Nov 032011
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My name is Jet Wolf, and I’m addicted to comic books. Since picking up my first issue of X-Men way back in the late 80s, comic books have been a focal point of my life. I can’t imagine a world without superheroes flying around in brightly coloured and impractical costumes, punching out bad guys and sometimes each other. May the Pull List be eternal. Here’s what was on it this week.

Angel & Faith #3    FF #11    Legion: Secret Origin #1    New Mutants #32    The Ultimates #3    Wolverine and the X-Men #1    
Angel & Faith #3 | FF #11 | Legion: Secret Origin #1 | New Mutants #32 | The Ultimates #3 | Wolverine and the X-Men #1

Angel & Faith #3 4 of 5 stars

Angel & Faith #3

Angel & Faith #3, cover by Steve Morris

Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Rebekah Isaacs
Colourist: Dan Jackson
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

The last few issues have been largely Angel-centric. This week Faith takes center stage, and the series just came alive. Not that it hasn’t been great. I’ve actually felt Angel & Faith has been notably superior to Buffy Season 9 thus far and I’ve enjoyed every issue. But with this issue Christos Gage nails Faith’s voice, and with that it’s like the final piece of the puzzle slides into place.

Angel is still on his quest to fix his latest catastrophically evil actions, and it has him and Faith hot on the trail of some Mohra demon blood (as last seen in the first season Angel episode “I Will Remember You”). As you would expect, this isn’t an item that’s easy to acquire, particularly now there’s no magic left in the world. The hunt leads Angel and Faith through several locations that may become fixtures in their new setting, including but certainly not limited to an Alasdair Comes, old Watcher associate of Giles’ who appeared for all of three pages and charmed me utterly. It’s entirely likely he’ll go Big Bad on us (this is the Whedonverse after all), but assuming no, I’m really keen to see how he fits in with Angel and Faith. There’s no denying they need a bookly-type to turn to for information and direction, but there’s also Faith’s desperate need for a father figure, and I could see Alasdair fitting that role nicely.

Speaking of Faith, as I said she grabs the spotlight this issue. It’s never been more clear that this is a Faith who, despite herself, isn’t just accepting her roles but thriving in them. As someone who’s spent more than a little time exploring Faith in a post-“Chosen” world, it’s something that particularly resonates with me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this is a perfect example of what isn’t working over in Buffy Season 9. Here, Faith has grown and matured – she’s still Faith, but events have shaped her. Meanwhile Buffy, Willow and Xander seem trapped in stasis. I’m not sure if it’s a difference in writers or some sort of editorial allowance (this being the “spin-off” perhaps more latitude is granted), but whatever it is, Gage is doing it right.

Ultimately, we know Angel’s mission will fail. It sounds like the consequences may be more dire than simple disappointment, but whatever happens, he’s not going to take it well. Faith is in the unenviable position of seeing it coming and being the only one who can stop it. Poor, poor Faith.

FF #11 3 of 5 stars

FF #11

FF #11, cover by Steve Epting

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Barry Kitson
Inkers: Scott Hanna, Scott Koblish, Jay Leisten, & Mark Pennington
Colourist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Vlayton Cowles

Okay. I’m going to take a crack at this. You ready?

Ronon – that Kree guy who hangs out with the Inhumans – looks to be pretty solidly pro-Kree these days. He’s got A Cunning Plan he’s been working toward these past few issues, and in this one it finally comes to fruition. I say this as someone who knows most of what she knows about the cosmic side of Marvel through the many packs of trading cards I bought back in 1990, but this plan of his, when he puts it into action? Chilling as all hell. I didn’t really put much thought into what he was going to do, but as soon as he did it? DAYUM.

Meanwhile, there are some dudes trapped in the Negative Zone and they don’t want to be. They’ve been working on a way to get out for a long time. They’re about ready. Focal point: The Baxter Building.

Meanwhile, Valeria has commandeered most of the Future Foundation to build a three-floor translocator. I don’t know if I’m supposed to know what that even does, but didn’t much care because I was too busy being totally in love with the conversation Reed was having about it with her.

Meanwhile, Reed summons in a bunch of friends (like, a bunch), and it’s wall-to-wall costumes, and I want She-Hulk back in the FF so bad right now.

Oh, and there’s a scarily massive space invasion force right outside.

I don’t really know exactly how all this fits together because when I read FF I have only the foggiest of ideas what’s happening. So you know it’s good when I tell you that I don’t care that I don’t know what’s happening. Jonathan Hickman builds plots like a contractor builds a wall. There are layers upon layers of interlocking pieces at work, and I’m just going to look up one day and realize I’ve got an entire building around me.

I have a lot of rereading to do, basically.

Until then, this issue – like most of the FF issues I’ve reviewed, both does the job and fails to do it. On the one hand, it’s near impossible to just jump right in here and not feel like you’re missing out on some major big money moments. On the other, the moments that don’t require two years of context are amazing, and the rest of it is so interesting that you want to go back and figure out what you’ve missed.

But it’s a lot of stuff for just one title to hold, and starting next month, it won’t have to. Fantastic Four finally returns, featuring Reed and Company, while FF will continue and focus on the Future Foundation. Hickman will retain writing duties on both. What’s that, two titles to be confused by every month? Well if you insist.

Legion: Secret Origin #1 4 of 5 stars

Legion: Secret Origin #1

Legion: Secret Origin #1, cover by Tom Feister

Writer: Paul Levitz
Artists: Chris Batista & Marc Deering
Colourist: Wes Hartman
Letterer: Dezi Sienty

This is the fourth Legion title I will review this month. What strange, marvelous times we live in.

With a title like Secret Origin you probably have a decent idea of what you’re going to get. And you’d be somewhat correct, though Paul Levitz does some great stuff here that twists it around in unexpected ways.

He makes a bold move right off the bat by not even focusing on the Legion’s actual, well-worn, often-told origin: Three kids from three different worlds who work together to save eccentric yet idealistic billionaire RJ Brande from an assassination attempt, and he convinces them to form a team to fight bad guys and inspire the galaxy. Tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast.

Instead of going there – again – Levitz tells the story around this story. What was going on with the newborn United Planets during this time? Who exactly was it that tried to kill RJ? What about the other founding members of the Legion, what were they up to just before they joined? The big moment still happened, and we get to see snippets of it through news broadcasts, but it’s a background moment to this story, and that’s a brilliant choice on Levitz’s part. A new Legion fan still has the information they need, and an old fan has a whole new angle so they can enjoy it too.

And enjoy it I most certainly did. It’s amazing to think that there’s still so much unexplored territory in a story that’s been told in some form or another since the Silver Age, and these new details help to flesh out these new/old versions of the characters. Take the first meeting between Phantom Girl and Brainiac 5, an event we’ve never seen before now. Their personalities are so dramatically different – Brainy being all business and arrogance, Tinya being bright and outgoing – but they sync up so well in this issue that it opens a whole new door for them to interact in the new series. I suspect a focus on interpersonal histories is going to feature prominently in this mini, and that’s music to these ears.

What’s probably greatest about this series is how accessible it is. Unlike any other New 52 effort with the Legion, I think this one makes it the easiest to jump aboard. Makes sense, I suppose; it is an origin. But I have to wonder why DC didn’t make this book a first-month release. Well, I suppose I know why (can’t mess up their bizarre fixation on “52”), but that’s form over function, and is a damn shame. So much potential there for new Legion readers, and I can’t help but feel that DC blew it at every turn.

Yes I am bitter about this and will probably harp on it for the next several months.

Still maybe it’s not too late yet. Legion: Secret Origin is the perfect gateway book for potential or relapsed fans. And if you’re a long-time reader who thought you could skip this because you’ve seen it all before? No. No you can’t. Fix your grave error immediately or it’s monitor duty for a month.

New Mutants #32 3 of 5 stars

New Mutants #32

New Mutants #32, cover by Jason Pearson

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artists: David Lafuente & Robbi Rodriguez
Colourists: Val Staples & SotoColor
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

I can’t help but laugh at how New Mutants handled not just elements but the theme of Fear Itself better than any issue of Fear Itself.

This issue closes out the event tie-in and the New Mutants’ latest Asgardian adventure. Things look grim indeed for our young mutant friends, but with some delaying help from Hela (she’s not quite dead [can you even kill death?]) and a brilliant observation and follow-up idea from X-Man, and maybe they’ll get out of this after all.

There’s always something special when you combine Asgard and the New Mutants, and this storyline was no different. This conclusion felt appropriately dire and satisfying, despite the fact that on paper I don’t think it should’ve worked as well as it did. That’s DnA at their best however; their handle on characters and economy in their interactions makes them consistently among the best (and most under appreciated) writers in the business.

The art, on the other hand, let the book down, to the point where I had to knock off an entire star. For whatever reason, this issue only saw David Lafuente drawing the middle chunk of the book, and the fill-in art from Robbi Rodriguez didn’t do much for me at all. Lafuente and Rodriguez have styles that are passingly similar so the switching back and forth wasn’t too terribly jarring, but I felt Rodriguez’s pages were rushed and sloppy – so much so that the major battle-turning observations by Nate Grey aren’t actually observable by the reader. Pretty much no excuse for that. I’m not sure what happened here, but I’m hoping it doesn’t happen again.

Speaking of Nate, as mentioned, he kind of got to save the day which should help solidify him as a member of the team. I’m fairly lukewarm on that one, but I was glad to see him get a quiet moment to start bonding with the others. His time with Sunspot was brief, but goes a good way to integrating him, which he sorely needs.

A good conclusion to a storyline that I really enjoyed a lot more than I expected. Fun and exciting and funny and with some totally unexpected twists throughout. With Blink joining the group in the near future, it looks like New Mutants will just keep getting better and better.

The Ultimates #3 4 of 5 stars

The Ultimates #3

The Ultimates #3, cover by Kaare Andrews

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic
Colourist: Dean White
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

It’s a pretty standard formula: Bad Guys threaten world, Good Guys try to stop them, Bad Guys seem too strong, Good Guys rally, Bad Guys lose, Good Guys win. It’s every story ever told, at least in super-hero comics, and especially in this medium it can be difficult to get invested. It’s rote and we’re cynical. Even if things go afoul for the Good Guys it’s difficult to care when there’s a voice in the back of your head saying “They’ll be back in six months, tops.” It’s a company and it’s got to make money and you know there’s no way in hell Wolverine is ever, ever going to die. The good writers work around that. They allow you to feel loss through characters who don’t realize they’re simply drawings on a page. They create a story so engrossing that you forget the tropes. They create with your knowledge and expectations rather than pretending you don’t both know exactly how this works.

Then we have the Ultimate Universe, doing all that and more.

Things look about as bad right now as they have ever looked. The City of Tomorrow is grown so fast that it’s now engulfing entire countries. Pretty much every hero Europe has is missing, presumed dead. Asgard hasn’t just fallen it’s been obliterated, and Thor is completely cut off from his power. Nick Fury only has a handful of super-people left to call on, and this isn’t even the only thing he has to worry about right now. But still the heroes fight, because that’s what heroes do.

That feeling, that sense of odds that are very literally overwhelming, permeates every page of The Ultimates #3. And it’s completely enthralling precisely because you have no idea what happens next. From one moment to the next I was looking for that ray of hope that deus ex machina, that point where things begin to look brighter. That moment does not exist. The Children of Tomorrow are, with frightening ease, able to take the best The Ultimates can dish out and return it with deadly force. And because it’s so convincingly written, and especially because it’s in a universe where hey guess what, Wolverine is dead, there are no guarantees.

Which isn’t to say that it’s just non-stop bleak action (although things are indeed incredibly bleak right now). Jonathan Hickman is able to work in moments of personal tragedy amidst this brutal onslaught of very real general tragedy. Ultimate Nick Fury, a character so bad-ass and stoic they had to turn him into Samuel L. Jackson, is so close to all-out panic that he can only keep his stoic bad-assery up for seconds at a time. Nick Fury is drowning, folks, he is panicking. Those could be cheap moments, used for easy effect to sell the overwhelming apocalyptic situation (hi, Fear Itself), but it isn’t. The whole thing is so pitch perfectly messed up and out of control that when Fury starts to wet his pants, we’re all wetting our pants.

Thor, too, is almost frighteningly despondent. He’s lost his family, his home, his people and his powers. He gets a second chance to fight courtesy of Tony, but he seems to have already given up. His only option now is to take as many enemies with him as he can. Thor is on a suicide mission, and he may very well succeed.

The Ultimates roared out of the gate and it hasn’t let up yet. Things look genuinely and completely hopeless for our heroes. Hickman has fully embraced this open, limitless universe, and he’s happily messing around with everything we thought we could trust.

It’s exhilarating.

Wolverine and the X-Men #1 5 of 5 stars

Wolverine and the X-Men #1

Wolverine and the X-Men #1, cover by Chris Bachalo

Writer: Jason Aaron
Penciler: Chris Bachalo
Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey
Colourist: Chris Bachalo
Letterer: Rob Steen

I’m just gonna come out and say it: Wolverine and the X-Men is the most fun I’ve had reading a comic book in just about forever.

In the wake of Schism, Logan took a handful of X-Men and left Cyclops and Utopia far behind. He had a plan: rebuild the school. It’s looking like it was perhaps not his greatest idea.

The X-Men, by their very nature, are a grim kind of team. “Protect a world that hates and fears them.” It’s their team motto and it has the oppression build right in. Obviously that isn’t a turn-off for me, but that’s partly because when the mutants are at their best there’s an optimism that shines through. It’s not the “hate” and the “fear” it’s the “protect” – they do what they do because they want something better.

But around M-Day, any larger ideals were set aside. It became about little more than the day-to-day drudgery of survival. The tone of the books shifted dramatically, and much as I love my mutants, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little overwhelmed by the unrelenting bleakness.

Wolverine and the X-Men doesn’t just change that, it throws a custard pie at it, honks a bicycle horn and then runs away hooting.

There is joy in this book. There’s hope. There’s a unity that comes not from survivors cowering together for protection but from family willingly helping each other to their feet. And it does all this without overselling it or wallowing in its sentimentality.

Not that it’s lacking in sentimentality. There are dozens of little call-backs and references that occur throughout the book, but they’re organic and feel completely natural for a group that’s returning to its roots. Speaking for this long-time fan, it felt like a handshake and a “welcome home”.

That’s exactly what this series is. “Welcome home.” I’ve stuck by the X-Men because, you know, that’s what I do, but for the first time in a long, far-too-long time, they feel like my X-Men again. I was really nervous by the title initially, but this issue has laid all those fears to rest. This is Wolverine completely unlike any Wolverine you have ever seen, and he does not at all dominate this book, despite the title’s implication. This is fun, warm, completely accessible, easily readable, and exactly the breath of fresh air the X-Men needed.

If you are now, ever have been, or ever may be an X-Men fan, you must read Wolverine and the X-Men.

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