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411’s Comic Reviews: X-Men/Fantastic Four #3, Wolverine #2, More

March 26, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
X-Men/Fantastic Four #3 Image Credit: Marvel Comics

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]!  

This week is the 100% Jeremy “The Whole F’N Show” Thomas extravaganza! Drop a line in the comments thanking him for caring enough to get these reviews to you! It’s the least you can do and I know you have the time, you quarantined animals!

Giant-Sized X-Men: Nightcrawler #1

By Jeremy Thomas

The theory (at least as advertised) behind the Giant-Sized X-Men one shots has been that they are all tied into an overarching story that are somehow connected.  The first Giant-Sized issue focusing on Jean Grey and Emma as they seek to do a psychic diagnostic of Storm as she suffers from a machine virus kicked off that storyline while also serving as an excellent homage to the classic New X-Men story featuring the telepathy-empowered rivals.

Similarly, Giant-Sized X-Men: Nightcrawler delves into some classic X-Men territory as it checks in with a somewhat similarly themed tale.  The similarities aren’t apparent at first; rather, Jonathan Hickman and artist Alan Davis instead bring a team of X-Men – Nightcrawler, Magik, Cypher, Eye-Boy, and Lockheed – back to Xavier’s mansion at Westchester to investigate a strange attempted breach of Krakoan portals.  But as the story unfolds, it’s clear that there’s more going on here than meets the eye (or eyes, in Trevor Hawkins’ case) and visions of X-Men from the past start to greet them.  Along the path to the truth behind what’s going on here, some big revelations are made, and another classic X-Men character may just join the citizenry of Krakoa.

Much like the Jean Grey and Emma book was an homage to New X- Men, Hickman has scripted out a story here that plays much like a callback to a mix of classic Excalibur and New Mutants days.  It seems a bit odd to reach back to those vaunted days when Tini Howard already has us on the UK mutant vibe in the new volume of Excalibur and the New Mutants are being felt all over the Dawn of X line (including in, of course, New Mutants).

That said, if you’re going to go back to the tone of that era, Alan Davis is a great way to invoke it.  Davis is perhaps most well-known for his teaming with Chris Claremont on the original Excalibur and he helps capture that atmosphere, combined with the horror aspects of New Mutants which he also did some work on.  Davis’ artwork is fantastic as ever, and it’s a joy to see him work with characters like Eye-Boy who truly feels like someone who would have excelled during the Claremont/Davis era.  Davis is able to take his distinctive style – the glorious hair, the expressive faces, the trippy ambience – and fit it perfectly within Hickman’s era of storytelling.  And it’s simply a joy to see Lockheed’s personality shine through Davis in a way that it just doesn’t tend to do when other artists are drawing the little guy.

Those looking for a direct follow-up to Giant-Sized X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost will be a bit disappointed here.  There’s no mention of Storm’s machine virus, the Children of the Vault who have caused it, or any of those elements.  Hickman instead appears to be telling a parallel story that ties in thematically.  As a self-contained story it fits well, bringing in a couple of classic X-Men adversaries who are both great callbacks.  He also drops a serious plot element involving Cypher that has been teased in the previous books that fans of the character will be particularly excited about, and one I’m excited to see
get followed up in other books.

It’s becoming clear that the Giant-Sized line is here to let Hickman do what he loves doing: telling slow-burn storylines that dredge deep into Marvel lore.  If the stories continue to keep the bar as high as he’s reached here and with the Jean/Emma issue, I’m more than happy to continue seeing where he’s going to take us.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Hellions #1

Review by Jeremy Thomas

Psylocke (Kwannon, not Betsy Braddock who is now Captain Britain) has had a rough time in the Dawn of X era.  The Japanese assassin who was restored to life after Betsy reconstituted her entire body in Hunt for Wolverine has been struggling to find her place in a world where Krakoa exists, both in the storyline and as a character.  Her first attempt was Fallen Angels, Bryan Hill’s six-issue series. That book took a promising concept and ran it nose-first into the ground with an overabundance of philosophical nonsense, some truly bizarre artistic choices from Szymon Kudranski and not nearly enough character work.

Fortunately, that book is over which frees Psylocke up to find a new home in the Hickman-era X-Men. She’s now landed in Hellions, the new X-book from Zeb Wells and Stephen Segovia.  The concept is well-worn but also time-tested; Wells is essentially taking the Suicide Squad model of bad guys doing good(ish) work and applying it to Krakoan society.  That said, the first issue of Wells and Segovia’s title has a few stumbles mixed in with some fun dialogue and big surprises.

While Kwannon is a major element of Hellions’ first issue and ostensibly the team leader, she is not quite the central figure of this first issue.  That would be Alex Summers, aka Havok.  This first issue, “Let Them Be Snakes,” shows how the initial team is assembled after Havok goes a little amok and gets put with a group that includes an odd collection of former (?) mutant villains: Empath, Wild Child, Nanny and Orphan-Maker, and John Greycrow (aka the Marauder Scalphunter).

Each of these mutants has varying reasons for being on the team. Empath, as old-school New Mutants fans will remember, is basically a mutant version of Purple Man who can manipulate other people’s emotions and make them do what he wants.  Nanny and Orphanmaker are old X-Factor villains, Nanny kills humans with mutant children so she can protect the kids, while Orphanmaker is a mutant kid (or an adult with an arrested emotional maturity) inside massive armor.  Wild Child, who has always been wildly uneven in his characterization, is at a feral emotional state in this issue and resisting attempts to control it.

All of these mutants make sense in how they fit into this team, which basically asks the question of what Krakoa does with those mutants who can’t function as “normal” in this utopian society. While no one questions why Empath, Nanny, Orphanmaker and Wild Child might be on such a team, Wells has to stretch a little to get Greycrow and Havok on the team.  It all speaks to the potential that not all is on the up and up with this team – something that should be obvious anyway considering Mister Sinister is the person behind the proposed lineup.

Wells keeps the book light-hearted in a lot of spots, which is important for a title featuring some pretty dark characters and moments.  However, in trying to keep things light, he also missed the mark widely on a couple of characterizations.  Sinister is perhaps the most glaring in that respect.  Wells is trying to emulate Hickman’s sassy arrogant chic version of Sinister, but he comes off feeling more junior high school Mean Girl than he does shade-throwing glam geneticist.  A scene in the Quiet Council when the concept of the team is thrown out also feels off in several characters.  Wells is trying to spindle and fold what he needs to in order to get the concept off the ground.  While that’s understandable to a degree, it’s also jarring.

Still, enough works here that it’s not a doomed book by any measure. I’m down with the idea of a mutant Suicide Squad and the mix of characters seems very deliberate while also having a random feel, which is the right tone to strike.  Segovia is doing a fabulous job with the art here, contrasting characters effectively and capturing the relatively few actions scenes dynamically.

Wells ends the book with a big reveal and while there won’t be spoilers here as usual, suffice to say it’s enough of an eye-widener to forget just about all of the flaws this book has for the moment.  Wells and Segovia are off to a bumpy but entertaining ride, and if they can smooth the way a bit there could be something really fun and distinct from the other Dawn of X books here.

Rating: 6.0 out of 10

Wolverine #2

Review by Jeremy Thomas

The first issue of the latest Wolverine series was a promising start, sending Logan out into the world alone to deal with a couple of separate stories courtesy of Benjamin Percy, Adam Kubert, and Viktor Bogdanovic.  One of  those stories is left behind for the second issue, as Percy and Kubert continue the Canucklehead’s mission to investigate the Pale Girl and her Flower Cartel’s appropriation of Krakoa’s medicinal plants for their own means.  It’s not a case of addition by subtraction here, as the singular focus lags a touch behind what both stories brought.

That said, what we have in “Your Own Worst Enemy” is still a thoroughly readable chapter.  Haunted by his murder of Domino, Jean and Quire, Logan hits the road alone to make things right and track down what caused him to go berserk on his friends.  That puts him on the same path as CIA agent Jeff Bannister, and the two team up in the hopes of getting to the bottom of what this mysterious glowing psychic is up to. 

While Percy does a solid job of pushing the story forward here, there are a few narrative corners cut to do so.  We get the gist of everything, to be fair, and it can easily be assumed what happens in the points that we don’t see, but it leads to a couple of jarring page turns where Logan or Bannister go from one location to another without much preparation.  More jarring are the character dynamics; Bannister and Wolverine are supposed to have an adversarial sort of alliance, but managing that balance isn’t seamless due in part to those jump cuts.

A slightly bigger problem is Kubert’s art.  Kubert is one of the definitive Wolverine solo series artists and a legend in the business but here, his work suffers by way of trying to fit into a more cartoony context than he’s often done.  There is a shift of style from the start of the issue to the end that goes from defined to that somewhat more animated look.  It may well be an intentional choice but it doesn’t quite work with his style. There are also visual inconsistencies, particularly surrounding the Pale Girl who just straight up changes eye styles and then loses one completely at a particular point without explanation. It’s a major enough choice that it can’t seem to be an unintentional choice, but it also doesn’t make any sense either. If it’s meant to make sense later than fine, but here it just looks a bit sloppy.

One thing Percy does particularly well is tying this book into the overall status quo of Krakoa.  That’s not a surprise, of course; Percy is also writing X-Force so he knows well what the situation is on the Nation that Walks Like a Man.  There are references to the current storyline in Marauders and an appearance in the Healing Gardens, which is a welcome addition considering how much Wolverine volumes have tended to forget about the overall X-Men arcs during their times. Percy also gets the characterizations down well, making them seamless with his X-Force work. There’s enough good here to offset the problems without difficulty, making this only a bit of a step down from last month’s stellar kick-off issue.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10

X-Men #9

Review by Jeremy Thomas 

Jonathon Hickman has had plenty of time to play around in his sandbox, establishing the mutant nation in the Dawn of X books. He and the rest of the X-Team have done a fine job of that so far, but eventually it’s time to take steps into the greater world. We’ve already seen some of that (including this week) with X-Men/Fantastic Four and, to a degree, the other ongoing titles, and it’s been mostly successful.

That said, there’s one place that is essential to the greater Marvel Universe that the X-Men are strongly associated with and that’s space.  We’ve seen a few space adventures already, mostly via Hickman’s run on New Mutants.  That run started strong before crash landing with its final issue, but as we learned in the last issue of X-Men that was largely set-up for the main book.  X-Men #8 brought in the Brood as a classic X-Men threat brought to bear on full-force.  And issue #9, “The King Egg,” takes the story to another level.

As we discussed around #8, this arc is the first of Hickman’s X-Men to be serial in nature rather than anthology.  As much as they were having fun jumping back and forth from story to story, Hickman and artist Leinil Francis Yu are really relishing getting to dig their teeth into an ongoing story together.  With the Brood crashing down on Krakoa, Team Summers leading them away with the titular King’s Egg and both Shi’ar and Kree elements converging on the point, there’s a lot of chaos to be had here and the duo let it all out in thrilling fashion.

This is accomplished through a fair amount of intricate set-up that has been done up to this point.  Sunspot, the Starjammers, Cyclops, Gladiator and the rest all come together from where Hickman has placed them and the result gives off the hectic, desperate vibe that the Summers Clan is holding onto throughout.

This is a very combat-heavy issue, and that gives Yu a chance to really shine.  He captures not only the dynamism of the action scenes, but the horror of the Brood.  Once again, they’re seen as infections, crawling over their organic vessels like larvae and looming threateningly until they’re finally unleashed.  A full-page panel of the combined team tried to hold the Brood threat at bay is stunningly good at showing off the heroic power of the good guys as well as the impossible odds they’re trying to overcome.

Brood stories often have a particular pattern to them that includes infestation, possession, the infection spreading and so on.  In a massive battle like this, you might think that would happen and there are some teases along that line.  But true to form, Hickman has another idea up his sleeve and it certainly seems to be a potential gamechanger.  That development is the capstone on what is a wonderful issue of X-Men, leaving us to question where it goes from here as Empyre — which the team will be involved in — draws closer.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

X-Men/Fantastic Four #3

Review by Jeremy Thomas 

There have been a lot of interesting dynamics in play in Chip Zdarsky’s X-Men/Fantastic Four, particularly in how it positions the X-Men alongside the superheroes of the Marvel Universe.  Zdarsky has been telling a deft story here about the friction between Krakoa and the greater superhuman community, as well as the people caught in the middle between their community and their family like Franklin Richards.  The latter aspect gets slightly lost in the third issue of the series in favor of the former, as the X-Men and Fantastic Four come to blows once again – at least until Doctor Doom asserts his will.

Issue #3, cheekily titled ‘To the Victor,’ sees the titular two sides finish their combative chase to Doom’s Pacifica-located island which is of course under the dominion of Latveria.  Once there, they find themselves having to deal with the Latverian leader and grapple with his solution to fix Franklin’s problem in regard to his fading mutant powers.  This brings out several revelations about the nature of mutant power and leaves the team in a precarious balance as they agree to Doom’s conditions for staying while Franklin ponders Doom’s offer.

That whole matter is complicated by the X-Men’s other plan here: there are mutants who call Doom Island home, who may or may not be captives here.  That team investigation allows Zdarsky to keep some mystery and intrigue going as the big minds ponder the fate of Frankllin.

Mostly, ‘To the Victor’ is a set-up issue that preps the story for next issue’s climax.  It’s interested in getting the characters from point A to point B, where point B is setting up Frankin’s resolution as well as the requisite battle that will be coming. There are some big potential repercussions in the latter, but it also seems to be a bit like Zdarsky recognizing that he needs punching because this is a superhero comic and while the final panel is an impressive reveal it looks more like it will just be giving the rest of the X-Men and FF something to do and Terry Dodson some fight scenes to depict while the real arc takes place inside Doom’s home.

That said, there’s still a lot of potential fun to be had there. The bigger problem comes in Dodson’s art.  As a fan of Dodson’s art style, it is frustrating to say that he feels very rushed here.  There are a couple instances of copied faces and some very inconsistent anatomies, particularly in the neck and head region. Unrealistic art can work well when intentional, but this seems clearly to me more the matter of needing to take some shortcuts.

There’s still plenty to enjoy here, despite the significant flaws of this book.  Zdarsky excellently captures the voice of these characters and the interactions feel real and honest, especially now that the need to create conflict between the FF and Krakoans isn’t paramount.  It’s an acceptable set-up for the next, final issue of this miniseries but really could have been much more if it had had a little more time to get onto the page.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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