This is an exciting month for fans of Marvel's merry mutants. I'm as excited and interested in as many of these titles as the rest of you are. So you're going to be seeing a lot of X-coverage this month. This column ended up being all about the mutants. Friday's column will cover some of those other pesky comics that have come out recently. =)
Tomorrow's new release day sees two much-anticipated X-Men comic books arriving in your local comics shop. NEW X-MEN has been the talk of the comics world for months now, even by people who have sworn off ever reading an X-book. ULTIMATE X-MEN had to hold them over until now, and in the same week releases the climax to its six part "The Tomorrow People" storyline.
Both books are well worth reading. NEW X-MEN is more cerebral. ULTIMATE X-MEN is more visceral. Both are worth your time.
NEW X-MEN #114
This one is a definite reader.
Grant Morrison has taken the core idea of mutants working to protect a population that fears them and runs with it. He's not looking at the past 30 years of history and playing off of it. That's an afterthought. The comic doesn't contradict any stories from the past, but it doesn't rely on it and it isn't an obvious sequel to anything. It's just running with the high concept in a slightly different direction.
The best thing that Morrison has done on this book, in my opinion, is in keeping himself in check. Morrison has the annoying – to me – tendency to overload his comics with his "mad ideas" that tend to just confuse, confound, perplex, and add nothing to the story. (But enough about MARVEL BOY…) Here, though, all the new ideas and concepts that get added to the mutant lexicon make sense inside the mutant sub-universe. They're thematically linked to the title and don't stray too far off course. They add new concepts to the X Universe that can be used in the other titles and float around as needed. I just hope that they are used in the future and not just forgotten and dropped as new ideas come along next month.
As interesting as the ideas are, though, it's Morrison's dialogue that threatens to steal the show. He stays away from the explanatory caption boxes that had become such a mainstay of the X-Men titles since Claremont took over a couple of decades ago plus. Everything is explained in dialogue, and none of it is dry. It's all laced with cutting remarks, witty bon mots, and funny one-liners. You'll laugh a couple of times out loud while reading this. You've been warned.
I was a bit worried about the new transformation of the Beast from cute blue furry thing to, well, a blue dog. But Morrison's dialogue surrounding that event makes it all worth it, even if his explanation is the mutant equivalent of technobabble.
(Now if only he'd explain what Xavier meant when he said he had no earlobes. I thought that was leading up to something later in the issue. It's a terribly minor thing, but it did stick out at me. Maybe I just need to make friends with more earlobeless people.)
Morrison does fall into one big trap, though. It's something that seems to happen every time a new writer comes on board the X-Men. Magneto, the Sentinels, and Dark Phoenix all show up in the first three storylines. It looks like Lobdell may have already taken care of Magneto in "Eve of Destruction," but now Morrison is playing around with the Sentinels. (He uses them in a completely new way, though. It's a great high concept.) I can't help but imagine that Dark Phoenix will be next. Jean Grey is a lead character in this book, after all.
Quitely's art is fine, with some panels that are just wondrous to behold. The last page is probably his strongest, but that would be a major spoiler. He does have problems in spots drawing Cyclops' face, it seems. There's one particularly memorable profile shot of Cyclops inside the Blackbird where his face looks extremely lumpy, and his jaw unhinged.
Quitely stays away from the typical Marvel action hero poses. The first page shows Cyclops battering down a Sentinel with his eye beams. But he's not striking an exaggerated pose. It's not shown in forced perspective. It's just… there. He's just standing there, almost bemused by the whole thing. No gnashing of teeth or rippling of muscle. Wolverine in the background is acting like a feral thing, but that's in character, and it's kept to the background.
One thing that did surprise me about this total revamp of the book is that the lettering hasn't really changed. Everything else was rethought except the lettering. It's still one of the basic Comicraft fonts. I was hoping for something new, maybe based on Quitely's handwriting or something.
Complementing the first Casey/Churchill issue of UNCANNY X-MEN, this book features a two-page spread at the beginning to show us the main characters. It's not terribly informative, but it is really cool. It also helps to give that cinematic feel to the book to have this brief credits sequence after the opening bit of business.
If you were unimpressed by UNCANNY X-MEN, give this book a shot. It's probably more in line with what you're looking for. Heck, I liked UNCANNY originally. But after reading this one I feel disappointing in UNCANNY now.
NEW X-MEN is, indeed, new. It is, indeed, also very interesting and worth a read. If you've never read an X book before, you have nothing to fear here. You won't get too far lost.
ULTIMATE X-MEN #6
Sadly, ULTIMATE X-MEN #6 is almost the denouement. It's the anti-climax. At least, that's the assumption going in. Coming out the same week as the first issue of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's NEW X-MEN #114, it's almost hidden in the stack of books to read this week.
It shouldn't be. This is the conclusion of the "The Tomorrow People" storyline. It's a climax of earth-shattering proportions. Well, it is if you're into this book. This is the action movie finale to the opening six-part storyline for this title. It's big and it's grand and it's glorious in every way that counts.
In Mark Millar's script, Magneto unleashes war upon Washington DC, bringing with him an army made up of Sentinels. Massive fighting erupts in the city. Property damage is huge. Human casualty is limited only by the desperate fighting of Professor Xavier's X-Men.
Millar keeps things moving right along in this issue, although everything is happening so fast and furious that it would be hard to include a slow moment in all of it. There's a sense of urgency to the entire issue. Millar keeps the X-Men acting as they should – like the new X-Men that they are, complete with characteristic inexperienced teenaged foibles.
Andy Kubert is back at the art board for the second month in a row. While I still prefer his brother's – Adam's – art, I think this is the best-looking stuff I've ever seen Andy do. His money shots are worth every dollar, from the double page spread of Magneto calling the Sentinels to charge to the scenes of rampant destruction in the nation's capital. He seems to have spent some time getting reference material for the capital, too. I didn't note any major layout goofs when I read it. There are also no shortcuts taken. While I'm sure a couple of the more panoramic city shots may have been drawn over an existing picture of the city, the effect is still wondrous.
Danny Miki inks the book and keeps things roughed up. That's as it should be. This is a dirty book, and a smoother line might not fit in as well with the story. There are plenty of just plain cool looking images in this issue.
It's probably the most tense confrontation I've seen in a comic set in Washington DC since Deadshot went up against Colonel Flag in SUICIDE SQUAD's second year.
Amidst all the chaos of a city on fire are the character conflicts. They may look like pawns in the hands of Magneto and Xavier, but they play out beautifully. Everything that's been simmering in the past five issues comes to the fore here. It may just be the only weakness of the book that some of the character conflict resolutions might have seemed more important if some more time had been given to them. Saying that, I'm sure I'll pick up on them more upon another reading of the storyline.
The last couple of pages feature the set up to the next storyline. It's handled in a very subtle fashion, and features some exceptional coloring. After an issue of this size, it's easy to expect a bit of a letdown next month. I'm just as excited now for the next issue as I was for this one. Millar is going places with this. I want to be there for them.
X-TREME X-MEN #1
Last week, I talked at some length about the artistic qualities of this title. Having now had a chance to read the book, I've seen nothing to make me change my mind. That just leaves me with the story side of things to discuss.
The first issue is double-sized, containing some 31 pages of storytelling from Chris Claremont and Salvador Larocca. The last few pages have some character model sheets by Larocca on them, as well as an interview with Claremont that was originally seen on Marvel's web site.
If you've never looked at or heard of the X-Men before picking up this issue, it might be something of a fascinating title. Claremont goes to great pains to explain everything in this issue. (Oddly enough, I still feel strangely lost when it comes to the new character, Sage.) The set up to this series is explained in arduous detail, albeit for good reason. Not everyone read Claremont's last run on UNCANNY X-MEN and not everyone's going to remember all the details. There's just a lot of scenes in this issue that are people making speeches at one another, with the other person asking obviously leading questions to extract the next bit of plot info that the reader will need to follow the story.
This book has a lot of the same trappings that Claremont has used in the book in the past, from the divide-and-conquer tactics of the X-Men's opponents to the "X-Men Must Fight Their Way Out of a Trap to Prove Themselves" gambit.
In the end, this issue is just a recap of the past thirty years of the X-Men, with a special focus on the past year. The rethought and redesign put into the X-Men in this book is done more with keeping in line with the tried and true super-hero manifesto, but with a bigger nod towards the adventuresome. The book promises to be a worldwide adventure, and if Claremont can focus on that a little more now that all this exposition is behind him, the book might be worth reading.
One little correction I should make about the art, though. I mentioned last week that the pencil lines are colored in. They don't always stand out as heavy blacks. While that much is true, my comparison to Disney movies suffered due to my memory. I brought in an actual real live Disney employee for the correction. Ladies and gentlemen, straight from the Feature Animation division in sunny Florida, Mr. Andrew Simmons:
"The traditional ink and paint way (Snow White) was to hand ink the character's lines different colors straight on to a cel with a quill pen. Then the Xerox process came along and you got films like 101 Dalmatians with the black pencil lines copied on to a cel with black Xerox toner in a very lengthy process (but it was faster than hand inking all those cels). We also used brown toner (Roger Rabbit), gray toner (Little Mermaid), and white toner (jelly fish in the Little Mermaid). The Xerox process went the way of the dinosaur after The Little Mermaid. The Rescuers Down Under was the first Disney animated film to be painted entirely digital. Visually taking us back to the way it was done originally on Snow White with colored ink lines.
"So you are incorrect in saying Beauty and the Beast was done with black pencil lines. It was painted in the digital world along with Hercules, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and everything else after The Little Mermaid."
OK, so I revise my comparison. Where I wrote about 'Beauty and the Beast,' please substitute 'Classic Warner Bros. animation shorts from the 1950s.'
LAST AND CERTAINLY NOT LEAST. . .
It's a running gag at my office that nobody really gets. Someone will perch their head over my cubicle wall and say, "Can I ask you a question?"
Inevitably, I answer, "42."
They're used to me. They smile and then move on.
But they don't get the joke. Every now and then I'll explain about the question of life, the universe, and everything, and they'll just nod politely and move away from the geek in the corner cube.
It's all Douglas Adams' fault.
And he has left this planet too damned soon. The Vogon Constructor Fleet hasn't shown up just yet to make way for the hyperspatial express route…
Thanks for all the laughs, DNA.
Special thanks to Madison, NJ's own Dewey's Comic City, and its librarian-in-residence, John.
Coming up on Friday: DESPERADOES. And some thoughts on the inking in MARVEL KNIGHTS, for sure. I have a couple of other things I'd like to put in there, as well. We'll see how much space I have left.
More than 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). I might even show up at the Small Press Expo in Maryland later this year, but that's tentative at this point.