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The X-Files – Unruhe (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Unruhe was the first episode of The X-Files to air on Sunday nights.

The show had vacated its traditional Friday evening slot to make room for Millennium. It had been moved to Sunday evenings. Although the production team were initially quite cautious about the move, it would ultimately pay dividends for the show. The show had already become a mainstream hit, but the Sunday night slot would help to push it into the stratosphere. Airing alongside Fox’s other long-running success story, The Simpsons, the show would secure its highest ratings ever less than six months after moving into its new slot.

Photo copy?

Photo copy?

Of course, this also draws attention to another interesting facet of Unruhe. This was the first episode of The X-Files to air after Millennium hit the air. Unruhe aired two days after the pilot. The impact of Millennium has already been keenly felt on the fourth season of The X-Files in a number of ways; deadline and production issues hindered Herrenvolk, while James Wong and Glen Morgan had been drafted back to The X-Files to help shore up the fourth season. However, Unruhe seems to directly (and perhaps pointedly) acknowledge Chris Carter’s younger series.

Unruhe is an episode that would probably have been quite at home on Millennium. It is an episode that could easily have been re-worked or re-tooled for Carter’s new show – with only a few minor changes. With its serial offender, fascination with forensic psychology, and its grim reflection on mankind’s capacity for evil, it feels like an story that could comfortably have been told using Frank Black. While it serves to welcome Millennium to the genre neighbourhood, it also seems to suggest that Millennium might be a little redundant.

A walk among the tombstones...

A walk among the tombstones…

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Space: Above and Beyond – R & R (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

R & R is what might be described as a “monkey’s paw” situation.

Space: Above and Beyond finally gets to air on Friday nights. It had been promised a Friday night slot in early development, before Fox moved it to Sunday to make room for Strange Luck. Glen Morgan and James Wong had been promised the coveted Friday night slot again in January 1996, but it never materialised. Finally, late in the season, Fox manage to air an episode of Space: Above and Beyond on a Friday night. That episode would even air directly before The X-Files. And not just any episode of The X-Files. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, a classic.

Everything is Coolio!

Everything is Coolio!

However, as the Host himself points out in R & R, everything has its price. Here, it seemed like Fox had chosen the most stereotypically network-friendly episode of Space: Above and Beyond to air in that Friday night slot. So there were hot young people at night clubs, celebrity cameos, romance, angst, melodrama, absurdity. It is one of the most grotesquely heightened episodes of Space: Above and Beyond ever produced, to the point that Hawkes picks up and drops a drug addiction as only one of the episode’s three primary plot threads.

R & R is not a good episode of television. It is the weakest that Space: Above and Beyond has been in quite some time, and the weakest it would be from this point onwards. It seems like a cruel irony that it finally managed to get that Friday night slot it so desperately wanted.

Chalk it up as a misfire...

Chalk it up as a misfire…

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Jason Aaron’s Run on Wolverine & The X-Men – #1-8, 17 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Superhero comic books have had a somewhat rocky relationship with the concept of “growing up” since the mid-eighties. Books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen proved that it was possible to craft mature tales with incredible depth using these icons. However, it seemed like the industry learnt all the wrong lessons from the success of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. For the past couple of decades, it seems like the ideal for superhero comics is grim and nihilistic nonsense, that “maturity” is measured in blood and bodycount.

There was a sense that the comic book industry was afraid of being seen as childish or unsophisticated, which created an ironic situation where the industry’s immaturity was on show in its fixation with adult material. “When I was ten,” C.S. Lewis once mused, “I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men feels like it subscribes to this philosophy. It’s an incredibly silly and  goofy piece of work, revelling in the clichés of the superhero genre, but it’s also a surprisingly sincere and intelligent one.

It's a bit of a gamble...

It’s a bit of a gamble…

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Roy Thomas & Werner Roth’s X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

The X-Men were not, to put it frankly, a comic book franchise that hit the ground running. Despite the considerable talent involved in their first nineteen issues, the comic struggled to find its own niche, unsure of just how far it dared to venture from the standard superhero template, and how confined it was by the whole “mutant superhero” bit. Writer Roy Thomas was tapped to take over the book when Stan Lee left.

Thomas is one of the underrated Silver Age writers. His work on The Avengers, spanning more than a half-a-decade, is arguably more influential and definitive than Lee’s original run on the title. He is responsible for The Kree-Skrull War, which remains one of the stronger early Avengers stories. He would work on X-Men twice before the book was finally cancelled. His second run, with Neal Adams pencilling, is arguably a lot stronger than his work here, which feels a little muddled and unfocused.

To be fair to Thomas, it’s quite clear that he recognised that the X-Men needed a shake-up and to find their own voice distinct from the initial run written by Lee and Kirby. Unfortunately, Thomas doesn’t seem entirely sure of what that voice is.

Lighten up, Charles!

Lighten up, Charles!

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Jason Aaron’s Run on Wolverine & The X-Men – Avengers vs. X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Wolverine and the X-Men is one of the best comics that is being published by Marvel at present. Along with Waid’s Daredevil and Fraction’s Hawkeye, it’s a celebration of the strange and surreal side of comics. Jason Aaron doesn’t get enough credit for his character work, but his handle on the wonderfully wacky side of the X-Men mythos makes Wolverine and the X-Men a joy to read for anybody with an open mind and a willingness to try something a bit different.

Although the Avengers vs. X-Men tie-in issues are hardly the best place to witness Aaron’s artful approach to the franchise, often feeling a little disjointed and more all-over-the-map than usual, they still contain a lot of what makes Aaron’s work with the characters so appealing.

Burn, baby, burn...

Burn, baby, burn…

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Kieron Gillen’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Avengers vs. X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Kieron Gillen is one of the unsung heroes of modern superhero comics. Over the past few years, Gillen has come to the attention of readers for replacing or supplementing a-list talent on a-list books. He took over Thor after J. Michael Straczynski abruptly wrapped up his run on the Norse god, only to shuffle off the book when Matt Fraction took over. While Straczynzki’s run was collected in an omnibus, Gillen’s has yet to receive hardcover status. He wrote the wonderfully underrated Journey into Mystery as a supplement to Fraction’s Thor, which might hopefully get a deluxe reprinting at some point in the future.

He took over Uncanny X-Men following Fraction’s departure. He barely had time to establish his run on Marvel’s merry mutants before writer Jason Aaron up-ended the status quo with Schism, essentially restructuring Marvel’s X-Men line. Gillen remained on Uncanny X-Men in the wake of Schism, the title resetting to #1. However, less than a year into the run, Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men was caught up in Marvel’s high profile crossover of the year, Avengers vs. X-Men.

Explosive...

Explosive…

Gillen departed the book following Avengers vs. X-Men, in yet another reshuffle of Marvel’s X-Men line. (Brian Bendis promised to push the line in a new direction, writing both All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men.) Half of Gillen’s run on the relaunched Uncanny X-Men was tied into the gigantic Avengers vs. X-Men.

But don’t let that fool you. It’s really very, very good. In fact, it ranks as among the very best X-Men work since Joss Whedon and John Cassaday left Astonishing X-Men.

All fired up...

All fired up…

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“Must Do Better”: Dramatic Talents & Wasted Potential…

There’s something very sad about Eddie Murphy. His latest movie, A Thousand Words, opened last Friday in the States with an almost impressive 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That means that there wasn’t a single reviewer who though that the movie was even “okay”, let alone “good” or “great.” It’s are to find a film that can generate such a consensus, although I don’t think anybody was especially astounded that Eddie Murphy headlined a comedy that was frustrating and disappointing. Of course, he has undoubtedly made a lot of money, and has decided that this is what he wants to do, but there’s something very frustrating about actors like Eddie Murphy, who have demonstrated uncanny ability, but seem willing to settle for generic film after generic film.

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