Extraordinary X-Men #1 (2015): Comics Review

This just in: People hate mutants. Still.

Well, those stories did promise that “nothing would ever be the same!”, didn’t they? Apparently those weren’t glib statements. Delivering on such promises, the last few publishing events by Marvel Comics have left their X-Men in quite an altered state. The problem is, though, that the status quo has been so altered that they’ve all become the kinds of stories I don’t really want to read.

The issue centers around humanity’s fear and hatred for mutants. I hope this won’t be a spoiler. Except this time that fear and hatred is *ALSO* because of something that Cyclops did. We know this because characters tell each other it’s about something Cyclops did. Am I the reader supposed to know what he did? And yes, this repetition is intentional as it’s about par for discourse in the comicbook. To add another aspect, it’s ALSO-also because of the Inhuman’s Terrigen Mists that blanketed the globe in a different crossover event. It has given mutants a kind of disease dubbed M-Pox and ALSO-also-also threatens mutants with genocide by sterility. The story seems to forgo complex motivations in favor of increased quantities of motivation. Why have a simple premise when you can have four of them?

The solution to all of this is the same— mutants should retreat to a new place called X-Haven. Storm leads this community and the other key characters are… also there? It’s not clear what distinguishes, say, Iceman from being there and any other mutant that does some cameoing in the background, except for some expository dialogue. Magik at least has some active duty in saving and/or recruiting mutants around the world, including her brother, Colossus, who is convinced to return in order for… reasons? “You are fighter,” Magik tells him. “It’s time to fight, Piotr!” However, who, exactly, the X-Men are to fight is never clear. They are to be warriors for…? It’s not appropriate to live as a farmer by yourself because…?

They in turn attempt to recruit their friend Nightcrawler, or otherwise go to “get” him, except they actually don’t. It’s just a narrative segue to Nightcrawler, spouting scripture while ripping heads off of a giant bull-like villain. Or not. The art seems to show just the head teleported but the villain is whole and hearty on the next page. There’s no context given for this scene, although the villain team he’s facing mentions something about test subjects. All the characters’ powers and visuals are intriguing, but complete absent of basic set-up.

There’s some more standing around and talking for the other heroes, too, like Jean Grey (should she be Marvel Girl or some other code name?) and Old Man Logan (ditto the code name question for this iteration of Wolverine here. Or is “Old Man” his actual code name? That would definitely strike fear in the hearts of evil-doers. “Beware the ravages of age! It’s… Old Man!”)

I’ve often had a love-hate relationship with Humberto Ramos’ artwork, and it all comes down to the match of his hyper-kinetic style to the scene. For his work on Amazing Spider-Man, it was lovely and a complete match. For a somber and decidedly fatalistic tone as this X-Men series seems to be setting up, this is instead a complete mismatch. By far, the majority of the issue features extended pages of dialogue between characters instead of action scenes. And even such action scenes, normally a strength of Ramos’, here display such a variety of angles/layouts that it becomes confusing to follow the action.

There are a couple of double page spreads here that are really gorgeous here, particularly in their posing and in the colors. Magik’s defense of a little girl gives us a pretty iconic image, speaking a thousand words for this new status quo.

The new costume designs, also, are hit or miss. Magik’s is quite nice, continuing to be sexy and provocative, reminiscent of something from Final Fantasy. Storm’s also. The choice of white marks a departure from her typical black and perhaps sets herself up as more of a saviour/figure of leadership. I do miss Storm’s cape, however, and so the costume loses a bit of a regal touch that might be needed. Also? Both feature boob-to-hip bare bellies. Nightcrawler’s is disappointing. It’s needlessly complicated and includes scale armor for some reason inconsistent with his acrobatic roots, but perhaps is indicating something more war-like in his new characterization. Also? He has claws on his boots.

As someone who loved Nightcrawler’s free-wheeling and unbridled optimism, it’s disappointing that yet again the writers seem to think he’s better suited for dark and gritty attitudes. In fact, for the X-Men to be typically concerned with being capitol-H Heroes from their very inception, it’s weird that writers seem to always want to segregate and shunt them away in their own compounds away from the world. Perhaps having a team of heroes in bright costumes fighting back would-be world conquerors is a feature of stories thirty years ago.

Meta-Quote of the Book—
Iceman: “Well, we don’t always get what we want, Jeannie.”

As a first issue, it does what it needs to do, which is exposit, exposit, and exposit. Various characters are spotlighted, but mostly in the context of showing the same aspect of this new world over and over again. We get it. Cyclops did something. Mutants have it bad. And everyone feels sad about it. Beyond that, there’s no real conversation about *why* we should empathize, nor about *why* our characters feel that way about it. Thankfully, the art remains edgy and kinetic, which helps in the largely static conversations people have, but seems a mismatch for the tone of doom and gloom. All in all, a pretty average effort that presents a world that fails to really connect on a personal level.

Extraordinary X-Men #1: 
Writer: Jeff Lemire; Penciller: Humberto Ramos; Inker: Victor Olazaba; Color Artist: Edgar Delgado; Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna  

This review was originally published for weeklycomicbookreview.com. Be sure to check in there for the world’s best comic book reviews!  

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Movie Review– X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)


X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Directed byBryan Singer, Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker; Screenplay by Simon Kinberg; Story by Simon Kinberg Matthew Vaughn Jane Goldman Based onDays of Future Past  by Chris Claremont John Byrne

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Directed by Bryan Singer, Produced by
Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker;
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg; Story by Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman;
Based on Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Good news! If you liked X-Men: First Class, then you will really like X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The same things that a lot of people love about X:FC show up again in X:DoFP. For example, having the movie largely a period piece, in 1973, rather than the present day or some vague “not too distant future.” For another, having the focus on a core group of conflicted characters, namely Xavier/the Professor (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

In fact, I appreciate the last one the most, as it creates a very personal drama that is balanced by a very epic scale. The setting ranges from both past and future, and all over the globe – Russia, China, New York, Paris, Washington DC. The stakes are quite high, too – nothing less than the destruction of life on earth, after all, and the conflict of human/mutant is not left to some abstract reference; we actually get to see this very-real conflict in a framing device as Sentinel robots battle older-Professor and older-Magneto and other familiar X-Men.

And what a battle it is. There is a creative use of powers, here, as characters use their powers in genuine teamwork for the most effective moves. Watch for Blink’s (Fan Bingbing) portals to play around with physics, a visualization of power that is more effective on film than on a comic’s page. And I never knew I was so excited to see Warpath on the big screen, here played by Booboo Stewart, along with Storm, Iceman, Sunspot, the Professor, Magneto, Colossus, and Wolverine. The oppressive and hopeless tone is exaggerated here. Heck, their final stand takes place inside a tomb! But thematically, they hold their own because of their teamwork, best expressed with Bishop (Omar Sy) who can absorb and redirect others’ energies, and, of course, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) whose out-of-phase powers can also send others’ spirits back in time.

If you are hoping to see more of these characters, however, you will be disappointed. Because the key to their teamwork is in the past, when there wasn’t a team at all. So Wolverine gets sent back in time (his spirit is sent into his past-self’s body) in order to make sure younger-Xavier and younger-Magneto can play well together and stop Mystique from making a big mistake.

Let me just say BEFORE THE SPOILERS that it’s a good thing you’re smiling so much at the look and casting and costuming and sets and CGI/animation and everything. Because these smiles are enough to distract you from squinting a bit at the plot. Don’t look to too hard, or annoying things like QUESTIONS will come to your mind.

SPOILERS! Now in Question Form!

So… in the future, why do the X-Men try to send someone’s spirit back AT THAT POINT? Surely they would have had this conversation prior to their, uhm, Really-The-Last-Stand-This-Time. They’ve been using Kitty Pryde’s power for a while, right? so maybe I missed the point where suddenly it seemed like a good idea to use it THIS way.

Also, WHY does Magneto say they need his past-self when clearly they don’t “need” him since they reach Mystique in the moments she first tries to shoot Trask? I suppose past-Xavier needs him since he won’t know where Mystique is, but older-Magneto wouldn’t have known that, right?

Are we REALLY supposed to expect that Mystique has NEVER killed anyone prior to her confrontation with Trask? That’s a LOT of action for her to have seen to have “never” killed anyone.

Why is Trask in some random meeting with the President’s cabinet to be “glad he asked that question” about the Sentinels? Isn’t he just a businessman?

How many days was Wolverine in the past, and why doesn’t it take the same amount of “time” in the future?

And, of course, it’s best not to think about the whole time travel thing anyway, as it leads to questions like: how does Old-Wolverine return to his body which will become New-Wolverine the moment the timeline is “fixed” into it’s new version of history? It’s a neat idea, like your time travel is all a dream and doesn’t become “real” until the moment you wake up, but there are some philosophical implications to physics and identity and paradox which I guess you just have to accept in a superhero movie.

And which I guess pretty sums up the answers to any of my questions above, which is: “just because, OK?!”

Kind of like the answer to why Wolverine doesn’t “lose it” every time he doesn’t “think calm thoughts.” There’s only one time when it would be dramatically important for him to do, and so that’s when he does, despite clearly many other opportunities to do so. The film takes these moments as it needs them to keep the plot and characterization flowing. It’s quite impressive that it gives the audience an important emotional or expositional beat just at the right time, so thank you screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer, although it’s not glowing praise as I’d appreciate a bit more logic to the flow as well.

News Flash! Professor X Is a Jerk! (But Gets Better)

Clearly, this film is really all about Professor X/Charles Xavier, as played by McAvoy. Despite this film’s billing as an ensemble cast filled “with the most X-Men characters ev-ah!!”, it really all comes down to Xavier’s heroic journey. His is the character arc that starts him off in the lowest place for him to be: crippled emotionally but not physically, a man who once helped mutants is now one who has no mutant powers. He must receive help from his fairy godmother, here played by Wolverine, and must go on a series of quests to return him to his rightful place.

To be clear, yes, this means that Wolverine is actually more of supporting character in terms of plot, despite his placement on a movie poster. The guy has good lines, helps move the plot forward, and is recognizable/ marketable, but in fact he doesn’t have any sincere motivation, character growth, or internal struggle. He does what he needs to do so the plot can advance, which again is pretty much like all those “Just Because” things I talked about.

Thematically, it’s interesting that Xavier’s turning point is in a big speech about how “good” pain and suffering is. Turns out, it has something to do with hope, or at least that what he says out loud, but I think the film overall makes a better case that it’s about teamwork. Magneto “loses” for example, because he breaks from the group to take matters into his own hands. Mystique “wins” because she joins Xavier’s side, if only for that moment.

And both antagonists have a warped idea on what teamwork/community really is. Magneto’s ideas is more about blindly lashing out, uniting as a force for war and vengeance, the best defense a good offense. Trask’s ideas is about how humans will need to come together with mutants as their enemies so each side will make the other strong. Or something. His big villain speech was one of those “oh cool! … oh wait” don’t-squint-too-hard-or-it-won’t-look-right kind of moments.

BUT WAIT! There’s More!

Usually, movies like these have some pretty definitive endings– namely, the antagonists die. In this case, however, Magneto flies away after his battle is lost, and it’s more of a philosophical battle, to boot. Trask, also, is spared– obviously, of course, or since that’s pretty much the nature of the quest in the first place. Certainly, that can only mean one thing– sequels!

In a very intriguing move, the nature of this time-travel story means that any sequel we get next, however, will be pretty much a brand-new movie. If you didn’t like any of the previous movies in this X-Men film series by 20th Century Fox, then don’t worry. All of that has been erased, for all intents and purposes. Even that woman who Wolverine was so angsty about in over four films spanning nearly 15 years is back– Jean Grey, with a cameo by her original actor, Famke Janssen.

I’ve Run Out of Room…

and maybe you didn’t get this far anyway. I didn’t get to talk about the acting in general (very good,) the effects (ranging from good to OK), and the score (also good.) I didn’t get to talk about Quicksilver stealing the show (which I found fun) and becoming an audience favorite, judging from the theater I saw it in. I didn’t get to talk about the somewhat “choppy” feel of the film (which I didn’t like), as if each sequence of the film felt like it’s own mini-movie or series of related vignettes. But overall, I enjoyed the film and it’s balance between the epic scale and personal struggles. I think it’s even better than its predecessor, X-Men: First Class, which I rank among the X-Franchise’s best.

On the scale of Yes to No, I recommend X-M:DoFP with a hearty “Heck Yeah!”

By Danny Wall