Too serious about comics.

Chris Yost

Best Comic of 2013: Superior Spider-Man

leave a comment

superiorspidermanOh, it WOULD be, wouldn’t it?

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Superior Spider-Man is getting this accolade from us. We’re both huge fans of the character and in previous years we’ve given nods to Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Spider-Men in our end of year lists. But when you consider that 12 months ago, Dan Slott killed Peter Parker and allowed the body of his greatest foe to usurp his life, shouldn’t we be upset? Shouldn’t we be angry? Shouldn’t we be joining those who think Dan Slott has gone too far and calling for his immediate removal?

Well, no. Because Superior Spider-Man is the most original, compelling and consistently brilliant storyline that the Spider-Man titles have seen in years. Whether rehabilitating forgotten 90s characters like Stunner, bringing back early ideas Lee/Ditko ideas like The Living Brain or finding a new and twisted take on existing foes like The Vulture, Slott has managed to create a Spider-Man comic that simultaneously revels in the character’s lore while forging a new one with every issue. The story of Octavius’ second chance is hugely compelling. We may hate him for what he’s done, but at the same time he’s trying to be better, and often facing people so much worse than him that it’s easy to know who to root for. It’s a superhero soap opera with all the classic tropes, and too few comics can do that in such a sincere manner without feeling dated or hokey.

And Peter Parker may not actually be appearing in the comic, but in very real a way this entire run is about him. In every decision Octavius makes that puts others at risk, in every victory he uses to further his image and agenda, in every moment where his confidence spills over into arrogance, you can’t help but think: Peter Parker would’ve done this differently. Where Peter felt he had to put the costume on to save lives, Octavius does it to prove a point: that he’s better than everyone else. He may be getting results now, but we know that it can’t last forever. Half of the fun of reading Superior Spider-Man is waiting for the slip-up that undoes him.

Of course, the entire run isn’t down to Slott alone. He’s had some top collaborators, too. Ryan Stegman has never been a bad artist, but his work on Superior Spider-Man is something else, cementing his place as one of the industry’s best. Chris Yost’s appearances as co-writer haven’t slowed the series down at all, and should the day come when Slott leaves the series, one can’t help but identify Yost as the natural successor. And, of course, editor Steve Wacker – now sadly outgoing following a promotion into Marvel’s animation – has had such a phenomenal output over the last few years that it’s impossible not to recognise his contribution. But ultimately, this is Slott’s baby. He masterminded the story and since its on his shoulders that the abuse inevitably comes to rest, so should the praise. In Superior Spider-Man, Slott has cemented himself as one of the character’s top writers, the equal of Roger Stern, J. M. DeMatteis and Gerry Conway.

You might argue that in a market where you’ve got books like Hawkeye, Daredevil and Young Avengers practically straining to out-innovate one another, Superior Spider-Man is just a little too traditional to be called the best book of the year. But here’s our take. It’s not the most surprising book. It’s not the most clever. It’s arguably not even the best-looking or best-written in a purely objective sense. But when it comes down to it, there’s no other superhero title we’d rather read each week, because through its combination of passion, plotting and execution, it’s managing to be the most difficult thing of all: impossible to put down.

The Book of Hope, Chapter Nine: X-Force #27

leave a comment

secondcomingbanner

Actually posted before the next issue comes out for a change, Chapter Nine of our look at the current X-Men crossover, Second Coming. Click behind the cut to read more!

Read the rest of this entry »

The Book of Hope, Chapter Five: X-Force #26

one comment

secondcomingbanner

Act One of Second Coming concludes as the X-Men finally get Hope and Cable back to Utopia – and naturally I’m here to waffle incoherently about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Book of Hope, Chapter One: X-Men – Second Coming #1

leave a comment

secondcomingbanner

So, Second Coming has officially started – and with that, so does our regular look at the latest chapter, starting with X-Men: Second Coming #1.

X_Men_Second_Coming_1Synopsis: Cable and Hope return to the present. Cyclops mobilises the X-Men to bring them into protection. Attacked by various groups of human zealots, Cable and Hope manage to stay ahead just long enough for the X-Men to arrive and take out their pursuers. In the final pages, it is revealed that the attackers are all members of the “Sapien League”, a group of the X-Men’s deadliest human foes which is being headed by… Bastion!

Mini Review: Not much new information about the story itself, but a lot of action and some surprisingly fantastic artwork from David Finch (even if Hope is drawn slightly too young compared to how she appeared over in Cable recently) add up to a decent beginning for the arc. Yost and Kyle’s grip on X-Men continuity serves this story well, and the setup for future chapters is well-disguised as Cyclops’ own contingency plans. If nothing else, it’s always fun to see the X-Men on top of a situation, doing what they do best, and yet still having time for some nice character moments too.

Commentary

Now, first big point – and call me a nerd if you like – but I really love the trade dress for Second Coming. Part of what I liked about Messiah Complex was the way that all of the issues looked like a continuous series, and that should be the case here, too. The X-Men logo with the extended strike is a nice take on a retro classic that visually references the original X-Factor logo – appropriately so, given the number of X-Factor references in this issue. I like the mix of modern and gothic fonts, and that the colours fit in nicely with Messiah Complex/War as well. Done properly, trade dress can make an event feel special, and that’s definitely the case here – the prominent chapter number indicates that this is going to be a story where every part counts.

In case you’re wondering, these weird grinning robots who show up are members of The Right, a group of mutant-hating X-Factor villains. Or, more accurately, they are members of the new Sapien League, wearing the armour of The Right, as discovered in a crate during the first year of X-Force v3.

X_Men_Second_Coming_2

The armour is (crudely) designed to counteract mutant powers – specifically, the powers of X-Factor (back when it comprised of the original X-Men). I have no idea what the grinning face design is about, you just have to remember that they were created in the 80s when this sort of thing was considered normal.

On Utopia, Cyclops informs the team that 3 X-Men died as a result of the events of Necrosha. Including Meld, who just died of his injuries. Who is Meld, you might be asking?

X_Men_Second_Coming_3

Who indeed. A shiny penny to anyone who can actually identify Meld from that line-up without checking first. Namor asks why the hell anyone cares about this Meld person anyway, echoing the voice of the readers, but Cyclops tells him to shut his face, then goes off and has an old-school sulk.

X_Men_Second_Coming_4

Let’s hope that wasn’t a load-bearing wall. Although this tantrum will potentially harm the resale value of Utopia, it is actually significant that he goes this far, because it suggests that the precarious situation of leading all mutantkind – not entirely successfully – is actually starting to get to the normally stoic and repressed Cyclops.

X_Men_Second_Coming_5

Now, here’s a mystery. Why isn’t Hope showing up on Cerebra? Can she somehow mask herself? Has Cable masked her already? Cerebra detected her mutant signature the moment Hope was born – so why not now? I’m pretty sure her powers have already manifested, after all, even if she isn’t well-practised in using them. And furthermore, how does Cyclops know that Hope is in the present too? Is it, perhaps, due to the psychic rapport he used to share with a certain redhead that Hope may or may not be the reincarnation of? Or is he just making a leap of faith?

Following this discovery, Cyclops breaks the team up into squads. It’s not clear why Domino and Vanisher have been sent to San Francisco. Rogue and Namor are left to protect Utopia – with Cyclops making an amusing appeal to Namor’s vanity – while the New Mutants are put in the sky, sans Magik, for similarly vague reasons. Cyclops himself takes his “Alpha Roster”, which is a frankly awesome team comprising Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Angel, Psylocke, X-23, Magik, Pixie and Cyclops himself. I love a good custom X-Men squad, and with three teleporters and lots of combat prowess, it seems well-suited for an extraction.

X_Men_Second_Coming_6

Meanwhile, Cable and Hope are still fighting. Cable notices that The Right armour is “ahead of its time.” Solicitations suggest that there’s going to be a time-travel component to Second Coming, but it may also suggest that the new Sapien League has been harvesting technology from Bastion’s “Nimrod” components.

The guys in the weird face-masks are members of the Sapien League, who first appeared in 2004 and were recently led by the Leper Queen. Apparently, when you’re out of flying robot suits with buit-in guns and stuff, your next option is a van and hockey mask. But they do get sniper rifles too. While they attempt to chase down Hope and Cable, the X-Men teleport in and slice up the Sapien League good, much to Nightcrawler’s moral outrage. Cyclops and Wolverine also spend a lot of time trying to hush up the various members of X-Force from discussing their secret black-ops missions in front of people who aren’t supposed to know about it.

Wolverine tries to find out how they were tracking Cable and Hope, and the next scene apparently reveals the answer. The new Sapien League had a video camera pointed at the mansion ruins. Probably not such a bad idea, all things considered. It also reveals the villains for Second Coming - a bunch of Human X-Men villains who have finally pooled their resources. Makes sense, really, given that the “faceless anti-mutant zealots” has been the mandate for a fair proportion of “different” anti-mutant organisations over the years. For those who are interested, it’s Cameron Hodge (demonically-immortal leader of The Right), Steven Lang (ex-Phalanx), Bolivar Trask (Sentinel creator), William Stryker (Purifiers), Graydon Creed (Friends of Humanity) and Bastion (Past-Mastermold, Part-Nimrod, All-Operation: Zero Tolerance). It’s like a 80s/90s villain reunion, and a feast for continuity geeks. Though, in case you hadn’t noticed, a lot of the villains in this story have recently appeared in Kyle/Yost’s X-Force run.

X_Men_Second_Coming_7

Oh, and just because they apparently haven’t used the word Messiah enough to justify the title of this crossover, Bastion appears here, crucified. Subtle.

Predictionwatch

In which I catch up with some of the predictions I made in Chapter Zero of this article series.

Phoenixwatch: Nothing about Phoenix so far. There’s the barest subtextual hint that Cyclops’ psychic link with Jean might be what makes him so sure that Hope is alive, but it could easily be nothing more than faith in his son.

Nightcrawlerwatch: Kurt seems oddly prominent in this issue, and gets to give the kind of speech that’s going to seem pretty ironic if he does die. His moral outrage at X-23′s murder of a Sapien League member is also a fairly major plot beat that suggests he may shortly develop some disillusionment with the Cyclops’ leadership skills. The fact that he has more lines than pretty much everyone except Cable, Hope and Cyclops suggests that he is going to be a major part of the next few issues – one way or the other.

So, Part One over. Everyone back here next week for a look at Uncanny X-Men #523!

Nation X #3

leave a comment

nationx03As if to emphasis how your enjoyment of anthologies is based around your enthusiasm for the characters, the third issue of Nation X has, in some places, been hailed as the best in the series so far. But for me, it’s probably the weakest.

This is no slight against the creative teams, to be fair – it’s purely about my interest in the subjects of the stories. When your book is built on character-led vignettes, this is the gamble you take.

The opening short has a fairly sane point to make, about Armor wanting to get revenge for Wing’s death at Danger’s hand, waaaaaaay back in Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run. Although there’s very little room to criticise the fight-scene-as-conversational metaphor setup, there’s a sense that the point is being addressed rather too late to be of any interest. The art is its saving grace, though, with an almost Sienkiewicz-esque hint to the murkey, expressive pages.

The next short features Anole and Magik, both characters who don’t interest me in the least – since to me, the Junior X-Men will always be Generation X, one of these characters is a little before my time, and the other’s a little after. The story doesn’t seem to be sure whether it’s making a point about Anole or Magik, or both, and the inconsistent art, with its seasickness-inducing tendancy towards extreme angles doesn’t help matters. Only a brilliantly vivid colouring job by Emily Warren saves it from total mediocrity.

The third short is about Madison Jeffries, who you will not recognise as one of the less interesting members of Alpha Flight, though he is now part of the Science Club, at least. The story itself attempts to flesh out Diamond Lil a little, to give her death in a recent X-Force issue some extra context – but it only works if you really notice that, which I didn’t because Lil’s death was almost incidental to the plotline. With the additional knowledge about the short, it works a bit better, but as a standalone piece it feels grossly incomplete.

Corey Lewis’ contribution rounds out the book, and is, if nothing else, much more interesting than the rest. It’s an energetic, manga-ish piece of bombast, all action, yelling and primary colours. The story isn’t up to much, but you can’t argue with the entertainment value of its hyper-kinetic visuals. Unfortunately, placed alongside the plodding, formulaic and uninteresting stories that round out the rest of the book, there’s a distinct feeling that this is just a reward you get for making it to the end. It’s good, but it’s not really enough.

James Hunt | 2nd March, 2010

X-Force #24

leave a comment

x-force24After the line-wide blow-out of the early parts of Necrosha, the concluding chapters of the story look to be bringing the tale back the where it belongs, with the story firmly centred on the X-Force core team. While a full-on Blackest Night scenario featuring the X-Men would have been fun, Chris Yost and Craig Kyle obviously feel that with the book’s other long-running plot thread taken as a backbone for the Second Coming event, the finale to the Selene plot line should have a tighter focus.

In one sense, the events of this issue are entirely predictable. The vampiric mutant implements the final part of her plan, trailed as long ago as issue eleven of the book, and dispatches the figure who has proven to be her most devoted yet unreliable follower. There’s also an expected character development on the part of the white-abet-blood-soaked had brigade, with the Vanisher either suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or developing a genuine attachment to his captors. Rather than a by-the-numbers story, however, the overall tone is one of meticulous planning gradually paying off. “The End Begins Here”, proclaims the variant cover tagline, and the feeling of inevitability comes from how carefully the these events have been seeded throughout the entire book. Like few other superhero teams, this rag-tag collection of b-list X-characters have become a family, convincingly relying on each others’ strengths.

What’s always set X-Force apart from its peers, with a concept that in lesser hands could simply be a continuity-heavy indulgence, is its sheer intelligence. This selling point has not deserted the book in its final hours, with the writers still managing to compress a microcosm of the resurrection concept into the exchanges between the Proudstar brothers, and the original Warpath’s touching faith in his successor to triumph where he cannot. The only weakness in the offering concerns the art. While Clayton Crain manages some majestic splash pages, the rushed figurework that we’ve come to expect from later issues of the artist’s arcs is again in evidence, and hold partially disguised by the gloomy tone. Despite this occasional failing, however, it’s hard not the feel that something wonderful is coming to an end.

Julian Hazeldine | 1st March, 2010

Nation X #1

leave a comment

nationx01If anything has become apparent over the last few years, it’s that the X-office loves to do anthology books. And why not? With plenty of mutant characters jostling for page-time and a limited number of books, it doesn’t hurt to have the occasional outlet for characters (and creators) who wouldn’t get much of the spotlight.

The only problem? Anthology titles, by their nature, are always uneven reads. What you enjoy will vary from person to person, but it’s rare you’ll enjoy everything, and even on a technical level, it’s rare that the strips will all be stand-out good. If, like me, you’re a glutton for punishment, the arrival of yet another X-anthology – this time dealing with mutantkind’s relocation to Asteroid M – promises pleasure and pain in equal measures.

With that in mind, let’s not dwell too heavily on the individual stories. Si Spurrier and Leonard Kirk’s ghost-house riff, starring Magneto, is a strong lead, presenting the very believable suggestion that after all that’s happened, Magneto may have actually won. A point also made in by Yost and Bertilorenzi’s Iceman strip, as part of a wider illustration about Bobby’s reservations with the team’s situation. Scott Snyder and David Lopez make good use of Colossus’ past as a farmhand and offer some rather overdue scenes with the newly resurrected Illyana. However, it’s James Asmus and Mike Allred’s Wolverine/Nightcrawler road trip which justifies the cover price – in my opinion, it’s actually moments of downtime like this that make the X-Men worth reading.

So, not a bad bunch overall – but the real question is how well the anthology serves its purpose – and in that, things are less certain. Iceman and Magneto’s shorts deal with the themes of “Nation X” very directly – the tension of living alongside your enemies, the suggestion that Xavier’s dream of peaceful integration has failed, the uncertain pessimism about the future – but the best strip in the issue pays scant regard to Nation X, while Colossus’ uses Asteroid M as mere background for yet another piece about how he needs to get over his girlfriend dying.

As a whole, then, the issue is balancing on a knife edge, not quite relevant enough to Nation X to make it worth purchasing, but not quite bad enough to make it worth avoiding. To be honest, the promise of both a Jubilee story and Becky Cloonan’s Gambit short in future issues is enough to make me optimistic that the best is yet to come, but the feeling I’m increasingly getting from these anthologies is “we’ll make them because they sell, but we don’t really know what to do with them.”

James Hunt | 10th December, 2009

X Necrosha #1

2 comments

necroshaIt’s hard to shake the impression that at some point last year, Brian Bendis broke a mirror. One instance of parallel plotting by writers who seed their stories far in advance might be dismissed as unfortunate, but with the arrival of Necrosha, there definitely seems to be a curse at work here. After both Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers were catapulted back through time by their apparent deaths, the similarities between Blackest Night and Chris Yost & Craig Kyle’s X-Force epic means that we now have two major event comics satirising the comics staple of restoring dead characters to life. Thankfully, the storytelling here is strong enough to justify the duplication, even if this opening chapter is a slightly murkier brew than expected.

Artistic delays on the regular X-Force ongoing means that this one-shot opening chapter follows on directly from this week’s conclusion of ‘Not Forgotten’, with the undead making their long-trailed assault on Utopia. Meanwhile, Archangel and Warpath go in search of their book’s forgotten plot thread and Selene indulges in a considerable amount of exposition.  Returning X-Force artist Clayton Crain brings his usual combination of strengths and weaknesses to the book, with an overly dark atmosphere more than compensated for by his truly spectacular splash pages- the cliffhanger scene is a particular highlight. This opening chapter’s greatest success is in the portrayal of the main villain, and the creative team make a very good fist of building up a half-forgotten X-enemy into a significant threat. The writers obviously have a considerable amount of ground to cover here, having to cater for new readers at the same time as keeping the attention of those who have followed the story’s build-up. It’s possibly this challenge that leads to the slightly fragmented feel the book possesses, with many strands being juggled. In contrast to the unremittingly focussed X-Force #20, Necrosha feels a little scattershot at times, with almost too much happening to take in. Hopefully the story will streamline itself as the threads spun out to New Mutants and Legacy go their separate ways.

Speaking of which, the book is bulked-up by two short stories from Zeb Wells and Mike Carey, designed to act as preludes to their tie-ins. You can understand Kyle & Yost’s desire to keep hold of all the threads in the first of their two parting shots to X-Force, given the line-wide nature of the Second Coming crossover. The move, however, undeniably weakens these spin-off tales, leaving them entirely dependant on the reader’s affection for the figures featured. As someone who has read little of the original New Mutants series, I found the vinaigrette featuring the Joss Whedon-created Blindfold more compelling than Doug Ramsey’s return from the dead.

Julian Hazeldine | 30th October, 2009

X-Force #18

leave a comment

x-force 18Despite solicits making ‘Not Forgotten’ sound like another volume of Craig Kyle & Chris Yost’s X-23 miniseries, the arc is proving to be a much more rounded affair, with equal amounts of face time for most of the cast. The writers pull off a very difficult feat here, managing to simultaneously tie up the themes from the last arc and set up the book’s next crossover, without sacrificing the integrity of the main plotline being followed.

A lot of the credit here belongs to Mike Choi for managing to give a coherent look to the multiple plotlines being simultaneously pursued, in the style of a TV drama. Last week, Valentine DeLandro responded to a similar situation in the pages of X-Factor by toning down the level of detail, but Choi continues to put out some of his strongest work to date here. The joy lies in the almost unnoticed details in the background; the Kyle Yost gravestone in the corner of a cemetery, the unremarked-upon X-Statix jumper. Choi and Sonia Oback go well beyond the call of duty in their work, and their sense of fun successfully makes what should in theory be an unremittingly grim book just a little more accessible. Speaking of unremittingly grim, the one slight question mark over the issue concerns the final scene, with X-23’s dismemberment venturing a little too close to torture porn. The logic of the writers’ construction of this incident is admittedly understandable. X-Force enjoys a considerably higher profile than any of their previous work, and there’s clearly a need to introduce the character of Kimura to the audience, without taking up too many pages. That said, this is a noticeable jump in sheer nastiness from anything else seen in the book, and makes for a distinctly uncomfortable read. There’s a lot riding of the quality of the payback that will clearly follow, and the extent to which this moment is followed up in future issues.

There’s a refreshing contrast in the themes of this arc to much of the book, and it raises some interesting questions about the way the long-running Bastion story will be resolved. So far, the book has served as a satire of the X-Franchise’s reliance on legacy elements, with dead character repeatedly dragged from their coffins even in the very first arc. Here, however, a different tack is being taken. It look as if The Facility’s failure to grow as a concept or a set of characters will work against it- Logan instantly suspects what’s happened to his sister, and hatches a plan to take the fight to the enemy. With the stage set for a bloodbath when X-Force arrives on site, it almost looks as if Kyle & Yost are going to punish their own creation for failing to acquire depth.

Julian Hazeldine | 31st August, 2009

X-Force #17

leave a comment

x-force 17After an unwelcome three months in the year 3000, the world’s least subtle covert team are back in their element. Stopping just short of breaking the forth wall has become a trademark of Chris Yost and Craig Kyle’s X-team, and here the writers use the travel scenario of Messiah War to literally insert the team back into action one second after they were dragged away for the crossover. Despite the loss of the magnificently silly X-Force logo, this is a more than welcome-return to the book’s usual high standards.

With Warpath and Domino sleeping on the job, and X-23 busy changing history, it’s up the Wolverine, Elixir and Archangel to save the day at the United Nations building, but the latter isn’t in the best frame of mind for the job. The political overtones for the action are instantly brought back with Bastion’s proxies addressing the UN, and it’s good to see what’s technically a subsiduary book driving its franchise forward. In truth, much more of the X-title’s drive has originated from the techno-organic cabal seen in this book than the events in Fraction’s Uncanny, and its good so see the confident drive forward continuing. While placing Surge and Nate Gre- sorry, Hellion, in danger might be mistaken for Chuck Austin’s casual decimating of the Generation X kids, the writers have a history with these New X-Men characters, and the youngsters’ connections to their X-Force former teammates add personal drama to an otherwise action-packed issue.

Mike Choi delivers his usual superb pencils, but it’s Sonia Oback’s colours which steal the show artistically, with her computer-aided approach being perfectly suited to the overloaded energy-projection powers of the issue’s guest stars. Despite Choi’s talk of a new approach to the book for this arc, the increase in violence is subtle, with Archangel’s shredding of his opponents being distinctly lacking in blood. The only slight irritant in the issue is the extremely-slow moving Rahne/ Hrimhari plotline. Obviously originally intended to serve as a means of drawing X-Force into the much delayed ‘Siege of Asgard’ storyline, Kyle and Yost have obviously got fed up of waiting for Marvel editorial to get its act together, and begun to take matters into their own hands.  The three page interlude, however, is a short intermission in the strong material that surrounds it.

So; tight, unpatronising, plotting. Some beautiful art. And a truly magnificent cliff-hanger. X-Force, we’ve missed you. 

Julian Hazeldine | 24th July, 2009