Last week, I remarked that something about the upcoming X-Men Apocalypse just …
In the pages of Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, most of the members of that assassination team have lost something. Wolverine lost his son. Angel lost his life while Psylocke lost her love. Fantomex lost his independence. And Deadpool? Well, as in almost all things, Deadpool was the oddity in Remender’s story about the moral ambiguity of these heroes.
With a dose of political satire, some soaring team-up action grounded in character moments (Storm struggling with her power; Quicksilver’s daddy issues; Wolverine the reformed assassin), and a robust arc for Cyclops, Ultimate X-Men #4-6 is definitely an improvement over the preceding three issues. The “death” of Beast is a cheap storytelling ploy, and I am still skeezed out from Wolverine’s sexual liaison with Jean Grey, but Millar and the Kuberts end this first arc on a triumphant, if dark note albeit with some skeletons in the closet waiting to be brought out for the following “Return to Weapon X” storyline.
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #1 introduces a more traditional version of Wolverine to the Ultimate Marvel Universe. He is gruff and violent, but actually wants to co-exist with humans and leave his dark past behind. In a later filler arc of Ultimate Spider-Man, Bendis would explore the comic potential of a Wolverine/Spider-Man team up, but he looks at the more serious implications of being a mutant in the Ultimate Universe while also making Spidey kind of geek out around him. Even if Sabretooth is a fur coat wearing punching bag and some of jokes don’t land, it is a rare privilege to see comics legend Matt Wagner put Spider-Man through his acrobatic paces and use the full comics page (or two) to its storytelling potential.
Mark Millar and Adam Kubert’s work on Ultimate X-Men #1-3 really is the blockbuster action take on the X-Men, but there is enough flashes of characterization, pretty layouts (Not so much those ugly leather costumes.), and clever twists like Wolverine being a bona fide villain and Colossus’ old crime boss supplying Magneto with a nuke. It’s not a particularly deep comic and scratches the surface of the idea of “post-humanism”, but Ultimate X-Men #1-3 is adequate popcorn entertainment, which led to it selling like hotcakes. (Ultimate X-Men #1 was the number one book in December 2000 with 117,085 copies, and issues 2 and 3 stayed in the top 3 with numbers around the 90,000 range.)
Old Man Logan #1 is a lot of things. A character study that captures the feral and peaceful parts of Wolverine through Maiolo’s shifting colors (The more violent the panel, the flatter the colors.) and Sorrentino’s layouts and close-ups of his well-worn face. It is also a chance for two of comics’ finest storytellers to place their mark on a classic genre. Even if you hate Wolverine, Old Man Logan #1 is worth picking up for its exploration of one man trying to find a kind of morally grey hope in a world bereft of it wonderfully rendered in a tapestry of blood, gunpowder, and desert sand. Leone, Morricone, and Eastwood would be proud.
Astonishing X-Men “Gifted” is one of those storylines that will make long term X-Men fans purr with delight beginning the Claremont era flashbacks in issue one. (Cassaday mimics Byrne’s art quite well.) It also can turn fans (like me five years ago) of the films and cartoons into mutie and comics junkies. Whedon pays homage to older X-Men stories without getting mired in continuity and quickly places his own stamp on the franchise by creating a new alien foe for them (Ord of the Breakworld), exploring the mutant as outsider metaphor with the cure of the X-gene, giving SHIELD a new branch (SWORD), and also bringing a beloved character back from the dead (Colossus) in a touching, visceral way that serves the long term storyline. However, the best part of Astonishing X-Men “Gifted” other than John Cassaday’s detailed, cinematically composed art and Whedon’s insanely quotable dialogue is the character arcs for each X-Man nestled in the bigger plot.
If you were a fan of how Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn balanced the comedy of a Weapon Plus reunion between Deadpool, Wolverine, and Captain America with real character growth for Deadpool in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, Deadpool and Captain America will be a treat to read. Duggan takes Deadpool seriously as a character while peppering his script with puns, pop culture gags, and silly, but chuckle worthy jokes about Wolverine’s grooming. Scott Kolins’ figures aren’t as sharp and well-defined as Declan Shalvey’s in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, but he is skilled panel architect, who can turn a mundane elevator ride into an opportunity for humor and character reflection. Kolins adds layers to the comedy with sight gags and slapstick, like when Captain America beats up an AIM.
In Death of Wolverine, Charles Soule, Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor had the tough job of killing off one Marvel’s most popular characters in a way consistent with his legacy of his character. Death of Wolverine #4 contains the actual “death”, and Soule, McNiven, and company stick the landing. Except for Doctor Cornelius’ supervillainous monologues, Soule’s script is terse and minimalist. Wolverine doesn’t say much, but he does a lot in keeping with his early characterization in Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men where he would be the one still scrapping and fighting even after the Hellfire Club had taken out the other X-Men. In this last story, Soule examines all the different sides of Wolverine from lab experiment and animal to soldier, superhero, and samurai. And Steve McNiven’s art continues to be a treat from his landscape portraits of the Nevada desert to Wolverine’s last, visceral hand to hand battles. Inker Jay Leisten tightens his lines and elucidates the details of Cornelius’ lab as well as the lines on Wolverine’s determined faces. Colorist Justin Ponsor continues to be one of my personal favorites as he sets a different mood for each scene from a washed out brown for one final flashback of Weapon X to the sterile environment of Cornelius’ lab and one last walk in the sunlight.