June 13, 2004

GeekAlert: X-Men Reloaded

Yeah, I’m all extra-geeky today. When I found out that Marvel was re-launching the X-Men series for the 237th time, I had to check them out. A little history, when I was younger I was an X-Men obsessive. I started in the mid-80’s and lasted to the mid-90’s. Since, I’ve checked out various X-things since then, and read Ultimate X-Men more or less since it’s inception. Now that Reload is upon us, I decided to take a look. It is a decidedly mixed bag, but with enough good stuff and enough nostalgia that I’ll give them a few months.

Astonishing X-Men #1

This is the Big Deal: a new title, a superstar artist (John Cassady) and a Hollywood name (Joss Whedon) for a writer. This is a perfectly fine X-Men story, snappy dialogue, beautiful art and a nicely atmospheric beginning and ending. Unfortunately, due to the intense hype around this title, it’s a bit underwhelming. It shouldn’t be, though.

As I mentioned, the art is fantastic. Cassady has a nice, understated style that reminds me of Paul Smith, one of my favorite old-time X-Men artists. During the opening, where we follow Kitty Pryde returning to the Mansion, there is a flashback piece that comes straight from Smith: Kitty storming out, calling the Professor a jerk. That entire scene is priceless to any longtime fan of the series. Joss Whedon seems to have a good grip on characterizations, and as is expected, the dialogue is highlight.

Gifted is a nice start for this title, and I will definitely continue reading.

Uncanny X-Men #444
This would be the other, smaller Big Deal. Chris Claremont returns to the X-Men.
This would be the third such return, following the rightfully aborted mess from prior to Grant Morrison, and the wildly inconsistent X-Treme X-Men. Thank God that title bit the dust, I couldn’t even think it without cringing. This time Claremont has teamed with Alan Davis, another longtime favorite of mine. These two benefit from the hype surrounding Astonishing: this Reload title has much less pressure. It’s classic Claremont. Opens with the team playing baseball, features a perfectly forgettable villain (the Weaponeers) that we may very well never see again, and some the most ludicrous dialogue ever seen.

Uncanny though, does show some of the stuff that made Claremont the definitive X-Men writer, and it really shines. Nightcrawler and Wolverine are a team again, and it feels perfectly natural, almost like it’s 1985 again. The scene in the Danger Room is classic too, complete with the original uniforms. If you are into the nostalgia trip, this is a pretty great title.

X-Men #157
Okay, try to keep up. X-Men is back to being just X-Men, no modifier needed. It keeps the same numbering it did through the New X-Men run. The new New X-Men is the old New Mutants. Oh, and the new creative team on X-Men comes over from Uncanny X-Men, while half the creators on X-Treme X-Men switch to Uncanny X-Men.
Easy right?
Unfortunately for everyone not in his immediate family, Chuck Austen is still the writer on a major X-Title. I’ve not read everything that he’s put out on Uncanny, but from what I’ve read, and seen from other reviewers and fans, nobody seems to like this guy. Wouldn’t you think that Reload would be the perfect time to shuffle him off somewhere else and try someone, anyone other than him? Does he have pictures of Quesada having sex with a chicken or something?

The book itself is pretty awful, another meet the team story, but this time everyone seems to hate each other. Havok is the leader, but he’s quarreling with his girlfriend, accusing her of sleeping with Iceman while he was off marrying another woman. Polaris is still rather crazy, and Juggernaut is still inexplicably a member of the team. Bobby spends the entire issue acting like a moronic twelve-year old, snapping at Alex incessantly, but with a wit that barely clears the “I know you are but what am I” routine. Rogue and Gambit want to be re-assigned, and really, with this bunch, wouldn’t you?

Not all is terrible however: Salvador Larroca’s art is pretty, and there are a couple of snippets of wit amongst all the melodramatic dialogue, primarily Wolverine’s comment that he “can’t be on ALL the teams”. There are some good ideas buried in this crapola. I wish Austen were enough of a writer to find them.

New X-Men: Academy X #1
Yes that is the actual title, but I’m betting they drop the Academy X part pretty quick. I think that would be a mistake, dropping New X-Men would make a whole lot more sense. This is basically the most recent New Mutants title, with the addition of Randy Green on art. I was a big fan of the original New Mutants, which makes sense, since I started reading the title at 13. It was easy to connect with the muties, since I really wanted to be an X-Man too. I paid little attention to the relaunch last year, what I did see seemed pretty lackluster.

And it still is. This is another tour of the mansion, which must have been mandatory for these issues, since they all have a version of it. We’re introduced, or reintroduced as it were to the team. They move into the new mansion, and end up sneaking into the Danger Room. Now they have a perfectly legitimate reason for being there, as Nuriko’s powers are on the verge of overload. Instead of asking one of the grown-ups, they sneak into Cyclops’ office and steal his pass code. I can’t decide if this is a ridiculous way of propelling the story (they learn they may be reassigned while sneaking around the office), or an accurate representation of how teenagers think. Probably both.

The art on this title is pretty mundane. The layouts are nice, but the whole thing feels rushed. I do like the cover, but it’s rather odd. The cover features the 5 characters followed in this story in a classic superhero pose. The odd part is the 6th person on the cover seems to be some random ninja type. Oh, and who devises superhero uniforms that are mostly yellow and white?
I’ll give this title a chance, but it doesn’t seem like anything special.

Excalibur #1
This is another Claremont title, and it has exactly zero to due with the original Excalibur book. That was a team of X-Men in Britain. This is essentially the Professor wandering around the ruins of Genosha. For those not paying attention, Genosha was the country were mutants were slaves, then the X-Men came around and beat the hell out of that. That started a civil war, which resounded in an extraordinarily boring way in all the X-books. Then Magneto took over and reshaped into a paradisiacal mutant homeland. After that, Cassandra Nova blew it all to hell. And that’s pretty much what it still is.

Charlie decides to wander the place; what for is never really decided. Along the way he talks to himself, using the late Moira McTaggert as the projection of his conscience. He meets some survivors, and in the logic that only works in comics, these survivors of the apocalypse are perfectly well-fed and seem to have met all their fishnet stocking needs. He invites two of them to stay. The girl calls herself Wicked and she seems to have stepped out of any goth club in the US. The boy is Freakshow, and he has the rather cool ability to change into giant random monsters. The Professor is apparently going to set up shop here.

This is a maddeningly inconsistent opening. The idea is really rather brilliant, even considering the nonsensical name. The execution works in some places, but not in others. The scenes with Xavier talking to himself are great, a touching look into a mind that carries far too much guilt and sorrow. As stated previously, the survivors are rather ludicrous, and include the always-memorable Unus the Untouchable. Oh, and there is twist at the end, and if you can’t see it coming you aren’t really trying. There are dozens of explanations about the twist, and only a few of them don’t totally suck.

I still haven’t read District X yet, though I certainly want to. The idea of a police force patrolling a Mutant Chinatown is excellent, and everything I hear about the title is good. A couple of unconnected bits about Reload are worth mentioning. Astonishing, Uncanny, X-Men and Excalibur really have terrific covers, showing iconic X-Men bits such as Wolverine's claws and Nightcrawler's curled tail. Lastly, there was much discussion of putting the X-Men back into costumes. I’ve no problem with costumes in general, but the new (and in the case of Uncanny, old ones) range from bland to hideous. Neither Davis nor Cassady goes anywhere beyond mundane in their redesigns, and the look on characters from X-Men is beyond comprehension. Havok’s Silver-Age costume will always be the ugliest in X-Men history, but his current one is pretty close. It's much of the Silver-Age look, plus a giant bubble-head helmet and some mechanical doohickeys around his feet and hands. It's beyond lame, and I can't belive guys like Alan Davis, John Cassady and Salvador Larroca can't come up with better than this.

Posted by Frinklin at June 13, 2004 11:55 PM
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