New Comic Day hangover

With all the moving pains and wedding days out of the way, it’s finally time to get back into action and take a look at the last few weeks of books.  It’s been…whoa, three weeks?  Really?  Wow – okay, here’s what we’ll be looking at –

  • Alpha Flight #5 (of 8) in which the team robs a bank.
  • Astonishing X-Men #43 in which Emma Frost and Danger have a girls’ night out.
  • Generation Hope #12 in which the group loses and gains a member.
  • New Mutants #32 in which the team finishes its crossover.
  • Uncanny X-Force #16 in which the Apocalypse story is still going.
  • Uncanny X-Men #544 in which the title ends…until next month’s issue, that is.
  • Wolverine and the X-Men #1 in which the new title gets an odd first issue.
  • X-Factor #226 in which the whole team gets in on the action.
  • X-Men Legacy #257 in which the group is still in space.
  • X-Men Regenesis #1 in which we find out where all the important characters are going.

Sit back, relax, and don’t mind the SPOILERS that will follow the jump in my words.

Alpha Flight
In its original incarnation, Alpha Flight made it over 100 issues and those who read every single issue probably couldn’t have told you why.  Similar to Excalibur, it was a book that (beyond some noteworthy creators peppered here and there) seemed to exist simply to exist and now can largely be found with most of its run relegated to quarter bins at flea markets.  And thus, when Marvel has attempted to repeat the apparent success with a serious relaunch, it never goes anywhere.  And for good reason – Alpha Flight is not a strong enough franchise to warrant a serious book.  Much like DC’s Justice League International, you have to give readers something else to look at, because a gathering of C- and low B-class heroes isn’t going to keep them hooked.

But in just five issues, Grek Pak and Fred Van Lente’s Alpha Flight has been one hell of a good time, and those who might be interested in the franchise would do well to go pick up this mini, now apparently picked up for an ongoing.  The strength of this title is that it is well aware that it’s starring Alpha Flight.  No one is ever going to take Alpha Flight as an A-level superteam.  It won’t be appearing in major crossovers (except an Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe).  But this title uses that as an advantage and does stuff no other hero teams can pull off.  You’d never see the Avengers or Fantastic Four robbing a bank in costume to get the money needed to pay for the Taskmaster’s services.  But Alpha Flight does it and makes it work well.

If you’ve ever been the tiniest interested in this group, then this is the series you should be buying.

Astonishing X-Men
I was mildly surprised to see this issue’s cover, since last week’s books had a preview image of Cyclops kissing Storm…but apparently Marvel decided to begin promoting issue #44 before #43 had even come out.  If that was a sign on the quality of this issue, I can’t say that it’s exactly unwarranted.  It’s not a very good issue…but at least it has an attractive Arthur Adams cover featuring 40% more Emma Frost’s breasts than your ordinary cover!

In the rotating creator/X-Men Unlimited format that this book has become, this one-off we get the team of James Asmus and David Yardin (with Norman Lee and Rachelle Rosenberg), names I am not at all familiar with.  And the book they come up with actually is something I would expect to see in a book like X-Men Unlimited.  We have Danger, the former AI of the Danger Room, now walking and talking and heading Utopia’s brig, calling in a favor to Emma Frost to go break out a fellow trapped AI from within the Secret Avengers’ headquarters.  And why, of all places, would it be the Secret Avengers’ headquarters?  To allow Beast to show up in the story, naturally.

The point of this story is to give a little bit of humanization to Danger…but the problem is that Danger is a character that doesn’t need any humanization.  Danger’s not someone that you’re likely to want to get to know any better.  There’s no real attachment to hook onto with her – she’s a background character that provides a good straight voice to allow the others have some shining lines.  She’s there for when someone needs to be held prisoner or break out of said prison.  When you try to add “first love” or “relate to problems” it only weakens the character’s base.  It reminds me of the attempts in the late 90’s to make Marrow a redeemed character.  The more “pretty” and “girlish” she became, the less creators had to do with her to the point that once the X-Men revamped in 2000, she was yanked from the titles and has barely been seen since.

And Emma Frost is hardly a character that should be used to reflect the human traits of anyone.  Spouting lines like “You are still so young.  You still believe and trust people.  …and you wish to be loved” fails both characters.  Emma wouldn’t tell that to anyone, let alone Danger who it is a blatant misrepresentation of.

The art here doesn’t make things much better.  It’s got the basic ideas of what kind of things these characters should be doing – Emma undressing, Beast jumping around on things – but it doesn’t have any kind of life to it.  Emma’s room seems to have nothing more than a closet, a mirror and one lone chair in it.  The faces remind me of Igor Kordey filling in for Frank Quitely on New X-Men…but that might just be because I was just reading those.  Though I will admit shifting the styles between the AI scenes and the real-life ones was neat.

Not a very good story at all.  There seems to be so few from this title anymore.

Generation Hope
Now that Schism is over, the eight main X-books (whoa – I said that without any kind of sarcasm…8 X-books) all need to set off on their new directions, so Generation Hope takes this issue to do that.  It’s not like the title is going to get any real shake-up – after all, an important part of the plot is that the “lights” all have a bond to Hope that ties them together – but this one does see Idie leave and Pixie take her place on the team.  Oya’s departure is no big shocker after her role in Schism, and really neither is Pixie’s introduction.  She’s been the one member of the “New X-Men” era of students that has gotten any real prominence in the major books since New ended, and thus putting her here makes much more sense than trying to toss her into Uncanny or even X-Men with some of the bigger guns.  In his Schism tie-ins (and in Regenesis), Kieron Gillen seemed to be pushing more of the kids this way, most notably Prodigy, but nothing like that happens here.  We get some lines from Surge and Rockslide, but we know at least one of them is heading Wolvie’s way and thus won’t be here anymore.

The kids themselves get a chance to unwind and Gillen leaves us with a little more drama before leaving the book’s helm.  Velocidad  manages to screw up his budding relationship with Hope by making out with a pain-killer hopped Pixie, then reveals a tragic bit about his powers (they’re killing him) and we get Teon talking a little…though I’ve missed a few issues of this series so I’m really not sure if that’s a big deal or not.  Hope doesn’t respond to it at all.

A perfectly fine bookend to Gillen’s run on the title, shifting the pieces slightly to get them ready for next month’s new Regenesis launch.  Nothing wrong with that.

New Mutants
If you were too busy thinking about Schism, you might have forgotten that the Marvel U proper is still finishing up Fear Itself, and thus the New Mutants are tied up for one more issue before settling themselves for the reshuffle.  Though that doesn’t actually happen in this title until next issue, we’re already aware of the lone change happening thanks to Regenesis.  And as for this…I really can’t say too much.  As I said on the other issues, I haven’t read Fear Itself and thus I have no reference to judge what’s going on in the big picture.  All I can really say is that the New Mutants find a way to beat their enemies and then go home.  The end.

For fans of the book who are similarly lost with the crossover, there’s plenty of character interaction to enjoy and the art, while certainly sketchy at some points, is pretty fun.  I, for one, am happy that this story is done, though.  It didn’t give us anything we didn’t have going in save for the setup to a Magma/Mephisto storyline that will no doubt be a lot of fun.

Uncanny X-Force
Oh yes, we’re still going strong with the Dark Angel Saga.  I try not to read reviews of books before I write my own, as I don’t want to be swayed by the words of the so-called “professionals” (though I do tend to agree with a lot of Paul O’Brien’s X-Axis reviews over at House to Astonish), but I have to think that reviews might be saying this one’s starting to run a little long.  Of course, since the story’s pretty fantastic, I guess we can dismiss it.

We’re six chapters in and we still have Deadpool, Fantomex and Deathlok running around killing, but at least now we’re starting to get to a new direction.  Wolverine is finally awake after several issues comatose, Fantomex has retreated from the battle (enter French surrender joke here), Deathlok has been compromised by the Horseman War, a couple more Horsemen have been taken out (including the last of the original ones from waaaaay back in the original X-Factor) and apparently Psylocke is the new Death, since Deadpool and Fantomex killed the old one last issue.

The bigger deal is the showing up of the Age of Apocalypse version of Iceman who apparently is now in league with Angelocalypse since everything in his own world has come up pretty much dead.  I think this is supposed to be a big deal, but I myself didn’t get the emotional attachment to the moment since even in the original Age of Apocalypse books, Iceman was a pretty unimportant character.  Hell, even our Iceman is a pretty unimportant character.

This story also has the trouble of the rest of the line moving on ahead of it before its ready.  Solicitations have already shown us that the AoA Nightcrawler will be joining the X-Force cast, so we’re waiting on him to show up.  Deadpool certainly isn’t going to stay dead, since Marvel loves him so much.  Psylocke is just fine in Regenesis to make her decision between Wolverine and Cyclops (she picks both, that tart) and Warren’s nowhere to be seen.  The rest of us can do the math.

But if you ignore all of that, this has been a really good story – quite possibly the best Apocalypse story ever told, which says something being that it doesn’t actually have the villain we know as Apocalypse anywhere in it.

Uncanny X-Men
After 48 years and 544 issues (a couple dozen reprint issues that Marvel tries to pretend didn’t happen), Uncanny X-Men concludes its run, ending Marvel’s highest numbered ongoing title in which you didn’t have to pull together crazy numbered issues to get the whole run.  But don’t get down, reader!  Next month the title relaunches with a brand new #1 and the exact same creative team!  So why even bother with a final issue if the book is just going to keep on going?  At this point, I’ve spent all my frustration with Marvel’s wanky numbering system.  After all, how can Fantastic Four get #600 when FF keeps going?  Uncanny will get 55 issues of new numbering and then will jump up for #600.  Just wait.

Anyway, this story doesn’t really serve as a turning point for the Cyclops-based X-Men.  That takes place in Regenesis.  Instead, this story serves to end the nearly 5-decade run of the title itself, looking back at the beginnings of the title.  There’s also a matter of Mister Sinister maybe or maybe not being brought back to life that’s really difficult to grasp.  Though I really hope he is back.  With Magneto now amongst the X-Men and Apocalypse gone, Sinister is the perfect villain to be the main antithesis of the X-Men, especially Cyclops’s brand that looks to further mutantkind as a species.

So we get the final farewell  between Cyclops and Iceman who are the only two members of the original group left.  That would probably mean something more had Iceman not been relegated to background duty since coming to the west coast, but it’s a nice enough moment.  Beast also turns up to be something of a dick to Cyclops before leaving again, for those not aware that he’s a cast member of Wolverine and the X-Men.

I had joked earlier how fitting it was that Uncanny‘s art started with Jack Kirby and ended with Greg Land, but really Land’s art isn’t as bad as everyone loves to say it is.  He put Iceman into Cyclops’s 70’s uniform for some reason (I suspect to give him the boots/gloves look from the early days) and has various characters just pop up in the foreground for no reason, but his two-page splash image of the book’s events is pretty fantastic, I have to say.  For an X-Nerd like me, there’s a lot to pick out from it and a lot of placement images (like the baseball scene from Annual #7 complete with accurate outfits) that makes my nostalgia factor kick in hardcore.

This issue was a fine ending point for this phase, though it does lose something with the announcement on the last page that the next issue will be out next month.  Oh, Marvel.

Wolverine and the X-Men
The first of the Regenesis line of X-Men launches with Wolverine reopening the school, and this book is really a mess.  Not a “Nightcrawler’s father is the devil with a plot hole” mess so much as a “what the hell is going on?” sort of mess.  This issue is the stage setting for the East Coast half of the X-Men line and it’s all over the place.  The splash page representing the rebuilt school (now called the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning rather than the Charles Xavier School) is a mish-mosh of sci-fi tubes and structures that makes it almost look like someone unloaded a giant silverware drawer onto the building.  It looks absolutely ridiculous – how can any artist other than Chris Bachalo be expected to regularly draw that monstrosity?

So to play up the school aspect of the book, the title’s headmasters Wolverine and Kitty Pryde give a tour of the facilities to Department of Education officials in a story that just screams “how many things can possibly go wrong?”.  In the process we get a chance to spend fleeting seconds with numerous characters that are peppered around the facilitiy, not limited to Doop (LOVE!), Rachel Summers, Oya, Rockslide, Anole, Husk, Hellion, Glob Herman, Toad, Broo (the Brood offspring from Astonishing), Lockheed, Kid Omega and Beast.  There’s so much ridiculous nonsense going on every page that it’s hard to get a grip on just what the point of the book is supposed to be.  Hellion and Herman get attacked by Danger Room components in the bathroom.  Little Nightcrawler-like demons start running around.  The Hellfire Club kid from Schism shows up to introduce himself.  It’s complete chaos.

And you know what?  I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  This is fun – this is different.  This is the X-Men characters getting a new direction and being able to do something other than hanging out until something attacks, then rinsing and repeating.  The book also gives some bonus features including a staff/student listing (better than Regenesis, which was the entire point of that book) and a hilarious course listing (including Diction and Linguistics with Rogue and Sex Ed with Gambit).

This story was tailor made for Chris Bachalo, as his art style shines best with chaos.  He’s on his top form here, and it’s some of the best stuff he’s put out in his numerous X-Men runs.  My only complaint is that for whatever reason Toad is colored green.  Ever since the launch of the X-Men film and Ultimate X-Men, no one has been able to get a grasp on what Toad should look like.  Bachalo seems to be trying to pull him back to his earliest incarnation, which I like, but the green skin makes no sense at all.  Oh well – it’s only Toad.

This, I like.

I do have to say one thing about Peter David – he certainly knows how to use a cast.  X-Factor has nine members and a supporting character and each one of them gets a moment in this issue to do something.  The point is a murder investigation, but the real story is the developing character moments, most specifically with M, Rictor and Wolfsbane.  This issue is really a mid-part of the story and there’s not too much to go on about.  It’s Peter David writing X-Factor.  It’s strong and it’s good.  What more do you want?

X-Men Legacy
Here’s another example of a book falling a bit behind the rest of the line as we still are going through the mission to bring home the Starjammer X-Men while all of the characters have shown up just fine in other books released.  While certainly not Mike Carey’s strongest story in this title, the mind-controlling space station jaunt is certainly high-stakes action and gives the regulars something to do.  We’re still an issue away from finishing up, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Korvus, the giant sword wielding lover of Rachel Summers, isn’t going to make it out.  Just saying.

X-Men Regenesis
And now this.  I suppose I should apologize – I should have covered this one before Wolverine and the X-Men came out since it bridges the gap between it and Schism, but I didn’t, so just deal with it.  You have to hand it to this story – it’s not everyday one comes along that can be told in three separate places and get pretty much the same thing across.  This could have fit perfectly in either the final issue of Schism or the final issue of Uncanny X-Men, yet here we are with a one-shot for no other reason than Marvel would appreciate four more dollars from you.

Now that Wolverine and Cyclops have decided to go their own separate ways, it’s time to find out where all of the other characters will be going.  The story is told over the image of two feral warriors fighting each other while others stand behind one or the other.  This is neat except that the lack of identifiable costumes fails when some of the lesser-known characters take one side or another (looking at you, Young X-Men).  It’s a good character piece that boils down to “should I be involved in a school?” to decide whether a character goes with Wolverine or not.

There are a few pages reprinted verbatim from Generation Hope but it really works here to give those not reading the other book a feel for why Oya’s breaking off, and doesn’t mess up the pacing at all.  But overall, the book devolves down to showing a character saying yay or nay and then going about their way.  It’s really only here just for those too impatient to wait for the actual titles to come out to see where all their favorites end up.  And even this doesn’t seem completely sure on the matter – Regenesis says Dust is with Wolverine, but she is not listed amongst the students in Wolverine & the X-Men.

But I’ll tell you what.  I’ll set up a little table for you to show where everyone seems to be going.  Will that do?

Next Week

  • New Mutants #33 for two weeks in a row to catch up!
  • Uncanny X-Men #1 to start Team Cyclops.
  • X-Men #20 which I think gives some direction for this book.  Psshh.  Right.

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