CYCLOPTICUS OR SOMETHING
I don’t hate Scott Summers. Sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to. A few years ago, I definitely did. I came to comics in the mid-ninties, amidst a sea of weird continuity. Ben Rielly was Spider-Man, and the star of the first superhero comic that I bought with my own money. The X-Men were… well, the X-Men were largely unintelligible to new readers, so my cursory attempts at following their adventures were met with quite a resounding thud. This, more than anything, was the basis of my tepid hate of Scott Summers. (Can hate be tepid? Why am I asking this question. I don’t actually care.)
It’s often hard to identify with a character who does not share your similar outlook on life, and Scott Summers definitely did not match my various temperaments. He was aloof and off putting. He kept people at arm’s length. While this temperament made him a pretty great leader, it also made for a character I couldn’t quite connect with. That, paired with the continuity nightmare that was (and sometimes is) the line of X-Men books, and suddenly, you can find yourself discounting the man quite easily. Then, over the past several years, something strange and wonderful happened. While some say it began during Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, I didn’t quite feel the shift until I was knee deep in Ed Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. In those pages, Bru turned a stick-in-the-mud into a character that I liked. He mined the vast, untapped riches within Cyclops repression and found reasoning. More so, he found the foundation of a revolutionary, someone who could balance the need for a positive force in the world with the necessity of survival. It was a role that played to his type, a man who would do anything to ensure the survival of his friends and family and race, and it was a role that brought out the best in him.
Flash forward several years, and Cyclops is now one of the very best characters Marvel has in their stable. In his role as a “revolutionary”, he has pushed quite far in very interesting directions. On the one hand, he is somewhat indirectly responsible for the resurgence of the X-gene. On the other hand, his actions in getting to this place were deeply flawed and cost the world quite a bit. At this point, he’s a man of principle, without the ease of being a “hero”… but he’s not going to let a little thing like “being labeled a criminal” stop him from doing what he thinks is right. Which brings us to this week’s Uncanny X-Men #1. For the past several months, Brian Michael Bendis and (to some extent) Kieron Gillen have been setting up Cyclops’ side of the argument within the pages of All New X-Men and AvX: Consequences respectively. By carefully choosing their moments, they have managed to delicately put forth the idea of a somewhat criminal revolution, and framed it as a completely valid side of an argument. The means are somewhat suspect, as are the actions, but in a way, the results can’t quite be argued. There is a sense that good work is being done, albiet in a bad way… but after all the “good” options have been tried and stripped from the docket, what other way is left?
At the end of this story, you see that not everyone in Cyclops’ camp is on his side. While everyone seems to agree with his ideas, they can’t quite play along with his methods – much like the reader. That specific revolution frames this series in quite a Shakespearian way, with the wafting scent of betrayal lingering around the fringes, waiting to take effect. It also ensures that the reader does not know where this series is going to go. Will things end well? Badly? And more to the point… what kind of betrayal is this? Are all the cards really on the table, or is this another one of Cyclops’ tactics? Time will tell, and I will definitely be on board to find out more.
Now of course, I would be quite remiss if I forgot to mention the exemplary art skills of Chris Bachalo on this book. On the surface, his presence on this book is odd. The tone of the series is quite dark, and Bachalo exaggerated style usually lends itself to lighter fare. That said, the art style is repurposed here in a pretty fantastic way. A lot of this tonal shift can be attributed to the colouring Bachalo does, matching the atmosphere of the story to a tee. His line even restrains itself in the less action oriented panels, which makes for a very grounded read when things need to be grounded. That said, Bachalo absolutely cuts loose on the action scenes, and of course, they look brilliant.
Everything about this book was pretty amazing – which is why we’re giving this series our I Was Living In A Devil Town Award. (B)
ADORABLE, TINY WEAPONS
Every time there is a delay with an issue of Mouse Guard, I ask myself, “Is this really worth it?” Then a new issue comes out and I am immediately reminded that yes, yes it absolutely is.
Mouse Guard: The Black Axe wrapped up last week with Issue #6, an issue that takes the interesting tactic of being almost entirely denouement. With all the (adorable) violence and (super-cute) romance out of the way, David Petersen spends his final issue investigating the states of his surviving characters, and setting them on the trajectory to where they are at the beginning of his first Fall 1152. The most impressive part of all this is the restraint that Petersen shows; he’s always favoured a soft hand, and he shows it off here. We know where Celanawe and Conrad will be at the beginning of Fall 1152, but Petersen makes the excellent decision to avoid taking the characters right to their later states; instead, he just sets them in the right direction, leaving an open-ended finale that becomes more poignant for not seeing Conrad soften or the Black Axe truly take shape. It leaves you wanting more, but being thankful for what you’ve read already. The final scene especially is a nice bridge between it and the other miniseries, giving closure without giving everything away.
Of course, the book is also sumptuously gorgeous, as it always is. Petersen‘s fine line work pairs well with his muted colours, giving the story the feeling of a very real, very old one that’s been passed down. His ability to coax emotion out of animal faces is unsurpassed, and his sense of pacing – most of all, his willingness to let scenes breathe and progress slowly – is a wonder. So while I wait for the next Mouse Guard series, I’ll just have to settle in for a reread and give The Black Axe #6 this week’s Drunken Mousefight Award. (J)
Whelp, I sure as hell didn’t see that coming.
This week’s issue of Batman was quite a surprise. At this point in the game, we all know that Scott Snyder can tell a mean Batman story. What we didn’t know, was how this would play out, in terms of where DC seem to be going with their “house style” of storytelling.
If you look at the majority of the DC Comics on the comic racks these days, you’ll find a glut of super serious, super violent reads. Hell, just a few weeks ago, DC published a story that had Superman accidently kill Lois Lane (mind control) and react by putting his fist straight through the Joker. And yes the story was out of main DC continuity, but the point remains: much of the DC line is concerning itself with that kind of storytelling… and the Death of the Family story arc definitely seemed to be steering hard in that direction. In the previous issue (which I was a fan of), there was a scene where the Joker had a dude sew living people into a tapestry for Batman to see, kind of like his own human centipede. I definitely thought that was going a little too far, but Snyder just managed to hit a tone of inherent ridiculousness with the other proceedings in the book that it came of a bit less schlocky. Then, in this issue, he does something positively brilliant: after setting up some very grim circumstances, and teasing some really gruesome fates, Synder pulled back and ultimately turned this dark read into a magnificent triumph. Certainly, there was loss sustained at the end of the issue, but it wasn’t a grotesque physical loss. All the scars in this story end up being mental, which was something I could have never pictured, considering the lead up. There are even two instances within the issue where I felt my chest tighten with disappointment, before I turned a few pages and saw that Synder really did have it all in control all along. He wasn’t going off the rails, wasn’t going for shock just for shock’s sake. Sure, there were jarring moments, but they all had purpose, and in the end, it proved the worth of the Batman family in a way that a jarring death or maiming couldn’t come close to matching. It’s this newfound sense of worth that makes the ending all the more heartbreaking when it finally comes.
Greg Capullo also does a fantastic job with this issue, illustrating quite a few more pages than he normally would (there was no back up in this issue, leaving room for the main story to breathe) while maintaining his sense of form and action – all while hitting his deadline. It’s a great looking book, considering the pressures it was under as an oversized conclusion to a big event, and Capullo deserves a heap of credit for the effort he put forth on this issue.
Batman #17 was a fine example of what DC Comics can be capable of. If only more of the line would follow suit. (B)