Review: X-Men #1 – Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel

xmen-1The story of X-Men #1 begins with twins separated at birth, one male, one female – both begin life as a strange form of intelligent, evolving bacteria. John Sublime has evolved from the bacterial stage to become the preliminary adversary of the story, but things aren’t always what they seem to be. He is following Jubilee who has with her a tiny traveling companion, a baby. We don’t find out much about the little guy in this issue beside the fact that it is of the utmost importance for Jubilee to get him safely back to The Jean Grey School and once there to give him a family. This task is close to Jubilee’s heart because she came to the X-Men in much the same way, with nowhere to go and no-one who wanted her. The sincerity she feels for this child’s safety and well-being comes across so well in Wood’s writing. This is by far the most emotionally charged of the X-Books and I am not saying that because of the all-female team. I’m saying it because of Wood’s character driven story that focuses on interaction and dynamics rather than pointless action and contrived dialogue.

The chase takes us from Bulgaria to Grand Central Station where Storm, Rogue and Kitty meet up with Jubilee on a moving train. It is Kitty who actually meets her as she phases through the roof of the train to find Jubilee and baby, however unbeknownst to her John Sublime has learned that she is headed to The Jean Grey School.  Once the four X-Men are reunited on board, Jubilee begins to explain her current situation. It is at this point that we see the baby is no ordinary baby. He reaches out his tiny hand to touch one of the train’s P.A. speakers and some sort of electrical charge is passed from his finger into the train’s wiring system short circuiting many of the doors and killing the two drivers. The team flies into action to save the passengers. This scene is another example of how emotion trumps mindless punching. The action is suspenseful and smart, more of the edge-of-your-seat type than smash & crash, but no less exciting.

While waiting for their team mates to return to the school, Rachael and Psylocke are about the business of interrogating John Sublime, who has surrendered himself to their custody. Sublime explains in some detail the danger of his sister’s return. He implores the team to help him, stressing the life/ death seriousness of the situation. The last two pages of the book are gripping and full of tension. Wood has constructed a rich, poignant sequence of events that leaves us wanting the next issue immediately.

Brian Wood is a class act all the way around. He has taken the high road with this book from the costumes to the absence of any male X-Men to come in and save the day (it’s very clear they are not needed here). The gender of this team is not even thought of when you are reading this book – you are just swept up in a great story that is complex, entertaining and ultimately very satisfying. The characters are genuine and altruistic and they come across as very human. Wood has set this book apart from the other X-Books simply by virtue of its distinctive captivating tone. This is not to say that it is the only X-Book worth reading but it is very high on that list.

Olivier Coipel has created a visual delight. His work on this book ranks as some of his best in my opinion, and I consider him one of the best artists working in comics today. He doesn’t waste time with garish pin-up poses of these heroines; instead he draws strong women who just happen to be beautiful. His realistic style brings the characters to life in a way that is sometimes lost in comic books. Laura Martin does a really excellent job of coloring Coipel’s work. Her colors add dimension and emotion providing each page with depth, combining for a visually stunning book.

Overall I think Brian Wood has set the bar extremely high with this first issue. X-Men #1 is a dynamic story that is emotionally charged and suspenseful. Olivier Coipel delivers some of his best work to date concentrating on the plot and not the poses. I would suggest you not pass this one up. In a time when money is tight and comics are expensive this one is worth the $3.99.

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

Review: Star Wars #4 – Wood and D’Anda

Review: Star Wars #4I can almost hear that instantly recognizable John Williams score as the Millennium Falcon zooms across the star field. I am not in a darkened Cineplex, I am sitting at my desk reading Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars #4 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda. This team has so accurately and astutely captured the feel of the original films that it is Harrison Ford’s voice in my head as I read Han’s lines.

The issue begins with Han and Chewie being pursued by a squadron of T.I.E. fighters. As usual, the Corellian and his Wookiee co-pilot find themselves on the losing end of an Imperial proposition – until a very unorthodox solution presents itself. Chewbacca opens the Millennium Falcon’s hatch and uses his signature crossbow blaster to make short work of the menacing T.I.E. fighters. With the pursuing Imperials vanquished, the Millennium Falcon drifts into hiding more than a thousand levels below Coruscant’s surface.

Meanwhile, the Rebel Fleet under the command of Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma have (unbeknownst to Admiral Ackbar) deployed Gray Flight, a secret squadron of X-Wing fighters which includes Princess Leia, Wedge Antilles and a grounded Luke Skywalker. The squadron is so secret that Mon Mothma instructs Admiral Ackbar to not only scrub any mention of Gray Flight from the bridge logs but from his mind as well. The secret unit’s main objective is to scout locations and gather Intel on the Pybus System as part of searching for the Rebellion’s new home – a place they can regroup and grow strong again after their defeat of the first Death Star. Princess Leia has a second agenda of her own however – it is her hope that by having C-3PO slice misinformation into Rebel data cores that she can manipulate a spy entrenched deep within the Rebellion’s ranks into revealing him or herself. A short time into the mission an Imperial Star Destroyer and an Interdictor Cruiser show up and begin bombarding the surface of Pybus. As if this isn’t bad enough, two squadrons of T.I.E. Interceptors are deployed from the bottom of the huge Imperial Destroyer.

On the Rebel command ship, Luke hears the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi warning him of impending danger for Leia. Against orders and probably his own better judgment, Luke suits up to join the fray in the Pybus System. As he retrieves a data-pad from a scolding C-3PO, we see an ominous sight. Slave One, the battered ship of infamous galactic bounty hunter Boba Fett creeps between the ships of the unknowing Rebel fleet like a stalking wolf amongst sheep.

In yet another part of the galaxy, Darth Vader meets with his Imperial admirals and commanders to discuss their apparent lack of progress in completing the second Death Star. Vader is displeased to say the least when he finds that the admiral would rather report directly to the Emperor in person than to him. In his classic fashion the Dark Lord of the Sith voices his opposition to this request by igniting his light saber through the admiral’s back. The glowing red beam exits his chest leaving the admiral quite dead.

When asked if anyone would care to back the admiral up we meet Birra Seah, a strange system designer. She explains to Vader that his reports no matter how descriptive cannot accurately communicate the details of such an undertaking as constructing a new, better and more deadly Death Star. She continues to boldly tell Vader that the work crews desire the stability that only the Emperor’s attendance could provide. It is at this point that Darth Vader senses a stirring in the force that he attributes to Birra Seah. Though somewhat taken aback by his comment she assures the Dark Lord that if she is granted temporary Moff status over the construction she will see to its completion personally. With this, Vader exits to the sanctuary of his meditation chamber to contemplate all that has transpired. He whispers one word, a name, “Skywalker.”

With their backs to the wall, the Gray Flight Squadron engage the T.I.E. interceptors above Pybus. Now armed with Proton torpedoes they prepare for what could very well be their last stand.

Brian Wood has captured the voice of Star Wars, not just the individual characters but the voice, the soul of the original films. He is writing high adventure set in an alien galaxy far, far away but near and dear to everyone who grew up with these characters. Much like the ensemble cast he created in his DV8 series for DC Comics, Wood gives each character a very distinct life of his or her own. Even though this time we have already been introduced to the characters for the most part when he does add a new member to this inter-galactic cast the way they interact with the existing characters rings true. Brian Wood is using his own thread but he is very successfully knitting into the multi-colored tapestry that is the Star Wars universe – a mosaic of space pirates and princesses, droids, wookies, Jedi and Sith Lords.

This is no doubt the assignment of a lifetime for Wood but a daunting task as well. The hyper-critical Star Wars fans can be a temperamental bunch – some of us will never be convinced that Han didn’t shoot first; we know he did and we like it that way! But I believe that if Brian Wood keeps the bar as high as he has set it with these first four issues and The Force continues to be with him, I have no doubt that this book will be a commercial and critical success.

The artwork thus far has been very aptly handled by Carlos D’Anda. His lines are very clean and sharp. His anatomy is believable and his faces are expressive – the robots, aliens and ships look exactly as they should. His backgrounds are exciting without overpowering and his page layouts flow in a very cinematic way which is perfect for this book. I hope these two stay together for a good long run, or at least until Disney says “You can’t play with our new toys anymore.” If you are not getting this book because you are afraid of the complicated timeline that now exists in the Star Wars universe, fear not. This book can be easily understood and enjoyed with nothing more than a working knowledge of the original three films. If you are a fan of those wonderful movies this is the book you should be reading. It captures the magic of the films without beating you over the head with jargon heavy convoluted stories and unresolved plot threads that leave you hanging over the pit of Sarlacc.

This is just good solid writing and dynamic top-notch artwork. You can’t ask for more than that.