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411’s Comic Reviews: X of Swords: Creation #1, X-Men #12, More

September 25, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
X of Swords: Creation

 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]!  

Jeremy Note: We’re still doing a little catch-up, so I’m putting off Juggernaut #1 to next week because man oh man is there a lot to get into this week!  

Excalibur #12
By Jeremy Thomas

From the first issue of Excalibur’s Dawn of X run, it’s been clear that Tini Howard has been building toward something big. Apocalypse’s plans have remained shadowy and unclear as he sought to establish a portal to Otherworld, wrapping the likes of Rictor, Rogue, and Captain Britain into his plans. It’s been clear for a while now that the X of swords crossover will reveal much of his plans, and Excalibur #12 takes ▪︎-|A|-▪︎’s plans to the edge of fruition in an issue that feels like walking on the precipice of a climax.

Howard has been taking her time to lay out this story, and that helps this issue pay off more than it might otherwise would have. Like much of this volume, it’s tied deeply into past history – specifically, those of Apocalypse’s and Gambit’s.  The insertion of the Externals – and Candra specifically, who has sometimes been an albatross around the neck of Gambit’s arcs throughout the years – is a canny choice, but also one that drives Gambit into some old and infuriating patterns.  It pays off well in the end, but several pages of this book proved frustrating as a Remy LeBeau fan when he keeps falling back into patterns that he appeared to have gotten past.  That issue aside, there’s some great stuff here. Betsy gets to have a reckoning with Saturnyne that contextualizes the ruler of Otherworld’s actions in sense, and ▪︎-|A|-▪︎ is set up well for what’s to follow.  Marcus To and Erick Arciniega’s artwork is high quality as usual, though it does stylistically clash a bit with the Externals who in a couple of pages feel undercut by To’s more animation-based style.  Those nitpicks aside, this is a fine book that does exactly what it needs to in setting the stage for the crossover to come.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 

X-Men #12
By Jeremy Thomas

It’s not a stretch to say that Jonathan Hickman has been enjoying taking big risks and telling his anthology stories with the main X-Men book – and for the most part, that’s worked.  We’ve had a few stumblings here and there (I’ll never not harp on Hordeculture for that) but by and large we’ve had good stories setting the seeds for other tales to come. X-Men #12 tries to do the same in setting up the Hickman-iness of X of Swords the same way that Excalibur set up the Howard-osity of the crossover.  But where Excalibur lays it all out in a way that made me excited for the crossover, this issue fell just a bit flatter.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a ton to love here.  We delve deep into the secret history of Krakoa and Arakko, as well as Apocalypse.  We learn that Apocalypse had a wife and children. And we get a whole lot of set up for X of Swords: Creation.  But Hickman dumps it all on us rather indelicately, a departure from the way he usually unfolds his backstory.  It feels like too much crammed into one issue because it had to be told now, when doling it out over a couple issues could have been better.  And that could be a failing of the pandemic that it had to be condensed, but we can only judge based on what we have now.  The book is largely saved by Leniel Francis Yu’s artwork and the color work by Sunny Gho, which gives the ancient story an epic, mythological feel that borrows a few touches from Conan iconography to good effect.  “Amenth” is a story that needed to be told for what’s to come, and it accomplishes what it needs to.  Just perhaps not in the most effective way it could have.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10  

X of Swords: Creation #1
By Jeremy Thomas

Thanks to 2020 time being its own thing, it seems as if the Dawn of X era of X-Men has been going on for both too little a time and too long a time for the first major crossover arc to be coming now.  With the Big Two comic book publishers, we’re used to crossover “events” on a constant basis.  Believe it or not, it’s only been about a year since House of X and Powers of X completely redefined the status quo for mutants in the Marvel Universe. During that time, we’ve seen the X-Men line blossom into a host of titles, nearly all of which (sorry Fallen Angels) are well worth the read.

In that just over twelve-month period, Jonathan Hickman and his fellow X-scribes have been setting the stage and dropping hints for the events that will shape the X-Men for some time to come. That includes Tini Howard, who has been establishing mutant magic on a new scale and adding new shades of depth to Apocalypse in Excalibur.  All of that groundwork, plus seeds by Hickman laid as far back as HoX/Pox, explodes in X of Swords: Creation.  Our first big event of the Krakoan era of the X-Men jumps head-first into the lore of the Living Island and Apocalypse’s connection with it, bringing in elements of the Opal Saturnyne-ruled Otherworld and some mythic storytelling tactics for a dense, thrilling read.

The first thing that must be said about this book is that, quite simply, it’s a LOT.  67 pages fill out this book, which scatters some of its players and brings many others together.  We learn what’s been going on with the Summoner, Apocalypse’s grandchild, as well as what’s been going on in Arakko all this time.  There are some big plot moves made here, a shocking swerve to set the tension, and some fraught moments for our protagonists; by the end of the issue we have an idea where this is going to go, but there’s still a lot of story to go.

For such a big issue, Creation deserves a lot of credit for how well paced it is.  Howard and Hickman don’t rush anything, but they don’t feel the need to linger either.  It takes its time, but in the meantime, you have a Pepe Larraz’s stunning artwork to keep you going on the off chance that character beats don’t capture your imagination for every panel.  Several characters get to shine here; Saturnyne, someone who would likely only register much to long-time viewers up to now, gets some great moments where she establishes why the characters should respect and fear her in particular.  Polaris also gets a hugely impressive moment, enhanced by Larraz’s cinematic style portraying her sheer power.

If there’s a critique to be leveled here, it’s that the sheer density on display may make things a bit impenetrable.  This is a book that merits at least one reread to pick up on all the nuances of the plotting.  The use of the Tarot (the cards, though the mutant gets a little blurb as well) is particularly effective, especially if you know anything about the meanings of the cards.

X of Swords: Creation has a lot going on in it, and it wouldn’t at all be on readers if it seemed like too much. But it accomplishes exactly what it needs to do in the end and sets the stage for what looks to potentially be an impressive crossover that is actually worthy of the “event” status.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Giant-Size X-Men: Storm #1
By Jeremy Thomas

The Giant-Size X-Men story has had some interesting twists and turns, mostly diving back into the history of the characters it focuses on as it tries to tell its own story.  For the most part, it’s been successful.  But a story can’t just live on nostalgia alone, and Giant-Size X-Men: Storm ties it all up in an important bow thematically. One of the big sea changes in this era of X-Men is the concept of resurrection, which some (myself included, as much as I like it overall) have expressed some concern about.  Without the specter of death, are there any stakes?

Trust Storm of all people to show us why death still matters in a world where it’s a temporary situation.  Hickman captures the essence of Ororo Munroe perfectly here, as she fights on a with a techno-organic virus raging through her.  Hickman uses this issue as a capper on the overall arc to bring all the various one-shots together, while at the same time plugging up a hole in his boat concerning resurrection.  He also, because he’s Jonathan Hickman, lays hints for a story to come, strongly suggesting a tie between this story and the future shown in Powers of X.  And the art Russell Dauterman is gorgeous, capturing who Storm is in a way that, with all respect to the other Dawn of X artists, I don’t think we’ve seen at its fullest potential until now.  This makes for a wonderful story conclusion and an exploration of why death still matters in comics and Krakoa in particular, not to mention a fantastic showcase for Storm herself.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Overwatch: Tracer – London Calling #1
By Jeremy Thomas

If there’s one thing Overwatch fans want more than balance changes that benefit their favorite heroes or an announce date for Overwatch 2, it’s lore. Blizzard Entertainment’s team-based shooter has built and maintained a rabid fanbase thanks in part to its reliance on appealing characters and the promise of an epic storyline, though that story has been very leisurely doled out to say the least. The company began to take more steps in that direction over the past year-plus with the hiring of writer Alyssa Wong, and we’ve seen more short stories which have expanded the scope of the world.

The latest step in that direction is the comic Overwatch: Tracer – London Calling. Published through Dark Horse comics with She-Hulk alum Mariko Tamaki writing and Babs Tarr (with an assist by Heather Danforth) on art duties, the five-issue series promises to delve deeper into Overwatch’s cover character and her experiences in London, after Overwatch has been disbanded and before her fateful encounter with Widowmaker at the omnic guru Mondotta’s speech (as depicted in the “Alive” short).

The first issue of London Calling starts to set the stage for what’s to come, introducing Tracer to the omnics living underground and trying to survive amongst a human populace that fears and despises them. Tamaki has a great handle on who Tracer is as we’ve seen her in the game and expanded universe. She gets Tracer’s inherent goodness and how she still feels the call to help those who need heroes regardless of Overwatch’s disbandment. At the same time, she sets up a situation that is far from black and white to plunk the time-twisting agent into, forcing her to ask what the right thing to do is.

While Tamaki does a nice job with the characterization, this feels like a book that could have used more time on the art. The way the credits read strongly suggest that the art here had to be rushed a bit, and it shows. Tarr’s exaggerated style works beautifully at times in capturing snapshots of Tracer’s character and the underground world of the omnics is evocative in parts, but there are panels that don’t quite seem to have the amount of finish they deserve, resulting in a few weird visual shifts here and there. One of the key action scenes in particular toward the end of the book lacks in a lot of detail, which can be a stylistic choice. Here though, it doesn’t jive with the book and the amount of detail put in.

There’s a lot to be happy about here if you’re an Overwatch fan, though. It feels authentic to the world of the game and Tamaki leaves a lot of promise throughout the pages. It may be a bit uneven on the visuals, but as a first issue goes, this gets the job done well enough.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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