Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

The X-Men go to war with Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, and the fate of mutantkind leads to a creation of yet another new home.

With 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!

uncanny x-men complete collction vol 2Writer: Matt Fraction

Artists: Yanick Paquette, Greg Land, Terry Dodson, Marc Silvestri, Luke Ross, Alan Davis

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #512-519, Dark Avengers (2009) #7-8, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men Utopia One-Shot, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men Exodus One-Shot*

*I also included relevant tie-ins X-Men Legacy #226-227 and X-Men: Nation X #1-4

 

“Hello again. My name is Scott Summers and I’ve been an X-Man since I was fifteen. And like everyone else here, I’ve been a mutant all my life.”

I was originally going to open with “It was a time of upheaval for our beloved mutants,” but honestly it’s always a damn time of upheaval. From House of M to Emperor Vulcan and the Shi’ar Empire to Messiah Complex, the X-Men have barely had a chance to tell more character-focused, one-off stories before being whisked away to the next major event.

If you can’t already tell from the cavalcade of artists and issues included in this collected volume, this is yet another major event. To Marvel’s credit, most of these events do change the status quo of X-Men and mutants quite a bit, from destroying Xavier’s school to moving the X-Men West to San Francisco.

The Complete Collection Volume 2 covers the Dark Reign era – circa 2009. The X-Men are involved in a growing escalation of anti-mutant hatred in the not-so-progressive city of San Francisco, eventually clashing with Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers. A new Dark X-Men team is temporarily created by Emma Frost, and Scott shows off his Wartime Consigliere skills when he creates yet another new home for mutantkind by dredging up a surprising location. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

The X-Men move to San Francisco to rebuild their lives and provide a safe haven for the remaining mutants.

With 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!

Uncanny X-Men #500Writers: Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker

Artists: Greg Land, Terry Dodson

Issues: Uncanny X-Men (1963) #500-511, Uncanny X-Men Annual #2, X-Men: Divided We Stand #1

 

The awesome, status-quo changing events in Messiah Complex destroyed the X-Mansion and shook the X-Men to their core in 2008. Marvel took the opportunity to breathe some new life into the mutants, moving them out West to San Francisco, a city known for its liberal policies and eclectic population.

Where the X-Men go, trouble always follows, and their initial time in California is anything from peaceful. The stories are a mixed bag of dumb and silly, but with some fun action scenes and effective usage of the ever-expanding cast. I wasn’t a big fan of Greg Land’s touched-up, supermodel-esque artwork for each character but the action is bright and vivid. Matt Fraction’s Complete Collection Volume 1 has some fun dialogue and tons of ongoing stories and little character moments, I just wished the major story arcs could’ve been elevated above silly comic book fare.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection Vol. 1”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New X-Men: Childhood’s End, Vol. 3-4

With 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!

new x-men #28 coverWriters: Craig Kyle, Chris Yost

Artist: Paco Medina

Issues: New X-Men (2004-2008) #28-36

There were two important loose threads left dangling after the catastrophic events of New X-Men’s previous arc, when William Stryker led his Purifiers on an all out assault on Xavier’s School.

The first is that while Stryker himself perished at the hands of Elixir, his Purifier’s live on, led by one of his disciples. They would lick their wounds and take a backseat as the second would take center stage – Nimrod, the time-traveling mutant-hunting sentinel from the future, had escaped his imprisonment.

Stryker had used Nimrod’s memory banks to predict the future and form his cult, but Nimrod held no love for the fanatics, escaping and heading to Dallas, Texas to force his original builder, Forge, to repair him. The New X-Men are on the case as the older veterans basically blow them off, dismissing Nimrod and telling them to stay put, which always works great with teenagers. Our young heroes launch their own secret mission to rescue Forge after he contacts Nori (Surge) using the gauntlets he built her, and we get a chance to see our burgeoning team on their own for the first time.

“Nimrod” is short and sweet with a simple set-up that leads our heroes into a fun battle with Nimrod and a small army of mini-sentinels. It was awesome seeing them coordinate their abilities and strengths, especially in the final battle against Nimrod, requiring Mercury to peel open his chest while Surge overloads his time-traveling matrix to send him into another time line.

new x-men #30

In the battle Laura (X-23) is grievously wounded and she’s not healing (which isn’t quite explained), so Hellion grabs her and attempts to fly all the way back across the country. Emma Frost touches Hellion’s mind and unlocks his full telekinetic powers, letting him get back to the base while hinting at the huge potential of his powers. Elixir is able to heal her, which also snaps him out of his funk after murdering Stryker. Laura then begins falling for Hellion in her own adorably awkward, sociopathic way, which leads directly to the next story arc, “Mercury Falling.”

If I may digress for a moment, one of my favorite scenes happens early in issue #28 (which occurs in the middle of Civil War), when Iron Man and Ms. Marvel show up at the X-Mansion and not so tactfully ask the X-Men to register with the new Superhuman Registration Act. Emma Frost, whom I kind of hated in the previous two volumes of New X-Men due to her outright hatred and loathing of X-23 (whom I love), has an amazing monologue response that essentially boils down to “Where the hell were the Avengers when they were invading our home and murdering our children? Get the fuck out.” It’s one of those fist-pumping moments and Frost completely won me over, even more so with her actions in the epilogue of the next story.

“Mercury Falling” starts with Cessily (Mercury) taking Laura out for coffee in a nicely normal teenage manner – Cess had correctly seen that Laura had feelings for Hellion and wanted to talk to her about it. Of course this being a comic book and them being mutants it doesn’t end well, as the same organization that bred, tortured and crafted X-23 attack them. The two girls fight them off as best they can, but Laura learns the hard way that they’re not after her – they’re after Mercury.

Mercury is captured while Laura escapes. She immediately grabs her things to go hunt her down when Hellion finds her and insists on helping. His flight power comes in really handy so she quickly acquiesces, and much of the story becomes about their hunt for the organization.

new x-men #35If you’re already preparing your eye rolls in anticipation of this turning into a sappy teenage love story, fear not. The pair are quite focused on the mission at hand, and we get to explore a bit more of their personalities. Namely that Laura has zero compunctions about straight up killing anyone in their way – even executing criminals after they give up the information they need. Hellion is horrified and tries to explain that killing people is wrong, reminding me of John Connor trying to explain the same concept to The Terminator.

Eventually the powerful duo make it to the facility, and begin kicking people’s asses left and right. Kimura, an assassin with indestructible skin and X-23’s former handler and arch-nemesis, is able to subdue Laura, but Hellion responds by blasting her about 20 miles away, heh. The organization reveal their plan after torturing poor Mercury over the last few issues – stealing her liquid metal skin and bonding it to monstrous, mutant-hunting beasts.

Luckily the rest of the New X-Men show up along with the Astonishing X-Men team and are able to defeat most of the Predator X beasts (one of them escapes to create another dangling plot thread). Mercury is haunted by the events and Laura feels ashamed and guilty, heart-breakingly telling Emma Frost that she was right – she should never have come to the mansion.

In the epilogue Emma approaches Kimura just as her sniper’s gun is trained on Laura being hugged by Cessily. She shuts down her body mentally, then cruelly removes the only good memory she has (her grandmother), and finally forces Kimura to help X-23 instead of hinder her every step of the way. Essentially she gets her super villain on to completely dominate another, and it is freaking awesome. Another fist-pumping moment for the former White Queen.

Both “Nimrod” and “Mercury Falling” are fun little four part stories (Issue #32 is a one-off) that show off a ton of fun action-adventure sequences and do a great job showcasing our heroes in dangerous situations. It’s a bit of a bummer that “Mercury Falling” focuses almost solely on Hellion and X-23, as I’d prefer to see the whole team work together again, but I adore X-23’s character and it’s hard to complain when she takes center stage.

Apparently Issue #32 acts as a big plot hook that affects the X-Men three years in the future, with the X-Necrosha story line (in fact, that issue is included in the X-Necrosha trade paperback). Talk about your dangling plot threads! It reveals what happened to Whither, a student that fled the mansion back when I first jumped on to New X-Men in issue #20, as he meets up with a mysterious woman who’s also all about death. It’s not terribly interesting on its own but I imagine becomes quite interesting once I finally get to that story.

new x-men #31

New X-Men continues to be one of my favorite series. Paco Medina’s art shows off a crisp, bright look that meshes well with the youthful tone. I’m continually impressed with how writers Chris Kyle and Craig Yost don’t rely on simple teenage drama, instead sending the new heroes on their own adventures and finding their way with their own story lines, while somehow remaining grounded in current Marvel events and situations.

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 – Astonishing X-Men, 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!

Astonishing_X-Men_Vol_3_1Writer: Joss Whedon

Artist: John Cassaday

Issues: Astonishing X-Men #1-12

Ironically the last time I tried to get back into comics was right when Marvel was splitting the X-Men up into three separate, ongoing series and teams (2004). I was in the middle of college at the time and the desire proved fleeting. Skip ahead ten years and I find myself right back in the same place, only with a much stronger desire and the right frame of mind and lifestyle.

I knew I wanted to first jump in with X-Men as they’re my favorite of Marvel’s creations, thanks in large part to the superb animated series that ran for an incredible five seasons in the early 90s.

I’d read really good things about Astonishing X-Men. Written by nerd-famous (now mainstream famous) Joss Whedon, it focuses on the X team that still hangs around Xavier’s school while the others go have zany adventures.

The Astonishing team is made up of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Kitty Pryde (and Lockheed), Wolverine, and later, Colossus. Whedon very much likes to focus on the relationships between his characters, namely Kitty and Piotr’s budding young love and Cyke and Emma’s complicated but lusty romantic entanglement.

Book 1 is the TPB containing the first two major six-issue story arcs (originally released in TPB form as Vol 1 and 2). The first, “Gifted,” deals with a weird prophecy about the destruction of an alien planet by an X-Man, and the resulting battle with a not-so-friendly alien ambassador that wishes to preemptively stop it. The bigger plot point is that Colossus is brought back from the dead in a completely inexplicable way (seemingly captive in a research lab the whole time). I never cared much for Piotr Rasputin, and only vaguely heard of his death in comics years before.

However, Whedon is damn good with leading women roles and presents the story (and series in general) from Kitty’s point of view. Newly returning to the Xavier Institute, Kitty’s phasing powers are a fun way to solve many issues, and it’s refreshing that she uses it in a myriad of ways, from rescuing people from a burning people to discovering the holding cell deep underground where Colossus was held.

Overall the first story is super meh and the alien villain Ord is lame, but Whedon does a fun job of sprinkling in future story and character arcs (like Agent Brand of SWORD) as well as introducing recurring students. It’s easy to forget that one of the X-Men’s primary roles is to provide a safe haven for young mutants, and here we get to meet Armor, Blindfold, Wing and the triplets. Armor and Blindfold particularly get to play crucial roles in future storylines.

Astonishing-X-Men-Dangerous

The second story arc, “Danger,” is much more interesting – the famous X-Men training room, the Danger Room, reveals its sentience and it’s none to happy to have been cooped up for so long. Violence is all it knows and it soon unleashes hell on the students and the team, culminating in an epic battle where she (it eventually forms into a feminine robot) flies to the destroyed remains of Genosha in an attempt to kill Professor Xavier (who’s currently involved in the Excalibur story line, see my Final Thought soon). At one point Xavier goes all Terminator and rams into her with an 18 wheeler. It’s pretty awesome.

Kitty gets to save the day by phasing into the wild sentinel that Danger summons and overall it’s an exciting and much improved story. Emma teases some underlying sinister plan to set up the next story arc, we get to see everyone fight a pretty awesome new villain and Whedon grounds everything with a vulnerable yet resolute Kitty at the helm. I honestly never cared much for Shadowcat before but Astonishing has instantly made her one of my favorite X-Men.

Unfortunately one of my all time favorite X-Men is not given such a great treatment. You can tell Whedon is just not a big fan of Wolverine as he’s mostly used as random comic relief, both in combat and with the students. It works well enough most of the time but very little is given to his character. The same could be said of Beast. I still can’t stand his new cat-like appearance (thanks to a secondary mutation) and he’s also given little to do. The spotlight is very much centered on Kitty, Cyclops and Emma.

Overall I was happy with these 12 issues, though I vastly preferred the second story arc to the first. As a jumping-on point I respect that they didn’t feel the need to break down the last few years of craziness the X-Men weathered under Grant Morrison’s run, and the smaller cast gave us much bigger insight into our heroes while being able to introduce new ones. I enjoyed it enough to pick up Volume 2, which concludes Whedon’s run with another 12 issues – look for my Final Thoughts soon!

astonish them