Oh, it’s been so long! But in a period where (deep breath) … Bishop came back, Emma Frost became single, Storm got a Mohawk, Frank Cho forgot to draw knickers for Shanna, Kitty quit her job, Hell came to X-Factor, Psylocke went mad, Legion became Marvel’s best character, Brian Wood and Oliver Coipel shunned Pixie, Age of Apocalypse and X-Treme X-Men were cancelled, Chamber appeared in not one but two books a month AND Beast turned into a pig-monkey, what else have we got to talk about? JEEZ LOUISE, SO MUCH, YOU GUYS!!
Let’s kick off with some of Marvel’s kick-offs. January saw Uncanny X-Force relaunch with Sam Humphries and Ron Garney as the creative team keeping Psylocke and Fantomex but switching the rest of the cast. Now featuring Storm, Spiral and Puck, issue #1 was a tone-deaf opening issue for the series, which had more energy than a penguin in coffee. Humphries’ book is the most at-risk book in the franchise right now, as the book is centred around Psylocke and Storm – both of whom are going to be main characters in Brian Wood/Oliver Coipel’s new X-Men series. So in order to stave off redundancy, the book had to be good and prove itself able to tell a different kind of story with a different voice.
And it is entertaining. Humphries is throwing everything into the book, it seems, but the central problem is that he’s not doing so in a very organised manner. The voice is all over the place on this title with narrative boxes, thought captions, flashbacks, flash forwards and manic speech for just about everyone. The characters all feel vaguely out of sync with themselves, whilst the dialogue is overconfident and faintly embarrassing. The art from Ron Garney is a little rough, as well, perhaps due to the efforts of the inker in trying to liven things up a little (Garney is not suited for a book like this). The colouring, however, is absolutely superb, with flashes of pink in Psylocke’s flashbacks and a vibrant tone, which matches Humphries OTT script.
Cable & X-Force launched last month, with Dennis Hopeless prodding Salvador Larocca into ever-more-bizarre costume designs. The book is now three issues into the run and is perhaps a middle-ground for the X-Men books. There’s some quirk and Hopeless is doing quiet work renovating most of the cast, but the storyline isn’t going anywhere very quickly. It’s interesting to spend time with a well-arranged cast of misfit characters, but the plotting is slow and there’s a complete absence of tension in the narrative. Larocca’s art is improved here from his time on Iron Man with less shiny faces and more fun technology thrown into the book.
Technology! An excellent transition into Seth Peck’s second fill-in arc on X-Men before the book concludes in February. The first of his stories was a brilliantly bouncy take on Domino, as she teamed up with Daredevil and caused a lot of trouble. This new story is a lot more generic, however, telling a bog-standard ‘new mutant’ storyline where a random group of characters go to save the mutant before their newfound powers go haywire. The group of characters are interesting – Storm, Pixie and Chamber are all involved – but the storyline is crushingly dull, with a boring new character and off-kilter artwork from Jefte Palo. I usually like Palo a lot, but he seems rushed here, and his art looks unpolished. It’s a pretty poor comic.
Speaking of – Wolverine and the X-Men continues to be a continuity-free approach to telling X-Men stories, doesn’t it? But while the characterisation for just about everyone remains utterly mystifying, Jason Aaron’s storytelling is at least improving now he’s in a post-event era. Still matched by an army of slumming artists who should be allowed on better books, WATXM looks pretty great with each new issue, and this month saw David Lopez come in for the long-awaited ‘date night’ issue. Thankfully this seemed to break up the absolutely horrible Iceman/Kitty Pryde relationship Marvel for some reason allowed to see the light of day, whilst giving nice character moments for a handful of other people. At the very least, Aaron seems to understand Storm, so that’s a nice change of pace.
Storm’s been very busy over the past few weeks, as a whole. Not just appearing in Uncanny X-Force, X-Men and WATXM, she’s also been making extended cameos in Brian Michael Bendis’s All-New X-Men. The series as a whole is coming along a lot better than expected, given Bendis’ previous ten-year failure to write a convincing team title during his Avengers run. The characters are working together well, the story is strong, and it feels like he has something to say. Bendis with a creative agenda is one of the strongest forces in comics, and hopefully this will continue once we get past the initial pitch of his run and into new stories. Astonishing X-Men has also been improving, thanks to Gabriel Hernandez Walta getting more issues on the book. A brilliantly talented and original artist, Walta has been an unsung gem in the X-Books for two or three years now, providing art which is always intricate and interesting.
There’s an abundance of superb art over the past month, actually, with a wide variety of style on display. If you’re one of the people who likes Frank Cho, then his new book Savage Wolverine came out in January. It’s cheesecake, but beyond that it was actually rather nice to see a Wolverine story in which he sounds like Wolverine. Marvel’s latest decision – this seems to spring from Uncanny Avengers – is that Wolverine has sworn off killing people. Which is utter nonsense, of course.
I’ve mentioned this before, but Wolverine really has become a complete mess over the past years, even while characters like Colossus and Forge have been reinvented to be fun. It’s hard to know quite how the X-Offices have managed to wreck a fairly simple character, but the past few years have been spectacularly unkind for the Canadian. And to add to the misery for Logan fans, Uncanny Avengers itself is proving to be quite a creative and critical flop. Come quick, Paul Cornell!
On the topic of British revitalisation, who would’ve thought anybody could make a character out of Legion? And yet that’s exactly what Si Spurrier has done with X-Men Legacy, taking the walking plot device and making him Scottish, determined, and empathetic. Artist Tan Eng Huat’s art has a certain sketchbox charm to it, although Jorge Molina’s issue this month was perhaps the best we’ve seen the book so far.
Spurrier’s storyline suddenly kicked in the spurs this month, unexpected tying everything together in a very tight structure which led to a stunning final page. This is the best X-Men issue I’ve read in years. It was taut and tense, careful placing characters in position before swerving on expectation and turning every moment of the past few months into an incredibly well-played bluff. It was a great twist, coupled with some excellent storytelling and characterisation for, of all characters, Blindfold. If you’re buying anything with an X on it, then I hope that thing is X-Men Legacy.
Entering a major storyline of its own this month, Peter David's X-Fact
or looks to be grabbing every single plot thread from the past two years and frantically threading them all together into an epic event. It's shaping up to be a typically entertaining story from David, drawn brilliantly by Leonard Kirk – who, along with Emanuela Lupacchino, helped revitalise and redesign this series during a time when it looked to be giving up. I'll write more about it next month once more of the story starts to come together – but really, there's not much I need to say. Peter David has done an exceptional job at bringing the book back to life, and every new issue is fresh, exciting, and funny.
Next month! Uncanny X-Men relaunches with dodgy costumes galore from Chris Bachalo; Mystique re-enters the picture; Gambit welcomes the return of Clay Mann on art; Black Cyclops makes his move; and X-Factor’s big event continues…
See you then!
BOOKS OF THE MONTH
- X-Men Legacy
BOOKS TO AVOID
- Wolverine & the X-Men
December brought the sad news that writer Peter David had suffered a stroke whilst with his family. The good news is that he is making a good recovery in hospital at present, and I’d like to direct you to http://www.peterdavid.net so you can keep updated on his progress.