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Uncanny X-Men #13

By: Kieron Gillen (story), Billy Tan (pencils), Cam Smith & Craig Yeung (inks), Guru eFX (colors)

The Story: While Storm, Psylocke, and Magneto mope around that they were left out of the battle on the moon, the Generation Hope kids have an awkward chat with Unit.

The Good: Billy Tan delivers pretty well here. Especially his handling of Unit, the odd robot who has a bit of an attitude problem. The thing with Unit is that he is able to process emotion, but in such a way that people don’t understand it. Tan gives us that stoic look for him, but with enough twitches and accents that you can see his emotion. When he says that he “really did like [Hope],” it’s hard not to believe his face. And when he, as Unit tends to do, manipulates the situation and everone in the room, Tan gives him a classic evil look that is perfect for the scene.
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Uncanny X-Men #9 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Carlos Pacheco (pencils), Cam Smith (inks), Guru eFx (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The X-Men team up with the Avengers to round up escaped prisoners from the Peak.

The Review:  I remember during Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny that whenever Greg Land’s arc ended and the Dodsons returned, I always let out a big sigh of relief.  While Land’s last outing actually wasn’t too bad, I expected to get that similar feeling of comfort and relief with the return of Carlos Pacheco and yet….that didn’t happen.

Pacheco delivers a completely mediocre, forgettable, and unremarkable performance.  There aren’t any major errors to hang onto, it’s just so utterly and completely average with no one moment that truly impresses.  Also, while there are no major problems, there are minor quibbles:  Pacheco’s illustration of Emma’s face seemed off throughout the issue, Agent Brand’s breasts were conspicuously ginormous, and Pacheco struggled a bit to capture the specificities of some of the scenes Gillen narrates in the issue’s montages.

While Pacheco’s art may be underwhelming, this is a solid enough outing by Gillen.  He introduces a new villain, Unit, who really lets Gillen play to his strengths in writing dialogue.  Unit is arrogant, smarmy, and well-spoken, yet also cold and calculated.  Gillen gives him a voice that is full of personality and character yet also chilling and, despite that arrogant quality, slightly inhuman.  Suffice it to say, with his ear for dialogue, Gillen writes great villains and Unit gives him a stage to really show that.

The opening few pages are also very strong, focusing on Colossus’ complicated relationship and emotions towards his sister Magik and her somewhat odd position.  It’s easy to write Colossus very blandly, but Gillen succeeds with having Colossus narrate these scenes with true sincerity that really pulls you to empathize with the character.  It feels meaningful and actually made me care for the predicament of a character I’m usually a bit ambivalent towards.
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Uncanny X-Men #8 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Greg Land (pencils), Jay Leisten (inks), Guru eFX (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The Immortal Man may be dealt with, but Tabula Rasa isn’t safe yet.

The Review:  If there’s one thing Uncanny X-Men has been hammering home since the relaunch, it’s that Kieron Gillen truly is a master of dialogue.  It’s always quick witted, intelligent, sincere, and, when it wants to be, legitimately and very naturally funny.  Gillen has the rare but valuable ability to make you laugh through dialogue whenever he wishes; much as in Journey into Mystery, his jokes seem to always work.

Case in point is the extended scene with Hope and Namor, a demonstration of Gillen’s skills when it comes to character-work.  The sequence is humorous throughout, highlighting Namor’s arrogant eccentricity and the fact that yeah, despite his humanoid appearance, he isn’t human.  Better still, it creates a bond between Hope and Namor, which given how utterly opposite the two are, is a really fun and rewarding dynamic.

Gillen also continues to explore the concept of the Apex, which remains interesting.  The unintentionally arrogant dialogue by the Apex remains enjoyable and I greatly enjoyed Gillen’s playing with gender as he adds further definition to the Apex’s “unwife” social relationship.  All told, the concept of the Apex has been a solid one that’s played a big role in carrying this arc.

Great dialogue, character-work, and sci-fi high concepts aside, however, this issue falls prey to something that’s become a recurring problem in Gillen’s otherwise strong run thus far:  the story itself isn’t that compelling.  Really, there isn’t really a whole lot of narrative meat on the bones here.  It simply amounts to Tabula Rasa still being in trouble due to the Sun.  But Gillen then spends the entirety of the issue doing character work with Namor/Hope and Colossus/Magik, while giving us more cool new info on the Apex.  Then, seemingly realizing that he’d forgotten to resolve the plot, he wraps it all up in a one page, heavily narrated montage where everything is neatly wrapped up.  It’s completely random and brings the issue to a screeching halt and is, quite frankly, poor storytelling.  It literally feels as though Gillen realized he’d written an issue having entirely forgotten the central plot, and then rushed to throw it all together on a single page.  It’s pretty head-spinning.
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Uncanny X-Men #5 – Review

By: Kieron Gillen, (writer); Greg Land (penciler); Jay Leisten (inker); Justin Ponsor, Laura Martin and Guru eFX (colors)

The Story: The Montana State Tourism Board gets a new attraction to boast about.

The Review: Oddly, in the wake of the Schism, Uncanny X-Men has become what you might call the traditional X-Men Book, while Wolverine and the X-Men has been the one breaking new ground. I expected the reverse, because while Cyclops is trying to preserve the remains of mutantkind from an island of San Francisco, Wolverine is re-opening the very school where the X-Men began. But author Jason Aaron has made Logan’s book completely fresh by putting the emphasis on the running of an actual school; under Xavier, the school always was more of a headquarters than a learning center. Meanwhile, Kieron Gillen has used Uncanny to tell science-fiction stories about a group of super-powered individuals fighting monsters and supervillains in a world that fears and hates them, all in the hopes that their benevolence will garner goodwill. You know, the standard X-Men storyline. So when Uncanny X-Men is successful, the success is derived not from innovation, but rather from the excellence of the execution. Sadly, the execution of Uncanny X-Men #5 is uneven, and as such just doesn’t get as interesting as it should.

This series opens with our heroes preparing to investigate a town in Montana that has mysteriously turned into a completely alien landscape. Readers of Uncanny X-Force will remember this as Tabula Rasa, a small town Montana Archangel destroyed and then accelerated in time so that a hundred million years worth of evolution could pass within it in a matter of minutes. And here I have to applaud Gillen’s ability to smoothly integrate continuity. Sure, this helps tidy up some dangling plot threads from another title, but it’s a completely natural fit for his work. He manages to use another author’s ideas in a way that actually enriches them while still providing a solid, self-contained story.
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Uncanny X-Men #4 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writing), Brandon Peterson (art), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The Phalanx returns and the X-Men race to stop its rapid consumption.

The Review:  What a strange issue… I really don’t mean that in a bad way at all.  In fact, I wish more ongoing series did this.  Uncanny X-Men #4 is something a one-shot, and Gillen really makes the most of the opportunity, using the done-in-one format to tell a rather different kind of story with a very different focus.  It’s told from the perspective of a member of the Phalanx, marooned on Earth, and the result is a surprisingly intimate comic.

Gillen’s goal with this comic is to make the unrelatable relatable and to make something utterly alien, and generally construed as evil, into something sympathetic.  That’s no easy feat, yet Gillen does accomplish it.  The Phalanx becomes comprehensible.  It’s logic is still completely at odds with humanity, but that there is a logic operating is clear.  More than that though, while Gillen never shies away from just how different, and thus how opposed, the Phalanx is to humanity, he does a great job of giving it legitimate emotions, feelings of loneliness and affection that are surprising.

Really, Gillen boils the Phalanx down into something that is simply incompatible with humanity.  It feels and it loves, but simply put, what it sees as good and affectionate, humanity sees as murderously destructive. The result is something of a bizarre story that ends up being somewhat chilling.  At the heart of Gillen’s script is an entity that simply doesn’t want to be alone, while also wanting to express its affection, but its means are repugnant.  What you end up with then, is an isolated freak, killing out of love and loneliness, wracked by his conscious, but flailing about lost.  It’s thoroughly unsettling, but Gillen crafts a comic where you actually understand the incomprehensible and feel legitimate sympathy for a creature that commits mass murder while garnering that sympathy.  It’s a morally challenging comic, to be sure.

Of course, the downside to all of this is that in delving into these complexities, Gillen does end up being guilty of overwriting the book a bit.  There is a LOT of narration, so much so that it does slow the book down at some points.  At times, that’s acceptable – it gives the book an ominous tone – but that pace is constant, irrespective of when that ominous tone should be at the forefront or not.  I think Gillen’s biggest crime with all this narration is that he does fall prey on a few occasions of telling rather than showing.  I realize a great deal of characterization was necessary in an issue like this to establish the required intimacy, but Gillen should’ve allowed the art to do a little more of the talking.  I don’t think the reader needed quite so much hand-holding.
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Uncanny X-Force #19.1 – Review

By: Rick Remender (writer), Billy Tan (artist), José Villarrubia (colors)

The Story: The X-Men of the Age of Apocalypse make a last-ditch effort to relocate into a different X-Men crossover event.

The Review: The Point One initiative at Marvel has been an odd little duck. Supposedly, issues with the “.1” label were meant to be “perfect jumping on point[s] for Marvel’s flagship series, while dropping hints for each series’ next year of stories” (from Marvel’s Website). Few actually deliver that promise. Sometimes, they’ve been character studies (Iron Man #500.1), others simply self-contained stories with no connection to past or future issues (Thor #620.1), and still others magic “undo” buttons for inconvenient plot elements (Fear Itself #7.1). Uncanny X-Force has actually already had one, just fourteen issues ago; as Alex pointed out in his review of it at the time, it actually did a pretty good job of acting as a jumping on point, so it’s fair to wonder why another one would be needed now, less than a year later.

Well, as it turns out, it’s because this is one of the weirdest .1 issues yet; it’s a launching pad for a completely different book with a completely different creative team.  Marvel fans may remember a similar scheme from the Amazing Spider-Man #654.1 reveal of Flash Thompson as the new Venom, but this issue is unique in that it doesn’t even reference the main cast of this series. Instead, this issue from Rick Remender and Billy Tan, takes place entirely in the Age of Apocalypse, and sets up the ongoing series David Latham and Roberto de la Torre will be helming. I know that series will be building on some ideas Remender introduced in Uncanny X-Force, but still, this is an oddly labeled issue.

On to the issue itself. We start the series by meeting a new character called the Prophet, a human leader of the resistance against the ascended Weapon X, and an ally of the AoA X-Men. And this Prophet guy? Total badass. His opening monologue about growing up in this world, and his role in it as a prophet who puts his faith in humanity rather than God, is stirring and chilling. I was initially critical of his character design—a cross between Jason Todd and Azrael—but after watching him single-handedly take out a sentinel in a wonderfully rendered sequence from Billy Tan, I pretty much forgot my complaints.
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X-Men: First to Last HC – Review

Written by Chris Yost; Now: Penciled by Paco Media, inked by Juan Vlasco, and colored by Mrate Gracia; Then: Art by Dalabor Talajic, colored by Juan Vlasco.

The Story: One of the apes who got the crap beaten out of him with a femur bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey has his own bone to pick with Cyclops.

The Good: Chris Yost knows his X-Men. He’s stated before that his goal is to eventually write Uncanny X-Men, and after reading his work on X-Force and New X-Men, it’s kind of weird that he hasn’t been approached for the job. First to Last is an Uncanny story rudely marginalized as a filler arc for Gischler’s X-Men run. But it’s that high stakes story that was missing from much of Fraction’s run of Uncanny from the time this came out (Quarantine…why was that story so long?). But Yost’s story, all taking place in one day, has so much weight and so much potential impact, that not being told in the flagship book is simply disrespectful.

And just as the title suggests, this story has both classic X-Men goodness (protecting a world that hates and fears them!) and some new juiciness (mutantkind was being watched over for all these years?) Yost’s story, that staggers between the current era of the X-Men (or, the era right before Schism) and the “First Class” era of Cyclops, Beast, Marvel Girl, Angel, and Iceman, gives the reader the unique opportunity to see just how much team has changed since its offset. Beast is no longer a member; Angel is a homicidal hero; Jean is dead; Iceman is jaded; and Cyclops…Cyclops went from boy scout to general. But we also get to see changes in other characters too. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver we see starting to question their father’s choices in the “Then” segments. Toad we get to see as a lackey being pushed around by both his peers and his enemies in the past, and then taking drastic measures to not be pushed around in the present. Xavier…isn’t even in the “Now” segments, which is a point in and of itself. His dream doesn’t really matter anymore. But the biggest change is by far seen in Magneto. In the “Then” segments, he is totally willing to wipe out humankind when the Evolutionaries make the offer, but in the “Now,” (SPOILER ALERT) when they return to him with the same offer, he refuses, stating “I laughed at Charles Xavier and his dream. But my dream cost me my children…it cost me everything!” He might not be saying that he’s abandoned his beliefs, but he now sees them as a downfall and not a virtue.
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X-Men #16 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Jorge Molina (artist), Guru EFX (colors), Jordan D. White (assistant editor), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor)

The Story: A very old flame sends a distress signal to Cyclops and Magneto. It is delivered by FF, who are now sporting their new Dr. Doom look.

What Good: I was a fan of the art. Although I am usually allergic to the Rob Liefeld-esque posturing of heroes (see Cyclops, Wolverine and Thing at various moments), they looked good. Cyclops was an imposing leader and everyone looked heroic. The action sequences had a bit of an anime feel to them with the sort of frozen still-shot with bits of motion blurred beyond recognition. The fastball special was a good example, and it worked. On draftsmanship, I had no complaints. The figures, background and tech were clean and detailed, and the faces, while often expressionless (except for Franklin), were attractive. I really enjoyed the sequence in the submarine, and the double splash page with the staples was awesome in opening up a panoramic scope.
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X-Men: Schism #1 – Review

By: Jason Aaron (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciller), Cam Smith (inker), Frank D’Armata (colorist)

The Story: Cyclops, as leader of the world’s mutants, goes to an arms control conference, bringing Wolverine as his security. Midway through Cyclops’ speech advocating peace and disarmament (in this case, not for nukes, but for sentinels), a telepathic mutant comes in and creates an international incident, making governments all over the world mobilize their anti-mutant weapons.

The Review: First of all, this was a thick issue. $4.99 thick. There’s a lot of story here, and Aaron starts it off close and personal, hinting at some of the struggles that are going to divide Logan and Scott by the end of this series. The conflict will be something that will bring the reader closer to Wolverine, while respecting Cyclops more, a brain versus heart sort of split. This will be a conflict of men not only making different choices, but making them based on different values. Cyclops is thinking the long game with a Messianic resolve to see his people through this, while Wolverine cares about the people having to suffer through the wandering in the desert. I love that it’s not going to be a superficial conflict. And Aaron is making it more flinch-worthy for the reader by reminding us how much water has passed under the bridge with these two standing back to back against the world, going so far as to show a glimpse of their early relationship. (And a no-prize goes to readers who remember that their relationship was really rocky until Uncanny X-Men #126, when Cyclops cleaned Wolverine’s clock without trying, to snap him out of a self-destructive mood.) By now, years later, they are close to brotherhood. This is a beautiful setup for lots of drama! And the addition of Kade Kilgore was great, but I won’t say any more for fear of spoiling.

Artwise, I was delighted with everything Pacheco drew, except Wolverine. Wolverine seemed to shape change from a short, muscular guy, to a block-like thing, to a miniature version of Guido from X-Factor (all this on pages 2 and 3!). His shifting proportions didn’t stop throughout the book, but strangely enough, everything else was awesome. Iceman on the beach was classic, with his little cushion of fog, while Cyclops and the conference were first rate and suggestive of Scott’s greatness. The cameo by the leader of Iran (sorry, I can’t spell his name without Wikipedia) was a beautifully-done artistic touch, right down to the open collar. The faces throughout were evocative and I have to take my hat off to D’Armata’s color work during the attack on the conference especially, but elsewhere, he chose some interesting dominant colors for backgrounds that signaled the grimness of the mood through encroaching shadows.
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X-Men #14 – Review

By: Christopher Yost (writer), Paco Medina, Dalibor Talajic (pencillers), Dalibor Talajic, Juan Vlasco (inkers), Marte Gracia and Wil Quintana (colorists)

The Story: “First to Last, Part 4″ opens up more of the past of the Evolutionaries (2.7M years ago) and of the original X-Men in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants era. And in the present, for good measure, the X-Men are getting their tails kicked.

What’s Good: We’re in high second act here. The action and the revelations are hitting quickly. Yost is doing one of the more difficult things in serial storytelling, which is to successfully pull off a big retcon by stitching new events and plots into the old X-Men tapestry without tearing or unbalancing anything. Some places this has been done well have been Deadly Genesis and Uncanny X-Men First Class (see WCBR’s coverage). As things are going, I would certainly put “First to Last” up there with those well-done retcons. The revelations coming from two time periods is pretty cool. I’m wondering if we’re going to see the Eternals as part of this and what made Phaestus set in motion this genocide tool. Yost makes the present more tense with things really going downhill (“We need Cyclops!” and “Cyclops, what did you do?”). What other hidden sins (on top of creating the X-Force death squad) does Cyclops have in his closet?

Artwise, I was very pleased. The juxtaposition of Medina’s and Talajic’s styles for the time periods was awesome and both the Evolutionaries and Magento in the past and present were artistic scene-stealers. Medina and Talajic imbued both with such restrained menace and danger that I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. And the poses and expressions of Magento and the Brotherhood in the past were excellent. I’m a full-on fan of the artwork.
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X-Men Legacy #250 – Review

By: Mike Carey (writer), Khoi Pham, Tom Palmer & Marte Gracia (pencils/inks/colors – Legion Story), Steve Kurth, Jay Leisten & Brian Reber (pencils/inks/colors – Rachel Summers story), Cory Petit (letters), Sebastian Girner (assistant editor) & Daniel Ketchum (editor)

The Story: A two-parter for this special anniversary issue.  In the first part, we visit some of Legion’s out of control personalities.  In the second, we learn a little more about Revenant/Rachel Summers and where she and the Starjammers are.

What’s Good: I really like the general style of story telling that Mike Carey is going for here.  Too often modern comics have these discrete 6-issue arcs that collect nicely into trade paperbacks with each 6-issue arc having very little to do with the last one.  Here, Carey is picking up some ideas that spun out of his Age of X storyline and actually playing with them.  You wouldn’t be totally lost if you were a part-time X-Men reader and picked this issue up cold without reading Age of X, but you might be a little confused.  And that’s how it should be dammit!  Nothing makes me feel like a bigger chump than realizing the money I plunked down for the BIG STORY in 2010 isn’t having any impact on the stories I’m reading today.

The Legion story is well told and features a diverse grouping of X-Men: Legion, Professor X, Magneto, Rogue, Gambit and Frenzy.  Even though I do roll my eyes a little bit every time I see Legion or Gambit on the page, I think we should give credit to Carey and the X-editors for creating a team that doesn’t include Wolverine, Cyclops or Emma.  Just having this different team setting off on a different mission to contain some break-away Legion personalities is fun because I’m not wondering how these characters can be in multiple places at one time.

But, the star of the issue is the Starjammers storyline.  If you’ve been reading X-Men for longer than a couple years, you know that Ed Brubaker took the  team off into space for the Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire story.  That story lasted one year and when it was done, some of my favorite characters (Rachel Summers, Havok and Polaris) were left in space.  Well….they’ve been gone for ~4 years now with nary a peep so it is nice to see that story line being picked back up.  Again….this type of story telling makes fans feel like we weren’t chumps for buying those issues in 2007.  And I’m ready for another good X-Men-In-Space romp.
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X-Men: First Class – Movie Review

One of the most fundamental sticking points of the X-Men is their outsider status.  It’s what defines a lot of how we view the team and mutants in the Marvel U in general, but it’s also the very thing that limits real progress for their fictional civil and social rights.  To preserve the X-Men as unappreciated outcasts, most writers have maintained the human intolerance of them for decades, offering them few truly human, non-heroic allies in their quest for peace.

Ultimately, First Class largely overlooks this human element, and that’s what prevents the film from being better than it is.  Nearly all the human characters in the film get portrayed as either easily manipulated buffoons (Emma Frost making the Russian general grope thin air) or overly rash decision-makers (the entire higher US military).  This almost forces you to sympathize with the mutants in the film, even the obviously twisted ambitions of Shaw.

Part of the problem lies in using the Cuban Missile Crisis as a premise, or at least inspiration, for the plot.  Anyone who’s put some effort in studying that volatile period knows how many complicated political/intelligence factors were involved.  The film depicts the event by making it pretty much the results of Sebastian Shaw’s manipulations, making the ugliest, most dire nuclear confrontation in history the outcome of mutant meddling.

This really undermines the climactic finale of the film, which serves to dramatically play Xavier and Magneto’s conflicting ideologies.  Humanity gets brought to the brink of global apocalypse by mutant whims, and they’re saved by mutants more personally motivated by vengeance (the deaths of Mag’s mother and one of the X-Men’s own) than by justice.  Any way you look at it, humans became pawns and near victims in this deadly game, fairly just cause (in addition to the atrocities committed against US soldiers in the second act) for the resentment, which encourages their hasty actions at the end.

What the film really should have done was give Moira MacTaggert, the sole non-mutant with a significant role in the film, more interaction with the X-Men than mere tagalong.  She is the character driven most to do what’s right (her actions are basically responsible for saving everyone, human and mutant alike), and her sensitivity and even love for the mutants gets grossly unappreciated and unacknowledged by them, even by Xavier to a certain extent.

The film’s plot also gets hampered by several major logistical gaps.  Given Shaw is obviously a psychotic megalomaniac, maybe we should be unsurprised that his plan to simultaneously destroy humans and uplift mutants is so incredibly ill-conceived (it would’ve likely doomed both races).  His logic is simply bad; if atomic energy caused mutation, then wouldn’t all mutants be largely Japanese, Pacific Islander, or American Southwesterners?
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X-Men #12 – Review

By: Christopher Yost (writer), Paco Medina, Dalibor Talajic (pencillers), Juan Vlasco, Dalibor Talajic (inkers), Marte Gracia (colors)

The Story: First to Last, Part 2: In three different times (2.7 million years ago, in the early issues of the original X-Men, and now) we learn about the evolutionaries. They are looking for the leader of mutantkind to speak for all mutants, to prevent homo superior from going extinct.

What’s Good: I thought that the art in the now (and 2.7 mya) by Medina and Vlasco was pretty strong. Although some of the early primates seemed a bit plastic, the wolves were not, and the Eternals were visually impressive. The modern scenes were even stronger. The evolutionaries facing Cyclops in the debris of Utopia seemed to live in the kind of chaotic, gritty atmosphere that makes the best use of the styles of Medina and Vlasco. The heroes are dynamic, the villains menacing and the smoky background looks to be crumbling around the story. The quick switches from character reaction to character reaction were effective and the choice of camera angles and zoom-ins were powerful. Check out the close-up on the evolutionary leader’s eyes right before the splash page attack on Cyclops.

Writing-wise, I’m loving this arc. Yost is surfacing an ancient mystery with huge stakes (the survival of the two extant species of homo). The slow reveal, the bubbling anger and impatience on the side of the heroes, plus Cyclops’ mysterious orders drive the tension right up. And the toggling between the past and present is very effective in unfolding the coolness of this story and revealing the true menace of the evolutionaries. Also, seeing Magneto in any setting is a treat, but seeing him in his full villainous glory brings a nostalgic pang to my heart.
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X-Men Legacy #249 – Review

By: Mike Carey (writer), Rafa Sandoval (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist), Sebastian Girner (assistant editor), Daniel Ketchum (editor)

The Story: Aftermath, Part Two: The dust is still settling on the X-Men’s Age of X. Events in Age of X were so fast and so different, that the X-Men, back home and safe, have some breathing room to deal with who they might have been and what they might have chosen. Legacy #249 is about three people coming to terms with the mirror that Age of X held up for them: Rogue, Legion and Frenzy.

The Review: This story demands a deft hand at character work, something at which Carey normally excels. I have to say though, that I was generally disappointed in what could have been a really strong story. This one turned out to be just okay.

I thought that the Frenzy story-line was the most engaging, emotionally. I felt for her and her angst over who she might have been and still could be, although there were no real surprises to how things turned out. I think it’s very facile to show someone what they might have been and then, after that, they simply decide to be different. There’s more to it than that. There’s a reason Frenzy, in the real world, chose the path she did and there should be some resistance to this new path. There was really none here, which I though was a lost opportunity.

The Legion story-line was the most intriguing intellectually. I loved seeing the way Nemesis was trying to control the different personalities in Legion and I loved seeing the new personalities. This part was fun and was really about the science fiction adventure that will follow with Legion and his many, many personalities and awesome power.
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Uncanny X-Force #9 – Review

by Rick Remender (script), Billy Tan (art), Dean White (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Logan does a favor for Magneto that has him going solo.

The Review:  Last month I raved about just how utterly amazing the art provided by Tan and White was and this month, I think it’s even better, though thoroughly different in tone and content.  This is quieter, more emotionally driven issue, allowing for Tan and White to deliver an issue that’s subtle and haunting.  Tan’s work on his character’s faces speaks volumes and is full of complexity.  What I appreciate most though, and granted this is largely due to White’s colors, is the way in which this issue manages to look both dark/gritty and hyper-polished, two things that don’t ordinarily go together.  The result is a gorgeous issue where single panels would make for great splashes.  Couple this with excellent storytelling all around, and the art just about carries the issue.

Which is good, because this isn’t the strongest narrative from Rick Remender.  That’s not to say that it’s bad, only fairly middling, a little too comfortable.  Remender relies on emotional tenor to drive an otherwise unremarkable story.  In some ways, it almost works.  Magneto’s emotions are very human and Logan’s relationship to death and killing is as interesting and engaging as ever.  More than that, these are items that allows for Remender to let Tan tell the story.  Certainly, on the latter plot-line regarding Logan, the issue’s ending on a “what goes around, comes around” warning that reframes the entire issue under that message is a good one.

Unfortunately, beyond these emotional high-points, the nuts and bolts of the story aren’t overly strong.   For instance, I just didn’t buy Logan doing Magneto a favor just because Magneto gives him sad puppy eyes.  This is Magneto, for God’s sake.  Remender doesn’t even really try all that hard to sell this, either.  Magneto asks, looks sad, and Logan, nice guy that he is, caves and moves out.  It’s a big stretch and one that’s oversimplified under a gloss of emotion that almost fools the reader into believing it.
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Uncanny X-Force #5.1 – Review

by Rick Remender (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dean White (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: X-Force races to stop Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers from destroying Utopia.

Review: Out of all the .1  issues thus far, Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force may very well have come the closest to accomplishing what the .1 initiative is meant to.  It provides a perfectly accurate representation of what readers can expect from the series month in and month out in both tone and narrative.

As such, this is a brutal comic book.  It pulls no punches and it’s violence and gore are uncompromising, but never remotely close to exaggerated or slapstick.  Instead, it’s an X-Men comic of gritty realism and it feels like X-Men MAX, a MAX title without swearing, essentially.  The book thus carries a harsh and dark tone that is as alluring as ever.

This month, Remender does his best character work on Wolverine.  He manages to accomplish that fine balance of making it clear that Logan is an intelligent and well-read guy, while also maintaining that gruff, beer-swilling surface demeanor.  It’s always a tough job for any writer tackling the character, but Remender definitely succeeds.  Moreover, he gives some wince-inducing narration from Wolverine as well.

As far as villains go, Lady Deathstrike gives a solid performance.  She’s as crazed and ruthless as ever but, more than that, thanks to Wolverine, Remender makes her look as legitimate as possible.  Rafael Albuquerque’s depiction of her is also solid, reminding me quite a bit of the American vampires of that title.

There are problems though.  Psylocke’s fretting and navel-gazing over whether she enjoys killing her enemies too much is, at this point, a fairly tired internal struggle for comics in general and it’s one we’ve seen way too many times, with Remender not adding anything new to it.  In fact, the whole thing makes Betsy even come across a tad melodramatic.

Worse still, this whole inner turmoil spirals out of Remender’s use of X-continuity relating to Betsy and the Reavers.  Especially for a .1 issue, it was surprising to see Remender lean so heavily on X-Men continuity, particularly that which lies outside of his own series.  Uncanny X-Force has, to me, been particularly strong due to its independence so it’s a weird choice by Remender, particularly given that this issue is meant to bring in new readers.
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Wolverine #6 – Review

by Jason Aaron (writer), Daniel Acuna (art), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Faced with a rampaging Wolverine with Logan locked in a battle for his own mind, the X-Men are forced to choose whether or not to take their old friend down permanently.

The Review: Wolverine #6 is one of those comics that reminds you of how, in this medium, the artist is not only as important as the writer, but often moreso.  Put simply, Daniel Acuna makes this a hell of a comic, really working to right the ship on the whole Wolverine Goes to Hell story which, while not bad, wasn’t quite up to Aaron’s Weapon X standard.

Acuna completely reshapes the tone of the comic, which becomes instantly filled with atmosphere thanks to his unique, painted style.  There’s a constant sense of dark foreboding to his work, which suits this storyline perfectly.  It’s all shadows and dreamy desperation.  Suddenly, the comic has become rife with feeling, a mix of grit and mystery with cool little old school touches (characters have little waves coming out of their heads during psychic attacks).  Acuna also does great work on the interior of Logan’s mind; it takes that dreamy feeling of Acuna’s to a whole new level, with Acuna’s depiction of the demon(s) possessing Logan being not only scary, but quite creative.

The bottom-line is that Acuna’s work was such moody brilliance, that I can only wish that he was on the previous arc.  While I liked Renato Guedes’ work, seeing Acuna’s demon only made me realize how nightmarish and surreal he could’ve made the prior arc, which I think would’ve changed a lot of people’s opinions about it.  Oh well.

For what it’s worth, Jason Aaron seems to know when to take a backseat to his artist.  There are frequent moments where his script is quieter, letting Acuna’s art resonate and take on the brunt of the story-telling.  That said, what’s here is certainly sound.  Cyclops’ unique friendship with Logan is focused on, as it should be, given that it’s one of the most interesting dynamics among the X-Men.  Aaron does it elegantly and in minimalist fashion.  Meanwhile, Melita Garner continues to add a unique voice to the series, being a common-man voice of humanity and reason amidst all the super-powered spandex.   Shockingly, for such a dark issue, Aaron actually even manages to work in a couple of quick little jokes that made me laugh without jarring against the tone of the issue.
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Age of X: Alpha #1 – Review

By: Mike Carey (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Carlo Barberi, Paco Diaz, Paul Davidson (pencillers)

Story: Without preamble or explanation, we are thrust into an America where mutants are on the run, all the time, where persecution is legislated and state-supported, and where human rights apply only to non-mutants. Through a series of loosely connected tales, we see what this America is made of.

The Writing: The X-Men have been doing alternate worlds since the classic Days of Future Past in Uncanny 141-142. The charm of these stories is that the writers and artists get to reimagine all the rich character histories and their moral centers. Villains can be inspirational heroes. Heroes can become villains. And we readers get to care because we have so much invested already in our relationships with these people. The strength of this issue and this concept are some of the fates of different heroes (the horrific fate of Cyclops, for example), those who are not quite heroes, but should be (Paige Guthrie), and those who have never been heroes and might be (Toad, for example). Carey hits all the right notes in this issue, and leaves most of the world unexplained. This is smart, because this is also a mystery story; I want to know why things are as they are, and I’ll stick with this story because I love these characters.

The Art: It’s really a grab bag of styles. Some are quite beautiful either in technical draftsmanship or in visual style. The transitions from one art team to another neatly signal the shifts in vignettes, but were a jarring experience for me as a reader. I get accustomed to a certain art team’s style as I read a book, and when they switch, I sometimes feel like I’m starting the process over. I don’t think I’m complaining for nothing, because the art styles are quite different. DC has been doing the same thing with Brightest Day, but usually there are no more than two art styles (sometimes three) to a BD book. As well, the art of the Magneto vignette by Davidson really didn’t work for me. It felt very two-dimensional and perspective or proportion wasn’t doing it. With those two art limitations said, I have no trouble saying that the art was otherwise good.

Conclusion: Mike Carey definitely hooked me in with the opening salvo of Age of X. I want to know where the heck everyone else is (Colossus, Nightcrawler, Xavier, etc). I’m going to be back for more.

Grade: B

-DS Arsenault

X-Men Legacy #242 – Review

by Mike Carey (writer), Paul Davidson (penciller)

The Story: A small team of X-Men are chosen to aid the city of San Francisco in repairing the destruction left in the aftermath of Bastion’s attack on Utopia and the mutant community.  However, things don’t go as planned when underlying problems affecting both Hellion and Omega Sentinel lead them into a conflict that might spell disaster.

Thoughts: This issue feels about four months too late, which is a shame because it’s a rather good one.  It feels so late, in fact, that I’m convinced that this story and the previous arc, “Collision”, were switched in order for some reason.  Carey delivers the beginnings of an effective “breather” arc here (complete with baseball interlude) as we survey the damage done to, not only the city of San Francisco, but to one of the younger X-Men in the wake of “Second Coming”.  Hellion’s inner turmoil and rage at losing his hands and having them replaced with bionic ones is palpable and perfectly understandable.  Not only that, but considering his already volatile and sometimes selfish and arrogant personality, his violent reactions to being made to feel weak and at the mercy of others’ aid is fully expected.  His anger at the seeming contradiction of the X-Men being able to perform plenty of miraculous feats but not being able to give him new, flesh and blood hands also made a lot of sense to me and I’d be hard pressed to say that I wouldn’t feel the exact same way.  The writer also takes advantage of the same opportunity afforded to Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men title that allows him to pull various X-related characters into the story.  While Rogue and Magneto seem to be Carey’s version of Cyclops and Emma Frost for Legacy, it’s always fun to see new faces together such as Random, Omega Sentinel and Hope.
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Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #1 – Review

by Allan Heinberg (writer), Jim Cheung (pencils & inks), Mark Morales (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: A sudden outburst of power from Wiccan and a temporary loss of control sparks questions about his relation to the Scarlet Witch.

What’s Good: It’s great to see the gang back together again and certainly, the team dynamic is just as strong as ever.  This is thanks in no small part to to Heinberg’s dialogue, which is tight, natural, and humorous, and at different turns evocative and light-hearted.  It’s by far the best part of this issue, mostly because of how human it is and how well-managed the voices of the various team members are.  Each characters is well-defined and their close relationships with each other are clear just through Heinberg’s tone.  The conversations are a joy to read.

Of course, this issue also marks the return of Jim Cheung and, as expected, that means that this issue looks absolutely gorgeous.  Cheung’s style, to me, represents the pinnacle of what Marvel’s “house style” would look like, were there such a thing.  Everything is well defined and, well, heroic with a very light anime touch.  Essentially, this looks like the greatest Saturday morning action cartoon to never exist.

As far as the book’s plot goes, it takes a while to be really pulled in, but by the book’s final pages, the team’s dynamic and their new, troubling position had me eating out of Children’s Crusade’s hand.  While this issue in itself wasn’t the fastest or most engaging overall, in itself, I feel sure that this series as a whole, and most likely every issue after this one, will be awesome and of the standard we were expecting.  By the end of the book, I really, really wanted more and it wasn’t just due to the massive cliffhanger at the end.
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X-Men Legacy #237 – Review

by Mike Carey (writer), Greg Land (artist)

The Story: Magneto joins the fight against the army of Nimrods as X-Force finally gets their shot to shut down the mutant-killer robots once and for all.

What’s Good:
Script-wise, Carey continues delivering the chocolatey goodness that we’ve come to expect from this crossover as we prepare to jump into the penultimate chapter.  There are more great moments to throw on the pile of great moments that we’ve been getting month in and month out.  Hope joins the battle of San Francisco, Magneto uses Utopia itself to wail on the Nimrods, and Cypher defeats the Master Mold in quite the creative way.  There’s also a somewhat touching moment when X-Force realize they’ve accomplished their mission and that they’re now very likely stuck in the future for good.  Top notch work from Carey as we speed along towards the conclusion of Second Coming. Continue reading

Uncanny X-Men #522 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Whilce Portacio (pencils), Ed Tadeo (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Magneto brings Kitty home as Nation X comes to a close.

What’s Good: This is easily among the best issues of Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny X-men, as the man who writes Invincible Iron Man shows up rather than his louder, dumbed down counter-part.

Really, this book essentially gives you everything you could want from an X-Men comic.  The opening scene is done in epic form with an excellent use of “storybook” styled narration, turning Kitty into a sort of fairytale “princess in a high tower” while relating this to Magneto’s stay with the High Evolutionary.  The storytelling feels grand in this sequence, as it should.

Beyond that, there are several great character moments, the sort that Uncanny so often lacks.  Emma Frost has a kind of confessional about Scott Summers to the mentally dormant Magneto that is touching, riveting, intelligent, and painfully honest in just one of several great scenes.

Despite the gravity of the events in this book, Fraction finds time for comedy as well.  A “travel game” between Fantomex and Wolverine certainly got a laugh out of me and was a welcome relief in a book that is otherwise very weighty.

All told-this is a beautiful issue with a number of poignant moments.  While the reunion of Colossus and Kitty is cut short, this is made up for by the issues ending montage, which wordlessly sums up the status quo after Nation X, and it really is touching.  The montage is so wonderfully executed, that you’d almost forget all of the sloppier moments that have occurred over this arc.  It makes what came before look better, which is just what a concluding issue should do.

On the art, it’s hard not to look at Portacio’s work here as accomplishing what Land strives for, and fails at, with every outing.  We have the big, splashy, impressive images and we have the hyper-realistic style, but this does not come at the cost of detail or narrative flow.  Portacio’s outing here is basically what an Uncanny X-Men should like: impressive, big-budget, epic, yet human.

The back-up, also written by Fraction but illustrated by Phil Jimenez, is magnificent and well worth the extra dollar.  While completely barely related to the X-universe, it’s a poignant and very emotionally touching tale about a world facing Armageddon.  It reminds us that Fraction, at his best, is able to move us, and that’s just what this back-up does.
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Uncanny X-Men #520 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Greg Land (pencils), Jay Leisten (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Psylocke, Wolverine, and Colossus go Predator-hunting in NYC while Magneto tries to get Utopia’s population to trust him.

What’s Good: Overall, I’ve been enjoying Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men quite a bit more after Utopia, and this month continues the positive trend.

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that Fraction has taken a much more character-driven approach.  This month once again shows just how much the addition of Magneto has helped in this regard.  Fraction is doing his damndest to make the former villain into a sympathetic character, and he’s definitely making headway.  Magneto’s presence alone also brings a lot out of other characters.  His battle to gain trust and his constant sense of guilt and self-loathing all worked to give him a kind of vulnerable humanity.

This was nicely juxtaposed to his having grown accustomed to being the guy in charge.  Even as he tries to redeem himself for what he was, the vestiges of his past still govern his manners.  His consequent conversation with Cyclops was far and away the high point this month, with Fraction capturing the tension perfectly.  It’s so odd to see Cyclops as the dominant personality between the two, with Magneto being the one in the subservient position seeking approval, and Fraction highlights and plays up this interesting dynamic rather well.

The exploits of the X-Men in NYC provide lighter fare, bringing a bit of humor to the book.  Of course, it helps to have Fantomex around when you want to lighten the mood and create an adventure/mystery plot.  All told, Fantomex is well-written and Fraction’s balancing of his two plots means good pacing, as we never become bogged down in Utopia’s tensions, nor does the book ever feel like insubstantial roving in New York.

Beyond that, this secondary plot also allows Fraction to play with some rather underused characters, and that’s never a bad thing.
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Uncanny X-Men #519 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (pencils), Rachel Dodson (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Emma enters Scott’s mind while Magneto works to keep the island from sinking.

What’s Good: Much like last issue, the Dodsons breathe so much life into Uncanny.  The characters all look significantly more individual and lovable under their capable hands and the book has a vitality, an intimacy, and an intelligence that it doesn’t have under Land.  As I said in my last review of Fraction’s book, the Dodsons have a style that is simply “fun” at its core level.  #519 is actually a much stronger effort than their already solid work last month.  There’s a lot more detail and their depiction of the Void-contaminated version of Scott’s mind is a great amount of fun.  Meanwhile, their “nice guy” Magneto looks Disney-huggable.  I also absolutely loved Emma Frost’s military-styled outfit when in Scott’s mind, as well as the Mark Buckingham-styled paneling and borders during these portions.

This is also some of the best work I’ve seen out of Fraction on Uncanny that’ll have you wondering why the series couldn’t always be like this.  This is the kind of human soap opera that Uncanny should be and this comic actually feels like it was penned by the same guy who writes Invincible Iron Man.

All the characters have individual voices, all of the dialogue is characterful and tight, and all the interpersonal dynamics are fun and nuanced.  Emma and Scott’s adventure is well done; Emma is human, loving, and empathetic while retaining hints of her trademark high-nosed arrogance.  Scott is heroic and stalwart, as we’d expect him to be, while Fraction nonetheless has the Void complicate this portrayal by giving voice to his flaws and insecurities.  Meanwhile, I’m loving “nice guy Magneto,” and his conversation with Namor is spot-on and really enjoyable; it’s clear that these two characters have a unique chemistry that Fraction is beginning to explore.  Both are brazen characters willing to do what others won’t, but neither are the most socially capable.
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Uncanny X-Men #518 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (pencils), Rachel Dodson (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Scott ventures into Emma’s mind in an attempt to seperate her from the void as tensions grow among Utopia’s residents.

What’s Good:  X-Men fans will no doubt be absolutely thrilled to know that this month is a Greg Land-free zone.  I’ll admit that over the past couple of months, my position on land has reached something akin to sadly ambivalent resignation.  The Dodsons’ signature style has always been fun and as a result, this entire experience of this issue is a much more pleasant affair compared to the past few Land-drawn books.  I can’t necessarily point to specific images that blew me away, nor can I talk in specifics.  All I can say is that the book as a whole feels so different and so much better under the Dodsons’ hands.  It feels so much more fun, so much more full of life, and so much more likable.  Hell, even though they aren’t writing, the book even feels smarter.  Under the Dodsons, Uncanny essentially becomes a better book, one that’ll leave you feeling a lot happier and a lot more eager to read it.

To be fair, though, this is also a better outing by Fraction as well.  While last week’s book was little more than an extended action sequence, this month is much more character-based and human.  It’s a more intimate, relatable, and engaging read for these reasons.

Normally, I’m not a fan of books centered on one character’s adventures in another’s mind.  Such comics often end up being strange for strange’s sake, while not carrying the gravitas that a good book should.  That said, I rather enjoyed Scott’s adventures in Emma’s brain.  Largely, this is due to the dynamic between the two characters, but even more so, it’s because Fraction does not attempt to have these abstract psychic adventures fill the entire issue.  We get extended breaks from all the psychic wandering, and as a result, what wandering there is more palatable and the book feels much better paced.  Furthermore, Fraction takes a minimalist approach to Emma’s mind.  It’s big, blank, and full of doppelgangers; the Void’s presence makes it weird and creepy, but Fraction’s restraint keeps it from going off the deep-end.

Meanwhile, Beast’s reappearance in the book’s pages is a welcome, grounded relief and he remains a well-written character.  I also continue to enjoy whenever Fraction treats the logistic difficulties of living on a “floating” asteroid.  His acknowledging the real difficulties of sustained living on such an impossible location make the book feel more intelligent and eases the already massive strain on the suspension of disbelief.

What’s Not So Good: Fraction’s minimalist approach to his depiction of Emma’s mind is a bit double-edged.  While it prevents the book from becoming lost in the wilds of indecipherable abstraction and metaphor, Fraction may very well have taken it a little far in making Emma’s mind nothing but a white blank.  It’s bland and empty and one can’t help but wish Fraction pushed the very able Dodsons a little more.

Also, while the artwork was great, I’m not sure if the opening scene with a Predator X was necessary, given how much was already going on in this book.  It doesn’t help that it’s the only scene not on Utopia and as a result, it feels detached and not at all the sort of introduction or prologue that an opening two pages should be.

Conclusion: A really good issue of Uncanny accompanied by refreshingly vibrant, characterful artwork

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans


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