Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 – The Year in X: Part One

By Paul Steven Brown

2011 was a noteworthy year for the X-Men franchise for a few reasons. We saw the transition of the writing duties on Uncanny X-Men from Matt Fraction to Kieron Gillen. New Mutants received a new writing team in the form of the reliable pair, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Mike Carey, the longest running writer currently on an X-Book, other than Peter David, announced that he would be leaving X-Men: Legacy in December. And there was a little event called Schism that resulted in the launch of a new core title, Wolverine and the X-Men, and the renumbering of the flagship book, Uncanny X-Men.

It is also worth noting that 2011 was the year that Marvel Comics initiated a very aggressive double-shipping policy that saw some books in the X-Men universe occasionally published twice a month throughout the year. Add in the odd Point One issue (marketing ploy with varying degrees of success) and the result was a few titles that had at least seventeen issues published by the end of the year.

Luckily, the increase in output from the ongoing series resulted in fewer mini-series. Even better was the dramatic reduction in anthology mini-series and Wolverine and Origin one-shots. In other words, more killer, less filler. The short run series that we did get were significantly better than those in years past.

In this series of articles, I will take a look at the bulk of the X-Men publishing scheme for 2011. The first few articles will tackle the mini-series and the events of the year. After which, I will detail my opinion on the ongoing X-Men related books that were published, starting with what I felt was the weakest of the batch and ending with the strongest. As always, this is how I saw the Year in X for 2011. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree here or at the Cultural Wormhole forums.

First up, let’s take a look at the mutant related mini-series that were published in 2011.

Wolverine and Jubilee (#1 – 4): Writer Kathryn Immonen’s work on the Pixie mini-series last year was amusing and at times a bit too goofy for my taste. Her work on Wolverine and Jubilee was a considerable improvement. Sure, the last issue dove head first into some crazy, conceptual material, but for the bulk of the series, Immonen did a fantastic job getting me to care about Jubilee again.

Jubilee’s vampirism as a result of the opening arc in the new adjectiveless X-Men title felt like a desperate attempt to inject something new into a character that was considered as a leftover from a past decade. However, Immonen was able to use Jubilee’s new status quo as a spring board to examine the mentor/student relationship between the young, former mutant and Wolverine.

We also got to see some fantastic artwork from Phil Noto on Wolverine and Jubilee. He has a clarity of style that is enviable and his characters look great. Noto began the year with some lovely work on this book and ended 2011 with four solid issues X-23. Not a bad output, from Mr. Noto.

X-Men: Escape from the Negative Zone (Uncanny X-Men Annual #3, Steve Rogers: Super Soldier Annual #1, Namor: The First Mutant Annual #1): Technically this was not a mini-series, but a collection of three annuals tied together by a single story, written by one person, James Asmus. Asmus has been providing work for the X-Office for the last few years, mainly on anthologies and one-shots. However, 2011 was the year that he got to finally move a little closer to the big leagues, resulting in his taking over Generation Hope as series writer.

Escape from the Negative Zone could have easily been a throw away story, and technically it wasn’t too deep or appears to have any lasting impacting on any characters or books beyond the three issue scope. However, it was fun. Asmus told an exciting little sci-fi romp that had the characters involved coming across as true to how they had been portrayed in the past.

Also, the art by Nick Bradshaw, Ibraim Roberson (who continues to work with Asmus on Generation Hope), and Max Fiumara was solid across the board. Ultimately, X-Men: Escape from the Negative Zone was filler, but it was entertaining filler that looked great.

Magneto: Not a Hero (#1 – 2) and X-Club (#1): Both of these series have barely begun, so I don’t think it would be fair to go into too much depth on them. I will admit that both are off to decent starts. I find Magneto: Not a Hero to be the stronger of the two, though. X-Club, while amusing, relies too heavily on having Dr. Nemesis spouting crass, snarky comments. This is not to say that a good handful of these aren’t funny, but sometimes it feels like writer Simon Spurrier is using this gag as a way of proving how clever he is. Spurrier has chops, but he doesn’t have to play at being Warren Ellis.

The surprise of Magneto: Not a Hero is not the return of a “better left dead” character from X-Men ‘90s lore, but the fact that Skottie Young, best known as an artist on New X-Men and Marvel’s various Wizard of Oz series, can deliver a fairly solid plot and script. So far, it hasn’t been an overly complex piece of work, but that is more than okay. This is solid comic book writing and character work that is true to the voice the subjects involved. It also doesn’t hurt things that Clay Mann continues grow and dazzle as a penciler. His work here is not an exception.

Next time: I take a look at the various events, internal and external, that involved the X-Men.

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