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Gary Friedrich, Don Heck and Werner Roth’s X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 (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.

By the time that Gary Friedrich had taken over writing duties on X-Men, it was clear that the title was in trouble. To be fair, this has nothing to do with the rapid turnover of writing talent on the book. At this point in the history of Marvel, it often seemed like writers were wandering around the office waiting to fill any gap that happened to develop. Friedrich wasn’t a replacement for Roy Thomas as an attempt to herald a bold new direction for the book. Indeed, his first issue was a story pitched by Thomas.

However, at the same time, it’s quite clear that X-Men was struggling to stay afloat. The comic was seemingly re-tooling itself month-in and month-out. Professor Xavier had been killed off towards the end of Roy Thomas’ last run. The cover now trumpeted individual members of the cast and back-up stories opted to focus on characters within the team, hoping they might find an audience as solo super heroes.

The first death of the dream...

The first death of the dream…

This trend continued into Gary Friedrich’s short tenure as X-Men writer. The first issue of Gary Friedrich’s run focuses on a guest star from the golden age, while his last solo script dissolves the X-Men as a team. In the middle, there’s a crossover with The Avengers. This was a very troubled book entering its fourth year, and the fact that it could not seem to settle on a single creative team or direction contributed to that sense of listlessness.

X-Men was a book that simply wasn’t working.

These men... these X-Men!

These men… these X-Men!

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Divided We Stand (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.

Divided We Stand actually feels like the start of something interesting for Ed Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. It’s a story arc that heralds a bold new direction for Marvel’s merry mutants in the wake of Messiah Complex, taking the team out of their comfort zone and suggesting that Uncanny X-Men will be moving a little outside its comfort zone and trying something different. It’s a story arc that sees the team reflecting on the past and considering the future.

So, naturally, it is Ed Brubaker’s last solo arc on Uncanny X-Men.

A bad trip?

A bad trip?

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Roy Thomas & Neal Adams’ X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 (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.

Roy Thomas and Neal Adams (with the odd fill-in here and there) brought the first era of the X-Men to a close. At the end of their run, editor Martin Goodman would cancel the title due to low sales, only to bring it back as a reprint magazine a few months later. The title would continue as a reprint magazine until the publisher decided to resurrect it with Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s Giant-Sized X-Men and Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s subsequent revival of the original magazine.

The last stretch of issues on this initial run is fascinating. While it lacks the raw energy and sense of direction of Claremont’s early work on the title, it’s easy to argue that Thomas and Adams helped to pave the way for their successors. Thomas and Adams’ X-Men lacks focus and vision, but it does have its own quirky style. The duo would introduce and tease all sorts of ideas that would remain with the X-Men after the cancellation and into the revival.

Suit up...

Suit up…

It may be too much to credit Thomas and Adams with saving or redeeming the franchise – although, apparently sales were increasing during their run- but their influence on the creators that followed is obvious. There are a number of clever ideas and premises that were effectively introduced by the duo, which would become almost expected from an X-Men comic book. Even if it seemed like Thomas and Adams were really just making it up on the fly, their work fits quite comfortably with what would follow.

It may not have been enough to save the mutants at that moment in time, but one could argue that it did provide Claremont with a solid base to build from.

They certainly do...

They certainly do…

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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: 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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