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Review of Uncanny X-Men 502 (2.5 stars) October 2, 2008

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Overall rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

More near-mediocrity from Fraction and Brubaker, and more crap from Land is the best way to describe this issue. Let’s start with the true crap first, namely, Land’s art. Now, I know I’ve linked to this before, but Land’s tracing and recycling isn’t the only thing that makes him a bad artist. There’re also occurrences such as these:

Big, beefy, muscular men are part of the genre, and I’ve come to accept that. But what the crap is up with Logan’s arm? It’s already muscular-looking enough, why did Land have to include what looks like a tumor growing out of where his elbow bends? Seriously, that doesn’t make any sense anatomically at all. That big bulge spreads over where his elbow bends? How does he even bend it? Here is another “weird body incidence:”

Likewise, I’ve also come to accept that well-endowed, impossibly skinny women are part of the genre, but her torso being thicker than her hips? That’s not even the “perfect hourglass figure,” that’s an upside-down pear figure! (I’m not even going to comment on her annoying info box and dialogue in this panel.) Add to these the crazy looking smiles that almost everyone wears and the fact that the “Red Queen” is probably the most ridiculous looking villainess I’ve seen, and you’ve got some grade-A Land-crap.

Luckily the story isn’t horrible. We make some more discoveries about the Hellfire cult, we get a decent fight, and the majority of the character interactions are amusing. (I’m glad that Fraction and Brubaker have decided to include the camaraderie and humor that they have, it’s truly what is keeping this title afloat at the moment.) The only part that I dislike is pretty much any scene featuring Pixie. She’s annoyed me ever since the Free Comic Book Day issue starring her, and now, she seems to star in Uncanny as well. This book would be so much better if she just left the team. (Well, maybe.)

Mehh, I realize this may sound a bit harsh as a review. This issue really wasn’t that bad. But everyone once in a while, you’ve gotta vent, and this was the opportunity I chose. If you aren’t already reading Uncanny, I can’t honestly recommend picking it up, but for those of us who are, at least there’s worse things we could be reading, and besides, we only have to endure Land for another issue or two.

-LOTRKing

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Flashback: Review of Uncanny X-Men 128 (December 1979) September 29, 2008

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As an ending of a storyarc, this wasn’t a bad issue to jump on at. Coming during Chris Claremont’s legendary run, this story pits the X-Men against the incredibly powerful Proteus. Proteus, a mutant and son of Moira MacTaggert, is an energetic being with the ability to warp reality and the necessity to regularly change “host bodies,” leaving the former host dead in the process. In this issue, he has captured his mother, and his current host is that of his father, and he has been chased by the X-Men to Edinburgh.

The beginning deals mostly with the X-Men fighting him, while he literally makes the city come alive and attack them. This causes the X-Men a dilemma, as they try to protect themselves, the civilians, and rescue Moira. John Byrne does a terrific job illustrating the many strange scenarios that Proteus causes, which makes up for much of the fight banter, most of which is a little dated or just plain cheesy.

The best part (both in terms of story and art) comes at the climax. The X-Men have driven Proteus to the outskirts of the city, and they finally attack him head on. After a being brutally attacked Cyclops, Havok, and Phoenix (which leaves all three weakened), he retreats to a castle where Colossus takes him on alone. As the exertion has caused the death of his host, Proteus is left in his true energy form, which has a weakness for metal. (I don’t quite get this part, the story didn’t explain it too well. I’m not sure if his weakness was better explained in an earlier issue, or if this was just bad storytelling.) Anyway, Peter is somehow able to scatter his molecules in his organic metal state.

So, aside from a slightly confusing ending, this wasn’t too bad. I certainly wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to find this story, but if you do find it, and you’ve got some time on your hands, you’ll get a good deal of entertainment.

Next week: Silver Surfer 36 (Volume 3)

-LOTRKing

Casual Saturdays: Where Things Stand… September 27, 2008

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Wow, three months goes by fast! Let’s once again take a look at where things stand in the Marvel Universe.

Secret Invasion – It’s rapidly approaching its end, and six issues, three big Skrull reveals, and countless tie-ins later, it is a great story, while at the same time being a little unsatisfying. For the most part, I have enjoyed the goings-on in the main series, but many of the tie-ins have been disappointing. While this has almost as many tie-ins as Civil War did, Civil War was much better at being able to carry the story of each particular character or group of characters coping with the SHRA. In this case, most tie-ins simply feature a character or group of characters participating in an issues-long brawl with the Skrulls. As epic as this story has been, I will be happy when it is over.

Fantastic Four – I’ve loved Millar’s take on the FF, even if it is a little slow at times, but it seems that many do not share my enthusiasm. Sure, his take on the individual members may not be completely orthodox, but this departure from the norm has been what has made most of it fun. So while I’ll enjoy his sixteen issue run, I wouldn’t want him to take the helm for the next several years. (And I do hope they find someone great to do so, FF really does need a shot in the arm that will carry it forward.) In the meantime, regardless whether or not you are a fan of Millar’s handling of the team, you should definitely check out the Fantastic Four: True Story mini-series that is going on. The story might be slightly absurd, but I’m loving every minute of it. I’ve reviewed the first two issues of it at WCBR here and here, and I’ll soon post the link here to my review of the third.

Silver Surfer – We haven’t seen hide nor hair (that is, if he had hair) of him since Nova 15, and as far as I know, it looks to stay that way. I really wish Marvel would do another mini. 😦 (Or, heck, even an ongoing!) But, with the “War of Kings” that’s supposed to tear through Marvel’s cosmic line next year, maybe they’ll find a place to tell a story about good old Norrin. Until then, I plan to write a review of one of my favorite Surfer tales, Silver Surfer: Requiem for WCBR sometime this week, and I’ll post a link here when it is available.

Amazing Spider-Man – It sure has come a long way from the atrocious One More Day fiasco. New Ways to Die has been every bit the fantastic story we were promised it would be and while I’m still upset with the dissolution of the marriage, I won’t lie that I’m looking forward to what the “Braintrust” will bring us next. Especially the courtroom story hinted at in the “Extra!” one shot a while back. Also, the first issue of ASM Family was decent, and I was disappointed at first when it sounded as though they wouldn’t be including further “Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man” stories, but the solicits for future issues makes it appear they will. Expect reactions to issue two in two weeks.

New Avengers – This title is severely lacking from its title characters, namely the Avengers. I’ve not hidden my dislike for the fact that Bendis is using these two books he’s in charge of to write Secret Invasion back-up tales (some of which haven’t even been that important) despite the fact that they rarely involve the Avengers. I really wish he’d done a Secret Invasion: Origins mini-series for these stories, or something of the like, and just given us more Avengers adventures. Though I won’t lie, rumors running around of the possible upcoming fourth Avengers ongoing (Dark Avengers) has me excited.

Mighty Avengers – See above.

Avengers: The Initiative – Where its two “Avengers brethren” have suffered from “Secret Invasion overdose,” Avengers: The Initiative has flourished. Dan Slott and Christos Gage continue to put out spectacular, character driven stories proving that you can pull characters from the “nobody’s ever heard of these random Marvel superheroes” list, and still have one of the best comic books on the market. Yes, I still miss Cloud 9, my favorite character to come out of this series, but team Slott and Gage haven’t steered us wrong yet, and I’m sure we’ll see her before too long.

Captain America – With Ed Brubaker’s long awaited conclusion to the “Death of the Dream” “mega-arc” that came out this week, Brubaker proves that he can leave you satisfied and begging for more at the same time. With almost complete resolution on the good guy side of the equation, and almost none on the bad guy side, Brubaker has made me a permanent fan of Captain America. Don’t expect to see this series leaving my must-read list anytime soon.

Thor – This, in my opinion, is still probably the best comic book series on the market. J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel continue to give us this slow-churning epic infused with humor and suspense. What is Loki’s true plan? What does it have to do with Dr. Doom? How does she intend to gain the allegiance of Balder, one of Thor’s longest friends? How will her actions affect Midgard? When JMS’ run on Thor is finally over (which I hope never happens), this will likely be one of my favorite graphic format stories told. (This honor currently belongs to Bone by Jeff Smith, and yes, I have read Watchmen, I still think Bone is better.)

Invincible Iron Man – One year ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be reading an Iron Man series. I loathed him for his actions during Civil War and, along with many fans and much of the actual Marvel Universe, blamed him for Captain America’s death. My appreciation for him, unknowingly, actually began when I started reading Avengers: The Initiative. As I began to see more and more the benefits of the SHRA, I began to understand Tony’s actions. I didn’t necessarily like him, but I no longer hated him. Then, of course, the Iron Man movie came out. I was completely blown away. I needed more Tony Stark, and I needed it IMMEDIATELY. Luckily, Marvel was wise enough to start a new Invincible Iron Man ongoing series just days after the release of the movie. And, luckier still, the series has maintained much of the flavor of the movie. IIM has become one of my favorite monthly reads, and one that I recommend to everyone I talk to who loved the movie (especially non-comic book readers, what better way to introduce them to the medium?)

Uncanny X-Men – With the authors of the already legendary Captain America series and the breakaway Invincible Iron Man ongoing at the helm of the world’s best selling super-team, this should have been an easy success. Unfortunately, something has gone wrong. Ever since Messiah Complex, Uncanny has taken a turn for the mediocre. Luckily, it had the beautiful artwork of Mike Choi to make us survive through the awful hippie story. Now we’re just getting an ever-increasing focus on the ever-increasingly annoying character Pixie, as rendered by the horrible artist Greg Land. I don’t know what needs to happen to fix this title, but Brubaker and Fraction but figure it out fast. (And firing Greg Land from the comic book medium would be a good start, especially when he pulls off crap like this.)

Astonishing X-Men – Who’d’ve guessed that this series would still be plagued with delays after the departure of Whedon and Cassaday? I dunno, but with the upcoming Ender’s Game comic book adaptation (discussed below), I’ve decided to drop this in favor of that. Don’t get me wrong, the story seems interesting enough, and the artwork is wonderful, but I feel this isn’t really an essential part of my reading list. I will, however, still review issues of this from time to time on WCBR.

Ender’s Game – Finally. One of my all-time-favorite novels is getting the comic book treatment. I’ve never looked forward to the release of a comic book as much as I am Ender’s Game #1 on October 8th. If you’ve never read the book, first off, shame on you! But secondly, you definitely better read the comic, because it’s gonna be epic! In fact, next week, Casual Saturdays will be all about why you should read it, so if you aren’t planning to, you better check back then!

So what do you guys think of the Marvel Universe as it is now? Share your thoughts if you feel like it.

-LOTRKing

Review of Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four Annual 2008 (3.5 stars) September 17, 2008

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Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Still no comics in the mail yesterday, here’s hoping there’s something new today. Until then, here’s a review of a good two-part “Ultimate” story. (Well, a review of part one anyway.)

-LOTRKing

Review of Uncanny X-Men 501 (3 stars) August 21, 2008

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Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is genius. Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man is the must read new series of the year. When the two collaborated together on Immortal Iron Fist, they took a character with only a small cult following and made one of the most fan-loved books on the market. So when the two of them united on Uncanny X-Men, the flagship title of the most famous super-team in the world, their success should have guaranteed, right? So far, the last two issues have surprisingly showed the contrary.

My first problem is simple: between Greg Land’s art and the condescending narration boxes, I feel this book is marketed to the young teen crowd. Don’t get me wrong, the world could always use another comic book reader, and if something is thrown in to appeal to a certain group, I’m usually fine with it. But this entire issue sounded like a young teen novel. Likewise, I can’t fully put my finger on it, but all the art seemed kind of, I dunno, pose-ish? Way too many convenient poses in too many panels. (A cool “pose-panel” or two included in an issue can provide for some memorable art, but when everyone always seems to strike a pose, things get a little silly.) Of course, all of this may have something to do with Land’s “unique” way of doing his pencils, as displayed here.

Second, I dunno, the story doesn’t really feel all too compelling. First, Pixie gets beaten up by an anti-mutant group. Then most of the rest of the issue is more of the X-Men saying how great things are now, then we see a brief meeting of the group that beat up Pixie (the Hellfire Club), before the X-Men finally (within the last three pages) go out and do something (in this case, attempt to catch the Hellfire Club). Oh and, I have no idea who the Red Queen is, but why was her one line of dialogue one of the worst I’ve ever read, and why the heck was she dressed like that? (Not to mention while striking another annoying pose.)

Don’t get me wrong, despite these complaints, there were a few redeeming parts to this issue (some fun humor in the X-Men commons room, the majority of the dialogue was well written, Land managed a few cool art panels), and most of it wasn’t pure suckage. Its main problem is that it is no where near as good as it should be coming from Brubaker and Fraction. Hopefully they’ll be able to turn the story around soon, and with any luck Land will leave the book ASAP.

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Uncanny X-Men 217 (May 1987) August 18, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Ah, the 80s: decade of horrendous hairdos, but also the decade of many legendary comic book writers such as Chris Claremont. Of course, legendary writers cannot be perfect all the time (check out Brubaker’s current take on X-Men for proof), and this issue is Claremont when he is “less-than-perfect.” Perhaps I would have enjoyed the story more if I had a better understanding of X-Men continuity at this point, but unfortunately I don’t.

As the issue opens, Psylocke is on the run from fellow mutants Dazzler, Longshot, and Rogue (is it just me, or does she look like she is wearing a skunk on her head?) At first, I had no idea what was going on; eventually, Claremont clues us in on the fact that they are simply engaging in a practice fight. When Banshee comes in to break it all up, he essentially tells them they all suck, and we are treated to a long sequence of Dazzler brooding and whining. (Yeah, that was lots of fun.)

Eventually, she randomly runs into the Juggernaut in Scotland, and he happens to be a fan of her work. (That must have been odd.) Juggernaut just wants to continue going wherever he was off to, but Dazzler is certain that he is up to no good. Juggernaut doesn’t want to harm her, and just wants to leave, but she continuously attacks him until she has used all of her energy and falls to the ground unconscious. Of course, Juggernaut thinks she is dead, but it was obviously just a cliffhanger, she’s probably revived next issue (though I’m too lazy to check.)

Add in the fact that the only thing that wasn’t bland about Jackson Guice’s art was the hair of various characters, and you have an extremely forgettable issue. I see absolutely no reason to go looking for this, unless there was some crucial piece of X-Men continuity that I missed (y’never know, maybe I sneezed and skipped an important panel). Hopefully we’ll get something much more interesting next week, and speaking of…

Next week: new format: issues reviewed are now chosen completely randomly! [sarcasm]I know, isn’t that new the most enthralling thing you’ve ever heard?[/sarcasm] And the issue is… Fantastic Four 234!

-LOTRKing

Review of Astonishing X-Men 26 (4 stars) August 13, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First off, I love the cover. Bianchi’s interpretation of Beast is a thousand times better than many of the recent ones I’ve seen. Almost everyone else makes him look like a walking cat. But while I enjoy the cover, I have to wonder, why does it feature Beast when this issue does not? Mehh, oh well.

The story picks up in Chaparanga, the “spaceship graveyard.” While the entirety of the issue is about the X-Men dealing with the “triploid” they’ve tracked there, it still manages to be a great read, due largely to the characters and the art. Ellis continues his mastery of being able to provide distinctness to each character. As an example of his work, up until last issue, I had only ever heard of Armor, now I already think she is a very interesting character. Likewise, Ellis’ is finally able to relate to us why Cyclops will sometimes resort to killing. I’ve heard that he has ordered a kill or two recently in other X-books, and fans have been complaining that he was acting out of character. Well, if you want an answer, you’ll find it here.

“Team Simone and Simone” continue to do a spectacular job in the art department. Every panel looks like a painting and every character looks great. I’m not sure whose work I enjoy more: Bianchi’s pencils that convey the many actions scene of this issue, as well as make each character individual, or Peruzzi’s colors which give the book a beautiful tone, and create the painted look mentioned earlier. Either way, Astonishing X-Men has to be one of the most beautiful books on the market.

Going back to the plot, as the X-Men find the triploid, he is trying to power up a dead ship. As he begins to do so, the power source looks like some kind of mechanical cube (like a Borg Cube, but much smaller), but perhaps the more odd part, as it powers up, what looks like miniature Roman columns, and even beings that resemble miniature Dr. Manhattans appear around the cube. This confused me more than anything else this issue, and I hope we learn the story behind the columns and “mini-men,” and that they weren’t just an element that looked sci-fi-y and cool. One other mystery introduced is “The Annex.” Just as the X-Men are about to capture the triploid, he remarks that they cannot stop “The Annex” and then commits suicide. While The Annex are likely the creators of the triploids, I wonder what their purpose was in creating them. Also, what do they need in space? This mystery keeps getting better and better, and I’ll definitely stick around to find out what happens next.

-LOTRKing

Review of Uncanny X-Men 500 (3 stars) July 25, 2008

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Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My review can be found here (first one posted).

Quick spoilers: The X-Men have relocated to San Francisco. A collector there has purchased decommissioned Sentinels and is displaying them as “art.” The X-Men investigate and Magneto, seemingly re-powered, attacks and reactivates the Sentinels. The X-Men defeat him and realize he was only wearing a high-tech suit to give him power. Magneto escapes and discusses these events with a secret, sinister cabal. Scott and Emma send a telepathic message that San Francisco is now a safe-haven for mutants and their allies and that all are welcome at the new X-base.

-LOTRKing

Review of Astonishing X-Men 25 (4 stars) July 18, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Having not read any of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, and having only read Uncanny from Messiah Complex forward, I jumped onto this issue as a fairly new X-reader. I’ll be the first to admit, this one issue was better than the entire recent “hippie” arc of Uncanny. Given, not a lot happens, but we get a great deal of characterization. I’ve never been a huge mutant fan; I’ll take a good old-fashioned scientific-accident-spawned superhero any day. But if this series doesn’t finally make me an admirer of our evolutionary replacements, I don’t know what will.

Most of the issue is composed of “hi, I’m this character,” but Ellis does this in a way that is so intriguing, that it is hard to explain what makes it so good. He also establishes the new status quo by introducing several of the new San Francisco elements, such as a new HQ, a new X-Jet, and the X-Men’s working relationship with the SFPD (along with some cool “civilian uniforms” in the process). Of course, sealing the deal is the introduction of a new sci-fi murder mystery. Essentially, someone has been trying to artificially induce mutations after the events of M-Day by giving people a third set of chromosomes (humans and mutants only have two sets) which contain the X-gene. Now, one of these “artificial mutants” has murdered another and is attempting to leave the planet.

Throw in the beautiful artwork by Simone and Simone (Bianchi and Peruzzi that is) and this becomes a thoroughly entertaining issue. Bianchi’s pencils not only maintain a lifelike look, but his characters exude emotion. Most good comic book artists can convey a lot of emotion in the character’s faces, but Bianchi uses the whole body for this task. Further pleasing the eye, Peruzzi’s colors maintain an almost painted portrait look; fellow artists such as Marko Djurdjevic and Esad Ribic come to mind when looking at Peruzzi’s work. The only real complaint I have is about the various X-vehicles, as they all look a bit too alien. (Heck, if I saw one of those flying around, I’d think we been invaded by extraterrestrials from a bad sci-fi movie.) Still, this is something I’m willing to put up with in lieu of their other high-quality work.

This is an all-around perfect jumping point. Anyone who needs an excuse to start reading an X-title: this is it.

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Uncanny X-Men 40 (January 1968) July 14, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Remember that ol’ phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, insert the word “comic” right before book, and you probably have an accurate description of this issue. After my random number generator chose this book last week, I took one look at the cover and thought: “this book is about to get the biggest bashing of all time.” Heck, I almost even threw a note in last week to expect a big bashing this time around. Let’s examine the cover for a moment: we have the X-Men looking for a monster that looks like it came straight from the 30s horror movie, neck-bolts and all. Second we have the caption: “The X-Men Meet Frankenstein!” Now anyone who has actually read the novel will know that Frankenstein was not the name of the monster, rather the scientist who created it, “the monster” is never given a true name. Being a huge fan of the novel, it always irks me when someone gets this wrong. Name nitpickiness aside, the X-Men facing off against the 30s horror movie version of an iconic character sounds like a recipe for cheesiness.

When I actually read the darn issue, imagine my surprise when my preconceptions turned out to out to be exactly wrong! I’m lead to believe that writer Roy Thomas didn’t write the cover, because he correctly refers to the creature as “Frankenstein’s monster” throughout! Many kudos points to him! Likewise, Xavier himself admits to being a huge fan of the novel also (more kudos points awarded!) In fact, it looks as though Roy Thomas is attempting to build a long-awaited sequel to the novel, by, at first, basing several plot points from the end of the novel. In theory, fiction-to-comic crossovers can work. Heck, I’ve got what I’d like to think is a pretty cool idea for a crossover between the Fantastic Four and one of my favorite books series (that’s a story for another time chaps!)

So far, my emotional roller-coaster went from being prepped for ultimate cheesiness, to being surprised and pleased. Unfortunately, the final stop was disappointment. The story sets up to actually be a good one, I was ready to read an entertaining attempted sequel to one of my favorite classical novels. Alas, “Rascally Roy” muddles things up as he attempts to tell the “true origin” of the monster, one that doesn’t make any sense in context of the original novel. It turns out that the “monster” was actually an android created by friendly exploring aliens, intended to act as an ambassador. When the android malfunctioned and terrorized humans, the aliens chased it to the arctic, where it was eventually frozen in ice, and found in the modern time. (He was thawed, that’s how he entered this issue originally, I suppose I should’ve mentioned that.) Xavier reasons that Mary Shelley somehow heard this story and wrote the novel. Of course, this new story bears no resemblance whatsoever to the novel, except for the fact that they both end in the arctic. They may as well have written this issue to be about a strange monster attacking, engaged it, and then learned its “alien creation” story. It really has no links whatsoever to Frankenstein. I realize that this was X-Men at its low point, right before in went into the “repeats” that continued for a few years, but did they really have to use this kind of disappointing gimmick to sell an issue? I really can’t recommend this unless you want a really rather odd (and nonsensical) spin on a classic tale.

Next week: Special Edition! Not Random! Review of the 1978 Silver Surfer Graphic Novel by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby! Excelsior! (Okay, that last comment was random, but seemed to fit in with old-school Marvel-sounding hype. Besides, you know you’ve always wanted the chance to say “Excelsior!”)

-LOTRKing