Saturday, April 27, 2013
X-Men: Liberators #4
Writing: Joe Harris
Art: Phil Jimenez
What Went Down: No flashback for the opening. Instead Omega Red bursts into Province 13 and threatens General Sergei. Sergei says their transaction is complete, but Red wants to know why the X-Men are involved. Nightcrawler is busy digging up graves in the cold wilderness, searching for Wolverine. Colossus surprises him, and they are both set upon by a naked Wolverine asking for his clothes.
At Province 13 the guards are on high alert, and the students are being evacuated. Ariana is being used as bait to draw out Nikolas. Nanya and her friend return to the classroom and meet Nightcrawler, while Omega Red confronts Wolverine. As Kurt talks to the two young girls, the Wolverine/Omega Red fight spills through a window. Omega threatens the young girls, while Colossus goes to rescue Ariana.
Sergei sets fire to his office, while we see signs that Nikolas has accepted the bait. Kurt and Logan rescue the girls just in time for Nikolas to appear. Nikolas fights the villain, with Red fleeing as his body starts to shut down. Ariana confronts her son, and sets him free from his hard existence with a shard of broken glass. At the same time, Colossus takes Nanya from General Sergei just before he kills himself. In the epilogue, we see that Ariana has adopted Nanya and is taking care of her.
The issue ends with a continuation of the flashback from issue #1; Colossus holds a pneumatic press up while his friends are rescued. The story ends with the three X-Men being greeted by the rest of the team in the present.
How It Was: The issue opens with a compelling sequence of Nightcrawler desperately digging through snowy graves to find Wolverine; it would’ve been rather engaging if we didn’t see Wolverine dig himself out last issue.
So after three issues revolving around the fate of Nikolas, the last issue tries to squeeze some tension out of putting the little girls in danger that we hardly know or care about. Moreover, Omega Red is the one that threatens them, and for no other reason than because he’s a huge jerk. His purpose in the story is so non-existent that after a one panel confrontation with Nikolas, Omega Red realizes there’s no reason for him to be there and leaves.
There’s weak attempt to humanize General Sergei at the end that doesn’t quite work, but I will admit that Harris does squeeze some tragedy out of Ariana and Nikolas’ reunion. Having both characters agonize over not being with each other for two issues, only to have Nikolas killed by the only being that can touch him… well it’s pretty sad. Colossus learns to be happier by appreciating what he has, which is a fine enough way to end his journey after the grimness he’s been through.
The art is fantastic, only flawed by some pretty major coloring mistakes on the final page for most of the X-Men. Even though all the fights consist of nothing but Omega Red grabbing and throwing people, it still looks really great. I can’t really understand the aversion to fighting in this series; the few fights we do see feel very dull and hurried. The final, climactic battle between Nikolas and Omega Red consists of them staring angrily at each other before Omega runs off complaining about pain.
This is a pretty disappointing series all told. I’m not so much bothered by how generic the plot and villains are; it’s just that the entire execution feels rushed, although competent. All the X-Men are in character, but they don’t feel like they have much to do or say in this story. It takes Colossus all of one page to deal with his family’s death, and although Nightcrawler and Wolverine are there for moral support, they have absolutely nothing to add. Nikolas unfortunately has no voice or personality, so although we can feel bad for him as readers, we can’t connect with him or find anything redeemable in his presence. Everyone else just serves as mouth pieces to push the story around, with Omega Red in the middle to make the story authentically Russian, I guess. I don’t think you’d miss a thing if you avoided this series because it is never mentioned ever again.
X-Men: Liberators #3
Writing: Joe Harris
Art: Phil Jimenez
What Went Down: This issue opens with a flashback of a Hide and Seek game played on the mansion grounds around the eighties era. Colossus manages to sneak up on Wolverine. At Provence 13 in the present, Wolverine is “dying” from his exposure to the mutant Nikolas as scientists are examining him. On a mountain, Colossus has found a cave where he and the old woman are hiding. He brings firewood for the woman, whose name is Ariana. She explains how she is Nikolas’ mother and how he was taken away from her as a baby because his touch killed everyone except her. Nikolas was taken by Sergei, and Ariana resents the Rasputins because they were normal looking mutants able to hide from the government.
At night Nightcrawler sneaks onto the base after following the soldiers. He discovers the children taken from their families by the government. Sergei’s superior Alexei explains that the government is shutting down Sergei’s base.
Nightcrawler tries to speak with the children, but he doesn’t know Russian. He is able to communicate telepathically with the girl Nanya, who can translate for her friends. Nightcrawler vows to rescue the children. In the woods, Omega Red is hunting Nikolas, and comes across a wrecked cabin with two dead adults and an abandoned child.
Omega Red manages to find the cave with Ariana in it, so he and Colossus battle. Their fight is interrupted by Nikolas, Ariana’s son. Omega Red throws a rock, and both Colossus and Nikolas go over the cliff.
Wolverine “dies” and is left alone by the scientists. Nightcrawler finds him dead, and takes his uniform with him. Colossus unburies himself and sees that Nikolas has fled. Nightcrawler escapes, but we see that Wolverine’s body has been buried, and he has healed enough to rise.
How It Was: We finally get to see where Colossus’ arc is going this series; he is given Ariana’s tragic story to compare with his own tragedies to realize how much worse his life could’ve been. That’s as good a conclusion as any for Colossus to come to after a decade of having family death after family death; he learns to appreciate time he did have with his family.
Meanwhile, Wolverine sits on a slab for a whole issue, and Nightcrawler has nothing to do except wander around Province 13 and meet some kids. The art is great as he sneaks around and teleports stealthily, but it doesn’t hide the fact that he has nothing to do; he’s searching for Wolverine, but after Kurt finds him, Wolverine just gets dumped outside again by the soldiers making for a total waste of an issue.
Then there’s the glaring fact that Omega Red has no purpose in this story. The narration claims that he’s working for the government after being freed from exile, but there’s no motivation for him to be hunting Nikolas. He’s here because the X-Men are in Russia, and heaven forbid they fight any other super villain in Russia other than Omega Red.
Besides the interplay between Colossus and Ariana, there is really nothing here to catch your attention. There’s a three page fight that ends abruptly, and that’s about it. The art is really nice and gives Colossus and Nightcrawler a nice range of emotion and movement, but that still doesn’t change the fact that they’re not saying or doing anything memorable.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
X-Men: Liberators #2
Writing: Joe Harris
Art: Phil Jimenez + Aiken, Leigh, & Pepoy
What Went Down: Again we begin with a flashback, this one occurring around Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Wolverine attacks Colossus to see what he’s really made of. In present day Russia, Colossus visits the graves of his parents. Over at Province 13, General Sergei observes two children being tested for psychic capabilities. The General swears one of the girls, Nanya, is looking in his mind.
Peter encounters an elderly woman in the graveyard’s chapel. After identifying himself as Piotr Rasputin, the woman spits on the ground and curses his family, so Peter leaves. In the woods nearby, Kurt and Logan wait patiently for Colossus. They discover oddly warped trees and dead animals. Assuming it’s hunters, Wolverine decides to go and teach a lesson about killing animals for sport and leaving them there.
Back at the church, a military helicopter lands and soldiers flood out to surround the old woman. Colossus bursts in and fights off the soldiers. He escapes with the woman. After confronting the hunters, Logan and Kurt observe them getting attacked by the mutant monster Nikolas. Wolverine fights it off, but he soon gets sick and passes out. The soldiers carry Wolverine away, and Nightcrawler is forced flee.
Sergei receives a call that one of his superiors from Moscow will be visiting him. We end on some Russian soldiers discovering Omega Red in the Savage Land and offering to bring him home.
How It Was: Another low-key issue as the plot keeps chugging along. There isn’t really that much to tell. The purpose of the X-Men’s visit gets fulfilled as Peter starts the issue at his parents’ graves and dwells on it for a whole two sentences of internal monologue. For a series that is billing itself on the group’s history by starting each issue with a flashback, there is surprisingly no reflection on how Peter’s parents died, the deaths of his other siblings, or his time with the Acolytes. They could’ve easily tied this into the main series by mentioning Colossus’ Christmas visitation from Illyana, but alas he’s just there. Peter’s just going through the motions of the plot, and the cemetery visit ends up being nothing more than a plot convenient way for Colossus to meet Nikolas’ mother who just happens to be at the same church.
With this issue the X-Men actually become embroiled in the plot. Although Wolverine and Nightcrawler are supposed to be there to support Colossus, they take the time to deal with some hunters because it bothers Wolverine. And while the plot affords the opportunity for some action, neither the writer nor the artists really seem interested in dwelling on it. We get two panels of Colossus getting shot at before beating up all the soldiers off-panel, followed by Wolverine fighting Nikolas for all of one page which amounts to one dodge and one claw swipe. It’s disappointing to see a super hero comic so uninterested in showing any type of action or excitement.
As for the rest of the issue, the shady Russian soldiers and their general still aren’t very interesting, and Omega Red shows up for no purpose other than because this is a Russian-set X-story. There is some mystery to be had in how the X-Men are going to fight Nikolas if he can take Wolverine so easily, but other than that this is just a story just plodding along with nothing impressive. The closest bit to a standout moment is General Sergei’s observations of the telepathic Nanya staring through him behind the wall, but minor details can’t salvage how uneventful this is.
X-Men: Liberators #1
Writing: Joe Harris
Art: Phil Jimenez
What Went Down: The intro involves a flashback to the Claremont/Byrne era circa Days of the Future Past. Our three stars of the mini, Wolverine Colossus, and Nightcrawler, enjoy a test in the Danger Room. In the present, these same three X-Men are on a plane to Russia to visit the graves of Peter’s parents. Nightcrawler scares a little girl by coming out of the restroom before turning on his image inducer.
At a military base called Province 13, the Russian equivalent of Area 51, General Sergei observes a room of children playing with toys, some using super powers. The general slides back a panel on a dark cell, looks at the shadowy figure inside, and laughs internally at his current predicament.
Arriving at the Moscow Airport, Wolverine decides to take his friends to a local pub full of a “certain element.” Back at Province 13, a rookie soldier relieves the guards of the mystery cell; he is afraid of the monsters that might be lurking here, and he is teased by his peers.
Back at the bar, Wolverine has talked Peter into arm wrestling one of the thugs who taunted them. During the bout, one of the other thugs tries to steal the X-Men’s bags, so they start a bar fight and totally dominate the locals.
Back at the base, the shadowy creature hides from its captors during meal time, tricking them into opening the door. Once the creature touches the soldiers, their bodies start to decay.
After trashing the bar, the X-Men leave some money and go on their merry way. We also learn that the mystery creature’s name is Nikolas as he kills more soldiers. Nikolas coincidentally winds up stowing away on the same train that the X-Men are taking.
How It Was: Liberators is a mini that is all but forgotten; it has no effect on continuity, it doesn’t have anything profound to say about its characters, and its plot is basically a takeoff of any Frankenstein story: the misunderstood monster that’s been seen time and again. The only thing that could possibly set it apart is the emphasis on the three X-Men and their long history. The flashbacks do go a ways of drawing out this history; these X-Men joined the team at the same time, and as such their growth as teammates and friends has had profound influence on each other and the team. Conversely, their interactions in the present don’t really highlight this history in any meaningful way. Most of their brief conversations deal with polite teasing and Colossus’ discomfort at the situations Wolverine drags him into.
Still, I’m willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt since it’s only the first issue, and so much of it is dedicated to the antagonists. This project is fueled by pure nostalgia, highlighting a friendship that has been missing from comics for almost a decade, due to the heroes frequenting other teams over the years. It’s excusable to start out with some lighthearted joking and bar fighting, with a promise of possibly something more substantial in later issues. Plus fans of the X-Men never really got to see Peter deal with the death of his parents before he joined the Acolytes (although he probably dealt with it in Excalibur, I would assume).
This leaves the Russian military who are trying to weaponize mutants—all setup and exposition up to this point. Again, this is nothing special, with all the soldiers sharing the same personality and Nikolas’ escape being easily predictable. I will say that the design for Nikolas is quite grotesque, although it doesn’t really stand out in any way. This is an okay start to the series. Not much happens; the characters are all characterized well and their dynamic is well defined: Wolverine’s the wild one, Colossus is the shy one, and Nightcrawler is a little bit of both. Nothing to write home about, but nothing offensive either.
Uncanny X-Men #365
Writer: Steve Seagle
Art: Chris Bachalo
What Went Down: It’s Christmas Eve in Salem Center when Colossus is awakened by a mysterious voice leading him to the attic. The voice tells Peter to “remember” after doing some crazy things with his perceptions. Peter immediately goes to Storm, who brushes it off as a bad dream. Peter thinks the voice has something to do with his latest drawing, but his canvas has mysteriously vanished.
Peter starts to recreate his drawing, but notices a light outside. Wolverine, Gambit, and Alpha Flight’s Puck are in a cabin enjoying a fire. Colossus returns to his room and finds his drawing returned with writing on it telling the story of an ice princess who lost her face. Peter starts a new drawing, but is again interrupted by a noise downstairs. It turns out that Nightcrawler and Kitty have obtained a tree to decorate for the team.
After excusing himself, Peter finds Xavier in his study contemplating photos of his students that have passed away over the years. The two heroes talk about ghosts and spirits, until Peter takes his leave. Peter begins yet another drawing, believing he is being compelled by the spirit. It again visits him, leading him again to the attic.
Peter finds a teleportation ring and meets the spirit of his dead sister Illyana. She explains that she left the portal there before she died, and she needs someone alive to do something for her, but she cannot say it out loud. After talking, Peter realizes that he has left his picture of Illyana packed away. After unpacking it, his sister is able to move on. Peter makes one more sketch before falling asleep.
In the morning it is revealed that Marrow was the one writing on Peter’s pictures; she frames one of them in bones as a thank you for the picture he gave her in X-Men #81.
How It Was: Seagle takes a stab at a Dickensian Christmas tale in the Marvel Universe for a post crossover downtime issue. While this issue is somewhat of a nightmare for continuity enthusiasts, it does capture the somber tone perfectly without becoming too grim and broody. Colossus is definitely a character who has faded to the background up to this point, so it’s great to see him get some time in the spotlight. Although he had plenty of time to reflect on his sister’s life in Excalibur, X-Men fans never got a chance to see Peter really process his sister’s death; he just went off to Avalon and then came back one day. This issue serves as a nice bookend to bridge his previous affiliation with the X-Men up to the here and now.
I also like that it is the members of the Claremont/Byrne era, back from such a long absence, who are again in charge of pulling the “modern” X-Men out of the doldrums of holiday depression. Even though they don’t have any subplots of their own going on, it’s nice to see Kitty and Kurt serving a consistent function on the team. The scene with Xavier is also a nice touch, tying well into the themes and resolution of the story. It also reestablishes Xavier’s sentimentality after being away from the books for two years.
While the tone of Peter’s confused journey is spot on, there are still some odd choices for the issue. Puck makes a baffling cameo for no purpose whatsoever. Also the climax of the story is a little strange if you look at it literally. Illyana can’t “move on” unless Peter figures out her vague riddle for her? Unfortunately she cheats by saying “get the picture,” robbing Colossus of the personal victory of being able to help his sister on his own. And of course with Illyana recently resurrected, I don’t know what that means for this story continuity wise.
I’m also not sure how I feel about Marrow’s turn as sneaky secret Santa. It feels like a bit of character whiplash; I get that Peter’s efforts last issue were very selfless and well-intentioned, but Marrow’s personality is seemingly changed overnight in one issue. She’s gone from the new Wolverine to the new Jubilee: smiling, friendly, and excited about Christmas. To me Marrow should be reluctant to celebrate Christmas, but eventually discover a personal meaning in it for her. You could argue she does do this, just all off panel. It is after all Peter’s story.
It’s not the best sentimental issue, but it’s far from the worst either. Despite the weird mechanics and out of place fairy tale shoehorned in, the dialogue and art make this a relatively enjoyable read. It’s probably not going to the top of anyone’s reading stack, but it does manage to feel like genuine X-Men Christmas, with a few extraneous parts tacked on. While it’s odd to see Illyana pop up again, it’s nice to see Peter get some closure sixty-some issues after her death in the X-Men titles.
For X-Men Fans
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Writing: Joe Kelly
Art: Adam Kubert
What Went Down: Reunited, Xavier holds Nina as the prime Cerebro basks among the captured X-Men and Brotherhood members. Elsewhere, Nightcrawler has picked up Rogue, Colossus, Gambit, and Renee. Using tracking systems, Kurt is able to find the captured X-Men as well.
Cerebro explains his origins to Xavier. Its programming was shunted to a different vessel when Bastion and a Prime Sentinel tried to use it. After gaining sentience, it analyzed its own existence and realized it needed a dream and purpose. Creating the false X-Men from its own detailed files, Cerebro wanted to create peace by cataloguing all humans and mutants, imprisoning them forever. Cerebro wants to use Xavier’s telepathy to catalog the entire planet at one time.
Xavier argues that he still doesn’t have his powers after Onslaught, but Cerebro knows that Nina can return those powers. Fortunately the remaining X-Men come to the rescue. Xavier decides that it is time for Nina to return his powers to him, just as the remaining X-Men are captured. Using his powers Xavier is able to free the X-Men, so Cerebro activates the Xavier Protocols—the files on the weaknesses of every X-Man. The X-Men are put through excruciating torments, but it is all revealed to be an illusion from Xavier and Nina.
The X-Men tear apart the Cerebrites, and Xavier uses his powers to show the Prime Cerebro the minds of humanity, not just their genetic codes. Before it dies, Cerebro apologizes to the X-Men for not seeing how unique and special the world is.
How It Was: Well this issue concludes much as you’d expect it: Xavier gets his powers back and Cerebro is vanquished. The main difference between this issue and the previous ones is that Kelly and Kubert both have the entire team to utilize in the fight, and they find a way to give every character a moment to shine. Interestingly, the Brotherhood is never brought up at any point other than when they are shown as Cerebro’s captives.
Probably the best moment is the double page spread where the Xavier Protocols are used on the X-Men. It’s a dark and striking visual that stands up even if the moment itself is revealed to be a hoax. As with the Machine Man/Bastion story, I am baffled by the idea that telepaths can use their powers on machines to fool them, but whatever. It’s a standard X-Men solution, and Kelly does try very hard to sell the idea of Cerebro gaining true sentience as a response to Bastion’s attack.
The imagery in the astral plane makes for another amazing visual, causing me to be more forgiving of the sad, redemptive ending that comes out of nowhere. It’s hard to feel sympathy towards Cerebro when he’s been such a bland villain…cataloguing people by locking them into eggs. Still, it’s a good concluding fight and some of Adam Kubert’s strongest work. Even if the Hunt for Xavier was too long and stretched out, it had its moments. It’s just a shame that it had to stick so close to its parallel structure, almost devoid of novelty or surprise. But this is still a solid conclusion.
For Comics Fans
Uncanny X-Men #364
Writing: Steve Seagle
Art: Lenil Francis Yu
What Went Down: The Prime Cerebro unit is monitoring world events and notes that it is likely that Magneto will be surfacing soon. It orders a self-destruct sequence of its base, which includes the forms of the fake X-Men from Uncanny #360 to hide any evidence.
At Alcatraz the X-Men and the Brotherhood are trying desperately to defeat the Beta Cerbrite. Kitty tries to evacuate the Professor, but Post of the Brotherhood refuses to allow it. The Cerebrite fires a beam at Toad, causing him to disappear, just as Storm did last issue. Nightcrawler and Mimic use Kurt’s teleportation powers to teleport the Cerebro robot away.
Blob and Post won’t let Kitty take the Professor because they see Xavier as their only hope. The X-Men fight the Brotherhood until Cerebro returns. Exhausted from teleporting the Cerebrite, Nightcrawler returns to the Blackbird and radios the other team of X-Men for help. Of course, they’re busy with their own Cerebrite, so they don’t answer. Kitty and Marrow try to rescue Xavier, but they manage to phase right where the battle is occurring. The Cerebrite chases Kitty, and the robot shoots her, making her disappear as well. It then takes out the remaining members of the Brotherhood. Xavier explains that they’re not dead, just moved to the main Cerebro; Wolverine decides he and Marrow need to be captured to rescue their allies. Nightcrawler sees everyone get shot as he brings the Blackbird in to rescue them. He decides to take the plane to Russia to get reinforcements from the other team.
How It Was: The opening of this issue feels like somebody remembered that the phantom X-Men from Uncanny #360 were tied to this Cerebro story at the last minute. So those characters are all conveniently disposed of in three pages. The rest of this issue is another big fight with a Cerebro robot. Lenil Francis Yu replaces Bachalo, and boy…their styles couldn’t be farther apart if the editors tried. Yu specializes in darker tones and more realistic proportions, which works for the most part. He draws Post like a ghost made out of rocks, and his Marrow is a little too attractive, but overall it looks great. I love the detail of Kitty, Toad, and Nightcrawler using Marrow’s bone shards to attack the robot since none of them have offensive powers.
This fight is a lot less interesting, and I think it basically comes down to the fact that all the X-Men and most of the Brotherhood here just don’t have a big variety of offensive powers. All of them pretty much just hit people, and that’s not as exciting too look at. Plus the Brotherhood has to have an obligatory disagreement with the X-Men in the middle that makes no sense; if they care about Xavier, as a mentor or asset, why wouldn’t they want the crippled and powerless man out of the way of the huge battle?
Once again we have a Seagle book ending the same way the previous Kelly issue did, this time with the Cerebrite flying away triumphant with its quarry after soundly defeating the X-Men. And once again the ending is diminished by the fact that we just saw this very thing happen last issue. It’s a shame that Seagle has to follow up all the Kelly issues with the exact same structures, plus he’s been saddled by a weaker and less visually engaging team. Even the addition of the Brotherhood can’t make this one stand out.