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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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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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Non-Review Review: The Wolverine

The Wolverine is pretty far from a perfect film. In the era following The Dark Knight, we’ve come to expect more ambition from our superhero blockbusters; tighter plots; well-drawn character arcs and motivations for more than just our heroes. In a summer where some have fallen just short of working within this new paradigm (Man of Steel) and others have succeeded (Iron Man 3), The Wolverine feels like a conscious throwback. It’s a nineties action movie masquerading as a superhero blockbuster. Had it been released in 2007, it would have been well-received.

And yet, there’s something quite fascinating and compelling about The Wolverine, despite the noticeable problems with the script’s third act. Director James Mangold struggles to keep things under control for as long as possible, Hugh Jackman still has a wonderful charm in the eponymous role, and The Wolverine has a fascinating thematic through-line and an approach to inter-movie continuity which is intriguing and strangely satisfying.

The Wolverine falls short of greatness, but it’s still a fun and enjoyable ride.

"You lookin' at me, bub?"

“You lookin’ at me, bub?”

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Watch! The Wolverine Trailer!

I’ve been a bit less than impressed with the publicity work for The Wolverine. A trailer for a trailer? Exclusive teaser footage released via two avenues? It just seems a little counter-productive and more frustrating than intriguing. Following the reaction to both X-Men III and X-Men: Origins – Wolverine, you’d think that the trick would be to offer as much proof that things had turned around as possible, and as quickly as possible. Suspense works if we’re already sold. It doesn’t work if we’re more cautious than curious.

And I say that with a hint of optimism for The Wolverine. I actually quite like James Mangold. I even sort of enjoyed Knight and Day, probably much more than I should have. Hugh Jackman is charming enough you can forgive him anything. And the movie is based on the character’s defining solo story. Plus, you know, the trailer looks to borrow that pulpy charm of inserting Wolverine into popular history (in this case, World War II), which as much Wolverine’s mutant superpower as healing or claws. So I’m still on board.

Anyway, check out the trailer below and let me know what you think.

Chris Claremont’s Run on Wolverine (Vol. 2) (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Although his extended run on Uncanny X-Men is one of the most renowned runs in comic book history, it’s easy to forget just how massively Claremont developed the X-Men franchise beyond that core book. He did, after all, launch spin-off titles like New Mutants or X-Calibur. The writer also shepherded the development of Wolverine outside the Uncanny X-Men book, producing the original Wolverine miniseries with Frank Miller, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine with Al Milgrom and even Save the Tiger in Marvel Comics Presents. Claremont also drafted nine of the first ten issues of Wolverine’s first on-going solo title and, while not the writer’s finest work by a significant stretch, it is a pulpy and entertaining read – one more firmly grounded in pop culture conventions than grim violence and anti-heroic nihilism. The issues are a light, fun collection of stories featuring the character, nothing more and nothing less.

A cut above the rest?

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Wolverine: Save the Tiger (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

In 2009, Marvel published a Wolverine Omnibus. I’m honestly surprised that it took the company that long to pull together a large volume of work featuring the character and dump it on the market. However, browsing the gigantic hardcover, I’m amazed at just how much Wolverine-related material Marvel published before the character got his own on-going series. There was the Claremont/Miller miniseries, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine, and seemingly numerous cameos and guest appearances in books outside the X-Men line. However, Save the Tiger, a ten-part story that opened the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents, occupies a crucial place in Wolverine lore. Written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Buscema, it reads as something of a dress rehearsal for the character’s seemingly inevitable on-going series.

No claws for concern…

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X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga – 30th Anniversary Edition (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Chris Claremont enjoyed the company of some of the most respected and renowned artists in comics while working on Uncanny X-Men. He had the pleasure of helping to establish talent like John Romita Jr., Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee, all modern giants working in the field. However, it’s hard to argue that Claremont ever worked in tighter synergy than he did with John Byrne. Byrne succeeded artist Dave Cockrum on the book, and helped Claremont helm several iconic and defining X-Men stories, delivering pay-off on years of set-up and radically reshaping notions of what a superhero comic could and could not do. Though the pair produced several genuine classics, The Dark Phoenix Saga stands as the artistic triumph of their run. One could make a compelling case that it’s Claremont’s finest X-Men story, or the finest X-Men story, or – if one weren’t feeling especially modest – perhaps the finest mainstream superhero story ever told.

Bird of prey…

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