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All-New X-Factor #14 – Review

By: Peter David (Writer), Pop Mhan (Breakdowns), Pop Mhan and Scott Hanna (Finishes), Lee Loughridge (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer), Kris Anka & Jared Fletcher (Cover Artist)

The Story: Bonds of sisterhood can be fixed with copious amounts of beer and beating up on others’ abusive boyfriends.

The Review: Last issue was a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, and now it’s to a Renaissance Faire. If next issue becomes a trip to a Civil War Re-enactment, I’m not sure if I’ll laugh or cry. It does make an interesting balance, though, in that last issue was all about Quicksilver using the setting as a way to make family time with his daughter, and this time it’s all about Polaris and Scarlet Witch’s attempt at sisterhood. In this case, Danger is brought along as well, to complete our girl’s day out and pass the Bechel Test. (Actually, it’s a quite natural development of ongoing storylines, meaning that X-Factor consistently has, as its strength, distinct characters and intriguing relationships of all kinds.)

The characteristic humorous quirks and quick-witted quips are all on display here, too, with Danger’s curious ideas about exploring her humanity getting the first laugh from the first page (thanks to the timing that comes from a series of panels exploiting the comicbook medium’s ability to be deliberately paced) as well as becoming a running gag. Other touches are quite subtle, such as Polaris dealing with people asking about her hair or Danger “know[ing] a bar.” Not quite so obvious, but perhaps natural, would be Scarlet Witch reacting to the scene of a witch burning at the Faire, which seems a bit historically inaccurate for a writer usually concerned with authenticity but is perhaps resorting to more broad or simple plot gimmicks to tell the story he needs.

Interestingly, for a story that is arguably mostly about Polaris, she doesn’t take charge all that much. It’s not directly an indictment on her leadership skills, which is an ongoing subplot for the title, but it does fall in line with that. For example, Polaris doesn’t suggest the outing nor recommend the place for it; she doesn’t investigate the witch burning; she even allows the victim to dictate when to turn her powers off, to tell her to stop the punishment of the villain. (Although, to be fair, do we honestly think Polaris would have murdered someone in cold blood?) She does buy the Scarlet Witch a turkey leg and a beer and take some petty thieves’ gun clips, but overall she’s pretty passive to the events around her. Judging from her anger at the realization that Quicksilver was originally a plant on the team, we’re led to believe that passivity won’t be a problem for very long.

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Daredevil #8 – Review

By: Mark Waid (story), Chris Samnee (art), Matthew Wilson (colors)

The Story: Let this be a lesson to all parents who allow their children to outnumber them.

The Review: Mind control is the most insidious of superpowers, whether for good or evil, but especially for evil. In the superhero genre, which often struggles to achieve real emotional dimension, mind control strikes directly at that never-bundled pulp of the characters’ hearts because nothing is scarier or more painful than the loss of self. Energy blasts and physical blows damage the physical body, but psychic attacks expose the most vulnerable parts of people.

The difference can be seen in the opening pages, as Purple Man (a.k.a. Zebediah Killgrave) uses children as his proxies, capturing and converting the poor Lahni’s son as she screams and struggles to free him. It is just as her motherly instincts are at their maximum that Zeb forcibly shuts her down, then guides her to her death, all the time telling her subdued son, “You won’t miss her.” It’s that severance between the mother-child relationship that’s tragic and horrifying, as much as Zeb’s raucous laughter as she helplessly leaps screaming off the roof.
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Uncanny Avengers #24 – Review

By: Rick Remender (Writer), Salvador Larroca (Artist), Dean White (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer), Paul Renaud (Cover Artist)

The Story: The continuing saga of Havok and his Avenging Friends, now in Genosha.

The Review: Here’s one instance of a comicbook cover accurately reflecting the contents inside, in the sense that it’s focused on Havok, Rogue, and the Scarlet Witch. These characters really are the cornerstone of the themes and issues for the series, so it makes sense, but at the same time it’s hard to get a feeling of any larger world that these characters, and indeed the Unity Squad, occupy.

For example, Havok’s coping with his new disfigurement, and there’s a little bit of the “real world” in that he has to go shopping while in costume. But when he credits himself as “Havok, Semi-famous Avenger,” it still rings a bit weird to my ear. He may have been in the public eye for a press conference and one battle, but beyond that? We the readers have seen him in action for nearly two years, but the Marvel public?

The art for this scene works well, using a few tricks (and some clichés) to enhance our story, such as some deep shadows and a bird’s-eye view of a lonely lamppost and of course Havok’s face hidden from view. Another scene that works well is Rogue’s dream sequence, which features some really lovely colors, setting it apart from the rest of the book and also capturing that dreamy quality. That’s especially effective because of the surprising appearance of a “ghost.”

Of course, I still have huge problems with Larocca’s art style. I don’t find it appealing at all, particularly the line quality. Perhaps it would be different if he could have a strong inker, one who could make his lines bolder, more well-rendered. When combined with some of the coloring, the effect is actually over-colored, a kind of “uncanny valley” where the artists are trying for reality but by doing so actually make it worse. But there’s also so many incongruities between the figures and their relationships to each other and to backgrounds that it comes off as amateurish. In the first panel on the page with Wolverine/Rogue/Witch’s snack time conversation, there are sinks to Wolverine’s right, then on the very same page, last panel, the sinks are behind him to his left. The next page, they’re fully behind him, then he goes to a small refrigerator that’s somewhere out of the blue, and finally stands in the kitchen with an Escher-like chair stuck floating behind him somehow.

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Edge of Spider-Verse #2 -

By: Jason Latour (Writer), Robbi Rodriquez (Artist), Rico Renzi (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer & Production)

The Story: Spider-Woman, Spider-Woman! Doing whatever a spider doin’!

The Review: Teenage heroes coming into their own? All-girl rock bands? Classic “I-must-but-I-must-not” supporting cast members? Trying to do the right thing, getting hurt by it, and still doing it anyway? This is very nearly a perfect example of a comicbook, modeled, appropriately enough, on the winning formula started by Marvel’s original Spider-Man.

But this is a teenage Gwen Stacy, instead. Logically, her dilemmas set her up against her friends (MJ and the girls of the band “The Mary Janes”) as well as her father, police captain George Stacy, putting all the pieces of formula together in exactly the places we expect and presenting them through brilliant art and earnest pathos.

Several pages were simply beautiful. The art, colors, and letters/production all work together well, from the very first panel of The Mary Jane’s lyrics (and Gwen pounding on the drums on the next page) to the very quiet and poignant moment of Gwen on the rooftop– the music of her phone brilliantly represented by the colors of circles floating behind her. All the lettering, especially the sound effects, have wonderfully organic and natural quality about them. (Reinforcing the honesty and amateur-ity of the hero, perhaps?) Sure, I could complain about a few sequences that seemed awkward, usually when the artist tried to convey Spider-Woman moving through the space of the scene. Both on the platform with one cop and when facing her father, there was not a strong visual flow. And was she dancing/twirling over the body of Alexsei? Overall, though, the expression and dynamism of the characters were clear and strong. I really like Robbi Rodriguez’ style here.

The costume design for Spider-Woman, too, deserves special mention. The color choices are inspired, and the imbalance of the color actually works well. This is a wonderfully contemporary costume that takes advantage of modern-day color techniques and aesthetics. Also, the hoodie offers a visual clue about the momentum of the figure, making it feel like the figure’s in motion (which, you know, *capes* can do as well! Just sayin’.) I really hope this design (or its elements) catch on for a bit.

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Uncanny X-Men #26 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Kris Anka (artist)

The Story: Scott and Christopher grapple with their delusions as the Iceman cometh, and angrily.

The Review: Generally speaking, I like the Schism. I like the idea of separating the X-Men into new and classic flavors, delving into the differences of opinion that besiege any movement for equality without labeling one side a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It’s not perfect, but I’m a fan. As “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” rolls on, the main event continues to be the X-Men’s reactions and the ability of this new information to present ever more variations of the X-Men philosophy.

Broadly, the characters fall into a couple of general positions, but the details are what make it engaging. Details like Scott and Logan’s odd respect for one another, still standing after being established in Wolverine and the X-Men #40, or the sharp edge that’s appeared on Bobby’s trademark humor. It helps that this issue corrects one of the most glaring problems of the Schism era: balance. Supporters of each side have frequently, and rightly, criticized many X-Men issues for presenting highly biased views of the opposing side. Luckily, Bendis breaks that trend, actively criticizing both sides. There’s still a little more time dedicated to absolving Cyclops, but the issue does so in a way that still acknowledges his flaws.

It’s not just the classic X-Men who are getting into it, either. While it’s hard to deny that well written interactions between the feuding X-Men are a treat, this is really the only book that provides a look at the New Xavier students. Back in Canada, Triage is starting to grasp precisely what Scott’s militant view of mutant rights will entail. While he puts it in rather simple terms, it’s not hard to agree with him, especially when the Stepford Cuckoos fall back into their obnoxious smugness to disprove him. It’s not quite up to the level that the scenes at the Jean Grey School manage, but it sets the stage for some fascinating drama as that same sort of individualism begins to stir in the next generation of mutants.
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Hawkeye #20 – Review

By: Matt Fraction (story), Annie Wu (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)

The Story: It’s never a good day to find out your dad’s involved with a very bad woman.

The Review: Hawkeye has always operated on a loose structure, with an improvised quality that encourages Fraction, Wu, and David Aja to take the title in unexpected directions. This is especially the case for the Kate Bishop side of things, since her youth, inexperience, and utter lack of resources leave her no choice except to fake it until she makes it. This would be fine if you didn’t get the niggling feeling that Fraction’s doing the exact same thing.

Obviously, there is very little wrong (and everything right) about the premise of Kate broke and stuck in L.A., embroiled in a vendetta with Madame Masque. And if every issue of this series was about nothing except that, we’d have a very large time indeed. But this whole system of coming back to Kate’s story every couple months or so results in done-in-one chapters that don’t quite mesh once you try to fit them together. The standalone #16 is the best example, although really, it’s only been since #18 that we got the sense of an overarching plot.
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Amazing Spider-Man #6 – Review

By: Dan Slott (Writer), Humberto Ramos (Penciller), Victor Olazaba (Inker), Edgar Delgado (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer)

The Story: All of this could have been avoided if the Black Cat didn’t need an initiation ritual to lead some random Z-list bad guys.

The Review: There has to be a kind of optimism in every hero. There has to be, because it seems like it takes a lot of work to try to right the wrongs of the world without a lot of payoff. That observation is made by a few people in Spider-Man’s new supporting cast, Anna Marie and Sanjani, but Parker counts the events of this issue as a “win” because of his heroic optimism. This is a neat way to keep Spider-Man poised as a prime example of heroism in the Marvel universe, and it highlights one of the reasons that he’s been a favorite character for many years.

Other developments in this issue? Not so satisfying. For some reason, there’s an attraction between Spider-Man and Silk, which is annoying Anna Marie just as much as the readers. The whole thing seems to be playing more to comedy than anything, which is part of the annoyance, because all the characters don’t really take it seriously. I’m not sure it’s the best take, as it actually detracts from actual character-building. Wouldn’t Peter, the quintessential “responsible” hero, be dealing with this more deeply? Shouldn’t there be some logical questions and consequences to this? So far, aside from some eye-rolling from Anna Marie, there doesn’t appear to be. They do admit their attraction is stronger when there’s danger nearby, but that doesn’t really make sense. “Hey! Something bad is going to happen! Let’s stop and kiss!”

Developments like this rely on PIS, or “Plot-Induced Stupidity.” That’s been the reason behind my complaints of the Black Cat’s portrayal throughout this storyline, but even Anna Marie’s not immune, as she doesn’t recognize that the Cat (with glasses) isn’t a part of her own company. I’ll give Electro’s stupidity credit, though; he’s always been a bit dim, so to speak.

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