wood uses a large cast of very young characters to show readers the birth of the next generation of mutants. There is no Professor Xavier, Magneto, or even a Cyclops to guide them as they determine the new status quo for mutants in the Ultimate Universe. I love the core cast and the fact that Brian Wood is dusting off a bunch of smaller x-characters and reinventing them This includes one of my personal favorite 90's left overs, Husk of Generation X. Wood takes the X-Men into territory that feels genuinely new and unexplored, stripping away almost all the classic superhero trappings and approaching one of their main themes from a completely human perspective. The X-Men are no longer costumed vigilantes but mutant freedom fighters, an oppressed minority struggling for liberty and self determination against an antagonistic society. There are few things still weighing the series down in my opinion, though.

For one thing it's really, really dry. Painfully dry, with Brian Wood making it clear straight from the get go that if there is one thing no one is allowed to do in Ultimate Comics X-Men it is make a joke. Or smile, or basically do anything other than brood and discuss how dire the situation is. I've found myself wondering why Iceman is even on the team since in seven issues he receives almost no panel time, no hint of an arc and is seemingly in the series only to get shushed by the other characters for not realizing that "this is for real." Rogue's presence is similarly baffling. Her character is dealing with some vague, inconsistent type of schizophrenia that causes her to look sad all the time. It is talked about but never explicitly shown or explained fully, I assume because this story point is a hold over from the previous writer that Wood cares absolutely nothing about but has trouble figuring out how to get rid off. He finally does through the random introduction and then disappearance of Quentin Quire however he continues to bring it up for some reason, make her problem that is not even a problem anymore Rogue's defining character trait.

But anyway, yeah. Really dry. It's nice to see smart characters who look at a situation and try to figure out the repercussions of their actions instead of just jumping in and punching stuff because that's what superheroes do, but the cast of Ultimate Comics X-Men is a walking debate club. They analyze every situation, discussing the societal, moral, political, and practical ramifications of what they're going to eat for breakfast in a disjointed imitation of Bendis-speak at it's worse. As this goes, on six panels with nothing but characters talking has eaten up space that could have been used to show them actually doing something. It's visually not very interesting and the characters, for all their words, don't manage to convey a whole lot of distinct personality or humanity because all their conversations are painfully obvious exposition dumps that don't follow the beats and rhythms of real human interaction. Kitty's overhead narration serves the very practical purpose of allowing the writer to convey large amounts of information easily, something that is necessary in a story that is so detail oriented. However they are a little over used, sometimes describing things that the artist either has or should have already made clear visually. Overhead narration regulates all events to the past tense, draining away their immediacy and thus the readers emotional involvement. When Kitty picks up the assault rifle( and later the pistol given to her by Nick Fury) we are flat out told that the gun is a source of emotional conflict for her, a symbol of both the responsibility she feels as the new leader of mutant kind and the threat of violence that her mutant revolution might lead to.A teammate turns traitor and sets off a bomb in the mutants camp, however rather than show the event and the characters reactions in real time the issue has Kitty narrate from the future and describe what happened and how every body felt about it. Because the revelation of a traitor, a bomb going off, and the effects of a "cure" for mutants were not nearly interesting enough for one issue, it really needed those four and a half pages of Kitty being snarky to a SHIELD agent to work.
And it does not help that the single most talked about subject in the entire book is Kitty Pryde. How she is obviously a natural leader, how she saved mutant kind and earned each characters trust or conversely, how terrible she is, why she should not be the leader of the group, and why each character hates her.

Kitty Pryde is this, Kitty Pryde is that and ironically every one spends so much time talking about Kitty that the only character we get to see her interact or form a relationship with is Jimmy Hudson.  

The second frustrating point might have to be the art. Paco Medina strikes me as strange choice for this book because his style seems like it would fit better in a straight super hero book. Everything seems so bright, colorful and energetic that while reading the books you are just dying to see him draw dudes in full costumes flying around, shooting lightning out of their butt cracks, and just generally doing awesome superhero stuff. Meanwhile Wood is doing a toned down, no-costumes book about mutants banding together to fight a guerrilla war in the deserts of the South Western United States. This is a story where real world rules about violence apply (i.e getting shot by bullets = death) and for the characters victory means not dying of dehydration by the end of the issue. However  Medina adapts just fine, bridging the gap excellently by providing visually interesting environments and characters that look natural both in and out costume, which is something many regular superhero artists have trouble with. The issues by him are usually the best in the series but the same can not be said for some of the fill-in artists backing him up.

There is a small host of back-up artists who's styles range from unique but a little jarring

Filipe Andrade



 to stock filler artist


Carlos Barberi




















Barberi in particular sticks out like a sore thumb. His style is vaguely similar to Medina's but the characters are top heavy and weirdly distended, often veering into cheesecake territory.
I hate to get too negative or sound like I am making a personal attack so I'll make a parallel to kind of illustrate what I'm trying to say.

Barberi's style reminds me a lot of Mark Brooks, another artist with a more cartoonish look. Both artists would be completely acceptable and even at home in a lighter, funnier, book. Both artists worked on Deadpool books for a time. Both artists are wildly out of place on Ultimate X-Men, especially when the comic tries so desperately hard make the audience take it seriously

Mark Brook



Once again, I really really don't want to be negative and hurtful in my reviews. Bryan Wood is a good writer. What is most frustrating of all about this comic is that I know  it can be really good because the proof is sitting right there in my comic book bin. At the same time Wood is putting out Ultimate X-Men for Marvel, he's also putting out The Massive for Darkhorse.

The two comics have similair premise, tone, and themes, both focusing on a small group of rebels/ political activists trying to survive in a hostile environment. Both groups clash with public perception issues, corporate greed, and an intolerant/ignorant society that seeks to silence them. Both groups deal with the same internal struggle, their peaceful ideals contrasting with the violence necessary to survive in their new surroundings. Despite all these similarities and the fact that they are written by the same guy The Massive seems to get better, offering compelling characters, great art and an intriguing story, while Ultimate X-Men continues to flounder. Maybe Marvel's reigning him in but I think it's more likely that for whatever reason Wood is just pulling his punches, dropping the plot points like hammers and breezing past anything that might offer a deeper emotional resonance because he is either convinced the audience is too dumb for that kind of thing or just uninterested.

  As always the curse of Ultimate X-Men is that it has so, so much potential. It could be completely amazing instead of just kind of good sometimes. Whew. Now that that I'm done complaining about stuff I actually like, I promise next post I'll be going back to my happy place. It helps that the next item on my list is none other than All-Star Western.



Friday, January 25, 2013

My 2013 Pull List-All New X-Men

My 2013 Pull List-

So, coming back I want to do something that is a little different than just reviews. I've been gone for a little while. Just a little while. I'm sure you didn't notice. Anyway I did not want to do a massive pile of reviews for every comic I've read while I was not updating the blog( because Lord, would that take forever) or leaving a big gap between the issues I've reviewed, instead I'm going to give everybody a peek at my pull list.
I'll show the series that I personally think are good enough that I'm going  to my closest comic book store every other week and slapping down my hard earned cash for. Pretty simple concept right? So let's quit wasting time...you lazy bastards.

#1 All New X-Men- When Brian Michael Bendis was announced as the writer of a series that would see the original five X-Men traveling to the present, to try to right the wrongs of their modern day counterparts, for the first time in years I found myself genuinely excited about the direction of a major X-book. All-New X-Men felt like a ray of sunshine after a seemingly endless cycle of crossover, death, blow everything up, new status qua, another cross over, more death, on and on. Notable exceptions include X-Factor and X-Men Legacy, however I didn't really discover X-Factor until very recently and X-Men Legacy tended to get knocked off coarse by whatever incredibly important event  was CHANGING THE X-MEN FOREVER!! that month. 
    So...recap of the last decade of X-Men stories? First Xavier is revealed as a prick so Cyclops takes over the X-Men. Cyclops becomes a prick, Jean Grey dies, and later Colossus comes back to life. M-Day/Decimation happens and all the mutants go away. Cue much moaning and naval gazing from the X-Men. Messiah Complex, Hope is born and people fight over her. The X-Men fight the Marauders and also each other. Bishop kills Xavier. Everyone is sad. Then it turns out Xavier was not dead. Hope travels to the future with Cable. The X-Men move to San Francisco which lasts about a week because Norman Osborn takes over the United States and attacks them in the Utopia event comic. They move to an island and declare themselves an independent nation. Everyone is kind of happy for awhile but then Hope comes back so zombies and robots from the future attack the island(Necrosha/Messiah War). Nightcrawler and some other people die. Cyclops becomes more of a prick. Schism happens. The X-Men fight each other over how much of a prick Cyclops is and Wolverine starts his own school. The Phoenix comes back and the Avengers try to kill Hope. The Avengers and X-Men fight. The Phoenix Force bonds with Cyclops and four other X-Men. They try to save the world and then wind up killing  lots of people. Cyclops becomes a straight up villian. The Avengers and the X-Men fight the Phoenix Five. They lose and then the Phoenix Five fight each other. Cyclops kills Xavier (for realz this time). Hope gets the Phoenix Force and brings all the mutants back. Cyclops goes to jail. The end.

For so long the X-Men  comics have felt like they were on a repeat cycle of blow everything up, put it together in a new way, and then blow it up again, saddled with an artificial feeling of grimness, created through characters complaining, heroes doing evil stuff, and occasionally the killing of a beloved/ and or mildly popular character.
And then boom! All New X-Men hits and I get to read a comic by a writer I love, starring characters I love, and it's offering me the fulfillment of a ten year long wish, promising a day when I read an X-Men book and have FUN doing it.  Maybe this is just the new gimmick and after a few months some one will die and the X-Men will move on to whatever the next new gimmick is, I don't now. What I do know is that I am five issues in and I'm loving All-New X-Men. It helps that the idea is just so meta, appealing to the comic book nerd/ collector/ critic in me. Horrified at what's become of themselves and their world the original X-Men decide they're going put things the way they are supposed to be even if it means smacking some sense into their future selves.
The moment when we see a young Jean Grey absorb all of the memories of her team mates is both cool and heartbreaking. On the outside we, the readers, are seeing 60+ plus years of storytelling in a beautiful two page spread by Stuart Immonen. Inside the story, we know Jean Grey is experiencing her whole life. The consummation and eventual failure of her marriage. The moment her powers finally reach their full potential only to corrupt her in the end. She forms connections with people she has not even met yet and she watches them die. She watches herself die. It's all there in the image, a mixture of awe and horror as her entire future is condensed into a matter of seconds.
SPLASH PAGES. Making continuity Fun!

The series is slightly darker in tone than I had hoped but for once the level of grimness seems believable and totally appropriate to the situation rather than being forced or over the top. It helps that the moodiness comes from the character's themselves.
It is created by the contrast of five idealistic young X-Men running headlong into a bleak world and seeing how time has warped their beliefs and turned them against one another, rather than by some editorially mandated body count or another yet full page shot of Wolverine decapitating somebody. The darkness also helps to make the lighter moments that much brighter. In a world where everyone is at everyone else's throats, fretting over the time-space continuum, or hobbled by guilt over past failures scenes like the five X-men together in the blackbird or angel's enthusiasm over meeting his past are downright refreshing. Rather than be changed by this new world the Young X-Men rebel against it, giving a sense of hope that if the fly straight and keep together as a team maybe they'll be able to make a difference.
  
           And of course there is the art, which I can critique by delivering a simple comprehensive statement that you all probably already knew. Stuart Immonen is awesome! I love virtually every panel in every single issue. The character designs, motions, expressions, backgrounds, everything is spot on and a real pleasure to look at. His figures have become more detailed and solid since when I first saw him in Ultimate X-Men, or even Ultimate Spider-Man, while still conveying that sleekness that I find very appealing. David Marquez, the series second regular artist, has only been around for one issue but his stuff looks great too. He does a good job of matching his style to Immonen's and in some places he does a little better. His characters aren't as smooth and loose but the faces are more distinctive and the young X-Men look even more "classic" and out of time when he draws them.
 If I have to make one complaint it is a stupid, fanboy complaint that in some panels Marquez makes young Scott look like a dork, a negative that is completely canceled by the fact that when he draws Cyclops being awesome, he is AWESOME! I mean just how great is All New X-Men #5 when he just blasts Logan in the face?
Snagged this image from http://xmenxpert.wordpress.com



I have been waiting for that moment literally since I was six years old, when Wolverine punched Cyclops in the gut in the very first episode of X-Men the Animated Series. And then Jean Grey stepped in and stopped the fight before he could get even! I know Cyclops has gotten bad ass moments before but to me they were always a little tainted because they were being used to show how edgy and morally gray the new Cyclops was by writers who felt that he could only be cool if he was cool in the same, stubbley, hard drinking, always-a- dick-to-everyone-he-meets sort of way that Wolverine is. This is Cyclops how I've always wanted to see him, being a hero and being AWESOME at it. For that alone, this series has earned my eternal love and devotion.

Do you hear me Brian Michael Bendis?! You own me now. I will do anything you want!! Which would be great for him if I had any useful skills...
             
    Back to the review, if I had to point to one technical complaint it would be this. The book is titled All-New X-Men and so that should really be the main focus. It's good to set up the opposition and make them believable but I really don't see the need to spend so much time watching the break up drama between Emma and Scott or the whole subplot about Magneto losing his powers. I mean "evil" Cyclops and his team are getting their own book anyway? Why is this story being told here and not there? I picked this book up specifically because I thought it would have MORE original X-Men and LESS Emma Frost, Magneto, and Magick. Hey, let's play a game. It's called guess what my three least favorite X-Men characters are? I will give you a hint, one of them is Emma Frost. The other one is Magick. The third is actually Fantomex but Magneto when he is pretending to be a good guy is pretty close behind on that list. also I hate Danger. And Longshot, Psylocke, Hellion, Cameron Hodge, The Stepford Cuckoos, Hope Summers, Rachael Summers, Dazzler, David Xavier, and Vulcan.

So I guess that's that. Tune in again soon for my next post which I am sure will run along similar veins. That's right #2 on my pull list is Ultimate X-Men by Brian Wood. It'll be fun.

For me, at least. Not for you. Have I used that joke before?


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Freeze Ray status update

Attention Minions!!

Yeah, I decided I'm going to call all you silent readers out there my minions. I think it has a certain ring to it.

I just wanted to write in and say that the blog here is going to be on hiatus for a little while. See I just recently moved to a new apartment. Overall, it's a vast improvement and one of my major goals for the summer. Unfortunately I don't have a steady internet connection at the new place just yet and can't really afford one at the moment.

That should change in the near future since I just got a new job to go along with my new living space, but my first paycheck is still quite a ways away(four weeks of unpaid training, then probably two more weeks till I start seeing even a glimmer of compensation).

Wireless internet is one of the first things on the list of stuff I want to buy in the future but until that day comes The Freeze Ray's update rate will be sporadic to nonexistent.

I apologize. But don't worry. I'll be back as soon as I can. You won't get rid off me that easily.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

All Star Western #10 Review

I keep telling myself that next week I'm going to go out and do my part to support the smaller creator owned books out there. The ones that explore different genres and show that not all comics have to be about fighting and people in capes.

But when I get  to my local store I see a wrack full of titles that I don't know anything about with moody, artistic covers. I reach a hand into my pocket and realize I only have $20(which is enough for maybe four/five titles). I wimp out and make a compromise, getting a mainstream title in a different genre.

It helps that All Star Western, by the writing team of Palmiotti and Gray, is just so good. #11 continues that streak.

Without giving away the plot completely, we are introduced to Jonah Hex's protege' and former lover the physically and emotionally scarred Tallulah. From there we are brought into the plot as Tallulah's beef with a local casino owner slowly draws in Hex, Dr. Arkham, The Court of Owls and a faction of the Followers of Kaine all at once in what is sure to be a massive western-style cluster****.

As much as I love that dusty, old bounty hunter Jonah Hex, I feel like this series wouldn't grab me quite as much if it was just Hex wandering across the pages growling and punching people. Thankfully Palmiotti and Gray provide a full, colorful cast that can bounce off the main character in interesting ways.

The twitchy, neurotic Dr. Arkham and Jonah Hex make a hilariously odd ball partnership and watching the morally ambivalent Hex play against the almost super hero-ly straight laced vigilantes Nighthawk and Cinnamon provides a lot  interesting interactions.

Moritat's art is fantastic as well, covering a flexible, almost cartoony style with a thin layer of dusty grittyness to give it that Old West feel. His faces are detailed and expressive as well, his action sequences thrilling.

All Star Western continues to be a solid book every week and I encourage everyone out there to pick up an issue and support it. This is my big non-superhero title because, as much as I want to encourage genre diversity, I'm probably not going to be picking the first issue of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld.

Sorry. I knew how much all you guys were looking forward to that.

   

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wonder Woman #11 Review

Hey guys, I'm going to try and keep this review short so let's just dig in and not do the whole opening spiel where I go,"Hey guys, yadda yadda...."

Oh wait, I think I'm doing it again.

Brian Azzarello(curse him and his hard to spell name!) and Clifford Chiang put out another great read with Wonder Woman #11. When it first came out I had read a little about the series online and I remember really liking some ideas, like Wonder Woman as a monster hunter, and not liking others.For example, Amazons sleeping with sailors to procreate and then murdering them.

Kinda dark. Hard to like the residents of Paradise Isle after that.

Anyway, just a few weeks ago my friend hooked me up with several issues and I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed them. So when I found myself in my local comic book store last week I was compelled to pick up the newest issue.

In this issue, Wonder Woman confronts Apollo and Artemis who have teamed up to abduct Zola and the unborn child of Zeus she's carrying. I'm  going to try and avoid spoilers for once so that's all you really need to know story wise.

I think it's enough, a concept so wonderfully simple that it manages to cut straight to the core of Wonder Woman without having to say a word. Surrounded by scheming gods and vicious monsters, Diana confronts them head on in a quest to protect an innocent life.

The side characters in this book are what really bring me in and help keep the story grounded. Azzarello writes the gods and goddesses of Olympus as a real life dysfunctional family, making the relationships between each character unique and interesting. Meanwhile, Clifford Chiang's character designs make them fascinating to look at. His action sequences are nothing to sneeze at either.

I could go on about everything I like about this series but I'll save that for another day. Wonder Woman #11 was a great read. Brian Azzarello is doing more than just pumping out good Wonder Woman comics. He is recreating the character's entire universe, setting a tone that will hopefully inspire other writers for years to come.

I'm a recent convert to the character. I've always liked the concept of her but whenever I picked up an issue it just wouldn't connect. What do fans of the old-school Wonder Woman think of Azarello's take on the character?

Friday, July 27, 2012

X-Factor #240 Review

With X-Factor #240, titled Run Layla Run as a refrence to the film by Tom Tykwer,  Peter David gives us another one-and-done story, this one shedding a little light on the character of Layla Miller. We see her personality, her powers, and her goals explored. That's good for me because Layla has been one of my least favorite characters in this title. She popped up in part of a cross-over that I didn't read and for awhile her defining characteristics were mysteriousness and the incredibly vague power of "knowing things." Both things which I found more annoying than intriguing.

This issue gives us a look at how exactly Layla's powers work, or more appropriately how they don't work. Once privy to knowledge of future events, Layla's "future sight" has been scewed and she is now being bombarded with potential futures.

As this is going on our hero races across town trying to save the life of a young girl and through her, the life of a friend.


 Neil Edwards is back for this issue, his pencils providing the necessary kinetic energy for this story to work. A lot of artists on a super hero book might not be able handle an issue as down to earth as this, where the main action is a foot race across town and none of the characters appear in costume. Edwards pulls it off with style though.

The issue uses color as a simple but effective means to convey time, with past sequences in black and white and future sequences tinted in red, blue, green, or yellow.

X-Factor continues to be an exciting an unconventional little corner of the Marvel universe. Can't wait for next issue.

What are other people thinking off X-Factor right now.