Wake Up And Smell The Coffee: The X-Books - A Work In Progress

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Hey everybody. I thought I’d take a break from talking about DC for a change. Instead, let’s take a look at the progress so far in revitalizing comics’ most popular franchise, the X-Men. Ever since Bob Harras took over editing duties in the late 80s from Ann Nocenti, he put the books on an unending downturn into oblivion… helping to take the entire industry with it. No matter how many times we were told and thought it would get better, it got worse because of editorial interference. The time new creators spent on each book grew shorter and shorter as they fled them in frustration (heck, Mark Waid lasted 5 issues). After the botched Revolution relaunch early last year, expectancy was at an all time low. That was, until Joe Quesada replaced Bob Harras as Editor-In-Chief and gave everyone, including those creators who had left in disgust, a newfound hope. 9 months later, the entire line was relaunched again, but this time with its first real chance to shine. Today I’m going to cover all the ongoing series were part of the relaunch, with my own thoughts about the work in progress. Let’s begin…

New X-Men – Between the similarities I found to previous JLA plots and Frank Quitely’s inability to properly convey a larger variety of facial expressions/body language, I must admit I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by the first story arc. I know Grant Morrison has several different creative “heads” as they say (JLA, Invisibles), so maybe he’ll pull something out his hat when I least expect it. That’s hardly an issue however, as the series has really taken off with the fans. Many old and new readers are enjoying his relaunch and variety is definitely good business. However, I do find it quite disturbing that despite a planned 3 issue fill-in by Ethan Van Sciver, Marvel still couldn’t manage to put the book on schedule. Perhaps they’ll be able to catch up during this new arc, but X-Men editor Mark Powers’ statements regarding compliance with late work doesn’t leave much hope.

Uncanny X-Men – Cable, Wildcats, X-Men: Children of the Atom, The Adventures of Superman… here did this come from? He had an interesting starting roster and the right credentials, so what went wrong? Though I started noticing it in the first issue, it took me a few more to realize it. Ian Churchill’s artistic interpretations of the plots were *really* mediocre. Sure, sure, he’s got that Jim Lee look going on… but he’s also got that Rob Liefeld dynamic (less detail, stiffness and lack of proper anatomy). Added to that, he seemed obsessed with delivering a “widescreen” type of direction through his paneling that wasn’t very engaging and slowed the action to a crawl. I was astonished at the jump in quality the storytelling took with Sean Phillips’ layouts last issue, but it still couldn’t save the arc. Casey seems intent on delivering social commentary by mirroring events that took place in the X-Men past. Started with Magneto’s attack on Cape Citadel and followed with the Mutant Massacre, fans are left with a been there, done that feeling with each story. I’m a longtime fan of Casey’s work, so I’m at least sticking around until the time Ron Garney jumps aboard as penciler (December). Hopefully the book will pick up by then, or I’ll just have to move on.

X-Treme X-Men – What can I say? I’m in love with this book. I really, really am. What started off with a lot of skepticism has become a series that gets better with each and every issue. The characters are richly defined, the adventures feature an international flavor, the villains are cool (Vargas, what a total bad @$$) and the book has a purpose. If you’re somehow convinced Chris Claremont can’t manage good storytelling anymore, it’s time to get over it. Bob Harras’ meddling is gone and Claremont writes just as much dialogue as he did a decade ago (if you don’t believe me, dig out your old New Mutants books). Salvador Larroca’s full pencils are a sight to behold and I must admit that this new coloring process has really grown on me. Between the art and story, this is the X-Men book I look forward to the most every month. I also look forward to X-Treme X-Men: Savage Land this week, a by-product probably due to Morrison’s last minute grab for Beast. Between the monthly, mini-series and the annual (also by Larroca) all in December, I do believe I’ll have a very happy birthday.

Ultimate X-Men – Oh boy, another “post-Authority” book… or whatever Mark Millar calls the formula apes these days (adding prefixes won’t change things, Mark). If you’re enjoying the series, then good for you. It’s more money in Marvel’s pocket. Just don’t try to convince me that he’s saving the industry. The only folks who care about whether or not Logan and Jean make out are the older fans who are somehow convinced this stuff is groundbreaking. That’s… that’s great guys. Time to wake up now, Marvel officially stopped aiming for new readers when they announced Ultimates. Either that or when they decided to reference the first issue of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up in their Spider-Man/X-Men crossover. “Continuity free” indeed.

Wolverine & Deadpool: Agent of Weapon X – Hmm. Well, I would say Frank Tieri’s heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, I still haven’t seen or heard anything from his work besides the conventional. At least his direction is interesting enough that it’s turning heads and raising sales, that counts for something. Sean Chen (Wolverine) has always been one of this industry’s better artists and Georges Jeanty (Deadpool) is a rising star whose work on Bishop: The Last X-Man was very impressive. I see Marvel finally figured out how far Deadpool had wandered from the x-books, and decided DC had a pretty good idea with that cheesy Azrael: Agent of the Bat title gimmick. They were right though, as Deadpool shot up the chart at incredible speed. Another rising talent, Gail Simone (upcoming Night Nurse), will be taking over writing duties in April. If you haven’t yet seen her weekly column “You’ll All Be Sorry” at www.comicbookresources.com, I hope you’ll do so soon.

Cable – I don’t have a lot to say about the new direction this book has taken. Unfortunately, I’ve been reading Cable ever since I came back into comics back in late 1998. Artist Jose Ladronn’s Kirby style combined with Casey’s redefinition of Cable’s character drew me into the series, but silly indifference on Marvel’s behalf soon cost me my favorite creative team. Three writers, more artists, and a Rob Liefeld later, I found myself with yet another creative team… this time managing to hold out for at least a year before editorial canned them as well. Novelist Robert Weinberg (upcoming Nightside) and penciler Michael Ryan (upcoming Iron Man) managed to pull me into the series again with strange and wondrous cyber-punk/sci-fi tales that surprised many and even garnered some award nominations. With Joe Quesada’s ascension to EIC came yet another revision of the comic, costing many irritated fans one of their favorite titles. Although I’m happy to see both Weinberg and Ryan moving onto bigger and better things at Marvel, I can’t help the fact that 3 major creative changes over 3 years has finally soured the book for me. Howard Chaykin (who later dropped out) and David Tischman were given creative reign along with Igor Kordey, and decided to try for a more geo-political direction with the series. It will be interesting to see if Tischman and Kordey can keep the series afloat despite all the recent upheavals.

X-Force – One of the very few X-Men related titles to consistently grow in sales since its launch, this series has been entertaining many while shocking the rest. Arguably the most confusing revamp from May and June’s X-Men relaunch, the concept received a complete reconstruction from the ground up. It retained the title and issue number, but that’s where the similarities end. Writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred (Madman) has turned X-Force into one of the leading examples of how EIC Joe Quesada and President Bill Jemas are trying to tap into completely different audiences with the x-books. Of course, the adult situations and level of violence aren’t for everyone, but at least the creators are using the content to make some interesting and valid statements on society rather than for the simple sake of it. *cough* Ultimate X-Men *cough*

Brotherhood – Farewell Brotherhood, we hardly knew thee. The series, which supposedly began as a 12 issue maxi-series, was finally cancelled this month at issue #9 (in January). Despite an impressive artist lineup (Essad Ribic, Leonardo Manco, Sean Phillips) and an interesting concept, it just didn’t appear to hold itself together well enough. Somewhat convoluted in plot with an erratic shipping schedule (#3 shipped with 3 inkers!), I also believe it was the use of an alias that scared people away. Perhaps if and when Marvel decides to reveal the identity of X, we’ll learn more about where the series was heading. Then again, if it’s who many speculate it to be, perhaps not.

Exiles – *Sigh* What a complete and utter disappointment this book has turned out to be. Not even half as interesting as Brotherhood, writer Judd Winick and artist Mike McKone have turned the series into a veritable adaptation of the early 1980’s TV series “Voyagers!” with superheroes. Instead of using the vast infinity of pre-established alternate universes as a playground, we’ve instead been given a new “What If?” starring Blink and the “I’m the brother/sister of what’s his name but different” squad. The scenarios are nothing different either, offering the most overtly predictable twists like an evil Xavier or an evil Jean Grey. New character additions to the series are rarely given any time to blossom, but rather just pop up and get killed off some few issues later. I can’t see how one is supposed to care for the characters when they’re cardboard and/or cannon fodder, not to mention unrecognizable. I doubt it would kill them to use a couple more known cast members, but it would take a lot more than that for this series to build a following and grow.

X-Men: Evolution – Finally, but what took them so long? A successful animated television series for kids and the best they could do was Ultimate X-Men? The new book is also pointed in the right direction when it comes to content. Instead of committing suicide with yet *another* direct adaptation, they’re striving for something original to complement the show. The last two, X-Men Adventures and X-Men: The Manga, were actually both from the X-Men animated series scripts. Devin Grayson (Batman: Gotham Knights) is writing with Udon Studios on art. I also have to hand it to Bill Jemas, who was absolutely right about Marvel editorial’s lack of media related titles. Hopefully along with Mutant X and Men in Black (hopefully still in development), these three books will bring in some new and youthful readers. Hey, every little bit helps.

X-Men Unlimited – I’ve been so bummed to see Lysa Hawkins leave Marvel for DC. Editor Jason Liebig (now ex-editor) had taken the quarterly book and turned it into… ok, get this… a “third core title” which would relate to the events without affecting them in any manner. Can we say, inherently meaningless? It’s too bad, because writer Joe Pruett and artist Brett Booth could do so much better than what they were allowed. Oh well, they got wiser and jumped the heck off. Once new EIC Joe Quesada let Liebig go, and newly appointed editor Hawkins took the opportunity to turn X-Men Unlimited into a full blown anthology series. Fan favorite creators and characters have turned up, from Steven Grant on X-Man to Will Pfeifer on Dazzler. If Lysa’s departure hasn’t sidetracked the January issue, X-Men fans have something special to look forward to. For anyone who doesn’t know, Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz are collaborating on a New Mutants reunion story. I do believe Sienkiewicz is also painting that issue’s cover. Anyhow, Mark Powers is now editing Unlimited, but hopefully the format won’t change anytime soon.

Well, that’s it for this edition of “Coffee”. I hope you enjoyed it and found something interesting to talk about, because I’d love to see you guys on the SBC message boards. Otherwise, I’ll see you all next week.

Born and raised in Tampa, FL, Drew Reiber is a part-time student with aspirations of someday writing those comics he so loves to rant about. He hopes that his exhaustive edition today hasn’t driven anyone to madness, but understands that sacrifices had to be made. You can find my other weekly column at Nolan's Pop Culture Review.

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