Astonishing X-Men 6 - “Gifted, part 6”
By Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
The Story: Ord’s motives are revealed, and there’s a big fight.
The Good: Well, let’s start with that double-page splash. Damn, that looks sweet. Cassaday is to be commended for his attention to detail, as is Whedon for the exchange leading up to it. “Two words,” indeed.
There’s a school of thought that holds that hardcore fans of a title don’t make for good writers for that title. Joss Whedon must be the exception to the rule, because his work here is as good as Claremont’s at his best. The heart of it is, I think, the passion evident in the work. So much of the failure of the X-Men’s dark ages in the 90’s can be attributed to the writers just going through the motions (you’ll pardon the reference, I hope); the feeling had gone out of the art. Well, that’s definitely not the case here. No one who doesn’t give a damn about what he’s doing could write drama and characters like this.
Cassaday deserves credit, too. His art, a refreshing change from the legions of Image imitators, is crisp, realistic, and breathtaking, from expressions to body language to good old-fashioned pictures of people hitting stuff. Cassaday knows the entirety of the craft, not just the shell, and he knows how to use it, too. The result is, well, some of the best X-art in decades. He’d be great on any book, but I’m really glad he’s on this one.
I like Nick Fury. No big fancy analysis, I just like the coot.
The Bad: Whedon goes back to a well he drew from a *lot* on his TV shows during Ord’s origin story. He gussies it up with sci-fi trappings, but it’s the same thing, and having watched both Buffy and Angel, I already know where he’s going to end with it. I know Joss knows the dangers of using and reusing the same schtick, so I can’t figure out why he ignores them here.
The Quote: “You people are in a world of trouble.” “Well, that’s the world we’re from.”
The Final Word: The best X-Book on the market, not just now, but in quite some time.
The Grade: A
Uncanny X-Men 452 – “Chasing Hellfire, part 1”
By Chris Claremont and Andy Park
The Story: In search of Sage, the team heads to the Hellfire Club’s former New York headquarters. Where they end up, though, is another matter.
The Good: Well, Claremont has the White Queen down pat. No shock, since he created her, but he does a good job incorporating the elements added by Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon into the character. He also furthers the subplot of her tenuous relationship with Marvel Girl in this story. The psychic battle between the two is both revealing and entertaining, as it allows Park the chance to go wild with the visuals, to alternately humorous and horrific effect.
Claremont pulls a fun trick with the recap page that’s both creative and effective. I’m not overly fond of the pages in the first place, so I like it when the format gets a little goose.
The Bad: Hey, look! It’s a generic cover that has nothing to do with the story!
The shock ending to this issue didn’t really work for me. It’s just too jarring. There’s a subtle art to these kinds of things which makes them hard to pull off, and, well, this one isn’t.
Other than the telepathic battle, Park didn’t do much to impress me here. It’s no picnic following Alan Davis, but Uncanny X-Men deserves better than, well, genericity. (I don’t care if it’s not a word.)
The Quote: “Power isn’t the key for the likes of us. It’s skill and training and will. All of which I possess in abundance.”
The Final Word: I’m not thrilled by the art, but Claremont manages to hold my interest with a neat fight sequence. Yeah, I know, I’m a whore.
The Grade: B-
Exiles 54 – “Rube Goldberg”
By Tony Bedard and Mizuki Sakakibara
The Story: The universes work in mysterious ways, leading the Exiles to their strangest mission yet.
The Good: This is the kind of stuff that makes me love this book. The “anything goes” nature of the concept means writers are free to explore ideas other superhero books wouldn’t get into. Like, for example, the strange and unpredictable nature of causality. The result is one of the most bizarrely entertaining stories I’ve read all year. I can’t really give too much in the way of specifics, but it’s a wonderfully constructed bit of sci-fi philosophizing. I didn’t even bat an eye when the Exiles left the story completely halfway through the book.
There’s also a smattering of good character moments, including the first bit from Namora that didn’t make me completely hate her guts. And then there’s Beak, who livens up the proceedings just by being Beak. God bless Bedard from sparing this character from limbo, especially given what happened to his opposite number, Sammy Pare, last month.
Mizuki Sakakibara’s art has grown in leaps and bounds since she’s been inking her own work. Now if only I could spell her name…
The last page is a teaser for the next arc, which looks to be great, as it brings back an old favorite X-schtick of mine.
The Bad: I don’t like the diagram. Including it shows a lack of faith in the story to get the point across. I suspect the foul hand of editorial in this, but regardless, I don’t like it.
The Quote: “I mean, how can one pastry threaten the whole world?”
The Final Word: Splendid, goofy fun.
The Grade: A
Fallen Angel 17 – “Hurlyburly, part 3”
By Peter David and David Lopez
Cover by Mike Kaluta
The Story: The Angel battles the agent of the Hierarchy, but she ought to be keeping her eye one someone a bit closer to home…
The Good: For a fight story, there’s a lot going on here. David’s choice to focus on the reactions of the supporting cast for most of the issue is odd, but it works, largely because it’s such a great cast. Mariah, Dolf, and Juris make an odd trio, but they’re certainly good eyepieces for what’s going on here. Juris especially gets a nice monologue that explains both the stakes involved and his view of Lee.
Lopez brings some nice dark stuff to the visuals. Various shots of Lee, the energy signatures surrounding the battle, and especially the dual climaxes.
Speaking of which, the last couple of pages exemplify how to do a shock ending. And that’s what, four “Damn, didn’t see that coming” endings in a row? I dunno if David’s going for some kind of record or what, but he can keep it up as far as I’m concerned.
The Bad: I’m past ready to get inside Lee’s head now. The only beef I’ve had with this series is how little we’ve been given of its protagonist. If I didn’t trust this writer as implicitly as I do, I would have walked on this book a while ago. I’m not regretting it, but it’s time for a payoff.
The Quote: “Who would have thought… the old man… to… to have had… so much blood… in him…”
The Final Word: This series always pleases, but it needs to start pleasing in a specific way if it wants to keep its legs.
The Grade: A-