Review: Uncanny X-Men #4 – Bendis & Bachalo

UNCANNYX-MEN-NO4-COVER1 As a lifelong X-Men fan going back to the mid 80s, I have followed this constantly shifting crew of heroes and villains into some very exciting and downright mind-blowing periods.  You can look at so many different eras of the various titles and a debate can be had over which of the many big moments are the most important, or the most defining for the X Universe.

Personally, I think this is the start of one of those great eras, beginning with the launching of the Marvel NOW X titles.  With multiple crossover events taking quite a toll on these mutants and their worlds over the past chunk of years, this has put them in a very interesting position.  So for me, it’s a great time to be an X-Men fan, and this 4th issue of Uncanny X-Men is more proof for my brain that while big and sweeping changes may mean difficulties in setting up good stories or even complete arcs afterwards, it can also open a tired area of Marvel’s Universe up to new and special things.

This issue is special in its own way, as it is mostly a scene we saw play out in the newest issue of All New X-Men, except from a whole different perspective.  In ‘All New’ we had the straight up scene, with all the drama and danger it held.  Scott and his new team (the ‘Uncanny’ one) arrive at the Jean Grey School campus, attempting to recruit new members for their team, or ’cause’ depending on how you see it.  The issue ended with an unknown X-Men member crossing sides over to Scott’s “mutant terrorist” group, which was a great cliffhanger.  Luckily, I also read this title, as that ending is continued within this issue #4.

Now, the way this scene plays out is one of those moments in recent X books that make me excited for the future.  Instead of the full scene we had already read in “All New X-Men”, we get the same scene, only lightly told in the background of a psychic conversation between Emma Frost and her ‘Stepford Sisters’ – Celeste, Mindee, and Phoebe.  In the issue of ‘All New’ we see the 3 girls join Scott’s side near the end of the comic, and here we get to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of why they made that choice.  It is a brilliant way to catch an important scene from two completely separate viewpoints, giving a more solid feel for the overall scene itself.

Another major part of this new issue is learning more about the ‘new mutants’ Scott is ‘keeping’ at the new (and very secret) Xavier School.  We open on the group – the whiny Benjamin, the very powerful Eva, the over confident Christopher and the seemingly useless Fabio – discussing their role at the school, and pondering the fact that they have been left to their own devices within the school.  There are some very light attempts at character development, and even some within the group dynamic, but these come off as a bit forced and the scene itself leaves you wanting.  Seeds are planted for what may or may not be future complications and closer relationships among the group, but most of it feels very stereotypical for such a scene.  The most glaring of these is when we have the egotistical Christopher rudely hitting on the smart-ass Eva, in a way so ‘by the book’ that it almost makes the very pages themselves feel stale.  There is no life, no spark of anything between any of the group, save for a short but slightly sweet exchange between Eva and Benjamin.

There is a hilarious section where the new group accidentally find themselves fighting in the Danger Room, not knowing where they are or how they got there.  It’s a great couple of panels, yet it’s nearly completely ruined by the weakly thought out reason behind their plight – goofy Fabio was ‘looking for a phone’ and just randomly hit buttons until the Danger Room was inadvertently activated.  This was a downer to such a great moment, and it really bugged me.

With this title and All New X-Men I have been enjoying Bendis’ writing, but a lot of that has more to do with what is currently happening in the X titles than the actual writing itself.  A lot of times it’s too stiff, too forced.  This is one of those times.  Even with a pretty brilliant story device in the Emma/Stepford conversation, this issue fell flat pretty quick.  Add in a seemingly random problem with Magik, and what you get at the end is a bit of disappointment and confusion.

My main complaint – and this is a spoiler – is that it turns out to be the Angel from the past that joins up with Scott.  That was the ‘cliffhanger’.  It really bothered me that the one character that expressed the most unhappiness with the whole situation would be the one to join.  It may make sense, but it feels too easy.  I expected to be surprised when this was revealed and, though I had figured it would most likely be Angel, I really thought Bendis would have thought that too easy as well.  I’m sure it’s leading into something bigger, but it left me cold, and killed my interest in the idea of a member ‘jumping ship’.  The worst thing a writer can do is kill excitement for a book’s development and although Bendis can write some pretty good stuff when he wants to, this is not a shining moment for him.

A lot of people I know have issues with Chris Bachalo’s artwork for this title, and wish he didn’t work on any of the X books.  While I had major issues with his previous work on Wolverine & the X-Men (where it felt too far ‘out of the box’ with no real grounding at all in the X Universe), I have been a diehard fan of his work since finding him in Shade: the Changing Man in the early 90s.  Not only was that title written wonderfully by Peter Milligan, but Bachalo’s artwork sealed the deal, making it one of my favorite runs in nearly any comic’s history.  So I’m a bit biased, as I’m a huge fan.  I have not had much of a problem here as I had with Wolverine, and a lot of his work is damn beautiful – especially the covers (with the exception of the poorly designed cover to #3), which have become mini-posters on my wall I love them so much.

It may sound like I’m not the fan that I make myself out to be when it comes to the X in Marvel, but it is actually that exact thing that makes me so critical of this issue.  This is one of my favorite recent eras for these titles, and having this issue fall so short of what it has been so far is a real downer.  I hope issue #5 will pick it back up.  I’ll be there, either way.  It’s an X book, after all.


Review: Age of Ultron #3 – Bendis & Hitch

Review: Age of Ultron So here we are three issues into the Marvel event, Age of Ultron and this is the story so far:

After being rescued by Hawkeye, he and a battered and unmasked Spiderman join the group of surviving heroes in the burned out remains of a helicarrier in Central Park. A pervasive sense of gloom permeates the meeting as individual members convey their grief over the loss of those closest to them. Emotions run high and tempers flare. When Tony Stark opines that the Ultron problem is not Hank Pym’s fault Hawkeye becomes irate. Captain America intervenes and points out that it is time to formulate a plan. He suggests that since Ultron is bartering for heroes that they offer one of their own. Once inside Ultron’s world this Trojan horse of sorts would wreak havoc from within. There is no shortage of volunteers but we see at the beginning of the book that the mission is given to She-Hulk and Luke Cage. After slugging her and knocking her out Cage approaches the Ultron stronghold with an unconscious She-Hulk over his shoulder.

At this point we see a devastated Chicago skyline where atop a badly damaged building we find the unlikely trio of The Red Hulk, Black Panther and Task Master. They are monitoring the activities of Ultron. It seems they are out to retrieve an Ultron head and spinal column. The Red Hulk successfully acquires this, tearing it from the robot’s body and tossing it to Black Panther. He continues to throttle the robots, pulling them apart limb from limb. Black Panther and Task Master flee with the head, however an explosion sends them flying. Black Panther appears to break his neck. When Task Master finds him unresponsive he takes the Ultron head and continues on his way.

Back in New York, Luke Cage is permitted entrance into the Ultron stronghold. He is led deeper into the structure through corridors lined with golden red-eyed sentries, into the inner sanctum where he is confronted not by Ultron as expected but instead by the floating upper body of Vision. Bendis uses this entire issue to set up the last page. Short on action, this is a dialogue heavy issue but that’s not a bad thing.

The interaction of the characters as they devise the plan to infiltrate Ultron is quite enjoyable. The verbal sparring between Tony and Clint, the father like guidance and wisdom of a world-weary Steve Rogers as he proceeds to dissuade an all too willing Wolverine from jumping into certain doom – through all of this we see the human side of these heroes. The personalities and qualities that have endeared these characters to us come shining through. They are the definition of grace under fire. Bendis is concise but not overly simple, instead he lets each character’s words build upon the others, driving the plot forward through conversation. Even though there is a minimum of fisticuffs in this issue it is extremely fast paced. Bendis doesn’t bog us down with flowery prose and inane rambling – each word is essential, thus the dialogue rings incredibly true. You feel like you are listening to people speak more than reading scripted lines.

The pace is so fast that the book feels much shorter than it actually is. Bendis accelerates toward a shocking reveal and one heck of a cliff hanger.
Bryan Hitch is a master at drawing devastation. His attention to detail is obsessive. It is evident in each twisted girder and exposed beam. The same detail is employed to convey an expansive spectrum of emotions in the facial expressions of the characters. For example the confusion turning to rage on Clint’s face as he argues with Tony comes across very clearly in Hitch’s lines. His lines are sharp and clean but not sterile. There is an urgency to his work that vibrates off the page.

Paul Neary’s inks and Paul Mounts’ colors are equally impressive. Neary is a consummate professional and his work is always meticulous. Paul Mounts’ colors give this book a cinematic look. There are pages that literally glow, appearing almost illuminated in contrast to the darker moodier scenes inside the burned out blackened husk of the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier.

Visually, Age of Ultron is vibrant and exciting. The story is engrossing, complex and multi-faceted. It’s solid work from both Bendis and Hitch but by no means is it their best. It poses some very interesting questions pertaining to continuity as well as certain characters, especially Superior Spiderman. The return of Vision is in and of itself enough to get me to pick up the rest of the series.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Daredevil End of Days – Bendis/Janson et al

Review: Daredevil End of DaysI’m late, so late. It was only because I had the opportunity to actually turn up in person to my comic shop of choice (I’m a mail order customer), that I stumbled across the Daredevil: End of Days mini-series. Slated for eight issues, four were already in store and the cover artwork had me picking them up right away. Sure, I’m a Daredevil completionist, so I would have grabbed them anyway, but after consuming the first issue it became apparent that this was going to be one of the best Daredevil story arcs in a lot of years. Even taking into account the recent superb Mark Waid run on the monthly title.

I’ll get onto why I so rapt, but be aware there are spoilers, so stop reading here if that’s a concern and get out and buy these issues while they’re still on the shelves.

So why is it so good?

1. Sentimentality: if you lived through Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s famous Daredevil run, the return of Elektra, The Kingpin and Bullseye to name three, is a hook hard to avoid. Add in to that the fact that Klaus Janson is doing pencils on End of Days and it becomes a no-brainer. Oh, and there’s also Typhoid Mary, Echo and The Punisher by end of issue #4.

2. Story: sometimes it seems that Brian Michael Bendis can do no wrong, and this series’ effort alongside David Mack is not going to  dispel that perception at all. Using the veteran reporter Ben Urich as the narrator works superbly and the persona of an aging man in an ever-changing society is captured perfectly. Daredevil is dead a few pages into the first issue, so a good story becomes even more critical and it’s delivered in spades.

3. Art: aside from the sentimental aspect of Klaus Janson penciling this book, the whole art team have pulled off a supreme effort. It’s dark, gritty and engaging work. Bill Sienkiewicz’s finished art is of the quality I’d happily pay out big bucks for in a poster format. Take note please Marvel.

Overall, Daredevil: End of Days is one of the best Marvel stories I’ve read in the past three years. If work of this quality was done across the board, there’d be a hell of a lot more people reading comics across the board. If you live near a comic shop, get your arse in there and see if they have the first bunch of issues. If not, buy them digitally or start the countdown to the trade – I think I might buy it to hand around to a few people to get them back into comics.

Score: 9.5/10

Review: All New X-Men #1 – Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen

all-new-x-men-1-marvel-nowI’m a sucker for a good time travel story. Most of my favourite works of fiction deal with the concept of time travel, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. So when Marvel announced as part of their Marvel NOW! relaunch that All New X-Men would find the original five X-Men; Beast, Angel, Iceman, Jean Grey and Cyclops, taken from the past and brought to the future to help talk down one of their own from committing mutant genocide, my interest piqued. Fortunately for everyone,  Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for what will be one of the most interesting titles in coming months.

All New X-Men #1 picks up right after the events of the Avengers vs. X-Men event earlier this year. Professor Xavier is dead, murdered by a Phoenix-possessed Cyclops. This leaves the school renamed as the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning under the leadership of Wolverine. New mutants have been popping up all over the globe, as Cyclops’ X-Men move to start the “mutant revolution”, leaving a trail of regular human-beings in their wake. Wolverine’s X-Men soon discover that desperate times call for desperate measures, as they are forced to retrieve the original X-Men in hopes they would be able to save the mutant race from once again being caught under the prejudices that the series was built on.

Bendis brings the feelings of prejudice and fear for the mutant race back on to the table easily. While not allowing humans to be outright  assaulting the new mutants, the sense of fear and dread, even to one mutant who can save lives with his touch, is palpable throughout the book. This title may say New X-Men, but these are classic X-Men themes.

The characterisation takes a back seat for the first issue, as Bendis first seeks to set up the world post AvX. The only character who is given any real spotlight  is Beast. With his opening monologue, we learn that the idea of travelling the space-time continuum was not something he has taken lightly. The rest of the characters take a back seat to action and story – with the notable exclusion of Wolverine, this initial outing seeks to set up events to come rather than showing the characters who will take part.

Stuart Immomen’s art, coupled with Marte Garcia’s colouring, gives the entire issue an animated feel. The action panels have a sense of momentum, and his art in the more talking moments gives each event their proper due. While his work may not necessarily stand out, it still looks fantastic, and suits the tone of the book well.

All New X-Men #1 succeeds fully in introducing the new status-quo for our favourite mutant family. While the first issue is light on character, its heavy themes, and the set up for the time travelling X-Men gives the coming months much promise for the title.

Plus did I mention that it has time travel?