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Uncanny Avengers #23 – Review

By: Rick Remender (Writer), Sanford Greene (Penciller), Dean White (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer), Agustin Alessio (Cover Artist)

The Story: Whaddya know? Sometimes stories that say they were an event that “changes everything” actually do change pretty much everything.

The Review: The previous run on Uncanny Avengers could rightly be described as “epic,” and as I opened this issue, I was consciously hoping that we could get a more “downtime” story, as characters felt their way around its fallout and their new status quo. Thankfully, this issue was exactly what we needed.

Interestingly, the story begins a few weeks past the denouement of last issue, in case fans needed to reconcile whatever jumbled continuity got created by that a year-long story. What follows for 95% of the issue is really just characters talking to one another, but they treat each other as comrades-in-arms, as fellow veterans, as friends (or even more) as appropriate. The events of their time-traveling epic may have been erased, but that doesn’t mean they never happened, and these people have to deal with that.

Immortus, whose role in the previous arc was somewhat tenuous and thus relatively a weak link in an otherwise dense plot, shows up to offer, of all things, encouragement and promise, as long as they deal with the Red Skull, a teaser for the upcoming storyline and segue into an ominous Skull-focused cutscene. It’s an effective scene, taking the heinous Skull and matching him to the equally-heinous Ahab, throwing them both into Genosha. This is “high concept” that works, since there’s an immediate tension and horror-tinged atmosphere to lead into next issue.

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Uncanny Avengers #22 – Review

By: Rick Remender (Writer), Daniel Acuña (Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Story: If you punch Kang in the face enough times, he’ll go away.

The Review: This is the final chapter in the “Avenge the Earth” arc, one that culminates all the set-pieces of characters past, present, and future in a titanic battle to save the universe from Kang. Also culminating is the epic tone created by the high stakes and personal sacrifices from various members. It all makes for a satisfying read that feels more like an “event” then any of the tentpole series that actually market themselves as such.

The plot is not necessarily surprising. We knew from the beginning (and from its reveal last issue) that Kang was orchestrating a plan that spanned decades, and of course we know our heroes will win. The focus on this issue is the knuckles-to-face brawl that will make it happen. Largely this all falls on Havok, who goes toe-to-toe with Kang and does not survive unscathed. There’s a personal stake in this because of his daughter, which is lost to him accordingly, along with some significant battle scars. Other heroes will be affected by the battle, too, namely Wasp, Rogue/Wonder Man, and Sunfire.

The pacing of this ultimate fight is done well, a pacing reinforced by the art. Havok often takes several panels to work through his progression of thought, and also the progression of throw-down. What’s a little more ineffective is the sizing of the panels; for example, in one panel Havok looms large as he rears back to deliver a blast of energy, but the actual release of energy is shown in a panel barely one eighth of the page, in a landscape view that must be the shoulder of the Celestial but doesn’t register well. For such a momentous blow both literally and plot-wise, it’s an underwhelming choice of layout. Similarly, when Sunfire destroys the villains’ spaceship, it’s sequence is interrupted by two panels of villains’ dialogue as well as a page turn, disconnecting the event visually, and the final explosion is in the background of a panel on the lower sixth of a page.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past – Movie Review

Spoiler Warning: Red Alert (Significant/Critical) 

Good news! If you liked X-Men: First Class, then you will really like X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The same things that a lot of people love about X:FC show up again in X:DoFP. For example, having the movie largely a period piece, in 1973, rather than the present day or some vague “not too distant future.” For another, having the focus on a core group of conflicted characters, namely Xavier/the Professor (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

In fact, I appreciate the last one the most, as it creates a very personal drama that is balanced by a very epic scale. The setting ranges from both past and future, and all over the globe – Russia, China, New York, Paris, Washington DC. The stakes are quite high, too – nothing less than the destruction of life on earth, after all, and the conflict of human/mutant is not left to some abstract reference; we actually get to see this very-real conflict in a framing device as Sentinel robots battle older-Professor and older-Magneto and other familiar X-Men.

And what a battle it is. There is a creative use of powers, here, as characters use their powers in genuine teamwork for the most effective moves. Watch for Blink’s (Fan Bingbing) portals to play around with physics, a visualization of power that is more effective on film than on a comic’s page. And I never knew I was so excited to see Warpath on the big screen, here played by Booboo Stewart, along with Storm, Iceman, Sunspot, the Professor, Magneto, Colossus, and Wolverine. The oppressive and hopeless tone is exaggerated here. Heck, their final stand takes place inside a tomb! But thematically, they hold their own because of their teamwork, best expressed with Bishop (Omar Sy) who can absorb and redirect others’ energies, and, of course, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) whose out-of-phase powers can also send others’ consciousness back in time.

If you are hoping to see more of these characters, however, you will be disappointed. Because the key to their teamwork is in the past, when there wasn’t a team at all. So Wolverine gets sent back in time (his consciousness is sent into his past-self’s body) in order to make sure younger-Xavier and younger-Magneto can play well together and stop Mystique from making a big mistake.

Let me just say BEFORE THE SPOILERS that it’s a good thing you’re smiling so much at the look and casting and costuming and sets and CGI/animation and everything. Because these smiles are enough to distract you from squinting a bit at the plot. Don’t look to too hard, or annoying things like QUESTIONS will come to your mind.

SPOILERS! Now in Question Form!

So… In the future, why do the X-Men try to send someone’s consciousness back AT THAT POINT? Surely they would have had this conversation prior to the events in the Last Stand. They’ve been using Kitty Pryde’s power for a while, right? So maybe I missed the point where suddenly it seemed like a good idea to use it THIS way.

Also, WHY does Magneto say they need his past-self when clearly they don’t “need” him since they reach Mystique in the moments she first tries to shoot Trask? I suppose past-Xavier needs him since he won’t know where Mystique is, but older-Magneto wouldn’t have known that, right?

Are we REALLY supposed to expect that Mystique has NEVER killed anyone prior to her confrontation with Trask? That’s a LOT of action for her to have seen to have “never” killed anyone.

Why is Trask in some random meeting with the President’s cabinet to be “glad he asked that question” about the Sentinels? Isn’t he just a businessman?

How many days was Wolverine in the past, and why doesn’t it take the same amount of “time” in the future?

And, of course, it’s best not to think about the whole time travel thing anyway, as it leads to questions like: how does Old-Wolverine return to his body which will become New-Wolverine the moment the timeline is “fixed” into its new version of history? It’s a neat idea, like your time travel is all a dream and doesn’t become “real” until the moment you wake up, but there are some philosophical implications to physics and identity and paradox which I guess you just have to accept in a superhero movie.

And which I guess pretty sums up the answers to any of my questions above, which is: “just because, OK?!”

Kind of like the answer to why Wolverine doesn’t “lose it” every time he doesn’t “think calm thoughts.” There’s only one time when it would be dramatically important for him to do, and so that’s when he does, despite clearly many other opportunities to do so. The film takes these moments as it needs them to keep the plot and characterization flowing. It’s quite impressive that it gives the audience an important emotional or expositional beat just at the right time, so thank you screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer, although it’s not a glowing praise as I’d appreciate a bit more logic to the flow as well.

News Flash! Professor X Is a Jerk! (But Gets Better)

Clearly, this film is really all about Professor X/Charles Xavier, as played by McAvoy. Despite this film’s billing as an ensemble cast filled “with the most X-Men characters ever!!”, it really all comes down to Xavier’s heroic journey. His journey is the character arc that starts him off in the lowest place for him to be: crippled emotionally but not physically, a man who once helped mutants is now one who has no mutant powers. He must receive help from his guidance figure, here played by Wolverine, and must go on a series of quests to return him to his rightful place.

To be clear, yes, this means that Wolverine is actually more of supporting character in terms of plot, despite his placement on a movie poster. The guy has good lines, helps move the plot forward, and is recognizable/ marketable; but he doesn’t have any sincere motivation, character growth, or internal struggle. He does what he needs to do so the plot can advance, which again is pretty much like all those “Just Because” things I talked about.

Thematically, it’s interesting that Xavier’s turning point is in a big speech about how “good” pain and suffering is. Turns out, it has something to do with hope, or at least that’s what he says out loud… But I think the film overall makes a better case that it’s about teamwork. Magneto “loses” for example, because he breaks from the group to take matters into his own hands. Mystique “wins” because she joins Xavier’s side, if only for that moment.
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Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 – Review

By: Rick Remender (Writer), Paul Renaud (Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer), Arthur Adams (Cover Artist)

The Story:
Martian Transylvania Super Hero Mutant Monster Hunter High School, now filmed before a live Mojo audience. 8pm Eastern, 7 Central, or check local listings for showtimes. Only on Marvel.

The Review:
Well, this will be interesting to review. The last line of the comic reads: “Call in the critics … we’ll leave it to them to decipher.” Okay, then. Challenge… accepted?

What also makes this interesting is that the story essentially wears its themes on its sleeves, which is to be expected when the adversary is Mojo and other, thinly-veiled caricatures of the media executives the story is meant to comment on. Heck, there is no thin veil here at all. It’s pure caricature, as well as pure parody, allegory, pun, and any number of thematic figurative language. We get it! Media executives are as vile a creature as any spineless, extradimensional monster. Or lawyers.

So it’s difficult to critique something that the story itself critiques– Mojo uses the Avengers and some mystical heroes to create a TV show. The problem is that the story doesn’t quite flow like that. Mojo creates the Avengers of the Supernatural to… make a different show with the Avengers in a high school teen drama? Then they break out, but then they actually have to fight Ghost Rider’s Spirit of Vengeance before being returned to Earth without even confronting Mojo a second time? I’ll use the book’s own words “At least Mojo’s new show doesn’t feel unoriginal. … Not on the surface, perhaps.”
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C2E2 Report: Different Perspectives – An Interview with Russell Dauterman

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Some of you may not have heard of Russell Dauterman yet, but that’s likely about to change. Dauterman was the artist on the excellent Supurbia, closed out the last two issues of Kyle Higgins’ Nightwing run with a bang, and is now going to be launching the new Cyclops title for Marvel.

Russell has a unique and beautiful style and such a wonderful love for the material that I knew I had to talk to him and, thankfully, he was gracious enough to give us a bit of his time this past weekend at C2E2. Join me as we discuss character, representation, and working in the industry. Continue reading

Uncanny Avengers #19 – Review

By: Rick Remender (Writer), Daniel Acuña (Artist/Cover Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Story:
Somebody told me that you had an ally that looked like an enemy that I had last story arc.

The Review:
We all know about “flow,” that psychological state where everything else slips away and all you are aware of is the object of your focus. The best movies, shows, video games, etc., all have this state as their ever-elusive goal, and one of the best things I can say about Uncanny Avengers is that it consistently brings the flow. Whether it’s the villain Eimin guiding the discussion of the alternate X-Council, Havok and Kang coming to terms with their objectives as “heroes,” and how it all blends together in an extended fight sequence, I find myself gripped by the worlds and characters being explored here, and surprised when the final panel appears. In this case, it’s Thor about to throw down against the Big Bad, a cliffhanger to keep me baited until the next issue.

This flow is partly achieved by the ethical dilemma and high stakes that have been established for the characters and their world. On one hand, there is absurdly high stakes that risks the lives of millions and the very nature of time/space itself. On the other hand, you have the very personal stakes of a man, a woman, and the potential loss of their love and their child. Both extremes are completely melodramatic and over-the-top. I’m usually one to rail against “threat escalation” as it’s become a tired trope, but in this case it works. There’s something about a 4-color cape-and-tights world that embraces the absurdity of extreme situations, and it makes me curious to see how it plays out.

In the same way, the comic offers layers of ethical dilemma here. Havok and his team have to contend with accepting villains as allies, consider the costs of keeping a false world, and the limits of personal responsibility in regards to a community, the price of leadership, and more. They can all be summarized with the biggest one of all, the cornerstone of any superhero story, really: will you make things right, even if it might cost you everything? There are some pretty big, postmodern implications to this, of course: “who’s to say what’s right?” That last part, unfortunately, is a bit more implicitly handled, as Havok has no time to pursue that one too far.
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X-Men Legacy #300 – Review

by Simon Spurrier, Mike Carey, Christos Gage (Writers), Tan Eng Huat, Steve Kurth, Rafa Sandoval, Craig Yeung, Allen Martinez, Jordi Tarragona (Artists), Jose Villarrubia, Rachelle Rosenberg, Ulises Arreola (Colorists)

The Story: It can be hard to make an impression when your very powers prevent you to do so.

The Review: I have to confess this issue confused me when I looked at the cover and the very concept of what it was supposed to be. Here was a book that starred three different characters, each having their own impact, their own cast and their own message, as done by the three writers that defined their very goals and concepts. The problem, though, was the fact that each of the characters that had been the protagonists of this book are now, let us say, in a problematic position of non-existence. With none of these characters actually there to advance the story or celebrate the title, how exactly could this issue manage to get to the point?

Enter Forgetmenot, a mutant with the power of getting no attention and being erased from the memory of those he previously met. Focusing the story on this unknown X-Man, all three writers are able to pinpoint a certain era where they wrote their character, inserting this particular one into the narrative. Essentially telling some important moments through the eyes of a character that no one can remember, does the issue actually manage to celebrate the very legacy that is included in the title?

The answer is not only a resounding yes, but one filled with a certain joy at seeing an experiment succeeding in a way that feels satisfactory. What makes this work very well, though, is the actual character of Forgetmenot. His powers and how he copes with them makes for a powerful message about individuality, but also about advancing through the adversary that is loneliness. His actions, his reactions and his feelings are very human at their core, with a presentation of his struggles that makes him very identifiable for readers. Who hasn’t dealt with being alone, be it with an opinion, an effort or a phase? Well, this character has been so through his entire life, making some of his actions all the more touching, yet also easy to sympathize with.
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