Monday, June 30, 2014



Here There Be Monsters!
Credits:  Todd Dezago (writer), Mike Wieringo (penciler), Richard Case (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Peter Parker goes to bed the night before his fishing trip with Uncle Ben.  As he sleeps, he dreams their fishing trip is interrupted by creatures from his favorite comic books.  Using his knowledge of science, Peter is able to defeat the monsters in his dreams.  The next morning, Aunt May is adamant that Peter throw away his comics.  Uncle Ben hides them in the attic instead.  Elsewhere, Nightmare decides to target young Peter Parker in the realm of dreams, but he’s scared away by Stan Lee.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  The old Marvel monsters seen this issue include Gigantus, Groot, the Vandoom Creature, and the Blip.  And this is actually the second time we see Peter’s old monster comics in the attic.  He discovered them in the present day during the “Revelations” storyline in Spectacular Spider-Man #240.

Forever Young:  Somehow, twenty-something Peter Parker had a full collection of early Silver Age Marvel monster comics in his youth.  (Uncle Ben’s dialogue doesn’t suggest he passed them down to Peter.)  The Parkers also had a television set sitting on the floor with wood paneling and VHF/UHF knobs.

Review:  Hey, I get to talk about Flashback Month yet again.  For anyone who isn’t aware, this is the month Marvel labeled every comic it published a “negative one” and set the story vaguely ten years in the past, before the official beginning of the Marvel Universe in Fantastic Four #1.  Stan Lee served as the narrator and reportedly wrote his own dialogue.  At the time, I largely viewed Flashback Month as a nuisance, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the concept.  I still believe that applying the gimmick to the entire line of books was a mistake, however.  The Spider-Man line is the perfect example of how Marvel cast the net too wide -- there are four monthly Spider-Man titles, five counting Untold Tales.  How do you get five full stories out of the nerdy, pre-Spider-Man Peter Parker?

Despite the restriction, Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo get one of their best issues out of the concept.  Going for “it’s all a dream” is a somewhat obvious choice, yet it’s probably the best one available to creators who have to tell a young Peter Parker story that still incorporates some action and/or fantasy elements.  It’s largely an excuse for ‘Ringo to draw some long-forgotten Marvel monsters, and he does so spectacularly.  If he can’t draw Spider-Man for an issue, this is still a worthy use of his time.  Honestly, who would expect to see a Groot vs. Vandoom fight in a flashback story about Peter and Uncle Ben’s fishing trip?  It’s a clever way to subvert the editorial mandate without breaking any of the actual rules.

Not only is the issue visually amazing, but the story is also one of the finest Peter/Uncle Ben stories I’ve ever read.  The scene where Ben tries to get Peter to open up about his friends and Peter’s only response is to clam up (because he has none)…if that doesn’t get to you, check your pulse, you heartless ogre.  So, Sensational has set the bar high as the first Spidey Flashback.  To be honest, I’m skeptical if the rest are going to be this good.

Friday, June 27, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #5 - October 2009

Bury My Heart!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Wilfredo Quintana (colors)

Summary:  Storm, now considered a liability by the Consortium, is rescued by the X-Men before their agents can fire.  Storm flies away, but Cyclops tells the X-Men to focus on the Consortium.  SHIELD agents arrive and take the Consortium members into custody.  Meanwhile, Gambit, Rogue, and Nightcrawler protect ‘Ro from another group of Consortium agents.  Elsewhere, a renegade faction of SHIELD operatives drops Fabian Cortez off in Northern Africa, where he’s taken by Consortium agents.  At the mansion, Beast reveals that Storm and ‘Ro share the same DNA.  He then makes a bigger announcement -- in Xavier’s original data cache, he’s discovered Xavier’s theory that all mutants die at an early age, their bodies unable to deal with the strain created by their powers.  The X-Men are angry with Xavier for withholding this information, but with Nick Fury’s encouragement, decide to move forward.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The adolescent Storm is referred to as “’Ro” from now on.
  • Cyclops says that an “impenetrable shield of static” surrounds Storm’s brain, making it possible for her to hear a psychic shout, but impossible for a telepath to read her mind.  Except Storm has had her mind read before, most recently (in this continuity) in Uncanny X-Men #277, when Xavier read her thoughts and discerned that the Shadow King had returned.  It’s possible that Claremont means that Storm’s mind can only be read if she allows it, which is why no one can read the mind of the evil Storm.
  • SHIELD agent Daisy Dugan, granddaughter of Dum Dum, debuts this issue, giving Fury information on the missing aircraft containing Fabian Cortez.
  • Xavier claims that he’s suspected the existence of “Burnout” all along, and it’s a major reason why he stayed in space with Lilandra, using alien science to study the problem.  Rogue somehow makes the conclusion that the Genoshans know about Burnout, which is why they work their slaves to death.  Jean speculates that Xavier’s paralysis is tied to Burnout.
  • Cyclops and Jean have a brief breakup scene during Wolverine’s memorial.
  • The X-Men, except for Jean, still haven’t changed costumes in spite of what the covers are showing us.

Review:  Two tired plot elements from the mainstream Marvel Universe show up this issue…Xavier as the lying, manipulative jerk, and SHIELD as the corrupt front for villainous activity.  In fairness to Claremont, he’s not normally associated with either idea, but that doesn’t mean I’m thrilled to have to read even more versions of these stories in an alternate universe book.  (Claremont did touch on some corruption within SHIELD in Uncanny X-Men #182, but he dropped the plot quickly.  And now that he’s using Nick Fury as a series regular, it would be nice if he finally resolved the “SHIELD accuses Rogue of murder” storyline, but it’s never referenced in this title.)  

The most grating of these two plots is the idea that Xavier is always lying to the team and keeping some horrible secret.  People frequently point to Xavier’s first fake “death” back in the ‘60s to justify this idea, but that ignores a few facts.  A) Xavier had no idea Changeling would die while impersonating him, and B) the Changeling idea was a clumsy retcon anyway.  Xavier had to be brought back somehow, and that just so happened to be the way Neal Adams and guest writer Denny O’Neil decided to revive him that issue.  I don’t see how that one awkward retcon defines Xavier forever.  Also, it’s a plot point that was essentially ignored for decades.  “Onslaught” dredged up the idea that Xavier was in love with Jean as a “dark secret” when trying to build that flimsy house of cards, but essentially left Xavier’s character intact by the end.  Xavier having one secret exposed after another is really an invention of the modern Quesada era, and it’s a pathetically transparent attempt to make yet another hero un-heroic.  I have no idea what Claremont’s thinking going down the same path, unless he’s read some of the more recent X-canon and decided that he has to do his own take on the story.  And in this incarnation, the X-Men get mad, hear a pep talk from Nick Fury, and then get over it in two pages.  The issue still doesn’t do a lot to make Xavier sympathetic -- even Fury calls Xavier's actions “shameful” while defending him -- but at least someone is there to present an argument for all the good Xavier’s accomplished and to remind us that one mistake doesn’t define a person forever.

Regarding the actual Burnout plot, I never warmed up to it.  There are just too many holes; holes Claremont tries to correct later by explaining why characters like Mystique and Wolverine managed to live so long, but that’s not enough to redeem the plot.  I think the main problem is that Claremont overstates his case this issue by having Beast declare that there are no mutants over 60.  That’s just encouraging the audience to think up every mutant that is over 60.  Destiny’s an obvious one, as are the three WWII vets Claremont created to join Freedom Force.  Aged or de-aged, Holocaust survivor Magneto had to reach 60+ at some point.  And Apocalypse was a slave in ancient Egypt, as established by Louise Simonson years ago.  The plot’s a hard sell to begin with, but this sloppy introduction just makes it more difficult to buy.  I also have a hard time believing that someone with passive powers like Doug Ramsey is going to die an early death because his body can’t handle his mutantcy.  Ignoring that line about not reaching 60, Claremont has a much better case with Magneto, and there is nice foreshadowing of this in Uncanny X-Men #274, but proclaiming that this happens to all mutants is simply a mistake.

Regarding the specifics of this issue and ignoring the larger plotlines, things move along well enough, with the exception of Jean not flying after Storm as she escapes.  I understand that Claremont doesn’t want to resolve this story yet and it’s important for Storm to get away, but I think Jean would need a better motivation for letting Storm escape than Cyclops simply declaring that the team should instead be focusing on these mysterious Consortium guys.  At the very least, give us a splash page of Storm frying Jean with lightning or something as she escapes.  (It’s not as if Claremont’s adverse to using splash pages in this book; the issue is filled with splashes and panels so large they might as well be splashes.  They all look great under Grummett and Hamscher, of course.)  True to Claremont’s past, every X-Man’s played a role in the story so far in the arc, with the possible exception of Nightcrawler.  He’s made his presence felt only in the fight scenes, but it’s fun to see him with the team again.  Gambit and ‘Ro have a nice reunion, and Cyclops and Jean’s breakup manages to give Cyclops quite a bit of dignity and actually make Jean look like the cad for once. 

Once again, I'll point to the final issue of the X-Men: The End miniseries for the best justification for the Scott/Jean breakup.  I’m sure there are a million holes you could poke in the premise that Madelyne Pryor represented the part of Jean that “loved Scott with all her heart,” leaving a void inside of Jean, but I like it as a way to give Madelyne some redemption by confirming that she truly loves Scott.  If Claremont were working under that assumption, it would’ve been nice to see it in the published comic, because now Jean looks almost as bad as Cyclops did in X-Factor #1.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #4 - September 2009


Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Wilfredo Quintana (colors)

Summary:  Storm escapes through the Morlock Tunnels.  Jean rejoins the X-Men to search for her, while Xavier, Beast, and Nick Fury monitor the mission from the mansion.  Cyclops convinces Sabretooth to join their search.  Beast detects two similar energy patterns, so Rogue, Nightcrawler, and Gambit are sent to investigate the second reading.  Storm escapes the X-Men, but soon finds herself confronted by agents of the Consortium who have been sent to kill her.  Meanwhile, Rogue’s team discovers an adolescent Storm on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Shadowcat is still wearing her classic Excalibur outfit in the issue, regardless of what the cover shows us.
  • The adolescent version of Storm debuted in Uncanny X-Men #253.  The origin later given was that Nanny regressed her to childhood after “rescuing” her from the X-Men.
  • The Consortium will play a large role in this series as it progresses.  Essentially, they’re an anti-mutant conspiracy.
  • Jean reemerges with a new costume, even though her “tattered” costume from the first issue was drawn as normal in the past two chapters.  The triangle shape over her chest is sometimes drawn as a Phoenix symbol and sometimes not.  The model is never consistent.
  • Beast theorizes that Shadowcat now has Wolverine’s claw because she phased through Wolverine’s body while Fabian Cortez was using his powers on Wolverine.  The combination of powers caused an “overload of the physiologic and mutagenic processes…”
  • Rogue claims that her encounter with Fabian Cortez has silenced the residual voices she hears in her head after absorbing someone’s persona.

Review:  Hooray, I get to complain about Kitty’s claw again.  Thankfully not dragging this out, Claremont presents the justification for how exactly Kitty has an adamantium claw bonded to her skeleton now, via the Beast, who’s rarely wrong about anything so this must be the real answer.  The explanation hinges on the reader believing that Fabian Cortez’s powers work essentially as magic, warping a mutant’s powers into whatever the story needs them to be.  I was perfectly okay with Claremont expounding upon Cortez’s powers earlier in the series, since the character was largely a mystery in his initial appearances and it is plausible that Cortez is capable of more than what we saw in those three issues.  But the idea that he could amplify Kitty’s powers to the point that she’s absorbed a part of Wolverine’s skeleton, and apparently part of his personality, just stretches credibility too far.  I’m willing to give up some of my bias on how Cortez’s powers work, but I refuse to believe he can perform magic, nor am I willing to forget that Weapon X established the adamantium bonding process as insanely complicated, even within the fantastic world of the Marvel Universe.  Making this more annoying is Claremont going out of his way to remind us that Wolverine’s supposed to be in pain every time he pops his claws.  So, Kitty’s now just as tough as Wolverine?  And I guess she somehow picked up a portion of his healing factor, too?  Honestly, this is such a horrendous idea I’m shocked it made it to print.  

Don’t let the above rant lead you to believe that I’m opposed to insane plot twists, though.  I love adolescent Storm (wait, that doesn’t sound right…) and I’m thrilled Claremont actually revived her for this series.  This is partially nostalgia, as Storm was de-aged during my first year of X-fandom and I have great memories of the stories from this era.  More importantly, I just love the Marvel Universe’s plausible lunacy that allows a major character to “die,” reemerge as a pre-teen, and then carry on in adventures for a year-plus before the readers are ever told how it happened.  That final bit is the most important element, presenting a credible explanation within a reasonable time after you’ve introduced the crazy idea.  The mystery of why Storm isn’t dead, and why she’s now a kid, was just a part of the chaotic fun of Uncanny X-Men during that era.  I don’t think there are necessarily more stories to be told about Storm as an adolescent, but the mystery surrounding how she’s returned is a great hook for future stories in this series.

So, one good plot twist, one bad.  The rest of the issue goes through the paces fairly well, allowing Storm to escape while setting Sabretooth up as a potential ally to the team.  Claremont gives Cyclops a few nice moments in the issue, as he’s able to handle Sabretooth without resorting to another fight, and get him on the team’s side when they need him.  Cyclops is also given a brief moment to react to last issue’s big revelation, and while it doesn’t make the Jean/Wolverine romance more palatable, it does allow Cyclops to maintain some dignity and remain sympathetic.  There is a sense in the series that no one but Jean understands where this is coming from, which works because that’s probably the point of view of most of the audience, although I still find the elevation of what was once flirting to some great romance just annoying.

Grummett handles the action and character interactions very well, and as I’ve said several times by now, I think his X-Men look essentially perfect.  I would rank Grummett’s X-Men in these issues up there with Cockrum, Byrne, or Davis any day.  Unfortunately, the misguided attempts to redesign the team have already begun, so there isn’t a lot of time to enjoy their “real” looks.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #3 - September 2009


The Cruelest Cut
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Wilfredo Quintana (colors)

Summary:  Professor Xavier discerns that Jean was in contact with Wolverine before she unleashed the psychic cry.  He enters her mind and watches the events she experienced through Wolverine’s eyes.  Xavier witnesses Storm kill Wolverine inside a penthouse apartment.  The experience causes Xavier to fall unconscious, while Jean is suddenly revived.  Inside the Danger Room, a wounded Sabretooth implicates Storm as Wolverine’s murderer.  Jean unleashes a psychic threat to Storm, confirming Sabretooth’s claim.  The X-Men pursue Storm.  Eventually, Shadowcat is left alone with her.  When Storm tries to kill Shadowcat, she suddenly extracts an adamantium claw and cuts Storm's right eye.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Sabretooth refers to Wolverine as his son, and the X-Men apparently just accept it as gospel truth.  This is another example of Claremont ignoring continuity not written by him, as Larry Hama had already established through a blood test in Wolverine, pre X-Men #1-3, that Wolverine and Sabretooth are not related.
  • Xavier is shocked to discover that Jean and Wolverine have a primal bond stronger than her connection to Cyclops.  Later, Cyclops is shaken after hearing Jean refer to Wolverine as the man she loves during her psychic outburst.
  • An off-panel group is monitoring Storm’s actions.  They decide to allow her to clean up her own mess.

Review:  Yes, Kitty has an adamantium claw now.  And boy is that stupid.  Claremont, to his credit, doesn’t keep the origin of this as a mystery for long, and he has been foreshadowing the revelation right up until it happens, but that doesn’t make the basic idea any more bearable.  Claremont’s apparently had the idea for Kitty to use one of Wolverine’s claws for a while now, since he established that she now carried one during X-Men #100 (which I think was the only time he wrote her during his brief return in the “Revolution” revamp).  That was a bone claw, one that had been broken off during a fight.  Which is fine.  I don’t think it adds much to Kitty’s character, but there’s a logical story behind it, and I can’t necessarily argue that Kitty wouldn’t carry one of Wolverine’s old claws.  But giving her an adamantium claw, fully integrated into her body, just strikes me as ridiculous.  Aside from the fact that it distracts from Kitty’s basic powers and (assuming she uses it) requires her established personality to be altered, the justification we later receive is simply preposterous.  We see quite a few physical alterations of established characters in this series, many of them poorly received, but this one is personally the one I can’t stand.

Another one of the series’ more annoying moments occurs this issue, and that’s the telepathic confirmation that Wolverine is Jean’s true love, not Cyclops.  I didn’t mind the opening splash page of this series so much, nor did I have a real problem with the prequel annual that revealed the story behind their kiss, but this reads as if Jean truly loved Wolverine and not Cyclops all along.  Had Claremont worked in his bit from X-Men: The End regarding Madelyne Pryor now having the portion of Jean's soul that loved Cyke, I could live with that, but the concept is never established in this continuity.  Placing Wolverine above Cyclops undermines so many classic stories, including Claremont’s most famous one, and it’s far too reminiscent of modern Marvel’s insistence that Wolverine really is the coolest guy in the world, simply because he became the most popular amongst a certain group of fans.  Of course Wolverine gets to become the star of the movies, join the Avengers, hit on Spider-Man’s wife, have flashback WWII adventures with Nick Fury, have his healing factor amped up to the point that he can’t be killed, be everyone’s best friend or worst nemesis, lead his own team of secret X-Men, have forty solo missions a month, and always get the girl.  The idea that Jean even had feelings for Wolverine is itself a retcon that goes back to the added pages in Classic X-Men #1; previously, the unrequited love was solely on Wolverine’s side.  And even taking that retcon into account, I think only the most hardcore of Wolverine fanboys actually thought that Jean truly loved Wolverine more than Cyclops.

So, yeah, this series can veer into directions that simply annoy me to no end.  That doesn’t mean I can’t give credit where it’s due, though.  The mystery regarding Evil Storm is a good one, one of the most shocking Claremont’s ever developed, and I could easily see myself absolutely freaking out over it had this truly been published as the original follow-up to X-Men #1-3.  Claremont’s been meticulously setting this up since the book began, and when the resolution is finally revealed, it actually is a clever usage of existing continuity that plays fair with the audience.  It’s also a lot of fun to see Tom Grummett drawing the characters in their costumes of this era; they actually don’t look dated at all under his pencils, since he manages to make everyone look as if this really is how they’re supposed to look.  The pacing of the book is a welcome relief from what you might expect from Claremont, now that he seems more than willing to just push ahead and get to the point.  As the series progresses, he often moves so fast the book feels like a fever dream, but at this point he’s found a decent balance between crazy things happening and giving the cast time to react to the crazy things happening.

Friday, June 20, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #2 - August 2009

Comes the Father!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Wilfredo Quintana (colors)

Summary:  In Central Park, officers discover the adamantium remains of Wolverine.  At the mansion, Storm enters as the X-Men are recovering from the psychic scream unleashed by Jean.  Storm walks to the mansion’s generator to restore the electricity that was disrupted by Jean’s outburst.  She’s ambushed by Sabretooth, who cuts her arm.  The X-Men enter to defend her, but Storm ends the fight by burning his eyes with electricity.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Jean Grey's psychic scream was the result of being in telepathic contact with Wolverine as he died.  Professor Xavier explains that Jean diverted her psychic shockwave into the mansion’s electronics systems to protect the team.  According to Cyclops, telepathy and telekinesis are all energy manipulation, which apparently gives her some control over electronics.  As awkward as this explanation is, it’s consistent with the way Xavier’s powers were portrayed in the earliest issues of the Uncanny X-Men.
  •  Wolverine’s skeleton is missing one of its claws.  This becomes important later, in one of the series’ more annoying plot twists.
  •  A mystery girl is asking questions of a SHIELD agent at the scene of Wolverine’s death.  Another hint that will be paid off soon.
  • Gabriel Jones, Jr. is one of the SHIELD agents in Central Park.  He’s the first of the second (and third) generation SHIELD agents Claremont will introduce in the series.
  • Beast comments that the rest of the X-Men are “scattered across the globe,” which is the only explanation we’ll ever receive regarding the whereabouts of the rest of the team.
  • Jean Grey’s costume was damaged in the previous issue following the team’s fight with Fabian Cortez, but it’s in pristine shape now.  In more fashion news, she’s wearing a totally different outfit on the cover, along with Storm and Rogue (Storm’s wearing a variation on her original costume, while Jean and Rogue are in outfits they won’t don until later in this series).  Also, Cyclops is wearing the giant rectangular glasses he wore back in the ‘70s and ‘80s again.
  • Gambit can actually pronounce words like “this” and “that,” which is consistent with the way Claremont originally established his speech pattern.

Review:  One aspect of the early issues of this series that I enjoyed is that, upon a rereading, it’s easy to pick up on subtle clues Claremont’s dropping that are paid off in future chapters.  And they’re actually paid off very quickly.  It’s a great way for Claremont to subvert his reputation, and to work the momentum of a bi-weekly series to his advantage.  I’ll go ahead and spoil the next few issues by revealing that Storm is actually Wolverine’s killer, which is why Sabretooth (soon “confirmed” as Wolverine’s father in this book’s continuity) has stalked her and attacked her at the mansion.  A cursory reading of this issue won’t give you any real clues that something’s up with Storm; she even has fairly innocuous thought balloons in one scene, with the only questionable revelation being that she has a secret she wants to keep from the team.  That could mean anything in comics, so I don’t think anyone pegged her right away as the killer.  The issue’s climax, which has Storm viciously blinding Sabretooth, is another clue that’s obvious in retrospect, but it’s not so outrageous that the reader is going to assume she’s now a villain.  

Wolverine’s death is also a great way to fake out the reader -- Nick Fury and Xavier are dubious that the body’s really him, and usually having any character express doubt in comics means that the reader is supposed to be suspicious.  And, of course, the audience is already trained to believe that any hero death will ultimately be undone anyway.  Add this to the general knowledge that Claremont always intended a fake Wolverine death during his initial run on the books, and it’s easy for the audience to just assume Wolverine’s coming back soon.  Knowing now that Claremont’s actually serious this time makes his ambiguity in the early issues more admirable.  Unfortunately, the impact of Wolverine’s death is soon muted as Claremont has 4,000 other things he wants to get to, which is one of the problems that plagues the series.  Also, it’s a shame that we’re not going to see Tom Grummett draw more scenes of Wolverine in his brown costume, since I think he draws one of the best interpretations of Wolverine’s classic look.  I admire the fact that Claremont didn’t want this series to be an exercise in nostalgia, but surely a little nostalgia wouldn’t have hurt.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

X-MEN FOREVER #1 - August 2009

Love and Loss!
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Grummett (pencils), Cory Hamscher (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Wilfredo Quintana (colors)

Summary:  The X-Men pursue Fabian Cortez, while Xavier, Beast, and Nick Fury remain at the mansion monitoring the mission.  The Blackbird is struck by a mysterious blast just as they reach Cortez’s location.  Cortez takes advantage of the confusion and soon incapacitates most of the team.  Nightcrawler and Gambit eventually team up to knock him unconscious.  At the mansion, Fury announces that the team will now require government supervision.  Wolverine, irritated, leaves on a private mission.  Jean Grey soon senses he’s in trouble.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The X-Men consist of Xavier, Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Beast, Storm, Jean Grey, Gambit, and Shadowcat.  Nightcrawler and Shadowcat acknowledge that they’re still members of Excalibur, but they’re treated as regulars in this cast.  The rest of the united X-Men from X-Men #1-3 are gone without explanation.
  • The issue opens with Jean fantasizing about kissing Wolverine on the beach.  The story behind this kiss is eventually told in the X-Men Forever annual.
  • Fabian Cortez exhibits powers not seen in X-Men #1-3, such as superhuman strength when punching Rogue.
  • Jean comments that Xavier has been paralyzed for a month, “and we don't know WHY.”  This is the first hint that Claremont is ignoring the ending of “The Muir Island Saga.”
  • During the fight with Cortez, Rogue and Storm touch skin, and Shadowcat phases into Wolverine while Cortez uses his powers against him.  Both of these scenes become important later.
  • When Cortez tries to use his powers against Jean, an image of the Phoenix Force briefly appears.

Gimmicks: Many issues of this series will feature variant covers, as it is a current-day Marvel ongoing.  I doubt I could keep track of all of them, but has the variants in their cover gallery.  This issue's variant features the first page sans text.

Review:  Since I’ve avoided talking about modern Marvel books until now, I suppose I’ll start with the now-standard recap page at the opening (which can trace its roots all the way back to the original Deadpool ongoing, of all things).  I don’t necessarily mind recap pages, but I can understand why some people are opposed to them.  Ideally, when you open a comic, you should be greeted with an intriguing image that makes you want to keep reading, not a full page of text.  There’s a trade-off in giving people info they might need to enjoy the story, and if it cuts down on awkward expository dialogue that’s great, but what truly bothers me about recap pages is when the production staff (assuming they’re the ones responsible) starts the story directly after the recap page, i.e. page two.  That’s a left-hand page, and comic stories should start on a right-hand page.  I think even in the days of annual backup stories, this was the standard rule.  I can’t explain the psychological justification, but stories that start on left-hand pages just look wrong.  You shouldn’t see the first and second page of a story simultaneously; it simply doesn’t feel right.  Luckily, the early issues of X-Men Forever are good about starting stories on page 3, instead of page 2.  That means the recap page and first ad are easily skipped, especially when you consider how thin these pages are.  I often didn’t know I was starting on page 3 when reading this comic, because I assumed the first two pages were a part of the cover.  Moving on…

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the preview pages for this series was Claremont's revival of narrative captions.  Captions had already fallen out of favor by the late ‘90s, and it was hard to find anyone who claimed to miss them when the Quesada/Jemas collective decided that they should be banned.  Over the years, however, I’ve grown fairly nostalgic for them.  As I believe Kurt Busiek wrote in their defense once -- the combination of art and captions is a unique aspect of comic book storytelling; a narrative technique that neither film nor novels can replicate.  Why take away one of a creator’s tools just to adopt one of the limitations of another medium?  (I’m sure I butchered what he wrote, but that’s the gist of it.)  Captions were certainly abused over the years, and Claremont earned the reputation as a severely purple writer by the ‘90s, but I think that’s a bit unfair.  I’m not going to pretend that I’ve enjoyed all of Claremont’s narration, he’s certainly had his excesses, but the man is a skilled prose writer and his captions often brought more to a story than a recap of what’s obvious in the art.  The first page could’ve worked as an abrupt, silent image, but Claremont adds some depth to it by telling a tiny story that sets the stage for Jean and Wolverine’s relationship in the issue.  And after the first page, Claremont drops almost all captions entirely, instead allowing the art to tell the story.  I don’t think a reasonable person could complain about a judicious use of narrative captions, and I’m glad Marvel allowed Claremont the freedom to use them again in this series.

The reaction to the first issue online was mixed, which tends to sum up how I felt about this series.  There’s a lot I enjoyed about the opening issue, but there are also elements I wish could be left in the past forever.  Another hint that the Phoenix has returned?  Cyclops as the cuckold again?  (Never mind that Jean’s “love” of Wolverine was a retcon anyway.)  There are also moments in the story that simply move too fast, such as Fury’s sudden pronouncement, literally as soon as the injured X-Men get off their jet, that he’s now overseeing the team.  The back-up in X-Men Forever: Alpha does help to set this up, but judging the issue independently, that scene feels incredibly forced.  And wouldn’t an explanation of where the rest of the team disappeared to be nice?  This kind of slapdash storytelling becomes a recurring problem with the book.  

Those complaints aren’t enough to keep me from enjoying the issue, however.  Having the X-Men track down Fabian Cortez is a logical follow-up to X-Men #1-3, one that’s kind of glaring in hindsight.  The X-Men have a mutant-tracking computer, and the world’s most powerful telepath recently moved back in with them, and they just decided to let this guy slip away?  Revealing that we never truly discovered what Cortez’s powers were in X-Men #1-3 is another decision that makes sense, now that I’ve recently reread those issues.  We know that he amplifies mutants’ powers, and that was the accepted use of Cortez following Claremont’s departure, but there’s nothing in his original appearances to indicate that it’s all he can do.  I also have to give Claremont credit for just how much he’s packed into this issue, and for how subtle he manages to be in a few places.  There’s a big mystery brewing with Storm, one that becomes very important in just a few issues, but a cursory reading of the issue wouldn’t make that obvious.  Nor would you immediately pick up on what’s happened between Wolverine and Shadowcat, but the seeds are there for some…interesting plot developments later.  More importantly, the characters just feel real.  The Jean/Wolverine almost-affair is sure to drive some people nuts, with good reason, but I tend to view most of the characterizations as being spot-on.  And if someone isn’t quite in character, like Storm, it soon becomes obvious why.  Little insert panels that give each X-Man a tiny monologue to establish where their head’s at?  Yeah, I’ve missed those.  It could be dismissed as corny, but little moments like this do a lot to make the characters feel more human.  

Regarding the Scott/Jean/Logan triangle, I think I have a better understanding now of where Claremont's coming from, having finally read his X-Men: The End miniseries.  X-Men: The End is one of the strangest things Claremont's ever written, parts of it are truly indefensible, but some coherent ideas start to peak through in the final issues that provide some insight into how Claremont views Scott and Jean's relationship.  Claremont posits that since Madelyne Pryor was a clone created with the portion of Jean that loved Cyclops, that romantic love literally no longer exists inside of Jean.  That's why their romance never quite clicked following her resurrection.  I'm not sure if Louise Simonson necessarily agreed, assuming the aborted Scott/Jean wedding in X-Factor was her idea, but Claremont has some basis for the theory.  Whenever he handled the couple following the launch of X-Factor, he never seemed to portray them as the idyllic young fools in love we saw back in the '70s.  Splitting up Scott and Jean seems like heresy to most readers, but is this possibly what Claremont always had in mind?

Visually, the book is exactly what I want.  I don’t know who’s responsible for hiring Tom Grummett as artist, but it’s a brilliant move.  Some people mocked the idea that Grummett would have logically been Jim Lee’s replacement had this actually been Claremont’s “next” issue in 1991, but I don’t think that’s fair.  Andy Kubert was Lee’s eventual replacement, and he wasn’t exactly a super-star artist at the time.  Neither were the Uncanny X-Men fill-ins of the era, guys like Rurik Tyler and Tom Raney.  And Grummett does have a past with the ‘90s X-books, as he was the extended guest artist on Generation X for a while, and showed up occasionally in other titles, including the first post-AoA Uncanny X-Men issue.  Grummett’s a fantastic choice for this book because he’s reminiscent of Claremont’s best collaborators.  There’s a lot of John Byrne in his art, but there’s also a touch of Alan Davis’ gracefulness, and a knack for page layouts just as dynamic as Jim Lee’s.  He’s able to keep the cast on-model, give everyone an individual face, and tell a coherent story.  With the exception of Alan Davis, he’s the best artist Claremont has been paired with since returning to Marvel in the late ‘90s.  

Grummett is joined by Cory Hamscher on inks, whose style is reminiscent of that early Image look.  His inks are kind of a combination of Scott Williams and Todd McFarlane, and they look great.  Hamscher's issues of Supreme were some of the best-looking Erik Larsen comics I’ve seen in a while.  The book consistently looks amazing, at least in the Grummett/Hamscher issues. Wilfredo Quintana also deserves credit for his color work, which utilizes bright primary colors that evoke the feel of a more traditional superhero comic, while incorporating all of the modern effects that the audience has come to expect.  Just as exciting for loyal fans is the return of Tom Orzechowski as letterer.  The fill-ins are all over the place in terms of quality, Claremont is the only creator who doesn't require a replacement at some point, but the early issues of the title are a visual match for any UXM run in the past.  There's no shortage of continuity games and bizarre plot twists in the book's future, but I think the debut issue really does feel like the start of a classic Uncanny X-Men run.
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