Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: X-Men- Mutant Genesis; X-Men- Nation X

Once upon a time, people scooped up multiple copies of comics, thinking that they would one day pay for their house or their children's college. We fans of the medium call these morons 'speculators', and all of the comic companies loved them. Back in 1991, the launch of a new, second X-Men title was a big deal. Chris Claremont, who had been writing the title for the last 15 years, was scripting, and Jim Lee, the 'hot' artist of the moment, was handling the "art". How could this miss? It didn't. It shipped with 4 or more covers, moving 8.1 million copies, becoming one of the best selling comic books of all time. Fans, dealers, and looky-loos scooped up this treasure by the truckload, safe with the knowledge that their investment would pay dividends. Today, you can't go through a .50 or $1 box of comics without coming across at least one copy. This speculator bubble is the primary reason why comics went bust in the mid-90s and are still in a sales slump today. This history lesson available in more detail than I am willing to go into elsewhere on the Internet.
I have a huge chip on my shoulder for Jim Lee, who, along with other 'hot' artists went on to form Image Comics. These guys were all hyper-stylized, flash over substance artists. Think Joe Satriani vs. Jimmy Page. One has incredible tone and songwriting ability, the other has incredible technical skill but couldn't write a song to save their life. Much like scales don't make a song, excessive linework doesn't make for a good drawing, and most certainly doesn't make for good storytelling. Comics are a visual medium, and the information conveyed in the pictures is as important as the words. Both must work for this medium to be successful. The comic books of the '90s, especially Marvel and Image stuff, suffered greatly  because of this. They turned the keys for the kingdom over to these so-called artists and let them run amok. Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefield...these guys were selling millions of comics, and none of them except McFarlane could draw. Exhibit A: The (in)famous Liefield Captain America drawing. Remember, this is the work of a professional, 'hot' artist in the '90s.
No, this was not drawn by an 8 year old with a severe learning impairment, but a professional, million-selling comic book artist. This is why I hate '90s comics.
How can anyone in their right mind defend this? This is as horrendous as all get out. My 4 year old son can draw a more realistic looking person than this.
Now that my opinion of mainstream comics of the '90s has been made clear, let's continue with this:
X-MEN: MUTANT GENESIS (Marvel, 2010; Hardcover)
Collects X-Men Nos. 1-7 (cover dates October, 1991- April, 1992)
Chris Claremont is the most prolific, and best, X-Men writer. Familiarity breeds contempt, and hardcore fans like myself have read so much of his work that you grow weary with his sentence structures, pet themes, ongoing sub-plots, and dialect-laden dialogue (i.e. Banshee, Moira MacTaggert, etc.). I have become increasingly harsh with his writing, and unfairly so. His writing here is solid, and saves the first three issues from total suckage. A clash with Editor Bob Harras forced him off of the title, and John Byrne was called in to handle the scripting for the next two issues. Jim Lee's plot was stiff, and Byrne had no room to maneuver, so the result was less than what I would expect from Byrne during this time frame. Scott Lobodell, who would go on to do great damage to the line, steps in to handle the scripting chores with Issue 6.
Artist Jim Lee is hyper-stylized, and there is so much unnecessary linework in his drawing that it becomes distracting. There are times where I had to stop and figure out what it was I was supposed to be looking at. I enjoy his rendition of Wolverine, but everyone else looks either overly muscular and thick (the males) or 7 feet tall with huge tits and asses (the females). There are no different body types, and this annoys me. He gives Wolverine fangs, which is stupid and unfortunately sticks, and he is also responsible for the bastardization of Psylocke. She started in the pages of Captain Britain (UK) as a telepath, and eventually became surgically altered into an Asian ninja under Lee's tutelage on Uncanny X-Men. This has never sat well with me. If Lee wanted an Asian ninja, he should have just created one rather than ruin Psylocke.
The linework in Issues 4 and 5 looks a little washed out compared to the rest of the issues in this book. I usually gripe about defects in restoration and re-coloring, but in the case of Jim Lee I will make an exception. The book itself is quite nice. Nice paper, sewn binding, multi-page foldouts replicating the collage of all four covers and the mega-foldout version of the cover. Nicely done, Marvel!
Would I recommend this book to anyone? No. For one, these issues can be had for dirt cheap (there were 8.1 million copies of Issue 1 made). Secondly, there is an X-Men by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee Omnibus in the pipeline that will collect all of these issues, thus rendering this hardcover useless to me. Curse you, Marvel! I will be buying this material for the third time! I bought an old printing of the trade paperback years ago and was unhappy with the restoration, so I dumped it off to upgrade to this version. Now my completist OCD will force me to buy the superior Omnibus version. A pox upon you, Marvel Collected Editions department!! 
X-MEN: NATION X (Marvel, 2010; Hardcover)
Collects Dark Reign: The List- X-Men, Uncanny X-Men Nos. 515-522 and Nation X Nos. 1-4 (cover dates November, 2009- May, 2010).
After spending the last month or more reading vintage comic books, it was refreshing to read some modern ones for a change of pace. The Dark Reign: The List- X-Men one-shot is pretty good and features some beautiful artwork by Alan Davis (see cover image above). The writing on UXM by Matt Fraction is decent, but it's Greg Land's artwork that annoys the piss out of me. Every single woman's face looks like some kind of "o" face, like the guy watches pornos for modeling or something. For "fanboys" living in their parents' basement, this is probably cool. For me, it's stupid. I don't read comic books to fill a gap in my life, I read for escapist pleasure. The Nation X issues are a waste of time. They could have put all of the worthwhile stories into a one-shot and saved us all some time and money. 
I just wish that someone would undo the following horrible things that Grant Morrison did to the X-Universe: 1. Making Emma Frost (the White Queen) Cyclops' love interest and a member of the team. Awful. 2. The White Queen's secondary mutation, the diamond form. Actually, all secondary mutations. 3. The Stepford Cuckoos. I remember that there were five and two of them got killed. I can't recall much else, like why they were named that. Awful. Until these things are undone, all new issues of the X-Men will continue to disappoint me on some level.

1 comment:

  1. Claremont the best X-Men writer? No way. Even as a general rule I would say "most prolific" is practically never "best". Claremont did some groundbreaking work, but soon fell into redundancy and lazy writing, churning out gallons of over-narrated pap.

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