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411’s Comic Reviews: X-Men #5, X-Force #6, More  

January 30, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
X-Men 5

Hello and welcome to 411mania’s weekly Comic Book Review! Each week we’ll be serving up a warm dish of reviews (and previews) from Marvel, DC, and anything else that captures our interest. What did you pick up this week? Let us know in the comments.Want to write a review? If you can write at least one review a week, consistently, email me at stevethegoo[email protected]!  

New Mutants #6

Review by Jeremy Thomas

It’s official: we’ve hit the point where the alternating story structure of New Mutants is starting to become tedious.  I realize that was a quick escalation from the previous issue, where I talked about how Hickman’s story with the original New Mutants didn’t feel like it had missed a beat despite two months off.

That itself is part of the problem; we had two issues worth of story between each switch, so it felt like we had enough storyline that it didn’t feel as if we were cutting away too soon.  The single issue of space-set content that we received seems too short before venturing back to Earth for the New X-Men era team and while it doesn’t bear much on the merits of issue #6, “Not as Hoped,” it does leave a tiny bit of a bad taste that isn’t quite fair to Ed Brisson and Flaviano.

“Not as Hoped” picks up right where issue #4 left off, with Boom-Boom arriving to the tense hostage situation at Beak and Angel’s farm.  The addition of Tabatha Smith certainly adds some fun to the proceedings and gives the team a much-needed aid in their rather dire situation. Brisson has really captured a solid dynamic with these characters and while Armor is the leader of the team it’s the auxiliary characters in Boom-Boom, Glob Herman, Maxime, and Manon that really get to shine.

This is particularly important in the latter two characters’ case. Maxime and Manon have mostly been non-entities during their existences, first appearing in 2018’s Extermination and generally being treated more like weapons or tools as they shifted to Ahab’s side via brainwashing, then were shuttled back to the X-Men.  Aside from their creepy appearances and powers, there’s been not much to these two so far and Brisson invests some much-needed time in evolving them as characters.

Flaviano’s art for this issue is a slightly mixed bag.  It’s colorful and enjoyable from panel to panel, but it seems slightly out of sync with the story that Brisson’s trying to tell. Narrative-to-art dissonance can certainly serve a purpose, but that doesn’t seem to fit this situation.  That said, he captures the characters quite well for the most part with the less human characters – Glob, Beak, Maxime and Manon – looking great in particular.

More than anything, Brisson’s New Mutants story succeeds the most in hammering home the necessity for a place like Krakoa.  The themes of the X-Men have often been most potent when told with the younger generation.  Despite the flaws in this issue, it’s very effective in hitting those points in an effective, engaging and weighty manner.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

X-Men #5

Review by Jeremy Thomas

A lot of what we’ve seen from Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men has involved setting up plot threads to pick up on later, either in this or other Dawn of X books.  From Corsair getting a Krakoa gate to last issue’s economic summit, it feels like big things are happening in this title even if they don’t get followed up on right away.  One of those moments came back in X-Men #1 when Storm, Cyclops, Polaris and Magneto found Serafina, one  of the Children of the Vault. Serafina teleported away, and the moment was left there to breathe while Hickman moved on to things like islands having sex and eco-terrorist grandmas.

X-Men #5, titled “Into the Vault,” picks that thread back up and begins to sew.  Cyclops and Xavier, seeing the Vault as one of their greatest threats, put together a team to get inside the complex and ferret out what’s going on.  That team consists of Wolverine (Laura, not Logan) and a pair of old faces in Darwin and Synch.  Heading to Ecuador where the Vault is housed underneath the Master Mold Sentinel, the team tries to slip their way into the Vault and seek some answers.

Hickman has shown himself since House of X #1 to be a true devotee of X-Men lore, and “Into the Vault” gives him a chance to put that back on display.  The Children of the Vault are another gem plucked from years gone by. First introduced in 2006’s X-Men (Vol. 2) #188, the posthumans are toys in exactly the kind of high science fiction sandbox that Hickman has been playing with for years, including in Dawn of X. Hickman doesn’t stop there, though; there is a reference to The World from the 2002 Weapon Plus storyline involving Fantomex, Cyclops, and Wolverine as well.  These are nice little Easter eggs and callbacks for longtime X-Men fans.

But the callbacks aren’t what make this issue shine; they’re just icing on the cake.  Hickman’s storyline once again feels like the start of something bigger to be picked up on later.  A lot of writers would make that feel like a frustrating experience to read, but here it’s a nice foreboding first chapter that I don’t mind waiting on the next stage for.  Part of that is because he makes the characters feel like the characters.  Laura, so poorly serviced in Fallen Angels (more on that below), sounds like the character we’ve come to know and love.  Her banter with Logan tracks nicely, and Hickman captures the human moments in these characters quite well.

It also helps that RB Silva and Marte Gracia, the art team from Powers of X, are reunited with Hickman for this issue.  Silva’s art was a highlight of 2019 along with House of X’s Pepe Larraz, and Gracia’s coloring makes his depictions of the character breath and pop with vibrance.  These characters feel more alive than they have in previous issues of this title, and the few battle sequences that pop up are pretty breathtaking.

In fact, as solid as Hickman’s storytelling is, the art and design elements are what truly make this book shine.  The usual Dawn of X chart pages are here, but aside from one worrying bit about Synch’s resurrection the prose bleeds into art at the bottom, a bold design choice that works stunningly well.  While we’re not likely to see this particular story directly followed up on in next month’s Mystique-centric issue, I’m hoping that the book comes back to it soon because this is an arc that I’m very excited to see continue.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Fallen Angels #6

Review by Jeremy Thomas

It’s no secret, nor an exaggeration, to say that Fallen Angels has fallen very far short of the bar set by the rest of the Dawn of X line.  Bryan Edward Hill and Szymon Kudranski’s tale of Psylocke trying to find her role in the Krakoa era of mutant life has been bogged down by an abundance of empty philosophy, characterization backtracking, and poor stylistic choices.  The series has felt muddled at best and pretentious at worst, shooting toward its ending with nothing particularly new and interesting to add to its promising cast of characters.

That end is here, and for better or worse (actually, just worse), Fallen Angels finishes up with most of the exact same issues that it began with.  The not-so-cleverly-titled “Conclusion” sees Kwannon and her cobbled-together team of X-23, Kid Cable, Bling! and Hush make a final stand to take down Apoth and his minions.  As they do so, Kwannon must come to some realizations about herself and her “students” and face her past.

The biggest problem with “Conclusion” is how perfunctory it all seems, and what a waste of potential it ends up being.  Apoth and his virtual drug Overclock were ideas rife with possibility as threats to the X-Men generally, and Kwannon specifically. However, it seems like Hill didn’t quite know what to do with his creations, or at least didn’t know how to get from point A to B with them.  Sure, there’s a big battle but it all seems anticlimactic and meaningless, lost in metaphors about who Kwannon is and the philosophizing that Hill has been carrying through this book.  It’s been grittiness disguised as depth for six issues now, and it’s not any more profound here than it was in the first.

Even more criminal, the philosophizing doesn’t do anything to reveal much about Kwannon herself.  This was supposed to be a book that added depth to Psylocke, but we didn’t get any of that.  She has an epiphany in this issue, as do Laura and Cable.  But none of them feel earned; they just happen.  Laura’s in particular is frustrating because it just returns her to where she was at the beginning of Fallen Angels, making one wonder if she was just put into the book because she’d boost sales and not for any real story or thematic reason.  Bling! and Husk are barely used after the last issue devoted a large chuck of its panels to bring them on board, and Apoth’s forces don’t seem like anything they were even needed for.

Kudranski’s art in this issue, at least, is vaguely  improved. All the stylistic problems remain; it’s awash in black and obsessed with showing extreme closeups that add nothing while the battle sequences seemingly feature as little detail as possible. But facially he’s mostly on point at least.  And a panel where Psylocke takes control of her situation, while reckless in how it handles the continuity of Kwannon’s powers, is the most gorgeous piece that has graced this series.

Ultimately, “Conclusion” puts the final stamp of “skippable” on Fallen Angels.  Outside of some Kwannon/Mr. Sinister interactions, there’s nothing in here that feels like it’s likely to be followed up on elsewhere, and we didn’t learn anything new about Kwannon, Laura or Nate that added to any of them.  The best thing that can be said about this final issue of Fallen Angels is that it finishes the series and frees Psylocke up to move on to anchor Zeb Wells and Stephen Segovia’s Hellions starting in March.

Rating: 4.0 out of 10

X-Force #6

Review by Jeremy Thomas

It was inevitable that in a book revolving around the Krakoan version of the CIA, moral lines were going to get cross. Honestly, it’s a little surprising to me that the first five issues of X-Force didn’t delve too deeply into that.  There was play around that idea of course, such as the rather “enhanced” interrogation of the enemy operative last week. But by and large, Benjamin Percy has been leaning into the intelligence ops and open violence of the two sides of this team while letting the idea of moral flexibility take a slight backseat.

This week’s issue changes that in a big way. X-Force #6, “Intelligence,” digs deep into what it means to be a covert defense league responsible for a nation’s security – especially a nation as potentially imperiled as Krakoa.  As the Xavier prepares to sign a treaty aligning Krakoa with a South American nation, anti-mutant terrorists move in to throw a serious monkey wrench into the whole accord.  As the team attempts to solve the situation, things get murky – which means plenty of potential moral conflict.

The key player in this particular moral game is Beast, who has always been a fascinating choice for such story arcs.  Hank McCoy is a man who has a good head on his shoulders and is generally a decent guy but finds his moral weak points when he encounters something that he can’t quite genius his way around.  That’s a commonly explored thread with the character and is something Percy quite deftly avoids.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of good storyline to be found in those kinds of arcs.  But in a situation like X-Force, it can be a crutch that mitigates a character’s responsibility for their actions in a “they’re desperate” kind of way.  Percy doesn’t seem interested in letting Hank off the hook so easily, and his decisions are all his own here.  He makes some choices here, and they’re likely to consternate some fans of the character, but it’s entirely appropriate to the themes being explored here.  An interaction between Beast and Jean is particularly nicely done in exploring what such questionable acts might
be doing to these characters.

The moral aspects of the issue are complemented well by the action, which is where Stephen Segovia gets to shine as usual. The mission of the arc seems mostly inconsequential (with a pretty big caveat on the final page), used as an excuse for Percy and Segovia to do their best work.  The action makes the heroes look good without selling the villains short, which is always appreciated.

There are a lot of plot elements going in this book right now.  We still don’t know much about the masked puppet masters from the first five issues, and this new threat revealed in “Intelligence” may or may not end up tying into that.  But this book seems like the kind that will be better with at least a couple (if not more) threats for the team to deal with.  As the Dawn of X books move into their next stages and with new books are about to arrive soon, X-Force is well positioned along with Marauders to be one of the leaders of the line.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Adler #1

Preview by Steve Gustafson

Irene Adler is on a mission to take down Sherlock’s greatest nemesis, Moriarty!

Features Jane Eyre, Marie Curie, Lady Havisham and many more famous faces! 

It’s the League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen, as Adler teams up with a host of famous female faces from history and literature to defeat the greatest criminal mastermind of all time!

Written by World Fantasy Award Winner Lavie Tidhar, with art by Paul McCaffrey (TMNT).

Bloodborne Vol 4: The Veil, Torn Asunder

Preview by Steve Gustafson 

Titan Comics are delighted to be publishing THE VEIL, TORN ASUNDER, the fourth volume spinning out from the world of the multi-award winning Bloodborne video game.
Yarem came to the city a long time ago, a man with a past spent in shackles. He found a new purpose in travel and discovery… but what he will find in Yharnam will test the limits of not just his desire, but also his sanity. As Yharnam falls apart, Yarem realizes his own perception of time and space is becoming radically altered. The price for such sights may be his life… or at the very least his sanity.

The Sacrifice of Darkness

Preview by Steve Gustafson

BOOM! Studios announced a new original graphic novel, THE SACRIFICE OF DARKNESS, from New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay, writer Tracy Lynne Oliver, artist Rebecca Kirby, and colorist James Fenner, adapting Gay’s New York Times bestselling short story “We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness” into a full-length graphic novel and expanding the short story about a tragic event that forever bathes the world in darkness, available in October 2020. 

Follow a woman and a man’s powerful journey through this new landscape as they discover love, family, and the true light in a world seemingly robbed of any. As they challenge the world’s notions of identity, guilt, and survival, they find that no matter the darkness, there remain sources of hope that can pierce the veil.

Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018, Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Harper’s Bazaar, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and New York Times bestselling Hunger: A Memoir of My Body. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel and the editor of Best American Short Stories 2018. She is currently at work on film and television projects, a book of writing advice, an essay collection about television and culture, and a YA novel entitled The Year I Learned Everything. In 2018, she won a Guggenheim fellowship.

“Some stories don’t leave you and such was the case with my short story ‘We are the Sacrifice of Darkness.’ When BOOM! Studios approached me about writing a graphic novel, I immediately knew what kind of story I wanted to tell–one about family and sorrow, faith that survives in a world of darkness, true love and an indelible bond between two people with the world against them,” said author Roxane Gay. “It has been a thrill to be able to bring breadth and depth to the world I created in  my short story, and to be able to do so with one of my favorite writers, Tracy Lynne Oliver. She is an amazing collaborator who always pushes me creatively. We are excited to have this graphic novel out in the world later this year.”

Tracy Lynne Oliver is a writer based in Los Angeles.  She has been published online at a variety of places such as Medium, Fanzine and Occulum.  Her story, This Weekend was chosen to be in  Best Microfiction 2019. This is her first graphic novel adaptation.  

“‘We are the Sacrifice of Darkness’ was one of my favorite Roxane Gay stories, so I was more than thrilled with the opportunity to transform it into a graphic novel format,” said writer Tracy Lynne Oliver. “I once again fell in love with the characters and their struggles and yearning for love, warmth and light in this dark, cold world they were thrust into.  I am so excited for readers to see this story brought to life in such a visually stunning way.”

Rebecca Kirby is a comic artist and illustrator based out of Philadelphia best known for her original comics, Biopsy and Cramps, which have been featured on Vice and Waves, featured in Fantagraphics Now: The New Comics Anthology #4.

“It’s been an incredible experience working with everyone as we create a graphic novel full of striking contrasts and tender moments splashed across the page,” said artist Rebecca Kirby. “I’ve had a great time illustrating the beautiful story that Roxane and Tracy have crafted, and I hope fans will have just as great an experience reading it.”

Justice League #39

Review by John Pumpernickel 

With writer Scott Snyder bringing his run to an end, the big question was on if he could nail the landing. It’s not perfect but pretty dang good. With an art team consisting of Jorge Jimenez (pages 1-11), Daniel Sampere and Juan Albarran (pages 12-21), things wrap up for the League and sets for the table for the future.

In the wake of the Justice/Doom War, the Justice League finds themselves stranded at the far end of the universe and facing a challenge they’ve never faced before. But what will they find on their journey? Has their battle with Perpetua had consequences reaching farther across the cosmos than they ever imagined? Superstar scribe Scott Snyder says farewell to the Justice League with a special story that both winds down all the things he started in issue #1-and nods toward everything that comes next in the DC Universe.

If you’ve been keeping up with things, Snyder has really focused on the heroes doing heroic things. This issue hits all the marks and attempts to make sense of how the story was impacted by other events in the DC universe. 
Overall I enjoyed the story Snyder and the team told and believe it will age well in the future. 

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

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