I’m also caught up writing about catching up on comics. I was on the road (or in the air) for most of June and July so when I finally got home, I had a huge stack of comics waiting for me. That’s a treat, although it can be a little intimidating too. On the bright side, I was able to read multiple issues of most series and get a real good feel for them. So here are my thoughts on the remaining series.
The Stand: No Man’s Land 4-5: The Stand is the best comic book adaptation I have ever read. I don’t say that lightly. I have a high opinion of other adaptations like The Hedge Knight and P. Craig Russell’s Ring of the Nibelung series. Yet I think The Stand stands above them all. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s story is expertly paced. He knows when to linger on an important scene and when to pick up the pace, as with Stu’s morning conversation with Fran. He knows how to focus on the essentials of each character and how to move deftly between them, as in the sequence that flitted back and forth between Harold and the Council Meeting. He knows when to change the story and when to adhere closely to it. Artist Mike Perkins is no slouch either. His characters are drawn in rich detail. He knows when to augment his naturalistic style with subtle flashbacks and visual metaphors, such as a side picture of Harold while Frannie talks about him. He knows how to juxtapose panels so that they impact each other, as on the page that combined reaction shots with a large explosion. I can’t imagine this series being any better than it is. It’s perfect.
Star Wars Darth Vader and the Lost Command 4-5, Star Wars Jedi: The Dark Side 1-2, Star Wars Legacy War 5-6: This hasn’t been a great summer for Star Wars comics. They haven’t been egregiously bad. But there’s typically been a noticeable flaw that has kept them from being great. The problem with Darth Vader was mostly pace. It was hard to maintain a consistent menace over the course of the series, especially compared to the previous Darth Vader stories in the Purge one-shots. The weakness on Jedi is mostly the art. It’s too bad because Mahmud Asrar was one of my favorite artists when he worked on Dynamo 5. But here, his faces lack expressiveness, so the readers feel as bored as the characters look. Legacy ran into difficulty with scope, which shouldn’t be surprising. The grand scale was part of what made the series so incredible in the first place. But it’s hard to tie together that many different characters and storylines in one grand finale. I’m a huge fan of the series and even I had trouble keeping everybody straight. A character guide on the title page would have definitely helped. Happily, the final confrontation between Cade and Krayt was worth the wait.
Ultimate Comics X 5: I have a general rule: I tend to judge a comic based on the issue itself- on that particular story- rather than criticizing it for how it fits into a larger picture. But every rule has its exceptions. Ultimate X, taken on its own, is a great first chapter. Karen Grant, an incognito Jean Grey, has slowly been gathering a group of mutants. Each issue focused on one individual as they were recruited to be on the team. The problem is that there isn’t a second chapter. The story is all set-up. The team is finally in place but this is the final issue. After this, there’s a new series, a new creative team and a new line-up. It’s kind of irrelevant that they did a good job of building the team because they’re not going to do anything with them beyond this issue. It’s like they stacked the firewood but never lit the bonfire.
Uncanny X-Force 9-11: The current X-Force continues to be a great comic. It’s occasionally brutal, but this incarnation has a dark sense of humor. Deadpool’s wise cracks and Fantomex’s dry wit make for a surprisingly compelling combination. They keep the title from becoming too bleak even when it deals with difficult subjects- such as killing a senior citizen who once ran a Nazi concentration camp. As it enters its second year, Uncanny X-Force is delving a little deeper into its cast of characters. The current saga focuses on Warren Worthington and his recurring transformations into Archangel. The story is strong on action so far, yet Rick Remember manages to slip in a few comments about the inner beast that make this more than a typical action story.
Uncanny X-Men 536-541: The first three issues are part of the “Return to Breakworld” story. The last two are part of Uncanny’s crossover into “Fear Itself.” In the middle, there’s a one-shot focusing on Hope’s connection to the team. Taken altogether, it’s been a pretty good stretch for Uncanny X-Men. It’s tricky to write a follow-up to an acclaimed and beloved story such as Joss Whedon’s original Breakworld in Astonishing X-Men. This arc obviously doesn’t match the heights of its predecessor but it’s a still a worthwhile read. There’s some nice sleight of hand in terms of unexpected twists. And there’s some unusual angst as the Breakworlders mourn the loss of their warrior culture. That combination of plot and characterization makes the sequel a story that can stand on its own two feet. The Fear Itself story is one of the strongest tie-ins I’ve read. An amped-up Juggernaut is on his way to destroy San Francisco and it’s up to the X-Men to stop him. It’s a straightforward plot, but it gets added depth from the political ramifications of their association with the mayor’s office.
Wolverine 9-12: I don’t think any title benefited more from reading successive installments than Wolverine. I had been getting a little tired of the Wolverine in Hell/Wolverine Possessed/Wolverine vs. the X-Men story. It was too relentlessly dreary. And while I saw potential in a straightforward Wolverine Gets Revenge story, I was also preparing to drop Wolverine from my pull list. Instead, writer Jason Aaron threw me a completely unexpected curve. The story may be called Wolverine’s Revenge but the focus has been on the nefarious cult that sent Wolverine to hell in the first place. It turns out that they’re a revenge society plotting against Wolverine. Each one has a reason to hate Wolverine, but their reasons are twisted by selective facts. For example, one member blames Wolverine for killing her husband but she’s willfully blind to the fact that her husband was a double agent who betrayed the CIA. This story has been an interesting and unusual look at the unintended victims of violence. Remarkably, Aaron has simultaneously elevated Wolverine as a hero as most of his enemies fear him for faulty reasons. Wolverine was usually doing the right thing- such as protecting innocent people from a rampaging Hulk- but they misinterpreted his actions and hated him for it.
X-23 9-12: Coming out of her crossover with Daken: Dark Wolverine, X-23 has been spending time with Wolverine, Gambit and Jubilee. That’s a fun combination for me as I have fond memories of that trio in earlier Wolverine and X-Men stories. Marjorie Liu does a good job of contrasting Jubilee and X-23. Jubilee grew up in the glitter and light of shopping malls but has now been turned into a vampire. X-23 was raised in a lab to be a serial assassin but is now trying to become a normal girl. Their stories overlap and their conversations are interesting as they teach each other. There’s also enough action to keep things from getting too dull. I’m not a big fan of the Sana Takeda’s painted manga but I’ll put up with it for a comic this good.
X-Factor 219-222: X-Factor, the title, has settled into a comfortable groove. But X-Factor, Jamie Madrox’s isolated team of mutant detectives, is anything but settled. Rahne Sinclair has returned after her sojourn with X-Force. She’s emotionally scarred by her time with the other time. And, oh yeah, she’s pregnant. That impending bundle of joy complicates more than her life. It affects Rictor, who once dated Rahne before admitting that he’s gay. And it puts the entire team in danger considering that numerous deities want to kill the child before it’s born. I always enjoy that combination of action and emotion. However, it’s somewhat standard fare for X-Factor and it’s not quite as exciting as it was last year when Peter David intentionally included a shocking ending in every issue.
X-Men 10-15 and Giant Size X-Men 1: This stretch of comics includes the last installment of the Lizard story guest-starring Spider-Man and an epilogue to the Curse of the Mutants vampire story. But the majority of these issues make up the “First to Last” story that was billed as a crossover between X-Men First Class and the current team. It’s not exactly as advertised considering that the two teams never meet up. Instead, a villain approaches the team in the past with an offer to wipe out humanity in order to clear the way for mutants to inherit the earth. When the team turns him down, he erases their memory of the event and tries again in the present. The simultaneous story structure doesn’t really work here. The stories are too similar so the only real variety comes from the costumes. And there’s not a lot of suspense to the story set in the past. The story tries to comment on the changes that have happened to characters like Cyclops and Magneto, but it’s not enough to hold a five-part story together. In the end, “First to Last” is a muddled mistake.
X-Men Legacy 248-252: I don’t have much to say about Legacy. Like X-Factor, it’s moving steadily along. These issues aren’t as powerful as the Age of X arc that preceded them but they’re still solid. The first couple deal with the aftermath of Age of X as Rogue, Magneto and others try to process their memories from that alternate world. The latter issues follow a squad that’s trying to help Legion re-capture his various personas, some of which have manifested physically and escaped. It’s a fun tale, fighting through the lesser personalities in order to get to the big bad Styx. I like the mix of characters, especially the addition of Frenzy. It’s generally good to have a character around who doesn’t care about anything to stir things up.
X-Men Prelude to Schism 1 and Schism 1: It’s a good first issue for Schism. The art is outstanding. Pacheco has incorporated a little bit of Cassaday into his look so this is distinctive from his earlier run on X-Men. There’s also nice mix of villains from the chaotic (Kid Omega) to the conniving (Kade Kilgore) to the conventional (the stand-in for Iran’s current president). However, the series is going to stand or fall on the basis of the schism. And so far, I like the way that they’re setting up the divide. Cyclops is shown as the visionary leader who wants to engage the world on a socio-political level. He’s the one giving speeches to the United Nations. Wolverine is shown as the mentor to young mutants. He’s the one learning their names and giving them dolls. Cyclops wants acceptance. Wolverine wants normalcy. There may be a growing divide between them but it’s not a clear-cut case of right and wrong. Plus, the divide is fairly consistent with previous characterization. Cyclops has been meeting with mayors and making speeches for a long time. Wolverine has repeatedly taken young heroes under his tutelage, from Kitty Pryde to Jubilee to X-23. I like what I’ve seen so far and I’m looking forward to more. The prelude, however, is entirely skippable. It reads like an entry in a Marvel Handbook. It’s boring and clunky and doesn’t offer much for readers old or new.