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Cyclops #2 – Review

By: Greg Rucka (story), Russel Dauterman (art), Chris Sotomayor (colors)

The Story: A chocolate milkshake. For this Scott had to travel halfway across the galaxy?

The Review: With comics these days determined to stay as dark as possible, it’s rare that a given issue makes you feel just purely happy, no strings attached. Even the most lighthearted, comedy-driven titles feel this need to have some kind of edge, like they’re not fully confident that readers are capable of enduring cheerfulness without a little cynicism or irony. Sugar, it seems, can’t be consumed without a spoonful of medicine anymore.

If for nothing else, Rucka merits praise for allowing one of the most star-crossed characters of the Marvel U to just have a grand old time, forgetting past and future tragedies. For personal reasons, the vignettes of Scott and Chris enthusiastically exploring the galaxy and enjoying father-son time touched me deeply, but I doubt anyone else can read them unmoved. If you know anything about what Scott’s grim history, your heart may very well melt watching him laugh with pure joy as he learns how to land a spaceship, his dad tousling his hair.
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Cyclops #1 – Review

By: Greg Rucka (story), Russel Dauterman (art), Chris Sotomayor (colors)

I have a real soft spot in my heart for Cyclops. Growing up and watching the X-Men cartoons on Fox Kids—is that even a thing anymore?—for some reason, I resonated with the visored hero more than any other mutant. Maybe because we were both four-eyes, I don’t know. As I got older and learned more of his complicated, often tragic history, I couldn’t help feeling that somewhere along the way, he became the X-Men’s official punching bag and sad sack, all in one.

Not being an avid X-Men follower, I have no idea how or why a teenaged Scott Summers got himself into the present, but I’m happy to see him nonetheless—happy and worried. Happy to see he still has the capacity to be happy, considering the dark, unstable crusader of a man he is now. Worried that seeing his unbelievably grim future (“…I grow up to be a maybe not very nice guy…Jean and I get married and then get miserable…”) will depress him before his time. So good on Rucka to have Scott keep his eye on the positive: “My dad is alive.

And how great is it to have an ongoing father-son series? Parental relationships don’t get much exploration in comics, mainly because it’s all the rage to orphan protagonists these days, and also because family interactions take time away from the main business of superheroing. Christopher Summers is an ideal father figure in this regard; as the confident, adventurous Corsair and leader of the Starjammers, he’s pretty much a superhero himself, one with years of experience on his adolescent son. That gives him a rare opportunity here to mentor Scott in a way he never got to when his son was this age the first time around.

There’s something inherently, wishfully sweet about this idea, of an absent father getting a second chance to be there for his son during a critical age, and of a lonely son finding and spending time with his long-lost father. Clearly, this space road trip Chris and Scott are embarking on is going to be a wild, crazy ride: “I’m programming a random set of thrilling galactic destinations. Six wonders of the universe for us to behold. You pick.” But beneath the fun and games, there’s a certain poignancy in knowing this may all end up as nothing more than a cherished memory of a what-might-have-been.
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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 #18 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Marco Rudy (artist), Val Staples (color artist)

The Story: Cyclops finally starts speaking clearly, just in time for the world around him to stop.

The Review: Brian Michael Bendis’ dialogue seems to come in two general forms, razor-sharp character work or droning back-and-forths, and generally you can tell if you’re reading a good Bendis issue or a bad Bendis issue based on which one you get. Of course, there’s always an exception that proves the rule. This issue is that exception.

You see, despite belonging to the prior category, this issue suffers from a myriad of serious problems. After the dramatic events of the past two issues and the accompanying pruning of the team, Cyclops’ X-Men return home to find the All-New X-Men missing, the result of the “Trial of Jean Grey” storyline in their own title. Seeing as this title has no part in that crossover, and thusly nothing to say about it, Bendis retreats back in time to when the original X-Men arrived at the New Xavier School and, effectively, engages in some house cleaning.

It’s a bizarre choice to flashback only to lead back to the present day. The flashbacks don’t particularly benefit from the context and the jumps through time quickly become dizzying. I could easily imagine a new comic reader getting lost. One of the strangest elements is how much of a retcon this feels like, despite Bendis writing the entire story. The events of this issue are interesting, if only in that way that addictive web surfing is, but they don’t feel like natural additions to the story. It also highlights how irrelevant the O5’s move to Cyclops’ school was.

Still, as I mentioned, the character work is up to par with the past few issues. Cyclops’ conversation with Kitty is especially raw. It’s a solid scene, if one that really should have played out the first time someone accused Scott of killing Charles Xavier – which reminds me how many times people refer to “Charles Xavier” in this issue. You never called him that when he was alive…
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X-Men Legacy #17 – Review

by Simon Spurrier (Writer), Koi Pham (Artist) Rachelle Rosenberg (Colorist)

The Story: David Vs. Cyclops in a big fight. Who shall win?

The Review: In the last review, I talked about action in super hero comics and their necessity. I talked about how many writers sometimes took the action to the forefront without putting the emphasis on the characters participating in the action shown and how Simon Spurrier had somehow made a smart choice in always putting David in importance above everything else. It was a nice issue, yet it could have been better.

As it turn out, Spurrier knew this quite well, as while the action continues in this issue, it becomes much better. This is due to two factors: the focus on the battle between Cyclops and David and the numerous thoughts of David being written for the readers enjoyment. This provide an unilateral voice to the whole issue that brings many thoughts to a single subject, which really shows how Spurrier’s take on David is fascinating.

Despite the slow pacing of the fight and how more than half of the issue is Scott Summers and David Haller trading blows, the constant narration by David bring out his psychology and his philosophy out front. How David sees Cyclops, how a fight really is and the fashion in which he envisions the whole brawl is nothing short of character-defining, making this character move toward a new step in his evolution. As the fight evolve, so does the readers understanding of David, which was really well-told even before this issue.
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X-Men #5 – Review

by Brian Wood (Writer), David Lopez, Cam Smith (Artists), Laura Martin (Colorist)

The Story: Cyclops and Jean are on the run as several members of the X-Men try to get them back.

The Review: Big crossovers are both a boon and a curse for any book. While many readers that aren’t normally picking up the book shall try out something different in order to gain the full story, the story they may want to read does not always mesh with what went before in this particular title. It’s a double-edged sword that is best handled with care and that may cause more harm than good sometimes.

Unfortunately, this is what happens here as Brian Wood’s X-Men book serves as another chapter in the Battle of the Atom big crossover. What is normally a team showcasing the strong and diverse females from this particular corner of the Marvel universe ends up servicing the story instead of focusing on what make it different. It results in something that tries really hard to please the X-fans and those who wants the next big thing, yet stumbles in some small parts.

It’s not all bad, of course, as there are some parts that continue the strong characterization that Wood is able to give to some of the cast, like Rachel and Kitty Pride, who discuss being left behind to watch the school as the rest of the X-Men goes in search of Jean Grey and Scott Summers. The conversation they have feels like a normal discussion instead of an exposition-heavy dialect that only serves the story and not the characters, which is always good to see in such a book. However, those characters soon come clashing against the story as they merely arrive to grind the story to a halt, give a good ”the reason you suck” speech to the others X-Men and this resumes their roles for the story in this issue. They are well-written, yet their purpose for this issue seems a tad forced and clash against the pace of the crossover a bit.
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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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All-New X-Men #5 – Review

ALL-NEW X-MEN #5

By: Brian Michael Bendis (story), Stuart  Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger & Craig Yeung (inks), Marte Gracia & Jason Keith (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Jean Grey enters Beast’s mind to help young Hank McCoy save old Hank McCoy.

The Review:  All-New X-Men has been by far the biggest surprise for me thus far of Marvel NOW.  Despite generally being a fan of Bendis, I didn’t have high hopes.  The last couple of years of Avengers comics have been rough and I wasn’t sold on the concept.  I found the first issue “meh,” but then as the issues went by, I found myself continually wanting more as, gradually, the book crept to the top of my stack.  There’s something inexplicably addictive about this book that has led to me devouring each issue and it’s something I’ve been trying to puzzle out for these last couple of weeks.

With this issue, I think I know what it is, finally: Bendis has nailed the “soap opera” vibe and the result is a terribly addictive comic book.  He’s managed this through a combination of excellent dialogue (which is remarkably light on his usual tics), solid character-work, and FUN character dynamics, particularly with respect to the excellent use Bendis has made of the original five X-Men.  This month, the dynamics they share with their present-day selves positively crackle.  Iceman/Iceman continues to be absolutely hilarious and watching Beast argue and debate himself is a real pleasure.  Meanwhile, Bendis does a solid job of building up the dread for the inevitable day where Warren meets…”Angel.”
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All New X-Men #3 Review

ALL-NEW X-MEN #3By: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Artist), Wade Von Grawbadger (Inker), Marte Gracia (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer)

The Review: All New X-Men is enjoying a well-deserved reputation as one of the best Marvel NOW titles at the moment. This success is largely down to the fact that it’s not really traded on the gimmicks which first made the title a talking point – Jean Grey coming back, the original X-Men coming face-to-face with their future selves – so much as it has strong character work from Bendis (and some top flight artwork from Stuart Immonen). This issue’s focus is restricted solely to Cyclops’ new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, revealing a little of the workings of the team and more of the turmoil present within it. I haven’t found it quite as compelling as the previous instalments, but it’s still some better than average comic booking and an important step forward for the overall story.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #12 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction & Jonathan Hickman (story), Jason Aaron (story & script), Adam Kubert (pencils & inks), John Dell & Mark Morales (inks), Laura Martin & Justin Ponsor (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story:  The Scarlet Witch and Hope take on Dark Phoenix Scott Summers for all the marbles.

The Review:  No one will ever accuse AvX of being subtle, nuanced, or even particularly smart writing.  That being said, it never really aspired to be more than it is.  So really, how much you enjoy it, and how much you’ll enjoy this issue, is really largely dependent upon your feelings about big event comics in general.  For myself, I honestly had fun reading this issue.  It wasn’t anything exceptional, but I enjoyed myself.  It was a solid, cathartic conclusion to the story and, yeah, AvX winds up being about a hundred times better than Fear Itself.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #10 – Review

By: Ed Brubaker (writer), Adam Kubert (pencils), John Dell (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Larry Molinar (letters)

The Story: Cyclops attacks K’un-Lun in an effort to bring Hope home.

The Review:  Well, good news.  This issue was actually…pretty good.  That’s largely owing to the fact that the Phoenix corrupted Scott and Emma turn out to be extremely effective villains this month.  They’re compelling, particularly given that they aren’t at all bland or derivative, instead managing to stay true to their characters.  It’s “evil Scott” and “evil Emma” in the truest sense in that they are still distinctly themselves, just in a much darker light.

Scott, for instance, is the sort of guy you can’t help but hate.  Sure, he’s done a lot of good things, but man does he love reminding you of that.  As a result, he comes across as condescending and arrogant throughout.  It’s basically everything Cyclops haters loathe dialed up to 11.  Emma, on the other hand, is downright creepy.  She’s turned Utopia into her own little kingdom with its residents as her slaves; she’s fickle and cruel in a way that suits the character quite well.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #9 – Review

by Jason Aaron (writer), Adam Kubert (pencils), John Dell (inks), Laura Martin & Larry Molinar (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story:  With their backs against the wall, the Avengers attempt a daring jailbreak.

The Review:  I’ve actually found the last few issues of Avengers vs. X-Men to be relatively enjoyable.  It’s something of a disappointment then that this latest installment felt a tad underwhelming.

Part of that, I think, is that this issue is another testament to the fact that AvX could easily have run the standard 8 issues instead of twelve.  The first two-thirds of the issue felt like a lot of wheel-spinning.  Perhaps that’s a little strong, as things DO happen, but it feels like little more than the pieces being shuffled around on the board.  It’s almost as though the book is on a holding pattern – minor consolidations of characters’ alignment are made, it’s hammered home repeatedly that the Avengers are stuck in neutral, and the end result is that, for all the action scenes, the book is surprisingly dull.

Moreover, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the portrayal of Magik and Colossus.  The strongest element of the “Phoenix Five” has been the way that the Phoenix hasn’t just corrupted them, but done so in a manner that accentuates each of their unique and inherent character flaws.  Magik and Colossus, however, just come across as evil, straight-up villains.  Well, with Colossus trying to resist his villainous side, anyway, while Magik is completely malevolent.  But the problem is there’s nothing unique in their corrupted behaviour – they’re just violent and nasty.  I wish it was a little more nuanced in the delivery.  It’s particularly strange given that Jason Aaron was also the guy behind last week’s issue of Wolverine & the X-Men, which did such a great job in its depiction of corrupted Colossus.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Aaron’s takes on the empowered Emma and Scott.  These two characters thankfully maintain that interesting element of the Phoenix’s corruption – they aren’t just evil, but rather, the corruption emphasizes certain character flaws.  The vengeful Emma Frost and her inner struggles were a great example of that and a major highlight of the book.  Aaron manages to make her perfectly monstrous, the Phoenix corrupting her in a manner that fits perfectly with her nature, but also a sympathetic figure, all in the space of two pages.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #8 – Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), John Dell (inker), Laura Martin & Larry Molinar (colorists), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

The Story:  The Avengers try to stop Namor from burning Wakanda to the ground.

The Review:  One word describes this issue:  fun.

I’ll admit, I’m not one easily wowed by superhero punch-ups, but somehow, seeing Namor battle heavyhitters like Red Hulk, Thing, and Thor was pure, gleeful, comics bliss.  There was just something magical about seeing these heavy-hitters throw down (with one particularly brutal panel that particularly sticks out – that’s a pun that’ll make sense when you read the issue).  The fight was wonderful fun that had me really enjoying myself and flipping the pages, with the issue never dragging or boring me one bit.
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The New Avengers #28 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mike Deodato (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer)

The Story: Spider-Woman, Hawkeye, and Luke Cage try to break out of the X-Brig.

The Review: This is a tough review to write, as I imagine that opinions will really vary on this comic.  The entire issue builds up to a big twist near the end and your enjoyment of it overall is thus largely contingent upon your reaction to that twist.

For me, I literally said, out loud, “oh, come on!” when I turned that page.  Bendis does a good job in tricking you, sure, but it doesn’t change the fact that the twist ending here is the oldest trick in the book.   That said, to his credit, Bendis almost, almost manages to sell it by making the scenario particularly hellish and twisted.  It’s actually surprisingly dark, and a little disturbing, for an Avengers comic.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the core concept of the twist is incredibly old, tired, and cheap.

The dialogue is also a mixed bag.  On the one hand, I liked the characterization Bendis does in showing the very different ways that Cage, Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman interact with their guards.  It showcased their unique personalities, and tactics, very well and was a really nice touch.

On the other hand, I could have done without the banter between Jessica and Clint.  Bendis and Deodato have established that this is a very dark issue they’re giving us and Hawkeye and Spider-Woman are in the middle of a desperate escape off of an island guarded by pissed-off gods and….Hawkeye is telling Spider-Woman that she smells nice, while Spider-Woman makes a joke about a birthmark/scar/something on Hawkeye’s butt?  It’s bad enough that the Hawkeye/Spider-Woman relationship still feels forced and underdeveloped, but this banter is really, really inappropriate and out of place.  This is only further evidenced by the fact that it’s really the only spot of humour in what is really a very grim issue, particularly given that dire twist.
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Wolverine and the X-Men #13 – Review

by Jason Aaron (writer), Nick Bradshaw (penciler & inker), Walden Wong & Cam Smith (inkers), Guru Efx (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

The Story: Get to know Warbird.  And, in other news, five phoenixes is a bit much even for Gladiator.

The Review: For the most part, the AvX tie-ins have ranged between mediocre to sucky and no title has been a greater disappointment than Wolverine and the X-Men.  It’s a painful situation that is every event-haters worst nightmare: a fantastic comic derailed by a forced event tie-in.

Given this, I was prepared to give another underwhelmed review but, much to my surprise, Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw churn out a fantastic issue here.  The reason why this one is different is obvious:  Avengers vs. X-Men takes a very distant backseat.  This gives Aaron a chance to focus on what’s made this series so great: the characters he’s created.

Here, he really pulls back the curtain on Warbird, probably the new character we knew least about.  Put simply, it’s fantastic.  You will leave this issue loving Warbird.  Her story is tragic, heavy stuff and she comes through it all a conflicted, three-dimensional character with a lot of depth and a lot more long-term potential.  Aaron has created a character that you can’t help but have a great deal of empathy for.

Part of this is Jason Aaron’s reversal of the stereotypical “tough girl.”  So many comics take the route of making a female character as hard-nosed and badassed as possible as the quickest, cheapest route to create a female “fan favourite.”  Aaron takes the opposite route.  Instead, he gives us character that is, on the surface, that stereotypica, female, 90s-badittude type of character, but that’s not what makes her so awesome or likable or unique.  Rather, it’s the softer, sensitive side of her that’s been so secreted away that makes the character shine.  In the end,  you’re cheering more for her to be able to emotionally open up and be herself than you are for her  to chop up some more aliens.  Essentially, Aaron gives us a character template that succeeds more than it fails, then turns it on its head to give it an entirely new depth.

While tragedy and emotion define Warbird’s story, there’s also something decidedly heart-renching about Kid Gladiator’s scenes.  Aaron does a great job depicting Kid Gladiator’s reaction to watching his dad get the worst of things against the Phoenix Five.  Most interesting is Aaron’s basically giving the character an emotional trajectory – he goes from wanting to be the hero in fighting alongside his dad, to crying out in despair and disbelief.  Better still, the fact that Warbird is restraining him, particularly in light of certain elements of her past, make the dynamic between the two VERY interesting and a lot more nuanced.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #6 – Review

by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Olivier Coipel (penciler), Mark Morales (inks), Laura Martin (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

The Story:  The Phoenix Five begin to reshape Earth; the Avengers make a daring raid on Utopia to snatch Hope.

The Review:  I’ll admit that after last issue, I thought AvX had jumped the shark.  As a result, I was pretty worried when I started reading this issue.  Instead, against all odds, I had a reason to be excited.

Hickman has done some great work here with the Phoenix Five.  What we get is a story of gods among men and the resulting intersection and conflict between the two.  The result is a story that is much smarter, more meditative, and more global and nuanced in nature.  AvX has suddenly become a whole lot more than Avengers and X-Men punching each other.  Better still, Hickman muddies the waters at just how godly the Phoenix Five really are and the extent to which they are merely mortals gifted with godly powers.  The result is that the intersection/conflict isn’t just between gods and men, but also between the godly powers of the Phoenix Five and their human/mutant cores.

The result is a strange sort of antagonist: their acts are amazing and philanthropic, and yet they feel so alien that you can’t help but find them somewhat sinister.  Scott only continues to be more disturbing; while he acts and talks like a god, he still carries that vengeful chip on his shoulder.  This leads to scenes where he’ll drop his godly guise and seem like…Scott, with powers he shouldn’t have.  There’s also an especially strong scene where Scott plays the nasty, biblical God: teasing and tempting Hope only so he can chide and reject her for her lack of blind faith in some form of sadistic “test.”  For all the good the Phoenix Five do, it’s the hints like these that Hickman uses to suggest that men cannot and should not be gods.

Olivier Coipel’s art refreshes AvX just as much as Hickman’s script does, if not moreso.  While Romita Jr. truly was doing his best, Coipel blows him out of the water.  Coipel is everything you expect out of a “big event” type book, with an incredible sense of scale and drama and a polished, “big budget” feel to his work.  His art goes a long way to rejuvenating AvX and making the book an exciting one.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #5 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker), Laura Martin (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

The Story: The Phoenix arrives.

The Review:  I really, really was starting to think that AvX was going to be a good, fun story, but after last month’s shaky issue, I’m getting the sinking feeling that this month’s issue could very well be the moment that this series truly jumped the shark.

Overall, the general problem is that this entire issue is devoted to the big, gigantic twist near the end of the issue.  This leads to around 15 or so pages of treading water, as Fraction basically kills time before dropping the bombshell on us, which is the sole notable thing to happen here.  This leads to more pages of Avengers and X-Men punching each other with very little emotional significance to their particular struggles.  Everyone is paired off and Hope makes it clear that they’re trying to kill each other.  So yeah, lots of hollow panels of action with heroes punching, grappling, and blasting each other.  Perhaps if I were 8 years old again, I’d find it awesome, but at this point, it just feels shallow and a bit meaningless, particularly given that we’ve already had so much of these characters punching each other.  Fraction tries to make these action scenes different by having Hope basically emphasize, through narration, how desperate everything is, but it feels like a case of telling rather than showing; the action doesn’t LOOK any different from what we’ve gotten before, regardless of what Hope tells us.  It doesn’t help that Hope’s narration is built around an extended metaphor on her part that, while a decent idea and well-intentioned, ends up being clunky and more awkward that it’s worth.

But really, this may all be forgivable if the big bombshell Fraction was building up towards was actually a good one.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  I can’t really go into WHY it isn’t without spoiling it, but this really feels like the one, singular moment where things really went wrong with this series.  I really, truly hope I’m proven wrong.  As such, I can guarantee that it’s a twist that you will NOT see coming.  However, upon turning the page, I literally said out loud “are you @$!@ing kidding me?”  It’s a real “facepalm” moment here.  It just feels really, really stupid.  There’s no other way to describe it.  It’s just…dumb.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #4 – Review

by Jonathan Hickman (writer), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: As the Phoenix streaks towards Earth, Hope tries to make a deal with Wolverine.

The Review:  In a twelve-issue maxi-series, issues like this are all but inevitable – the dreaded, treading water, transitional issue.

Much of this issue seems like it’s buying time for the huge development/cliffhanger on the final page.  As a result, much time is spent with Emma Frost checking in on each team of X-Men and each “battlezone,” often visiting what’s been going on in some of the AvX tie-in issues.  It’s honestly not very thrilling reading – if you’re reading those books already, it’s redundant, and if it you’re not, each arena is visited so briefly and so superficially that it’s basically devoid of any real significance anyway.  Even Emma’s purpose in doing this (attempting to seek out Cap in order to figure out where Hope is going to be next) is geared towards getting towards that final page.  It’s as though Hickman just needed to kill time to that big event, as the series is effectively in a holding pattern until that event occurred, having gone as far as it could go.

That said, while the middle of the issue is a bit tedious, the opening and finale are quite strong.  The finale goes without saying: it’s a huge development and a huge cliffhanger that’ll have you hankering for the next issue.  Mission accomplished.  More than that, however, it also involved a plot twist in which Logan does something that’s really heartless and quite a surprise.  It’s great how Hickman had us, along with Hope, believing one way in the opening of the issue, only for it to get all twisted up at the end.  Just an ice-cold move by Wolverine.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #3 – Review

By: Ed Brubaker (writer), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Cap and Wolverine have a “discussion” regarding his actions on Utopia.

The Review: I figure a lot of readers are going to have a different interpretation of this issue, one that ends up being much more negative.  Why are the characters behaving so stupidly and resorting to violence so easily?  Why are they going directly against their clearly stated principles?  For more cynical readers, this will no doubt be ascribed to poor writing and “event storytelling.”

But I don’t think it’s that simple.  Rather, much like in the first issue of AvX, we’re finally being given an event that has heart and character moments and not just heroes smashing things.   I think the ease with which Cap and Wolverine resort to violence is a testament to their fraying at the edges under the pressure of this impending cataclysm, as well as the pandemonium of friends having become enemies.  That Cap behaves stupidly in so quickly throwing his fists isn’t poor writing at all – rather, it shows that he’s human.  He’s not some unassailable paragon.  Under tremendous stress, with the X-Men now enemies and the world turned upside down, Cap is slowly losing his cool, instead becoming more like….well, Tony Stark in his uglier days.  Stress is breaking these heroes and seeing events take their toll on their psyches is what makes this story feel meaningful and rife with significance and desperation.
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Avengers vs. X-Men #0 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis & Jason Aaron (writers), Frank Cho (art), Jason Keith (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The Scarlet Witch is back in action and Hope becomes a crime-fighter.

The Review: How much you enjoy AvX #0 is largely contingent on what you expect to get out of this issue.  In many ways, this is somewhat falsely advertised as a prelude to the big Avengers vs. X-Men event and, as such, both Brian Bendis and Jason Aaron’s stories kind of fail in this regard.  Barring a final page in Aaron’s story that doesn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know, this issue doesn’t particularly set up any significant story beats or give us too much of an idea of what that story is going to be.

Instead, what you get with this issue are two character sketches, one of the Scarlet Witch and the other of Hope.  It gives readers new and old to get a little better acquainted with both characters and where they’re at in their lives right now.

Bendis’ story with Wands is no doubt the stronger of the two.  The action scenes are fantastic and really play to Frank Cho’s strengths, at times quite literally leaping off the page.  And hey, it’s MODOK.  Not just that, but particularly with Cho’s illustrations, Wanda’s powers are really cool to see in action and they make for one hell of an entrance.  Really, that’s what this is all about: Wanda’s return to the stage; Bendis succeeds in ensuring that she makes one hell of an impression.

I can also tell that Bendis worked harder than usual on this one.  The dialogue never falls prey to Bendis-speak or out of character voices.  Instead, the dialogue is brimming with emotion and sincerity.  Ms. Marvel’s dynamic with Wanda is a lot of fun, with Carol clearly being well-intentioned but overly optimistic, and all the more lovable for it.  The real meat comes with Wanda’s meeting with Vision.  Bendis manages to make Vision ice-cold, but brutally truthful and, nonetheless, also makes Wanda a sympathetic figure.  It’s a conversation that’s been a long time coming, and it delivers, scars and all.
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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 #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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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 #2 – Review

by Jason Aaron (writer), Frank Cho (art), Jason Keith (colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

The Story: The X-Men race to deal with the global rash of out-of-control sentinels, Cyclops and Wolverine butt heads over Quire, and Kade Kilgore makes plans.

What’s Good: Like many kids who grew up in the late 80s to early 90s, I was an avid X-fan growing up.  That said, I’ve felt increasingly alienated by the last few years of X-Men stories to the point where I only cursorily followed what was going on in the X-verse.  The various creators, many of them quite talented, just weren’t telling the kinds of X-Men stories that I wanted to read.

And so, the first issue of Schism was a revelation as, out of nowhere, Aaron began telling a story that I was interested in.  With this second issue, we get more of the same.

In many ways, with Schism, Aaron appears to realize that a lot of what worked in the past for the X-Men didn’t need fixing and so, we’re getting a story that really brings back the basics of what makes for a compelling X-Men comic.  Namely, we’re getting Sentinels and anti-mutant hysteria.  More importantly, we’re not getting outlandish or bizarre reactions from the X-Men to all this either.  Instead, the mutants are heading out, kicking robot ass, and suffering the slings and arrows of those who hate and fear them all the same.  It’s not re-inventing the wheel on Aaron’s part, but there’s no mistaking that this works.  It’s a central conflict that makes for a relatable and enjoyable comic that pulled me in.

There’s solid character work as well.  An early scene between Wolverine and Idie of Generation Hope is tragic, haunting stuff that his the mark of an excellent writer.  It’s a scene that really punches you in the gut, and Wolverine’s reaction (and how he carries himself, as a result, through the rest of the issue) is a testament to his heart and empathy, beneath all the gristle.
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