Thursday, 27 February 2014

New Mutants #98-#100: No New Mutants

For all that I waffle about comics, I don’t talk about comic art much, which is a habit I am trying to break.  So, let's talk about the art of this final arc of New Mutants.  As I have been reading more of this era I am starting to appreciate what artists like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (who is the guilty party for New Mutants #98-#100) were trying to do.

Before you start up the flamethrowers, let me clarify.  Yes, they did not have the anatomy and often ended up drawing ridiculous contorted poses, but the generation of artists before that were not trying those poses at all.  They are doing stuff with perspective and angles and dynamism and action and composition and people coming at you from the weird directions and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but whatever happens it’s always new and different.  If we treat panels as shots in a film, they are an exciting wave of cinematographers.  (And that’s precisely how they were treating the panels.)  They were very raw but I can see why people got so into them.  They (well, most of them) got better at it, too, and them and the next wave, of people who have refined their techniques are responsible for lots of great comics art today.

What else do we have here?  Well, the cover for New Mutants #98 promises us three new characters!  Excite! These are a rather more heavily built Spider-Man lookalike called Deadpool, someone with a domino pattern on her face called... Domino.  And some chap called Gideon, who, with a name like that, is clearly going to be a major player in the future.

Deadpool has been sent by a Mr. Tolliver to assassinate Cable (who I will note he addresses as Nathan - I don't know whether that is a new thing or not though, due to not having been bothered to read the intermediate issues of New Mutants).  Deadpool is immediately a mercenary with a mouth on him, something that I think it's worth pointing out was a novelty at a time given the prevalence of the taciturn grim villain/anti-hero.  The fight is truncated by the arrival of Domino, an old friend of Cable, who has the pouches to prove it.  They send Deadpool back to Tolliver by mail.

Domino sticks around to help Cable recruit: the team has lost Warlock and Wolsfbane due to the recent crossover.  All previous New Mutants (Rusty, Skids, Xi'an, Amara, and Dani) are ruled out due to alignment or in some cases their faint hint of rubbishness.  While he's off headhunting John Proudstar from the Mass Acad, other students are evaporating (not literally - it's good to clarify that in a superhero comic), as Rictor goes off back to Genosha and Sunspot inherits his father's business, due to Gideon's machinations. (Gideon, by the way, turns out to be an old family friend of the da Costas.)  He just lets them fuck off, which annoys some of his team but not enough for them to fuck off too.

#100 introduces another couple of characters: Feral, an escaped Morlock who I am forever confusing with Wolfsbane, and Shatterstar from the Mojoverse.  Cable and the New Mutants protect these folks from their respective enemies and accepts their assistance in return for same.  At the end we get a few pages of cutaway to Stryfe, leader of the Mutant Liberation Front, who is on the last page dramatically revealed (I presume, it's oddly structured otherwise) to look quite a lot like Cable,  What a mystery!

Although clearly these issues are going to be important, they're also quite shit,  The plot is paper-thin, the characterisation subtle (in the sense, barely there, rather than that it's clever), and coming back to this series after a few issues doesn't make me worry about having missed anything good.  The end of the New Mutants is effectively arbitrary: it's already been X-Force for a while, but it's at this issue - apparently for no other reason than that they've finally got to issue #100, that they make a symbolic break, by leaving the basement of the mansion, and taking on the new name.

Incidentally Cannonball and Boom Boom clearly have a quick one in the woods between pages 33 and 34.  And by that I don't mean a pint.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Uncanny X-Men #273: Together Again for the First Time

The opening splash in Uncanny X-Men #273 is the happiest this project has made me.  The X-Men!  All in the same room!  As a team!  With captions!  We have here Storm, Cannonball, Banshee, Boom-Boom, Jubilee, Cable, Wolverine, Psylocke, Beast, Archangel, Rictor, Gambit, Iceman, Sunspot, Forge, Cyclops and Jean Grey.

Well, I say as a team.  In reality they are having a massive argument about what to do next, whether they should press on from their victory in Genosha to take out other threats.  Cable is keen on that, Cyclops and Storm (by the way did I mention she's an adult again now?) less so.

Cyclops and Storm discuss where to base the X-Men, since the security basement of the mansion is a bit cramped.  Storm agrees that moving to Australia was probably a mistake, but declines the offer of using X-Factor's Ship.  Jean decides to use Cerebro to track down other friendly mutants (Longshot, Dazzler, Rogue, for example), but no, she hasn't got her telepathy back, and she is owned by the Shadow King, whose storyline is looming.

Apart from the SRS BSNS, there's lots of fun bits of new characters interaction.  Wolverine and Gambit get some banter; while Iceman and Boom-Boom have a competition as to who is more immature (my vote is for Bobby).  And Psylocke gets one of the best lines ever, in response to being asked whether she had told her brother (Captain Britain) of recent events yet.  "And say what?  Hullo twin, guess who this is.  Back from the dead, just like you!  Remember last time we met and you couldn't believe I had purple hair.  Well, the hair's still purple."

Uncanny has stopped being a slog, if only for an issue or two.  Onwards! But not long now until the end...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

posting frequency and general update

Incidentally, no, you are not mistaken, it is a Thursday.  We're going to be upping the posting frequency now, to 2 a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This is because I am feeling quite comfortable with the one a week rate and want to get a bit further ahead, but also because I am going to have a lot more time on my hands soon, having resigned from my job.  I'm going to spend a month off (by which I mean writing posts and possibly an Android game) before properly jobhunting.

Comics-making has been going well, but there's nothing really I can show anyone yet.  Well, apart from Lost in Bitstrips.

Oh, and I got a piece in the New Statesman, that was nice.  But that's nothing at all to do with comics!

X-Factor #63-#64: Drake out of Hell

X-Factor #63-#64 is a massive tonal shift from the doom-soaked epic of the X-Tinction agenda.  Instead we have a happy light story about the abduction of Opal,  Bobby's lover, by her blood grandfather, who turns out to be the head of a major Japanese crime syndicate. 

They the the snatch right there while Bobby is watching, but he can't do a thing to stop them (well, no successful thing anyway).  Although he is all "this is something I have to [do myself]", he is persuaded to allow the rest of X-Factor to come along for the first half, and also relies upon the help of Mariko, Wolverine's former flame and head of a rival Japanese crime syndicate.  It helps to have the right friends. (X-Men, man!)

When this was a Wolverine story, it was stained in blood and angst. Because it's Iceman, there's a limit to that: Opal's kidnapper is being explicitly generous with the terms of her abduction, and she even gets to pick which one of the five technically-enhanced goons (called - get this - "cyberpunks") he will force her to marry.  Isn't that charming, it's almost like a romantic comedy - especially with Hiro, the most well-sketched of them.  He didn't always want to be a cyberpunk,  you know, he has a poet's soul.

Opal gets some good bits, although they are scarce.  She is openly defiant initially, but then realises playing along might help, bidding her time until she can execute her plan.  A plan, which sadly, turns out to not involve any ass-kicking by her - just screaming for help at the right moment and hoping.  But at great personal risk.  It's agency, of a kind.

Bobby is not the wisest of the X-Men (hardly, it must be admitted, a high bar), and ends up in a a solo fight with this Hiro, having both agreed not to useI should hate this comic.  I wonder why I don't. their powers.  Love can make you do all sorts of things you might not have when you're sober, it turns out.  Bobby takes a pummelling  and Hiro somehow realises that he's not really deactivated his powers, they were built in.  For a minion of a major gangster, he's not a bad sort, so he lets the crazy kids go.  And only hours after he had been scaring her into marrying him.  Isn't that sweet?  

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

X-Tinction Agenda

X-Tinction Agenda (Uncanny X-Men #270-#272/New Mutants #95-#97/X-Factor #60-#62) is the model X-Men crossover.  Several different teams come together to fight an existential threat towards the X-Men, something bigger than usual.  Mutant Massacre had kind of tried this but the interlinking was weak; Fall of the Mutants was basically only a thematic crossover, and Inferno had too much weird stuff going on.

X-Tinction Agenda has a nice simple premise, and then throws 9 issues at exploring it, giving ample time to its regular line-up of characters.  It has the "X-" pun, which would go on to become a vitally important part of X-Men storyline nomenclature, even to the point where it didn't make sense ("Avengers: X-Sanction").

So, what's this about?   The Genoshan government finally goes a little bit too far, by abducting some of the New Mutants (and Storm) from Westchester and forcing them to become slaves.  This allows the various teams of X-Men in existence (Cable and the nascent X-Force, the Gambit/Forge/Banshee X-Men, X-Factor, and the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee group), to openly retaliate, with the backing of the US government, and endorsement from their superhero mates such as Reed Richards.

I was a bit sarcy about this on twitter. It seemed like the X-Men comics were finally taking the brave step of attacking apartheid in 1990, just as Nelson Mandela was released.  But then I kept reading, and discovered that the ending is not just that the X-Men are able to recover their friends, but that the Genoshan regime has actually been overthrown.  Change can happen.  Life is not stuck in the status quo.  It's worth pushing, as if you don't you're never going to make a difference.

There's changes to characters, too.   Warlock changes to dead, for example.  Wolfsbane and Storm were enslaved and brainwashed (I don't know that there's a word in English strong enough for what happened to them), and Havok, who had become a Magistrate on Genosha because of the Siege Perilous, is released, and stays behind to rebuild.

I'm sure it won't last, but for now the X-Tinction Agenda is the X-Men's greatest victory for mutants as a whole.  Everything they've done is firefighting of one sort or another.  They've defeated evil mutants from carrying out evil plans (Magneto and Mystique stand out), they've defended mutants from humans carrying out evil plans (sentinels), and they've protected the Earth in general from threats.  But this, despite the losses, is a victory to be proud of.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Uncanny X-Men #269: Rogue.split()

Uncanny X-Men #269 is Rogue's only appearance in a comic in 1990.  When we last saw her, in #247, she was fighting Bastion, sacrificing herself to save everyone.

Cut to: Rogue waking up in that town in the Australian outback that the X-Men briefly hid in, and learning about the assassination of Mystique and the death of Destiny from the tellybox.  I'm surprised at Rogue's naivity here: news involving Mystique should not be interpreted at face value, and although we as readers didn't see anything that contradicts the report, surely that's Mystique pretending to be Val Cooper...

This is another puzzling issue, featuring a fight with the original Ms. Marvel who seems to be being controlled by the Shadow King, guest appearance of the Muir Island X-Men, who appear to have gone bad, and, of all things, a cutaway to Lila Cheney, of the Shi'ar Imperium.  And finally Magneto arrives in time to save Rogue...  (What's he been up to, anyway?)

It also contains a good candidate for the X-Men's worst racefail yet.  Rogue has occasion to nick powers off Gateway (discussed previously).  As she does so, her skin colour changes. (No other aspect of her appearance, mind.)  The?  Please let this just have been a miscommunication with the colourist.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Uncanny X-Men #268: When Logan met Steve

Uncanny X-Men #268 is an important step in development of Wolverine into the Logan we know today.  It's The One Where It Turns Out He Knew Captain America from Back in the War.

The story itself is nothing remarkable - some fairly standard ninja fighting, but its use of two split timeframes - 1941 and 1990 - is rare. In 1941, Logan meets Cap in Madpripoor and they help Ivan Petrovich rescue a young Natasha Romanov from Nazis; in 1990 they (the three of them) fight the Hand. It's quite clever, and it's structuralist in a way that Claremont very rarely ever did. They all get on, obviously, although there's a nice bit at the end where Cap suggests that he and Wolverine make a nice team, and Wolverine is all "I don't have sidekicks". Burn.

Even though they've gone their separate ways, this story is part of a pattern of the X-Men become more well-integrated into the general superhero community - see the X-Men and Fantastic Four becoming besties in Days of Future Present for example. Their period of isolation is ending. The 1990s is beginning, the age of the crossover.