June 15, 2011

The Uncanny X-Piles XLVI

This week in the X-Piles, we’re going to start with our reactions of the recent news that with issue #544, Marvel’s longest-running series, Uncanny X-Men, will be ending.

Jeff: I have a lot of thoughts about this, so I will attempt to be brief. I’m one of those folks who usually goes with the flow whenever Marvel attempts to reboot their properties. I generally roll my eyes at the things they do, but today was the first day I have ever been truly sad at the news that Marvel has put out. I never thought they would end this run. It has been one of the most-respected titles in that regard. Tom Brevoort has been quoted as saying that while the run has been “nice,” it really doesn’t help bring in new readers. I beg to differ. I started reading X-Men with issue #249 and experienced the joy of going back and reading the history. I think it’s an insult to new readers to say that they can’t jump onto a title that’s in its 500s. And the problem with Brevoort’s line of thinking is that unless they plan on issuing a new #1 every month, then within a year, they will be back to the problem of dealing with a history backlog. By his rationale, will someone want to pick up a new book at issue 13 or 21 or 46? It’s a slippery slope. Has the readership of books like X-Men and New Mutants and Uncanny X-Force skyrocketed because they were rebooted? What will really bring in new readers is not reboots, but incredible stories by great writers and artists. This is what has hurt the X-Men franchise–not continuity and not the longstanding history of 500+ issues. This is really all about Marvel trying to use DC’s strategy, but since rebooting their whole line would be too identical, they pick their longest-running title, and end it. I will be looking at Schism much more critically, knowing that this is where it’s headed, and my expectations are high. I have never been this close to dropping my favorite comic book, but unless I can see the rationale here, I’m afraid I have one foot out the door. I realize that comics are a business and at the end of the day, it’s all about sales. But if that’s the case, then good luck with all the new readers you might get, Marvel, because it looks like you might lose the ones who have supported you for over 40 years.

Andy: At first I was really bummed about the news that Uncanny X-Men is ending. Then I heard a rumor that it’s only ending “temporarily,” and I started to feel better. Then I heard why it was ending- that the fallout of X-Men Schism leaves no room for Uncanny X-Men in the new X-continuity. Nostalgic numbering aside, I think I’m ok with it. Really. Mainly because it’ll come back when either #550 or #600 comes around. It happened with Captain America, Hulk, and Amazing Spider-Man (take note at how long FF sticks around), so why not Uncanny? Sure, I’d love to see the numbering sequence uninterrupted, but when it comes down to it, who gives a shit? I’ve realized I don’t. Yes, it’d be nice, but big deal. Life goes on, as do the X-books. Marvel clearly doesn’t care, so why should I? It’s like in sports when people get all pissed when their team loses, smashing things, being grumpy all day, and beating their wife. The team doesn’t know or care about those people, and it’s the same idea here. Plus, Schism sounds like it’s going to be amazing, so as long as that series succeeds in justifying the [temporary] end of the longest running X-book, I’ll manage. Just keep pumping out Uncanny X-Force. Marvel, if you touch that book, I may go crazy sports fan on you. The only real injustice with Uncanny X-Men ending is that Greg Land will be providing the artwork on the final issue. That’s a f&$%ing crime.

Astonishing X-Men #39
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Nick Bradshaw

I’m going to start calling Astonishing the “ping-pong” X-book because it bounces back and forth between stories. I’m not quite sure about the reasoning for this strategy, as it’s jarring to remember what’s going on in each story. But this one is Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma Frost, and Armor fighting monsters in Japan. I originally thought that the death of Armor’s family would factor more into this plot, as that’s what brought this team to Japan to begin with. But in this issue, it’s really all about the fight against the huge monsters that Mentallo is controlling. I’m really enjoying Armor right now. Her anger at the loss of her mother and brother has given her quite a big boost in power. Now she’s GIANT. Daniel Way comes up with some creative ways to handle this. For instance, when the X-Men’s jet is about to crash, Cyclops looks and sees Armor on the floor with her arms and legs outstretched. He then realizes that she has erected her armor around the whole plane. The other enjoyable thing about this issue is Cyclops and Wolverine sharing some secrets concerning Cyclops’ thoughts about the comparison between Armor trying to sacrifice herself to save her teammates and Jean Grey doing the same thing. I’m not really sure how this story line is going to turn out, but I think it has some promise. Nick Bradshaw takes over from Jason Pearson. I really want to like Bradshaw’s art as it’s obviously very influenced by Art Adams. But I can’t quite get over the “babyfaces” he gives each character. They look like the kid versions of the characters. This serves to be very distracting. I was kinda liking Pearson’s work on this story. I like this story a bit more than the Brood story in the alternating issues, but the inconsistent art duties are a bit harder to swallow. -JJ

Avengers Academy #14.1
Christos Gage
Artist: Sean Chen

If it weren’t for one awesome, noteworthy thing that happened in this issue, it probably wouldn’t be reviewed in this week’s X-Piles. Usually Avengers Academy only makes it in if Quicksilver, Hazmat, or Mettle play a significant role, but that didn’t happen in this one. The reason why Avenger’s Academy #14.1 is worth taking note of this week is because of a new character introduced- a native of Buffalo, NY who has ice powers. I kid you not ladies and gentlemen. For those who don’t know, I am from Buffalo, NY, and my all-time favorite comic book character is Iceman. Coincidence? Probably, mainly because Christos Gage ignored my tweet about it which I directed his way. However, I am going to live on cloud 9 for a moment and envision that Gage wrote me into his comic book because I’ve done nothing but give Avengers Academy high praise since its inception a little over a year ago. That’s fair, right? I think so. I’ll just ignore the fact that this character dies on the page following his introduction, and that Buffalo gets ripped on in the dialogue, but hey, I’m cool with it. I was in a comic book. ; ) -AL …oh, and read this series. It’s really good and stuff.

Fear Itself: The Deep #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Lee Garbett

Before I even saw the creative team on this mini, I knew it was going to get covered in the X-Piles due to it featuring Namor and X-kid, Loa. So when I realized Cullen Bunn and Lee Garbett were the duo to spin this tale, my expectations immediately surged. Bunn is currently writing one of my favorite indie books right now, The Sixth Gun, published by Oni Press, and Garbett had an awesome run on the new Batgirl series. Did they deliver? It’s difficult to say. They certainly succeeded in telling a good story here, but it definitely wasn’t anything like their work referenced above. Bunn works with the Namor character traits that have been prevalent in Stuart Moore’s run of Namor the First Mutant; a man who has lost his confidence and has some serious self doubt issues. Only here, Bunn avoids the emotional drama that was so thick in the main Namor book…so far. This is a good thing. The issue starts out in the midst of a fight with Namor against Nerkkod, the Atlantean hammer wielding badass. His true name is Attuma, and we’ve seen the character in First Mutant, as he’s constantly challenging his leadership of Atlantis. Here he ruins the underwater city and defeats Namor, forcing him to flee. This provided an interesting angle on the character, as it’s rare to see Namor humiliated. Bunn introduces the Savage She-Hulk and Doctor Strange as supporting characters in this story, justifying their presence by Strange attempting to re-unite the old school Defenders. A cool idea, but a bit premature when Strange dubs this foursome as such when they head into combat. In The Sixth Gunn, Bunn plays heavily with supernatural themes, and he does a good job handling Strange here, although I like him dabbling in his own world better. Lee Garbett’s pencils are excellent. I loved his stuff on Batgirl, and Loa definitely resembles Stephanie Brown here, which is fine by me. I like his touch of adding fish swimming by the cast in all the underwater panels. It makes sense when you think about it, and I want to see more of that attention to detail. By the end, a major heavy hitter shows up to lend a hand, which will seriously bolster this crew. All in all a decent issue, but not essential by any stretch. –AL

Thunderbolts: Fear Itself #158
Jeff Parker
Artist: Kev Walker

Juggernaut gets a hammer. People are about to get messed up. While the A list and B list Thunderbolts are out fighting zombies in the desert, Juggernaut has been grounded by Luke Cage, and remains behind on The Raft. Luckily for him location is everything, as one of the hammers [crash] lands in the facility, granting Juggs a damn big power upgrade. Juggy’s hammer, sent by the new All Father, has destroyed the maximum security prison, and its inmates flee for freedom. We’ve already seen what happens to some of these characters in the Herc Fear Itself tie-in, but what will happen to the rest remains to be seen. Juggernaut won’t be part of that mix up though, as he takes off (I guess he can fly now?) and heads…somewhere else. I like Kev Walker’s take on Juggernaut here, as does a great job capturing his emotion. The costume, like all the Fear Itself hammer-wielders, is a bit too Tron-ish for me, but I can deal. As mentioned last time, it will be interesting to see what the lasting effects this new power will have on Cain. Parker is eluding that it will turn him to the side of pure villainy once more. Whatever happens, we won’t know until the end of Fear Itself, and I’m sure some skulls will get cracked by ol’Juggy before then. -AL

Uncanny X-Force #11
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Mark Brooks

Awesome Rick Remender plot? Check. Fantastic Mark Brooks art? Check. Kick-ass team of X-Force? Check. Return to the Age of Apocalypse? Check. Best X-Men book on the stands? Double check! This issue kicks off the Dark Angel Saga, which has been building for quite some time. The gist is the team has to go to the Age of Apocalypse to retrieve a “life seed” to counteract the “death seed” implanted in Archangel by Apocalypse in order for him to become the heir of the evil mutant. Led in the AoA by the devious Dark Beast, the team finds themselves in unknown territory, and that is shaking their sensibilities. What I love in this book is that Remender does such a good job of paying attention to continuity both in the 616 universe and the AoA. There’s just so much you can do in this scenario. First, for Wolverine, he’s reconnected with Nightcrawler and Jean Grey, the latter of whom his AoA counterpart was practically married to. For Psylocke, she is reconnected to the AoA Sabretooth, whom she served with on the reality-jumping Exiles team. But the other thing that happens here is that the world of the AoA is much different from when we last saw it in the 2005 mini-series. The world is looking bleak again after Magneto defeated Apocalypse and established some world order. This is no longer the case. It’s looking truly like Apocalypse is in charge again. X-Force tussles with the AoA X-Men, and Sunfire ends up destroying the life seed they were there to retrieve. Not only that, but Dark Beast strands the team in the AoA. Remender sets up a really cool scenario for X-Fans new and old alike. I was really interested to see Mark Brooks on this title, as his style doesn’t seem to be anything like Jerome Opena or Esad Ribic. But because of the awesome color palette of Dean White, the art continues to have a consistent tone. I think Brooks’ art fits great here. My criticisms are very minor in this issue. I want to know how Dark Beast has a portal to the AoA and why hasn’t he jumped back there before? Also, Nightcrawler calls Deadpool “Dead Man Wade,” which was his counterpart in the AoA, but with Deadpool’s mask on, how would Nightcrawler know it was him? These are very minor nit-picks that don’t really affect the overall book. Needless to say, this title continues to be the leader in the franchise for me right now, so pick it up! -JJ

Wolverine/Hercules: Myths, Monsters & Mutants #4
Writer: Frank Tieri
Artist: Juan Santacruz

This mini-series starring two of Marvel’s most bawdy comes to an end, and while I won’t miss it, the ride was enjoyable. As previously mentioned, this series wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was entertaining. Could it have gone further with the humor? Most definitely. Could the artwork have been better? I think so. Would I recommend this to Herc/Wolverine fans? Absolutely. Yes, Tieri had a great opportunity to do something bigger with these characters, but he succeeded in staying true to both personalities, and tells a good, consistent, story in the process. He keeps the jovial spirit of both characters alive, despite a dangerously emo moment in this issue. Santacruz’s artwork gets a little wonky at times, especially with the proportions of Herc’s body (he has midget arms), but overall he depicts decent fight scenes and creates ugly monsters. Tieri wraps everything up nicely, leaving a loose end that has already resolved itself in last year’s Psylocke mini-series regarding Matsu’o. Not much more to add here, other than to pick it up if you’re a Herc/Logan fan. You’ll have a good time. Otherwise, don’t worry about skipping it. –AL

X-23 #11
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda

I’m a little confused about how emotional Jubilee gets in this issue after she bites Laura. She seemed to be dealing with her vampire state just fine at the end of the Wolverine & Jubilee mini-series, and the last time we saw her was in X-Men #11, where Xavier provided some consoling words during her birthday party on Utopia. So I thought we were beyond the, “I’m a vampire and everybody hates me,” stuff, but apparently not. Despite this, it does provide excellent fodder for X-23 and Jubes to find some common ground; both ladies have an unquenchable blood lust, and if it means they’re going to team up for awhile, I’m all for it. I loved the scenes in this issue where Laura, Jubilee, Wolverine, and Gambit are out on the town in Paris. Liu really captures how these characters interact, and it felt like reading a great early 90s X-book all over again…plus X-23, of course. Naturally, conflict enters the equation when Gambit gets a tip that an arms deal is going down with ties to Madripoor. The hook? X’s trigger scent is involved, and if she gets exposed to that stuff, she goes berserk, so the team needs to prevent that deal from happening. I really, really like this team-up. Liu’s found some great chemistry here, and her choice to keep the cast tight and focused provides her with the right angle to write these characters. She’s been taking X-23 on a journey since issue #1, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the journey is heading somewhere. Sana Takeda’s artwork is a perfect choice, too. It’s sexy, smooth, expressive, and fits the mood. Hopefully she sticks around for awhile. If you’re a fan of anyone on this team, stop waiting around and pick up these past couple of issues. Liu is on to something here, and you should be too. -AL

X-Factor #220
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Paul Davidson

For the first time in a long time, if ever, I am not giving X-Factor high marks. Peter David’s mutant book has been the most consistently good book for years now. The art has been strong most of the time, with a variety of solid artists. But when you’re that good all the time, the bar is set high, and when there’s a bad issue, it tends to stick out. This issue focuses on Rahne and Shatterstar trying to work out their differences in light of the love triangle with Rictor. They stumble upon a demon wrecking havoc in a church, and fight it off. That’s the gist of the story. Nothing riveting at all. I have a few problems here. First, I understand that Madrox is the narrator of the book, but when he’s not even featured in the book, what’s the point? Second, Rahne and Shatterstar just happen to be talking about sin and religion and they happen to come across a demon who is killing church members for their sins? Villains that reflect too closely the state of mind the hero is in just seems too choreographed and makes the story hard to buy. The demon is a shape-shifter too, so the reveal at the end of the book of a deceased character is less than shocking. Story-wise, this was not one of Peter David’s best works. The art of Paul Davidson is quite a shock from the clean lines of Emanuela Luppachino. Davidson’s work is just not appealing to me. Most disconcerting is that Rahne looks pregnant in one panel, but in others, she doesn’t. It’s very inconsistent. Overall, this issue was a letdown and with books like Uncanny ending, can mid-tiered books like X-Factor be far behind? -JJ

X-Men #12
Writer: Chris Yost
Artists: Paco Medina & Dalibor Talajic

Props to Chris Yost for doing a story that spotlights the original 5. It has been awhile since we’ve seen the original team in action, and he’s managed to shoehorn in a “First Class” (is that a term now?) tale with a modern day twist. The Evolutionaries have returned to wipe humanity from the face of the planet, thus saving mutantkind from eventual extinction, and securing that the dominant species survives to evolve beyond the flatscans. The Evolutionaries pulled a similar move during the dawn of man, when the species transitioned from savage primate to human being. They completely extinguished the primates from the Earth, and they plan on doing the same here to humans. Naturally, this doesn’t sit so well with the X-Men, and Cyclops takes it upon himself to control his army of mutants on Utopia, doing his best to keep them from panicking in a tense situation. This story ties to the past in that the original team was visited by the Evolutionaries back in the day, being forewarned of things to come. Xavier explained his Dream to them and the Evolutionaries left, not sharing his vision of the future (does anybody?), to seek out the true leader of mutantkind. It should come as no surprise as who they went to next- Magneto. We don’t have the full story yet, but Yost has been able to write this one due to Jean “mind wiping” everyone involved in the first Evolutionary encounter, making them forget it ever happened (hence why this story is “shoehorned”). Cyclops only remembered the event after the Evolutionaries showed up on Utopia, and he’s now worried that if they jog Magneto’s memory, stuff will go down. A valid concern, and one that has piqued my interest in finding out how it will resolve itself. Will Magneto stay true to Cyclops? Will he betray the X-Men and fulfill a desire long left unfulfilled? What happened in the encounter with Mags and the Evolutionaries years ago? That all remains to be seen. Paco Medina’s artwork looks good, but I’d rather have a more edgy artist on this story, given how intense it is and the power of the threat involved. Talajic’s flashback stuff is decent; I praised it last issue, but here he has a few wonky panels, most notably the non-iced up Iceman. He looks…odd. Overall, I think this story is the best one this book has had since Curse of the Mutants, and I’m really happy to see Yost give the original team some face time. -AL

Most X-Cellent Pick of the Week:
Jeff: Uncanny X-Force #11 gets my pick this week!
Andy: As usual, Uncanny X-Force was awesome, but I’m going with X-23 #11. Marjorie Liu has found a great team to work with, and I want it to keep on going.

Sinister knows what your future holds.

Jeff Jackson

Andy Liegl



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