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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #1

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0001Reversal of Fortune

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is an interesting issue, starting at the cover. The coloring overall gives it a sort of pink look, and makes it instantly (to me) identifiable as what it is at a slight glance. The main character–Mantra–is in some odd mid-air motion like a jump-kick or sideways fastball-special…can’t really tell. But it’s from the ’90s, so doesn’t have to totally make sense, apparently…but at least you can see she has feet! Almost as much so or more prominently, you have Warstrike (a Cable-like huge overly-muscled character with a huge gun) firing away at something "off-panel" of the cover. While in the background, partially obscured by the cover dress–the title logo and the corner box stuff–you have a ghostly image of the villain Boneyard. So this is hardly a great cover in design…its being recognizable and iconic comes from being a #1–a #1 that does NOT have umpteen variants, as this was only the ’90s and not modern 2010s. The cover matches the ads that preceded it, advertising its pending arrival, and contributes to its recognizability.

As I’m essentially "over-familiar" with Prime #1 due to the audio comic, of the early #1s, this was the issue I was most looking forward to getting back to. I don’t actually recall the last time that I read this issue cover to cover rather than skimming it to verify certain details (Lukasz’s final death and the specific killer, for example), but it’s absolutely safe to say I don’t recall reading this within the last 10-15 years, if not longer. So there was some surprise on my part at stuff I’d forgotten, along with certain familiarity that’s stuck with me since the very first time I read the issue back in 1993!

We open on a frontispiece…no actual action or identification of characters, just an image of Mantra as a body/mask/cloak/armor, a black man to the upper left, a ark-haired woman to the upper right, and green energy/lightning and smoke billowing at the bottom. The creator credits and issue title are here as well. Turning the page, we meet Bill Cooper interacting with a Mr. Dalmas, apparently finalizing paperwork for a divorce. The wife has tailed the lawyer and manages to get in, appealing to Cooper to at least not turn his back on his son. While they’re dismissed, we have the growing sense of something supernatural or at least abnormal going on. A ghostly image of an old mane addresses Cooper as Lukasz, and in turn is addressed as Archimage. Cooper makes his way to a club, and getting reacquainted with Yaron, Hamath, and Thanasi. Meanwhile, someone is tied up and being questioned by a garishly-dressed man apparently called Notch. He has a ghostly image of another old figure–Boneyard! Cooper–Lukasz–and his fellows burst in, and battle commences! While the men struggle, we get a momentary glimpse of Boneyard and Archimage hand-to hand struggling themselves…as blood is shed on both sides. Cooper lays dead as the others escaped, and Notch cuts the heart from the body…making it quite official the notch he’s cut in his staff. We meet Warstrike as he answers a call, and then the scene shifts to show us a couple–Marla and Carl, apparently recently-reconciled arriving at a house…and we meet Eden Blake (the dark-haired woman from the frontispiece) interacting with her kids, mother, and her own date. Marla’s gone in while Carl properly parks the car. The view shifts to a trippy/cosmic "hall of bodies" called The Soulwalk, as we find Lukasz’s soul preparing to go into its next body…which he does as it rings a doorbell, and we see he’s displaced Carl. Breaking another heart, he walks out on Marla and an angry Eden. In Carl’s body, we follow Lukasz as he meets up with the rest of Archimage’s group–12 in all–and they get a final speech from the old man as he reveals that they’ve been betrayed by one of their own.

Boneyard arrives, Archimage is captured, his men are killed…Carl/Lukasz killed by Warstrike. Lukasz thinks this is it…before discovering Archimage–even captured–is bringing him back. Lukasz wakes up in bed next to a man, and discovers that this time, he’s been reincarnated as a woman. The woman he saw earlier–Eden Blake!  As Eden, he makes a hasty exit, and immediately experiences the some changes on the streets of LA as a woman instead of man…including being pulled into an alley for an attempted rape, before the would-be-rapist’s cigarette sets him ablaze. Eden makes it to a hospital to meet the last of Archimage’s helpers, who reveals that this is the final reincarnation, Lukasz’s soul was put into this body as a last-ditch backup failsafe, and after centuries of technology, must now embrace magic. A mask charm suddenly flips Eden into the scantily-armor-clad figure of Mantra with a cloak, thigh-high boots and arm-length gloves. As Katinya dies, police enter and assume this figure is a murderer, forcing Eden to escape. Getting home to the address on her driver’s license, she dismisses mother and kids for the night, finds this body doesn’t like whiskey, and answers a late night doorbell to find Warstrike…who knows who (s)he actually is!

Maybe it’s largely nostalgia, maybe it’s the analytical reading for this post and going back through the issue for this overly-lengthy summary of the issue. But this strikes me as a darned good first issue! We have foreshadowing in the frontispiece, a cold build from some arbitrary scene as things quickly come together, showing us good guys and bad guys, and that both sides have a master figure behind them…a 15-century struggle comes down to this final night, as Boneyard gains the upper hand…and the last surviving chance for Archimage is Lukasz, now in the body of a woman and apparently host to mystical/magical powers. We’re introduced to a number of characters on both sides, to the situation, how this battle has lasted over a millennia, and so on. We see how easily Lukasz is killed–twice!–which shows how extremely imperative it is that he be more careful than ever when he learns he can no longer simply be brought back in a new body. And like Lukasz himself…we’re left wondering at the end of the issue what’s coming next. Immediately in terms of Warstrike’s showing up to finish what he started, and whatever is to come in the ongoing battle.

Visually, this is maybe the strongest Ultraverse issue thus far to me, of the five titles. Of course, it’s Terry Dodson art, so that’s a lot of it! Barr crams so much into the story and the art so beautifully conveys it all that I feel little wonder that this is one of my favorite issues of the line.

I did not originally read this in August of 1993 when it came out–at least, I somehow have a memory of reading it in December that year. 25 years and family stuff could definitely have scrambled the timing in my memory, though. But I distinctly remember the surprise of that page when Lukasz wakes up in Eden’s body…quite an image for a barely-13-year-old, and probably a bit of an immediate imprint for the title character.

Like Freex #1, this issue came with a "bonus coupon," which could be substituted for one of the first-month coupons to redeem for Ultraverse Premiere #0. I remember having to make use of that due to being unable to get the Wizard #23 coupon for whatever reason.

All in all, this is a strong first issue well worth getting if you find it in a bargain bin, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting into #2 and onward as things develop, and filling in some of the details and such I missed when the issues were new, as it’s been in the years after the end of the Ultraverse line that I was able to fill in the early gaps in my collection!

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The ’80s Revisited: Detective Comics #572

detective_comics_0572The Doomsday Book

By: Mike W. Barr
Colored by: Adrienne Roy
Edited by: Denny O’Neil
Cover: Michael William Kaluta
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: March 1987
Cover Price: $1.25

Chapter One:
Artist: Alan Davis
Letterer: John Workman

Chapter Two
Artists: Terry Beatty & Dick Giordano
Letters: Todd Klein
Colors: Carl Gafford

Chapter Three
Arists: Carmine Infantino, Al Vey
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Carl Gafford

Chapter Four
Artist: E.R. Cruz
Letterer: Romeo Francisco

Centerpiece
Dick Sprang

Chapter Five
Artists: Alan Davis, Paul Neary
Letterer: John Workman

dick_sprang_remembers_detective_572

I’m finding that I’m a bit of a sucker for ’80s anniversary issues. Especially ones like this, where it’s not some round number of an issue, not a bunch of variant covers, not a relaunch or renumbering, not even the culmination of some huge story that’s overly self-aware of numbering. This seems–essentially–to be a nice, hefty, done-in-one full-length self-contained adventure…and it’s not at all hard to see where this could (by present-day standards) be dragged out as some six-issue mini-series (at least) if not multiple 2-3 issues mini-series or such.

But of course that would fly in the face of an anniversary ISSUE. In this case, celebrating 50 years of the title, not Batman himself, though the caped crusader has a definite role in the issue!

What we get here is an extra-sized issue with story elements on multiple fronts, allowing multiple art teams to work on the title, as well as the writer to flex and work with different characters that aren’t strictly Batman or his immediate Bat-group. This issue is from a time much closer to the title’s historical format with multiple characters sharing the title…even though Batman’s been the most prominent character, a number of other characters "came up" through the title, not necessarily related specifically to Batman or stories involving Batman himself.

I’ve been aware of Barr‘s work for a long time…and while I’ve come to know him as the writer of Batman: Year Two, and Camelot 3000, and Batman and the Outsiders and whatnot…I most associate him with Mantra, one of my favorite Ultraverse titles growing up in the ’90s. That a creator of a character I thoroughly enjoyed there also has such a history with Batman has been icing on the cake, so to speak.

I’ve primarily read Detective Comics from #604-onward…very much after the "anthology" format was basically jettisoned and it’s been just another Batman title. So while aware of its history, I haven’t actually read much of that history…at least not while of any age to truly appreciate it (I know I’ve read a number of issues from Grandpa’s collection, back in my earliest comic days, but that was a quarter-century ago!).

Slam Bradley finds himself with a client who’s under the gun–literally. Though Batman and Robin intervene for the moment, there’s more to the situation–and story–and he’s determined to figure it out. What he doesn’t count on is learning of a couple names with prominent ties to the past: Watson…and Moriarty. The Elongated Man–Ralph Dibny–gets involved, with a personal encounter with the villain at hand, confirming what Slam Bradley had learned. We then jump to "the past," and a tale of Sherlock Holmes…fitting to the continuity of this issue’s story, while being simply a new Sherlock Holmes story, and certainly celebrating the title Detective Comics.  The various branches of the overall story converge and we get back to Batman and Robin being on the page as all the characters come together…including a rather surprising (to the characters) figure, one that I had actually come to think would not be present in quite the way they turned out to be.

This issue is just over 30 years old, but I still step around stuff a bit. Consider this your spoiler warning.

After this line, I get into "spoilers," as I would if this had not been a three-decade old back-issue.

Batman meets a significantly-aged Sherlock Holmes here. As this was published in 1987, along with being the 50th anniversary of Detective Comics, it was the 100th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes. And with a mention of living conditions and such, and just HOW old the character looks at the end of this issue…it may have been a bit of a stretch to consider a man would live to be over 120 years old (if he was already an adult in adventures in 1887). Of course, 30 years later, this is no longer plausible in the slightest…at least to me. So it "dates" the issue, but in a good way…and it was a pleasant surprise to find that the cover was not JUST a case of being some thematic team-up where both characters appear in the course of the issue but don’t directly interact…we actually get to see Batman meet THE Sherlock Holmes. (Though I’m not gonna get into the meta-stuff of characters recognizing the STORIES but then having the story-accurate character showing up in their midst as a "real guy").

Though there were multiple art teams for the issue, with them being split up across different chapters (instead of several pages here, several there) it really served the story, and kept things from seeming choppy or such. Batman didn’t seem to be in much of the issue, but where he was, he seemed "’80s-accurate" to me; and the other characters (that I’m less familiar with, particularly from this time frame) all work and don’t stand out as contradictory to whatever I do know about them. The cover led me to believe (in conjunction with something I’d read in the past) that the focus of the issue might’ve been a Batman/Sherlock Holmes team-up/adventure. I was initially disappointed, as I thought when I bought the issue that it’d be a team-up. As the issue went on, it took on more a sense of reality, history, and "legacy" that I found intriguing…such that it was simply a treat to have the aged Holmes show up at the end as he did.

There’s a nice "center spread" by Dick Sprang that makes for a good touch, and far out-beats contemporary practices where it would have been a variant cover or a couple of variant covers. It’s just a nice double-page art piece showcasing Sprang‘s take on the characters.

I believe I paid $6 for this issue, against its $1.25 cover price. By contemporary comics’ standards, this was well worth that price and then some. For time it took to read, it more than out-matched contemporary comics, at the "inflated" or "priced back issue" dollar I paid for it. This would absolutely be worth getting out of a bargain bin…and I have no problem with having paid a slightly more "premium" price for it as an actual, priced back issue and not something from a bargain bin. This stands alone as a singular, strong issue, and other than knowing that the characters exist, you don’t really need to know any present-day (at the time) continuity to enjoy this issue; FROM this issue, I would not be able to tell you myself offhand what was going on in issues immediately before or immediately after this issue.

Highly recommended!

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The ’90s Revisited: Wildstorm Chamber of Horrors #1

wildstorm_chamber_of_horrors_0001Warblade
Story: Ron Marz
Layouts: Bernie Wrightson
Finished Art: Alex Bialy
Colors: Lee Ann Clark
Computer Color: Ominous Color

Lord Emp
Story: Steven Grant
Art: Trevor Scott
Color: Gina Going
Computer Color: Quantum Color

Tapestry
Story: Merv
Pencils: Jason Johnson
Inks: Chris Carlson
Color: Monica Bennett
Computer Color: Ominous Color

Savant
Story:
Jeff Mariotte
Pencils: Tom Raney
Inks: Al Vey
Color: Gina Going
Computer Color: Ominous Color

Framing Pages
Pencils:
Aron Wiesenfeld
Inks: John Beatty, Alex Garner, Al Vey
Color: Monica Bennett
Computer Color: WildStorm Effects, Ominous Color
Production: WildStorm Effects

Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Simon Bisley
Pinup: Jeff Rebner & Richard Friend
Editor: Jonathan Peterson
Editorial Coordinator: Amy Zimand
Cover Date: October, 1995
Cover Price: $3.50

Well, that’s an extremely long list of creator credits for this issue! For purposes of this post, I suppose that’s my fault, as I’m not breaking them up for individual-segment thoughts on writing/art/etc. Because while I read the issue, I quickly realized it’s a collaborative one-off piece…essentially a bunch of characters coming together, hanging out, exchanging stories while doing so…and different creators handling the different parts that are then stitched together into this single comic book.

I found this issue in a quarter-bin, and the main reason it even caught my attention was the "generic" Wildstorm in the title…then drew me in with the Chamber of Horrors bit. Hey, Halloween is almost here, and I haven’t acknowledged October. So I’d thought ok, I’ll get this issue, and maybe read it in time to do a post before Halloween. So here we are.

I know the "high points," or the "bullet points" of Image in the ’90s…and largely consider (personally) that most of what gives "The ’90s" a bad rap in comics IS the Image stuff. And while there’s some nostalgia for me, I’ve yet to really dive in and erase the blind spot so much of ’90s Image still has for me. That said, or as such…I’m not all that familiar with characters in this issue…very few by name, just looking at them. I recognize a few, and a couple others sort of look familiar…but this is a jam piece I fail to appropriately "appreciate," I’m sure.

This issue is–as said–a "jam piece," with 5-6 "creative teams" involved in multiple segments that collectively make up the issue. At its core, characters come together and wind up in their own space at a party, but outside of "authorized space" at the museum that’s hosting them, and are free to tell stories amongst themselves that would not work for a general public. So the characters swap stories about horror situations they’ve found themselves in–from dating/making moves on a body possessed by spiders, to experience with the Salem Witch Trials, to a mirror that led to horrible versions of what should have been one’s best dream.

As a whole, this issue was entertaining enough. Reading it, I simply breezed through–I noticed the visual changes, but the story overall seemed relatively seamless…or at least, nothing jarring that didn’t mesh with the other parts. As said, I’m not familiar enough with any of these characters or individual series to come to the table with any real expectations, so stuff really just "is."

The art’s not bad in and of itself…though I really "see" a lot of ’90s Image in the stuff (considering this IS "’90s Image," that’s to be expected!). For a 25-cent purchase that I had zero real "expectation" for going in…I honestly enjoyed the issue, and it was worth the purchase and reading. Despite the title, and the cover, other than it incidentally being the characters gathering around a Halloween party, this could be "any time," just messed-up situations or "out there" stuff.

I never knew this issue existed, nor sought it out. I wouldn’t say it’s really anything to go to great lengths to acquire…but it’s worth a 25-cent purchase/read-through, and can serve (at least visually) as a sort of "sampler" of stuff being put out at the time.

There’s an ad in the back of the issue for a $30 "chromium" poster version of the cover…which makes me wonder if there might be a "chromium" version of this issue out there somewhere. If there is, I obviously haven’t seen it. The cover image gives me a bit of deja-vu…so perhaps I’ve seen it before without consciously taking it in; maybe I’ve seen the poster; maybe just the ad. (Or perhaps there’s some promotional trading card from Wizard with this image on it that I’ve seen).

Though titled Chamber of Horrors…you could definitely find worse horrors than this issue.

The ’90s Revisited: Uncanny X-Men #308

uncanny_xmen_0308Mixed Blessings

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: John Romita Jr.
Inkers: Dan Green, Al Vey
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: January 1994
Cover Price: $1.25

This issue brought back a number of fond memories, as well as a new feeling as I “noticed” the art rather consciously this time. Having this issue relatively on-hand for this reading is something I must credit to fellow blogger Chris Sheehan, whose comments/discussion of the issue prompted the purchase and encouraged making the time for the re-read. It was his post that prompted me to re-purchase the issue (for the convenience of immediate availability in print without digging through umpteen unorganized longboxes to locate my original copy).

For a single issue, there’s a lot packed into so few pages. Essentially, though, we have Scott and Jean–Cyclops and Phoenix–walking the grounds outside the X-mansion. For once, there’s no overt threat, no villain interrupting, the world-at-large doesn’t need immediate saving, etc. Just a young man and woman spending time together, enjoying cool fall weather (well, Thanksgiving Day) and doing so amidst a larger group also living on the premises. So we get a bunch of “moments” between characters…and while the couple reminisces, they also come to a decision about their future.

This issue is one of a handful of X-Men comics I recall from the early/mid 1990s where we basically just have the characters hanging out at the mansion, interacting with each other in down-time withOUT having to deal with some villain or crossover or whatever. And reading this in 2016 where every story is written for the trade, and every trade is part of some big event and every event leads into the next with no time between…this issue is highly refresshing. There just aren’t issues like this anymore (at least not from Marvel/DC!).

The story itself is very much what I prefer in comics, giving us the characters, “quiet” “moments” and generally giving us a glimpse of what these characters do, how they might interact when not in the midst of fighting for their survival. We get to see them presented as actual people…which makes them that much more truly relatable (at least, to me!).

I remember thoroughly enjoying this issue over 20 years ago…and I enjoyed the story now. Unfortunately, while I don’t recall noticing the art–back then, if I did it didn’t throw me–but this read-through I REALLY consciously noted the art…and between this and bailing on a Superman story some time back for so disliking the art, I must conclude that as a general thing I dislike Romita Jr.’s visual style. There’s something to the style–sometimes a sense of sketchiness, other times something to faces and lips particularly that just doesn’t work for me and proved flat-out distracting to me, taking me out of the story itself. Which, while a complaint that I have, myself, is not to suggest the art is bad…it’s just definitely not to my taste, and it now being a conscious thing, it’s something I can watch out for.

And then, regardless of the linework and such itself, I had consciously forgotten (but hey, deja vu or such!) how much I dislike the flipping and flopping one must do to read certain ’90s comics, when the artists played fast ‘n loose with the “traditional” comic page and layouts. Some pages read fine, but rather than just varying panels across one or two pages, where one can just page through the issue with a single physical orientation and be fine…here, we’re given some instances with a double-page piece where you have to turn the comic sideways for a top-to-bottom experience with the issue physically turned sideways; others where the issue must be turned on its side for a then-typical left-to-right experience, and so on. Rather than being able to just lay the issue flat and page through, reading, while say, eating a bowl of cereal as breakfast it requires an active, physical experience of manipulating the book, which gets distracting and kicks one out of the story.

All in all, though…this is an excellent X-Men comic that I paid less than $4 for, and got so much more from it than any $3.99 new comic I can think of. If you know your X-Men and enjoy such stories, or have never read this, I’d urge you to give it a shot, if you can get the issue for (or less) that $4. If you find it in a 25-cent or 50-cent bin, all the better!

The ’90s Revisited: The New Titans #65

newtitans065Dejavu

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Tom Grummett
Inks: Al Vey
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Associate Editor: Jon Peterson
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Tom Grummett, George Perez
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.75
Cover Date: April 1990

Few bargain-bin issues really grab my attention by the cover alone the way this one did. I probably knew this existed, knew OF the issue, but I’d never read it before, and despite all my early-’90s bargain-bin buying, I don’t know that I’ve ever even owned this issue before a few days ago.

While this is a New Titans issue, the cover shows Batman with Nightwing and Tim Drake (and a Robin costume on a table), with the caption “It Began With Batman…” I first looked for the Lonely Place of Dying indicator despite the cover not being one I recognized from that story…but nothing relating to that story other than my knowledge of the characters. Still, I recognized this as being extremely early Tim Drake, and for that alone my interest was piqued.

What we get is Tim seeking out Dick per Batman for some insight/training into being “Batman’s Partner.” Not necessarily ROBIN, but Partner. Despite this being a New Titans issue, I was rather disappointed when the rest of the Titans appeared…apparently they’ve been dealing with Trigon and some sort of Plague, that Raven is still facing. This leads them to facing their teammate who–infected–turns again on the team and is ready to kill them all while they don’t even want to hurt her. Of course, Dick is eventually drawn back into things, showing his leadership and necessity to them as further emphasis that he has grown out from under the Batman.

This was quite a treat visually. Grummett‘s art stood out very well…the only characters that really looked “off” to me were Raven herself and Donna Troy, and yet the former I’m aware of having multiple “looks” through the years and same for the latter…I even recognized another character as who I believe to be her husband of the time, or at least someone I’ve seen and “known” to have been involved with this character group in the early 1990s.

Story-wise, I really, really enjoyed seeing Dick and Tim interact. This issue came out during my first real foray into comics, while Tim Drake was still a new character…not yet Robin, but the obvious successor to the role. I would have perfectly enjoyed this issue if it was nothing but Tim and Dick; but as it was, I was able to “get” what was going on with the rest of the team. If not in full, then enough to not feel like half the issue was truly wasted on them; I just wanted to see Dick training Tim.

All in all, this is easily one of the most enjoyable bargain-bin issues I’ve pulled in ages, in and of itself; and a definite rare treat as something from this era that is truly an entirely NEW read for me, rather than simply re-reading something I read 20 or so years ago! Though I paid 25 cents, and the original cover price was “only” $1.75, this would have been a rare case of an issue being well worth my paying the modern $3.99, given my enjoyment of the issue as a whole.

Uncanny X-Men (vol. 3) #1 [Review]

uncannyxmenvol3001The New Revolution

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler/Colorist: Chris Bachalo
Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey
Lettering & Production: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Associate Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor: Nick Lowe
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve been looking forward to this debut issue for a number of weeks now…pretty much since I learned this third volume would focus on Cyclops, Magneto, and their group of mutants; particularly after getting a taste of things in the pages of All New X-Men.

The issue has a framing sequence, of a man in shadows speaking with SHIELD about Cyclops, explaining why the mutant leader needs to be taken down. In the “core” of the story, we see Cyclops’ group continuing to reach out to new mutants, and facing off with a group of sentinels–something that once would have been little trouble for Magneto in particular–but the veteran mutants’ powers have been altered due to the recent Phoenix incident…and they struggle to “re-learn” how to use their own powers while looking to train the newly created mutants. The revelation of the shadowed man’s identity is a bit of a twist, sure to introduce further conflict, but not entirely surprising.

Story-wise, there’s plenty of potential for this title. While I’m not a fan of the “villainization” of Cyclops, for what times I’ve “checked in” on X-stuff over the past few years, this current place the character is in seems rather logical and makes sense, given everything we’ve actually seen the character go through–losing his wife, seeing the vast majority of the mutant population wiped out, struggling to protect what mutants remained against a world that still feared/hated them, finding hope and finally seeing a return to numbers and being in a position to reach out to these new mutants now from the start, proactively acting to solidify their place in the world.

I missed out on the re-introduction of Magneto, but have thoroughly enjoyed seeing his place with the X-Men of late; and it’s his character growth and evolution that has struck me almost as much as Cyclops’. That these two men–once bitter enemies–are now working together says a lot for both of them; and I’m interested in seeing where their alliance goes.

Again…there’s plenty of potential for this title.

Visually, however, I am extremely disappointed. From the start, I’m put off entirely by Cyclops’ “new costume” (mask). Going to the red on the outfit doesn’t bother me so much as wrapping red bands around the face as an “X” where the visor has always been. Maybe the X will be explained/become apparent as we learn more about Cyclops’ modified powerset…but visually it’s an atrocious look that I don’t like one bit. If I don’t like the redesign of Cyclops’ headpiece…I don’t entirely mind Magneto’s–though his is far from ideal as well, seeming to fit a more abstract, stylistic imagery that reminds me of how the character might be depicted in a nightmare interpretation (see 1993’s Wolverine #75).

As far as the issue’s art in general…just a couple pages in–having initially ignored the credits page–I stopped in my tracks. “This is Bachalo, isn’t it?” I thought to myself. Flipping back to the credits, I confirmed that–though in this case, recognizing an artist’s work in and of itself is no positive. I’m not a fan of the visual style, and often have trouble trying to truly follow the action, what’s actually going on.

Despite the stylized take on the characters, for the most part they don’t look all that bad; and the double-page introduction of the sentinels reminds me of what I think is a similar shot from 2004’s Astonishing X-Men #1, and is fairly impressive–perhaps simply for the “space” the image has to breathe. In the introduction of the new mutant the group was after, though, I had no idea what was going on, what his powers were, or were doing–I sorta figured out a bit from just reading and the extra curiosity, but it really put me out of the story.

So while the story holds up and leaves me fairly interested yet in where things go–the art is a near-complete turn-off for me. The “AR” stuff holds zero interest–I’ve been “burned” too many times with the smartphone app having trouble actually loading whatever it’s trying to load, and it seems that more often than not, all I get is a transition from “pencils” to the “finished image”–something I have virtually NO INTEREST in…while the AR content might be intended to be “bonus” or “add value” or such to the issue, being more annoying than not with so little worthwhileness, I don’t even bother anymore…even for writing a review.

This is yet another relaunch–the 2nd Uncanny X-Men #1 in 18 months. Where the original numbering was scrapped to put Uncanny and Wolverine and the X-Men on “equal footing” numbers-wise…THAT logic has been thoroughly scrapped now as well.

Worst of all, this is a $3.99 book, and presumably will be mostly double-shipping…which is a pricing strategy I just cannot keep up with. Priced at $2.99 I would give this a few issues; but as-is, I tried this first issue, and I have every intention now of passing on subsequent issues, at least so long as I’d be paying “full price.” I’ll simply have to keep an eye out for these in bargain bins, snagging a collected volume (if still interested by that point) from Amazon, or “going digital” should these fall under a 99-cent sale from Comixology.

Wolverine and the X-Men #9 [Review]

Day of the Phoenix, Dark Night of the Soul

Writer: Jason Aaron
Penciler/Colorist: Chris Bachalo
Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Associate Editor: Daniel Ketchum
Editor: Nick Lowe
Published by: Marvel Comics

This is another issue I bought solely for the AvX banner at the top, jumping in to wallow in the latest big Event in the hopes of just simply having fun with it instead of being so cranky as I’ve been the last few years toward these things. Just saying, up-front.

Wolverine and Beast are hanging out, recovering from recent injuries (presumably sustained in an earlier issue, but frankly, I don’t need to know the details…the situation just IS. Like a sitcom episode or such. It’s enough to gather what happened…I know these characters, so it is what it is.) An alarm goes off and Beast realizes the Phoenix is heading towards Earth. When Captain America shows up, he and Wolverine know exactly why the Avenger is there, and they greet him. Beast joins one of Cap’s initiatives for fighting the Phoenix, and Wolverine signs on for another, advising Cap that things will not be simple in taking action that Cyclops will certainly oppose. Meanwhile, a couple of the mutants with mind powers are overwhelmed at the approaching Phoenix force, while out in space there are aliens gambling on what world the Phoenix will destroy next, and the Shi’Ar emperor (is that Gladiator?!?) prepares to head to Earth to rescue his son.

Story-wise…there’s a LOT going on here, simplistic as the overall issue is (Cap wants to make sure he can count on Wolverine in the event of large-scale conflict with the X-Men). I definitely enjoy seeing the characters interact–especially the friendship that’s apparent between Wolverine and Beast. Since this title is supposedly based around the school Wolverine founded, it’s good to see some students, too, and how they all interact (and Toad as the groundskeeper/janitor, but not entirely overlooked by those around him is a nice touch).

Visually….this is an ugly issue, to me. I can appreciate Bachalo‘s art, but that seems to be hit or miss for me–sometimes I like it, but this is another time where I do not. It better than I could draw myself, yeah…but it just doesn’t work for me here. It seems at once surreal, strongly stylized, impressionistic, and sketchy. Granted, characters are distinct and recognizable, but I’d almost have preferred prose here.

Overall…this is definitely a good issue. There seems to be plenty for the ongoing readers…but as my first issue in nearly a year (I read #1 but no further) I don’t feel lost or left out, really…and the goings-on of the issue itself relate directly to AvX (unlike this week’s Avengers #25) which makes this a good tie-in for those looking for more beyond the “core” AvX series without dropping that reader in the deep end with no floatie. At the same time, it does not seem to contain anything crucial to the core series, so there’s nothing forcing an AvX reader to pick this up. Swap in a preferable artist whose visuals fit my tastes better and this’d be a great issue.

Story: 8/10
Art: 5/10
Whole: 7.5/10

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