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Mark Waid, Ian Churchill and Ken Lashley’s Deadpool – Sins of the Past (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.

It’s interesting to try to chart the meteoric rise of Deadpool. Over the past decade, Deadpool has emerged as one of Marvel’s most popular comic book characters. He features in various miniseries and variant covers, populated quite a few books from month-to-month. While his exposure hasn’t quite reached the same level as that of Spider-Man or Wolverine, Deadpool is easily one of the most frequently-appearing characters in Marvel Comics.

It is strange to think that he is a relatively young character, originating in Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants shortly before it became X-Force. First appearing in February 1991, Rob Liefeld created Deadpool as a decidedly nineties character – “the merc with the mouth”,  he felt like a conscious composite of Spider-Man with more outrageous villains (or anti-heroes) like Deathstroke. Indeed, the similarity is something of a cheesy joke. Where might one practise their Deathstroke? In the Deadpool, of course.

Crossing swords...

Crossing swords…

Liefeld created a cheesy and hyperactive foe for his mutant characters, allowing the character all manner of cheesy and awkward one-liners. However, that version of Deadpool is almost unrecognisable when compared to the character as he exists today. The modern version of Deadpool is a character aware of his own fictional nature, with dialogue balloons painted yellow to distinguish him from the less self-aware characters around him.

Today’s Deadpool is more of a comedy force of nature than a serious anti-hero, a character basking in the absurd rather than trying to appear badass. It’s interesting to wonder how that character transformed so radically (and so thoroughly). Certainly, his first solo miniseries seems to occupy the strange space between Rob Liefeld’s half-serious mercenary psychopath and Joe Kelly’s comic book comic. While still a little too steeped in nineties aesthetic for its own good, Mark Waid’s Deadpool is a small step in that direction.

Well, at least he knows how to make an entrance...

Well, at least he knows how to make an entrance…

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X-Force Omnibus by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, Vol. 1 (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.

Rob Liefeld has become something of a polarising force in comic books. The artist was a driving force in the industry in the nineties. Along with creators like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, Liefeld really helped turn comic books into an artist-driven medium during that decade. (Rather pointedly, X-Force #1 credits Liefeld as responsible for “everything but…” the specific tasks dolled out to other contributors.) The artist became a celebrity in his own right. He got his own Levi commercial. He famously sketched while speeding inside a car.

Liefeld has arguably become more a symbol than a creator. His heavily involvement in the second year of DC’s “new 52” reboot really solidified the impression that former Marvel head honcho and current DC editor-in-chief Bob Harras was trying to channel the nineties comic book market. (The fact the line has been heavily emphasising contributions by Jim Lee and Greg Capullo, other nineties superstars, really underscores the notion.)

It’s hard to look at X-Force without seeing it as a hugely symbolic work. This is really one of the comics which defined the nineties – arguably even more than Jim Lee’s X-Men or The Death and Return of Superman. If you wanted a glimpse into the mindset of American mainstream comics in the nineties, X-Force is the perfect glimpse.

Welcome to the nineties!

Welcome to the nineties!

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Justice League: The Nail (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

What would comics look like without Superman? The character is so iconic and influential and omnipresent that it’s a fun thought experiment to take him out of the DC universe and watch the narrative threads unravel. Alan Davis is a pretty incredible artist. He’s done great work with writers like Mike W. Barr (on an underrated Detective Comics run) and Chris Claremont (on Excalibur). However, he may not have been the best choice to write this three-part Justice League of America Elseworld. It’s a great concept, but the execution leaves a little to be desired.

Is somebody missing?

Is somebody missing?

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X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda (Hardcover) (Review)

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.

X-Tinction Agenda makes for a potentially fascinating X-Men crossover, tying together Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants to tell a single cohesive story. It’s not a new approach – it was pioneered by The Mutant Massacre and Inferno – but it is perhaps the definitive approach to X-Men related crossovers (it’s still in use today for stories like Second Coming). It’s fascinating, because it sees the creative teams pick up on something that Claremont had introduced over thirty issues earlier, as if recognising a gem of an idea really deserved further development. That said, despite some decent writing and art, X-Tinction Agenda can’t help but feel like it wastes its potential, hitting on an absolutely fascinating premise and deftly tying the three on-going monthly comic books together, but ending up as little more than an explosive knock-down brawl.

The Wolv pack…

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Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost’s Run on X-Force (Hardcover Vol. 1-2) (Review/Retrospective)

I’m really not sure what to make of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost’s run on X-Force. In many ways, it is a throwback to Rob Liefeld’s nineties team of anti-heroes, only with more gore and violence and dismemberment. On the other hand, it’s also the only book in the X-Men line that explores the dark ramifications of the direction that Marvel has driven the books, and Yost and Kyle are both careful to counterbalance the darkness and graphic violence with remarkably solid character work. It’s always going be in the shadow of Rick Remender’s more conceptually fascinating Uncanny X-Force, but one can see the seeds of that later comic sewn here.

An Angel gets his wings…

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Kurt Busiek’s Avengers – Avengers Assemble! Vol. 5 (The Kang Dynasty) (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

I’ll be honest. I am still not sure what to make of Kurt Busiek’s Avengers run, republished here in five lavish oversized hardcovers. The first three volumes of the set included the stellar artwork of George Perez, but the fifth and final volume contains the entire Kang Dynasty (aka Kang War) saga. For those unfamiliar with the storyline, it was a fairly massive plot told over fifteen issues and an annual, and marked the climax of Busiek’s five-year tenure on the title. For better or for worse, it’s a more than adequate conclusion to his run – complete with many of the flaws which chipped away at it, but also possessing many of the recognisable strengths.

"Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos!"

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Kurt Busiek’s (& George Perez’s) Avengers – Avengers Assemble! Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” And so we begin, one month short of the release date…

It is good to be together again.

– Thor, Once An Avenger…

A lot of life is context. In order to fully appreciate things, you need to know the history and events which drive it. Kurt Busiek’s massive almost-five-year run on The Avengers is well loved by comic book fans, but is quite hard for me to get a read on. The plots are simple, the cast is over-crowded and the dialogue is corny. However, these are perhaps the reasons why the run is held in such high esteem, because the fictional Marvel Universe of 1998 was quite different from how it looks today.

Consider them assembled... all of them...

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X-Men: Messiah War (Review/Retrospective)

This is the eleventh in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s shared universe (particularly their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity.

Messiah Complex is billed as the “second instalment” of the X-Men “Messiah Trilogy”, following on from Messiah Complex and leading into Second Coming. The arc essentially follows Hope, the first mutant baby born in the wake of the infamous House of M crossover and the quest by various factions to exploit her – will she be a salvation of Marvel’s erstwhile bunch of mutants, or their ultimate damnation? Messiah War essential combines the two on-going X-Men books launched in the wake of Messiah Complex, with Cable following Hope and the time-travelling X-Man as they flee those who wish the child harm and X-Force following Wolverine’s bunch of “black-ops” “darker and edgier” X-Men strike force. Of course, the only way it could get more nineties was if you threw in Deadpool, Apocalypse and Stryfe… oh, wait. They did.

Has the bar been raised?

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Peter Milligan & Michael Allred’s Run on X-Force – Famous, Mutant & Mortal (Review/Retrospective)

For the past few months, I’ve been taking a look at Marvel’s sometimes convoluted crossover chronology as a sort of lead-in to The Avengers, arriving in cinemas in 2012. Later on today, I’ll be reviewing Messiah War, a crossover between two of the series relaunched in the wake of Messiah Complex so I thought I might take a look back at some of the series leading into it beforehand. However, the two series – Cable and X-Force both have roots in the “darker and edgier” period of X-Men history known as the nineties. Driven by Rob Liefeld, the two series became by-words for ridiculous violence, convoluted storytelling, shallow characters and lots of guns. Lots of guns.

That is not the version of X-Force I’m going to look at today.

British writer Peter Milligan apparently laughed pretty hard when he was asked to write X-Force. However, the early part of the naughties was a different time at Marvel. Perhaps the financial collapse of the company in the nineties had made the company bolder, more willing to take creative chances. Perhaps they figured that, with Grant Morrison working on New X-Men, there wasn’t anything that much more radical that Peter Milligan could do. Either way, the author was granted incredible creative control and the chance to do something truly different. He took advantage of it, and produced one of the most fascinating comic books of the past decade.

At least he’s honest about it…

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