Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Astonishing X-Men, Book 2

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Joss Whedon astonishing book 2

Artist: John Cassaday

Issues: Astonishing X-Men #13-24, Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1

I hadn’t delved too deeply into the first collection of Astonishing X-Men before I knew I had to pick up Book 2. Joss Whedon’s 24-issue run (which equals about two and a half years) is a monument to comic story telling, and every plot thread and detail that was woven in throughout the earlier issues comes to an epic climax in the incredible final seven issue arc (including the Giant Size Issue).

Like Book 1, Book 2 is compromised of 12 issues of two major storylines. The first, “Torn,” reveals the secrets and hidden motivations behind Emma Frost, a former villain and somewhat new addition to the X-Men team in the last few years. Whedon has done an incredible job making her both powerful, confident and fearful while also having a healthy dose of vulnerability and weakness. In short, she’s a fascinating character and “Torn” deals with what happens when she goes a little crazy and psychologically attacks the others at the mansion.

At first we’re lead to believe that it’s a sudden and inexplicable revival of the Hellfire Club, Emma’s old villainous organization, and all its telepathic-powered villains wreck havoc on our heroes. This new club is lead by Cassandra Nova (Xavier’s powerful long-lost twin sister and destroyer of Genosha), who begins by devolving Beast and Wolverine – “A man that believed himself a beast, and a beast that believed himself a man.”

A feral Beast attacking other students and ripping through doorways makes for some exciting moments, though I was less enthused about Wolverine being mentally melted into a 19th century boy. I mentioned in Book 1’s Final Thoughts that it was clear Whedon wasn’t a big fan of Wolverine, and that was never more pronounced than here as the comic relief character is stretched to some annoyingly goofy levels.

Kitty Pryde is also attacked mentally, and made to believe that it’s years in the future and her and Peter have had a baby, and that the baby is inside this special container (which contains the husk of Cassandra Nova or some weird thing). Pete is attacked physically by Sebastian Shaw while Cyclops gets the worst of everyone and is severely anguished by Emma herself as she reveals his weaknesses and doubts in being a leader.

Eventually Cyclops wakes up from mental coma stripped of his mutant powers and shoots all the Hellfire Club members, and we realize they were all figments of Emma, as a part of Nova’s essence lives on in her to whisper dark things. Toward the end of all these battles our previous villains from the last two story arcs, the alien Ord and sentient robot Danger, sense the vulnerability in the team and show up to attack the X-Men, and the story ends with everyone being beamed up onto a spaceship run by Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D., another new Whedon-created character.

“Torn” was a fun look at how easily our team can be psychologically torn apart, and how dangerously powerful Emma Frost can be, but the real meat and reward of all of Whedon’s layering comes in “Unstoppable,” which picks up right when everyone is dumped on Brand’s feet as she whisks them towards Breakworld, the dystopian alien planet that Colossus is destined to destroy.

astonishing breakworld“Unstoppable” has everything: love, death, hatred, betrayal, sacrifice and lots of kick-ass action. Our team is quickly split up and given different tasks on the hostile planet. Brand and Beast develop a fun repartee as they uncover the mysterious prophecy, Emma flaunts her confident manipulation with Danger, Cyclops really comes into his own as a leader capable of making the touch decisions, and Armor and Wolverine kill lots of aliens. Kitty and Peter provide much of the pathos in their loving relationship that barely finds time to flourish, and though I still find Colossus to be a boring boy scout, Kitty is phenomenally written (and drawn) and her phasing powers are used in inventive and interesting ways, including the epic climax.

It’s a classic comic book villain tale – The powerlord of Breakworld, Kruun, has a massive planet-size missile aimed at Earth, and only our heroes can stop it. Through some fun deceptions and plans they defeat and capture Kruun, only to learn that the missile can’t be stopped – it’s really just a giant bullet being fired through space.

In Giant Size Astonishing X-Men (which contains the actual finale to the story), Kitty has phased through the bullet right when it’s fired, and we get lots of fun cameos of other super heroes as they attempt to band together to stop it from destroying Earth, including Spider-Man, Storm, Dr. Strange, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. The bullet is protected by some kind of nebulous magic, so each hero things they actually save the day when it fact they’re just standing there drooling on a space station.

The bullet hits Earth, but not before Kitty has a great bit of telepathic dialogue with Emma Frost and saves everyone by phasing the massive bullet through Earth. Shadowcat can’t phase out, so she continues to rocket through space, effectively sacrificing herself to save the entire planet.

Whedon definitely plays into the Go Big or Go Home concept in his finale, and I found the entire Breakworld storyline to be satisfying in all the right ways. It’s especially fantastic how well he built up to it by introducing characters and plot details super early, like Agent Brand, Danger, Ord and the Breakworld. It’s like a TV show that brings everything together after several seasons.

Whedon is especially adapt at writing women. Emma and Kitty are far and away the best characters on Astonishing; they’re given the most time to develop, and we get their inner thoughts, desires and motivations. While their relationships with the men in their lives are important elements, they do not wholly define them as in too many women ‘on-screen.’ Kitty particularly is Whedon’s main protagonist as the series ultimately begins and ends with her, and her sacrifice puts an emotional cap on everything he’d built up for her.

The new minor characters are also interesting, though they never outshine our main team. Armor (Hisako Ichiki) is the only new student to really shine at Xavier’s school, and her mutant powers and bravery help earn her a ticket to Breakworld (and Wolverine’s respect as a protege). I was pleased to find that she does indeed become a full-fledged X-Men though I’m not sure if she ever truly breaks out of being a minor character.

Agent Brand is another character that’s introduced early but doesn’t come into her own until the final arc. Her reveal as an alien and relationship with Beast is fun and I wanted to know more about this toughened space-savvy woman who never let her guard down (and really loved the color green).

astonishing cyclops

These Final Thoughts are running long but special mention should be given to John Cassaday’s artwork. I admit I wasn’t fully on board with the first few issues but over time the emphasis on close-ups and style of each character grew on me. I still wasn’t totally satisfied as I thought Cyke looked far too boyish, Logan too dopey and all the men in general had horrible hair. The women all looked amazing however, and dare I say sexy without being exploitative. The facial close-ups and smoldering eyes sold sexiness and power better than any cleavage or midriff exposing outfit.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows with Whedon’s run, however. Most notably aggravating was the almost complete lack of continuity with other series and the Marvel universe in general. There’s absolutely zero mention of House of M (read my Final Thoughts), which is, uh, kind of important to mutants. In the wake of Decimation (read my Final Thoughts) Xavier’s mansion is surrounded by Sentinels and a refugee camp for mutants is established right outside, which Whedon never acknowledges.

It’s bizarre for someone like me that’s reading several series at once and I imagine even more jarring at the time, to where many have speculated that Whedon’s X-Men team may exist in an alternate dimension. More likely was the fact that Whedon was outspokenly against crossovers and events and was notoriously late on delivering his work. I’m not saying every series has to constantly involve other events and goings-on, but when so much is happening right at Xavier’s school at the time it creates a major disconnect.

A lack of crossover or continuity acknowledgement becomes a minor quibble when the main story and characters are so fantastic. The insane (astonishing?) length of these Final Thoughts are a testament to how much I enjoyed this series as a whole, and the second half especially. I fully plan on adding my voice to the chorus of fans that whole-heartedly recommend the Whedon-penned Astonishing X-Men run as not only a great place to start with X-Men, but a wonderful introduction into how enjoyable comics can be.

giant-size-astonishing-x-men-poster

 

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Decimation: X-Men – The Day After

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

decimation cover

Writer: Chris Claremont (Decimation), Peter Milligan (X-Men)

Artists: Randy Green (Decimation), Salvador Larroca (X-Men)

Issues: Decimation: House of M – The Day After, X-Men (2004-2007) #177-181

There’s got to be a morning after….

While the eighth and final issue of the phenomenal House of M series (Final Thoughts) acted as the falling action/epilogue issue, the dramatic shift in the universe required an entire massive stand alone issue. The aftermath of the Scarlet Witch’s “No More Mutants” decree became known as Decimation.

Most of the world’s mutant population suddenly woke up no longer mutants, and this has far-reaching implications beyond just a few depowered heroes and villains (Blob’s piles of flesh is a grotesque and clever way of showing how some former mutants will have to cope). Entire political parties and organizations crumble, and waves of violence threaten every corner of the world as both former mutants lash out and pro-humans see it as a reckoning to end mutants once and for all.

Functionally the massive one-shot Decimation issue sets up several mini-series centered around the X-Men in the coming months, as well as the story-lines and situations directly affecting the other main X-Men series (save for Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, which glaringly doesn’t care a fig about what else is happening). Decimation introduces Generation M, Sentinel Squad O*N*E, The 198, Son of M, X-Factor and eventually Deadly Genesis. I read a few of them and will feature each one in its own Final Thoughts (Each are 5-issue limited series, with the exception of X-Factor which becomes an incredibly successful series on its own).

As a lead in to those various story-lines and the state of the world (specifically Xavier’s Mansion), Decimation is essential, though not all that great on its own. Cyclops offers sanctuary to every remaining mutant, and the newly appointed Sentinel Squad (sentinels piloted by people) arrive to help out and protect everyone inside the makeshift refugee camp that’s set up right outside the mansion (further told in The 198).

x-men 179 coverThe actual trade paperback also includes issues #177-181 of the ongoing X-Men series. As I mentioned back in my Astonishing X-Men Final Thoughts, my favorite mutants were split up into three ongoing series back in 2004. Just plain X-Men was compromised of Iceman, Havok, Polaris, Rogue, Gambit and of course Wolverine (who’s in every team and also an Avenger. It’s kind of an old joke by now).

Issue #177 picks up directly after the Decimation one-shot, and has the team fighting off the newly arrived sentinels before realizing they’re technically here to help (at least half of all comic book fights are simple misunderstandings). The three-issue story arc, “House Arrest,” quickly ‘fixes’ Iceman’s supposed de-powering by making it all in his head, whereas Polaris is one of the few X-Men to have legitimately lost hers.

The issues are a sporadic mess as Claremont is setting up multiple spinning plates on top of a rocky foundation. There’s the Blood of Apocalypse tease, the O*N*E introductions, the Sapien league villains and a super dumb side story where Polaris and Havok quit the team (the two-issue “What Lorna Saw” arc in #180-181). I also vehemently can’t stand Salvador Larroca’s art work. I can handle a more cartoon-y, crisper art style (though I definitely prefer darker and more grizzled looks on my heroes) but Larroca’s borderline anime style irks me in all the wrong ways, and honestly just destroys my ability to enjoy the series. I can usually enjoy various artists’ interpretations of characters and style but I officially met my limits with the X-Men series.

House of M essentially did to the X-Men what Avengers Disassembled did to the Avengers – change their dynamic and situation for years to come. Decimation provides a useful introduction to all the spiffy new mini-series that are created in the aftermath, but X-Men really drops the ball in offering a satisfying new angle. X-Men lasted another 25 issues so I’ll probably check back with it for the major storylines (Blood of Apocalypse and Messiah Complex), but I’ll stick to Uncanny X-Men and Astonishing X-Men to get my mutant fill.

x-men 177

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – House of M

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis House of M cover

Artists: Olivier Coipel

Issues: House of M #1-8

While Avengers Disassembled may have kicked off the current era of massive crossover events that continue to dominate Marvel comics ten years later, I think it was House of M that really solidified the months-long event series as a viable and popular story-telling device.

House of M centers around the fallout following Avengers Disassembled – the Scarlet Witch had gone a bit insane and several Avengers had lost their lives in the battle with her reality-shifting powers. In the very first issue we get a fun crossover as the X-Men visit the Avengers to basically decide what to do with her. Wanda Maximoff is currently being guarded and treated by Professor Xavier, Magneto and Dr. Strange in the ruins of Genosha (as detailed in the final two issues of Excalibur – read my Final Thoughts), but they’re unable to help her.

There’s a neat scene where some of the most popular heroes in the Marvel Universe get to argue about whether to ‘take care of’ Wanda; some are horrified at the concept (Captain America) while others are more than ready to do what’s necessary (Wolverine: “How many more of you need to die?”). When our heroes arrive on Genosha, however, something strange happens as Wanda’s powers reach a height we’ve never seen before – she reshapes the entire world to give them all their hearts’ desires.

A new reality is created where the previously persecuted mutants are now the dominant species on the planet, and a benevolent Magneto is the supreme ruler. Mutants openly walk (and fly) the streets with all manner of powers, abilities and unique appearances and the world is littered with House of Magnus propaganda – referring to Magneto and his family.

house of m avengers

The second issue gives us a fun look at this strange new world and where our heroes fit. Dazzler is a talk show host, Captain America is just an old man (never frozen), Kitty Pryde is a teacher, Gambit is a petty thief, Falcon is a detective, Dr. Strange is a psychologist. Wasp and Beast (sans fur) are scientists working for Tony Stark, while S.H.I.E.L.D. is Magneto’s (and thus the world’s) personal police force – with sentinels! It’s a super fun alternate reality glimpse.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis writes the majority of the story from Wolverine’s perspective. Since his heart’s desire is to regain his memories, Scarlet Witch accidentally started the chain reaction that would eventually bring about the downfall of her fantasy world. Logan wakes up in bed with Mystique – both operatives of the new S.H.I.E.L.D., and seemingly the only person that knows that this world isn’t right.

The story then follows Wolverine’s mission to seek out the others and make them see the truth, which is greatly accelerated thanks to the introduction of a young teenage girl that also knows the truth, Layla Miller. Her powers, from what I understand, are a specialized telepathy that allows her to reveal the true memories to everyone.

Once Wolverine meets up with the Resistance (mostly comprised of non-mutants, or as this world derogatorily calls them, Sapiens, such as Luke Cage and Hawkeye) they quickly move to a montage of visiting all their former allies, like the happily married Emma Frost and Cyclops, and a Spider-man that’s enjoying life with the not-dead Gwen Stacy and Uncle Ben. It was these moments that were the most intriguing, as for many of our heroes that have faced innumerable hardships in their life to suddenly have their perfect fantasy world revealed as a lie is heartbreaking (Spider-Man’s is especially brutal – he has a son in this world).

Since I read the months-long event in a matter of days things seemed to move very quickly to me, as Wolverine and company gather more allies and find a way to strike at Scarlet Witch by directly attacking the House of Magneto at a summit meeting. It definitely paints our heroes as the bad guys in terms of launching an assault at a peaceful political meeting (with other global leaders like Black Panther, Storm and Dr. Doom).

However, Bendis goes out of his way to show that this world is far from perfect. Tensions between mutants and sapiens are as strained as ever, and now a terrorist group called The Sapien League strikes out at the mutant population. It’s an interesting and satisfying concept that even if the roles between mutants and humans were reversed the result is still the same: hatred, fear and death.

Eventually our heroes mount a massively awesome attack against Magneto and company, and Dr. Strange discovers the truth. While previously Wolverine had blamed Magneto for using Scarlet Witch to create this world (seeing as he’s the new head honcho), Strange finds out that it was actually his son and brother to Wanda, Pietro (Quicksilver) that convinced Wanda to reshape reality to avoid being imprisoned or executed.

house of m magnetoMagento is furious when he learns this and goes on one of the more satisfying rampages I’ve seen. The combination of dialogue, art and lettering meshes together into an amazing climax as Magneto turns on his son. When Quicksilver falls, Scarlet Witch, who was finally convinced that her toddler children are nothing but figments of her imagination (made sort-of real by her powers), cradles him in her arms on the cover of the 7th issue. At the end she utters three of the most powerful (and now legendary) words the Marvel Universe has ever heard: No More Mutants.

The final issue sets up the future of the universe as things revert back to normal – only not quite. The Scarlet Witch obliterated the mutant gene from most of the world’s population, reducing the number of mutants from millions to less than 200 (most of our main heroes and villains are still powered, of course). This ended up creating a huge shift and world state change in every Marvel book, but especially all the X-Men series, and helps make House of M one of the more beloved and interesting events to happen in the last two decades.

I’d been hyped up to read House of M ever since I began this grand Marvel comics catch-up, and can satisfyingly report that it more than lived up to it. The alternate reality world is incredibly fun and interesting, Wolverine plays an awesome starring role, and the final climax and fallout are some of the greatest scenes I’ve read in any comic. It helps that I’m a huge X-Men fan and this series directly affects their future for years to come, especially in the months following (known as Decimation).

house of m no more mutants

Bonus: I read a few House of M tie-ins, and though not enough to write a full Final Thoughts for each I’d like to mention them here (I did mention Cable & Deadpool’s tie-in issues in my Cable & Deadpool Book 1 Final Thoughts).

Issue #10 of Captain America takes place right in the middle of the Winter Soldier arc (Final Thoughts here), and is a super boring, fairly pointless issue about what old man Steve Rogers is doing while Wolverine and friends are gathering allies. It was poignant I suppose, but ultimately awkward as Cap has absolutely nothing to do and no role to fill in the House of M world.

Wolverine #33-35 acts as a minor backstory to Logan’s character and situation in the House of M world, though it’s a little strange as his story in House of M begins with him waking up and realizing the truth. The three issue arc centers on Logan’s past joining up with S.H.I.E.L.D., being trained by Nick Fury and having a relationship with fellow agent Mystique. The story is just okay and unfortunately barely takes any advantage of the unique setting. Not terrible but easily forgettable.

I read the five issue Mutopia X without realizing it stemmed from another ongoing Marvel series, District X (which I need to check out since I adore Bishop). Now this series very much took advantage of the unique world state of mutant domination, and it was super interesting seeing the world’s politics and people from the common man’s viewpoint, human police detective Ismael Ortega and his new partner Lucas Bishop. Izzy is married to a mutant and has mutant children, and the implications create some great dynamics and dramatic moments. It all ended a bit confusingly however, as I was unaware it tied into a larger series at the time. Still a fun tie-in and probably the best one I read.

 

Rogue’s Adventures Season Four Recap

For more on my backlog group, click on the Rogue’s Adventures tab at the top.

Season 4 collage

Hope everyone had a very happy holiday season, and soon a happy new year. I’m having to sneak my latest recap right between Christmas and New Year’s as I only just finished my latest backlogged game – Saints Row IV, mere days before Christmas.

For newcomers this is the bi-annual recap I give for Rogue’s Adventures, my social backlog group. I create a schedule of games from my backlog (usually about six months worth), writing my Final Thoughts for each game I complete, as well as live tweeting and streaming my gameplay. At the end of each season I write up a recap to go over each game I played, link to each Final Thoughts, rank the games and break down some fun stats.

If Season Four had a theme, it was mostly joined by more recent games. Other than Beyond Good & Evil, a cult favorite from 2003, every game was released in the last few years. The Banner Saga was even released earlier this year. This made Rogue’s Adventures much more relevant and interesting compared to the first season when I mostly played old 90s adventure games. I was also able to play two of the games on here cooperatively with friends, which was an absolute blast, and two more a friend of mine played them right before so we were able to discuss while playing them. Live streaming and videos were obviously a bit more popular as well.

Thankfully I’ve gotten to the point were most of my backlog are newer games. I have nothing to buy on GoG sales because I feel comfortably caught up on most older stuff from the 90s and early 2000s, but I can and do take advantage of Steam sales rewarding my patience for games that are only a few years or few months old.

For example, with the current Steam holiday sale running right now, I was able to grab Assassin’s Creed IV ($10), South Park The Stick of Truth ($13), Might & Magic X ($7) and Portal 2 ($4) among others. Two of those were released earlier this year and are now crazy cheap with just a bit of patience. Gotta love PC gaming.

Read the full Recap on my blog on Gamer Informer >>

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Deadpool & Cable Ultimate Collection, Book 1

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Fabian Nicieza DeadpoolCable

Artists: Patrick Zircher

Issues: Cable & Deadpool #1-18

Maybe my 90s is showing a bit, but when I walked into a comic store in 2004 and saw a new series starring two of my favorite 90s-created characters, I had to jump on board. I bought the first six issues, encompassing the entire “If Looks Could Kill” story arc, which puts our titular heroes crossing paths while battling a cult and they wind up dissolving into each other from a virus that is contracted through light (comics!) and crossing DNA.

In plain terms it means they can teleport together and continue to have ridiculous adventures. In the first issue alone Cable telekinetically explodes Deadpool’s head (which he eventually heals from) and later Deadpool shoots Cable in the head (where he telekinetically stops the bullet). Both characters are deliciously overpowered and ridiculous, and the entire series revels in it.

Now ten years later as I jump back into comics I had to dig up this series and was delighted to find that it ran for a whopping 50 issues! These Final Thoughts cover the Ultimate Collection Book 1 (which is listed as Deadpool & Cable, no doubt Deadpool’s doing), which includes the first three volumes, or 18 issues of the series.

Cable, aka Nathan Summers is the son of Cyclops and Jean Grey (actually a clone of Jean Grey but let’s just leave it there for now) that gets infected with a techno-organic virus and sent into the future where he wages war in a war-torn Earth ruled by Apocalypse. Eventually he comes back to our time and he’s all kinds of powerful. Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson is a crass mercenary with Wolverine’s healing ability but in a less elegant state – and his constantly shifting molecules also makes him a bit insane, but in a totally hilarious way.

Together they make for one of Marvel’s oddest odd couples, and one of the most pure silly fun I’ve had reading comics. Writer Fabian Nicieza co-created these decidedly over-the-top badasses back in the early 90s and he successfully straddles the line between interesting plot lines and story-telling and silly jokes and conceits.

cable & deadpool issue 1

Deadpool’s shtick, for those unaware, is to constantly break the fourth wall. He often knows he’s in a comic book and will reference the reader and the action going on. Normally this would be incredibly jarring but Deadpool owns his role as the motor-mouthed jokester so much that it just works (though humor is entirely subjective and your mileage may vary). By contrast Cable is super stoic and serious and they act as wonderful foils for each other.

The second story arc, “Burnt Offering,” sets up the main story of the first chunk of the series – Cable constructs a floating island paradise named Providence and invites anyone to come join him in his Eden, which pisses off every major power. He fends off attacks from a silly SHIELD team named Six-Pack full of D-list superheroes and villains and generally sees himself as a savior attempting to make the world a better place. His philosophy is refreshingly plain – in order to change the future (and avoid his war-torn apocalypse) we need to change the present.

Once he threatens to throw everyone’s guns into the sun, however, even the X-Men get involved to try and stop him, but it’s not until Nick Fury calls in the Silver Surfer that Cable finally gets his ass kicked. Deadpool’s mostly along for the ride in these first two arcs, helping Cable and cracking jokes when he’s not trying to kill him.

A big reason the series works as well as it does is the constant rotating cast of cameos. It’s like a television sitcom with a constant stream of fun guest-stars. From random D-lister’s like Thunderbolts’ Fixer and Six-Pack there’s the X-Men, Silver Surfer, MODOC, Forge, Cannonball, Syren and Mr. Sinister. Using guest-stars is not exactly a new concept in comics but Cable & Deadpool uses everyone in a way that adds to the story and never feels tacked on.

Cable & Deadpool is also not afraid to use smaller story chunks in the midst of the bigger tales. After Cable is knocked out of commission at the end of “Burnt Offering,” Deadpool goes on a quest to save him in “Thirty Pieces,” enlisting the help of Fixer, Forge and others while killing hordes of random soldier dudes along the way. If action heroes are known for spouting one-liners, Deadpool is known for going full-blown soliloquy.

“A Murder in Paradise” is the only story that feels a bit pointless, as Deadpool helps investigates a murder in Cable’s island which – spoiler alert – discovers he did (he’s a bit crazy in the head, and also someone kinda brainwashed him). As the story builds to this new brain-washing villain, however, House of M happens in the Marvel Universe, and Cable & Deadpool tie in by having Cable jump through dimensions while Deadpool (joined by Cannonball and Syren) follow in “Enema of the State.”

This was by far my favorite storyline in Book 1 as Deadpool travels to an apocalyptic future (where they battle the Four Horseman of Archangel, Blob, Spider-Man and Cable), an Eloi-style utopian future where no one fights (and Deadpool hates, naturally), a scary future where the TO virus has assimilated everyone, and finally the House of M universe, where Deadpool has a fun chat with Mister Sinister on a farm with a genetically engineered baby Cable. At one point Deadpool explains to Sinister why he’s there while our merc takes a long leak in the bathroom (he’d been holding it for several issues). It’s just the best scene ever, and ended up as my favorite House of M tie-in.

Deadpool Sinister House of M

The writing stays fresh and funny, the action is always bombastic and entertaining and Patrick Zircher’s crisp art style meshes perfectly with the tone of the book (ignore the Rob Liefield cover art of the first six issues, it’s pure nostalgia and the comic looks nothing like it, thankfully). Cable & Deadpool has such a fun time with its own cast and its crossovers that I just can’t help but devour every issue. Highly recommended to comic fans looking for a bit of silly fun.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Saints Row IV

I’ve finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts on my gaming blog, and enjoy the excerpt below.

SR4

If I were to write this in the guise of a typical Steam review, it would be something like:

“Plays Stan Bush’s “The Touch” during an epic climax near the end before the hero and villain trade classic banter from The Transformers: The Movie. 10/10″

Seriously though, the quickest way into my heart is to love the ’86 animated Transformers movie as much as I do. Clearly the folks at Volition love and celebrate all things nerdy and game-y, and in many ways Saints Row IV is a grand example of today’s AAA gaming scene as it cribs gameplay elements and concepts from other successful franchises into something that’s just pure fun.

If Saints Row: The Third was Grand Theft Auto minus all the *** with a whole lot of loving goofiness, then Saints Row IV builds upon that formula (literally with the exact same open-world city of Steelport) with a layer of Matrix-style story framing and outlandishly awesome superhero powers.

Read my full Final Thoughts on my Game Informer blog >>

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Excalibur

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Chris Claremont excalibur 1

Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Igor Kordey

Issues: Excalibur (2004-05) #1-14

2004 was a huge year for X-Men (and the original time period I attempted to jump back into comics). The X teams were split into three ongoing series (X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, and the decades running classic Uncanny X-Men), though technically Excalibur could be considered a fourth.

Excalibur (not to be confused with the British Marvel superhero team and series) ties directly into the aftermath of Morrison’s run on New X-Men in the early 2000s, which eventually culminated in the destruction of half of New York City by Magneto and the subsequent obliteration of Mutant city-haven Genosha by an army of sentinels. Jean Grey is killed (again) and Wolverine brutally murders Magneto.

All of this I read about on Wikipedia and heard from a comic-savvy friend, as I’m jumping on now with the glorious return of beloved X-Men writer Chris Claremont. Claremont is responsible for many of the best X-Men storylines in the 80s such as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” He helped create many of the best mutant heroes and villains (Gambit, Rogue, Mystique, Emma Frost, etc) and developed Wolverine into the badass we know and love of him as.

So you can imagine my disappoint upon reading Excalibur and finding it to be a hot mess.

The story picks up with Professor Xavier poking through the post-apocalyptic ruins of Genosha looking for survivors and having lots of monologues. He meets some new friends (Wicked, Freakshow, Callisto) and some new foes (more random survivors that are more pissed off than relieved) but mostly it revolves around Magneto’s inexplicable return and friendship reunion with Xavier.

The first four issue story arc “Forging the Sword” starts off promising enough with our ragtag heroes, and I really enjoyed the dialogue between Xavier and Magneto, two of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe, but both deeply troubled and conflicted men. Magneto especially is super mopey and depressed throughout most of it as a tortured man and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

excalibur teamI also enjoyed the new heroes for the most part. Freakshow was a young kid who could shapeshift into terrifying elder god-style monsters, while Gothy Wicked could tap into all the ghosts surrounding Genosha. Callisto was easily my favorite; the former leader of the Morlocks is completely badass with giant tentacle arms and a fun and confident fighting style with knives.

Unfortunately the overarching storyline never quite decides on what it wants to be. After the events of Avengers Disassembled when Scarlet Witch goes crazy and half the Avengers are slain, Magneto opens a rift (they spend a good deal of time talking about how Magneto’s powers may not have any upper limit) to rescue his unconscious daughter and bring her to Genosha to watch over. Marvel fans will know that the fallout from the attack and Scarlet Witch waking up eventually leads to the phenomenal Marvel event House of M (look for my Final Thoughts soon!), so the latter half of Excalibur acts as a prelude.

But that story is sidelined until the final two issues, and even then it’s mostly Xavier failing to help Scarlet Witch on a mental level (Dr. Strange even pays a house call at some point), and as any kind of intriguing set-up to House of M, it fails completely.

Excalibur’s own story gets terribly convoluted as well, involving a looting pirate lord and his band of four-armed trolls and at some point even some random villains from Age of Apocalypse (Dark Beast is a super fun character, though). They’re not terrible plot-lines and lead to some fun fight scenes (at one point Callisto’s arms are ‘turned off’ and she still kicks ass), but things soon get even messier.

The plot shifts to a nearby city in…Africa? And involves Angel and Husk? And there’s a terminator-style sentinel that Xavier and Magneto are able to transform into an ally at some point? There’s a lot going on and it gets a little crazy and soon you forget all about Genosha. In fact every issue has to have a scene or two that’s basically “Hey where’s Magneto,” as he builds a force-field around the sleeping Scarlet Witch.

As an entry into exploring the ruins of Genosha Excalibur starts off interesting but devolves quickly into a series of crazy characters and battles (then shifts focus away completely toward the end). As a prelude to House of M, Excalibur fails to do anything that you don’t already get from the first issue of that event. Really its only saving grace is in the writing of Xavier and Magneto, which is almost completely sidelined by the second half of the book.

Unless you’re desperate to know where Xavier is among all the various X-teams at the time, or absolutely need to know how Scarlet Witch goes from Avengers Disassembled to House of M, I would recommend skipping Excalibur altogether. I do hope Callisto finds a home somewhere else as I adored her character, writing and powers.

I don’t necessarily blame Claremont, as the series is wedged uncomfortably between major Marvel events and it’s very possible he was hamstrung with what he could do, and the individual character moments and fights are entertaining, but as a cohesive story it’s just too sloppy to be memorable.

excalibur magneto