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Uncanny X-Men #20 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors); Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jon Holdredge, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, & Al Vey (inks)

The Story: Cyclops has declared war on S.H.I.E.L.D. and his opening gambit is a ballsy one indeed.

The Review: There are two ways to look at the war between the New Xavier School and S.H.I.E.L.D. On one hand the book has been building to this moment for twenty issues, on the other it took twenty issues to get here and we still have no assurance that things will be resolved any time soon. Both are valid and illustrate one of the key issues that Bendis has on this series, balancing the future and the present.

Many of this issue’s moments don’t make sense in themselves requiring further developments or the clarity of hindsight. Mystique’s continued plotting, for instance, can intrigue but really offers very little to a reader. This same pattern plays out again and again, whether in Hijack’s home or at the New Xavier School. At the same time, however, much of Bendis’ best writing doesn’t expand the scope of the story, but deepen it. Even in the same scene I just mentioned we find biting dialogue, like when Sabertooth asks how much longer Mystique will continue impersonating Dazzler and she responds, “Until Scott Summers is a party joke and S.H.I.E.L.D. is sold for parts. So I’m thinking until next Friday.”

Even if it doesn’t rank among his best, Bendis’ dialogue lives up to his lofty reputation. When it comes to engaging a reader in the moment, this issue really is quite spectacular. Brief scenes like Scott’s confrontation with an old teammate can feel very substantial. Admittedly that example is rather text-heavy but, while there is a bit of harried visual storytelling, there’s such tension in the dialogue that you might not be able to help getting sucked in. That’s a quality that Bendis has been shooting for for a long while, but it’s very much present in this final scene and the central confrontation of the issue.

It’s clear that Bendis saw Scott’s appearance on the helicarrier as the core of this chapter. Unfortunately a side effect is that most of the rest of the issue is a bit dull, but you can’t deny the power of this sequence. There’s perhaps a little too much time spend on Director Hill’s romantic preferences, but rarely has Scott’s cult of personality been clearer or Bendis’ grasp of his characters’ psychology more apparent.
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Uncanny X-Men #19 – Review

By:  Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils); Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Jaime Mendoza, Mark Irwin, and Victor Olozaba (inks); Chris Bachalo and Jose Villarrubia (colors)

The Story: We heard you like Sentinels so we put Sentinels in your Sentinels…

The Review: Back in August Uncanny X-Men received a slight boost when it featured a story about Cyclops facing off against a new breed of Sentinel. In the seven months that have passed, Uncanny has been growing and changing, largely for the better. Now that it’s time to pick up that thread, will it have the same oomph that it once did?

The answer is an ever charming sort-of. Bendis makes no attempt to hide that the past half a year of stories were a distraction. While the events of issue seventeen are mentioned, it’s clear that this series has been off track since the last Sentinel arc. The problem is that, for the most part, the filler was far better than anything that preceded it. So while it is intriguing to return to the mystery Sentinels again, there’s a sense of a backslide that I can’t deny is worrisome. It’s also strange since the event that took us off track, “Battle of the Atom”, ended with a dramatic reveal that S.H.I.E.L.D. has Sentinels, and different Sentinels at that.

Regardless, we’re diving back into Bendis’ main story. Summoned by a surge of mutant activity, the New Xavier X-Men find themselves lured into a trap. Bendis knows his collaborators and the creative team deliver a slick futuristic take on the X-Men. These aren’t the simple androids of the Mark I, and panels like a swarm of alien-looking mutant hunters spawning from the maw of a gigantic Sentinel are powerful and eerie. Likewise, a scene inside Cerebro is the stuff of science fiction, the kind that convinced us to buy sunglasses in middle school.

These new model Sentinels present a solid challenge for the team and Bendis’ answer serves to resolve the problem while significantly deepening the mysteries surrounding it. It’s a situation that is all the more fascinating for the removal of Hijack from the team, but the answer is pretty simple. Indeed, much of the issue seems designed to highlight Chris Bachalo’s contributions.
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Wolverine and the X-Men #42 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer); Nick Bradshaw, Pepe Larraz, Ramon Perez, Shawn Crystal, Steve Sanders, Nuno Alves, Tim Townsend, & Chris Bachalo (artists); Matt Milla & Lee Loughridge (color artists)

The Story: It’s graduation day for the Jean Grey School and Quentin Quire is in for a reckoning that’s been building all semester.

The Review: It’s been a long strange road for this series, but it’s finally over.

For this capstone story Jason Aaron returns us to the Jean Grey School of the future from WatXM #29. As the mutants of Earth-616 prepare for graduation, a tired old Logan prepares to shut down the school on Earth-13729.

Aaron, in no uncertain terms, focuses this story around the three most important characters of his run: Logan, Idie Okonkwo, and Quentin Quire. When the Jean Grey School opened, each one of them entered with blood on their hands. The struggle for each has not been to atone for past deeds, but rather to redefine themselves so that they have a future going forward.

Idie definitely gets the short end of the stick in terms of billing, but she’s actually one of the best characters in this issue. Both as her present self and as a confidant X-Man of the future, Idie shows drastic change from the beginning of the series. While I wish this transition had been more of a gradual process than a couple of off-screen leaps, the character that Idie has become is absolutely lovely. Her simple dialogue with Quire and Future Logan is probably some of the best work that Aaron has done with a female character over the whole of the run and makes her relationships with Logan and Quire feel real and substantial.

Meanwhile Quentin is dealing, or perhaps not dealing, with the fact that the Jean Grey School has changed him. Like a less flamboyant Stewie Griffin, he longs for the days when the mere thought of his dastardly plans made the hair stand up on Cyclops, Captain America, and Wolverine’s necks.  What Aaron fails to bring in reality, he certainly provides in humor and heart.
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Uncanny X-Men #17 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend w/ Al Vey & Jaime Mendoza (inks)

The Story: The newest X-Men battle chickasaurs, carrot people, Shelob, and S.H.I.E.L.D. while simultaneously acting in the greatest Verizon commercial never made.

The Review: In the past few months Uncanny X-Men has become a home for some of the best one-in-done stories in modern comics. After a look at the women of the New Xavier School and a spotlight on Magneto, Brian Michael Bendis gives us a, debatably, more traditional team story.

Another interesting trait of this title is Scott Summers’ emerging habit of putting his students in life threatening danger for training. While the issue hints that Magik is keeping an eye on them, it’s certainly in keeping with his mutant revolutionary status and differentiates his teaching style from Wolverine’s. Indeed, rather than retread classic X-Men ground and send his squad to the Savage Land, Bendis explores a newer locale. In the end the actual difference is pretty limited, but it’s an apt metaphor for what’s going on here.

This is the first issue of Uncanny X-Men where the teaching staff is largely absent. For the first, and the long overdue, time the success or failure of this issue rests entirely on the New Xavier’s students and, fun as a book about Scott, Emma, and Ilyanna can be, these kids are entirely up to the task. Likewise, while we all love a good Savage Land story now and again, Tabula Rasa presents a feeling of mystery and possibility.
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Uncanny X-Men #16 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors); Tim Townsend w/ Al Vey, Mark Irwin, & Victor Olazaba (inks)

The Story: This old soldier refuses to fade away.

The Review: Despite being one of the most fascinating and important characters in comics history, I comfortably ranked Magneto as my worst character of 2013. Uncanny X-Men’s 2013 was marred by a near obsession with Scott Summers, willfully disregarding other, more interesting characters and quickly dropping plot points unrelated to his journey.

Tellingly, this series has made a remarkable recovery over the past two issues, each of which barely featured Cyclops. This issue generally continues both trends. While I stand by my criticism of Bendis for ignoring Magneto’s reaction to Charles Xavier’s death, his relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D., and the force of his personality, after reading this issue, I can say that what mistakes were made were not made in ignorance, as Bendis quickly tackles all three. I’m not sure that hastily throwing these at the reader fully compensates for past missteps; however it is nice to know that these issues have been on Bendis’ mind to some degree.

From there Bendis takes a page out of “X-Men: First Class”’ book and sends Magneto on an exotic undercover adventure. It’s really remarkable how well this formula works for the character and, as ever, it quickly proves how dangerous Magneto can be. The issue does a great job of reminding us that, though he could easily rip a ship apart, Erik has always been most dangerous for the care, inventiveness, and dedication that he’s brought to his control of magnetism.
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Uncanny X-Men #14 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Chris Bachalo (pencils and colors); Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, Victor Olazaba (inks)

The Story: Ms. Frost you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?

The Review: I don’t think that I’ve hidden the fact that I’ve felt that Uncanny X-Men was always the Loki to All-New’s Thor; younger, less likable, more radical, and defined by inferiority. At times the series has shown great promise, but it’s never fully come into its own.

Especially with the incorporation of the original X-Men into the New Xavier School, this is an uneasy time for this title and there’s not much time to right the ship before its caught on the waves of another event. So how does Mr. Bendis deal with all this? He says ‘screw it’ and heads to Atlantic City.

Indeed, while the confusion at the school is alluded to, Bendis decides to sidestep the issue and focus on one of the institution’s quieter students: Benjamin Deeds. Just how quiet is Benjamin? Well I’ve been reading this series essentially since it began and I had completely forgotten that he existed. I’m glad of the reminder, too.
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X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 – Review

By:  Jason Aaron; Brian Wood; and Brian Michael Bendis (writers), Esad Ribic; Giuseppe Camuncoli; Kristopher Anka; Chris Bachalo (pencils), Andrew Currie; Tom Palmer; Mark Irwin; Victor Olazaba; and Wade von Grawbadger (finishes), Ive Svorcina; Andres Mossa; Guru eFX; and Matt Milla (colors)

The Story: Fifty years ago, Professor Xavier assembled a team of young mutants, the original X-Men, to protect the world from evil mutants. Today, Xavier has assembled a team of young mutants to eliminate the original X-Men and protect evil mutants from the world. Happy anniversary, guys; hope you survive the experience.

The Review: At long last “Battle for the Atom” has come to a close. Can you believe that this event only started two months ago? At times it seems like it’s always been here.

When I opened this issue, I was surprised to see Jason Aaron’s name on the credits page. Brian Michael Bendis does manage to get the last word, but it’s Aaron who handles most of the heavy lifting. Bendis hasn’t shown his best self on this event, but Aaron was behind the rather abysmal last installment in Wolverine and the X-Men #37. Many of the flaws present in that chapter reappear here, but stronger plotting and more valuable subject matter allow this issue to escape the sins of its predecessor.

Though justifying the sheer amount of time and energy this story has subverted would require a pretty astonishing ending, taken on its own merits, X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 is a strong issue that closes the book on one tale while writing the first lines of several others.
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Uncanny X-Men #13 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba (Artists), Marte Gracia (Colorist)

The Story: The bad X-Men from the future tries to send the past X-Men to their own time as the real X-Men from the future tries to prevent their plans from working.

The Review: There are things we kind of take for granted when it comes to serial storytelling. We always think that character development, story progression and genuine moments of entertainment shall be given to us with each issue. It is something that all issue and writers should strive to give, but sometimes some issues are more miss than hit, which can bring forward frustrating books.

This issue of Uncanny X-Men is unfortunately one of those issues, where a lot of what could make it worthwhile is simply absent. It is a mindless issue that seems to want to give us as many ”awesome” moments as it can, delivering plenty of action but little else, resulting in a read that doesn’t advance the themes or the plot in any significant way whatsoever.
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Uncanny X-Men #12 – Review

The Story: Oh young Scott…If only you were older, you’d know that trusting yourself has never gotten you out of trouble.

The Review: By now I think most of us have realized that X-Men: Battle of the Atom isn’t actually a crossover so much as it’s an exorbitantly priced graphic novel. The quality is high enough that I’d be happy to sit down with this book, but these are not single issues, they’re not even chapters. Once you accept that you’ll enjoy these issues a lot more, but it means that no one can really fault you if you decide to trade-wait it…well, Marvel probably could but, you know.

It’s almost a shame that Marvel wasn’t able to just fire this story off in one shot, because this issue seriously suffers for it. In a respectable attempt to remain cogent to fans not expanding their pull lists for the event, Bendis takes ample time to recap what’s happened, including a giant two-page panel of the final shot from the first issue, and then allows the Uncanny team to react naturally to these events, even if some reactions are kind of redundant. Unfortunately that means that this is probably the least essential chapter of the story so far.

On the bright side, though, there are a couple of interesting bits and witty moments that add to the greater experience. Thus far Bendis has been awfully honest about the fact that this is really just a lengthy debate of values, and it’s kind of fun to hear all sides. You might say that there’s not much action, but I remind you that 12 Angry Men is still an engrossing movie. You may then respond that 12 Angry Men dealt in real emotional truth rather than depending on your knowledge of better stories that it can get you to summon up. Unfortunately, I won’t have much defense for that.
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Uncanny X-Men #9 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils/colors), Tim Townsend; Mark Irwin; Al Vey; & Jaime Mendoza (inks)

The Story: As S.H.I.E.L.D. takes neutrality off the table, mutants begin to turn on eachother…over their haircuts!

The Review: Last time the New Xavier School lost one student only to gain another. This month we find them much as we left them. Cyclops has his hands full training his next generation of mutants, including new recruit, Hijack, and Fabio Medina finds himself faced with Dazzler: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The two stories don’t take long to intersect and therein lies the fun.

Though it’s certainly a more active issue than the last, Bendis finds plenty of time to introduce humor into the mix. It’s not the same sort as in All-New X-Men, where there are likely to be entirely comedic pages, but this issue definitely reminds you that mutants are teenagers, with all the wonderful and terrible things that come with that. I think that’s been missing from a lot of titles lately, and it’s nice to see Bendis putting it into play. Not to mention that I can’t find character in recent memory with a better ratio of actions taken in a first issue to love I have for them than Fabio’s disco-loving sister.

But rest assured, this is hardly Wolverine and the X-Men. Bendis packs this issue with contention and heady considerations of what it means to be part of an oppressed minority. The drama of the whole mess is expertly mined, but I can’t help but feel that these aren’t the best arguments for the various cases. In this title at least, Cyclops may be right, but that often seems dependant on the Marvel universe being hopelessly bigoted. While I’ve learned to never be surprised by just how plentiful awful people may be, I feel pretty comfortable saying that the struggle of mutants in Bendis’ titles it a bit excessive. Despite being a well-loved character, Dazzler easily slips into some pretty indefensible positions as the plot demands.
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Uncanny X-Men #8 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chis Bachalo (pencils/colors), Tim Townsend (inks)

The Story: Magneto and Cyclops have a chat while a pair of young mutants discover that no matter what path they choose to walk, it won’t be an easy one.

The Review: Brian Michael Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men has never quite had the energy that its sister title, All-New X-Men, has… But this month it presses the advantage it does have– its characters. Unlike the other X-Books, Uncanny really has the opportunity to explore the struggle of the new wave of mutants. Bendis put his considerable talent behind two very different ‘coming out’ experiences this month and they positively radiate intelligence, empathy, and respect for his characters. Well, his mutant characters, anyway.

The need for new X-Men stories guarantees that the people of 616 (Marvel’s primary universe) will never fully accept or tolerate mutants. The metaphor of mutants as a minority is a powerful one, but, since Professor X first called his X-Men to him, we’ve seen the Civil Rights Movement, significant strides in the cause of feminism, and possibly even the beginning of same-sex marriage nationwide. In short, you’d think we might have moved on from the possibility of government-funded Sentinels, or at least heard about human advocates for mutant rights a little more often. While there are likely to always be those who cannot find it in their hearts to be tolerant, without a counterpoint, it feels like what we’re encountering are strawmen, and that doesn’t do justice to the book’s human characters, Bendis’ skill as a writer, or those who actually face discrimination.

Bendis also has control over two of the biggest names in mutant history. While the scene between Scott and Magnus isn’t exactly the sort that glues one to their seat, I can’t say that it wasn’t fascinating under Bendis’ pen. Bendis clearly has put a lot of thought into these characters and their unique circumstances only exacerbate the tension between them.

I’m starting to think that Bendis is some kind of Decompression Elemental. The man has absolutely no fear of eschewing traditional comic book plotting for the sake of his story, and a remarkable talent for keeping even the most academic of scenes interesting. Unfortunately, while this makes his work a pleasure to read, it does lead to a two-fold let down once you reach the end. First you realize that very little happened, and then you realize that you’ll have to wait at least another two weeks for more of that wonderful nothing. If this issue felt more connected to an ongoing journey that might feel more tolerable, but as of yet we don’t have much more than a vague mission of “make the world safe for mutants.”
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Uncanny X-Men #1 – Review

UNCANNY X-MEN #1

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey (inks), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story:  An inside man approaches Maria Hill with an offer to help take down Scott Summers.

The Review:  One of the concerns I had about this book going in was the way it would differentiate itself from All-New X-Men.  Yes, I realize it wouldn’t feature the time traveling teens, but Cyclops and his gang have appeared quite a bit in that book such that having them star in this one seemed to be some serious overlap.  Thankfully, Bendis quickly dispels this concern.  It’s not so much that Cyclops team are front and center, which they are, but rather that the tone of the book has been subtly altered.  While part of it may be due to Bachalo’s artwork, with its muddy colors and its lack of distinct, clean lines (as opposed to Immonen and Marquez on All-New), the big reason for this is the subtle change in tone.  The book feels more shadowy, more “underground,” and a touch more edgy.  The humour isn’t there and the soap opera of All-New is shifted into something that’s a little closer to twisty, spy-thriller dramatics.  All-New is the above-ground, flagship story.  Uncanny is what happens beneath and on the revolutionary fringes that Cyclops and his team currently occupy.
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A+X #2 Review

A+X #2

By: Chris Bachalo, Peter David (Writer), Chris Bachalo, Mike Del Mundo (Artist), Tim Townsend (Inker), Chris Bachalo (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review: It may come as a surprise that this series – which could so easily have been treated as a last ditch cash grab trading off any residual Avengers vs. X-Men hype – is actually proving pretty indispensable. It’s not so much that the stories contained within will have any lasting ramifications for the heroes they feature, but more that they offer some high-grade levity amidst a stack of comics otherwise geared towards the long game. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with FF #1 this week and was once again left utterly impressed by Thor: God of Thunder, but it’s also nice to have something stand-alone to read that asks for nothing more than the opportunity to brighten up my afternoon. I might have gone in not expecting much, but instead I’ve come up against creative teams that have other ideas. They want to ‘wow’ me for 10 minutes; to get in, drop some popping candy in my brain, and get out. And I’m always open to that.
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Wolverine & the X-​Men #88 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer), Chris Bachalo (artist/colorist), Tim Townsend (inker)

The Story: While Prof. Logan tries to recover from his injuries, Prof. Creed picks up four new pupils.

The Review: We all know how annoying it can be to see a series we’re following be interrupted by big events. The story arcs we’ve been invested in get put on hold, often the tie-in issue are tepid at best, and if the publication schedule doesn’t line up just right, there are often odd little stalling issues in between the conclusion of a big arc and the beginning of the tie-in proper. Under weaker creative teams, this can mean a meandering, pointless issue; here, however, it becomes an opportunity to delve into some darker themes and give more time to supporting characters.

This issue shines the spotlight on Professor Henry McCoy, who becomes the target of the new Hellfire Club. The Club, now apparently taking lessons from Sabretooth, has decided to go after the “heart” of the school, who Professor Creed assures them is Beast. A trap is set, and when McCoy makes a visit to S.W.O.R.D. to gather supplies and grab some sugar from his sweatheart. Abigail Brand, he finds the young lady and her team in Sabretooth’s clutches. What follows is a crazy brawl in space between the two professors, which provides some very interesting insight both into McCoy and into Creed’s perception of him. It’s darker subject matter than we’re used to seeing in this book, but it still manages to be exuberant and fun.

The B-story is just as straight forward. After failing to heal Logan’s deformed legs, Angel decides to return to Planet Sin and retake the maguffin his headmaster needs to undo the damage. His classmates decide to play hooky and go with, meaning that the action in this part of the story feels a bit more familiar. The kids exhibit all the charm we’ve come to expect, but there’s a darker undertone here as well.  Angel and Genesis begin to bond during the mission over their identity crises, which seems sweet until you think about it for a minute. “Maybe we can find out [who we are] together,” Angel says to Evan. Eeesh. These two are in for some rough epiphanies.
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Fear Itself: Avengers HC – Review

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Pencils: Chris Bachalo, John Romita Jr., and Mike Deodato, Ikners: Tim Townsend, Jaimie Mendoza, Al Vey, Wayne Faucher, Victor Olazaba, Mark Irwin, Klaus Janson. Colorists: Chris Bachalo (double duty), Dean White, Paul Mounts, and Rain Beredo.

Collecting Avengers #13-17 and New Avengers #14-16

The Story: The Avengers fight against FEAR ITS—I can’t do it. It was just such a horrendous event. Still, other writers tried their best in the tie-ins and some of them were MUCH better than the main event (like Avengers Academy).  So the first section of this review should really be…

Dealing with the Crap that was FEAR ITSELF: Bendis had two series to tie into Fear Itself, and did so in very similar ways. He must have known that Avengers and New Avengers would be collected together, as he used the same narrative technique in both series. The idea is that the Oral Histories of the Avengers are caught up, so the heroes are being interviewed about their most recent crisis: Crisis of Infinite Hemorrhoids—I mean Hammers. So we have a video interview-like thing going on with the heroes playing Monday morning quarterback, and then we get images from the event. Without Fear Itself, you’d almost think that something was happening in the world. There is some brutal fights in these tie-ins. The fight between Red Hulk and the Thing was ten times more exciting than the “brawl” in Fear Itself #5. Even Squirrel Girl’s story in New Avengers was more exciting and more dire than anything that happened in the main event. So in terms of making Fear Itself seem like an actual major crisis the heroes struggle to deal with, it’s successful. Crazy shit happens here. Daredevil takes on a brigade of Nazi Robots. Spider-Woman fights the Hulk while protecting a school filled of children. Protector hacks into Stark’s Iron Men suits (including Iron Patriot) and sets them on Sin. Every moment in the Avengers/New Avengers tie-ins would make you believe that this is one of the most important events in Marvel history. If only that were true.
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Wolverine & The X-Men #4 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer) Nick Bradshaw (artist) Justin Posner (colors)

The Story: It always sucks to be the new kid.

What’s Good: While I was sad to see Chris Bachalo leave this series, rest assured that the art is in good hands with Nick Bradshaw. His round, friendly lines make the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning just as wonderful as Bachalo did, and his attention to detail is incredible. From the picture of Cyclops on a dart board, to Quire’s copy of the Art of War, to Glob’s papers sticking to him, every panel feels rich and resplendent. The change in art style also reflects a change in tone. The faculty are no longer fighting off external forces that threaten to destroy the school, but are still burdened by the day-to-day difficulties of managing and teaching twenty super-powered adolescents. As such, the atmosphere has lightened, and things no longer look ready to come apart at the seams. There are some truly beautiful shots of Angel against the sun, and everyone’s body language is as expressive as their dialogue.

One of my favorite parts of this new series has been just how well  Jason Aaron has been able to capture the dynamic between the students and the teachers, while keeping everyone in character. Wolverine and company are truly teachers, not team leaders or mentors as they’ve been in other books featuring young mutants, and this relationship informs nearly of their interactions.

The story in this issue centers around the introduction of Angel and the Kid-Apocalypse Evan, who calls himself Genesis. The two  face very different challenges; Evan will have to decide his fate, whether to be savior or destroyer. Worse, he will have go through puberty, bullies, high school drama as figure it out. This has me concerned for his treatment by writers: it will be only too tempting to repeatedly pen stories about him “going evil” only to “redeem himself” in endless and unsatisfying cycles. I’m really hoping that Jason Aaron has a very specific character arc in mind for him, and that he can convince editors and future writers to try to adhere to as tight a story as possible. For Angel, on the other hand, I think the struggle will not so much be about finding himself as it will be about convincing others that he is a very different person than the one they remember. This, I like. At the very end of the Dark Angel Saga, I was concerned that all that the only reprecusion was that he had developed amnesia, and that after maybe a few months, we’d get a story line about him regaining his memories. If the changes in him are as far-reaching as they are implied to be here, the writers have been braver than I would have dared to hope. There’s a lot of potential for some very interesting stories here, not only for this new character, but also for all of Warren’s friends as they adjust to his “condition.”
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Wolverine & the X-Men #3 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer); Chris Bachalo, Duncan Rouleau and Matteo Scalera (pencils); Tim Townsend, Jaime Medoza, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, Victor Olazaba, Duncan Rouleau and Matteo Scalera (inkers); Chris Bachalo and Jason Keith (colors)

The Story: The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning gets a new mascot.

The Review: And so ends Wolverine’s first day as a headmaster. Jason Aaron really threw the kitchen sink at him: rowdy students, disgruntled employees, the NYS Board of Regents, interdimensional gremlins, the new Hellfire club, and his very first enemy (publication-wise), Krakoa. It’s fitting that he face both new problems and old foes, as this book is simultaneously going back to the franchise’s roots and breaking new ground. It’s also incredibly fun.

Aaron has been turning out solid work, fitting in a tremendous number of characters and details without anything feeling lost, and this issue is no exception. The dialogue continues to bubble with enthusiasm, the ensemble has great chemistry, and the characters continue to develop and surprise. The pace of the storytelling has smoothed out after a somewhat slow first issue and an entirely frantic sophomore showing. The resolution to the main conflict between the mutants and Krakoa feels a tad bit rushed, but it matches the insanity at the heart of the book. The hasty resolution also allows for a truly fantastic double spread revealing Krakoa’s fate, and I doubt there’s a single reader who won’t smile while reading it.

As you may have noted above, the art team got pretty big for this issue. I expected it would be a mess when I saw the names of eight different artists on the credits page. But while this issue intentionally portrays a huge mess, and maintains a kinetic and anxious aesthetic, the style still looks pretty tight and uniform. The zany, hyper-exaggerated style is completely in sync with the tone of the book, and allows for some really fantastic character moments. And did I mention that awesome double spread? I did? Well, whatever, it deserves to be mentioned twice. It’s awesome.
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Wolverine and the X-Men #2 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend & Jaime Mendoza (inkers), Rob Steen (letters), Jordan D. White (assistant editor), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor) & Nick Lowe (editor)

The Story: How long did you think it would be before the new mutant academy got trashed?

Five things: 

1. Go Iceman! - One neat thing about getting a new writer on an X-Men title is that most of them pick a pet character.  It gives you a little insight into the pitch they must have made to get the writing assignment in the first place.  They’ve all got interesting ideas about some of these characters and schemes that no one has tried before.  So, it’s really cool that Iceman is stepping up in this series because he’s always been the lame hero who wasn’t quite sold on even being a hero.  Mostly he was just the guy who wanted to be an accountant who slid around on ice slides and fired snowballs at Magneto.  Haha!  Jason Aaron obviously thinks that Iceman can be a major difference maker and this new manifestation of his abilities where he creates multiple snowmen and then controls them all is super-cool.  Oh yeah….and he impulsively plants a kiss on the lips of Ms. Pryde.  I LOVE that!  Even though the Kitty-Colossus thing is kinda a staple, I get sick of seeing them just pining for each other and continually ripped apart by fate.  Maybe it’d be cool to see Kitty (who has always been practical) decide it just isn’t in the cards for her and Peter and go in a more practical direction?

2. Love /Hate the new Hellfire Club. - On one hand, these kids are really funny because they’re a perfect canvas for Aaron’s black sense of humor: hearing such nasty things coming out of such young mouths.  One the other hand….I just cannot buy kids as a threat to the X-Men.  I really don’t care if they’re super smart.  It just flies in the face of my experiences with kids in real life.  Sure, adults will humor them and laugh at their jokes and sometimes act like we believe their white lies, but even average adults are usually 10 steps ahead of smart kids and the X-Men aren’t average adults.

3. LOTS of newness in the character line-up! - Other than Wolverine and Kitty, almost all of the characters in here are either new, updated versions of older characters or characters who have been underused.  A quick list:  As mentioned above, we have a new Iceman.  Rachel Grey has been off the board for a long time.  Idie is a new creation in the last year.  Broo the Brood is new from Astonishing X-Men.  Quentin Quire hasn’t been used in forever.  And this Kid Gladiator and his bodyguard Warbird I think are 100% new.  Coming off an era in X-Men titles where it felt like every story featured the same ten characters, this is SOOOOO fresh.
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Wolverine and the X-Men #1 – Review

by: Jason Aaron (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils and colors), Tim Townsend, Jamie Mendoza, and Al Vey (inks)

The Story: Wolverine had the money to build a school with floating towers? So that’s why he is on every superhero team in the Marvel Universe!

Good stuff:

1. Jason Aaron… fun? Everything I have read from Jason Aaron has been dark and serious. I mean come on–his Wolverine #1 started with his character going to Hell. The Hell. I fully expected Wolverine and the X-Men to start with something along the lines of “Every kitten on Earth is killed by Mr. Sinister, who by the way just violated Pixie.” But no…Wolverine and the X-Men makes the reader smile. Not just smile, but feel this warm spark of wonder. From Jason Aaron. It honestly doesn’t feel like his work–instead, it’s like Chris Claremont and Mike Carey co-wrote this. But the fact that the tone is so different than anything Aaron’s shown before is a testament to his talent. He just proved something to everyone: he doesn’t have to write dark to write well.

2. Characterization done right. One of the things I despised about the “last” issue of Uncanny was the completely uncharacteristic immaturity of Beast. Oddly, this was right after Gillen wrote him wonderfully in “Regenesis.” Jason Aaron’s Beast is one I can’t wait to read more of–it’s exactly who Hank McCoy is, and how he would be on the first day of the most technologically advanced school ever made.  But then there’s Professor X’s passing of the torch, a great way to begin the series, Headmistress Kitty Pryde trying to keep things from spiraling out of control. And Toad, the janitor… He’s actually kind of a treat in this. One character that Aaron seems to love to write is Idie, and her brief scene is wonderful. It’s sad and cute all at the same time. Just one thing confused me…I’m behind on some books, but what’s up with the army of tiny Nightcrawlers?

3. Schism is Over! Thank god. And the characters don’t sit around dwelling on how much they hate Cyclops (remember when we all used to hate Cyclops? Oh the 90s). It’s hardly even mentioned…well, not in this way, at least. In fact, Wolverine says a joke about it at one point.

4. Chris Bachalo. Seriously, that’s all that needs to be said. He is perfect for this book.

5. Everything else. After the story is some great extras, including a list of who went to Westchester (faculty and students alike) and a nice course offering (Gambit teaches Sex Ed, for all those who were wondering).
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Avengers #15 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, and Mark Irwin (inks), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Steve Rogers sends a strike-team to Brazil to tackle the Worthy-fied Hulk, including a Spider-Woman still searching for her big moment of redemption.

What’s Good:  While I know that he has his detractors, I personally quite like Chris Bachalo’s art.  It’s cartoony flavour has a kind of good-natured sincerity to it that feels genuine and positive.  His action scenes are also lightning fast and overall, he handles the hectic stuff about as well as anyone could hope.  Mostly though, his strength is in the fact that his unique style does well in making characters naturally likable, which is crucial in an issue like this.

Both Bendis and Bachalo also did really strong work in coordinating the running battle this month.  And really, that’s the best way to describe it: coordinated.  The action had a nice, organic flow to it and really gave off the sense that the Avengers involved were working in tandem and employing strategy.  Better still, we got to see guys like Hawkeye, the Protector, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Woman at the forefront of the fight, using a whole range of their abilities.  It’s a nice change, given that these characters usually take a backseat to the bigger-names when it comes to sharing page-space in fight sequences.

What’s Not So Good:  ]It seems that Bendis has been using Fear Itself as a kind of narrative vehicle through which characters can define themselves by.  We saw it last month with Red Hulk, and we saw it in this month’s New Avengers issue with Mockingbird.  The thing is, there were reasons to focus on those two and there were fresh motivations and changes to both characters that left them wanting to define themselves.  Rulk’s a former bad guy and had just joined the Avengers, while Mockingbird had just had a near death experience and had just gained superpowers.  Both characters were in new places in their lives.
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Avengers #13 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (script), Chris Bachalo (art & colors), Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, & Wayne Faucher (inks), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story:  The Avengers recount the early days of Fear Itself.

The Review:  This is a very difficult issue to review.  Quite frankly, if you don’t like Brian Bendis, particularly Bendis on an Avengers title, stay the hell away.  I don’t care how much you love the franchise, this sort of issue is one that sure to make people get out the torches and pitchforks.

Honestly, it’s not because Bendis noodles with continuity or flubs characters’ voices or whatever.  Rather, it’s because this is a very Bendis-y issue that’s almost entirely composed of talking heads.  This is the more indie-minded Bendis, as evidenced by the fact that this issue uses interlocking monologues on pages with a large number of small panels, a technique that’ll be very familiar to anyone who has ever read Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers.  Essentially, this doesn’t feel at all like your standard Marvel superhero fair, it’s just a whole lot of dialogue, there’s next to no plot development or real set narrative, and there’s absolutely zero action.

Yet, because I am a confirmed fan of Mr. Bendis, I, for one, enjoyed it, as I expect many of his fans will, even those more keen on his creator owned work than his superhero stuff.  It’s dialogue heavy and feels genuinely more human and it’s unique as far as Marvel comics go.  The dialogue feels quippy, but in a natural way that feels fluid and quick as opposed to forced.  It puts a relatable, human face on the trauma of Fear Itself and the nature and burden of being an Avenger in the face of such calamity.  Without action, and really without much else to look at but the characters’ faces, you’re really forced to take in the events and the characters on an intimate and personal level.  The result is a cast that has a charming kind of vulnerability, a big group of Avengers that feel like people above all else.
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X-Men #10 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Chris Bachalo & Paco Medina (pencils), Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey & Juan Vlasco (inks), Antonio Fabela & Jim Charalampidis (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor) & Nick Lowe (editor)

The Story: The X-Men / Spider-Man spectacular sewer team-up comes to a close.

What’s Good: It makes me so happy when the X-Men can have a story where Wolverine doesn’t save the day.  I like the hairy little Canadian as much as the next guy, but I do get a little sick of him always being the solution to whatever problem the X-Men are facing.  In issue #9, Dark Beast was revealed as the villain and he’d used the new-and-improved Lizard’s powers to turn Wolverine, Gambit & Storm into lizardmen/women.  So, that leaves fixing the whole mess in the lap of Emma and Spider-Man and they have a fun little team-up in the sewer.  Earlier in this arc, I was a little hard on Emma’s portrayal as being a little too whiney, but Gischler really makes this interaction work nicely.  Emma is at her best as a character when she has someone who is casual, earnest and prone to sophomoric humor to play off of and you won’t find many characters that fit those criteria better than Spidey.

This story arc was also a real success.  It told a tight and self-contained X-story by focusing on a core group of characters and allowing them to interact in a purely heroic way with a Marvel mainstay.  And….it wasn’t one of those overly long 6-issue stories either.

Chris Bachalo is one of my absolute favorite artists and one side benefit to his great art is that you’re unlikely to ever see him on a 6-8 issue story arc because I don’t think he can quite do a monthly book and have it look like Chris Bachalo; I’ve never seen the guy do crummy looking work just because he got a little behind.  So, what we get here is classic Bachalo: frenzied and highly detailed character that overflow with vitality, cute/soft/attractive women and some of the most imaginative page layouts anywhere.  Very nice!
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X-Men #9 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils), Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jamie Mendoza & Al Vey (inks), Bachalo (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor) & Nick Lowe (editor)

The Story: The X-Men battle lizards and a mystery villain in the sewers of NYC while looking for missing children.

What’s Good: The X-Men work best when you reduce the cast of characters.  This issue (and storyline) features Storm, Emma, Gambit & Wolverine.   Toss in Spider-Man (amazing who you meet in the sewer!), and you’ve got a good cast.  Gischler keeps the story bouncing along by keeping the cast small and also not foreshadowing any future storylines.  Usually, I like to see little teases of what is coming up next, but Gischler somehow makes it work really well.  He is also really getting a handle on these characters quickly.  For example, I thought that in the first issue of this arc, he was writing Emma Frost as too whiny (complaining about the muck in the sewer), but he’s got her nailed by this issue where she’s being more sarcastic about the working conditions.  [Note: Although these are fictional characters that don't have a set personality, there are ways I prefer the characters to be depicted.]

The story itself is pretty cool and does flow from the really strong Shed storyline in Amazing Spider-Man ~#630, but if you didn’t read that you’ll be fine because the true villain in this story isn’t the Lizard, it’s someone a lot worse.  The sequence where Gischler reveals the identity of the mystery villain is really well executed from a mechanics standpoint.  He spends a page or two with the villain speaking through word balloon pointing off the page.  The entire time, the panels are composed with really tight shots so you can’t really tell where they balloons are coming from.  Then, the villain is revealed after a page turn.  Wonderful!  Gischler is pretty new to comics, but this is the type of thing where you think, “This guy gets it.”  Way too many comics spoil these types of revelations by having the villain standing there in a full-page splash on the right hand page so you look over there and see the baddie before you’ve read any of the lead in.  [Note: This issue starts oddly from an ad placement standpoint.  After the customary X-title page with the credits and recap, the first left-hand page is an ad, making the first page of the actual comic on the right-hand side.  This is very unusual and I wonder if it was done to accommodate this villain-reveal.  If so, BRAVO guys because that reveal was kinda the key to the issue.]
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X-Men #8 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils & colors), Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey (inks), Joe Caramanga (letters) & Nick Lowe (editor)

The Story: A team of X-Men run into Lizards in the NYC sewers.

What’s Good: Really good story that picks up directly from the Shed storyline in Amazing Spider-Man from around issue #630 or so.  You needn’t have read Shed and this issue includes a handy recap of the things you need to know, but if you did read Shed this adds more meat to a very good story arc.  I love it when the various corners of the Marvel Universe interact because it makes the whole thing feel cohesive.

Gischler spins a story of awkward youths getting mixed up in the Lizard problem that is pretty entertaining.  All of the X-Men and Spidey can relate to being misunderstood, so this strikes close to home for all of them.  Gischler keeps the mood light and really has a good handle on all of the X-Men in this issue.  Heck, I even like the way he writes Gambit.  It also helps that we’ve gotten the X-Men out of Utopia, so the team of X-Men is kinda all we have.  There are none of those annoying scenes in this issue where a random mutant wanders through the action and no one checks in with Cyclops.  When was the last time Cyclops didn’t appear in an in-continuity X-title????

It is hard for me to be objective about the art because Chris Bachalo may be my favorite artist, but it’s with good reason.  The guy is really, really good.  This cartoony style is so much more effective at capturing emotion and body language because it doesn’t have to be married to human anatomy.  His Wolverine looks short and mean.  Emma looks elegant and aloof.  Bachalo draws a GREAT Emma Frost.  And we all know that he can draw a great Spider-Man.  There is also all kinds of detail crammed into these panels: fences, leaves on trees, coiled up computer cables, crown molding on the ceiling, etc.  Although there are 4 inkers on this issue, it isn’t a problem.  You can kinda tell the pages where different inkers are providing finishes, but the story has enough different acts that each inker seems to have one “act” and the overall effect isn’t too jarring.  Something that is often overlooked about Bachalo is his coloring.  I’m pretty sure this is a newer talent for him, but he has some real gifts both with skin tones and with making the superhero tones of red and yellow look dramatic.
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X-Men #7 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils), Tim Townsend (inks), Bachalo (colors), Joe Caramanga (letters) & Axel Alonso (editor)

The Story: The X-Men are trying to boost their public image and then get called off to investigate some weird reptiles in NYC.

What’s Good: The second story arc is usually pretty telling for a new title and this seems headed in a good direction.  There is a pretty big spoiler for this issue staring at us on the cover.  Hmmmm….who is that hanging upside down and what could HE have to do with this story?  Two things that I love about Spidey’s involvement.  For one thing, I like it when the X-Men get out there an interact with other heroes in the Marvel U.  My biggest general complaint with Marvel recently has been that too often their characters exist on these little islands unto themselves until they come together during a crossover.  If the X-Men are embracing their role as true heroes, it makes sense that they’d check out some rumors of big reptiles in the sewers of NYC and it makes sense that they would run into Spidey while they’re in town.

The other thing that I love is that this is picking up some story threads from the Zeb Wells/Chris Bachalo “Shed” storyline that was around ASM 630 or so.  That was a great story and it seems like it’ll find new life here.  I know we all groan as fans when we have a crossover forced down our throat, but this isn’t that at all.  The Shed story is over and it was 20 issues ago (in dog years that ASM counts by), you can go read it if you like, but I strongly doubt it’ll be required.  It seems this move hearkens back to the old days when something could happen in Avengers and then be picked up a year later in Defenders.  We’ve really kinda lost that feeling of cohesiveness to the Marvel U now that creators are scattered around the globe AND there is an editorial mandate to make the collected editions approachable for newbies.  There are even a lot of nice little references to the previous story arc with vampires that stick out only because references to past issues are so rare nowadays because they would be confusing to the trade paperback reader.  Yet another way that trade waiters are ruining comics.  :)

Gischler is also going back to the bright and sunny attitude that pervaded the X-books at the beginning of Fraction’s run on Uncanny when the X-Men were new to San Francisco.  They loved SF and the city loved them right back.  I LIKE seeing the X-Men as heroes and it makes sense that SF would embrace them.  Heck…they cheered for Barry Bonds!

So…. the story hits a lot of happy spots for me.

And, of course, it is drawn by Chris Bachalo who is one of my absolute favorite artists.  I read a ton of comics and get exposed to a lot of artistic styles, but I still think that Bachalo’s cartoony style is the best for most superhero illustration because it allows for an easy sense of humor (which comics need) and it doesn’t have to be married to fundamental human anatomy.  To see what I mean by that, just look at the cover.  I love Terry Dodson and think he draws an awesome pretty woman, but look at Emma Frost.  Her shoulders look like they’re kinda in the wrong place compared to her hips and it jumps out at you as odd anatomy because he is generally drawing in a realistic style.  If Bachalo wants to do that exact same scene with his style, it just accentuates that she is thrusting her chest out and you ignore the fact that the dimensions are off a little bit.  This style allows Bachalo to play it straight when he needs to, but also just go nuts in a few panels of every issue.  And, of course, his level of commitment to unusual layouts, frenzied panel designs, detailed backgrounds, etc. makes your other comics just look bad in comparison.  Love it.
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