Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 – The Year in X: Part Four

By Paul Steven Brown

In this installment of the Year in X, I continue my countdown of the ongoing series currently in the X-Men family of comics, from least favorite to the best.

#9 New Mutants (#21 – 35): 2011 started out big with January seeing the conclusion of Zeb Wells’ run on New Mutants. While I had mixed feelings overall about Wells’ tenure on the title, he certainly ended on very high note. It didn’t hurt that the always wonderful Leonard Kirk provided the art for the last major arc. The book was tied up for the next three months as part of the Age of X event.

After the crossover, the writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took over New Mutants with issue #25. Abnett and Lanning had really impressed comic fans over the last few years with their handling of Marvel’s cosmic line of books. With those books the team did an excellent job of juggling large casts of characters while maneuvering exciting storylines.

Unfortunately, the start of Abnett and Lanning’s New Mutants run was far less impressive. The New Mutants were given the job of being the clean up crew for the X-Men. In other words, all the writers needed to do to generate story ideas were to dig around for unresolved bits of X-Men continuity. The first result the reintroduction of Nate Grey and Sugar Man. While the plot and character handling was okay, “Unfinished Business” really suffered due to the extremely lackluster art provided by Leandro Fernandez.

The art from David Lafuente was decidedly better during the Fear Itself issues. Plus, Abnett and Lanning had trimmed the cast down a bit, selecting Dani Moonstar, Sunspot, Magma, Cypher, Warlock, and Nate Grey as the team. New Mutants #30 was a particular high point. This issue had the team stuck in Hell and Magma making a trade in the form of a date with Mephisto, if the dark lord sent the New Mutants to the Norse realm Hel.

The arc that closed the year out saw the reintroduction of another lost X-Character. This time the New Mutants were hunting down the original Blink (not to be confused with her Age of Apocalypse/Exiles version) that had popped up recently during the Necrosha-X event. While not as enjoyable as Lafuente’s work, the art by David Lopez was certainly better than that of Fernandez.

The sales numbers for New Mutants haven’t been spectacular. For the past year, they have been hovering around the same as X-Factor’s figures. X-Factor continues to stick around due to a lack of attrition and a loyal fan base. If New Mutants can sustain its numbers in a similar fashion, the book may be allowed to continue. Also, like X-Factor, New Mutants has a legacy and a recognizable name within the framework of Marvel Comics, which may help prolong the axe from falling too soon.

#8 Wolverine (#5 – 20, #5.1): When 2011 began, Wolverine was finally crawling his way out of Hell. This led directly to the “Wolverine vs. the X-Men” arc. However, we got a Point One issue plopped right in between. Not that Wolverine #5.1 was a bad issue, but jamming it into the middle of an unresolved plotline was very strange.

The biggest story for Wolverine in 2011 involved his confrontation with the folks that sent him to Hell, the Red Right Hand. The central idea from writer Jason Aaron was interesting: what if a bunch of people who believe themselves unjustly wronged by Wolverine decided to band together for revenge? However, in each issue we got a different point of view from a victim’s relative, which got tediously repetitive really quick. Also, the reveal of the true nature of the Mongrels was sussed out by many readers well in advance of the arc’s conclusion.

The fact that Wolverine was tricked into murdering his own bastard children understandably took its toll on Logan, and the mutant spent the next two issues grieving. Unfortunately, we never found anything out about who these offspring or their mothers were. Instead, all the soul searching from Logan was yet another step by Aaron towards Wolverine’s acceptance of God.

I have no problems with religious superhero characters. In fact, my favorite comic book character of all time is Nightcrawler, who was devoutly Catholic. However, Aaron’s push of Wolverine towards God doesn’t seem like a natural direction for the character. It feels more like four color evangelism, which I’m not at all interested in reading.

The year ended in a very light fashion with Aaron taking Wolverine through one last romp through San Francisco’s Chinatown. He threw in Gorilla Man from the Agents of Atlas, Fat Cobra from Immortal Weapons, dragons, ninjas, and a whole lot of silliness. Not that this was a bad story, but coupled with the wackiness of Jason Aaron’s work on Wolverine and the X-Men, and it was a little too much for me.

The last issue of the year began what is reported as Aaron’s last arc on the title. Wolverine will finally get renumbered with #300 in January, combining the issue count of all three ongoing Wolverine series since the first issue way back in 1988. Unfortunately, Jason Aaron’s departure leaves room for Jeph Loeb and Simone Bianchi’s sequel to the much reviled “Evolution” arc. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

A special note should be made about the covers provided by Jae Lee for most of the year. They have been gorgeous. A bit repetitive at times, but beautiful none the less.

#7 X-Men (#7 – 22, #15.1, X-Men Giant Size #1): I’m really surprised to see the current adjectiveless X-Men series score this high on my list. Like Astonishing X-Men, X-Men is in continuity, but not heavy on it. This is a series conceived as an X-Men team up book, where the mutants can interact with other members of the Marvel Universe.

The first part of the year had the X-Men (well, Wolverine, Gambit, Storm, and Emma Frost) hook up with Spider-Man against the Dark Beast. While the story involving children lured underground and transformed into lizard people wasn’t anything to jump up and down about, it was wonderfully drawn by Chris Bachalo. Writer Victor Gischler seemed to have fun with the dialogue between Spider-Man and Emma Frost, too.

Chris Yost jumped on the book for an arc with the “First to Last” story. This was one of those mind-wiped events of the past finally revealed type of yarns, which is convenient device for retconning. However, the use of Emma Frost in the past was interesting and helped add to the wider fabric of the X-Men history. Also, we got really great art from Paco Medina, who handled the present day material, and Dalibor Talajic, who drew the events from the X-Men’s Silver Age era.

Gischler came back to the book for a team up with the Future Foundation. The X-Men and the FF ran around a realm that was very similar to the Savage Land and Lee Forester, a long forgotten X-Men character with past romantic ties to both Cyclops and Magneto resurfaced. Strangely, Lee’s history with either man was never explored. Instead, Gischler had her running around in a leopard skin bikini as if she was some Shana the She-Devil knock-off. Least I forget, a barely remembered character from the ‘70s, Skull the Slayer, also joined in on the action.

Luckily, things fared a bit better when X-Men went into Regenesis mode. For this arc, that teamed up the X-Men with War Machine, Gischler put together a cast that consisted of mostly underused characters such as Domino, Jubilee (whom he reinvented as a vampire), and Warpath. While Storm, Psylocke, and Colossus could still be found in other books, it was still refreshing to see mutants other than Wolverine, Cyclops, and Emma Frost in the pages of X-Men. In addition, Will Conrad’s art on the arc was wonderful. His style has become increasingly more similar to Mike Deodato’s current work, which is not a bad thing at all.

The adjectiveless X-Men book has had a mediocre year. Nothing has been overly offensive (if you don’t count that lousy Point One issue), but neither has anything been outstanding. At least this is a book with a mission statement, which is more than I can say for Astonishing X-Men.

Next time: I look at the next three books on my countdown.

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