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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!

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Convergence – Batman: Shadow of the Bat #2 [Review]

convergence_batmanshadowofthebat002Home is the Sailor

Words: Larry Hama
Pencils: Rick Leonardi
Inks: Dan Green
Colors: Elmer Santos
Lettering: Steve Wands
Cover: Philip Tan, Elmer Santos
Assistant Editors: Holzherr & Kraiger
Editor: Marie Javins
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: July 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

Batman and Azbats…er…Azrael, vs. Wetworks, for the fate of the city? Yeah, but I don’t even know WHICH city they’re in from this. The previous issue was several weeks ago and this one lacks anything to bring one up to speed. Sure, it’s ONLY the 2nd issue of two, but…really? So the Batmen fight Wetworks while befriending a woman and her son as the notion of getting the Wetworks team to slow down long enough for a teamup to be proposed, to endeavor to save BOTH cities. And while both cities are still around at the end of the issue, there’s no truly definitive ending.

We get the "conclusion" of a story that is NOT a conclusion. At best it’s the first act in a larger arc…but there’s no To Be Continued note, no "continued in Convergence #7," no "for the final fate of BOTH CITIES, check out Convergence #8 on sale in TWO WEEKS!" note, just some ridiculous, cliché stopping point because we’re out of pages.

And I really feel like I should have gone with my initial instinct and left this thing on the shelf. But in a fairly rare instance of it happening, the cover sold me, just by its weird coloring, and the title logo…and the strength of the previous issue’s cover (which I liked SO MUCH that I made it my phone’s lock screen, so have been seeing it several times a day for the past month or so).

I was further sold, again, by Hama‘s name on the cover…though sadly, that (and the interior credits) are the only place I have anything to truly suggest to me that Hama‘s even involved. Nothing about this "feels" like some kind of GI Joe thing, nothing reminds me of 1993-ish Wolverine, and nothing about this otherwise screams "I’m by Larry Hama!" to me.

I blame that not on Hama, but on the lack of room for anything to truly develop. And having soured CONSIDERABLY on Convergence in general since its start, having allowed myself some general enjoyment of Marvel’s version of stuff in Secret Wars, this just pales all the more as an issue.

This felt paced to be the opening of a larger story, and if this were a six-issue arc, it would seem on track to be a good story overall, having spent the first issue (re)introducing us to Zero Hour-era Batman and Azrael and setting up the Wetworks fight; this issue gave us the actual fight and leaves us with the two groups seeming about to team up; leaving several issues to show them interacting and preparing a plan; putting the plan into action and the plan going awry; an issue to refocus or have some significant change to the Batmen at least, and lead into some cataclysmic or miraculous event for one/both of the cities and a possible lead-back into some core event series.

So in a way, this is like a 6-issue mini getting canned after only 2 issues; or checking out a couple episodes of some tv show, being somewhat interested, but then told "oh, no, they just never put any more episodes out" or some such.

I’m irked at the length (technically, the lack thereof); irked at the Deathstroke "preview," that I don’t care about especially for not caring about the title or character, I’m irked at the $3.99 cover price vs. $2.99; and I’m irked that I bought this thing at all as a single issue.

This totally feels like it’s something destined for bargain bins; whether dollar bins or cheaper I don’t know. The entirety of Convergence does, for that matter. I’d bought the Superman #2 issue last week and now this; I’m wrestling with OCD on the STEEL issue as well as the handful of other #2s still pending. Consciously I know I should wait for the bargain bin appearances, but there’s part of me that just HAS TO "experience" what’s happening real-time with some of these ‘key’ issues, that is not content to just sit back and get it second-hand.

As long as you’re not feeling that way, I’d say this issue is totally skippable and inconsequential…to whatever the main story has gotten to and in general. There’s no #3 and no new #1 for Batman: Shadow of the Bat that I am aware of; no new pending title debuting starring Jean-Paul Valley, any incarnation of Azrael, or a Zero Hour era Batman, so…if the cover doesn’t suck you in or some other sentimentality grab you, wait for the bargain bins or an attractive collected volume that includes this.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Weapon X #4

aoa_revisited_logo

weaponx004Into the Maelstrom!

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inks: Dan Green
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Colors: Joe Rosas
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover: Adam Kubert, Dan Green
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Weapon X and Emma Frost open the issue, showing Gateway a holographic projection of North America…the destruction, the death, the whole mess–as they seek to convince him to lead the humans’ armada to Apocalypse’s door. Though counter-intuitive, it ends up being Logan’s in-your-face attitude that ultimately convinces him–not the images of Apocalypse’s atrocities. Moving to the armada, as things get underway they’re attacked by Pierce, who has also alerted Apocalypse’s forces of the coming assault. Pierce is surprised by a trick not exactly up Logan’s sleeve that allows him to save Gateway…who in turn tries one last gambit to get the Armada where it’s headed.

I’d previously "written off" the events of X-Universe as being entirely tangential to stuff and unimportant…the references it gets in this issue shows–at least–that effort is being made to have it matter, and I suppose it actually does, just not in any essential way. Much of this issue is "action," mixed with some foreshadowing. Though the scene with Apocalypse leaving Magneto’s interrogation and showing off a gene-tank to his minion adds context for Carol’s appearance, explains a fatal flaw in Apocalypse (he could easily stop the armada but chooses to allow things to play out just for the entertainment, justifying it that if he WOULD actually be brought down, hey–"survival of the fittest" and all that) and fills a couple pages.

I do feel somewhat disappointed in this issue–I think I feel like while we’ve SEEN a lot of Weapon X here, we haven’t really gotten to KNOW the character. There’s plenty of posturing, but for me at least, I "hear" and see WOLVERINE more than I do this character. Sure, semantics and all, this IS the Wolverine of the AoA reality and all, but the character serves more as "just another character" amidst the Human High Council and such. There’s something to be said of the character not only being capable of but actually working as part of a team, serving as an "agent" of (in this case, the Human High Council) and whatnot…but in retrospect it seems like Logan’s been a small player in his own title.

I like the visuals of the issue overall. I don’t quite "get" visually that Logan’s arm is all that damaged, and while I appreciate that he IS shot on-panel, it looks a bit "convenient" in a sense, like a box being checked. Otherwise, no real complaints on the art, outside of the usual–I don’t like the sideways double-page spreads, as turning a page and then realizing I have to further physically rotate the way I’m holding the comic itself is a huge distraction.

This issue is definitely a product of its time–the 1990s–both hokey and "fitting." Logan chomping a cigar, the various characters’ posturing and recklessness just to show how "cool" they are, etc. Still, it makes for an issue that feels like that bit in a movie where you realize that what’s come before is about to fall by the wayside for the climactic stuff that’ll end the whole thing and leave you barely remembering the story from the first 2/3 to 3/4 of the story thus far.

Had this been a contemporary series, I would not be surprised if Logan would have interacted with characters in X-Universe, as some of that stuff could have been folded together, this series’ chunk of story having such a huge involvement of the HHC. Weapon X doesn’t really tie much up, outside of Pierce being removed from the equation…but where we leave off here has a huge impact, if I’m correctly recalling, on the events that unfold in X-Men: Omega.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Weapon X #3

aoa_revisited_logo

weaponx003The Common Right of Toads and Men

Writer: Larry Hama
Penciler: Adam Kubert
Inks: Dan Green and Mike Sellers
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover: Adam Kubert
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Having "lost" Jean in the previous issue (she can be followed into Factor X #3), Logan heads to Wundagore Mountain seeing Gateway on behalf of the Human High Council. He runs into a couple of cyborgs–humans who voluntarily allowed themselves to be "enhanced" to serve Apocalypse–guarding the place. After dealing with them, he finds Carol Danvers and the two ascend to find Gateway. Meanwhile, the High Council’s resolve deepens. Carol, Logan, and Gateway are attacked by the Cyborgs (who melded for survival) as well as Pierce and Vultura…and after the fight, Logan faces the quasi-success of his mission.

This issue really felt like a whole new one for me–I’d completely forgotten the entirety of this chapter as well as the characters involved. The story isn’t all that thrilling to me despite the action…but then, I’m not a fan of the antagonists–I vaguely recognize Pierce as having a 616-counterpart though I don’t recall the context, and the cyborgs are relatively generic, providing something for Weapon X to fight and dispatch to show how tough and rough he is. Carol Danvers being here seems arbitrary, like her inclusion is simply to have a woman fighting at Logan’s side. Throwing my mind back to 1995, I think Carol was "off the table" at the time with Marvel so this appearance would have been her being "brought back for the story." As such I’m ok with it overall.

Kubert‘s art doesn’t work for me quite as well in this outing (thanks to my disinterest in the antagonists) though I wouldn’t call it bad. It simply doesn’t blow me away in any positive manner.

Passive as it sounds–I didn’t NOT enjoy the issue, but I didn’t find myself particularly enjoying it. It felt like this issue was treading water a bit, moving us from bad-ass Logan & Jean and then the pair splitting, to a "key reveal" I recall happening in the 4th issue right before going on to X-Men: Omega. Still, for me this is a much more satisfying issue than many contemporary comics.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Weapon X #2

aoa_revisited_logo

weaponx002Fire in the Sky!

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inks: Dan Green
Colors: Joe Rosas
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover: Adam Kubert
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

On reading the first page of this issue, I felt lost, and actually re-checked the cover. Yep–this IS #2. Not #3 or 4…I didn’t miss an issue. I don’t actually remember the ending to the first issue, but opening on Weapon X wading to shore amidst refugee/survivors, screaming for Jean definitely threw me a bit.

That’s where the issue opens–Logan’s just located Jean, who left to help with the evacuation of the humans from North America. The two reunite, a definite distance/rift between them that neither seems to want to acknowledge. There’s an attack, and the two leap in to help, though it brings things to a head between them and they part ways. Returning to the Human High Council, Logan is stopped by Mariko, and while the two converse another attack commences, and Logan again leaps into action in a way only he can. By the time the attack is over, Jean has left…though Logan is once more able to follow thanks to their psi-link, and the years of partnership between the two reach a tipping point.

This issue definitely feels like a “middle chapter” of a story. We’re thrown in the deep end at the issue’s beginning, and left with an unresolved situation at its end. At its end, we’re halfway through, having been introduced to Logan (Weapon X) and Jean in their status quo, we’ve witnessed their initial mission to completion and then further development of their situation, and things rapidly shifting into place for what I loosely recall of their placement for the far end of the Age of Apocalypse story.

I do like Hama‘s writing, and it’s still interesting to me to look back and realize what he’d done with the Wolverine character (and here, Weapon X) long before I ever recognized his GI Joe work. I touched on the notion covering the previous issue, but saw hints of it again in this issue: while this Weapon X is this reality’s version of Wolverine, there IS a darkness that I suppose I could “accept”–given what I recall of the ending of this Age of Apocalypse epic–morphing into what I considered a ridiculous and stupid thing in more recent years, NEARLY 20 years after the fact.

There’s an authenticity here that I appreciate, and while the story doesn’t leave me chomping at the bit for the next issue, I’m not disappointed to have read this one.

The art is quite good, and I continue to really enjoy Kubert‘s take on things, particularly Weapon X’s hair. That, combined with the burnt-critter version and then seeing the hair growing back over the span of a number of pages was cool–a sort of detail that worked well and conveyed how “tough” the character is physically.

Weapon X may not be my favorite of the Age of Apocalypse titles, but it’s not one I’ve dreaded reading…it falls somewhere in the middle or a neutral place if I were to rank ’em. This was a good issue, and ties in with stuff unfolding in Amazing X-Men, and while this stands alone overall, it’s great to see reference to other chunks of the whole, as this series is not unfolding in a vacuum.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Astonishing X-Men #2

aoa_revisited_logo

astonishingxmen002No Exit

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira
Inkers:
Dan Green & Tim Townsend
Color Art: Steve Buccellato & Digital Chameleon
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Rogue’s team finds themselves in the remnants of Chicago about to be trampled by its fleeing human population. Sunfire lashes out, determining that he MUST take the fight to Holocaust…but Rogue winds up stopping him, keeping her team together to help the humans here, now…not fly off half-cocked to be slaughtered. Meanwhile, Bishop finds Magneto sitting quietly alone while his young charges race around the globe, and chastises him…before realizing he is functionally saying goodbye to the infant son whose very existence will be sacrificed by "remaking" the world to what it should have been. Further meanwhile, Sabretooth enlists Blinks help to take the fight to Holocaust, eluding Rogue where Sunfire did not…and battling the monstrous son of Apocalypse…a battle that goes roughly as he planned, but not before sending Wild Child away with valuable information to survive the encounter.

Re-reading the Age of Apocalypse epic issue-by-issue in single-issue format for the first time in nearly two decades has been a true delight, taking me back at once to my all-time favorite X-Men story, period…as well as a nostalgic, simpler time when I found the X-Men comics to BE fun and enjoyable and a real treat to read…a time before the Internet and daily spoilers and the Next Big Event being hyped hardly halfway into the Current Big Event…when the Current Big Event mattered, was huge, was all-encompassing, was…THERE.

This issue embodies all that. We have favorite characters–Rogue, Magneto, this version of Sabretooth, Blink, Bishop…we have the latest chapter of an epic adventure, the last adventure, the One That Will Change Everything…as we witness the twilight of the Age of Apocalypse, the last-ditch effort of all those involved to make a difference in this darker world. And while the darkness and death is by no means a fun thing, a fun setting…the story itself, reading this…is.

Madureira’s art works really well for me with this issue…the entirety of the issue just looks very good, affirms my (perhaps altered-by-recently-re-read-issues) memory of how much I loved the look of the book at the time as I quite enjoy it here. The characters are all familiar, successfully distinct where I’d expect and any similarities or indistinctness is minimal and only noticed by looking back through for such things and never took me out of the "reading experience."

The writing–the story–simply "is" for me. And that’s a good thing. I read the issue, and was sucked in and maintained page after page, knowing I’ve read this, vague memories creeping up and ever so slightly reminding me that something happens to this character, or that character actually does survive, etc. But by and large the "details" have been forgotten and so are read here anew as a fresh story that is quite enjoyable. This issue fits the ongoing narrative of the epic, gives a number of characters some significant facetime, and unfolds details that add further depth to them…from Rogue’s reluctance to use her powers on a teammate or see any of ’em throw their lives away; to Magneto struggling with the reality he knows versus the knowledge that everything he’s known for two decades can be (MUST be) somehow undone; to Sabretooth and what he means to Blink as well as seeking to atone for his past.

The reading of this issue "kicks off" Month #2 for me in this journeying back through the Age of Apocalypse…and leaves me extremely eager–moreso than I’ve been so far–to get through the entirety, wishing I had the time to just sit and devour the saga…and yet all the more curious (just for myself) at what the overall experience will be and how my own reading is impacted by taking the time between the reading of each issue to write these reviews, forcing myself to think and self-analyze, at least–on what I’ve read.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Weapon X #1

aoa_revisited_logo

weaponx001Unforgiven Trespasses

Script: Larry Hama
Breakdowns: Adam Kubert
Finishes: Karl Kesel, Dan Green, Chris Warner
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Mike Thomas
Cover: Adam Kubert
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

After seeing Logan and Jean arrive at the Human High Council in X-Men Alpha, we now find them on a mission while the council decides what to do with the information they’ve been provided. Their mission: to cause trouble for Apocalypse by taking out a structure and allowing a wave of Sentinels in to evacuate what humans can be. Their ride (a sentinel) takes damage, but remains operational; while Logan and Jean fight their way in and ultimately out, even through Havok’s arrival. Once back with the council, the duo learn some shocking news about the humans’ intent moving forward in the face of Apocalypse’s deceit with the Kelly Pact.

This was a good issue, overall. Plenty of action, even if I didn’t comPLETEly follow everything. While I’m sure there are some subtleties I missed in my reading, I take it mostly at surface value. I struggle to see how this Weapon X can be the "villain" I recall from a couple years ago in a more contemporary issue. This seems quite a bit like the Wolverine of the time, but with adamantium (since Magneto never went down his dark path that led to Fatal Attractions and all that entailed). There’s a hint to Logan and Jean’s past, though it’s quick and not something dwelled on by the story. It’ll be interesting to get to the next several issues, and being reminded of the "cool" factor of this title and the character(s).

The visuals were good on the whole…no real complaint. I’m actually a fan of the "big hair" Wolverine rather than the tamed-down Hugh Jackman version of the last decade-plus in contemporary comics. Plenty to "appreciate" here and even as the issue may not be a favorite I still enjoyed it. The only let-down may have come from higher expectations for this than several other recently-read issues.

I do think the cover is one of my favorites–certainly one of the more memorable–of the AoA #1 issues, probably the entire saga. It shows all we really need, with Weapon X front and center and Jean right nearby…two mutants not to be messed with.

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