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Ultimate Comics X-Men #23 – Review

ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN #22

By: Brian Wood (Writer), Carlo Barberi (Penciller), Don Ho (Inker), Jesus Aburtov (Colorist), VC’s Joe Sabino (Letterer)

The Review: This issue really took me by surprise. Much like Brian Wood  often did with great success during his Vertigo series DMZ, this is a stand-alone tale that breaks  away from the title’s continuing narrative to address an otherwise undocumented   chapter in one character’s life. In this case it deals chiefly with Storm and starts directly after she and Colossus participated in the breakout from Camp Angel (around issues #10 and #11) leading all the way up to just about the present day (around about #19). Just as with DMZ, this change in gear offers its readership the chance to catch a breath from the dense plotting of the ongoing title and for Wood to explore one of his individual cast member’s histories in rich detail and with a tighter focus. It is – for me – easily the best issue of Ultimate Comics X-Men in months.

So, what happened after Camp Angel? After evading the Sentinels, Storm and Colossus managed to steal a camper van and from there escaped into the mountains. There they lived a fairly nomadic existence, keeping as far away from society as possible.  Soon though Piotr became dissatisfied with this way of life and struck out on his own, leaving Storm alone to ponder her fate. Depressed and isolated, Ororo set out on a trek further into the mountains to clear her head. It’s during that trek that she was captured by the Anti-Mutant militia and placed in another internment camp, a prisoner until Kitty Pryde’s insurrection brought the battle for Mutant freedom to the camp gates. Once again winning her freedom (but this time in a more permanent sense) Storm next witnessed the Government’s “Cure” stations before finally being re-united with Kitty, her former X-Men teammate, and then…well, we’re bang up-to-date.

That is the entire plot of the book in a nutshell, but by laying it all out I’m not really spoiling anything. This issue essentially acts as a whistle-stop tour of everything Ultimate Comics X-Men has offered to readers over the last year, and in other hands it might have existed as nothing more than a simple retrospective, a great jumping-on point for new readers; it certainly works well on those terms.

But under Wood’s stewardship it works even better as a great character piece on the Ultimate universe’s longest-serving X-Man, a tribute to one of the line’s better developed characters. I had wondered why Storm hadn’t featured more prominently in Kitty Pryde’s group – she is, after all, a founding member of the Ultimate X-Men – so it’s great to see her finally given the spotlight. The whole issue is narrated from its lead’s perspective and where I found Kitty’s voice quite exhausting when used in this role, Ororo’s voice feels much more natural and relatable. “The mutants won that day,” she reminisces, thinking back to the day Kitty liberated the internment camps, “And even though in the days that followed we would lose an even greater battle as the government unveiled its ‘cure’, in this one historic moment…we were united. We were X-Men.” It’s a more satisfying response to the resolution of the conflict than I found in the pages of Ultimate X-Men at the time but hey, maybe that’s just me.

Carlo Barberi is transformed here. I’ve lamented the fact that over the last few issues he’s been given little to do other than depict a bunch of people standing around talking (though he did that well) but given such a wide and varied range of scenes to illustrate he really comes alive. He still excels at the quieter moments – the campfire discussions in the mountains, the dustbowl internment camps and “Cure” stations. But the battle scenes, with scores of airborne mutants disassembling Sentinels mid-flight, or the awesome double-page spread with Colossus protecting Storm as she taps into the heavens…wow. He’s more than ably assisted by regular collaborators Ho and Aburtov, and it shows that when the script allows it this art team pack a powerful, dynamic punch. There’s three books in the Ultimate line, so saying this is the second best art team there may not sound like much of a compliment…but first place goes to the alternating line-up of David Marquez and Sara Pichelli. With that in mind there’s no shame in the Silver medal.

Conclusion: As unhappy as I’ve been with Ultimate Comics X-Men of late, this issue almost makes up for the sins of the past. Tightly paced, passionately scripted, beautifully illustrated, it’s an unfaltering recap of the events of the last 12 months told from a compelling alternative view point. It’s also one of the best ‘jumping on point’ comics I’ve read in a while. Here’s hoping Wood has another couple of stand-alone stories waiting for us before we get back to the exhaustive pessimism of Kitty Pryde’s Utopia.

Grade: B+

                                                                                      

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