Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Comic Reviews:
Astonishing X-Men, X-Factor, Frankenstein


I'm not a giant Joss Whedon fan: I liked Buffy, but I hated Serenity.
But what Whedon's doing for the X-Men I totally love.

I grew up reading X-Men, so they're characters that are ingrained in my psyche: Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, the whole lot of 'em. But when you look at the stands and see 17 X-books, and only a handful of them worth exploring, you realize that Marvel is stretching the concept way too thin.
What Whedon does that the other writers don't is take risks. Some, like the return of Colossus, are unforgettable; some, like the sentient Danger Room, are brilliant failures.
What I love about this issue is that it puts the spotlight, finally, on Scott Summers, aka Cyclops. Most writers never touch on Scott, except as a straight-laced foil to Wolverine. No run that I can remember focused on Scott himself, who he is inside and what drives his need for total control, of himself and mutants at large.
Whedon also does what should have been done a long, long time ago: making Emma the White Queen again. Emma Frost will never be anything but, well:That's not Wolverine, by the way, it's Emma toying with Scott's confidence. Emma is slipping back to her old ways, and she's doing it gradually, even though she's such a powerful psychic she could do whatever she wanted to Scott. She's molding him into the man she needs him to be to stand at her side when she flips.
But, whether or not Scott's decision is an illusion, placed in his memories by Emma, it's a sad and moving moment. Also, I'm damn near giddy about the return of Cassandra Nova, the best thing Grant Morrison ever gave the Marvel Universe. She's pure malice in that panel, and Whedon should take full, evil advantage of her presence.
I continue to be floored by John Cassaday's art: he's a man among little boys over at Marvel, and I'm glad they give him the time he needs to be this wonderful. What I love the most is how ordinary he makes the X-Men look. These are not the straight-from-an-80's-fashion mag X-people of Jim Lee or even John Byrne: these are real people, and you grieve and laugh with them all the more because of it.
And, along the same line of thought, I really love his Jean Grey. She's so girl-next-door lovely, but haunted. Just like she should be. I hope this is setting up another return, because enough already: we need Phoenix back. This was a great, fun issue. Astonishing is back on the right track, this run looks amazing.



Meanwhile, over in the only other X-book you should be bothering to read, Syrin lies in bed recovering from her viscous beating two issues back, and her bondage-tinged ordeal last issue. While the X-Factor crew talks over each other about what to do, Rictor lashes out at Layla. "You come out of nowhere saying you 'know stuff'...You made sure I was at that gas station when that girl was in trouble...and that guy who was ready to kill me...winds up being taken out by you, because he just happens to be standing in the right place to be electrocuted?...Did you know Terry was going to be jumped, Layla? And if so, why didn't you do whatever it is you do to stop it?"
Finally we get to the heart of Layla Miller, who she is, where she came from, and how she 'knows' what she 'knows'. Ever since she first appeared in the big House of M event, she's been at once an irritant and a breath of fresh air. We learn here that Layla is essentially a ripple in space and time, a living embodiment of chaos theory. But beyond that, we like Layla immensely by the end of this one. Stripped of her adopted family she loses her know-it-all smirk and is subject to the same abuse that her mutant (and former mutant) brethren are. She becomes fragile and real.Denis Calero is surprisingly effective here. He does best at small, personal moments (he could never have made the splash page at the end of issue 1 hit as hard as Sook); there is some striking art in this book. There is also more of the amateurish, ugly postures and bizarre expressions of the last few issues.
I'll say this much about Denny Calero: he is not a great artist now, but in time he could be. I'm still not sure I want him on X-Factor, but I'm having trouble now picturing it without him.


I've never tripped on mushrooms, but after reading this issue I think I may know what it's like. Frankenstein #4 genuinely threw me, but in a good way. It took me quite a few reads to pin this issue down, but once I did, it blew me away.Grant Morrison may have found his ideal collaborator in Doug Mahnke. There is something so specific about the worlds he can create visually that syncs pefectly with what Grant does. His worlds are fantastic, but they feel real, and immediate.

We open with our man Frankie trudging to battle with Neh-Buh-Luh, the Huntsman who we find is still pining away for Misty, Zatanna's sidekick and Snow White of this here tale.
"There was harmony, symmetry and beauty in her. I cannot forget. Like an insect writhing on a pin in the glare of the sun. I cannot forget her."
I love how much more elevated the speech and narration is in the Frankenstin minis than the other Seven Soldiers books, it adds to the out-of-time feel of the hero.

Neh-Buh-Luh is defeated, not so much by Frankenstein, but by an internal flaw, so says Frankie:Those supermen were the International Ultramarine Corps way back in JLA Classified. He is brought down by billions of years of internal decay. I'll miss the Nebula-Man, though. I hope, somehow he still makes an appearance in Seven Soldiers #1.
Frankie, with the help of S.H.A.D.E., tracks the Sheeda to Miracle Mesa, where this whole thing began, to Castle Revolving. Oh, and he's not alone:Justin, is that you?

From that point, we flash forward to one Billion years later.
The Earth is being pulled into the sun, the Sheeda stand victorious. We are at the end of time. We are, at last, at Summer's End. We now know where the Sheeda come from: they are invaders from our own end, they are (as Gloriana tells Frankie, taunting him with the apple like the snake in Eden) human, the last end of evolutionary progress. The final stop in the survival of the fittest, and they travel back through time to feast on civilizations throughout history at will. Frankie, bless his undead heart, is unimpressed as ever. He brings down the bulk of the Sheeda fleet, and challenges Gloriana, taking her back to our time to face death and judgment. A thrilling end to a spectacular series. To be continued...


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