Waiting for the Trade: Gambit

Waiting for the Trade

Gambit (1): Once A Thief . . .

written by James Asmus,

 illustrated by Clay Mann, Leonard Kirk, Diogenes Neves and Al Barrionuevo

collects Gambit #1-7

 Why I Bought This: I actually wasn’t much of a Gambit fan until he appeared in the Wolverine movie. I know a lot of people hate on that film, but I think it is a fine little bit of entertainment, with Gambit in particular being the best part of it in how his powers are presented visually. That film inspired me to buy the Gambit Classic trade, which was a mixed bag at best but still showed the potential of the character. Thus when this solo series was announced with the promise of focusing more on Gambit’s roots as a thief and a charmer rather than a superhero I bought the trade as soon as it hit the stores at full cover price.

The Plot: Gambit decides he misses being a thief so he pulls heist, which leads to all sorts of complications.

(spoilers below)

Read moreWaiting for the Trade: Gambit

Waiitng for the Trade (Hulk, X-men & Daredevil)

Waiting for the Trade
The 100 Greatest
Marvels of All Time #13 – 10.

written by Stan Lee,
Mark Millar, Frank Miller & Larry Hama

art by Jack Kirby,
Adam Kubert & David Mazzuchelli

collects Incredible
Hulk #1, Ultimate X-men #1, Daredevil #227 & Wolverine #75

 Why I Bought This: It
was a $1.50 at my local comic shop and I’ve actually never read Hulk #1 before
so that alone made it worth picking up.
The Plot: So in
2001 Marvel ran a poll asking for the 100 greatest stories of all time and then
turned that into a series of four issue trades priced at $7.50 each. This one
has the first appearance of the Hulk, the first issue of Ultimate X-Men, the first chapter of the Daredevil “Born Again”
story arc, and the final chapter of the X-Men’s “Fatal Attractions” crossover.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – We meet Bruce Banner, General Thunderbolt Ross
and Betty Ross for the first time setting up Bruce as the meek but brilliant
scientist, Betty’s crush on Bruce and Ross’s disapproval of Bruce. We also meet
a lab assistant named Igor. It is the day of the Gamma Bomb test. Teenager Rick
Jones goes joyriding into the military base on a dare. Bruce spots him and goes
to evacuate the teen leaving it to Igor to halt the test but Igor has his own
agenda and lets the bomb detonate. Bruce gets Rick to shelter but absorbs the
bomb’s radioactive detonation. The military have Bruce & Rick locked in a
bunk and when night falls Bruce transforms into a grey Hulk. He breaks out of
the base and wanders into the desert as Rick follows. Hulk finds Igor
ransacking Bruce’s office and beats him down. Rick helps Hulk realize he is
Banner and Hulk seems like he is going to kill Rick to keep his secret safe but
then turns back into Bruce. The military arrives and arrest Igor for being a
spy and question Bruce and Rick about the Hulk. In his cell Igor contacts the
Gargoyle, who seems to be a deformed Russian midget mad scientist and Gargoyle
launches a missile attack. Bruce has Rick drive him to the dessert so when he
transforms that night no one will be hurt however they are followed by
Gargoyle. Meanwhile Betty goes for a night walk to cope with her worries about
Bruce, bumps into the Hulk and promptly faints. Gargoyle then shoots Hulk with
a mind control bullet and takes him to meet more some more Red spies. Come
morning Hulk turns into Banner and he is not subject to the mind control. In a
stunning display of astuteness for the Silver Age Gargoyle immediately figures
out Hulk is Banner. Seeing that Hulk can become a normal human makes him cry.
He then frees Bruce and Rick and turns his missile upon himself.

Chapter 2 – The Sentinels are killing mutants in the
streets. And we learn this is authorized by the President as Magneto and the
Brotherhood initiated terrorist attacks on NYC and DC a week ago. We see Beast
(in his original ape-like form without the blue fur) where he gets bothered by
bigots in a bar. Next punk rock looking Jean Grey recruits Beast, Storm and Colossus
to the X-men. Professor X and Cyclops give the new recruits tour and introduce
Cerebro and the other standard X-house gimmicks. We get the usual Magneto/Pro X
were friends once back-story although this one had Pro X forming the
Brotherhood with Magneto in the Savage
Land before Magneto
impaled him on a metal rod and cost him his legs, and then Pro X formed the
X-men to stop Magneto. Cerebro sends the X-men to rescue a teen mutant runaway
who ends up being Ice-Man and they end up fighting some Sentinels in the
process. Afterwards Magneto sees the fight on the news and calls in the Brotherhood
whose members include Toad, Scarlet Witch and Wolverine.

Chapter 3 – We open on Karen Page who is now a porn actress
and a junkie and she sells DD’s secret identity for smack. Six weeks later the
info makes it way to Kingpin, and he decides to test the info and if it proves
valid kill everyone else who handled it on the way to him. Six months later
Matt Murdock wakes up to get the mail where he learns he’s behind on his
mortgage, being audited, his assets are frozen and his girlfriend is breaking
up with him. Next he gets indicted on bribing a witness to perjure himself. The
prosecution’s key witness is a cop with an impeccable record. Matt’s
ex-girlfriend Glory finds her apartment ransacked and ends up moving in with
Matt’s former law partner Foggy Nelson. Matt turns into Daredevil and pays a
visit to the cop witness. The cop kicks him out of his home but after DD leaves
the Cop makes a phone call asking revealing he is going along with this to get
his terminally-ill son treated which DD hears from the roof with his
super-hearing. When he gets back to his apartment he finds all the utilities
are shut off. As the months pass Kingpin enjoys watching DD lose his cool more
and more as he fails to shake down any info on who is doing this to him. Foggy
is able to keep Matt out of prison but he loses his law license, which is just
what Kingpin wanted. Meanwhile Karen narrowly escapes a hitman. Matt is
wandering home wondering what to do next: he has no job, no assets and 30 days
before the bank forecloses and then his apartment explodes. And finally Matt
realizes this is all Kingpin’s doing and vows revenge.

Chapter 4 – Wolverine is in really bad shape after Magneto
ripped the adamantium off his bones through his skin. If not for both Jean Grey
telekinetically holding him together and his healing factor he’d be dead; and
even so he’s in critical condition. The fight was on Asteroid M so now the
X-men are trying to get back to Earth to get Wolvie medical attention before he
flat-lines. Jean and Professor X enter Wolvie’s mind to shut down his pain
receptors to help him survive and this leads to one of those mindscape stories
where the telepaths witness key moments in Wolvie’s life some of which play out
in a surreal manner. Anyway that goes on for most of the issue with cuts and
back and forth to either problems landing the plane or X-men giving him medical
attention as his health deteriorates. Ultimately the plane lands safely with a
little help from Jean’s TK though she nearly gets sucked out of the plane when
the roof blows off which causes Wolvie to wake up and grab her. We jump ahead a
few weeks as Wolvie heals. He tries the danger room for the first time since
the injury and it isn’t going well until he suddenly pops bone-claws, which
even he did not know he had. In the aftermath of that incident, he talks with
Jubilee and makes the decision to quit the X-men so he can walk the earth and find
himself.

 
Critical Thoughts:
Certainly for the price I paid this was worthwhile. The first two chapters were
stories I’d never read before and both ended up being quite good. The third is
a classic tale worth revisiting. The fourth one is pretty subpar, especially
for a collection of all-time great stories, but that’s not enough to drag down
the book as a whole. With that said let’s take them one at a time.

Hulk’s origin is another example of Stan Lee’s genius. What
more needs to be said about the sheer volume of outstanding creativity Stan Lee
gave us in the silver age. Yes, in the course of 50 years one can argue that a
lot of Hulk stories tend to be the same thing over and over again, but for an
original concept Hulk was like no other superhero before him. More than that
Stan Lee works his magic creating outstanding supporting characters in
Thunderbolt Ross and Betty. Even Rick Jones is a nice variation on the typical
teen sidekick of the era. He is not joining the Hulk because ‘gosh gee wiz
fighting bad guys is swell, and you’re the greatest Hulk;’ but because he is
racked with guilt for accidentally turning an innocent man into a monster. (And decades later, Peter David would turn Jones into one of the most
entertaining characters in comics). This is the first appearance of four
lynchpin characters of the Marvel Universe, how can it get anything but a positive
review.

Ultimate X-men was a surprisingly good comic. I say
surprisingly good because I’m not much of an X-men fan in the main continuity
and I have no use for the Ultimate universe (though admittedly I’ve read very
little of it outside of Spider-man). First of all the art is fantastic in this
book. The Sentinels have never looked more imposing than they do in this. On
top of that this is really strong first issue to set up the revamped origin of
the X-men. There’s some intriguing changes here in the Pro X/Magneto dynamic.
This is good enough to make me consider reading more of it in the future, and
it was not something that was remotely on my radar before.

The Daredevil chapter is exceptional writing. That is a hell
of a cliffhanger. I’ve read Born Again before, but you kind of forget just how
good it is, probably because DD is not a hero usually on my radar. I own the
great classic DD stories (Elektra Saga, Born Again and Guardian Devil) but
that’s about it outside of him guest starring in Spidey once in a while.

As for the Wolverine story, I hate mindscape stories in
general that’s another subgenre where you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.
Beyond that, I really don’t see why it is here. I don’t think Fatal Attractions
is all that great a crossover to begin with but if you were going to include it
I would go with the chapter before this which has the two big shock moments of
Magneto ripping out Wolvie’s bones and Professor X mindwiping Magneto. This has
what? The bone claws reveal? Really? I realize Wolverine is popular and this
story was published about a year or so before the poll was taken so it was
fresh in his fans mind, but even so are the bone claws that exciting a
development that they belong above the other three stories in this list? Because
I don’t see it, and history has proven this was just a footnote before Wolvie
got his metal claws back a few years later.
Grade: If we’re averaging it’s three A’s and D which comes
out to an A-.

Waiting for the Trade: X-Factor

Waiting for the Trade

X-Factor: Scar Tissue

By Peter David, art by
Valentine DeLandro and Emanuela Lupacchino

Collects X-Factor
213-219

 

Why I Bought This: It
guest stars the Black Cat who is perhaps my favorite Marvel character. It is also
written by Peter David, who is one of the all-time great Spider-man writers and
who wrote Felicia particularly well back in the day.

 

The Plot: The
main arc is about an assassination attempt on J. Jonah Jameson. He hires both
Black Cat and X-Factor for protection. There are also a few single issue
character studies on some of the regular cast.

 

(spoilers below)

Chapter 1 – Some dude is gambling in Vegas and when he takes
off his sunglasses people see death and freak out. Madrox later approaches this
dude, whom we learn is Darwin
(of X-Men First Class fame). Darwin
apparently had to fight (Asgardian death goddess) Hela in a prior trade and thus
evolved beyond death but now feels without a place in the world so he quits the
team to go find himself. We then get a lot of personal drama with the team
whose members are Siryn, Strong Guy, Pip the Troll, Longshot, Shatterstar,
Rictor, Wolfsbane, Layla Miller, and some other chick whose real name is Monet.
The big personal drama is Rictor learns he is not the father of Wolfsbane’s
pregnancy. She lied because she’s catholic and wanted to save his soul from
being gay. They part as friends and he goes back to Shatterstar.

Chapter 2 – Darwin
is wandering around the desert when he comes across a chick being chased by a
dragon. Darwin
kills the dragon. He takes her to the nearest town which ends up being a ghost
town out of the Wild West. All the residents are trapped in the town by a
sheriff, who then blows a hole in Darwin
when they meet. Even when his head gets blown off Darwin keeps coming. When sheriff dude sees Darwin’s eyes he stops
fighting and explains this town is in a kind of timeless limbo waiting for the
apocalypse. The sheriff throws down some foreshadowing about an impending Hell
on Earth deal and gives Darwin
three magic six-shooters. He calls for the High Noon shootout before he will
let Darwin
leave. Sheriff dude reveals he is Wolfsbane’s son and shoots Darwin dead. The town the fades back into
Limbo. Darwin
wakes up in the desert thinking it was a dream but he has one of the magic guns
with him.

Chapter 3 – Some chick from Ethiopia hires Madrox and Layla to
investigate her father’s death as she believes he was murdered by her
stepmother. The police believe her father was killed by a vampire as part of
that X-men vs. vampires crossover I never bothered to read as his body had fang
marks and was drained of blood. Layla and Madrox investigate and ultimately discover
the chick that hired them is an African vampire, which has different rules than
the traditional European vampire. This vampire projects out of her body when
she sleeps and her conscious mind has no idea what its doing. The vampire tries
to kill the stepmom and Madrox and Layla stop her when Layla performs an
exorcism, which she says should cure their client for good. Madrox then
proposes to Layla and she turns him down.

Chapter 4 – J. Jonah Jameson hires X-Factor to investigate
the murder of some military dude who once saved Jonah’s life. Spidey happens to
be spying on JJJ and warns X-factor about working with him but they just make
snarky comments so he leaves. Also some blond chick asks some black chick if
she remembers her. She doesn’t so blonde chick sets her on fire and the black
chick regenerates into a spandex costume and recovers her memories.

Chapter 5 – Apparently Felicia (the Black Cat) works for
Jonah now as a salaried employee so she wonders why he’s hired X-Factor when
she is a licensed PI. Jonah explains she works for the Mayor’s Office and this
is a personal investigation. Meanwhile three chicks (two of whom we saw last
issue) are listening in on Jonah and are planning to kill him. Most of X-Factor
is chasing down leads. Meanwhile there is a protest in New York about mutants and Muslims. This
irks Monet since she is both. Monet and Guido are watching over the protest
while Siryn is riding with Jonah in his car. Jonah gives a nice speech on equal
rights in an attempt to disband the protesters. Felicia is on nearby rooftop
watching as well when the black chick from last chapter wants to use the same
roof to set up a sniper rifle. They fight and the black chick has super
strength which gives her the victory. Meanwhile the blonde chick is in the
crowd of protesters. Siryn recognizes her from a lead Longshot found earlier
and goes on the attack but the police think she is attacking the mayor and nightstick
her. Blonde chick then blows a hole in Guido’s chest with her finger-gun
superpower.

Chapter 6 – Felicia recovers and takes on the black chick
before she can fire her gun. Finger gun chick is firing on Jonah but misses.
She attempts to attack Monet but Monet is apparently telekinetic and redirects the
bullet into the blonde chick’s skull. Monet wants to get Guido to the hospital
but blonde chick heals. She goes to fire on them but Siryn is able to make the
save. Felicia tries to taser black chick but it has no effect and she throws
Felicia off the roof. Jonah calls in a pair of mandroids but the third chick
fires off an EMP knocking the mandroids from the sky. Guido is going into
cardiac arrest and Monet flies him to the hospital. He tells her he loves her
as he passes out. Felicia tagged the chick she fought with a tracer and begins
to track them as the villains cut and run. EMP chick powers make her aware of
the tracer as soon as black chick gets in the car and the villains decide they
can use it to set a trap. At the hospital Guido dies but then he miraculously
recovers.

 

Chapter 7 – Felicia falls into the villains’ ambush and is
captured. Monet grabs Jonah in a fury and asks for the rest of the story. Apparently
JJJ funded dead military dude’s attempt to revive the super soldier program and
these three chicks are the result. At the hospital Layla tearfully leaves
Guido’s bed implying she did something bad to resurrect him. Monet,
Shatterstar, Wolfsbane and Longshot follow a lead on the villains. The super
soldiers have captured a scientist from the program and intend to kill both him
and Felicia and make it look like murder-suicide crime of passion as we get
their back-story: they went psycho on some missions, general dude wanted to
kill them but scientist dude argued for mind wiping them and giving them a
normal life instead. At this point the four X-factor members arrive for the big
fight. Finger-gun shoots Wolfsbane but she proves immune because her apparently
child has an Asgardian protection spell cast on it. Monet uses telepathy to put
Fingergun into a coma. Longshot and Black Cat learn their powers cancel out
which gives the other two a chance to escape. 

 

Critical Thoughts:
Not much here to be honest. Truthfully I don’t think I’ve ever read an issue of
Peter David’s X-factor before this. Like when he took over 20 years ago and
made the book about Havok, Polaris & Strong Guy as government agents I was
like I don’t care about any of these characters and that hasn’t changed through
any of the eras since then. Reading this I don’t feel like I’m missing much.
This whole cast is a group of uninteresting people with uninteresting powers.
They’re third stringers for a reason. The only subplot in this that I would be
remotely interested in the conclusion to is David seems to be on the verge of
answering the question of whether Shatterstar is Longshot and Dazzler’s son,
which has lingered for two decades.

As for the Felicia story I bought this trade to read it’s
hurt by lame villains. These chicks are so-non descript they don’t even seem to
have codenames. David writes Felicia herself as fairly capable if under-powered
in this fight. And I liked the little bit with her and Longshot’s powers
cancelling out. But I felt like there was more potential here. Felicia to my
knowledge has never been in an X-men story before (she’s had a pair on
mini-series with Wolverine and met Gambit once since they are both thieves but
that’s it) and so there could be some intriguing possibilities if they were
actually teaming up and investigating together but instead they are more or
less working parallel to each other.

I will say David still writes Jonah better than any other Spider-man
writer ever. Jonah’s equal rights speech is a great tool for showing why Jonah
is a respected leader despite his over the top Spider-man ranting. I know some
don’t like politics in their comics but I’ll point out Jonah has been shown to
be for civil rights since the Silver Age in stories with both Randi and Robbie
Robertson including a famous incident where he kicks a political candidate out
of his office when he learns the man is racist. I buy everything Jonah does
here and why he does it. I buy he would fund a super soldier program as a favor
to a man who saved his life; and in the past Jonah has been shown to admire
Captain America. I buy Jonah would work with X-factor because unlike Spider-man
they are not masked vigilantes. They are licensed private investigators working
within law—none of them wear masks and more than half the team uses their real
name instead of a codename. I’m not sure he would work with Felicia but that
seems to be happening in Spidey’s book and not here so that’s out of David’s
hands; but even so I like he won’t use government money to pay Felicia for a
personal investigation. So on that front the big highlight is seeing David
write Jonah again because as always he does it very well.

 

Grade D+ : Those
first three chapters are filled with things I don’t care about and frankly are not
particularly interesting; while even the chapters I care about are mostly
underwhelming.

Waiting for the Trade: Exiles

Waiting for the Trade
 
New Exiles vol. 4:
Away We Go

By Chris Claremont,
Tim Seeley and Scott Clark

Collects New Exiles
16-18 and X-men Sword of the Braddocks

Why I Bought This: It
was $5 at BAM and had a real nice Psylocke cover

 

The Plot: In the
series finale the Exiles deal with a Shi’ar civil war and take down two of the
recurring villains from Claremont’s
run: an alternate Invisible Woman who serves as Madame Hydra and Slaymaster (a
Captain Britain villain similar to Bullseye).
 

For those who don’t know what Exiles is, it is about a team of mutants who visit alternate
reality earths (kind of like the TV show Sliders).
The original Exiles spun-off from “Age of Apocalypse”—a story I never read
but apparently everyone liked the character of Blink in AoA and since the main
Marvel Universe version of her was dead to find a way to keep her around the
writers decided she tried to teleport to safety when the AOA universe ended and
she ended up in alternate reality. She also took the AOA version of Sabretooth,
who is a hero and goes by Mr. Creed as well as Morph–another mutant who was
dead in the main Marvel Universe but was popular in AoA–with her. Throughout their
journeys through reality they picked up various other alternate reality
versions of the X-men for a series that went close to 100 issues that I for the
most part never read. I first picked up Exiles
in the discount bin for their two World Tour trades in which the team visited
alternate realities that had been stand alone books in the past like House of
M, the New Universe, 2099, Heroes Reborn and Squadron Supreme—and I’ll say that
it is a really fun story if you read some of those other universes originally and wanted to see
them revisited. Plus I immediately saw the appeal of Blink as a great
character: she is a strong team leader with interesting powers so it is no
wonder after AoA they found a way to keep her around.

New Exiles was (I
assume) a last ditch attempt to save the series by hiring Chris Claremont to
write it with a new #1 and bringing in both Psylocke and Sage from the main
Marvel Universe as members. Because Psylocke is my favorite X-man and I enjoyed
the two “World Tour” trades I picked up one of the Claremont trades when it hit the discount bin
too. But I missed one or two that occur before this final trade.

 

Anyway in this book the team lineup includes: Psylocke &
Sage, Morph & Mr. Creed from AoA (but not Blink); an alternate reality
Shadowcat who is identical to Claremont’s original interpretation of the
character; a male heroic version of Mystique (although considering the original
can imitate men as well as women I’m not sure that’s much of a difference
either); an alternate version of Rogue who can control her powers and touch
people if she wishes but personality wise seems otherwise the same, and a hero called
Gambit who is the son of Namor and Sue Storm and has inherited variations of
both their powers.

(spoilers below):

 

Chapter 1 – Evil Sue and not-so-alternate Kitty Pryde fight
in a battle of defensive powers being used aggressively. Evil Lilandra battles an
alternate version of Deathbird who has no powers and Morph. Alternate more
powerful Rogue disintegrates some chick who apparently killed Misty Knight last
trade and then kisses a purple alien. Kitty defeats Evil Sue by ripping out her
spine but dies in the effort. Rogue takes purple alien’s War Machine armor and
rejoins the battle.

Chapter 1.5 – Merlyn (an old Excalibur villain who either impersonates or is an evil alternate
reality version of the Arthurian mage) battles Sage in some other dimension,
and is about to kill her when some hologram chick that had been living in her
head emerges from her body to save her.

Chapter 2 – Psylocke and Slaymaster have a two page martial
arts fight until some other villain interferes. Slaymaster takes out his ally
because he wants to win a fair fight. Cut to Rogue who uses the War Machine
armor to take out three Shi’ar warriors. Psylocke wins the fight but when
Slaymaster begs for mercy she spares his life. And then in classic villain mode
when she goes to walk away he tries to stab her in the back but Mr. Creed makes
the save. Before Creed can get the kill Slaymaster teleports away. Evil
Lillandra surrenders.

Chapter 2.5 – Hologram chick beats the hell out Merlyn in
hand to hand combat. She returns to Sage who is dying so to save her they
remerge although this will erase both their original personalities into a new
one. Once they merge they disappear in a flash of light. Merlyn recovers and
lets out a primal scream.

Chapter 3 – The Exiles help the Earth the Shi’ar invaded
rebuild. Rogue makes out with purple alien dude (who has his War Machine armor
back). No-power Deathbird assumes control of the Shi’ar Empire and signs a
peace treaty with the President. Morph decides he is going to stay behind and
help Deathbird. Rogue also decides to stay behind because she loves purple
alien dude. The rest of the Exiles return to the Crystal Palace
(their homebase outside time where they can teleport to any reality) where Sage
is now a hologram bound to the castle. Sage assures Psylocke she is okay with
this setup even though it means never going home again. A teenage Valeria
Richards wants to join the team. We see highlights of various missions that
Claremont must of intended to write about but didn’t get to followed by Morph rejoining
the team because his relationship with no-power Deathbird didn’t work out. This
is followed by Gambit being called home because Namor died and he needs to
assume the Atlantean throne. Psylocke and Mr. Creed have sex. We end with
everyone watching the sunset as the series comes to an end.

Chapter 4 – In the Sword
of Braddocks one-shot
Slaymaster continues his alternate reality tour of
killing Psylockes. This time he kills one that was married to a version of
himself and to get to her he has to kill his analog upon which he absorbs him
becoming twice as powerful. We then get a flashback of how the main Marvel
Universe Slaymaster blinded Psylocke when she was Captain Britain (in his
solo title before she joined the X-men). Psylocke trains on the holodeck
fighting a false Slaymaster and she cannot defeat him. She gets a psychic flash
that the Slaymaster from this series intends to go to the main Marvel Universe
and kill her brother Captain Britain; and since their version of Slaymaster is
dead she does not think her brother will have a chance of avoiding the ambush
since he won’t remotely expect it (although considering how often people return
from the dead in the main Marvel Universe that is dubious logic). Psylocke
returns to her home universe and goes shopping. Slaymaster is there and attacks
her but she’s ready for it. The sounds of battle draw Brian to it and Betsy
takes a couple bullets for him. He’s ready to fight beside her but Psylocke
insists on taking on Slaymaster alone. She channels the memories of every
Psylocke he has killed and is able to anticipate his every move. This time when
Psylocke wins she kills him. She bids her brother goodbye and returns to the Crystal Palace where Sage heals her and then she
celebrates her victory with Mr. Creed.
Critical Thoughts:
This is sort of a rushed mess which I guess is what happens when a series gets
cancelled. Also because of the alternate reality gimmick this is sometimes a
hard series to be dropped in the middle of. I really don’t see in the last issue
why Morph quits and comes back. You’re cancelling the series let him live
happily ever after.  

Still I bought this book because it had a cool cover and I
like Psylocke and in that sense this is a perfectly serviceable Psylocke story.
Her vendetta with Slaymaster began in one of the earlier Claremont volumes I have, and plays off
history from both universes which is a nice touch. That two page martial arts
fight in chapter two is well done and even though it is rushed the escalation
between her being willing to spare him in the first fight and kill him in the
second comes off as a natural progression. She learned from the first fight he
is not going to respect mercy, and now he’s made it even more personal by going
after her brother so I believe that decision and I think it is consistent with
her character. Claremont
also writes the rapport between the Braddock siblings quite well, which is no
surprise as he’s been writing these two characters for decades. 

The Sue-Shadowcat fight is also fun in a fanboy sense as
we’re seeing perhaps the two most famous defensive powers in comics pitted
against each other and used in a very aggressive way as they fight to the
death.

Otherwise I don’t have strong opinions about anything else
that happens in this trade. The Meryln stuff is confusing and not very good—though
if you care his subplot is finished off in the mini-series/trade X-Men Die By The Sword in which the
Exiles and Excalibur team up to fight him but that book is truly terrible so I
wouldn’t recommend seeking it out.

 

Grade C. I
wouldn’t call this good even by the standards of a cult book like Exiles. In fact I would say of the four
or five Exiles trades I have read
this is the least of them. But it is far from terrible. There are no character
assassination moments. The art and writing are both perfectly acceptable if not
all that inspiring. That sounds like an average C-list comic to me, especially
one I grabbed on the cheap.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade’s best of cosmic Marvel

Waiting for the Trade’s Cosmic Countdown

 So today Guardians of
the Galaxy
hits theaters and I cannot wait to see it. I have been giddy for
this movie since it was announced two years ago. I love cosmic marvel in
general and I greatly enjoyed DnA’s run on the Guardians a couple years ago. So in honor of the film I present a
countdown of Marvel’s best cosmic trade paperbacks and because the Guardians
are such an unusual team I am doing a top 15 rather than a top 10. Furthermore in
honor of the obscurity of the Guardians since many of the stories in the
countdown are super famous already I will recommend a second story in the same
vein of each primary pick throughout the countdown. So without further ado
click below.

 

 

 15 – Star-Lord: Annihilation
Conquest
– While the entire Annihilation
Conquest
event was collected in a pair of trades years ago the story as a
whole is good not great. With the Guardians
of the Galaxy
movie this smaller trade was released a few months ago
collecting the four best issues of that event. This is genesis of the Guardians
team as the Kree recruit Star-Lord to go on a no technology suicide mission
against the Phalanx and assign several prisoners from a Kree prison to assist
him—all of whom were marginal cosmic characters who had not appeared in years:
Captain Universe, Death Cry, Groot, Mantis and—best of all—Rocket Raccoon. The
book has a total Dirty Dozen feel to it, and given the minor nature of these
characters no one is safe (though based on the Guardians movie line-up you can probably guess which ones
survived). This is the beginning of Rocket Raccoon’s ascent to awesome-ville.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Redemption.
While reading the second Annihilation
Conquest
trade will give you the ending of the story; and any of the DnA Guardians trades carry the Rocket &
Groot banner nicely Thanos Redemption
is a bit of lost classic by the same author as the Star-Lord trade above and is
the story that brought Star Lord back to the mainstream Marvel Universe. It too
has also only recently been collected in trade thanks to the movie as Thanos Redemption collects a short-lived
12 issue ongoing Thanos series from about 10 years back. The first six issues
are by Starlin and see Thanos and Warlock attempting to help the Rigellians
evacuate their planet when Galactus arrives. It’s a perfectly good Starlin
Thanos story although it doesn’t tread much new ground. The next 6 issues are
by Keith Geffen, and while the change in tone is on first read jarring I
actually like it better than the Starlin issues. Geffen shows us the Crunch,
the sight of the birth of the Universe where cosmic energies are used to bind
rogue cosmic entities. Furthermore the Shi’ar and Xandarians have built a
prison planet there for hardcore threats they have no intention of ever
paroling. However because of what the Crunch represents it is considered a holy
site by many alien races and thus the prison has to deal with a constant flow
of pilgrims. Thanos decides to become one of these pilgrims. He soon finds
Death waiting for him and for the first time in decades she deigns to speak to
him directly. He also discovers heroes Gladiator and Star Lord are in the
prison (among many villains). Best of all Thanos encounters the Beyonder in
this prison and we get a fairly epic Thanos vs. the Beyonder confrontation. The
aftermath of their fight sees the prison damaged and a few galaxy class
villains escape including a previously unknown first herald of Galactus. This
just piles on the fantastic and needs to be read (and in some ways it is a shame
the series got cancelled because they were building to Gladiator and Star Lord
forming a task force to take down Thanos once and for all).

 14 Hulk: Heart of the
Atom –
Famed Science Fiction writer Harlan Ellison penned this story of
Hulk being shrunk into a subatomic world where he finds a John Carter-esque
world of monsters and alien barbarians who happen to have green skin and thus
accept Hulk as a savior. Hulk meets their Queen Jarella and begins a
surprisingly tender and bittersweet love affair with her that ultimately ends
in tragedy.

            If you like
this story also check out: I’m sure Planet
Hulk
is the obvious successor to this one but I’ve never read it so I can’t
recommend it. I will say the recent Captain
America: Castaway in Dimension Z
is really good story of Cap trapped in
another dimension with subjugated alien races fighting a cruel tyrant giving it
some similarities to the Hulk story above. But if you want another Hulk story
then let’s go with Hulk: Pardoned which
while mostly earthbound reprints a chapter of Hulk on Rocket Raccoon’s home
world and a few other alien threats from Bill Mantlo’s nearly forgotten yet
really strong run on the title.

 (13½) Silver Surfer
the Herald Ordeal
(issues 70-75 of his second solo title) is not in trade. If
it was it would rank here as the art is superb, Morg is an excellent villain
and it has the spectacle of every former herald of Galactus teaming up.

13 – Avengers the
Contest –
I’ve reviewed this book before but to recap the Grandmaster makes
a bet with Death and pulls all the heroes of Earth into a contest on their
behalf. Then when Grandmaster loses he pulls both Avengers team into Death’s
realm giving us a pair of excellent fights as first the East and West Coast
Avenger teams square off and then when Grandmaster wins and takes over Death’s
realm he forces the Avengers to fight the Legion of the Unliving for the fate
of the universe in perhaps the greatest fight scene Tom Defalco ever wrote. The
story ends with my all time favorite Hawkeye moment.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers vs. the
Legion of the Unliving
is an excellent anthology collecting all of their
battles against various groups of characters who were dead at the time. You get
two Immortus stories in here, a really creepy Grim Reaper story as he becomes
an Avatar for Death (the Avatar concept played a key role in other cosmic
titles like Quasar and Thanos Imperative), the last chapter of
the story above, and a really good Busiek and Perez story. Speaking of which if
you like the Grandmaster he plays a key role in the very strong Busiek-Perez JLA/Avengers intercompany trade as well.

 

12 – Essential Marvel
Two In One volume 3 –
By far the most obscure choice on my list this series
primarily serves as a prelude to Mark Gruenwald’s superb work on Quasar in the 90s (most of which is not
in trade). This book collects 26 comics (three of which are double sized) and
surprisingly the vast majority qualify as cosmic stories. For those unfamiliar Marvel Two In One is a Thing team up
series from the late 70s/early 80s. Gru kicks us off with Quasar’s first
appearance under that name (the character had appeared a few times before as a
SHIELD agent in Captain America) and
makes Quasar head of security for Project Pegasus. The six part story that
follows (also collected in the full color trade Thing: Project Pegasus Saga)
see Thing, Quasar and Bill Foster (Giant Man v2.0/Black Goliath) deal with a
series of sabotage attempts by Roxxon Oil that ends up pulling in the time
traveling Deathlok, the extra-dimensional Thundra, the alien Wundar and
ultimately leads to the birth of Nth Man—a cosmic class villain that would
trouble Excalibur 10 years later. The other major reason to buy this trade (and
why I recommend it over the color version) is the double sized Thing & the
Avengers in the Negative Zone story by Tom Defalco that sees Annihilus,
Blaastar and Super Adaptoid all team up. I often say Defalco is the best
choreographer of fight scenes in comic history and this is a prime example of
his excellence in that regard. Other cosmic tales include: a three parter with
Thing, Her, Moondragon (both of whom Gru would use again as love interests for
Quasar) and Starhawk (revealed in the 90s to be the son of Quasar and Her)
trying to resurrect Adam Warlock and in the process running afoul of the High
Evolutionary and the Beyonder; A two part tale that sees Thing, Mr. Fantastic,
Sting Ray and the Inhumans taking on Maelstrom (who Gru would later elevate
into an enemy of all life in the universe in Quasar), a three part story
featuring Thing, Sting Ray, Triton and Scarlet Witch preventing the Serpent
Squad using the Serpent Crown to take over the world (this is the first
appearance of Sidewinder and a few others that would go on to become the
Serpent Society in Gru’s Captain America
run, while the Set’s Serpent Crown would be one of the major threats Quasar
dealt with when he became protector of the universe). Other one off stories in
here with cosmic characters are: Thing & Black Bolt vs. Graviton, Thing
& the Impossible Man, Thing vs. Hyperion, Thing & the 30th
century Guardians of the Galaxy, Thing & Quasar in the Savage Land, and
Thing & Hulk vs. The Stranger.

            If you like
this story also check out: Quasar
Classic volume 1
. Quasar was for my money Marvel’s best ongoing series of
the early 90s—a time when they published 60 to 80 books a month. While the
book’s best issues are in the second year and not collected in trade, this
volume will give you Quasar’s origin, his appointment as Protector of the
Universe, the set up of his supporting cast status quo, and some fun fights
with Terminus, Absorbing Man and Living Laser as part of the “Acts of Vengeance”
crossover.

        

11 Infinity War – This
is one of my favorite crossovers but unfortunately it does not have a good
trade paperback. The existing trade collects only the parts written by Jim Starlin:
The six issue main series, a few tie-in issues of Warlock and the Infinity Watch and a four part Thanos back up story
from Marvel Comics Presents. Worse it
doesn’t even intercut those stories in order. It just reprints each of the three
series it collects one after the other even though the Warlock issues
specifically say what issues of the main series they occur after. While like
any crossover some of the tie-in issues are extraneous I feel not including the
issues of Quasar, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer do the story a real
disservice—these are all cosmic level heroes whose tie-in issues were key to
the main event. The Spider-man and Guardians of the Galaxy issues are also a
lot of fun and it is a shame not to have them even if they don’t add much to
the narrative. Besides a story called “Infinity War” should be big and
sprawling. The full story would likely make #5 on this list. Still even in
diminished form this is a trade worth picking up. The Magus has one of the best
plans of any villain ever in this story—from preemptively attempting to destroy
all of Earth’s heroes in one blow by taking out just five key heroes, to hiding
his fortress in another reality several dimensions removed so that even cosmic
level powers cannot get to him without great difficulty to the big plot twist
in issue five on his end goal. This is a rare smart villain executing a well
thought out plan so it is worth reading for the core six issues alone. Also the
story is crazy fun on a cosmic fanboy level because you get to see all the big
cosmic weapons pitted against each other: the Cosmic Cube, the Infinity Gauntlet,
the Quantum Bands and the Ultimate Nullifier are all utilized in one key
chapter of this story. Also it does collect Infinity
Watch #8,
which is a really strong comic featuring an extended flashback of
how Thanos raised Gamora as his foster daughter.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Imperative.
While Infinity Crusade
is the sequel to Infinity War it is a
badly told bloated story. And while the Magus’s first appearance may be a more
obvious choice to recommend here, Thanos
Imperative
has more in common with Infinity
War
structurally. Both stories see Thanos forced to act alongside a group
of heroes to defend the universe from a threat worse than him. Both see him
working alongside Gamora, Drax and Moondragon while Quasar, Silver Surfer and
Galactus have a separate side mission in the crisis. In both the threat is an
alternate evil version of a great cosmic hero. Thanos Imperative also brings DnA’s four year run as the architects
of cosmic marvel to an end and has the added bonus scene of Rocket Raccoon
standing down Thanos. It’s not the A+ homerun I wanted from DnA but it is a
solid B that holds up on multiple readings.
10-Avengers: The Kree
Skrull War
– While this story is less cosmic than you’d expect—only one chapter
takes place in space;–it does maintain a tense build and for its time period
stories of this scope were very rare. The cliff notes synopsis: first the
Avengers have to deal with the Kree who want to detonate a bomb that will
devolve all of humanity back to Neanderthals. Then as the follow up on the Kree
threat, the Skrulls make their move by taking the place of politicians and
members of the media to turn the public against the Avengers and later imitate
the big three (none of whom were on the active roster at the time) in order to
disband the team. The Avengers also have to battle both races major champions: Ronan
the Accuser and the Super Skrull. The story also pulls in the Inhumans, Captain
Mar-vell and (briefly) Annihilus until the Avengers fly into space to bring the
war to an end. It also contains a famous Fantastic
Voyage
inspired story of Ant Man traveling inside the Vision’s android body
to repair him. Unfortunately by today’s standards the ending with Rick Jones
comes out of nowhere and is far too part. Still that does not negate all the
good that came before.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers:
Operation Galactic Storm
a 19-part epic (collected in two trades) wherein
the Avengers get pulled into a Kree-Shi’ar war that manages to remain
remarkably coherent given the number of titles involved and in which the bulk
of the action is in deep space. Also Avengers
Forever
which is more time travel than cosmic but follows up on the Rick
Jones Supreme Intelligence finale of Kree Skrull War in a far more satisfying
way and also gave new relevance to the third Captain Marvel (the original’s son
Legacy).

9-Guardians of the
Galaxy volume 3: War of Kings –
Really the entire DnA run of Guardians is
worth reading as I would consider it the best ongoing series of the past 10
years. But if I had to pick just one trade to highlight this is the best one as
it features the culmination of two different year long subplots: the rupturing
of reality that Warlock and Star-Lord warned all the major alien races about
and no one believed and Warlock being reborn into the Magus in absolute shocker
of a scene that shows just how deadly that character can be. To stop the Magus
the story spins off into a full on time travel epic involving the 30th
century Guardians, Kang the Conqueror and the Cosmic Cube. This is as good as
it gets. (Also paid off in this trade is the “I am Groot” joke in one of the
funniest pages of any story on this list).

            If you like
this story also check out: Guardians of
the Galaxy volume 2
is the next best DnA Guardians trade as it has Quasar and Maelstrom in it, although
volume 4 has Thanos and volume 1 is pretty damn good  too. Also Nova: Knowhere by DnA has the first appearance of Cosmo the
telepathic Russian dog and the Guardians headquarters which is crazy fun. So in
honor of the movie go buy them all, you won’t regret it.
 


8 – Secret Wars – There
are times I consider Secret Wars my favorite crossover ever but I was not sure
whether to even count it as a cosmic story. On the cosmic front it takes place
on alien world, Galactus is in it and it is the first appearance of the
Beyonder but at its core this is a story about Dr. Doom, Magneto and the
earth’s greatest heroes engaging in big old fight scenes more than it is about
a cosmic threat. Still there is no more fun comic story ever published than
this one; it is the ideal primer to bring kids into the Marvel Universe. It is
also deserves historical credit for being first event crossovers– plus it gave
us Spider-man’s black costume which makes it a watershed moment for Marvel’s
flagship character. I would also argue Shooter’s subtle yet distinct characterizations
throughout the entire cast is often overlooked because the story has so much
spectacle in it.

            If you like
this story check out: Never read Secret
War II
as its awfulness is inversely proportional to the original’s
awesomeness. Beyond and Spider-man and the Secret Wars are both
okay looks back at the original concept, but for an actual good story that
picks up where this one leaves off go with Spider-man:
Birth of Venom
. Not really cosmic
other than the alien costume but damn it is both excellent and awesome.
 

 7-Essential Silver
Surfer volume 1 –
In interviews Stan Lee often cites this book as his
favorite thing he ever wrote. When you read it you will understand why. It
collects the entire Silver Age Silver Surfer series as Surfer endures his exile
on Earth. Stan Lee uses the Surfer’s outsider status to make poignant comments
on human nature that remain just as relevant today as when he wrote them 50
years ago.

            If you like
this story also check out: Essential
Silver Surfer volume 2
– Written two decades later by the vastly
under-rated Steve Englehart the Surfer’s second series sees him escape from
exile and make peace with Galactus. The treasure to be found in this volume is
a lost Infinity Gem story arc as the Elders of the Universe gather the gems in
an attempt to assassinate Galactus and remake the universe.
 6-Avengers: Legacy of
Thanos
– Another recent trade we can thank the Guardians movie for as Marvel finally collects the first appearance
of my favorite villain Nebula in trade. Written by the incomparable Roger
Stern, Nebula proves herself every bit the tactician her grandfather is as she
claims his Death Star like space ship Sanctuary II and uses it to position
herself into a Skrull Civil War with a plan that would make her their empress.
She ironically runs into Captain Marvel v2.0 as the first Earth hero she meets
but soon her plot drags in the rest of the Avengers including Thanos’s brother
Star Fox. Aside from the Skrull Civil War the trade also features cosmic
threats Terminus, the Beyonder and Firelord.

            If you like
this story also check out: Spider-man:
Am I an Avenger?
which has an even better Nebula story. The only reason I
am not ranking this trade on the countdown is it is an anthology with plenty of
non-cosmic stories such as Spidey’s first meeting of the Avengers vs. the Hulk
(by Stan Lee), Spidey and the Avengers dealing with a Moonstone led prison
break at Project Pegasus (by Stern), and a few forgettable stories with
Sandman, Rage and the New Avengers. But the five part Nebula story collected
here is fantastic with her both destroying and conquering the universe at
different parts of it and taking on a host of the most powerful Avengers and
the Stranger. It is in fact my single favorite Avengers story of all time and
this trade would by very high on my desert island list.

 
5-The Life and Death
of Captain Mar-vell.
Speaking of first appearances, this would be the first
appearance of Thanos and his first big epic plot with the Cosmic Cube. Also
starring the Avengers, Thing, Rick Jones, Super Skrull, Controller, the first
appearance of Drax and Mar-vell’s appointment as Protector of the Universe this
story is everything it has ever been billed as. In addition it also collects
Mar-vell’s battle with Nitro and his subsequent death by cancer on Titan.

            If you like
this story also check out: Marvel
Masterworks Warlock volume 2
which is Starlin’s second big Thanos story and
also the first appearances of Gamora and the Magus—who is so damn evil Thanos
is forced to recruit heroes to oppose the Magus’s plans because even Thanos
isn’t willing to face him one on one!

 

4-Essential Fantastic
Four volume 3 –
This is here primarily because it collects “The Coming of
Galactus” in which we meet Galactus and the Silver Surfer for the first time and
it is as tremendously excellent as history says it is. Also included is perhaps
the greatest single issue Stan Lee story of all time “This Man, This Monster”
featuring the Thing in the Negative Zone. If for some reason you need more
reasons to buy this it also collects the wedding of Reed and Sue, the first
appearance of the Inhumans, the first appearance of the Black Panther, the
first appearance of Blaastar, a multi-part Frightful Four story and the classic
story wherein Doom steals the Surfer’s powers and conquers the world. Nuff
said.

            If you like
this story also check out: Fantastic
Four Trial of Galactus
which features Galactus coming to feed on Earth and
being confronted by the FF, Avengers and Dr. Strange in a heck of a fight, a
follow-up plot involving Doom teaming with ex-Herald Terrax and ultimately the
Shi’ar putting Reed on trial for crimes against the universe.

 (3½)  Quasar: Cosmos in Collision (issues 19-25
of his solo title) is not in trade. If it was it would be ranked in this spot as it
features Quasar taking on the end of the universe level threat that defined his
title with a little help from Moon Dragon, Ghost Rider and the Eternals and is
second only to “Cap No More” among great stories written by Mark Grunewald.
 

3-Annhilation – By
far the best crossover of the modern era it rightfully sparked a renaissance of
Marvel’s cosmic line. It is the story of what happens when Annihilus finally breaks
into the positive matter universe—something that had been foreshadowed since
the Silver Age. (“The Kree Skrull War” opens with Annihilus trying to break
through and the Avengers and Captain Marvel are immediately like this will be
the end of the world if we don’t stop this now. Ditto the earliest issues of Marvel Team-Up have Spidey and the Torch
battling the Frightful Four in the Baxter
Building and in the
battle the Negative Zone portal opens and the Wizard immediately recognizes how
awful Annihilus is and tells his teammates to just stop fighting and help the
heroes close the portal). Indeed I would argue this story opens with the best
prologue ever: the opening page has Death meeting Thanos at the Crunch and she
tells him “something wonderful” is about to happen—when Death says something
wonderful is going to happen you know sh*t is about to get real; and the
exchange ends with her telling Thanos that this one is someone he could learn
from. What happens next delivers on every bit of that 40 years of foreshadowing
(warning spoilers ahead) as Annihilus
punches through the Crunch freeing the rogue cosmic entities and killing the
Beyonder. Next he hits the Xandarian home world and wipes out the entire Nova
Corps in minutes with only Earth’s Nova Richard Rider surviving. Nova meets up
with (Thanos foe) Drax the Destroyer and (Protector of the Universe) Quasar to
take the fight to Annihilus: that ends with Annihilus killing Quasar (arguably
the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe) and donning the Quantum Bands
making Annihilus exponentially more powerful. Next Annihilus decides he wants
the Power Cosmic and he begins capturing, killing and dissecting former Heralds
of Galactus until things get so bad Silver Surfer reenters Galactus’s service
and that still doesn’t make a difference as Galactus is defeated and strapped
to a star cruiser so his hunger can be used as a planet destroying Death Star
like weapon! And that is just the half way point of the story! If you have not
done so do yourself a favor and read this thing as it is indeed “something
wonderful.”

            If you like
this story also check out: While Annihilation
Conquest
is the supposed sequel, it is really a sequel in name only with
just Nova, Star-Lord and the Kree being the only common characters in the two
stories and it doesn’t have nearly the punch of the original. The best
follow-up story to the plot threads here is Fantastic
Four: The New Fantastic Four
in which the FF learn Surfer has rejoined
Galactus, Galactus is mighty unhappy with how Annihilus treated him and wants
to replenish his power by eating the cosmic entity Epoch—who is in charge of appointing
Protectors of the Universe and with Quasar dead doesn’t have a protector. If
you want another Annihilus story the next best one is in the MTIO trade I
recommended earlier but you could pick up The
Greatest Villains of the Fantastic Four
a 1995 anthology trade collecting
stories on the FF’s top five villains. The Annihilus story therein is a
two-part 80s tale drawn by John Byrne so he’s never looked better and it is yet
another example of the stop Annihilus getting into our universe no matter what
decades long build-up as Reed sacrifices his life to stop him. For something
similar and more recent you could go with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four volume 4 trade in which
Torch sacrifices himself to stop Annihilus and you see more of the fallout of Torch’s
death than in the Reed trade.



2-X-men Dark Phoenix Saga – If you
are reading this column you probably don’t need me to tell you about Dark Phoenix
Saga—a story of unparalleled scope and emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a
list of the best comics of all time in which this story was not in the top five,
and it would go in my top five ever too. If you haven’t read it do so. If you
don’t care for the X-men it doesn’t matter this is as good as comics get.

            If you like
this story also check out: X-men Rise
and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire
is a year long trek of six X-men in space by
famed Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker
as the X-men try to prevent long lost Summers’ brother Vulcan from destroying
the Shi’ar Empire and in the process learn a little bit more about the Phoenix
Force.
1-Infinity Gauntlet
– For my money this is the greatest story Marvel has ever published. Jim Starlin’s
writing make the stakes never feel higher than in any other crossover. The art
by George Perez and Ron Lim is superb. The fight scene in issue 4 may be the
greatest of all time, although damn if issue 5 doesn’t give it a run for its
money. Thanos, Nebula and Captain America all get great moments to
shine. This story is perfection.

             If you like this story also check out: Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos shows
how Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet and features writing and art of equal
standard to the main story. Marvel also recently published Infinity Gauntlet Aftermath which shows what happens to the
Infinity Gauntlet after this story and it is pretty good too.

 

So that’s all folks. Questions? Comments? Death threats?
Leave them below.

Waiting for the Trade – X-men

Waiting for the Trade
by Bill Miller

 
Marvel Masterworks
Uncanny X-Men vol. 11

by Chris Claremont
& Dave Cockrum with Len Wein

collects Giant Size
X-men #1 and X-men 94-100

 

Why Bought This: Surprisingly
this was in the discount bin of my favorite local comic store. I’d never read
these issues before despite their importance to comic book history, so when I
saw this on sale I was like why not?

 

The Plot – Now
classic X-men heroes Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler join the team
as Chris Claremont begins his legendary run on the title.

 

Chapter 1 – In Germany a mob with pitchforks and
torches is about to kill Nightcrawler when Professor X saves him and recruits
him for the X-men. He then recruits Wolverine away from the Canadian
government, former X-men foe Banshee, Storm out of Africa where she was being
worshipped as a goddess, Sunfire (whom he is previously acquainted with) from Japan, Colossus off a farm in Russia and
Thunderbird off an Indian reservation. He introduces the new recruits to
Cyclops, who recalls how the current X-men team (Jean Grey, Ice-man, Angel,
Havok and Polaris) met defeat on Krakoa while looking for a new mutant. Cyclops
had his powers drained but managed to escape, and now he and Professor X need
these new X-men to mount a rescue mission. Cyclops’ powers return and he leads
the new team to Krakoa. They split into groups of two to search the island and
each group is attacked by natural phenomena like vines or rock slides. They
eventually all find their way to a temple where the original X-men are being
held hostage and their powers drained by vines. When they free them the island
rumbles and comes to life as Krakoa itself is the mutant detected by Cerebro.
New and old X-men unite to throw every super power they have at Krakoa to
little effect. From across the Atlantic Professor X lends a telepathic hand,
which hurts the creature. Storm, Cyclops and Havok feed energy into Polaris to
enhance her magnetic powers and she then hurls the creature into orbit.

Chapter 2 – Professor X offers the new heroes permanent
membership on the team. All but Sunfire accept, who then goes home to Japan. With the
plethora of new members available all of the originals except Cyclops quit
noting they enrolled in Prof. X’s mutant school as teens and now they are
adults and want civilian lives. Scott and Jean share a kiss before she departs.
We get a training montage in the Danger Room as Scott forms the new recruits
into a team, although Thunderbird’s pride sees him have trouble fitting in.
Meanwhile a group of five animal people named the Ani-men take over NORAD under
orders from Count Nefaria (at this time just a rich crime lord and not the
Superman-inspired powerhouse he would later become in The Avengers). The military calls the Avengers for assistance, but
they are on a mission so Beast refers the call to the X-men. They fly the
Blackbird to NORAD, where Nefaria shoots it down forcing the X-men to bail out
sans parachute in mid-air.

Chapter 3 – With only Storm and Banshee able to fly (and
only by gliding on wind and sound currents) and only Colossus able to survival
the fall the team is literally short-handed as Storm can only carry two people
and Banshee only one and they have four non-flyers. As leader Cyclops orders
the others rescued first and Banshee is able to come back for him at the last
possible moment. Nightcrawler teleports into NORAD only to be attacked by a
frog man. They have a battle of dueling acrobatics that Nightcrawler wins. He
then opens the hatch-door for the rest of the X-men but once inside Nefaria
gasses them. The team breaks through a wall to escape. They are attacked by
hypnotized soldiers, whom Storm takes care of with wind and rain. Next all five
Ani-Men attack (a gorilla, frog, cat, dragonfly and bird) and after four pages
of battle the X-men win. Nefaria attempts to escape in a fighter jet and Thunderbird
jumps on the wing. The plane explodes in mid-air and Thunderbird dies.

Chapter 4 – Cyclops is blaming himself for Thunderbird’s
death alone in the woods. He loses his temper and shoots off an optic blast
which happens to damage an obelisk. The others are practicing in the Danger
Room when Wolvie loses his temper and tries to kill Nightcrawler, who teleports
away. Banshee chastises Wolvie, then goes with Prof X to meet new housekeeper
Moria MacTaggurt with whom Banshee is instantly smitten. We cut to Scott Lang,
who is maniacally building Sentinels for the government only to be confronted
by some military commander who intends to shut the project down. Back at the X-Mansion
Cyclops is suddenly thrown through a wall from outside by a demon he awoke at
the obelisk. Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler each attacking it one at a time
with marginal effectiveness until Wolvie steps up, goes berserk and slices it
to death. The demon however resurrects by draining off a portion of the life-force
of those in the room to do so. Pro X tries to read its mind and is nearly
driven insane until Banshee intercedes. Pro X did discover the Obelisk is its
weakness during the telepathy so Storm flies out to it and blows it up with
lightening killing the first of what will be many demons over the years.

Chapter 5 – Prof X is having nightmares that he is an alien
exile. He confides in Moria when he awakens. Meanwhile an unseen foe surprises
Havok and Polaris at home, defeating and hypnotizing them with ease. At the
airport the X-men are meeting Jean Grey’s plane as she comes to visit only to
be attacked by Havok and Polaris. In the course of the fight Havok blows up
some planes. The mystery villain is revealed as Eric the Red (apparently a
former identity of Cyclops). As the fight continues Polaris nearly kills Jean
and Storm, while Cyclops is forced to fight his own brother. Nightcrawler and Colossus
try to fight Red but he proves to be just as strong as Colossus and hits him
with a plane. Storm loses her temper and electrocutes Polaris. Even hypnotized
this pisses off Havok, who blasts Cyclops and then tends to Lorna. When Prof X
and Wolvie arrive, Red sees the numbers are not in their favor and the villains
retreat. Cyclops has a chance to shoot Havok to stop him but can’t bring
himself to do it causing Wolverine to criticize him.

Chapter 6 – It’s Christmas and the X-men are shopping in
their secret identities when they are attacked by Sentinels. Jean is captured
and Cyclops finds himself hanging from a building but is saved by Storm. Storm
uses a hurricane to defeat one but has to stop because they are in the middle
of NYC. Banshee and Wolverine are captured off-camera and the robots retreat.
Meanwhile Prof X is on vacation in the Caribbean
when he too is attacked by a Sentinel. For some reason his telepathy actually
shuts it down but then he has an alien nightmare again (while awake) and
another Sentinel is able to capture him. Scott Lang is gloating over the
captured X-men. He slaps Jean which annoys Wolvie enough to break his bonds. He
destroys a Sentinel then frees Jean and Banshee but not Prof X since they don’t
have his wheelchair and there are more Sentinels to fight. They destroy a bunch
but when they break a hole through the wall to escape they discover they are in
outer space.

Chapter 7 – The three heroes are about to die in the vacuum of
space when a Sentinel retrieves them. Lang gloats how there is no escape. The
remaining X-men figure out where their teammates are being held and somehow
arrange a space shuttle launch to save them. The shuttle is attacked by
Sentinels and breached, sucking Storm (in a space suit) out into space. The
remaining heroes ram the shuttle into Lang’s base. A Sentinel attacks Storm,
who discovers her powers are far stronger in space as she can manipulate
stellar storms of cosmic energy. In the base the heroes defeat some more
Sentinels then rejoice when Storm turns up alive. Jean is able to sense Scott
and telepathically let him know she and Prof X are in a different cell block
than Banshee and Wolverine. Scott sends everyone else to Wolvie while going for
Jean and the Prof himself. He finds Lang and pummels him with his fists for
taking Jean hostage; until Lang is assisted by an unseen foe to take them down.
The rest of the new X-men come looking for Scott only to find him with original
team in their original costumes out for blood.

Chapter 8 – We get a big fight between the two X-men teams
that leads to the first ever Wolvie-Colossus fastball special. Wolvie manages
to fight his way to Prof X (who is working with the originals) and confronts
him on what is going on. Prof X rises from his wheelchair and decks Wolvie.
Jean then uses telepathy on Wolverine. This reverts Wolvie to animal mode and
he disembowels Xavier, revealing a robot. We see Lang still has the real Scott,
Jean, Pro X and their astronaut pilot prisoner. Cyclops escapes and he and Lang
fight while the new X-men finish up the original X-men robots (aka
X-Sentinels). Lang gets more irrational as the fight goes on, and ultimately
kills himself when he tries to kamikaze attack Cyclops with a hovercraft. The
heroes still have to get back to Earth but there are severe solar/cosmic ray
storms and their shuttle’s shielding has been damaged around the ship’s
navigation controls. Jean realizes she is the only one who can pilot the ship
as she uses telepathy to read the pilots mind to teach herself how to fly the ship
and then hopes her TK force field will protect her from the solar storm as she
pilots the craft while the others are shielded. Scott and Wolvie both try to
talk her out of it but she mind zaps Scott and tells Wolvie off. After a
tearful farewell with Storm, whom she makes promise to tell Scott she loves him
she embarks on the most fateful flight in comic book history. And we see her TK
field fail before the onslaught of cosmic rays in the cliffhanger.
Critical Thoughts:
There’s a reason this run is legendary. It starts off good, as the new
characters find their footing on the team and quickly accelerates to great when
we get to the Sentinel story and Jean’s sacrifice. And as we all know the best
was yet to come with Jean.

I will say the demon story, while enjoyable as a fight
scene, is pretty clichéd and one-dimensional. Questions like why is there an
ancient obelisk with a demon in the woods near the X-mansion, would need a lot
more explanation in a modern story. Furthermore why does zapping the obelisk
free the demon but blowing up completely. It’s all very arbitrary.

Krakoa is also pretty lacking in explanation. It’s a mutant
island? Islands aren’t born, so how does it have X-gene? But let’s face it the
point of this story is to introduce the new heroes with a suitably big threat
that gets them together so they can overhaul the team, and by those standards
it succeeded beyond anyone at Marvel’s wildest expectations.

Ditto, the villains aren’t all that interesting in the
Thunderbird story, nor is Thunderbird a very interesting character before he
dies. But again the point was to show anything could happen in the new
reiteration of the X-men and in that case it set a tone that thrived in the
X-books for the remainder of Claremont’s
long run.

 

Grade: B+. That
Sentinel story is an easy A, the others are better for historic value than
actual stories. Still a trade well worth-reading and the ending makes me want
to buy the next one to read the Dark Phoenix slow build again.

 

X-Men Movie Rights


Hey Scott, 
Saw this article about who owns the rights to what comic properties and wanted to get the comic readers on the blog's take on it:
http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/blogs/movie-editors/why-spider-man-avengers-never-team-112908050.html
My questions are:
Has it ever been established what X-Men, Fox has the rights to?  
If Marvel creates a mutant today (August 2012) does the movie rights go right to Fox?

Just wondering because there so so many mutants and I am sure Marvel themselves could make a movie using a secondary X team like X Force using mutants that Fox does not have.  

Fox clearly has the rights to Deadpool as well because they were going to make that movie before the deal fell apart.  Plus Blade and Punisher both reverted to Marvel recently.  So it's a big mess all around.    
The question of ownership of the X-Men is far too complicated for me to settle, and even the studios, apparently. I'm assuming that when they bought the movie rights it came with a big list of people they could use, because Hollywood tends to be specific with stuff like story elements and characters and who can use what.  For example, the original screenplay for Thunderball (the Bond movie in the 60s) actually ended up getting split off into two different movies because certain "elements" were owned by different people:  So we got Thunderball and then a couple of decades later, Never Say Never Again.  So I'm thinking any "new" X-Men would be owned by Marvel, but if they made a movie they couldn't call them an X-Man because Fox owns the rights to that name.   

Waiting for the Trade – X-men

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
X-men: The Asgardian Wars
by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith and Arthur Adams
Collects X-Men and Alpha Flight 1 & 2, New Mutants Special #1 and X-Men Annual #9
Why I Bought This: While I was never a big fan of the X-men’s corner of the Marvel Universe: I am more or less indifferent to them and I actively dislike both Alpha Flight and the New Mutants; I had read New Mutants Special #1 when it came out, probably because it was shortly after they had been part of Secret War II (which sucked but hey I was in junior high and the marketing tricked me into buying all 42 parts of that nonsense), and it was one of the greatest comics I’d ever read. So I decided to track down this trade on Amazon to see if that chapter held up, and not liking Alpha Flight I’d never read the first two chapters of this so I was hoping for a nice mix of old and new.
The Plot: In a quest for power Loki unleashes a scheme that gets the attention of Alpha Flight and the X-men. After they thwart his big plan, he kidnaps the New Mutants to Asgard to get revenge on the X-men. Spoilers to follow:
Chapter 1 – Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor are flying over Alaska (they were married and he was retired from superheroing to run a piloting business with her at this time), when a flash of light overtakes their plane. In the Danger Room Rachel (Scott’s daughter from an alternate reality where Jean Grey lived before Sentinels took over the world and put all the mutants in concentration camps; She is also the most annoying character in comics history) feels Scott disappear which causes her to freak out and flashback to her future past because that’s all she ever does. Rachel flies to Canada and attacks Alpha Flight because she sensed magic in whatever happened to Scott and just assumes Shaman did it because he’s the closest spell caster to Alaska and she’s an idiot. Eventually the X-men break up the fight and the two teams decide to investigate together. Snowbird is also dying from a mystic illness. We learn what’s happening is Loki’s doing, who is petitioning some shadowy elder gods for power but is told to gain their favor he must do something good for humanity. The heroes find a golden palace in the middle of nowhere and inside Madelyne and all of the humans on the plane have been transformed into super-beings. Maddie has healing powers and uses them to cure Scott, Rogue, Puck, Aurora and Sasquatch of their various ongoing physical and mental ills. Maddie revels she is pregnant with Scott’s son, which causes Rachel to freak out again because in her reality she was Scott’s first born child. (Mind you in her reality Jean Grey lived and Scott never met/married Maddie so you think she’d have clued in months ago that this isn’t her reality and never will be). This in a nutshell is why I hate Rachel: she spends every appearance whining about how horrible her future is and how it has to be prevented; but then any time she encounters anything divergent from her timeline she whines about how that disproves her whole existence–so the end result is no matter what happens she whines about it.
Anyway the transformed humans discuss creating a utopia. When Shaman approaches the mystic fountain that caused the transformations a bunch of demons escape from his medicine bag.
Chapter 2 – In pursuing the escaped demons Wolverine learns the magic fountain is using all the magic on Earth and thus will kill Snowbird and Shaman, as well those not present like Dr. Strange and Magik. This leads to a debate on whether the good of the many outweigh the lives of a few, which turns physical with Cyclops, Rogue, Pro X, Nightcrawler, Northstar, Wolvie, Talisman and Shadowcat facing the transformed humans, Colossus, Rachel and the rest of Alpha Flight (Shaman and Snowbird being too sick to fight). Later one of the humans who was an architect reveals the fountain also robs people of their ability to be creative. This leads to just about everyone deciding to reject its power, which causes Loki to reveal himself. He tries to force them to accept it, until the shadowy gods tell him he has failed their test—adding the fountain itself was a good enough deed to get him their favor but by ignoring free will when rejected he loses out. He is furthermore forbidden from harming those present that thwarted his plan.
Chapter 3 – Loki decides to circumvent the letter of the law from the last chapter by kidnapping Storm and restoring her powers she had lost thanks to Forge for a few years in this era (thus Loki is helping not harming her) to make her the new god of thunder (and thus replace his brother), while also having the Enchantress kidnap the New Mutants (which is both not him and not the X-Men). This proceeds easily. Magik tries to teleport the New Mutants out the Enchantress’ dungeon but a counter spell scatters them through time and space in Asgard’s various realms, leaving only Magik behind who is quickly defeated by Enchantress. Karma (at the time morbidly obese because of possession by the Shadow King) ends up alone in the desert where she lies down to die. Cypher ends up in an Asgardian banquet hall where he is physically enslaved by its owner. Wolsbane ends up in a forest where she meets another werewolf and romance ensues. Warlock ends up in Hel and quickly runs away from Hela. Sunspot ends up in a bar, finds his strength is greatly enhanced in Asgard and gets a job as a bouncer. Magma meets some fairies and foolishly eats their food becoming transformed into one of them. Cannonball is lost in dwarven mines, and is wounded saving the dwarf king’s daughter from trolls. Mirage rescues a pegasus from a barbed-wire pit and meets up with a sisterhood of pegasus riders. Meanwhile, Enchantress tortures Magik and eventually releases the Darkchilde from her soul and puts it in charge of tracking down the other New Mutants. This chapter is 64 pages and we get a lot of cross-cutting but ultimately half the team is enslaved by Darkchilde via magic armor that sucks people into it and then takes control of them and the other half find their way back to each other. During the big fight Karma (whose time in the desert leans her out) possesses Darkchilde and the heroes Trojan horse their way back in Amora’s castle where they free Magik long enough for her to banish the Enchantress to Limbo. During his exploits Cannonball learned Loki has Storm and the kids decide to mount a rescue. Also everyone but Cannonball wants to live in Asgard when this is all over.
Chapter 4 – Shadowcat feels Magik’s torture from the last chapter in a dream, and after investigating the X-men decide to journey to Asgard to rescue the New Mutants. They meet up with Wolfsbane’s werewolf boyfriend and via Rachel’s telepathy see her in his thoughts. The teams reunite and then split into two groups made of both teams. Loki appears in Amora’s castle and takes down the team led by Cyclops and Magik with ease. He then chains the captured heroes near Magik/Darkchilde so that her evil aura will corrupt them (and claims this doesn’t violate the no harm order since he’s not harming them directly just preventing them from leaving a harmful situation). Meanwhile Wolvie’s team battles some generic thugs (albeit of the Asgardian warrior variety) and he gets bit by a poison dragon and the magic poison is more than his healing factor can take. They storm the castle and free the others just as Loki presents Storm with her new uru hammer. Wolvie tries to tell her the truth but she blasts him with it only to realize too late that Loki is lying and these are her friends she’s battling (He had told her earlier any X-men she’d seen were mystic imposters). Hela comes to claim Wolverine but Storm, Cyclops and Rachel drive her off. Storm tries to take on Loki but he wisely built a failsafe in her hammer that stops it from being turned against him. However attacking Mirage causes the Valkryie to arrive and we learn that she’s one of them now thanks to that whole Pegasus saving last chapter. As taking on the Valkryie would irk Odin, Loki offers the heroes a choice: he will send them home minus any enchantments they’ve gained in Asgard or let them depart his hall in peace and stay in Asgard but if a single person chooses to stay then all must stay. We see the various New Mutants debate staying but ultimately all choose to go home, Storm being the last to choose as she relinquishes her regained weather powers in the process. Mirage gets to remain a valkryie however because the sisterhood is part of Odin’s law and thus supersedes his authority, and the rest of the New Mutants return to normal.
Critical Thoughts: The Alpha Flight chapters are mediocre at best. The Utopian debate goes on too long and comes off heavy-handed in the end with whole if man has everything they want no one will ever grow and create again theme. Plus there is way too much Rachel in it, and really all of Alpha Flight are subpar characters and nothing in this story changes that opinion for me.
But that’s okay because the New Mutants chapter is still an absolutely perfect comic. The art by Art Adams in that chapter is among the best you will ever see in any comic ever; and the story does a fantastic job juggling several plot threads as the cast separates and unites. Most of the individual stories during the separation phase are highly compelling, which is something I rarely say of the New Mutants. I would say only the Sunspot and Wolfsbane stories are meh, the others are all great. Enchantress is one of my favorite villains; and she was at her best in the 80s in books like Secret Wars and Dazzler. This is appearance is no exception. Her showdowns with Magik are a highlight, and she comes across as much more evil than she usually does in Thor and the Avengers yet at the same time is still not out of character.
The fourth chapter isn’t as good as chapter three, and Storm comes off a bit dense in it but it still wraps things up well enough. Plus Shadowcat standing up to Loki is a great moment for her. I also really like Loki’s portrayal in the final two chapters as his Trickster god persona comes off as great fun for the reader as he keeps finding ways to strike at the X-men while sticking to the absolute letter of the law laid down in chapter 2.
Grade: That New Mutants chapter is a definite A+. The others not as much so, but this is still a must read story that shows just how much fun a shared comic universe can be by taking the X-men out of their normal milieu of human-mutant tensions and putting them in mystic medieval themed adventure. We’ll downgrade a little for the Alpha Flight stuff, and call it an A-.

Waiting for the Trade – Negative Zone

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Escape from the Negative Zone
by James Asmus; and Nick Bradshaw, Ibraim Roberson and Max Fiumara
Collects Uncanny X-Men Annual #3, Steve Rogers: Super Soldier Annual #1 and Namor: The First Mutant Annual #1
Why I Bought This: I love me some Negative Zone and I love me some Captain America so you put those two together you’re getting my money. Plus in a wider sense it’s a chance to see a whole bunch of heroes in the Negative Zone who, to my knowledge, have never been there before.
The Plot: The short version is the X-men and Namor get accidentally stranded in the Negative Zone and Captain America has to rescue them with Blaastar playing the villain. Chapter specific spoiler recaps to follow:
Chapter 1 – So the X-men are trying to build a machine to monitor Limbo, because apparently they’ve had some recent troubles there, which tends to happen whenever Magik of the New Mutants is around (Inferno from the 80s being the obvious example). However their machine blows up and in the process accidentally sends Cyclops, Hope, Namor and Dr. Nemesis (whom I’ve never seen before but then I don’t read a lot of X-men) to the Negative Zone. Namor immediately starts to freak out because he senses there is no water in the Zone, so he goes off on his own and Scott sends Nemesis to follow him, while Scott and Hope head in the other direction. Scott and Hope soon encounter some alien marauders and the heroes are quickly defeated. Meanwhile Namor and Nemesis encounter what looks to be a hybrid T-Rex/octopus/asteroid (It has a rocky shell on its back) and Nemesis is able to use a dart gun to tranquilize it. Scott and Hope awake to find they are prisoners of Blaastar.
Chapter 2 – With the X-men unable to fix their machine, White Queen heads to NY to get the Avengers to help. Before she finds them Blaastar broadcasts video of his prisoners and demands that Reed Richards surrender himself in return for their freedom. We cut to Steve Rogers, who is currently running SHIELD and letting Bucky be Cap (but I’m still going to call him Cap for the rest of the recap because seriously). Cap informs the President that Richards is off-world right now but if Blaastar is configuring the portal to only let one person through then he’ll go himself. Meanwhile Nemesis surrenders himself to another alien so he can get inside Blaastar’s prison (which ironically the Negative Zone prison built by Iron Man in Civil War). Back to Cap who comes through the portal and is immediately attacked by Blaastar’s army, but he evades them and begins to look for the X-men. Hope meanwhile has already freed herself and she gets Scott loose as well. Cap meets up with Scott and Hope and the trio attacks Blaastar only for Namor to arrive, now completely out of his mind. Namor severely injures Hope.
Chapter 3 – Namor attacks Cap only for Blaastar to recover and attack Namor. Cap takes Hope to safety while Scott turns the Namor-Blaastar fight into a three way battle. Cap bandages Hope and gives her a pep talk. Meanwhile Nemesis steals some tech-gizmos from wherever and is being pursued by the aliens when the T-Rex creature shows up again and he leads it to the main battle where it eats Blaastar. Namor takes out Nemesis, so Scott removes his visor but even that doesn’t put Namor down! Cap tries to talk sense into Namor and gets his arm broken in the process. Finally Hope copies Namor’s powers and is able to engage him long enough for Nemesis to reopen the portal and Hope flies Namor to the ocean to restore his sanity. We get a wrap-up with everyone in the hospital and Namor thanks Steve for being his friend all these years in a nice moment. Finally we see Blaastar kill the dinosaur thing from the inside and then vow revenge on the Earth.
Critical Thoughts: There’s a lot to enjoy here. For one thing Cap is the man in this and I’m all for that. The scene where he strides into the Negative Zone alone is bad ass (as is his comments to Emma before he departs). He shines again in the fight scenes with the vastly more powerful Blaastar and Namor. And we see him get a level of respect from characters like Hope and Namor that Scott for all of his own leadership abilities can’t command. I even liked his comment of “I can’t wait to see this place destroyed,” as a nice call back to Civil War.
I do find it irksome that the writer has Cap call Blaastar a “terrorist” in his briefing with the President. Marvel’s latest shtick seems to be having Cap running around calling the villains “terrorist” (Bendis did it with Kang recently too). Marvel may think it’s dramatic, but I find it silly especially when it doesn’t apply. Cap fights real terrorists all the time: Viper, Flag Smasher, Hydra, etc. Blaastar is not a terrorist. In fact he’s the sovereign ruler of the Negative Zone: recognized as such by the Kree, the Nova Corps and the Pan-Galactic Council. He’s even led his troops as part of galactic coalitions for the greater benefit of the universe in both Annihilation Conquest and Thanos Imperative. My point is Cap should know the difference and if he’s briefing the president he should be presenting accurate information.
The art starts great but devolves as the story goes along as each chapter is by a different artist. I love the art in chapter one. Bradshaw creates an exotic look for the Negative Zone and his T-Rex monster is really unique looking in a good way. Chapter 2 by Roberson has a much richer look to it, almost painted in parts. It carries a nice depth that resonates well with Cap’s attitude in the story. Unfortunately chapter 3 by Fiumara is what I would consider sub par at best. Namor’s face looks really weird and everyone is kind of angular. Although in fairness to the artist the scene where Scott takes off his visor still looks cool as does the final shot of Blaastar.
Speaking of Blaastar, I liked his portrayal in the story as well. We see he’s not the smartest ruler but his power is still fearsome. His reaction to Cap in the portal is great, as is his final line at the end. I even like how he refuses to work with Cyclops against Namor, instead vowing “I’m just killing the strongest of you first.” I will say it seems odd that Scott would survive one of Blaastar’s power blasts (and he takes a direct shot). In prior appearances Blaastar claims his blasts can shatter mountains, and I’m fairly certain I’ve seen him defeat the Hulk with his blasts in an old issue of Marvel Team Up. We saw in Conquest what happens when Blaastar turns his power on a human and the result isn’t pretty. So unless Scott has armor in his costume that I’m not aware of since I dropped Xmen he should be dead. (Or maybe Blaastar and Havok use the same energy, their blasts are usually drawn the same color in which case Cyclops would be immune but if that was the case Scott should have a thought balloon realizing it). Not that I expect Cyclops to die in a one-off story like this but then writer should have him dodge if he’s not going to explain why he’s still alive.
Grade: B-. This story delivered exactly what I wanted it to. I got to see a bunch of different heroes in the Negative Zone, Cap shows why he’s the man and we even got a nice moment with Namor and Cap and a few humorous moments with Emma. This is a perfectly acceptable comic. The story is probably a B+ but the art in chapter three forces me to downgrade it a little.
Special Bonus Comment: In my last review of FF Into the Breech, one of the posters asked if Annihilus was always an A-list threat prior to Annihilation. I’d say if you really look Marvel had been building to Annihilation since the early 1970s: in that anytime Annihilus showed up everyone was like ‘If he ever makes it into our universe we are all doomed.’ Two examples that spring to mind: In the earliest issues of Marvel Team Up (somewhere in Essential MTU Volume 1) Spidey and Torch are battling the Frightful Four in the Baxter Building and in the process the Negative Zone portal opens. Wizard is smart enough to realize ‘oh crap’ and the heroes and villains unite to close that portal before he can get out. And in the Kree-Skrull War there is similar incident with Vision and Captain Mar-vell where they see Annihilus trying to get out of the Zone and immediately everyone stops what they’re doing to contain him. Because even the Kree-Skrull War isn’t half as dangerous as Annihilus busting loose, and we finally saw that in Annihilation.

Waiting for the trade – X-men

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
X-Men Visionaries: Jim Less
by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
Collects Uncanny X-men 248, 256-258, 268-269 and 273-277 and Classic X-men 39
Why I Bought This: So several months ago DC was hyping the hell out of the New 52 and the preview pages for Justice League by Jim Lee looked pretty damn amazing. Knowing I was going to wait for the trade on JLA meant I had six months before I could pick it up so I decided I wanted something by Jim Lee in the interim. The two most obvious choices were either X-Men or Fantastic Four Heroes Reborn, but having purchased the terrible Captain American Heroes Reborn trade in the wake of the awesomeness of last year’s movie, I decided to go with X-men. Plus the back cover did promise both a famous Cap story and a Savage Land story I had never read before as I dropped X-men in my original collecting days right around the time Jim Lee took over so most of this is actually new to me. Those preview pages must have been damn good because this is one of the rare trades I paid full price for from my local comic shop.

The Plot – As you can see in the issue list this collection is 11 non-sequential issues from two year period, taking what I guess the editors fee is the best of Lee’s art from his Uncanny before Marvel launched the second X-men title for him.
Issue 248 – The X-men are living in Australia (this was their status quo for much of the late 80s) when Nanny and Orphan Maker (a pair of minor villains who plagued the various X-books at this time and were terribly lame in every conceivable way) show up in hopes of regressing the X-men into children. They manage to do this to Havok, Dazzler and Psylocke before the other X-men stop them but as Havok is coming to his senses he fires a plasma bolt at Nanny’s UFO and accidentally kills Storm.
Issue 256 – 258. So in-between the last story and this one all of the X-men except Wolverine jumped into a magic crystal that would allow them to be reborn with new lives because they were afraid of another group of lame villains, this time the Reavers. Wolverine was later crucified by the Reavers and saved by new character Jubilee. In this story Wolverine and Jubilee are traveling to Madripoor, where by coincidence Psylocke is reborn as purple-haired Japanese ninja (she had previously been a pink-haired British chick). Psylocke is found by the Hand who sell her to the Mandarin and she becomes his bodyguard. This eventually leads to a battle with Wolverine and ultimately she regains her memories and frees herself from the Mandarin’s influence.
Issue 268 – In World War II Wolverine (pre-metal claws) and Captain America meet for the first time in Madripoor, where they thwart a Nazi/Hydra kidnapping of Black Widow back when she was a child.
Issue 269 – Rogue is reborn as both herself and Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers, whose memories and powers she had permanently absorbed when she was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants) back in Australia where the Reavers have taken over the X-men’s a brief three-way battle ensues since Marvel holds a bit of grudge, until Rogue uses Gateway to teleport to the Savage Land. Once there Rogue loses her powers. Several weeks pass before Marvel tracks her down, and she is looking rather undead since there is not enough life-force between them to support two people. Ms. Marvel is about to win until Magneto intervenes and reintegrates them into one being with Rogue as the survivor.
Issue 273 – In the aftermath of the X-tinction Agenda crossover the leaders of the various X-teams are discussing which of them should take possession of the X-mansion, when Lila Cheney arrives and teleports the X-men to Shi’ar space to help Professor X, who hadn’t appeared since his death/space cloning/marriage in issue 200.
Issue 274 – Magneto and Rogue (still sans powers) are falling for each other. They team up with Kazar and SHIELD to try and prevent Zaldaline, who has stolen Polaris’ magnetic powers, from conquering the Savage Land.
Issue 275 – double sized issue sees a pair of big battles as the X-men battle Deathbird and the Imperial Guard as Deathbird has usurped the throne from Lilandra, wife of Professor X. Simultaneously back on Earth we see the conclusion of the Savage Land team-up with Magneto killing Zaldaline much to Rogue’s disappointment and renouncing his face-turn from five years earlier. In the cliffhanger The X-men defeat Deathbird but then in the party that follows Jubilee and Gambit witness Professor X being evil.
Issue 276 – 277. More space intrigue that ultimately ends with Professor X and few others revealed to be Skrulls before the X-men set things right and restore Lilandra to the throne.
Classic X-men 39 – In the early days of the second X-men team Storm inadvertently slights a homeless mutant with energy projection powers. He follows her to the X-mansion and stalemates her, Wolverine and Colossus forcing her to choose which of her friends he will kill. She picks Wolvie knowing his agility and healing factor will save him, but in the aftermath of victory Wolvie’s feelings are still hurt.
Critical Thoughts: The stories here are mixed bag, some are good but some terrible. None are truly great; although I should preface that by saying I’m not much of an X-man fan to begin with. The art however is as good as you’d expect a Jim Lee volume to be.
The Nanny store is terrible and I assume must be Lee’s first work on Uncanny since I can’t think of any other reason to include it and chronologically it’s a lot further apart than the others in the volume.
The Psylocke story is the last story in this volume I had read before in real time. Psylocke greatly benefits from this rebirth, becoming my favorite of all the X-men afterwards. Claremont’s writing is a lot wordier than what we see nowadays and this story with its brainwashing is heavy on internal monologue (the Nanny story has the same problem). I guess what I’m saying is the journey isn’t as good as the destination. The end result of purple-haired ninja Psylocke is a high point for the character (and how Lee draws her as a ninja is the epitome of 90’s comic cool) but how we get there isn’t as interesting to me. It probably doesn’t help that this is the third time I’ve read this story in 18 months as I have both an Essential X-men and an Exiles trade I bought last year that included this story as well. Also Psylocke is presented as this A-list fighter capable of taking down Wolverine in this story, and the description of her skills is the best part of the writing here, but then in future stories she’s never presented at the A-list elite Cap-Wolvie fighting level ever again.
The Cap story was an enjoyable one-shot and Jim Lee draws a damn fine Captain America. Other than the inexplicable aging that placing Black Widow in World War II causes, it’s not exactly treading new ground as I’ve seen dozens of Cap flashback missions in World War II and they’re all basically the same type of story, but I still liked it well enough.
The Rogue story is more overly-wordy psychobabble from Claremont, although the Magneto reveal at the end is another nice splash page by Lee. Of course why Magneto has a machine that can integrate two life-forces into one just lying around is never explained.
Issue 273 has no reason to be in this collection. It’s a talky epilogue to a crossover not in this collection. You could easily include the final page teleport or an issue note and go straight to 274.
The Savage Land story is mostly good and not in the way I expected. Usually the Savage Land setting is for fun stories of little consequence involving some hero fighting dinosaurs or some other monster like Terminus or Gog. This one is narrated by Magneto, and here Claremont’s emphasis on internal monologues is a benefit because Magneto is one of the most nuanced villains in all of comics. The moment where he walks away from Rogue and renounces Xavier’s path is the dramatic high point of this collect. Plus Lee’s art really shines throughout every panel of this story. If there is a downside it’s that Zaldaline doesn’t have the heft to be considered the villain that is going to trouble Magneto (and his allies) or allegedly conquer/destroy the world if this stand against her fails (which is the alleged rationale for why Nick Fury and SHIELD are down there helping out).
The space story is okay. I’m not all that interested the Shi’ar monarchy, but the story handles it plot twists well enough and newer X-men Jubilee and Gambit are given some nice moments to shine. Actually I would say Jubilee is a major highlight every time she appears. These are her earliest appearances and Claremont gives her dialogue a fun rhythm that differs from the rest of the cast. It’s easy to see why she became so popular around this time period (and make no mistake Jubilee was popular as she was prominently featured in the first X-men cartoon, the Marvel versus DC crossover and any other side project Marvel had in this era).
The Classic X-men story is average quality for a back-up. It is included because it is the first time Lee drew the X-men. There’s also a cover gallery of stories not reprinted some of which look quite nice.
One other note you can tell this is the 90s by the last two Uncanny stories because everyone has big guns. Rogue loses her powers? Give her an over-sized gun. Lila Cheney the rock star who doesn’t participate in missions? Give her some Shi’ar ordinance. Kazar, the primitive Tarzan-ish dinosaur fighter who in every other appearance since the 1960s uses a knife or a spear? Throw that man an automatic weapon that would make Rambo blush. I think you get the point.
Grade: If you are buying this for the artwork, it definitely delivers on that front and if that’s all you want give this an A and move on. For me even if I’m buying for the art I expect the story to deliver too—it’s why my flirtation with Image in the 90s lasted less than a year. Story wise you’re getting a good Magneto story, a decent Cap one-shot and a historically significant Psylocke story; plus a bunch of lesser material. Let’s call it a B- in deference to the fact that even the bad stories look good; but this took me months to read because in the early chapters I’d put it down and not be tempted to pick it back up for a month or more at a stretch, it really didn’t get rolling until the Savage Land story at the end.

Waiting for the Trade #4

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
X-men: S.W.O.R.D – No Time to Breathe.
by Kieron Gillen and Steven Sanders
Collects S.W.O.R.D. 1 – 5.
Why I bought this: Well technically I didn’t buy it; I borrowed it from the library. I had actually passed this over for a couple months before picking it up, but I’m glad I did. This is a spin-off from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, which I purchased in omnibus form last year and despite the hefty price tag I thoroughly loved it. Whedon created SWORD in that title, as the sister company to SHIELD, but with the mission of monitoring extraterrestrial threats. The hard-nosed agency director Abigail Brand developed feelings for the Beast in X-men and at the end of Whedon’s run he agreed to work for SWORD. This picks up from there.

The Plot: Despite the title, this is not an X-men story, indeed the only X-man in this book is Beast and he’s not the main character. I suppose I should offer back-story on the key players since they are lesser known. Brand, besides being a female Nick Fury, is also a mutant who can burn by touch (hence the name Brand) with an extraterrestrial father (whom we haven’t seen but is also blue and furry like Beast) and she has natural green hair. Her right hand man is a telepathic humanoid dragonish-reptile looking alien named Sydrren. Also Lockheed, who since the 1980s had been Kitty Pryde’s pet dragon that was about the size of a cat that she found in a space mission in a story I never read, was revealed under Whedon to actually be a highly intelligent SWORD agent who had been keeping tabs on the X-men all these years. Their base is a sword-shaped satellite in orbit.
The non-spoiler version of the plot is in the wake of the Secret Invasion crossover, Norman Osborn (a.k.a. the Green Goblin) was appointed the new director of SHIELD and he in turn appoints Henry Gyrich (long time government bureaucrat who tries to regulate super heroes, usually seen pestering the Avengers) as co-director of SWORD under the pretext that Secret Invasion was an alien invasion (by the Skrulls) and Brand/SWORD failed to stop it from occurring. This is of course a bid by Osborn to oust Brand and eventually take control of her agency too. In so doing all hell is going to break loose as several alien threats emerge concurrently. If you want more specifics read below, there will be spoilers.
Chapter 1 – Gyrich gets the morning update of alien activity, which includes three items: the Drenx are approaching Earth and demanding tribute, a political fugitive is requesting asylum while being pursued by a bounty hunter, and there is a mysterious spooky signal. Gyrich decides to do nothing and hide the report from Brand until 10 a.m. We check in the rest of the cast, including Lockheed who is getting drunk because of Kitty being missing and presumed dead in X-men in a funny throw-away scene. Just as Brand and Gyrich are about to walk into an oversight committee meeting at 10 a.m. she gets the various reports from earlier leaving Gyrich to go in alone while she saves the world. Learning the fugitive is her n’er-do-well half-brother Lothi, she sends Sydrren to negotiate with the Drenx in the first of what will be many amusing scenes between them. Lothi is accused of stealing a priceless artifact but claims not to be in possession of it. His pursuer Death Head, who is one of those over-sized gun-toting cyborgs that were so prevalent in the 90s–I’ve only seen him once in a Fantastic Four story from that era so for any more back-story than that you are on your own. Brand refuses to turn her brother over so Death’s Head pretends to leave, then doubles back, breaches the satellite and successfully snatches Lothi. This leads to our most intriguing subplot of the series as to save her brother she goes into the SWORD prison where we meet an unnamed robot that is referred to as Unit for advice, and he gets the full on Hannibal Lector introduction contained in a force field surrounded by a subliminal dampening field inside a heavily sealed room with robot guards outside and door that emits “negative energy.” Before opening the door Brand issues Beast a very precise warning on not to say an extra word in the Unit’s presence under any circumstances. And in just one page he steals the book, identifying the problem and its solution with minimal information instantly, and as they depart Brand assures Beat it is not psychic/telepathic in any way but doesn’t have time to explain further. The chapter concludes with Brand, Beast and Lockheed confronting Death’s Head while Gyrich makes a pitch to the oversight committee to deport every alien on Earth.
Chapter 2 – Gyrich begins rounding up and deporting aliens. He also begins consulting with the Unit on how to neutralize some of the more dangerous aliens, among them Beta Ray Bill (humanoid horse alien with the powers of Thor) and Warlock of the New Mutants. Meanwhile in space our heroes manage to keep Death’s Head off-balance long enough to free Lothi and blow themselves into space while Beast whips some super science that makes that a non-suicidal tactic. We also get funny banter between Beast and Death’s Head during the fight. Brand brings her brother to the Unit who instantly identifies where the stolen artifact is and she returns it to Death’s Head in return for allowing Lothi safe passage. Just as things are winding down, Brand learns of Gyrich’s deportation, she goes to confront him and he announces she is being deported as well (as she is half-alien).
Chapter 3 – Brand is imprisoned along with any other aliens on staff except for Sydrren, who is still negotiating with the Drenx, and Lockheed who is in his quarters relaxing after the last mission (and by the way Lockheed’s quarters is another fabulously funny visual). Lockheed instantly rebuffs the agents who come to deport him. With no allies left on the satellite Beast turns to the Unit for help and we get his origin—the short version is he is the last survivor of a alien race that tried to install a benevolent dictatorship on the rest of the universe over a billion years ago. Beast then frees Brand and they hire Death’s Head to assist them. Meanwhile that mysterious spooky signal that was ignored the past three issues manifests as an invasion of South Dakota by giant alien rock men known as the Metroliths.
Chapter 4 – the Dark Avengers deploy to South Dakota but find no sign of the invasion as Brand has cloaked the area so she, Beast and Death’s Head can deal with the problem. After a brief battle she negotiates a truce as the whole invasion was the result of a humorous misunderstanding. Gyrich decides to no longer wait to deport Sydrren and pulls him from his negotiations with the Drenx. The agents who arrest him note the only cell left is near that “yappy robot” which immediately causes the Drenx to pull guns and demand to see said yappy robot. When they open the cell the Unit shape shifts to look like a Drenx robot instead of a human robot, and starts offering them advice on how to takeover the satellite and then the Earth. Brand meanwhile gets herself reinstated by revealing how Gyrich ignored three warnings that morning, she radios to the ship to dock but we see the Unit was impersonating the human subordinate she spoke to. He then gives the Drenx advice for an ambush to kill the returning heroes when they dock and when Lockheed tries to advert it he is thwarted.
Chapter 5 – Brand and company break into the airlock from above and a shootout with the Drenx ensues. They battle their way through waves of aliens until only the Drenx commander is left; in desperation he begins to free the Unit but when he turns off the subliminal field the Unit puts him to sleep with a word and allows Beast to reimprison him. He then explains his motivations to Beast in a scene so well-written it is hypnotic. Once peace is restored Gyrich is forced to resign and the deported aliens are freed. Once the crisis is past Brand and Beast enjoy a tender moment to close the book.
Critical Thoughts: This is book is fabulous. Considering I have no use for SHIELD, and am not much of an X-men fan either I was stunned by how engrossing this was. I can’t praise the writing enough. It manages to be full of funny moments and yet at the same time the dramatic parts are as compelling as comics get. If Gillen is ever given an ongoing SWORD series I will buy every single trade of it as soon as it is released, that’s how good this was. It’s a layered story, with several subplots all of which peak at different moments. This is how you do comic cliffhangers.
I also want to add I am normally against the cynicism of modern comics, especially when done in retcons (like The Illuminati series.) Even though I worship Joss Whedon for reasons that go far beyond comics, I didn’t like his retcon of Lockheed as he presented it in Astonishing X-men. But here Gillen finds the perfect note for the new Lockheed, he’s loyal and dedicated to Kitty and his teammates, but he also drinks and swears. His scenes are often funny and yet he is shown to be the team’s most capable fighter. I want more stories about this version of Lockheed.
More importantly I want more stories the Unit is who is one of the most fascinating new characters in years. Basically everything good about Silence of the Lambs is done just right with this character but with enough science fiction trappings to make it feel fresh. The scene where he turns into a Drenx to greet them is wonderfully chilling. As is the Drenx reaction to him: all of their dialogue throughout the story is about being this war-like race that revels in gore and yet when we get to see their fear at possibly opening the Unit’s cell the anticipation is palpable. And I love how his ultimate explanation of why he allows SWORD to keep him imprisoned ties into the Infinity Gauntlet crossover from the early 90s.
The only negative is the art. For the most part it is serviceable but Beast looks nothing like he does normally with a snout that must be 3-feet long. Also whatever Lockheed is doing in the chapter four cliffhanger is completely incomprehensible. On the flipside I love the cover art by John Cassaday.
Grade: A. The art is only thing stopping this from being an A+. The writing is amazing. All I can say is read this now; thank me later.