X2: X-MEN UNITED (No Major Spoilers)
This past weekend saw the worldwide opening for the sequel to X-MEN. This movie nearly did in three days what took DAREDEVIL more than a month to do -- hit the $100 million mark in the U.S. (Counting the overseas gross, it cleared $100 million easily.) The good news is that it's a movie that deserves to be that successful. It's a rarity in that it's a sequel that's better than the original. Think GODFATHER 2 or EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or STAR TREK: WRATH OF KHAN.
I'm afraid that any review of the movie that I could do would end up sounding like embarrassing Fanboy blathering. So be it. This movie made me melt in my seat to my core inner Fanboy. That's the level it resonates at. It's not a lean plot with three-dimensional characters. It's just a great popcorn flick that will definitely appeal to all the X-Men comic book readers and a fair share of the general population.
This is a movie that any longtime X-Men fan could only have dreamed of seeing before this. All the little things are up there on the screen, from Nightcrawler blending into the shadows, to Shadowcat passing through the walls of the mansion, to Wolverine's berserker rage, and more. (Much, much more. I don't want to spoil the whole thing, though.)
The movie runs about two hours in length, and could have used another 20 minutes or half hour to round it all out. There's a ton of characters up there on the screen, and some of their plots got cut short or were left "hanging." Hopefully, those things might show up on the DVD in the form of deleted scenes. I know there was some more business in the museum that wasn't touched upon, and a Danger Room sequence in the original script that I don't think ever got filmed.
In the end, though, the movie is a fun summer film, with easter eggs galore. The writers and director and actors knew enough about their characters to make them work correctly up on the screen. Nightcrawler bamfs beautifully. Wolverine's rage is notably guttural. Colossus' brief appearance works. Rogue's persistent love troubles are front and center. Xavier's dialogue with Magneto -- the highlight of the first movie -- continues here.
Cyclops may be the sole exception in this wonderment. His eyes project the red beams perfectly, but his character is still woefully miswritten. It shouldn't be that difficult to correct, though. All you need to have is a sequence in which he's clearly the leader and issues the right directions to the less experienced X-Men. Wolverine is there to flaunt the rules and nearly gets someone killed. When Cyclops calls him on it, Wolverine just says, "Nobody died, right?" Cyclops, in response, does not go off and sulk in his room. You quickly establish the conflict by showing their different methodologies, while showing that Cyclops isn't a whiney cry baby who gets shot down by Wolverine every five minutes. Claremont did it multiple times and it worked. The movie franchise, alas, is content with neutering Cyclops and then forgetting him for large chunks of plot at a time.
Let's face it, though. This is Claremont's movie. Everything up there on the screen came first from him. He's the one who should be getting a cameo appearance in the movie. We had everything but a Danger Room sequence, an X-Men baseball game, and a fastball special. (LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS took care of that last one already.) Let's hope we see those elements in the third movie. I have no doubt that X3 is only a couple of years away.
This is a delightful movie for comics fans. The "general population" that shared the theater with us on opening day also seemed to get it. The characters are quickly and sharply defined, with plenty of great one-liners and "moments" to get their time in the spotlight. It's not hard to make an argument for X2 being the best comic book movie ever made. The only competition that comes to mind for it right now is SPIDER-MAN. (I'm giving SUPERMAN a pass for that insanely silly time travel stunt at the end.)
X2 is an unqualified success. Let's hope THE HULK can do so well creatively.
REVIEWS AND ASSORTED NONSENSE
FIREBREATHER #4 concludes the first mini-series for Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn's creation. It ends as strongly as it begins, which isn't something that happens all the time with comic book mini-series. Hester and Kuhn are smart enough to give you a good story, but to leave enough questions to warrant more. FIREBREATHER is the teen angst story with a great visual and a lot of surprising fun.
This isn't a cliffhanger, though. After four issues, you're invested strongly enough in the characters to want to know what happens next. Thankfully, there's a second mini-series in the works for later in the year. That's good news.
Hester and Kuhn may be telling a story of the oldest cliché in the comic book world, that of the teenage super powered individual who feels ostracized. However, they've done more than just follow the same old story beats of trying to keep the powers a secret while maintaining the naturally geeky façade. The trick with Duncan is that his difference is clearly visible. He always looks a bit like a dragon, complete with orange skin and bony protrusions. There's no hiding it. That introduces a whole new dynamic. The fact that we don't have another silly comic book relationship where the guy is keeping the girl in the dark and running himself ragged to protect his secret is refreshing. At the same rate, he's a well-rounded character, learning to access and control the powers he has, while still being protective of his mother, mindful of his family, and concerned about his education.
FIREBREATHER is a real stand-out from the Image line of superheroes right now. Between this and the work that Robert Kirkman is doing, Image has a strong foundation for the universe they're trying to resuscitate.
Do not bother with WOLVERINE: SNIKT #1, which arrives in stores on 07 May. Trust me on this. You do not want to spend $3 on this book, read it in thirty seconds, and then curse out Marvel's name. This is the best example ever of a story that should have been told in graphic novel form to start with. Yes, it's decent "manga" format storytelling, but even the Japanese don't ask you to spend $3 for 22 pages of their style of storytelling.
BATMAN ADVENTURES #1 is the latest reboot of the venerable animated-style Batman comics. It's a title that has been, more often than not, the most solid of all the on-going Batman series. This first issue was given out on Free Comic Book Day this past weekend, and represents a new direction for the title. I'm not sure it's one I like, though.
Under Scott Peterson and Tim Levins, BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES took the tone of a morality play each and every month. The stories were a little off-center, but always self-contained and always worthy of some thought. Peterson wasn't interested in telling the easy or standard story. He often raised more questions than his characters could answer.
This new incarnation of the series is written by Ty Templeton, who is headed in a more typical superhero direction. For starters, it's not a complete story under one cover. This is just the first part of a new storyline, in which The Penguin is Mayor of Gotham City, and some people invade Arkham Asylum for unknown reasons. In the end, it's boring. The things that caused the book to stand out are now gone. The art by Rick Burchett is solid and the coloring from Lee Loughridge is just as great as ever. However, none of it is very memorable. It's a dumb straight-on superhero story for kids. Since that's who this title is aimed at, perhaps that's for the best. I'll read on for a couple more issues to see if this new direction picks up any steam, but right now I'm not too impressed.
The advertisement for VIOLENT MESSIAHS: LAMENTING PAIN #4 reads, "Will Cheri find, through bondage, the inner strength needed to survive the violent culmination of Scalpel's secret." Yeep. I think I'll skip that one, thanks.
RUSE #19 is the latest "Key Issue" from CrossGen. It's a story that can be read on its own and enjoyed without any prior knowledge. While it doesn't go out of its way to ignore continuity, it doesn't rely on it either. This issue of RUSE is a perfect example of that. Writer Scott Beatty does a great job in making the book accessible and enjoyable for readers both old and new. It's a perfectly able and competent RUSE story that's entertaining enough to draw in new readers. It did, however, finally help me to understand what it is about the book lately that makes it different from the way it started.
The big change is in the characterization of Simon Archard. Beatty likes to press the case for Archard being smarter than his time. He has Archard using fingerprinting evidence a lot to prove his case. In the earlier issues of the series, Archard used the evidence that was visible to the naked eye, and presented his case with logic and ego. Emma thought him insufferable for all of this, but couldn't debate the merits of his cases. The personality conflict came from Archard's aloof detachment to the human condition, combined with his own sense of immortality. Emma had to be there to save him from himself. In this Key Issue, however, Archard doesn't display much of that. He shows us his proof using fingerprint "technology" and microscopy and projection, but the personality part of the equation is missing. He's not so cocksure of himself. He isn't as interesting a character now as he was a year ago. He's more of a 19th century tech-geek than the master sleuth we grew initially to like so much.
Artistically, Butch Guice's artwork looks as great as ever, though. With Mike Perkins' inks and Laura Martin's colors, it shapes a world as three-dimensional as you could ask for without being on a Hollywood sound stage.
RUSE is still my favorite of the CrossGen series, but with WAY OF THE RAT and SCION still sharp, the gap is narrowing.
Spoiler warning for BATMAN #614
In the latest issue of WIZARD, Greg Rucka quotes one of Brian Bendis' writing mantras, which says that the writer should stick their characters into the most uncomfortable positions possible and then find a way for them to get out. It's a smart writing move if you can pull it off, Rucka notes.
In last week's issue of BATMAN, however, Jeph Loeb does such a convincing job of painting Batman into a corner that it's impossible to back him out of it without swallowing one of the most horrific and overused comics cliches known to man. It's a cliche so old and painful to hear that even the BATMAN ANIMATED television series poked fun at it once, and Joss Whedon's opening episode of FIREFLY kicked it into the jets of the ship.
Batman fights the Joker, and is reminded that The Joker killed Robin, Gordon's wife, and paralyzed Barbara Gordon (for starters), how do you control the rage and the natural instinct to personally administer a death penalty? Batman ends the issue looking like a complete wuss, when the even wussier Gordon "talks him down." I can see Superman letting Joker go, but Batman? I know it's in keeping with the character of sixty years and all, but this is a bit much even for me. The Joker deserves death, period. I think some anti-death penalty advocates would even agree with that.
Painful issue. Gordon saves the day with a variation on "If you kill him, then you're just as bad as he is."
Are you done groaning yet?
At least the art is pretty.
End spoiler warning
PIPELINE PREVIEWS LAST WEEK
Don't forget that last Friday saw the return of Pipeline Previews, highlighting material due to ship in July 2003. When you read it, mentally add in a recommendation for Image's BRIT one-shot, too. It looks cool.
One quick correction on that column: The X-Babies special I was thinking of that Art Adams drew was actually an EXCALIBUR special, not NEW MUTANTS.
Various and Sundry has been updated all week with the mandatory look at the week's DVD releases, a review of THE TRANSPORTER DVD, news of Weird Al Yankovic's new album and ENTERPRISE's sad new direction, spam, and plenty of AMERICAN IDOL talk.
Nearly 500 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 or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.