“The Female and the Male, the one who cast her out”: Phase One of Marvel Now concludes with a bang

X_Men_1_SlideBy all approximations, Marvel NOW! has been one of the House of Ideas’ most economically successful ventures, albeit one with some problems, since the launch of the Ultimate Universe and has challenged and dominated DC’s sales every month since the relaunch. With the first wave of new and relaunched titles wrapping up this week, let’s look at the last book and reevaluate some titles that have developed since I initially reviewed them.

X-Menxmen_1_preview4The all female X-team has been a lightening rod for internet applause since it was announced. The web has been clamoring for more positive and widespread portrayals of female characters for years, with much of the conversation beginning with the 2011 cancellation of the X-23 series and the idea for an all female team that doesn’t draw attention to their femininity is a sound one.

Brian Wood’s interpretation of the team doesn’t really jump off the page and it follows the form of his X-Men book pre-relaunch. Once again, we’re following the old tried and true formula of having bunches of characters doing different things with the assumption that they might all come together by the end. It’s dull and expected at this point but he’s got a hell of a cast. Psylocke has become a fan favorite in recent years and Wood has had plenty of experience writing her and Storm but his Kitty Pryde talks like she just started using Tumblr and Jubilee feels like she could be any other character. Dialogue has never been Wood’s strong suit but penciller Oliver Copiel draws dynamic action sequences and quieter scenes with great attention to body language and facial expressions which more than makes up for scripting flaws. The looming threat of the too-long-missing villain, Sublime and a last page cliffhanger are sure to keep readers interested in the title but as it stands, it isn’t living up to the potential of the premise or team.

The Verdict: Wood’s first issue of the relaunched X-Men feels unfinished but there’s plenty of reasons to pick up the next one.

I never felt bad about how dismissive I was to some of the earlier relaunches of the line and I think, for the most part, the way I felt about early issues of some of these series is still the way I feel now. Still, there are a couple that have evolved or fallen since those first issues. Let’s go back and check in on them.

Iron ManIronMan_06_Preview2Iron Man had one of the roughest starts of the relaunch with writer Kieron Gillen clearly having to balance the upcoming cosmic changes to the character with the mechanical Earth based adventures new readers expected. The first four issues suffered dramatically because of this but as soon as Tony headed to space, everything improved.

While Greg Land’s early issues suffered from overuse of photo reference, sending the protagonist into space and requiring Land to draw aliens, spaceships, robots and planets opened his style up for experimentation. His Tony is still inconsistent from issue to issue but he and Gillen are really crafting something special in the new “Secret Origin of Tony Stark” arc.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Tony’s transition into space has opened up the storytelling possibilities but the art still holds the series back from becoming a must buy.

X-Men Legacyxleg_spitI initially dismissed X-Men Legacy as feeling like an unnecessary niche title in an already loaded X-line and vastly, I still stand by that statement. Legacy is undoubtedly a cult book, focused on David Haller aka Legion, one of probably the most maligned characters in the franchise. The magic of the series is how writer Si Spurrier knows how you feel about David and doesn’t give a shit, writing a book that combines character study, low key adventure and heartfelt romance in equal, unexpected measure.

Legacy is one of the most experimental books of the relaunch, with a protagonist who actively dismisses the “speedos and tights set” of the X-Men, a genuinely respectful, loving relationship between Haller and Blindfold and a timely, thoughtful approach to how the rest of the world would build their lives around a people they believe to be a menace. Each issue treads new territory, goes further and further into the hero’s psyche and ups the ante with each new conflict.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Almost undoubtedly the best book of the relaunch.

FFff6-good-for-herI initially dismissed FF as a lesser companion piece to writer Matt Fraction’s excellent Fantastic Four but it’s much more than that. It’s still a companion piece, one very focused on the legacy of the First Family but it has centered primarily on Scott Lang’s hopes to create a new family in the face of tragedy and loss.

When FF clicks, it really works. Lang and Darla Deering’s plans to deal with the Internet addled Yancy Street Gang is exciting, silly and very funny in equal measure. Medusa’s struggle to be a mother for a group of children she doesn’t and doesn’t want to understand is intriguing and offers a fascinating subtext to the issue of family. Mike Allerd’s pop-art inspired pencils make the characters feel like icons in much the same way he brought new millennium style to X-Statix in the ’90s. The problem really is fan service. Tong’s unexpected revelation of his gender identity, The Wizard maniacally hoping for a “heteronormative cissgendered” family and an entire page sequence of Darla trying on hats feel like they were written and designed to be posted to blogs rather than appear in a comic.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Even for a beautifully stylish and well written series, FF needs to decide what it wants to be and stick with it.

Avengersavengers-world-marvel-now-cap-thorAn obscene twice-monthly shipping schedule did wonders to boost the pace of Jonathan Hickman’s universe spanning Avengers team, with early issues not giving much of a look at what the book would become. Revamps of long forgotten characters, introductions of galactic heavy hitters and the looming threat of the White Event have come together to make a great series.

Despite a clear motive and goal for the characters, Hickman has given plenty of room for minor figures and off-beat issues. A recent trip to a Shanghai casino to duel with AIM scientists, an amazing look at a battle for the fate of the Shi’ar Empire and extended ruminations on the nature of creation round out a book that could have been little more than a series of dour battles and down character beats.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Hickman clearly has big plans for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but readers expecting a classic team book should adjust their expectations and ready themselves for something experimental, intriguing and entirely unexpected.

Superior Spider-ManSuperiorSpiderMan_9_Preview2I was really, really harsh on Superior Spider-Man. I still have a lot of problems with it but I’ll admit, this is the first Spider-Man story I’ve ever really cared about. The Doc Ock swap still feels cheap and ridiculous but the web-head is exciting, interesting and unpredictable for the first time since I’ve been reading comics.

Dan Slott still tends to write very soapy which is par for the course for Spider-Man comics but the pacing is just very off. Plot developments drop off as soon as they are introduced, such as the Avengers questioning Peter’s mental well being, the finally revealed fate of the remnants of Vulture’s gang and Phil Ulrich’s struggles with the Goblin persona, and these give the book a deep sense of worldbuilding with no real story pay off. It’s nothing Slott couldn’t take care of and the book shines when it focuses on Doc Ock and his moments of inner turmoil as he struggles with what it means to be a hero working out childhood trauma on all criminals great and small.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Long live Doctor Otto Octavius.

Stray Notesforce5Hey, at the end of every comic post, I’ll be talking about a couple other releases of the week, just to highlight some of the books I write about less than others. Consider it a conversation starter more than anything else.

  • So, that twist in JLA #4, huh. After Geoff Johns wrote maybe the best single issue of his career in Green Lantern #20, this just felt crazy, unnecessary and a little disgusting.
  • Also, damn it, wasn’t computer lining supposed to help David Finch get his art out faster? Why do we have to keep dealing with Brett Booth?
  • I know I missed it last week, but Fearless Defenders #4 A.U. probably had one of the most fun tie-ins of the event.
  • I can’t really put my finger on it but what’s the problem with the new Uncanny X-Force? I like the story well enough and it’s a great line-up of characters but it just doesn’t add up to anything. The Bishop memory fragments were great and Adrian Alphona killed it on art but the whole book still just feels very, very off.
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