Thursday, January 6, 2011

Looking Back: The Year in X 2010 - Part 5

By Paul Steven Brown

Here's my final installment in a look back at the X-Men comic books that came out in 2010. For the last article, I reflect on Generation Hope, New Mutants, X-Men: Legacy, and the one that started it all: Uncanny X-Men.

Generation Hope
(Generation Hope #1 – 3)

I wasn’t too excited about this book when it was announced. Despite writer Kieron Gillen being attached, I was not thrilled about having a brand new team of teenage mutants, when there were already a dozen or more really great former New/Young X-Men characters lying around. I guess Marvel really wanted a new book to spin out of Second Coming. Unfortunately, the lead-in arc, “The Five Lights” in Uncanny X-Men didn’t do anything to dissuade my lack of enthusiasm either.

Hope Summers and four of her new friends have spent the first three issues of Generation Hope fighting the fifth light, Kenji. There hasn’t been much in the way of character development, particularly for the new kids. We barely know anything about them, I can’t be bothered to feel any attachment to them as of yet. It didn’t help things that they were on the bench for most of the second issue, while the real X-Men (Cyclops, Rogue, and Wolverine) got most of the panel time.

The art by Salvador Espin has been serviceable, but not outstanding. The covers by Olivier Coipel have been really sweet, though. But none of this is enough to make me feel anymore excited about Generation Hope.

It’s still really early in the game for this one. Hopefully, Gillen will give us more insight as to who these kids are during the second arc. I want to care, but my interest in this title is quickly waning.

Grade: B-

New Mutants
(New Mutants #9 – 20)

Zeb Wells’ New Mutants relaunch felt like a book spinning its wheels for the first three months of 2010. Coming out of the Necrosha crossover, the team had to deal with the resurrection of Doug Ramsey and the return of Warlock. We then got a somewhat forced Siege tie-in issue written by Kieron Gillen. And before you knew it, New Mutants was involved in another crossover for three months: Second Coming.

However, this book has been on fire ever since that crossover ended. The addition of artist Leonard Kirk has been wonderful. I loved his work on Captain Britain and MI13, as well as the Dark X-Men mini-series. Not only have the New Mutants looked great, but Kirk has come up with some great designs for their newest adversaries: Project Purgatory and the Inferno Babies. These are some of the best new villains to hit the X-Universe since Mike Carey introduced the Children of the Vault in the former adjectiveless X-Men book.

Also, outside of Magma and possibly Sunspot and Warlock, the cast has been really shining. Wells has done a great job presenting Mirage, Cannonball, Magik, Cypher, and Karma as the older, harder, more experienced versions of the kids we met two decades ago. Dani Moonstar has really been the standout, though. She may not have any powers anymore, but she is could give Illyana a run for her money in an intimidation contest. Don’t agree with me? Check out New Mutants #20 and see what Dani can still do with a bow and arrow while suffering from a dislocated shoulder.

Zeb Wells’ run on New Mutants comes to a close next month. While I’m sad to see him go, he’s at least going out with a bang. Plus, he’s using this last arc as a way of tying up most of the ideas that he introduced or played with during his tenure. Good luck to the person that takes over New Mutants after him. That writer will have a lot to live up to.

Grade: A

X-Men: Legacy
(X-Men: Legacy #232 – 243)

I really enjoy X-Men: Legacy and I still believe that Mike Carey is the best writer on the X-Books at the moment. However, ever since this book changed focus from Charles Xavier over to Rogue, Legacy has not been allowed to just produce an uninterrupted story thread. It started the year as part of the Necrosha event, followed by one fantastic, standalone issue, only to head right into Second Coming. At the moment, it feels like the stories we’re getting are there to kill time until the next crossover, Age of X.

I would be far grumpier if it weren’t for the fact that Mike Carey has done a great job playing within the constraints given to him. The Necrosha issues involved Rogue and a fun hodge podge squad of X-Men fighting a resurrected Proteus on the ruins of Muir Island. I had almost forgotten what it was like to see an actual team of X-Men on a mission. Carey continued to prove that he knows these characters and still create new and interesting situations for them.

X-Men: Legacy #234 was one of the best issues of the year and of the sort that I was hoping we’d get more of. That issue really focused on Rogue and her continual adjustment into her new role as superpowered guidance counselor to the New/Young X-Men kids. We also got to see her interact more with two important men in her life: Gambit and Magneto. Plus, it was great to see the students doing something other than following Cyclops into battle.

After Second Coming, Carey gave us the fairly satisfying “Collision” arc. This centered on Rogue and Magneto taking Indra back home to India, with his classmate Loa and Anole in tow. There was considerable character development for Indra and we finally saw the return of the Children of the Vault. Like the Necrosha arc, this felt like story staring an actual team.

The year ended with the less enjoyable “Fables of the Reconstruction” two-parter. While I enjoyed the idea of the X-Men helping the rebuilding of San Francisco after the damaged committed by Bastion’s forces in Second Coming, this felt four months too late. However, we got to see the return of Karima Shapandar plus Hellion dealing with the trauma of his injuries in a very unhealthy manner. Not as good as what came before, but this was far from bad.

For about half of the issues in 2010, the pencils were provided by Clay Mann. I think that he’s a great fit for the book. His style reminds me of a looser Olivier Coipel. What I really appreciate about Mann’s work is his depiction of women: they do not have impossibly narrow waists. They have more realistic proportions when compared to the invisibly-corseted superwomen of most mainstream books and they still look attractive.

My wish is that after Age of X, Mike Carey will be able to produce a long string of issues in X-Men: Legacy without fear of interruption from some event or crossover. This is a great book, but it certainly could be even better. I can’t help but believe that left to his own devices; Carey could create some truly amazing stories.

Grade: A-

Uncanny X-Men
(Uncanny X-Men #520 – 531, Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age #1)

Let me begin by saying that I still maintain that under writer Matt Fraction, Uncanny X-Men is the best it has been in about ten years. To his credit, he has been able to re-establish this book as the flagship of the line.

Unfortunately, I’m ready for a change.

Uncanny X-Men is a book starring Scott Summers and Emma Frost. The rest of the X-Men feel incidental and have been given very little development. Other than our two stars, the rest of the mutants that appear in this book have been distilled down to their basic elements. Fraction’s cute little character descriptions are more illuminating of his character treatments rather than the cast itself. Quick, boiled down, and hardly any depth. Storm controls the weather and is a Queen. Angel can fly and is rich. Northstar is fast and snarky. Dazzler has light powers and is a former pop star. Now watch them fight bad guys. That’s all you get. Flash, but no substance.

I’d be far more upset if Fraction wasn’t producing some interesting material. The “Nation X” arc was probably his strongest on the book. The last three issues of this story kicked off 2010 and we were treated to Magneto attempting to win Cyclops’ trust by finding a way to bring Kitty Pryde back to Earth. Coming out of Second Coming though, Uncanny hit a really rough string of issues.

“The Five Lights” just didn’t really work for me. On the surface, Whilce Portacio had returned to the book as penciler after an almost twenty year absence. As with Larry Stroman’s return to X-Factor a few years ago, it just wasn’t like the old days. While the first issue of the bunch gave us some great insight into Hope Summer’s real mother, the subsequent chapters were very repetitive. One of the Five Lights is somewhere in the world freaking out and not adjusting to his or her new power very well. A couple of the X-Men try to help but fail. Hope walks in, does a little of the laying of hands, and the Light gains control. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The current “Quarantine” arc has fared better so far. A few more characters are getting a little bit more panel time, but this is still the Scott and Emma show. Still, things are happening from chapter to chapter, unlike the merry-go-round that was “The Five Lights”. Unfortunately, Greg Land is on the art and his plastic-faced supermodels grow old very quickly. I will have to admit that his work in the past two issues have been an improvement over his earlier work on Uncanny X-Men.

The big news is that Kieron Gillen has joined Matt Fraction as the co-writer on the book. Is this the early stages of Fraction’s exit from Uncanny? That’s what happened when he came on board during Ed Brubaker’s run. I think Matt Fraction did his job and returned Uncanny X-Men to its rightful position as the central X-Men title, but I’m ready for a change. I would like a more defined cast that can have some form of character development or arcs. I miss there being a squad of five to eight mutants calling themselves THE X-Men, instead of the title being attributed to anyone living on Utopia. I’d like to think that those days are not gone forever.

Grade: B

There you have it, 2010 the Year in X, at least through my bespectacled eyes. It was pretty good one, but far from the best in recent memory. I’d still have to give that one to good ol’ 2007, the year right before Messiah Complex. We had the Core Four (Uncanny X-Men, X-Men (pre-Legacy), X-Factor, and New X-Men) plus Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men. Wolverine and Wolverine: Origins were around, but all of these books had very distinct identities. Plus, outside of the various Wolverine one-shots that came and went, the entire line felt manageable and not straining under its own weight. For the most part, the stories and the art were really great.

By the end of 2010, each book still has a its own individuality, but now we’ve got twice as many titles, and I’m not counting two issues a month from X-Men Forever 2! At least, Wolverine, Daken: Dark Wolverine, and X-23 feel like they’re in their own little sub-franchise. But, I could personally do without the books like Astonishing and the new adjectiveless X-Men, that are there for folks that want to read and X-Men book, but… well… don’t want to read and X-Men book. And would someone, please, kill those anthologies! They are a waste!

Good-bye, 2010. You were an interesting year. You killed Nightcrawler, my favorite comic book character of all time, but I’ll try not to hold that against you.

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