Wednesday, October 31, 2012

X-Men: Schism (comic)

Writers: Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen
Artists: Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Billy Tan
Collects: X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis

I guess you could say this is a story that's been in the making since Wolverine first joined the X-Men. Perhaps what's important to you is the fact that the group is splitting up into two sides with two entirely different mission statements. For me, the most important part is the fact that I've finally got an X-Men comic I completely enjoyed with the promise of more in one of the series launched in Schisms wake.

I guess it had to happen at some point.

It starts out simple enough. Cyclops and Wolverine represent Utopia at an arms conference - because in the Marvel universe, all you have to do to become a country is herd two hundred people on a rock and call yourselves one - to ask nations of the world to disarm their Sentinels. Who knows if he would've managed to get anywhere, because Quentin Quire shows up and decides it would be a good time to make a complete mess of things by forcing the worlds leaders to embarrass themselves on live television. Guess how they react. Worse still, this is all part of the plan of the new Hellfire Club. On top of that, Wolverine is growing increasingly agitated over the use of kids in their little mutant wars. Cyclops doesn't help matters by insisting on it.

A lot of the book is a conflict of ideology, with the fisticuffs only coming into play in the last third. Cyclops sees himself as a General in a war, willing to use whatever is necessary to survive and win. On the flipside, Wolverine is a man who has found himself tired of seeing kids grow up without childhoods, knowing only how to fight. The tensions only increase over the five issues until Wolverine is ready to blow up Utopia to force everyone to evacuate - as opposed to Cyclops, who wants to risk the kids by leading them into battle with a huge Sentinel - and, out of options, Cyke goes for the verbal equivalent of a low blow. What Wolverine says next hits a little too close to home and the fight is on.

To a certain extent, you can look at Schism as a story of men who, over time, have changed. Cyclops barely even resembles the character he was before and I've detailed my disdain for that several times in the past. Wolverine, on the other hand, has become less a loner and more like a gruff parent who only wants what's best for the kids. It's a change that's happened over time and tracks well; he always took young wayward teens under his wing and tried to show them the way. The direction he's gone in only makes sense for his character and with the X-Men now resembling an army - one with child soldiers whose main education is in fighting - you get the feeling this is the only way it could have ended.

Ultimately, who is right is left up to your own individual opinion. As you can guess, I'm with Wolverine and think Cyclops is a complete ass, but Jason Aaron has gone out of his way to make it so that feeling the opposite is a legitimate view as well. This can be seen pretty clearly in the ending conflict of the book. Schism couldn't resist making Cyclops ultimately "right"* - he, Wolverine and the kids DO manage to push back the Sentinel, as he believed - but it doesn't forget to balance the scale; as Wolverine points out, it doesn't really matter that they COULD do it, the point being that the kids should not be forced into positions like the one Idie found herself in, as has been necessary in the Cyclops Army. You could take either side and Schism will not go out of its way to make you feel like you are wrong, unlike the inexplicably beloved "Civil War" event.

On the whole, Schism is a well written book that opens up different avenues for the franchise. If you actually like the way the X-Men books have been since House of M, well, I have no clue how to understand your point of view, but you could keep up with Uncanny X-Men and the other books following his side. If you're with Wolverine and want to read a book with a more traditional approach, you can follow him back to Westchester in Wolverine and the X-Men. Works for me. Guess which book I'll be reading.

The art situation is... complicated. There are five different pencillers, each assigned to an issue. Normally, this would be the sort of thing I would slam a book for. Trouble is, each and every one of the artists used is a great. They all do fine work, to boot. If I had to lodge a complaint, it would be that Acuna's art does not really fit with the other four, but that's about it.

The X-Men: Regenesis one-shot - scripted by the talented Kieron Gillen with art by Billy Tan - is also included here. It's not really necessary - the book is basically a "who will go with which side" deal juxtaposed against some weird tribal standoff representing the split of the "tribe" - but it's a nice inclusion that gives you an idea of which side you might find your favorite X-Men on. The art by Billy Tan is decent. I've never had a problem with his artwork, though I suppose he suffers a bit by comparison, given the number of great artists collected in the rest of the volume.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

Against all odds, we get an X-Men event that manages to complete it's mission statement and be legitimately good. Who'd have guessed? X-Men: Schism is definitely worth a read, even if you just want to see the Wolverine/Cyclops brawl they finally decided to get around to years after the imitator**. Schism has me interested in Wolverine and the X-Men as well; we'll see if that's the X-Men book I've been waiting for.

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: The book takes great pains to keep Cyke from being too much of a dick and ruining his side of the argument, but he still has a few moments of his now patented brand of douchebaggery. Giving a troubled girl with questionable control over her powers the go ahead to "do what she has to" when the adults "won't make it in time"? Gee, I wonder how THAT plan will end? Also, see the complete dick move Cyke pulls when he brings up Jean Grey and tells Wolverine she not only never loved him, but was frightened of him. She had absolutely no bearing on anything; Cyclops was just pissed Wolverine left him with no options and decided to take the cheapest shot he could. He doesn't particularly care for the reply.

* Cyclops has been sort of a writers pet since as far back as Ed Brubakers run onwards. For some reason, writers have had a hard-on for the character, going out of their way to make him either right or "cool". They even gave him a jetpack. For me, it never worked. I just ended up hating Cyclops.

** I'm talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here. The relationship between Leonardo and Raphael has always been a carbon copy of the antagonism between Cyclops and Wolverine. They took almost as long as the X-Men to stop dancing around it and just have the two duke it out. That happened in the fourth TMNT film, which was done in CGI instead of live action. Decent film, if not particularly memorable. The Leo/Raph fight is worth watching online if you don't feel like seeing the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Astonishing X-Men: Monstrous (comic)

Writer: Daniel Way
Artists: Jason Pearson, Nick Bradshaw
Collects: Astonishing X-Men #36-37, 39, 41

I've never been a believer in the notion that some titles should end when a story ends or a creative team leaves - serial superhero comics do not work that way for one and it just creates another damned "volume" to keep track of when it's inevitably relaunched for two - so I never had a problem with Astonishing X-Men continuing once Joss Whedon and John Cassaday finished their acclaimed run. It certainly helps that Warren Ellis put forth a pretty good effort, even if he didn't always hit the heights of the books past. With Ellis now gone, Astonishing marches on as the accessible, continuity light X book*; for this period Marvel figured the book should switch off creative teams telling their own story. This volume collects one of those stories.

I've always liked the idea of an island filled with monsters, so I'm always down with seeing Monster Island. Apparently, there's a bunch of oil under it too. Roxxon - whom you may know as Marvels version of a cartoonishly evil corporation - naturally wants it. So, of course, they go and hire an unstable supervillain to team with their employees tasked with blowing up Monster Island so they can get at it. They are then shocked when the villain turns on them, takes control of every monster there and then holds them for ransom. Meanwhile, some of Armors family has died, which is how the X-Men end up in Tokyo for the monster related shenanigans.

Daniel Way, the writer for the arc, is about as hit or miss as they come, in my estimation. I've liked some of his work - at one point I read a big hardcover of the first year of his Deadpool run, which was pretty good - and did NOT care for others. Monstrous sits somewhere in the middle. For every one thing I like, there's one negative to match it. I like that Way sticks with a theme of family, which is almost foreign these days. But then we have Armors dad, the stereotypical Japanese father**. Bunch of monster wrecking Tokyo? Tempered by the fact that things go laughably wrong when Way attempts to write an accent for Wolverine.

One problem that stands above the others is the fact that the book doesn't seem to give enough time to the things it probably should. Either things needed a bit more shuffling around or the book needed another issue. For instance, the story ends on Armors father finally accepting her life as a hero, but it doesn't feel earned; the last time we saw him prior, he was urging her to stand with her family and the moment where he realizes how important her other life is - when he watches her save others during the monster attack on television - happens off panel.

Then there's the fact that not nearly enough time is spent on Armor actually dealing with the loss of some of her family. We don't see much of the wake or her interactions with her father outside of it. Considering Armors powers draw from her deceased ancestors, it almost feels as though that half of the story only happened to give her a power boost.

Ah, and the villain. Some Z lister named Mentallo. I've never seen him before and had no idea what his deal was prior to this story. I can't say I would feel too bad if we never saw him again either. Aside from controlling some monsters to smack the X-Men around, he doesn't have a lot going for him.

I don't know; I didn't hate it, but the more I think about it the less Monstrous did for me.

Also problematic is the art situation. Mostly because we have four issues here and it switches artists after two. Why? It's not like this story is structured like a typical arc, with consecutive issues. Both #38 and #40 - not collected in this volume - belong to a different story, giving a month extra per issue to get the job done. What happened?

Regardless, Jason Pearson handles the first half; like the writing, there are things I like and things I don't. I'm fond, for example, of his Cyclops. The lines on Cykes suit are drawn much thicker here, which looks pretty great. Also a keeper is the fact that the colorist for his issues decided on black and gold for his costume as opposed to the typical blue and gold. They're small, simple alterations, but I thought they were improvements. On the downside, his Wolverine needs some work; the near constant bug eyed expression he's drawn with is downright odd. If he worked on his expressions somewhat, I wouldn't mind seeing Pearsons work again.

Nick Bradshaw handles the other half of the story. There's much less for me to talk about here. Whereas Pearsons work is stylized, Bradshaw gives us something a bit more standard. It's some rock solid art; nothing outstanding about it but nothing to dislike either.

Oh, on a final note, apparently Marvel threw in an old issue of Strange Tales to help justify the seventeen dollars they want for this four issue collection. I guess the official word would be that it's there because it has Fin Fang Foom. Like most old issues thrown in to pad a small volume, it's fine as a curiosity but you can never get past the knowledge that it's there for no other reason than to scam a few more dollars out of you.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

It's alright. I wouldn't recommend a purchase, but if you see it at the library and need some X-Men it might be worth a read through. This volume is far from Astonishing X-Men's finest hour, but I must admit I'm glad to see Marvel is sticking with the idea of an X book that's light on continuity.

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: Immediately upon finding out the monster raging through Tokyo is under mind control, Cyclops figures they may as well just kill it anyways. Captain Kill'emall himself, Wolverine, is the one who steps up to say "hey, wait a minute, this is not his fault". Sure, it's a practical move - obviously they're out to save the lives of others as well as their own - but he doesn't even bother to consider another option before deciding. Not particularly heroic.

*This is a GOOD THING, mind you. I personally think it should be standard for every big franchise - Batman, Avengers, X-Men or so on - to have a book that strives to be accessible and keeps continuity wrangling to a minimum. They should also be books the companies put some of their best talent on, but I'm probably asking for too much with that one.

** I'm not sure if this is on Way or if her dad was always like that. I'm admittedly not as big a Marvel guy as I am DC, so my knowledge is a bit lacking in that area. For all I know Daniel Way is just following his established personality here.