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411’s Comic Reviews: X-Men #6, X-Force #7, More

February 13, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
X-Men 6 Mystique

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 [email protected]!  

X-Men #6

Review by Jeremy Thomas

The anthology format that Jonathan Hickman has taken with X-Men has come with all the strengths and weakness inherent in such a storytelling style.  On one hand, it has allowed him to explore different aspects of what it means to the X-Men to be in the new normal of Krakoa.  Hickman and his artists have been able to spread the love around and tell many different aspects of this greater story while dropping seeds of arcs that can be picked up later.  On the other hand, it has resulted in a mix of quality from the good (Xavier, Magneto and Apocalypse at the UN) to the … let’s just say “less good” (evil botanist grannies kicking Cyclops’ ass).  When it does works though, it wonderfully works as Hickman captures the essence of characters by contrasting them with the drastic changes Krakoa has brought.

It is by no means an exaggeration to say that X-Men #6, “The Oracle,” is the apex of that. Hickman, with artist Matteo Buffagni stepping in, picks up on a plot thread left dangling in House of X as Mystique’s desires to get Destiny back come to the forefront. We learn that Mystique’s role during the orbital suicide assault in House of X #4 was not just what we saw on the page, as she was given an extra job by Xavier and Magneto.  That job comes with the promise that her wife will be returned from the dead – something that we explicitly know from the end of House of X/Powers of X is not on the agenda for Xavier, Magneto, and Moira.

As a character, Mystique carries a lot of narrative baggage with her that are both textual and behind the scenes.  She’s been retconned, tweaked, permutated, and – most importantly here – forced to live her life in subtext perhaps more than any other character in the X-Men line.  And yet, she’s one of the X-Men’s most fascinating and complex villainous characters; it’s not hyperbole to say that she’s on a level with Magneto and Emma Frost in that capacity.

Hickman clearly recognizes that fact and, in this story, he captures everything about the essence of Raven Darkholme to deliver one of the most emotionally visceral stories in the pages of the main X-Men book in a long time. Mystique has jumped the line from villain to anti-hero, and even a hero in a few stories over the years.  What’s generally consistent about her though is that while she does care for the whole of mutantkind, she’s someone who is fueled by her passions above all things.  That’s true most of all in her relationship with Destiny.  For as strongly as it’s ruled Mystique’s character direction for decades, Chris Claremont’s authorial intent to make Mystique and Destiny a couple was only truly, textually canonized last year in The History of the Marvel Universe.

Hickman brings that fact home in this issue, a necessary step in Raven’s arc.  The way Mystique expresses it here is completely authentic to the core of her character; her rage at being stalled by Xavier and Magneto is raw and powerful, and that gives this story an emotional strength that helps sell the rest of the story.  Along the way, we also learn a little more about Orchis’ plans and where they may pop back up as a Krakoan enemy soon, and get some fun espionage from Mystique while revisiting the events of the House of X space mission from a new, revelatory perspective.  It’s all done in a non-linear format that allows us as the reader to peel back the layers of deceit in this story – something both Mystique and Xavier/Erik do well – in a series of emotional gutpunches.

While the narrative of the story deserves a ton of kudos, that shouldn’t take any praise away from the art.  Buggagni has the tough task of recreating some scenes from House of X, which he’s admirably up to the task for.  He uses some nice innovations for a couple of repeating scenes here to display Mystique’s powers, recoloring one sequence to reveal our shapeshifter.  And the way he captures expression – whether Mystique’s rage, Magneto’s hardness, or Xavier’s ominous calm – absolutely sells the emotion here.

There’s absolutely no doubt that this issue is the height of what Hickman has accomplished on the main X-Men book.  He sets down a lot of foundation for stories to come and gets deep within the skin of his characters in a way that moves them forward while staying true to what they are.  It’s a progression of the story and characters while helping to pay off years of continuity and subtextual reference.  I couldn’t be more excited to see where Mystique’s story goes from here, and what it means for Krakoa and its string-pullers.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Excalibur #7

Review by Jeremy Thomas

Tini Howard’s Excalibur spent its first six issues establishing the new iteration of the team in terms of its station in England and, more importantly, in Otherworld.  It was a fun, fantasy-edged romp that put together an eclectic team that meshes well and set the new normal for these particular mutants in terms of Krakoa and their status as teammates across the pond. The trick is now following up on these characters and seeing where things like Betsy Braddock’s new status as Captain Britain and Apocalypse’s machinations regarding Avalon and Otherworld progress from here.

While issue #7, “The Unspeakable and the Uneatable,” does contain some clues of where the story is headed from here, Howard and artist Wilton Santos aren’t going to rush things.  The team just beat back an invasion from Otherworld and (much to Betsy’s disapproval) put Jamie Braddock on Avalon’s throne.  A breather is necessary, which is what this story provides to a degree.

As everyone settles into their new spots, Betsy learns from Apocalypse that he needs the remnants of the Warwolves – an old Excalibur enemy – to use their parts as a conduit between dimensions.  That leads them to a hunt for the creatures, and a “fox hunt” of sorts against an old colleague, which is of course not as simple as it would seem.

Howard and Santos’ story serves as the necessary lull after last issue’s climax, allowing things to chill a bit so that the next story can be built up.  However, there is a bit of lacking sense in some of the character interactions.  As the lead character, Betsy of course gets the bulk of the story as she interacts with Apocalypse and Jaimie, as well as Pete Wisdom.  She comes across well, and we get a good sense of how she feels about the new status quo.  With characters like Jubilee, Rogue, Gambit and Rictor, that feel is less solid.  There are a few lines here and there but there aren’t enough pages to get them much attention before getting on with the hunt.

That’s not to say that there’s anything bad here, necessarily. The Warwolves are a great callback to early in the original Excalibur run, and it feels like this book is carrying true to what Howard wants to do with this book.  Santos’ art captures the mix of fantasy and ridiculousness that both Otherworld and an old English-style hunt for Warwolves entail.

Ultimately, “The Unspeakable and the Uneatable” is a perfectly fine issue of Excalibur, but that makes it a bit of a step below what’s come so far.  The action is fine and some of the interactions are fun, but the issue is mostly a way to get the characters from Point A to B with a minimum of fuss.

Rating: 6.0 out of 10

X-Force #7

Review by Jeremy Thomas

The idea of X-Force as it exists on Krakoa has a lot of potential for different stories.  A team consisting of intelligence operative and black ops agents encompasses a wide swatch of narrative fiction story styles, which Benjamin Percy and Joshua Cassara have largely used to great effect.  Espionage has so many tracks you can take that there’s plenty of room for tales focusing on all the variety of members on this team.

While most of the series has looked at set-up and the resulting action thus far, issue #7 takes a very different style.  The cheekily named “Domino Has Fallen” follows, predictably, our favorite female luck-based mutant as she tries to hunt a killer who is targeting pro-mutant activists with uncanny degrees of fortune.  There’s a complication there; as this mysterious killer’s acts of violence come with increasingly unlikely luck, Domino has discovered that her own luck has been waning lately. Convinced that it’s related to her capture and vivisection at the hands of their unnamed council of enemies, Domino sets out to find out who’s next for the assassin’s bullet and put a stop to them.

As much as Percy has clearly enjoyed playing with the take-no-prisoners brutality and moral flexibility of the team up to now, he is obviously a fan of old-fashioned spy thrillers as well.  “Domino Has Fallen” takes a tone more on par with a Bond or Bourne film, exploring its protagonist’s personal traumas as a part of Krakoa’s struggle as she seeks to stop her rival in chase sequences.

It’s effective storytelling, with fun over-the-top action that Oscar Bazaldua, taking over this issue, captures well.  Percy and Bazaldua also capture the quieter moments well, including an appearance by Colossus that hints at all is not well there. Bazaldua’s art isn’t a jarring shift change from Cassara’s on the previous issues; his work melds well with what’s come before but trades a touch of tactile violence for the more acrobatic heroics.  The final page teases an interesting development to come here in Domino’s story, specifically in how it relates to her previous captors, gives us the necessary “What Happens Next?” capstone on a quite enjoyable issue.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Red Mother #4

Preview by Steve Gustafson

BOOM! Studios is proud to reveal a first look at THE RED MOTHER #4, the latest issue of an all-new original comic book series from acclaimed writer Jeremy Haun (The Beauty, The Realm), artist Danny Luckert (Regression), and letterer Ed Dukeshire, about a young woman who survives a tragedy, only to be afflicted with sudden, unexplained visions of horror and forced to deal with the terrible consequences.

As Daisy works to unravel the secrets behind her fiance’s disappearance and her own horrific  visions, she is approached by the mysterious Leland Black, a too-charming entrepreneur with an intriguing proposition. As Daisy struggles to keep both feet in reality, Leland Black might be the tipping point… one way or another.

Space Bear

Preview by Steve Gustafson 

BOOM! Studios revealed a first look at the new original graphic novel SPACE BEAR by award-winning cartoonist Ethan Young (Nanjing: The Burning City), presenting a timely, silent sci-fi story about discovering the unknown and empathy for everyone we encounter because every friendship begins with an act of kindness, available in June 2020.

Pilgrim Finch is an adventurous astronaut bear who explores the cosmos with a mission to bring samples of life back to his home planet. But when he crash lands on a new planet full of surprises and danger around every corner, Pilgrim will be forced to question his orders and learn that there’s only one mission that matters—compassion for all living creatures, no matter the stakes!

SPACE BEAR is the latest release from BOOM! Studios’ award-winning KaBOOM! imprint, home to comics for middle grade and younger readers including licensed series such as Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Regular Show, Ben 10, and Over the Garden Wall, along with original series like Just Beyond by R.L. Stine and Kelly & Nichole Matthews, Hex Vet by Sam Davies, Drew and Jot by Art Baltazar, Hotel Dare by Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre, RuinWorld by Derek Laufman,  and Pandora’s Legacy by Kara Leopard and Kelly & Nichole Matthews.

Assassin’s Creed: Bloodstone Vol 1

Preview by Steve Gustafson

Titan Comics are delighted to be publishing ASSASSIN’S CREED: BLOODSTONE VOL 1, the next volume in the acclaimed comic series based in the world of the multi awardwinning video game.
The secret struggle between Assassins and Templars hits the Vietnam War! Part one of a new thriller set in the world of Assassin’s Creed, from Guillaume Dorison (Assassin’s Creed: Conspiracies, Devil May Cry) and artist Ennio Bufi (They Made History). When a Japanese hacker discovers a massive Templar data leak, his investigation leads him to relive the memories of a Assassin cell operating in the depths of ‘Nam…!

Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P. #1

Review by John Pumpernickel 

Alfred and Spider-Man’s Aunt May have several parallels and just like how Marvel has used May’s near demise a couple of times for dramatic impact, DC has goes full on with Alfred taking Batman into uncharted territory. Does it work? If this book is any indication, it could be a massive moment in Bat-history.

What’s the book about? From the DC tagline:

Alfred Pennyworth served the Wayne family for decades-even through the tragic loss of Bruce Wayne’s parents. His death at the hands of Bane is the only event that could possibly compare to that fateful night in Crime Alley, and it leaves Bruce at a similar crossroads. If Alfred was the glue that held the Bat-Family together, how will Batman deal with that all falling apart? And if the Caped Crusader is to be truly alone, he might either hang that cape up once and for all…or double down and carry on with this vengeful quest forever. Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P. #1 celebrates the life of one of the most important people in the history of Gotham City, while also addressing questions about what’s next.

Anyone with any idea of Alfred’s connection to Bruce Wayne/Batman will find this book an emotional read. Writers James Tynion IV and Peter J. Tomasi along with an artist team led by Eddy Barrows and,Eber Ferreira, this book hits all the right notes when it comes to memories and just how important Pennyworth is to the Batman legend. 

When it comes to death in comics, it’s a good bet Alfred will return in some way but this is a worthy eulogy to a character that has been an important mainstay in DC comics for decades. He’s essential to the mythos and I’m intrigued in where they are going to take things now that he’s passed. 

A must for any Batman fan and very highly recommended for comic book fans in general. 

Rating: 9.0 out of 10

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