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Kieron Gillen’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Fear Itself (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.

Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run stands as one of the most underrated gems at Marvel over the past decade or so. As with his work on Thor, Gillen’s work on the title is sandwiched between two more high-profile writers. On Thor, Gillen took over from J. Michael Straczynski and handed over to Matt Fraction, while he worked on Uncanny X-Men between the runs of Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis. It’s easy to see how his work on the book might slip under the radar.

Even the run itself feels somewhat disjointed. It isn’t as simple as tracing the first issue he wrote to the last issue he wrote. Gillen was the last writer to work on the first volume of Uncanny X-Men, and the launch of the comic’s second volume bisected his run. He finished up on the second volume of Uncanny X-Men in the midst of the gigantic Avengers vs. X-Men crossover, with Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences serving as something of a coda to his work on the merry mutants.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Looking at Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run from outside, it looks like a line trying to connect various events and moments. It almost reads like a checklist of problems that a writer working on a mainstream superhero comic could face from the publisher. However, one of Gillen’s main strengths is his adaptability. Gillen has a unique ability to bend his story to fit whatever is required from the book in question.

He is a flexible writer, more than able to respond to the demands of the publisher – and even incorporate them into his stories. As a case in point, the Uncanny X-Men tie-in to Fear Itself really should be a disjointed mess. Fear Itself was a sprawling event that featured all sorts of tie-ins and spin-offs and crossovers, intersecting with various other stories in all sorts of strange ways. It’s to the credit of Gillen that the whole four-issue tie-in fits perfectly with his work on Uncanny X-Men.

Punching above his weight...

Punching above his weight…

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Mark Millar’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Mark Millar isn’t quite the tough guy he makes himself out to be. Asked a few years ago about whether the birth of his child might tame some of his more sensationalist tendencies, Millar replied that – if anything – he would be even more motivated to push the envelope in order to demonstrate he hadn’t mellowed. And, in fairness, the years since have seen ideas like Kick-Ass or Wanted or Nemesis, all excessively and ridiculously cynical, graphic and violent. However, I maintain that Millar is a stronger writer when he channels his inner softer romantic – for example, demonstrating the respect he showed Superman in Red Son. Taking over Ultimate Fantastic Four for a year (perhaps on a trial run before writing for regular Fantastic Four), you get a sense that Millar has a genuine affection for these characters and their world – too much to try to make them “darker and edgier”, for example. While his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t the best thing he’s written, it is sharp and entertaining – and delivered with enough energy that it can’t help but warm the reader’s heart.

Never a drag...

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Matt Fraction’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Nation X (Review/Retrospective)

I am doing a weekly look at Marvel’s complicated crossover chronology, following various key crossovers to see if they might give me a better idea of what I’m missing by avoiding mainstream comic book continuity. While – with The Avengers due for release in 2012 – I am focusing on the stories told featuring those characters over the past five years, I also have time for the X-Men. While this isn’t strictly speaking a crossover, it is a series of issues which connect Utopia to Second Coming, so I figured it was worth a look.

Utopia ended with a heck of a plot twist. Cyclops decided that his merry band of mutants have had enough of being looked down upon in New York and , more recently, San Francisco, so he decides to build himself an island from the remains of Magneto’s “Asteroid M” just off the San Francisco Bay. Announcing the new nation of “Utopia”, he declares the island a haven for mutants. Nation X provides a hardcover collection of the issues from Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men which bridge the gap between Utopia and Second Coming, as well as the four-issue Nation X anthology miniseries. And, while it’s a decidedly uneven reading experience, I have to admit that some of Fraction’s portrayal of the mutant team is a little bit interesting – even if most is slightly boring and deeply convoluted.

Magneto has a magnetic personality...

Note: This collection opens with Dark Reign tie-in X-Men: The List written by Matt Fraction and following an attempted assassination attempt on Namor by Norman Osborn. Accordingly, I think I should open this review with a link to Abhay’s quite excellent article on the issue, which – among some more serious points – suggests that Namor is starring in his own private version of You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. Seriously, check it out.

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