This doesn’t happen too often, but then again, we’re kinda surprised it doesn’t happen MORE often. TWO Avengers books and TWO X-Men titles made our list this week? Well, we don’t usually roll this way, but sometimes, it’s just gotta be done. And when two of those titles are Uncanny X-Men #1 and Secret Avengers #1, you just don’t let those slip by unnoticed. Add Fantastic Four #4, Avengers Arena #4, and Wolverine and the X-Men #25 to that, and it’s a solid week of Marvel readin’!
Fantastic Four #4
“My Funny Valentine”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Mark Farmer
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Well, it seems Matt Fraction has established an effective formula rather quickly. Each issue sees the Fantastic Four in an unexplored section of the cosmos, while Reed desperately hides his condition from his family. It’s pure FF, a fevered delivery of new idea after new idea. The FF are at their best when visiting new worlds and interacting with new cultures. Every mile of their journey makes the Marvel Universe bigger, an idea established by Stan and Jack a long time ago.
Bagley and Fraction’s Fantastic Four takes that idea and amplifies it, as Fraction not only has the team going where no one has gone before, but adding Reed’s worsening condition to give the exploration a terrible finality. Will this be the last place Reed gets to see before he dies? Reed’s dishonesty and guilt drive much of this issue’s conflict as Sue is no idiot and knows something is going on. He’s almost cast as the villain as his well-intended white lies hurt his family more than the Frightful Four ever did.
It would appear that the aliens Reed has been in touch with for a while, strangely, worship an ancient cave painting where Sue is the central figure and the target of the alien culture’s worship. As the mystery unravels, Sue enjoys the attention but is suspicion of the painting’s origin and even more suspicious about what her husband is hiding. Fraction weaves a flashback of how Reed and Sue met in college to add impact to the relationship strain in the present. Fraction makes it clear that Reed loved Sue the moment he saw her, an idea that adds weight to the idea that he is dying and must lie in the present in order to protect her.
Wracked with guilt, Reed travels back in time to deliver the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift, as he creates the cave drawing of Sue in the primordial past so an advanced culture can worship the same woman he does. He gives the gift of Godhood to the woman he loves. It’s a love story only the Fantastic Four can tell.
It’s a grand idea, but the book needs action. There has to be an external threat or the navel-gazing and suspicion is going to get old quick. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there. Ben and Johnny really don’t do anything, as Fraction works to establish the familial conflict before he hits us with whatever Franklin fears, but there’s a fine line between establishing plot and spinning your wheels. I’m sure Fraction has plans for all his players and the stakes will be raised, and soon, as Reed approaches Sue with the truth by issue’s end, and there is still the matter of Franklin’s violent dreams.
Fantastic Four #4 does NOT suffer in any way for the old decompression bugaboo. Every issue is a complete, well fleshed out story that introduces new worlds, new characters, new races, and new ideas. While Reed’s condition ties everything together, each issue resolves whatever conflict the FF have ventured into.
Mark Bagley is his usual solid self on this issue. He is a master storyteller than can do action, pathos, or comedy. His renderings of Reed and Sue in college carry as much import as the FF’s ship plunging through the cosmos. He nails each character’s distinct look just as well as Fraction captures their voice. Once the action picks up a touch, Fraction and Bagely should take their places among the pantheon of great FF creators.
review by: Marc Buxton
Uncanny X-Men #1
“The New Revolution”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler/Colorist: Chris Bachalo
Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey
Scott “Cyclops” Summers is a dangerous man. A revolutionary. A counter-culture icon. A man perfectly willing to operate outside the boundaries of the law in order to make sure his cause succeeds. He’s a fanatic. He’s dangerous. Wait…are we talking about the same Scott Summers?
Yes we are. The premise of the relaunched Uncanny X-Men is that, in the aftermath of AvX, Cyclops has become “the self-appointed face of the new mutant revolution.” His anti-authority message is resonating with the youth of the Marvel Universe, both mutant and non-mutant, and his team of X-Men is swooping in to rescue, recruit, and educate the increasing numbers of new young mutants who are springing up at an alarming rate.
It sounds like a great concept, but the execution falls flat. There’s no element of danger to Scott Summers, no matter how badly the mysterious narrator wants us to believe there is. Uncanny X-Men reads like a series of traditional X-Men clichés given a fresh coat of paint and strung haphazardly together. From the “young mutant accidentally discovering his powers” scene to the obligatory Sentinels battle to the police gleefully collaring an innocent mutant, it all feels really tired.
When Brian Michael Bendis is on the ball, he’s the comic book equivalent of David Mamet, with an ear for dialogue and pacing that are virtually unmatched. Unfortunately, he misses the mark quite often, and I’ve never felt that team books play to his strengths. The dialogue is overwritten, with Bendis’ trademark use of repetition, stammering, and slang all deployed with such frequency that they lose all of their power by the third page.
Chris Bachalo’s art isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed his quirky dynamism, and we get to see some of that at play here. I gotta say, though, I’m disappointed in his rather bland coloring choices, and a series of uninspired costume designs. This isn’t the most visually striking (or even intimidating) team of X-Men I’ve ever seen, and nobody really stands out during the action sequences.
It’s been years since I’ve bought an X-Men title with any regularity, and, sadly, Uncanny X-Men #1 reminded me why. The X-Men franchise has historically been virtually impenetrable for the casual fan, and this book is no different. Compared to the self-contained, “just see the movie” attitude of the relaunched Avengers titles, Uncanny X-Men #1 feels like work. Thoroughly mired in last year’s events, it does nothing to introduce or establish anything other than Cyclops’ new mission statement, which is rather clumsily forced on us by our “narrator.” I like the basic concept of this title, and was really looking forward to a new kind of X-Men book. Instead, I’m reminded why I’ve stayed away from this corner of the Marvel Universe for so long. I have faith in Bendis and Bachalo, and some of the previews for upcoming issues look promising, so I’ll stick around a little longer. But so far, Uncanny X-Men isn’t off to a great start.
review by: Mike Cecchini
Wolverine and the X-Men #25
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Ramon Perez
Colorist: Laura Martin
With Uncanny X-Men shipping this week and All-New X-Men firing on all cylinders, there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the X-book that survived into Marvel NOW! Wolverine and the X-Men, under the guiding hand of Jason Aaron, has been one of Marvel’s most consistently solid reads over the last few years. With compelling takes on old favorites and awesome new mutants added to the mix, Wolverine’s school has been a great place to visit week after week. Aaron is a master storyteller. He has a ton of characters, and constantly switches perspectives between them. Each voice is different from the next, weaving an often hilarious group of tales that pack a real punch. His stories border on the ridiculous at times, but Aaron has the talent to pull the humanity out of the absurd.
A great example of this ability is Aaron’s character Broo. Broo is a little Brood, a little bookish fella descendent from a race of intergalactic parasites. Think Steve Urkel meets H.R. Giger. A few issue back, Aaron had Broo shot by the emerging new Hellfire Club, and boy, was it heart-wrenching to watch the sweet little guy experience such a violent moment. Last issue, Broo woke up, and before fans could squeal with delight that their little darling was back, Aaron pulled the rug from under everyone, as Broo awoke as a classic Brood monster. So the character arc of Broo went from “awww” to “booooo” to “YIKES!”
Wolverine and the X-Men #25 picks up with Professor Wolverine leading his class of troubled young mutants, including the feral Broo, Oya (who blames herself for Broo’s injury), Quentin Quire, Glob Herman, Kid Apocalypse (desperately trying to prove he will never be a villain), and newcomers Eye-Boy, Shark-Girl, and Sprite into the Savage Land to learn to work as a team. Yes, Aaron is such a rare talent that he totally sells a story featuring characters called Shark-Girl and Eye-Boy. In case you’re wondering Eye-Boy is covered in eyes and Shark-Girl is a girl that turns into a shark. This ain’t rocket science people, but it’s well-written, and it’s a load of fun.
Wolverine’s final exam for his class is simple, the kids must work together to find their way out of the Savage Land without getting eaten by dinosaurs. Aaron gives equal time to each member and gives each character their own mini-arc in the overall tale of teamwork and survival. Quire must put aside his ego and become a leader, Kid Apocalypse must convince the others he can be trusted, Oyo must come to terms with what happened to Broo, and Eye-Boy must stop vomiting from watching Glob Herman eat. It’s so much fun to watch Aaron play with these characters in the exotic setting of the Savage Land.
Despite the ludicrousness of the situation, Aaron never loses sight of his themes of teamwork and loyalty. The coolest part about this book is watching the new characters grow into the heroes of tomorrow, sometimes through a farcical journey of self-discovery and growth. Oh, yeah, Wolverine’s brother’s dog is in the Savage Land as well. So, if that combined with a Were-Shark eating velociraptors isn’t enough to sell this book to you, I quit.
Sadly, the art, while serviceable, doesn’t have the same energy or dynamism as Aaron’s story. Ramon Perez draws great faces and he has a good sense of comedic timing, but his action scenes are cluttered, and everything looks a bit TOO cartoony. Still, this the best X-book on the market.
review by: Marc Buxton
Secret Avengers #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Luke Ross
Color Artist: Matthew Wilson
Say it with me: “You and I remember Budapest very differently.” Well, if Secret Avengers #1 is anything to go on, that statement is truer than any of us could have possibly realized. Okay, sure, we all know that this comic doesn’t take place in the same “universe” as the Avengers movie did. But what Nick Spencer, Luke Ross, and Matthew Wilson have done quite well is craft a comic that, for all intents and purposes, may as well be an extension of the most successful superhero film of all time.
All of the elements are here: Black Widow, Hawkeye, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson, and yes, even the new Marcus…erm…I mean NICK Fury (the one who looks suspiciously like Sam Jackson). It’s a little clumsy, but Secret Avengers #1 is a fun comic. It’s not gonna set the world on fire, but that’s alright. Shelves are pretty heavy on Avengers content at the moment, and it’s tough for yet ANOTHER Avengers title to stand out. So what’s the last of Marvel’s Avengers re-launches to do? Ally itself loosely with the most recognizable version of the property and hope for the best!
In that respect, Secret Avengers #1 is a success. If you’ve never read an Avengers comic, and all you know about this universe is what you saw on the big screen over the summer, well, you’re in luck. Secret Avengers #1 is the comic you can give to your friends who enjoyed the movie but aren’t into comics, and they’ll eat it up. While this is obviously a Marvel Universe book, for movie fans, it reads (with a couple of lines of dialogue to explain who this version of Nick Fury is, aside) like a perfect piece of backstory for the cinematic Hawkeye and Black Widow.
How “secret” are these Secret Avengers? Well, so secret that Phil Coulson has to do some fancy memory-implantin’ before these missions so that nobody can talk about stuff they ain’t supposed to talk about. And then it’s off to Budapest for Black Widow and Hawkeye so that funny little line of dialogue in the movie has some added weight. It’s not much of a story, but it’s fun and sets up just enough backroom menace to keep you interested in future installments.
I’ve gotta give Secret Avengers #1 a lot of credit for being self-contained and accessible enough that you could just hand it to a non-comic reader and hope they get hooked. Hardcore fans might find this a little inconsequential, but you know what? Who cares? Since when are hardcore fans right about anything?
review by: Mike Cecchini
Avengers Arena #4
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Colorist: Frank Martin
Boy, did the fans pile on this one. Many assumed Avengers Arena would be a book about death for death’s sake, wiping out beloved characters that didn’t fit in the current landscape of Marvel NOW! The book already featured the deaths of the new Red Raven and Mettle from Avengers Academy, and fans are petrified that some of their other favorites from that book or, god forbid, Runaways could be next. Death is never permanent in comcis, but a book about death and the lengths that even heroes would go to survive is a fascinating subject. Let’s not begrudge Marvel their attempt to cash in on the Hunger Games craze. Avengers Arena is an interesting, intense book with some high stakes. Readers just need to look past their own fears. After all, your favorite characters are only a resurrection away, so why let a little thing like death get in the way of a good story?
This time around the spotlight is on Chase from the Runaways. Runaways fans will read this issue with heart firmly in throat as previous issues either killed or decommissioned characters. Juston Seyfert already lost his Sentinel, and Darkhawk was stripped of his suit and powers, so it’s clear that Dennis Hopeless is willing to obliterate the status quo in order to give readers a sense of danger.
Hopeless does a great job reestablishing Chase. His expository flashbacks fill the reader in on the Runaways’ back story without feeling intrusive. Chase’s fear is palpable as he and fellow Runaway, Nico, try to unite with Avengers Academy members Reptil, Hazmat, and X-23. The best part of the issue sees Reptil and Chase discussing what they would be willing to do to survive the island, including murdering each other. They both come to the realization that the willingness to murder is ingrained in them, and even though they are having these alien, homicidal thoughts, they are still the same person. I’m not certain I agree with this idea, but it’s explored nicely through their interactions. Suddenly, Reptil is blasted from the woods, and this is where the book derails a bit.
Violence in any genre is slippery slope. When it’s deployed against young people, what is implied is always more effective than what is fully on display. As Reptil lays smoldering and writhing on the ground, the brutal imagery pulls the reader out of the story, forcing the reader to experience it. It’s a stylistic choice, and Hopeless is fully committed to keep the camera trained on the horrors of the island. But these aren’t just nameless and faceless characters; they’re fully realized parts of the Marvel Universe and people care about them. Do we need to see the agony that goes along with death? Hopeless thinks so, and his position is respectable. But by book’s end, it didn’t feel like a well-constructed moral discussion between Chase and Reptil took place. Instead, the memory that stays with the reader is the smoldering body of a hero. That image robs the book of its substance, which is too bad, as they were on to something. Avengers Arena needs to show some restraint in order to effectively tell a complex tale of heroes and morality.
Allesandro Vitti etches looks of fear and desperation on each character’s face, which in previous adventures, held expressions of hope and determination. One can only hope that these characters (and the book) will find their path to safety and redemption, otherwise the whole thing will just be an exercise in exploitation and pain. Whether Avengers Arena succeeds or fails depends on which path Hopeless chooses to take.
review by: Marc Buxton