X-Men Trade Post: Schism, Uncanny & Wolverine And The X-Men

x-men schism X-Men: Schism (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron with Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert & Billy Tan
Collects X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis #1

I’ve gone about reading recent X-Men comics a bit backwards. I actually started off with the first volume of Bendis’ All-New X-Men, but was confused about what was going on. Then I read the first Wolverine & The X-Men by Jason Aaron and Avengers Vs. X-Men but realized I needed to go back even a bit farther. I finally figured out that all roads lead back to Schism, so I got that as well as the first Kieron Gillen volume of Uncanny X-Men.

I actually read the X-Men pretty consistently during the run up to Messiah Complex, but that’s about my experience with these characters in this medium. After MC, the X-Men scored their own island, called it Utopia and seemed to be doing alright. Then Schism went down, shook things up and a bold new direction was kicked off in its wake.

In Schism, Quentin Quire, a teen anarchist mutant from Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, kicked off some trouble for the X-Men, but the real brains behind the operation are a bunch of evil, super smart kids who take over the Hellfire Club in an effort to make money and stir things up for mutants. In the process Cyclops and Wolverine come to blows over whether the kids on Utopia should be thrust into battle or be allowed to bail. At the end of the ordeal — which involves a lot of Sentinels sold and designed by the Hellfire Club kids — Wolverine decides to restart the school while Cyclops continues to train the children to defend themselves and mutant kind.

As an event, I thought Schism was well put together and presented. Sometimes these events with a clear endpoint (split the X-teams) feel really telegraphed and weak from a storytelling perspective. In this case, though, by making this an issue with valid points on both sides, Aaron and company do what Civil War couldn’t in my mind: make me understand both sides.

I also enjoyed the Who’s Who of X-artists doing their thing on this series. I’m not always a fan of the idea of splitting up a series like this with different artists, especially ones like this that are very distinct, but in this case, I liked it BECAUSE these artists all have such distinct styles. They all came to play and the results are great superhero action.

wolverine & the x-men volume 1Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Chris Bachalo with Duncan Rouleau, Matteo Scalera & Nick Bradshaw
Collects Wolverine & The X-Men #1-4

As I mentioned, I was a bit mixed up and actually read Wolverine & The X-Men after AVX which is not the best order. After his disagreement with Cyclops, Wolverine has gone off to form his own school called The Jean Grey School For Gifted Youngsters. Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Beast and a few other X-folks including a good deal of the younger mutants all came along for the ride as well.

The first volume features an attack by the new Hellfire Club (a bunch of punk kids) and the introduction of a few new members like the new Krakoa, a nerdy Brood and a boy that sure looks an awful lot like Apocalypse (he’s from Uncanny X-Force which Wolverine also starred in at that time). I also really enjoyed the art by Chris Bachalo (who drew much of the Supernovas story that I’m also a big fan of) and Nick Bradshaw who blew me away with his part in Escape From The Negative Zone (dude’s like a cartoonier Art Adams). My only complaint is that the printing on this particular book didn’t seem to do Bachalo’s artwork justice.

I’m glad that Aaron wrapped up the younger Hellfire Club story, at least partially, because I kind of hate the idea of killer kids in general. I appreciate the idea of balancing the physical superiority of heroes against the smaller-of-stature children, but I always have a hard time buying into the idea that children are these awful, murderous creatures. It’s a personal hang-up of mine that doesn’t reflect on the story at all. Anyway, I’ll definitely be back for more of this book because it had a really fun tone, set up a lot of interesting relationships and makes me want to find out what happens to them next.

Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Vol 1Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Rodney Buscemi, Brandon Peterson, et al
Collects Uncanny X-Men #1-4

With mutant life hanging in the balance, Cyclops develops a simple plan: make the humans so petrified of his squad that they won’t be jerks to less flashy mutants. This so-called Extinction Team consists of Cyke, Emma Frost, Magneto, Magik, Colossus, Storm, Danger and Hope. In this first outing they go up against Mr. Sinister who has siphoned the power of the Dream Celestial and built a city of his own clones.

The first three issues are pretty tight and do a solid job of both explaining and showing what Cyclops’ mission is. I’ve always had a hard time understanding how the people in the Marvel U can be so bigoted against mutants when they live in a world filled with other people with strange powers, abilities and afflictions, so it was interesting to see Cyke go on the offensive against those people. All in all though, I’m not sure how long I’ll be on board this book. I loved WATX because it was fun and a bit light, but this one, like Cyclops himself, might just be too serious for me at this point. Still, I’ve got the next few volumes of both requested from the library and will let you know how those reading experiences go!

Ed Brubaker Trade Post: Daredevil Ultimate Collection Volume 1, X-Men: Deadly Genesis & The Books Of Doom

daredevil brubaker ultimate collection vol 1 Daredevil By Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark Ultimate Collection – Book 1 (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano & David Aja
Collects Daredevil #82-93

About a month or so back I decided to give Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run a full read-through. While I’ve been enjoying that experience, there have been a few gaps which I decided to fill with more Brubaker comics from the library.

Up first is this collection of his first 12 issues of Daredevil. If you’re not familiar, Bru picked right up where Brian Michael Bendis left off which involved a story element that saw Matt Murdock being outed as the vigilante and a case being built against him. That of course meant he had to go to jail, but how would that work?

Brubaker’s first arc deals with Matt’s slow descent into madness in a place where such things are common. Believing his best friend has been killed because of him, Matt plunges headlong into prison fights and unlikely team-ups with Kingpin and Punisher. After using a prison riot to mask his escape, our hero then heads out of the country to find out who had his friend murdered. Continue reading Ed Brubaker Trade Post: Daredevil Ultimate Collection Volume 1, X-Men: Deadly Genesis & The Books Of Doom

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Iron Man & X-Men

This week’s TCT is a fun little double whammy thanks to YouTuber CraigLeeThomas. As you can see it starts off with an Iron Man spot followed by an X-Men one. I found this particular video because I couldn’t remember if there were actual X-Men toy commercials back in the 90s. I figured there must have been more than that first one I wrote about a while back, especially considering the cartoon was so popular and that Toy Biz line seemed like it was around forever, but couldn’t remember any specifics.

So, we kick off with that Iron Man commercial and, while I don’t remember seeing it, I definitely had all of those toys. Those were the glorious days you could get four figures for a $20, so I added a lot to my collection especially while visiting my grandma in Cleveland. I loved the snap on armors with all the different accessories, but also how the bad guys in this line each had a cool action feature. Oh, plus, MODOK toy, right?

Then you’ve got the X-Men commercial which featured that huge, rad Sentinel toy. I didn’t have him, but I’m sure I wanted it if and when I saw it. Gotta love all those destruction points for a variety of play options. As far as the action figures go, that was definitely my first Wolverine toy and I might have gotten Rogue later on down the line, but I gravitated towards other versions of Gambit, Beast and Cyclops.

Finally, while I find the commercial’s conceit that Rogue would be so easily captured and need saving is problematic, it’s kind of adorable hearing that boy do a Southern accent.

Trade Post: Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)

exiles ultimate collection vol 1 Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)
Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Mike McKone & Jim Calafiore
Collects Exiles #1-19

Sometimes a book comes along and just fits so perfectly in your wheelhouse that you wonder why you haven’t already mainlined the whole thing already. Exiles is that book for me. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the X-Men, but didn’t feel up to the challenge of diving into that incredibly dense continuity. I also love alternate world stories, so when Judd Winick — a writer I love — came along and combined the two in Exiles, I was on board. Well, not really because I didn’t read the book as it started coming out because I was graduating high school and heading into college at that point, but I was intrigued and kept it on my trade-watch radar. At this year’s New York Comic Con I scored the first, second, third and fifth volumes of the Exiles Ultimate Collection books for $5 each which was huge for me. I’m pretty excited about getting my hands on the two I’m missing, though maybe not the very last one which is all Chris Claremont. Still, I’ll have fun with the volumes I have (I hope) and see if I want to keep reading the rest.

The idea here is that a group of X-Men have been plucked from their alternate dimensions to work for an entity called the Time Broker who sends them on missions in other dimensions to help get the time stream back on track. If they fail, their own realities will suffer great changes that threaten their own lives. The great thing about this book is that it’s so completely in and of itself while also playing off of many of the themes and ideas presented in the main X-books as well as the Marvel Universe as a whole. Since Winick is working with a team of characters who “don’t matter” in the grand scheme of things at Marvel, he can do a lot more with them than you might expect. These first 19 issues are packed with character deaths, pregnancies, jokes, budding relationships, ridiculously difficult decisions, honest conversations and heaping helpings of ass kickery and explosions.

While building his own team, Winick also does a great job of building an interesting world within a world that explores all kinds of other worlds. There’s clearly a system at play with the Time Broker, but as the series progresses, we learn that the Exiles aren’t the only team of displaced heroes popping around dimensions. It’s one of the intriguing overarching elements that makes me want to keep reading all six volumes of the Ultimate Collection except for maybe that Claremont stuff.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Winick didn’t work in the typical six issue arc format. If a story needed one issue, he gave it one issue. If it needed three, it got three. This not only keeps the book moving at a good clip — something that’s much appreciated when reading nearly 20 issues of a comic in one collection — but also gives artists Mike McKone and Jim Calafiore the opportunity to do their own things with their own stories before trading off with one another. While McKone’s style is a lot smoother than Calafiore’s more angular one, they both excel at balancing the action scenes with the comedy gags Winick throws in via Morph, so they still feel like they’re working on the same coherent series.

This kind of book does something that not many Corporate Comics can: play with all the pieces of an existing universe and really have fun with it. By going the alternate universe route Winick was able to build his own team, while also creating a myriad of worlds worth their own miniseries’ in many cases. Since those worlds and these characters weren’t connected the main Marvel U, the stakes were much higher. Is Morph going to die in this issue? Are they going to actually save the world from Galactus? These are questions that not only get raised, but worried about because Winick didn’t have to play it safe. You feel pretty safe assuming those bad things won’t happen in a regular universe book, but pretty much anything can happen here.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Marvel Big Time Action Heroes

I discovered this little gem while looking for a completely different commercial and just had to post it. I vaguely remember seeing these Rock Em Sock Em Robot type Big Time Action Heroes in the 90s on toy shelves, but never really got into them. I love how 90s this commercial comes off with the pointlessly black and white town and the EVERYTHING IS AWESOME voiceover. But the best part? Wolverine would be straight up murdering Spider-Man in this fight. His claws are out! One punch to Spidey’s face and his shish kabob. That’s not even fair. Not cool Toy Biz, not cool.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: X-Men

As I’ve mentioned several times, I was a DC comics fan growing up, but also loved the Marvel cartoons, action figures and trading cards. Back in the 90s there were plenty to be had and I gobbled them up, mainly focusing on the Spider-Man and X-Men/X-Force figures (yup, there’s a whole line of X-Force toys not to mention Generation X, X-Men 2099 and the like). While I came to the X-Men line a bit later than the toys shown in this commercial, I did manage to get my paws on that Wolverine which comes with a gun that looks like a video camera.

Better yet? This wave which includes arguably the most popular X-Man of all time along with one of the original team members, two longtime villains…and Forge. That still cracks me up. I knew nothing about that character, but I still love the look, which is what wound up drawing me in as a toy collector for the better part of a decade.

Astonishing X-Men Trade Post: Volumes 1-4

astonishing x-men vol 1 gifted Astonishing X-Men (Marvel)
Written by Joss Whedon, drawn by John Cassaday
Collects Astonishing X-Men #1-6 (Vol. 1: Gifted), #7-12 (Vol. 2: Dangerous), #13-18 (Vol. 3: Torn), #19-24, Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (Vol. 4: Unstoppable)

Never let it be said that TJ Dietsch doesn’t re-evaluate his opinions. While talking to my pal, colleague and gigantic X-fan Brett White recently, I said something to the effect that I didn’t get all the hype around Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. Of course, I understand that the creator of Buffy and Firefly has an enormous and rabid fan following, but the story didn’t blow me away when it was coming out. At the time, this book was incredibly late (24 issues took four years to complete), something I had no tolerance for as a lover of monthly comics (oh how times have changed). Also, there was part of me that was in the, “Of course people are going to like your book when you can cherry pick your cast and bring in one of the most popular artists in comics” camp. I was kind of a jerk back then.

But, after re-reading Ed Brubaker’s Rise & Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire and Mike Carey’s Supernovas, I figured I should give Whedon’s X-Men another shot. I’m past a lot of the biases I used to hold and am always interested in reading something great. Plus, I was able to get all four from the same person in one Sequential Swap, so why not give them another read?

I’m glad I took some time to come back to this book because each trade has several key plot points that were pretty memorable. Even though I remembered they were coming, there was enough of a memory cloud around the proceedings that I could enjoy them again without knowing the exact blueprint of what was going on. Gifted picks up after Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, a run I’ve tried to read a few times and got distracted by bad fill-in art to the point where I couldn’t go on (but would like another crack at). Whedon’s initial idea for this team — consisting of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine — is that they’re getting back into more traditional costumes and going out to save the world like normal superheroes in an effort to show some people that mutants don’t need to be feared and hated.

Gifted, the first trade, sets all this up while also giving them a “mutant cure” to deal with and an alien named Ord to fight. The cure brings out different opinions from different mutants and leads to interesting dialog and conflicts (specifically between Wolverine and Beast). As you might expect, there’s a more sinister plan behind all that that leads into the rest of the series, but I don’t really need to get into spoilers here. Oh, we also see the return of Kitty Pryde’s deceased beau Colossus, something that surprised just about everybody at the time.

astonishing x-men vol 2 dangerous

Dangerous drops another bomb on the X-Men as well as the students at the Xavier Institute For Higher Learning: there’s more to the Danger Room than meets the eye. As it turns out, the Shi’Ar programming used to upgrade the systems years prior eventually gained sentience, but Charles Xavier needed to keep his students sharp and therefore suppressed it.  This eventually comes back to bite him in the butt when the programming — dubbed Danger — takes humanoid form and starts attacking the mutants.

This leads to an all-out battle the brings the previously absent Prof. X back into the fray to clean up one of his many mistakes. I don’t actually know why he wasn’t around and it’s never explained, but I guess he was dealing with the New X-Men fallout? Or Genosha? Or something? Anyway, they fight, Professor X explains why he did what he did and the team moves on.

Fun side story, this along with the revelation in Deadly Genesis that he sent an entire team of young mutants off to their deaths lead to a fun Wizard feature I wrote called something like “Professor X Is A Jerk” running down his incredibly long list of transgressions against the students he’s supposedly intent on keeping safe. If anyone has a scan of this feature, please drop me a line in the comments.

The second to last book in Whedon’s X-Men run does what I expected it to do from the very beginning: reveal Emma Frost’s true, evil nature. I knew from my limited experience that there was something of a love triangle involving her, Cyclops and Jean Grey before Jean died at the end of New X-Men (does a Jean Grey death even count as a spoiler anymore?), but Emma and Scott were together from the beginning of Astonishing and I didn’t trust her one bit and neither did Kitty.

Of course, this is played up for maximum effect as it appears as though Emma is using the X-Men’s greatest weaknesses against them in an effort to destroy the team. Wolverine gets reverted back to his little boy mentality, Beast is devolved into a wild cat and Cyclops loses his powers. All these moments are pretty intense, harrowing and also serve to teach the characters something about themselves (whether they’re paying attention or not).

astonishing x-men vol 3 torn

There’s not a lot of time to think on these lessons, though because the series’ other two main villains reappear as Ord and Danger decide that this is the perfect time for them to attack as well. You might expect a gigantly huge brawl between all these forces, and you do get a bit of that, but then Agent Brand swoops in with a S.W.O.R.D. ship, teleports them all aboard and heads off for Ord’s home planet, Breakworld. Oh and it was all Cassandra Nova’s fault that Emma went bad for a minute there.

Everything comes to a head in the final volume Unstoppable as the X-Men travel through space to face the Breakworld. We learned in the first volume that this race of warriors wants to destroy Earth because they believe a mutant (Colossus) will kill them all. Agent Brand wants to put a stop to the conflict between the two worlds and things move along from there with one character making not quite the ultimate sacrifice in the end, but close to it. I’ll get into spoilers later, but there’s an aspect of that ending I really enjoy and an aspect that falls flat for me.

So, what did I think of the run overall? I liked it, but don’t think it’s spectacular. The overarching elements don’t do a whole lot for me, but I did really enjoy the character stuff. Peter and Kitty’s relationship is fascinating to watch. Kitty’s distrust of Emma was easily relatable for me. Cyclops’ leadership realizations. Wolverine’s over-the-top teaching methods. These were all great, but at the end of the day, I just didn’t care about the big bads of this book. Sure, it sucked to be Danger, but it was super easy to call her weakness. Ord seemed like a real threat, but turned out to be kind of a joke. And the reveal of the whole prophecy thing was less “HOLY CRAP!” and more, “Oh, okay.” I liked what he did with Emma, but the end of that arc seemed really abrupt. I wonder if the lateness of the book and or scheduling problems had something to do with what felt to me like a rushed conclusion to the third story.

Speaking of conclusions, let’s dub this paragraph SPOILERY. The end of the whole series finds Kitty Pryde stuck in a giant bullet heading towards Earth. She’s somehow bonded with the projectile’s structure and can’t get out. But, she’s able to use her powers to phase the whole thing through the Earth, saving the day. But, she’s stuck in there, just traveling through space for the foreseeable future. This was a very nice emotional moment, but the very nature of this kind of story kind of undercuts it for me. I’ve become a bit jaded regarding Big Two Superhero Comics, but even when this final issue came out the first thing I thought was, “They’ll probably get her out a few months from now.” Had this been a creator owned comic or one of Whedon’s TV shows, that ending would have a lot more weight to it because it would mean more in the long run.

astonishing x-men vol 4 unstoppable

Overall, though, I’d recommend checking out Astonishing X-Men if you’re one of the few people who haven’t already. It’s got a lot of that Whedon charm that comes through in snappy dialog, but also presents itself in such a way that makes it easily accessible. My wife read the first two or three trades years back and didn’t seem to have any problems understanding what was going on. I probably had to explain the Legacy Virus and maybe Cassandra Nova to her, but otherwise it’s pretty accessible. And, even though I didn’t fawn over it, this is a really solid superhero story that utilizes humor, action and these characters’ shared history in a way that makes this uniquely an X-Men story. Sometimes you read books like this and they feel like they could be about anyone, especially if the writer has a very specific kind of voice that comes through. But in this case, this doesn’t feel like a Buffy story wearing X-Men costumes, it’s an X-Men story through and through which is probably why Whedon assimilated so many X-fans into his army of fans (assuming they weren’t already on board).