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Terry Dodson

30 Days of Comics #26: An issue that made you drop a series

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Once I’ve comitted to buying a series, I think it’s reasonably hard to stop me buying it. If I’m reading a superhero series monthly in the first place, it’s often because I’m interested in the characters, not the creative team – and creative teams come and go. A bad story today can give rise to a good story tomorrow, and the serial nature of the medium does encourage you to read it in an unbroken fashion. But even I have limits. And this is the explanation of the very first time I hit one.

The year was 1998. Larry Hama was writing Generation X, and I was buying it – the first ever series I added to a pull-list. But within a few issues, it went from being my favourite comic to… well, unrecognisable might be a fair description.

To illustrate, let me tell you about Elwood. Elwood the Pooka. A giant talking fairy-tale weasel that appeared in Generation X’s Danger Terrarium. Elwood was added to the cast for reasons that, thematically, escape me. I read all of Elwood’s appearances and I have no idea why Larry Hama felt the need to introduce this element, aside from the fact that he had maybe read about Pookas somewhere. Worse still, Elwood brought with him a whole host of pseudo-fairytale creatures, called Tokens and Half-Snarks, which replaced the series regular, mutant/X-Men-related villains for the best part of a year.

And as if adding one character with no relevance to the X-Men wasn’t enough, Hama then immediately brought a character called Gaia into the series. She had pink hair, nebulously-defined “reality warping” powers and no discernable personality. Synch, one of my favourite characters and possibly the most well-adjusted teenager comics has ever seen, instantly became her lapdog, making him completely tedious as well.

Despite being the least interesting character ever, Gaia stayed in Generation X until… well, I don’t know, because between talking weasels and pink-haired ciphers that the author inexplicably loved, I realised that Generation X wasn’t the book it was when I started buying it. The original concept – teenage mutants training to be X-Men – had taken third place to Hama’s interest in mythological creatures and his own poorly-described characters. It hadn’t so much come off the rails, as it had been taken apart and reassembled as a pogo stick. That was enough to make me realise that the time had come to drop it, and issue #42 was my last, when it revealed that the coming arc’s antagonist was Biana LaNeige, a former business rival of Emma Frost who had returned from space with new psychic powers and an entourage of insectoid aliens that had been forced to shapeshift into evil parodies of the 7 dwarves. I wish I was joking.

A quick check online reveals that the first thing Jay Faerber (Hama’s replacement) did when he took over as writer was jettison Gaia, which suggests I’m not the only person who didn’t know what she was for. I eventually returned to Generation X when it was revamped under the purvue of Warren Ellis. Brian Wood, the incoming writer, wrote the best bunch of issues the book had seen since it launched (and indeed, sowed the seeds of books like Local, Demo and New York Four in the “Four Days” arc) just in time to have it cancelled from under him. Ah well.

James Hunt | 11th November, 2010

The Book of Hope, Chapter Six: Uncanny X-Men #524

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We’re up to Part Six of Second Coming, and that means the seventh instalment of our weekly, increasingly nerdy look at the crossover! So nerdy, in fact, that I began the numbering from zero. That’s just a little programming joke, there.

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The Book of Hope, Chapter Two: Uncanny X-Men #523

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Welcome to this week’s instalment of our regular look at the current X-Men crossover, done for no better reason than the fact that I’m a bit of an X-Men nerd. This week: Uncanny X-Men #523. You can also go back an read last week’s deconstructions of X-Men: Second Coming #1 and Second Coming Prelude if you’re so inclined.

Uncanny_523_1Synopsis: While Cable and Hope hide out up in a motel, the Alpha Team complete their interrogation of the Sapien League, during which time Nightcrawler is shocked to learn of the existence – and methods – of X-Force. Meanwhile, Bastion – who is tracking Cable’s techno-organic virus – sends Stryker and his Purifiers to kill Hope. Cyclops sends the New Mutants to Cameron Hodge’s facility in St. Louis to destroy his cache of anti-mutant weaponry, but not before Cypher is able to point him in the direction of a disturbance near Westchester. The Purifiers attack Cable and Hope, pinning them down, but thanks to the intel provided by Cypher, the Alpha Team arrives, ready to free them.

Mini Review: The second chapter of Second Coming feels a little less urgent than the first, despite dealing with all the same plot threads. Although Dodson is generally one of the best artists on the X-Books, his style isn’t a natural fit for dramatic action scenes, especially in the wake of David Finch who – despite his weaknesses – can do that sort of material more justice. Elsewhere, Fraction’s versions of Cable and Hope are slightly one-note, which would be find except it’s not the same note we’ve seen in any of their previous appearances. In particular, the scene where Hope stares longingly at a pink hairbrush seems utterly bizarre, given her previous experiences of growing up in a post-apocalyptic future. It seems more likely that she’d be confused at what it was even for, rather than wish to own it. Although the tone of the issue didn’t quite work for me, I did, nonetheless, enjoy the plot developments, which were tightly considered. Not a huge amount happened, but for a story on a weekly pace, it kept enough ticking over that things shouldn’t get boring.

Commentary

Let’s start with Hairbrushgate:

Uncanny_523_2As you may have noted from the review above, I’m not a particularly big fan of this scene. Hope has been living exclusively in a post-apocalyptic world, so the idea that she would stare longingly at a pink hairbrush of all things seems a little unlikely, unless we’re supposed to believe there’s some innate gender attraction at work. And I hardly think Matt Fraction would go there.

Uncanny_523_3On the other hand, I really like this moment for Colossus. He’s probably as outraged and disappointed as Nightcrawler, but he takes a more pragmatic view of the situation in the short term. It wouldn’t surprise me if he later had his own angry chat with Wolverine and/or Cyclops, but for now, he’s focusing on the good he can do in the immediate future.

Uncanny_523_4For those wondering, Cyclops did raise Cable – although he was in a different body and several thousand years in the future at the time. Let’s try and be as concise as possible, shall we? Nathan Summers, son of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor, was taken into the future by the Clan Askani so that he could be cured of the techno-organic transmode virus that Apocalypse infected him with. As a safeguard, the Askani created a virus-free clone of Cable, who later grew up to become Apocalypse’s apprentice and intended vessel, Stryfe.

Meanwhile, in the past, Madelyne Pryor went insane and was revealed as a clone of Jean Grey (who had recently returned from the dead) then killed herself. Free from the shackles of his first marriage, Cyclops eventually wed Jean. On their honeymoon, however, their consciousnesses were pulled into the future by Mother Askani and implanted into imprecise reconstructions of their own bodies, assembled from the genetic material of their descendants. They lived for about 12 years as “Redd” and “Slym”, raising the young Nathan after the Askani were scattered by Apocalypses forces. Eventually, the three killed Apocalypse, at which point Scott and Jean’s minds were pulled back to the present. Leading the resistance against Apocalypses remaining forces, Nathan grew into the man called Cable, and eventually returned to our time where he unfortunately ended up drawn by Rob Liefeld.

Uncanny_523_5Yet more wrongness. Hope has always been shown with something of a defiant streak – but never before has she been this frivolous, especially when stuck in a hostile and unfamiliar environment. I can see that Fraction’s attempting to give Hope a sense of immature wonder at the opulence of modern living, but to me, it doesn’t ring true to her character at all. Immaturity is a character flaw that Hope has simply never had the luxury of.

Uncanny_523_6Update him indeed! I don’t know what these towers are, but it’s never good when villains start building towers, is it? Last time I remember robots building towers in the X-books, it was during the Phalanx Covenant storyline. Which, in a probably unrelated coincidence, was one of the last times Hodge and Lang showed up until they were revived by Bastion.

Uncanny_523_7OF COURSE the Internet is going to seem rudimentary if you insist on using a dial-up connection. I believe that’s a only a 1200 baud left arm he’s got plugged in there. Also, you missed out “sarcastic comics reviews” from the list of things the Internet is used for. Idiot.

Predictionwatch

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

Nightcrawlerwatch: It has come to my attention over the last week that the recent X-Men Origins: Nightcrawler one-shot was billed as a “Second Coming Tie-In” for no obvious content reason. Assuming it wasn’t an error, the logical assumption can be made that this is because Nightcrawler dies in Second Coming, and Marvel think retailers might therefore want a few extra copies of the Nightcrawler comic kicking around for the brief period of time that people are talking about him.

Also, he’s in the new teaser image, released this week. One of these X-Men will die! they say, with a strange sense of bloodthirstiness. If we assume this death isn’t going to be a repeat performance, we can rule out Colossus and Magik, and Iceman was already alive in the scenes from “prelude”, which haven’t happened yet. This leaves us Cable, Nightcrawler, Frost and Angel. At this points, odds greatly favour the former two – but Wolverine’s reaction in the Prelude story suggests Nightcrawler or, at a push, Angel – a character he’s responsible for under X-Force. Personally, I think things don’t look good for everyone’s favourite German.

Aaaaand that’s it for this week. Back here in a week’s time (ish) for a look at the events of Chapter 3 of Second Coming as found in New Mutants #12.

Uncanny X-Men #518

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UN518Since the Utopia crossover repositioned the oldest X-book as leading the line, writer Matt Fraction has hit a run of consistent quality which eluded him during his earlier arcs for the title. The title may have come a little more introverted (for all the efforts taken to establish the proximity of San Francisco to the artificial island, the action has been distinctly inward-looking), but consistently strong characterisation and a smattering of the innovative ideas that the creator originally brought to the book deliver solid entertainment.

Taking a break from the day-to-day logistics problems of the X-Men’s new set-up, Cyclops focuses his attention on helping Emma Frost overcome the injury she sustained during the mutant’s clash with Normal Osborn’s Avengers, but may have taken one of his oldest friends for granted one too many times. What’s most striking about the Nation X story is how the writer has learnt from his earlier work on the book, retaining the aspects of his initial approach which have proven successful, whilst subtly discarding less popular elements. The Science Team continues their foreground role, but there’s no sign of Pixie or downtown San Francisco to be found. For the first time, Fraction’s work matches the fondness he has claimed to feel for the book’s early days, with the cast paired back to the surviving original X-Men, Emma Frost and Magneto. This approach serves Terry Dodson’s art well, allowing him to focus on sharp and clear incarnations of these classic characters. I don’t find Greg land’s work as objectionable as my fellow ‘Daily reviewers, but I can’t deny that Dodson’s work is a cut above his colleagues’. The schemes in a white void may have helped the artist achieve the effect, allowing him to concentrate on figures, but his sheer talent shines through.

It’s hard not to feel that the book’s strong form is in part due to the structuring of its stories. Instead of the trade-friendly four issue arcs which initially defined Fraction’s run, Utopia adopted a six issue format. Shorter than many recent event storylines, the tale didn’t outstay its welcome, and has been complemented well by the more meandering Nation X.

Julian Hazeldine | 7th December, 2009

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus #1

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dauxGiven that this crossover has so far mainly consisted of an accomplished piece of disguise, with a primarily character-lead drama masked as a political clash, it comes as no surprise to find a similar piece of deception in its final act, with an interesting tale of the triumph of experience on the part of the victorious side. Matt Fraction delivers the expected fan-pleasing punch ups which Utopia has promised, but manages to encase these moments in a consistent broader storyline.

With the mutants’ new status quo having been largely explained in the previous issue of the story, little time is wasted in getting down to brass tacks, with the two sides of the crossover finally squaring off against each other. Defeat for the X-Men was never on the cards here, but Fraction sensibly avoids having Cyclops carry the day through sheer weight of numbers (here he commands the casts of four books, compared to Osborn’s two teams), instead picking on a satisfying concept to resolve the situation. The writer shows that the Iron Patriot has not yet appreciated the constraints which he must operate under, and Cyclops’ superior knowledge of non-lethal combat allows him to outmanoeuvre the Avengers. Osborn’s team visibly buckles under terms of engagement that they are still unaccustomed to. It’s a satisfying conceit, reflected in many of the match-ups on show here. Bullseye stumbles in the face of a more experienced Archangel, while Wolverine’s grudge against the more-powerful Weapon Omega allows him to overcome his enemy. The only moment which slightly jars is in the final pages, where Fraction shows Osborn and Summers both managing the fallout from the incident. Tellingly, the self-satisfied expression which has become the trademark of Scott ‘Smug’ Summers during this arc is completely absent from Terry Dodson’s art. The writer obliviously felt that both sides in the clash had to walk away with a slightly ambivalent result, but Osborn’s upbeat assessment and Cyclops’ exhaustion sit rather oddly in the context of the latter’s triumph in the previous pages.

That aside, the issue presents a remarkably rounded-package, with even the feed-ins to the forthcoming Confession one-shot and X-Force’s Necrosha event not feeling like intrusions in the face of a story which has made good on its promise of adjusting the X-books’ status quo without completely discarding the pleasures of the “SFX” set-up. By deliberately dialling down the situation’s political aspects in the second half of the story, Fraction has left a compelling implied hook for Uncanny’s next arc.

Julian Hazeldine | 14th September, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #507

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It’s sometimes easy to forget that Matt Fraction hasn’t been writing superhero comics all that long. While many writers are content to just hammer out the stories, Fraction has frequently shown himself to be interested in experimenting with the format of comics, and finding unique ways to tell a story – whether it’s the use of his closed “Five Nightmares” narration in Invincible Iron Man

#1 or, as in this issue, by splicing two narratives together in such a way that they actually feed directly into one another. Whatever you think of Fraction’s X-Men (and I’m aware not everyone enjoys it like I do) you can’t fault his obvious attempts to do something a little new with each issue.

The concluding part of Lovelorn

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brings two plot threads to a close – the first sees Beast and Angel tracking down scientists in an attempt to resolve the effects of M-Day, and the second sees Colossus finally getting over the loss of Kitty by beating up some Russian gangsters and saving some trafficked women to attain some personal resolution. As far as X-Men stories go, neither of these is particularly on-theme, however it does feel as those they both needed to be told. M-Day in particular has been hanging over the property for years now, and readers have yet to see it generate enough story material to justify the editorial edict that brought it into existence. The suggestion that the status quo might finally revert back to pre-House of M levels is a tantalising one.

However, the real development in the “X-Club” story thread is that Hank now knows that Angel can once again access his “Archangel” form – something readers themselves wouldn’t actually know unless they were reading X-Force. It’s nice to see the series stop dancing around the fact and bring it into the open, suggesting character material for both Beast and Angel in the process. All too often, the focus can be placed on newer or more popular X-Men, so it’s nice to see Fraction give some good material to the old guard for a change. Likewise, Colossus reaches a turning point in this arc, finally putting the memory of Kitty behind him – which, as anyone knows, means that it’s the perfect time for her to return.

Overall, Lovelorn

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hasn’t been not Fraction’s best arc – it’s satisfying enough if you’re a fan of the spotlighted characters, and represents a necessary step in the development of the title, but hopefully the next arc will have a little less solo material, and a little more of the X-Men being X-Men.download kill me later movie

James Hunt | 24th March, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #506

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Regular readers of the site will have noticed that James and I have a somewhat bipolar relationship with Matt Fraction’s X-title, praising its characterisation one month and attacking weak plotting the next. Thankfully, this third part of the writer’s Lovelorn arc is the moment when the nature of the title become clear, with its curious mixture of strengths and weaknesses defined.

While the broader picture of mutantkind’s position of the world becomes more clearly resolved, Colossus’s kill or cure bid to overcome his grief comes to a head rather quicker than expected, as he discovers the true nature of the business his “undercover” investigation has stumbled upon. This mixture of events throws into focus both what’s right and wrong with the book. To start with the positive, Fraction has obviously decided to make Uncanny the line’s flagship title. As we’ve observed previously, Warren Ellis’s Astonishing looks set to join Whedron’s take on the book as a TPB heavy-hitter, while the other titles leave it in solitary confinement. This issue is reminiscent of the Civil War/ Secret Invasion core series, offering a story that draws on themes to have been explored in greater detail in other titles, while still telling a coherent story in its own right. It relays recent events from X-Force, such as the construction of a new and influential anti-mutant cabal, while commandingly feeding the developments into a new global status quo.

The great strength of the title is this authoritative feel, with the writer in complete control of the events he recounts, and some good characterisation supports this with Fraction’s grip on his core cast exemplary. The book’s problem is in the original stories he tells, which are derivative and unconvincing. The momentum of the SFX plotline has dissipated, with Rasputin involved in a dull GTA IV-inspired Russian mob drama, while Beast attempts to handle the Godzilla knock-off created by a Japanese mad scientist. These events undo the social realism of the book’s repositioning of the mutant species, resulting in a very confused identity for the title. The desire to cover more ground than a focus on a single plotline would permit is laudable, but the writer just isn’t providing solid enough ideas to convey the sense of scale he seeks. Fraction may be guilty of dumbing down his work too much, in the mistaken belief that the X-readership would be uninterested in a book without a fight sequence. The writer is doing a superb job of tying together themes and threads from the line as a whole, but his own contributions are a little lacking.

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Julian Hazeldine | 23rd February, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #504

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Fraction is clearly interested in bringing the characterisation back to X-Men. Every scene has strong, memorable moments that are driven by the character interplay as much as any specific plot development, and the juggling of several threads is a welcome return to the subplot-infused days of the past. Claremont’s influence on the series is almost palpable – right down to some fairly wordy conversations – although I do mean that as a compliment. Claremont’s X-Men made X-Men the industry’s number one property for years, so it’s good to see what is, in some ways, a return to the strong fundamentals of the X-Men from a writer who recognises what made the series popular in the first place.

This issue also keeps readers reassured that Fraction won’t be shying away from the continuity mire of recent years, and he tackles several matters head on, be it the massacre that kicked off “Messiah Complex” or the “death” of Kitty Pryde. A scene featuring Beast and Angel visiting a rather old Marvel scientist is slightly jarring, functioning as the book’s “gratuitous action scene”, but it does nicely emphasise that following the mutant birth, attempts to undo Wanda’s spell and the events of M-Day are still as much on the agenda for the characters as they are for the readers.

For the new arc, Terry Dodson takes over as artist, and while on one level, the scene in Cyclops’ pervy-hotel brainscape serves as a window into the character’s repression and his relationship with Emma, it does seem to be designed with Terry Dodson’s strengths as an artist in mind. After the sheer eye-gouging pain of seeing Greg Land’s pseudoporn on the pages of Uncanny X-Men, it’s a massive relief to see someone with storytelling ability take over. There’s one slight hiccup where, despite Emma claiming “no redheads” you can clearly see the red-haired Mystique in the background, but it’s a forgiveable oversight.

Fraction’s second arc seems off to a much better start than the previous one, and the artist change has merely heightened the amount I’m enjoying the title. After years of being treated like the a secondary title, Uncanny X-Men seems to be back on top of its game again.

James Hunt | 21st November, 2008

Uncanny X-Men #500

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As if the last year hasn’t driven the point home enough, Uncanny X-Men #500 will immediately remind you that it’s a very good time to be an X-Men fan. The writing team of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have brought with them their unbridled enthusiasm for the X-Men characters, and you can feel it bursting off every page. With the new satus quo now firmly established, the relocated X-Men feel like they’re enterting a new era, with a new mandate to move towards the future that the ast few years have left them unsure even existed.

The sense of gravitas that anniversary issues were afforded in the past returns with #500, as Magneto makes a brilliant, classically-inspired appearance as an evil super-villain with a dastardly plot to destroy the X-Men – but all is not as it seems, as Magneto’s facade actually disguises something far more in keeping with his current situation as the unintentional architect of the Mutant race’s downfall.

While Brubaker’s run has been mildly disappointing – hampered,nitially by the attempt to make his run a self-contained, 12-issue story, adding Fraction into the dynamic has clearly re-invigorated the writing side of things. Dodson’s artwork is great to look at (wisely, he’s given the action scenes) and even Greg Land almost manages to keep up despite his particular brand of artwork being fairly unpalettable – there are still some moments where the tracing and posing get a bit much, but largely due to the strength of the writing, and the expert tempering of any tonal shift in art, the book manages to survive unscathed. The last time the franchise looked this promising was during Morrison’s and Whedon’s early issues, but this time, tone of the book seems substantially less knowing and ironic, it pushes forword while respecting the past, rather than winking at it.

In short, Uncanny #500 is a fantastic new start and a fantastic, mostly self-contained anniversary issue featuring probably the most enjoyably old-school Magneto Vs. X-Men clash in almost a decade. There’s almost nothing to complain about. If Ellis’ clinical, acerbic take on the team didn’t enthuse you, then good luck – Uncanny X-Men might just be back to try and reclaim its crown as the line’s flagship title.

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James Hunt | 24th July, 2008

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