The Review Group tackles Kieron Gillen's first solo Uncanny X-Men issue! Something something bub, something something sugah.
The Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse's News Stand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate.
This week, the pick was Kieron Gillen's first issue of Uncanny X-Men, did the RG like his take on Marvel's merry mutants? Or was it a Maggott of a disappointment?
Let me start by saying that I really loathed Fraction's run on this book, I thoughthe was just another in a long line of writers who just couldn't handle writing this franchise. It is for this reason that I had some hope for a writer change, even if Gillen wasn't that good on this book it should still be better than the tripe we got from the previous creator.
That said I think Gillen does not only do a much better job at writing these characters than Fraction, he actually does a pretty good job in general. The very first thing I noticed is that he chose to have a clear focus on this book (at least for this arc) We get some insight into what Peter and Kitty are up to, which is long overdue since Kitty was largely unused when Fraction brought her back. It also seems that Fraction will be focusing a bit on Magneto as well which is always welcome. In addition to the new "leads" we see that Scott and Emma are given sort of a back seat role in this comic, which is excellent, these two characters have seen too much page time in recent years and it is good to give them a break.
The story is not one I would expect from a flagship X-title, their is almost no mutant related drama in this book. This I think works to the benefit of a title that has struggled so long to be "THE" X-book but missed the mark of just being good. The story is interesting, and the cliffhanger really leaves you wanting more.
So since Gillen nails all these characters voices, cuts down on the useless wallpaper characters, and gives us an actual interesting and non-preachy story I give this book an
and the art is pretty nice as well.
One of my favorite moments every spring is when that first warm breeze blows through our neighborhood and I open the windows for the first time in months. The fresh air rushes through the rooms, blowing away the cob webs with a promise for endless summer days of fun, sunshine and adventure.
This is exactly what this issue of this book felt like to me. What a breath of fresh air; with promise for real old fashioned fun. I really enjoyed this.
My Score: 8.5
Story - I've never been a particularly fervent follower of the X-Men. Sure I like some of the characters, who doesn't love a bit of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Wolverine? But I don't have the kind of attachment to the Merry Mutants as a I do with, say Spider-Man, who I'd probably read even if someone terrible was writing it (insert joke here about how that someone terrible is Dan Slott, ha ha, hee hee). If the X-Men has a crap writer, they drop off my radar. As such, Matt Fraction coming on to the book with #500 actually marked the first time I had ever picked up the flagship title Uncanny X-Men on a regular basis and I really enjoyed his run (I am seemingly the only one who did), as it moved the X-Men into some very interesting and new places in San Francisco and then Utopia and did so with a sense of fun and movement rarely seen in X-books.
But now Fraction is gone, to be replaced by Kieron Gillen. Is it now time for me to end my brief flirtation with Uncanny X-Men? On the basis of this issue, it certainly is not. I've been a fan of Gillen for a long time, ever since the first series of Phonogram, and it's been great to see his rise and rise. I don't think anybody would have guessed that the guy who wrote that weird comic about Brit-Pop would eventually be writing Uncanny Fucking X-Men.
Gillen's run already got off to a good start, what with the very fun 'Quarantine' story he co-wrote with Fraction, and last week's Magneto-centric #534.1 (probably the best of the 'Point One' books so far), but this issue is where his stories begin in earnest. Gillen picks up not where Matt Fraction let go, but goes back to some of the threads left tangling tantalisingly in the wind by Joss Whedon from Astonishing. We've got Breakworld and SWORD and Kitty Pryde and Space Bullets. It's all a bit of a welcome diversion from the current Earthly confusion. Gillen previously worked with a couple of these concepts in the short-lived SWORD series, and it was great to see him use characters like Agent Brand and Unit again. It's just a shame he couldn't use Beast.
The majority of this issue is set up for the epic space story to come, but Gillen, like most good X-Men writers finds time for some excellent character moments. Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Magneto, Cyclops, Wolverine, Agent Brand all get chances to shine. Gillen also continues to write a supremely awesome Namor, getting just the write tone of arrogance and dickishness. Gillen does the same for Doctor Nemesis. I think Gillen's real strength as a writer is his dialogue, and his ability to write witty one-liners is reaching almost Warren Ellis levels, especially on the more caustic characters like Emma Frost, who Gillen gets spot on.
Overall, this was a very good issue of Uncanny X-Men, and marks a new chapter in the book. It may not be as poppy and peppy as Fraction's run, but that may be a good thing, Gillen's writing and grasp of the various and sundry X-peeps seems to be on a firmer ground than Fraction's, and the way he's using old (but still recent) bits of lore works well. I can't wait to see where Gillen will take the X-Men, he's tying up loose ends here, but he's also setting up his own stuff. For me, this issue is how mainstream superhero comics should be.
Art - Terry and Rachel Dodson have been part of the Uncanny scenery for the last 3 or so years now, alternating story arcs during Fraction's run with Greg Land, and that status quo is set to continue. I like their work. Yes it is a little bit cheesecakey, but it's never overtly that, they always pay equal amounts of attention to the male characters and to the actual storytelling. It's bright, solid stuff that fits the tone of the story. No more need be said.
Best Line - 'I say we get this Planetary-Level ballbuster out of our lives' followed by 'I wasn't talking about the Spaceship. But considering we're in the neighbourhood, we may as well lend a hand' A great example of Gillen's dialogue, Wolverine with a more subtle put-down than usual, but it works.
While being a big fan of Keiron Gillen's work on Phonogram, I actually haven't read much of his Marvel output at all. I've never been a big X reader and Thor tie-ins during Siege didn't really draw much interest from me at the time. With this week being my pick for the Review Group, giving Gillen's Marvel work a try seemed like as good a plan as any and having read both Journey Into Mystery and this issue of Uncanny, there was no wrong choice.
Gillen has done something really smart here with the start of his first solo arc on Uncanny, he's tied it directly into Joss Whedon's stellar (IMO) Astonishing run. I would imagine I'm not the only person who hasn't read any X-Men comics since Whedon and Cassaday's final issue so returning to the Breakworld plot as a jumping on point was kind of brilliant. Sure stuff has happened between then and now, but with a panel here and a panel there for explanation I felt like I was up to speed with what I needed to know. All of the characters felt familiar and true to their voices and any Namor appearance is always fun.
If it's possible to have no opinion on an artist, that's kind of how I feel about Terry Dodson. It looks nice and it tells the story well enough, but it just doesn't excite me much.
While the fear of inevitable X-crossovers is going to keep me from reading this monthly, I'm definitely down for the eventual Breakworld trade to see where Gillen goes with this. Actually between Journey Into Mystery, which I liked so much I'll actually be reading in singles, and this I'm adding Gillen to the handful of writers (Bru, Hickman, Urasawa) that I'll read everything by.
I was a huge fan of the X-Men. I grew up on the classic Claremont run. I loved these characters. After he left things weren't the same. I drifted away. Morrison and Whedon brought me back in but somehow none of the folks following up to their work could keep me engaged. I've tried the first couple issues of every creative team since and it's always fallen flat for me.
From the opening moments with Kitty, Peter and Namor; to Nemisis's Nazi Killer dialogue; to Agent Brand's interaction with Unit, this issue just clicked with me. For the first time in ages *this* felt like Uncanny X-Men instead of the softcore porn we've endured for 35 issues or so. We saw hints of this during the Quarintine arch and now it's clear the improvement was largely due to Gillen.
Let me simply sum up my feelings on the issue:
Welcome to the X-Men, Keiron Gillen! I hope you survive the experience.
This book was incredibly average.
The sad part of that statement is that this means it was 100% better than the last 3+ years of Uncanny X-Men.
Story - 5
Art - 5
Total – 5
I never got why the X-Men spend so much time in space. Just like Spidey's occasional forays onto cosmic territory it never really seemed like their place but since it was a holdover from Claremont and his Shi'ar shenanigans I usually just shrug and move past it. I did really enjoy Joss Whedon's Breakworld arc and Kieron Gillen's brief but excellent SWORD series though, so I had pretty high hopes for this one.
Firstly though the art. The Dodsons are great. It's fairly cheesecakey on the women side but the action and facial expressions are just the right level of cartoonishness for the humour that crops up on every page here. They're an excellent fit for Gillen and it's a crying shame they'll be splitting art duties for arguably my least favourite artist at Marvel. Their work here is just what the story calls for and I really would love them to stay on for the whole run.
So Kieron Gillen slips into the role of Uncanny X-Men writer just like Matt Fraction did after sharing co-writing duties with the outgoing writer. Unlike Fraction though Gillen has a lot of balls in the air already to juggle since Fraction left all his plot threads dangling so we still have Kitty's helmet, we still have Magneto and Namor on the team and tragically for this story Beast is still off the team. Having Abigail Brand without her furry love interest is most disappointing but her disdain for the X-Men (and theirs for her) has a similar spark. It's not all bad though, the dialogue is fun and the plot is intriguing enough to get people back onto the book, it just feels like a huge shame when any writer inherits this much baggage before getting their crack at one of Marvel's biggest titles.
The issue is a good one, but more of a break from the previous stories will be needed before the series can really soar again.
I liked S.W.O.R.D. 2.0 featuring the X-Men. It's nice to see a book like this get a second chance. I look forward to the inevitable reuniting of Lockheed and Kitty, the return of horsefaced Beast and all that other S.W.O.R.D. stuff.
Compared to the steaming load of crap that was Fraction's run, this book looks like the next Watchmen. However, when examined independently of that craptastic run, it's remarkably average and is only notable because Gillen is able to throw around Whedonesque one-liners that seems to please the die-hard X-fans. (Haha, that Namor sure is a horny one! I appreciate that humor! Hey, GIllen referenced Scott Summers' struggles to express his emotions! That means that he gets the character!). The strongest thing that Gillen has going for him is that he's rifting off of Whedon, whose run on Astonishing featured some of the finest X-writing in decades.
To summarize: Gillen's average story is above average for Uncanny.
PS: Suck it, Snow!
I admit to not knowing or getting the comic book-mechanics of Kitty's space-suit and permanent intangibility, but would she really have the mass and weight in the suit for Colossus to throw her as a "fastball special"? While I'm wondering, who is the snarky giant space dildo Agent Brand lives with on her purple space station?
Between this issue and the current X-Force book, the mutanty Marvel comics are almost showing signs of being slightly readable again, although I think it's too soon to do back-flips over Uncanny just yet. It's definitely a refreshing change from the Fraction issues which were far too Austen-esque, in particular the dialogue and pacing show major improvement here. Hopefully after a full story arc or two, plot can be added to the list of list of things Kieron Gillen is doing better with the flagship X-Men book in the future. Meanwhile I still kind of hate the Utopia island and the unresolved problem of the lack of mutants (yes I know there are a handful of icky new ones somewhere).
In fact, the last run I was a dedicated reader of was the Whedon run so heavily referenced in Uncanny #535, so it's familiar territory. I didn't care for Whedon's long-delayed resolution to the Breakworld story either, so I'm open to going back to it and resolving it on a different note. It's always nice to see Scott Summers written as a confident and humorous leader but Gillen feels a little less comfortable writing Emma Frost, who complains about her wardrobe but otherwise stands around looking sleepy for most of the rest of the issue. Maybe Cyclops shouldn't be so confident--the X-Men grouped here represent an amazingly powerful array of mutant talents, if there is a reason why Emma couldn't detect the thoughts of the Breakworld refugees before boarding I'd like it to be told to me in-story. Likewise, couldn't the master of metal and magnetism perhaps help craft a better way of boarding the alien ship than a big crash?
The art here is mediocre, relying far too often on graduated computer tints in the background instead of any detail, a couple panels look unfinished with an odd choice of stark white background behind the figures. A couple pages look washed out, like the dark tones on the figures in the foreground were intentionally faded for some reason, but then the next pages are thick with black shadows. It's very inconsistent and I think I know why. A better colorist could make this look good, but instead Justin Ponsor's digital inks make things look flat and sort of like a cheap TV cartoon where an animation studio in Korea or somewhere is doing things on the cheap to save money. Or like an entry-level graphic design job.
I guess it's probably to much to ask that the colorist will be replaced before the next issue, but I do hope this is the beginning of a better era for the Uncanny X-Men if Gillen stays on the writing end for a bit.
Not convinced to buy monthly yet.
All of which adds up to a total score of 7.5 out of 10! Not bad for a disgusting mainstream comic like X-Men. If you want to read the full thread, which has all the reviews, plus loads of bitching and nonsense... click here. Next week's pick is Thunderbolts #156. JOIN US.
Written or Contributed by: Niam Suggitt