I'm a huge fan of the X-Men, but I'm most familiar with the All-New, All-Different X-Men Chris Claremont debuted in 1975. I pretty much have everythinI'm a huge fan of the X-Men, but I'm most familiar with the All-New, All-Different X-Men Chris Claremont debuted in 1975. I pretty much have everything about that X-team from its inception to its disintegration and re-forming as two separate teams. Then the 1990s happened, and, having sampled a few issues from that time period, I decided I can safely skip that whole chapter in X-history. I caught back up with the X-Men in college, when Chris Claremont came back for "X-Men: The New Age," which I followed until the House of M realitysplosion.
Add in Joss Whedon's run on "Astonishing X-Men" and Grant Morrison's run on "New X-Men", and you have the entirety of my Marvel Universe background.
I picked up "Utopia" because I'd heard about an upcoming event called "Schism," where Cyclops and Wolverine part ways, each taking half of the current crop of X-Men with him, and I wanted to get some idea of what's been happening in the Marvel Universe leading up to that.
Overall, I say "meh" to it.
This is unfortunate, because "Utopia" didn't have to be a "meh" book at all! It starts out on fairly solid and fertile ground for an X-Men story: the human-mutant conflict, this time erupting over a discriminatory law called "Proposition X" which would restrict mutants' rights to have children. Henry McCoy and a bunch of younger mutants are in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, protesting, and they clash violently with mostly human, anti-mutant counterprotestors, led by (of course) a member of the indefatigable Trask family.
So, that's all very interesting, but we only get maybe five pages of that and then the story changes focus completely, turning to Norman Osborn (a.k.a., the industrialist/mad scientist/supercriminal the Green Goblin, from "Spider-Man") who is apparently passing for a good guy now? And leading a team of Avengers and, now, X-Men too? Anyway, he ends up sending both of these teams into San Francisco to restore order, which is difficult since both teams include such intrinsically disorderly types as Venom, Bullseye, Mimic, Daken and Ares. (Yes, apparently they *really* mean Ares, the Greek god of war, not just some superpowered guy with a toothbrush helmet and anger issues ... I knew the Norse gods sometimes showed up in Marvel comics, but hadn't seen any Greek ones before!)
Anyway, with these new "peacekeepers" on the scene, things explode into three- or four-way mayhem, with agitated mutant protestors and the X-Men on one side, human anti-mutant activists egged on to violence by Whatsisname Trask III or IV, and Norman Osborn's two teams fighting both of those factions, and sometimes each other. There's also a fair amount of subterfuge, as Norman Osborn has made Emma Frost the leader of his "Dark X-Men," and wherever Emma Frost goes, she brings along enough ulterior motives to fill a walk-in closet.
What most contributed to my not finding this story all that compelling were 1) too many characters and 2) too much chaos. What's more, the "too many characters" were drawn from all over the Marvel Universe, so for me at least half of the dramatis personae here were total strangers. And since, with the exception of major players like Cyclops, Emma Frost or Norman Osborn, each one might get a few lines of significant dialogue and a few combat appearances, you're not going to know those characters any better after you've read this book than before. You are also probably not going to get attached to anyone you didn't already know, and you might well be disappointed in the author's handling of those characters you do know.
Two examples stick out for me: Mystique and Daken. Mystique is on Norman Osborn's X-Men (why? She's a mutant separatist, and not above violent, pre-emptive action against human she deems a threat; her sympathies ought to lie with the mutant protestors), but all she does is sit around pretending to be Professor X and issuing public statements of support for Osborn's activities. Mystique is a fascinating, subtle character; intelligent, devious, fiercely protective of those few people she cares about and a consummate spy, a decent tactician and a badass hand-to-hand combatant. Here she's reduced to a play-acting henchwoman.
And Daken ... he, too, seemed underused and reduced in this story. I've only seen him before in Daniel Way's "Wolverine: Origins Vol. 5", but there he seemed to have ten times the personality he has here. What I liked about Daken as written by Daniel Way was his urbanity, and his contemptuous sense of humor. He still has the berserker rage going on underneath that, though, so he has this weird periodicity between opera-going sophisticate whose weapon of choice is his wit, and the howling savage who uses his teeth and claws. Also, he's bisexual and has the power to manipulate the emotions of people around him. Given all that, it's a shame his only role in "Utopia" is ultraviolent thug. He only even gets one halfway decent one-liner: when Bullseye confronts him about belonging to the Dark X-Men and the Dark Avengers, he tosses something off about "I always did like playing for both teams." Zing!
That's all the fun I got out of having him in this book, though; all the rest of the book, he scowls, growls, threatens and menaces like some insecure newbie's interpretation of Wolverine. "I don't know what to do with this guy; better have him go fight something!"
It's probably impossible to discuss this in depth without spoiling everything, so I'll just leave it at saying that Scott's and Emma's actions baffled me. Maybe I'd have benefited from keeping up with them after Joss Whedon left "Astonishing X-Men," and maybe not. It's not that the decision Scott ends up making is so confounding --- it's not, really; it struck me as a perfectly reasonable solution to the X-Men's problems --- it's just that he did a lot of weird, out-of-character stuff leading up to the big decision that didn't seem necessary to me. The whole plot seemed like that; stuff thrown in there for no good reason, adding awkward elements that made characters act against their interests and values too often.
So there you go: potentially promising storyline derailed by overly chaotic plotting, too many characters and disappointingly weak characterization and dialogue. ...more
I read a lot of comic books, and they mostly fall into two categories: comics about grown men wearing tights, and comics where people say "fuck" a lotI read a lot of comic books, and they mostly fall into two categories: comics about grown men wearing tights, and comics where people say "fuck" a lot. Transmetropolitan is a comic where people say "fuck" a lot.
Other than that, it's awfully hard to categorize. It's about the return of its protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, to investigative journalism after five years of almost complete isolation from the world. His editor has called him up asking about a book Spider was supposed to be writing, and Spider realizes he can only write when he's down in the middle of what he writes about, which is life in the City.
Once he's gotten himself set up in a crappy apartment and a regular job writing a newspaper column, Spider discovers a Big Story: a huge conflict brewing between City police and a group of people called "Transients", who have had themselves surgically and genetically altered to look like extraterrestrials. Spider immediately smells a rat, and goes to the scene of the riot and bangs out a column full of his observations and suspicions. The column is a sensation, and Spider winds up with a better apartment and an assistant, a beautiful young woman whom he decides to tutor in the art of gonzo journalism.
That's the plot, but the essence of this book is more in the bizarre details of character and setting that make Spider and his City unique. Here is the kind of person Spider Jerusalem is: his mountaintop cabin, where he's been hiding from the world all this time, is defended with minefields, "smartguns," a security A.I., and an "Ebola bomb" (triggered, one assumes, by someone entering the cabin in his absence). As he leaves for The City, he blasts this bar, the one place he's ever left his cabin to go in the past five years, into flaming wreckage with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. The man is never without a ridiculously high-powered weapon, which he draws and pulls on people (and inanimate objects) whenever the whim strikes him. One of his favored weapons, in one of the book's many Swiftian touches, is a "bowel disruptor", a pistol-sized raygun capable of rendering any opponent helpless with diarrhea. The concept of overkill seems not to exist for him.
The above paragraph makes him sound one-dimensional, which he's not, really. His hostility and paranoia are extreme, but they are not his entire psyche. Not quite, anyway. He also has a commitment to Truth: wherever he thinks people are being lied to or stolen from, especially by people with a lot of power, he wants to nail the crooks to the wall for everyone to see. One doesn't find him all that easy to admire or sympathize with on that count, though, since his pursuit of Truth and Justice is so heavily tinged with sadism. He might have once heard the dictum "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," but it's only the latter half that he really takes to heart. There are a couple of times when he shows kindness, like when he adopts a starving mutant cat and when he tries to comfort his assistant after one of his rants makes her cry, and while these do add depth and nuance to his character, they're not enough to make him into anything resembling a good person.
I also have to say something about the art in this volume, because it's phenomenal. The level of detail in every panel is just amazing, and adds to the messy, anarchic texture of the story. Each panel, especially the crowd scenes, is like a page in a "Where's Waldo?" book in terms of how much is going on in it. ...more
The original telling of how Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton, first serialized in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84. Very confusing, nonlinear storylThe original telling of how Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton, first serialized in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84. Very confusing, nonlinear storyline, chaotic art/panel arrangments, dialogue mostly medical technobabble (from the doctors/nurses operating on Wolverine) or inarticulate grunts, yells and roars (from Wolverine). For most of the story, Wolverine is either anesthetized or freaking out and going into berserk rages, so there's not a lot of focus on his character. Instead, the narrative focus is mostly on the doctors, technicians, nurses and various military personnel at the Weapon X facility, and questions of who knows what about what the Weapon X project really is, and who lied to whom about it. This stuff could be interesting, but since I never got much of a sense of who any of these characters were, their machinations and discoveries meant little to me....more
I've only read this first volume so far, but for now The Invisibles is rivaling Alan Moore's Promethea as the weirdest comic-book series I've ever reaI've only read this first volume so far, but for now The Invisibles is rivaling Alan Moore's Promethea as the weirdest comic-book series I've ever read.
The two series have more than weirdness in common: the protagonists of both are young people who quickly learn there's a lot more to the world than meets the eye when they are attacked by mysterious, shadowy creatures that are clearly not of this world. There's magic in both series, particularly astral projection: going to other planes of being in your mind while your body is sleeping or meditating. And both series see a relationship between sexuality --- especially male sexuality --- and creativity: in Promethea, there's the whole wand/chalice rigmarole, while here, the mysterious extraterrestrial Enemy, whom our protagonist, Dane, first encounters in a bleak, Orwellian reform school and whose goal is to enslave all of humankind, mutilates those people who join them by removing their genitals. "We will make you smooth between the legs and between the ears," they say.
Other than that, The Invisibles is a very different kind of story, set in an entirely different moral universe. The main protagonist of this first volume is a teenage boy named Dane, whom we first meet as he's throwing a Molotov cocktail into a library. That ought to tell you right now that this book's central conflict isn't really about Good and Evil, it's about Freedom and Slavery. As Dane's (and another character's, the actual, honest-to-goodnessevilness Marquis de Sade) inclusion on the side of the freedom fighters implies, the freedom being defended includes the freedom to do evil.
It's a compelling story, but told in kind of a confusing way. I suspect some of these mysteries will clear up as I get further in the series, but there are a lot of jarring transitions, especially at the beginning. (Examples: we see John Lennon on the streets of Liverpool where Dane is also hanging around. What does one make of this? Is Lennon really there? Is he a spirit? A little later the Invisibles' leader, King Mob, mentions having evoked Lennon magically, calling on him for guidance; this also probably explains a bizarre interlude of panels showing Lennon's silhouette amid psychedelic patterns and word salad; there's also a long interval where Dane wanders through London with a mysterious beggar calling himself Tom o'Bedlam, who teaches Dane about magic and gives him a hallucinogenic "blue mold" to eat. It is unclear how much of this stuff has really happened).
Anyway, the Invisibles rescue Dane from the sinister boarding school, and after his stint of on-the-job training with Tom, Dane joins them. Their adventures include being menaced by various other agents of the enemy, and going back in time to commune with past Invisibles and gather information about who the bad guys are and what they're trying to do. This is clearly the start of a long, very strange trip, and it looks like one I'd like to go on. ...more
This is a tricky one to review, because while there's a lot I loved about it --- it's very satisfying in a narrative sense, with a lot of long-runningThis is a tricky one to review, because while there's a lot I loved about it --- it's very satisfying in a narrative sense, with a lot of long-running threads resolved and tied together, and it gives us much more of Dr. Allison Mann's backstory --- I absolutely hated the answer to the question of what caused the XY-killing plague.
Without going into spoileriffic detail, I'll just say I thought it was an obnoxious injection of magic into what had been a non-magical, realistic world. I have a biochemistry degree, and I had been impressed at how little head-slapping Bad Science this book contained (a frequent problem for science fiction of the "mysterious plague" subgenre) and at how well Brian K. Vaughn had succeeded at writing technical dialogue for Dr. Mann that wasn't gibberish to someone who actually knew what all the words meant. But all that goes right out the window in this volume ... in earlier volumes, the series had flirted with the idea that magic exists (prescient dreams, red herrings about enchanted rings or ancient amulets), and I had liked the tension between these elements and the dogged realism of Dr. Mann's search for the cause of Yorick's immunity to the plague. But in this installment, instead of stepping up the juggling act, Vaughn seems to have chosen to drop one of the balls....more