Friday, June 23, 2006

UXP # 40: "Cleaning out the X-House # 2: X-Tinction Agenda"

"X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda" tradepaperback

I would have to say that this is probably one of the best collaborations I've seen since Claremont and Simonson took over the X-books.

When several New Mutants and Storm are captured by Genoshans in response to the X-Men and X-Factor's interference with Jenny Ransome, X-Factor, the rest of the New Mutants, and what remains of the X-Men (with Jubilee, Wolverine, and Psylocke showing up later) leap into action. What follows is a sprawling epic that pits the Mutants against a corrupt society bent of turning Mutants into slave workers. Add to it the mad, undying cyborg Cameron Hodge who has his own agenda, and you've got a fantastic X-Men story.

The plot is solid and engaging, maintaining suspense and energy. There's never really a dull moment. It's great to see the teams interact (there wasn't a whole lot of room for it in "Days of Future Present"), the wide range of characters creating a nice amount of drama without overwhelming the story.

Probably the best portions of the story are when we focus in on various characters. The rivalry between Wolverine and Archangel is layered with the rivalry of Cyclops and Wolverine, which instantly pulls Jean into the picture. There are several great moments with these characters. The best is when Hodge forces Wolverine and Archangel to battle when their powers aren't working. Archangel slices up with Wolverine, who is pretty dying anyways. Jean steps in and stops them. As she cradles the severely torn-up Wolverine, she tells Archangel all this wonderful stuff about him. All the while? Poor rejected Scott watches on. Tension!

The subplot regarding Storm and Forge comes back up, and has a nice moment. I really liked how the Jubilee, Richtor and Boom-Boom subplot became important as time went on instead of just being brushed to the side as it easily could have been. The Havok/Cyclops dynamic is nice too. The combined teams working together made for some fine moments too, as small subplots would cross from chapter to chapter instead of just being resolved in just one chapter. Claremont also does a great job of bringing in real world-like touchs to the pages, including NPR-TV spots that discuss the politics of the story.

Now, let's talk about the art. The Jim Lee stuff is amazing. All the things I raved about two entries ago are present. Gorgeous stuff.

However . . . Rob Liefeld looks like he phoned in his work and it was a bad connection. Some of it is really good. Other times, it looks like crap. And why does he draw Cable with lady legs?

Besides the "Uncanny" chapters, the coloring is probably some of the worst I've seen. It's so bad, it makes me want to scan the pages in, bring them into Photoshop and use the very small amount of Photoshop knowledge I have to fix them.

But topping it all off? Probably the worst X-Artist I've ever seen: Jon Bogdanove. His anatomy seems to concentrate purely on the overly-sexual. Jean and Storm's boobs and butts have never been bigger. Havok and Cyclops look like Mexican wrestlers. Making it worse are those major coloring mistakes. It actually made the comic hard to look at.

Now, there are some problems with this story. At times, it seems as though there are too many shortcuts, too many "secret weapons." Toss on that Hodge gets really annoying and the battle with this guy is way too drawn out, and those are the shortcomings. But these are all overshadowed by the excellent writing done on this tale.


UXP # 39: "Cleaning out the X-House # 1: Days of Future Present"

Fantastic Four Annual # 22, X-Factor Annual # 5, The New Mutants Annual # 6, The Uncanny X-Men Annual # 14

We're getting into a very important time for the X-Men. We're seeing a lot of old plotlines getting resolved as the Claremont/Simonson era of the X-Men comes to an end. In celebration of that, I have decided that these next few entries will bare the name "Cleaning Out the X-House" as that is what is basicaly occuring: a lot of the old sub-plots, character arcs, and danglers are being resolved . . . or at least touched on.

For example, this New Mutants/Fantastic Four/X-Factor/X-Men crossover that builds from "The Days of Future Past."

An adult Franklin Richards appears in the past, seeking out his former one true love, Rachel Summers. Franklin - as it turns out - somehow used his powers right before his death in the future and sent himself back. Powered by Rachel (who has Phoenix powers) and young Franklin, adult Franklin causes all sorts of problems. Among them are trying to create his perception of the world.

Eventually, Franklin is tracked down by the Houndmaster, Ahab. Ahab had once had Rachel as his main Hound, so any opportunity to get at her is good for him. So, with all this happening, various factions of the X-World come together. We see a short clip with Excalibur (which I feel bad for ignoring with this blog); Cable and the New Mutants enter the fray; Storm and Gambit are reunited with the X-Men (or really, just Banshee and Forge); and X-Factor has to deal with their own emotional problems.

There are some good moments in this story, despite it being a fairly flimsy plot. True to Claremont/Simonson form, the characters shine out above all the others. Scott, Jean and Rachel make for interesting characters - Rachel and Jean esspecially. I'd even say that Jean steals the spotlight. Having turned down Scott's marriage proposal, the two are all bent outta shape. Add to that that Rachel decides to reveal to them that she's their daughter from the future, and Scott and Jean suddenly have a ton of issues to deal with.

Franklin is interesting character as he really doesn't mean any harm. I wish there was more time to get in the Richards clan's head. As good as a crossover as this is, it's nothing compared to "X-Men vs. Fantastic Four" limited series. Ahab is a bit of a generic character, though. A bit more depth into is origins would have been nicer.

The art is crap though, save for the Art Adam's issue. And is it just me, or is seeing the Phoenix effect for the 1 billionth time lessening the effect?

Pretty interesting. The use of two very prominent families in the Marvel Universe (Summers and Richards) is very well done.


Uncanny X-Periment # 38: "Gambit"

Uncanny X-Men # 265-269

One name defines these issues and it isn't the one in the title. It's Jim Lee. His art here is amazing. Breathtaking. Detailed. His renditions of Captain America, Rogue, Wolverine, Psylocke, and Magneto are top-notch - perhaps even making him the best X-Men artist to ever grace these pages.

Uncanny X-Men # 265-267 revolve around the de-aged Storm and her running away from both Nanny and the Shadow King. Gambit shows up, rescues her, and takes her in. Gambit (far from my fave character) comes off likeable and pretty damn cool. His taking of Storm under his wing happens a little too fast for my tastes, but it's a good story for the most part.

Uncanny # 268 deals with Wolverine, Black Widow, Psylocke, and Jubilee going after the Hand. This is coupled with a great flashback, in which we see Captain America fighting side-by-side with Wolverine. The story in the flashback is great, but the one in the present fizzles out.

Uncanny # 269 is one my favorite issues for no other reason than it made me like Rogue. I always felt that Rogue was a bit of an odd fit in the X-Men. She was pretty much regulated by whatever was going on around, never really doing her own thing. This really set her loose, and turned into a sexy, sweet, and tough southern gal.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Uncanny X-Periment # 37: "Cable"

The New Mutants # 86-94

Confession time: I love Cable.

I find him to be an interesting character, despite the insane amount of weapons he carries around with him in the early 90's and the amazingly convulted history, I think he's a fantastic character. Call me crazy and blame on getting into X-Men comics (and comics, really, in general) in 1992, but I just love that time-traveling, ass-kicking, son of a X-Man.

We're introduced to Cable at a point where the New Mutants are in a bit of jam. Hunted by Freedom Force and with the still-acting-strange-Moria threatening to take Rahne back to Muir Island, the New Mutants have no one else to turn to than Cable. Cable, being on the run himself from Freedom Force and knowing Moria from years past (we'll get to that in a later entry), takes custody of the New Mutants.

The New Mutants and Cable take up residence at the remains of the mansion - the sub-basement, really. From there, they learn to trust Cable during an encounter with Masque and the Morlocks; Caliban; and Sabretooth.

A little later, they head to Madripoor to stop new villains Stryfe and the MLF (Mutant Liberation Front) from releasing a new drug upon the populace. As they battle the MLF, Wolverine shows up (he's in Madripoor, too, remember?) and fights Cable. A classic battle. In the end, the MLF is stopped.

The story is surprisingly good, focusing equally on both Cable and the New Mutants, as well as their working relationship with each other. My major criticism is that the New Mutants become Cable's wards far too quickly. While it is later revealed that Cable has a history with Xavier and Moria, his taking of command of them is just a wee bit forced (pardon the pun).

I find Rob Liefeld's work pretty good, for the most part. I prefer him in this time period, because his characters still retain human qualities that become missing from his artwork sometime post-1994.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Uncanny X-Periment # 36: "Acts of Vegeance"

Uncanny X-Men # 256-260, X-Factor # 51-53, Uncanny X-Men # 261-264

At this point, we pretty much follow the remains of the X-Men throughout their new adventures. And we start with Psylocke. Brainwashed and placed into an Asian body, Psylocke becomes an assassin for the Mandarin and the Hand. Wolverine and Jubilee intercept her, eventually, and break her free from the Hand's control.

We then check up on Colossus and Dazzler. Colossus helps defend Jenny Ransome and Phil Monreau, while being haunted by an image of a beautiful model. Dazzler restarts her career and is stalked.

Then it's over to X-Factor. Apocalypse puts in an appearance with Caliban. Sabretooth goes on the hunt, looking to finish off the remaining Morlocks. As Archangel deals with both Caliban and Sabretooth, Bobby and Hank go on dates. And . . . Scott proposes to Jean!

She promptly turns him down, based on all the new memories she's absorbed. She can't help but feel as though Phoenix and Maddie's memories are pushing her into Scott's arms, forcing her to make a decision.

Jean goes back to the mansion, where Banshee and Forge are at, searching for the X-Men and the Calisto. They encouter Jean and rescue her, Colossus, and Callisto from Masque's Morlocks. It's a little wierd. Then, after an encounter with some Genoshans, our story ends.

The character spines on these stories are Wolverine and Jean, who share the spotlight. We ride with their emotions. Jean, as she struggles with Scott's proposal. Logan, as he continues to recover from the attack in Australia. While Colossus and Dazzler live pretty much normal - and fairly boring - lives, the others are far more interesting.

It's nice to see Forge's background explored a bit. I enjoy his team-up with Banshee. It's also nice to have Claremont writing Jean again. Locust shows up, which is worth a laugh. Psylocke's story is fairly mediocre. But Jim Lee's art is amazing.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Uncanny X-Periment # 35: "The Team Falls Apart"

The New Mutants # 75, X-Factor # 40, The Uncanny X-Men # 244, 245, Annual # 13, 246-255

It's the aftermath of "Inferno." Cyclops and Marvel Girl reunite the kidnapped children with their parents and are ultimately reunited with baby Nathan. The New Mutants and Magneto split ways for real this time, with the New Mutants rejecting Magneto once and for all, based mostly on his membership with the Hellfire Club.

Meanwhile, we have the X-Men . . .

What's there to say about this era of the X-Men? It's probably one of the more complicated periods, but also a very interesting one. The X-Men take some down time. Logan takes the guys out and they encounter some rather ridiculas aliens. Storm and the girls, in the meantime, are teleported to LA. Upon their return, a certain fireworks-generating, 13-year-old Mutant girl follows them. That's right - Jubliee. The former mallrat remains hidden in the vast underground complex of the X-Men's Australian town, helping the team out here and there. These stories are fairly light-hearted compared to what is coming.

Wolverine leaves on "personal business." While this could be - at first - seen as a simple out for his character to running off in his own solo series, it is in reality a set-up for what's to come a few issues later. So, sans Wolverine, the X-Men take on Master Mold in New York City. Master Mold, having merged with Nimrod, is almost unstoppable. As the robot battles the X-Men, he takes down Sharon Kelly - Senator Kelly's wife. To stop Master Mold, the X-Men pull out the gift from Roma - the Siege Perilous (sidenote: this is a jewel that, upon entering, a new life starts over with no memories of their past). It takes Rogue (with Carol Danvers in her head) entering the portal with Master Mold to defeat the monsterious robot.

The X-Men then return to Australia, where they are attacked by Nanny and the Orphanmaker (ugh). This is shortly after Longshot leaves to find himself. Havok, confused and just released from Nanny's mind control, blasts Nanny's ship out of the sky. But in doing so, he accidently kills Storm. With Storm dead, Wolverine out on personal business, Longshot gone, and Rogue MIA, the team heads down the Savage Land and deals with Polaris and Zaladane.

After helping them out, they return home . . . and then decide to enter the Siege Perilous themselves. Psylocke pushes them into doing this, as the Reavers, Donald Pierce, and Lady Deathstrike are about to overtake them. As of the moment the Siege Perilous closes up, the X-Men are gone.

As of "Uncanny X-Men" # 251, the X-Men have basically been disbanded. And beyond that, all of the X-teams are off the planet: Excalibur is thrown across alternate realities ("The Cross-Time Caper"); The New Mutants are in Asgard; and X-Factor are doing something with the Celestials.

In what is probably one of the best issues of X-Men thus far, Wolverine returns to the town and is beaten, captured, tortured, strung up, and eventually crucified by the aforementioned villians. This is a powerful and psychological story, tearing layers off of Wolverine, but still retaining his character. His own pulling himself off of the wooden 'X' is intense.

He and Jubilee then escape from the town, a beautiful friendship being born. The remaining X-allies (Forge, Freedom Force, Amanda Sefton, Banshee, Moria, Legion, and a few others) then gather on Muir Island to muster a defense against the on-coming assualt by the Reavers. There are casualties, including Destiny. Banshee and Forge then decide to head off to find the X-Men.

Little do they know that a young teenager looking just like Storm has appeared in Cairo, Illinois. And that the Shadow King is hunting her.

This is a remarkable era for the X-Men. Plot points are set-up early, allowing for the story to twist and surprise. Personal stories come to manifest. All of the characters are well-defined. Magneto, Wolverine, Mystique, Rogue, Longshot, and Havok all have great roles and get some nice development. The introduction of Jubilee is fun. Sometimes the occassional movie and television references can date the story, but the plot keeps it fresh enough.

The art is fantastic. Marc Silverstri has a way of drawing that just keeps it all clean and exciting. His work overshadows the occassional fill-in, including Rick Leonardi, Dan Green, and even the then-fresh Jim Lee. And no one draws Sentinels as well as Silverstri.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Uncanny X-Periment # 34: "Inferno"

"Inferno" trade paperback

I need to be rather blunt about this. When it comes to Limbo, demons, the Soulsword and all that jazz . . . I feel like it has zero place in the X-Men's world. It's a hard fit, it's far too silly, and it's just not something I feel like the X-Men (and co.) should face down.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed "Inferno." But it wasn't because of the conflict, though. It's because of the fantastic character arcs.

There are two basic aspects to "Inferno." The first is the resolution of the "Illyana" sub-plot. The other is the resolution of the Maddie/Jean/Phoenix relationship. In many ways, this story wraps up an era that stretches back to "From the Ashes."

Without a purpose in life and seeking revenge on both Cyclops and Mr. Sinister, Maddie becomes the Goblyn Queen (because "Goblyn" with a "y" is so much more evil than with an "i") and goes to serve Limbo-demons Sym and N'Astirh. Meanwhile, Illyana is tricked by those two into being an "evil Illyana" and opening a portal into Limbo, releasing tons of their little Ghostbuster-esque minions. Luckily, Colossus helps his little sister and the minions are mostly defeated.

With the Limbo-demons on the run, the X-Men and X-Factor are reunited to battle it out with Maddie and N'Astirh. As the two teams take down N'Astirh, the truth about Maddie's existence is revealed.

Turns out that Maddie is a clone of Jean. She was created as a duplicate of Jean to mate with Scott and produce a super-powerful Mutant offspring. This was done in the absence of Phoenix/Jean. Phoenix, as it turns out, upon her death gave Maddie her memories. Sinister's plans were going well. With Jean out of the picture, he tossed Scott Maddie and the two had a baby. But then Jean, it turns out, came back and Scott left his wife and son. Sinister swept in, tried to kill Maddie, steal Nathan, and wipe out all existence of Maddie and Nathan.

So yeah, Maddie has gone crazy and wants to kill her son so as to release Limbo once again. The X-Men and X-Factor stop her as loyalties are bent against them. In the end, Jean recovers both Maddie's and Phoenix/Jean's memories and Maddie dies. The X-Men and X-Factor then go the mansion and battle it out with Sinister and the Maraduars.

Despite the complicated Jean/Maddie/Phoenix story and the story elements themselves, the heart of this crossover are the characters. You reall feel bad for Maddie. Scott (as I mentioned before) was a terrible husband and if he had stuck around, all of this would have been prevented. Jean, too, shines very nicely as a woman who is suddenly battling her own evil twin-thing.

Colossus and Illyana also serve as great emotional anchors. Dazzlor, Longshot, and some of the newer X-Men seem to shake things up with X-Factor. Despite that, however, the interaction between both teams is fantastic.

It's cool to see all these long subplots that have only really been touched on finally come to a massive conclusuion. A lot of stuff since "From the Ashes" - "Mutants Massacre," esspecially - to now have finally reached their ending point. And while the story itself is not the best, the characters are solid gold.