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Non-Review Review: X-Men – Dark Phoenix

It reflects the strange state of the modern multimedia landscape that X-Men: Dark Phoenix feels almost like a plucky underdog.

This is a major studio summer blockbuster with a budget of well over one hundred million dollars. More than that, it is the twelfth film in a series that has historically been both critically and commercially successful; the films have earned over $5.7bn dollars worldwide, eight of the twelve films have positive scores on Rotten Tomatoes, seven of those twelve have been popular enough to end on the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 films of all-time. The current franchise stars a two-time Oscar winner. The last film in the series earned an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.

A hot property.

Dark Phoenix should be an event. Instead, it arrives with a relative whimper. The release date was pushed back repeatedly, first from November 2018 to February 2019, and then to June 2019. It has been hounded by largely unfounded industry gossip about terrible test screenings. It is tracking for the lowest opening weekend in the franchise. In the time between the film entering production and its eventual release, it has been somewhat overshadowed by news that Disney are to buy 20th Century Fox, and that this franchise will be rebooted.

“I am inevitable,” Thanos famously boasted in Avengers: Endgame, the literal manifestation of death and time who existed to be vanquished by the assembled heroes. He might have been speaking of the influence of Disney. Dark Phoenix crashes against that inevitability, shattering and snapping against those immovable objects. Dark Phoenix is a mess, a disorganised husk of a movie carved out in an editing booth and built from last-minute reshoots. However, it is not quite the disaster that it should be. Instead, it seems almost endearingly defiant, a blockbuster flavoured with passive aggression.

Raining on their parade.

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – The Extremists (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the things that is most striking about Ed Brubaker’s work on Uncanny X-Men is just how disjointed the whole thing is. Announcing his arrival on the franchise with the Deadly Genesis miniseries, it seemed like Brubaker was really planning on shaking things up. Like Brian Michael Bendis had done for The Avengers with Avengers Disassembled, Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis had attacked some of the foundations of the X-Men franchise.

Brubaker’s first arc on Uncanny X-Men did follow up on some of the threads from Deadly Genesis, but not the obvious ones. The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire was a twelve-issue story featuring a bunch of X-Men launching themselves into space to recover Gabriel Summers and become embroiled in a galactic power struggle. It was very far from what fans had come to expect from the franchise, and worlds apart from the tone of Deadly Genesis or House of M. It felt strangely disconnected from a book that should have been driving the franchise.

The writing's on the wall...

The writing’s on the wall…

His second story arc on the title, The Extremists comes towards the start of Brubaker’s second year on Uncanny X-Men, and it still feels decidedly uncertain. A five-issue story arc about terrorism and religion, The Extremists is incredibly engaged with contemporary American politics. It feels like an entirely different story from The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire, as if Brubaker has suddenly decided to alter the direction of his run.

The Extremists is a story that feels like an orphaned part of an X-Men epic that never quite developed, a small segment of a whole that doesn’t actually exist. It’s easy to imagine The Extremists as part of an untold post-9/11 Uncanny X-Men saga that may have spun off from Deadly Genesis and brought the comic into the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, with Brubaker’s run being pulled in multiple directions around it, it can’t help but feel a little hollow.

Cooking up a storm...

Cooking up a storm…

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X-Men: Season One by Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie (Review)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

X-Men: Season One is a weird beast. The core of Marvel’s Season One initiative has been offering accessible standalone graphic novels that take their iconic characters back to their roots – as if to have something that you could point a new reader towards, say “this is how [character] got started.” The line hasn’t always lived up to that promise, with the quality of the collection of graphic novels being quite uneven in practice, but it’s a solid starting point.

However, the X-Men were always going to seem a bit strange when this approach was applied. After all, many of the most iconic X-Men character – from Wolverine to Storm to Rogue – didn’t appear for years after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched X-Men. Beast didn’t have blue fur for quite some time. Magneto was fairly generic and one-dimensional. For a comic book series about an oppressed minority, the characters were all white, middle-class and straight; Jean Grey often felt like the token girl.

The Tomorrow People...

The Tomorrow People…

So revisiting the roots of the X-Men was going to be different from exploring the origins of The Avengers or Thor or Ant-Man, because a lot of what people take for granted about the X-Men didn’t exist in those early years. Trying to find a way to encapsulate what makes the X-Men so successful and appealing into the context of those early stories is a pretty ambitious task, making X-Men: Season One seem like an almost impossible challenge.

Luckily, Marvel recruited some top-notch talent for the book. Artist Jamie McKelvie is one of the best artists working in comics today. His linework is clear, his action sequences are stylish – but he’s also fantastic with characters. McKelvie can offer a lot in a small amount of space – body language, facial expressions. He’s paired with writer Dennis Hopeless, who has a bit of a knack dealing with potentially troublesome assignments turning Avengers Arena from ruthless Battle Royale (or The Hunger Games) knock-off into a pretty compelling read. The X-Men are in good hands.

The child protection agency is going to crucify Charles for this one...

The child protection agency is going to crucify Charles for this one…

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Ed Brubaker’s X-Men – Deadly Genesis (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

In 2006, Ed Brubaker was one of the hottest younger writers working at Marvel Comics. He was writing a celebrated run on Captain America. He was about to take over Daredevil following a monumental run by Brian Michael Bendis. He was also going to launch The Immortal Iron Fist with collaborator Matt Fraction. It was a year that cemented Ed Brubaker as one of the primary voices writing at Marvel Comics. In the midst of all that, Brubaker also took over the X-Men franchise.

In the early years of the decade, Marvel had tasked Brian Michael Bendis to reinvent the Avengers franchise, which he had done with Avengers Disassembled and an extended stint on New Avengers. Bendis had done this by tearing down a lot of the elements of The Avengers taken for granted and demonstrating that nothing was safe. The Avengers Mansion was destroyed, Hawkeye and Vision were killed, Wolverine and Spider-Man were recruited. The approach was iconoclastic, but it worked.

Sentinels of liberty...

Sentinels of liberty…

It’s not too hard to see Ed Brubaker’s stint on the X-Men franchise as a not-entirely-successful attempt to emulated Bendis’ reinvention of The Avengers. There was a clear attempt to focus on aspects of the mythology that were outside the comfort zone, and to attack and undermine some of the most sacred areas of the mythology. After all, Brubaker began his run on Uncanny X-Men with The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire, a twelve-issue space opera that took the focus of the book off the wake of House of M.

Logically, then, Deadly Genesis serves as the equivalent of Bendis’ Avengers Disassembled. It’s the story that exists as the lead-in to Brubaker’s run, outside the monthly series. It sets the agenda for a lot of what is to follow, shifting the premise and changing the rules. However, Brubaker’s work suffers because he doesn’t have the same freedom that Bendis had with New Avengers. He can’t just clear the board and start anew. Deadly Genesis find him heaping a bold new status quo on top of a bold new status quo.

Burning it all down...

Burning it all down…

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X-Men: Fatal Attractions (Review/Retrospective)

I’ll freely concede that I feel a bit conflicted when it comes to the X-Men comic books in the nineties. On the one hand, they were prone to nineties excesses, seemingly constantly in the midst of a sales-boasting crossover event, increasingly toyetic with steretypical portrayals and male and female anatomy. Also, to be entirely honest, they were never as exciting or creative as they had been when Claremont was directing the line – even his more esoteric efforts developed key themes and harboured a hint more ambition and sophistication than most of what followed.

However, I don’t want to give the impression I’m not fond of the X-Men in the nineties. That era, through the toys and the cartoon show, introduced me to the team. And, to be entirely fair, the books were very far ahead of the worst of what Marvel was publishing (as I’m currently reading The Crossing, I can vouch for that). I also have a certain amount of sympathy for a bunch of writers trying to find a direction for an entire line of books after a monumental and defining run by Chris Claremont. In many ways, Fatal Attractions reads like an attempt to draw a line in the sand under Claremont’s contributions to the franchise, and to boldly push forward with a modern take on the merry mutants.

It’s his magnetism, Charles…

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Non-Review Review: X-Men – First Class

X-Men: First Class is easily the best thing to emerge from Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie franchise since X-Men II, all those years ago. Jane Goldman’s smart script and Matthew Vaughn’s confident direction help inject life back into the franchise that stirred up this current superhero blockbuster fad, providing one of the finest examples of the subgenre. Although the movie does occasionally veer a little bit too close to (and, once or twice, right into) camp, it’s also a clever, brave, bold and exciting action adventure, which provides the best characterisation of the series to date.

We've got it covered...

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Suspending Your Belief: Age Before Beauty…

It’s strange, isn’t it, what will break our suspension of disbelief? I mean, we’ll accept (while watching Superman) that a man can fly around in his underwear, but the fact he advertises his weakness to kryptonite in a public interview is distracting. Or we’ll somehow buy into an archeologist who searches for the holy grail and encounters all manner of occult phenomenon, but when it comes to aliens extra-dimensional beings… well, a lot of us call foul. Still, I’ve been thinking a bit of late about the really quite weird fascination that movies seem to have with age and recasting.

Grasping at straws to keep Patrick Stewart on board...

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