Why I Disliked Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I love me some bad movies. I can watch a film like The Room or Birdemic: Shock and Terror with ease. Give me a bad, campy movie and I’ll eat it right up.

Give me a movie that’s supposed to be good but ends up bad; I’ll struggle to watch it again.

Herein lies my problem with The Last Jedi: a movie that’s supposed to be good (currently sitting with a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes) but ends up being bad. Why is that? Let me count the ways.

I feel the need to express my thoughts over this film because most people I’ve talked to are shocked I disliked the movie. As both a lover of film (especially Rian Johnsons’s Looper) and an even bigger lover of Star Wars (R.I.P. Expanded Universe), I have a strange case of wanting to love this movie. However. . . I didn’t. Obviously, spoilers are ahead.

Why I disliked The Last Jedi as a fan of film:

Where to begin? Let’s start with the plot:

Ex-Marvel Comics Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, once wrote a storytelling lecture on his blog. There, he covers the basic fundamentals of storytelling using the poem of Little Miss Muffet. He writes,

Little Miss Muffet–introduce the character. Sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey–establish the status quo. Along came a spider–introduce the disruptive element. Sat down beside her–build suspense. Scared poor Miss Muffet–climax. Away–resolution. Now you know the basic building block of entertainment. Is that all you need? No. Little Miss Muffet is a story, it fits the basic building block, it is however a lousy story. You don’t know anything about this girl, you don’t know anything about the spider. It gets old pretty quick. But we can make it better.

Now let’s look at The Last Jedi: At the beginning of the film, Rey has the Force and she’s learning to use it. We also have The Resistance defeated by the First Order. We also have Kylo Ren who’s the big baddie and is angry all of the time.

By the end of The Last Jedi, we have Rey who is learning to use her Force powers, The Resistance is defeated, and Kylo Ren who as the big baddie and is angry all of the time. The rest of the movie is filler. Without a status quo change, arguably the movie really didn’t need to happen, did it? Let’s go deeper:

At the end of The Force Awakens, Rey learns she has the Force. She goes to Luke to learn how to use the Force. She syncs up with Kylo Ren a handful of times to add some mystery to the story. She even dabbles with the dark side, according to Luke. She then leaves Luke and meets up with Kylo Ren. Snoke dies and she refuses to join Kylo. She re-joins the Resistance, despite being not that much further ahead in her training than she was before. Sure, she’s learned to control her Force powers a bit better, but essentially, that’s Rey’s arc. She went from learning how to use the Force to still learning how to use the Force. Yes, it’s filled with her arguing between Kylo and Snoke – refusing the dark side and all that fun stuff – but ultimately, she’s left unchanged in the film. We kinda sorta don’t learn her history regarding her parents either, so her motives are still somewhat unchanged. She’s really not that much better off than what we started with. The audience knew she was a good person because it was established in the first film. Even as she spoke with Luke, we saw her still fighting for good, despite temptations. Ultimately, Rey’s status quo didn’t change at all.

Even these little things didn’t bother me as much as the movie itself.

Looking at The Resistance, they didn’t change much at all. If anything, they just got smaller. We know they are the good guys who got beat down (which they definitely did in this film), but they were already the underdogs. They went from being underdogs to staying underdogs. They lost Admiral Ackbar, Admiral Holdo, Rose’s sister Paige at the beginning of the film (they’re all heroes, don’t cha know?), and hundreds more. And so? They weren’t relevant to the film anyway. Their loss didn’t change anything, actually. The status quo of the Resistance didn’t change.

Then we have Kylo Ren – an angry defeated boy at the end of The Force Awakens who turns against his master in The Last Jedi. And that’s about it. Like I said earlier, he goes from being angry to staying angry. He was technically second-in-command of the First Order anyway so the “shift” in his character really wasn’t all that dramatic. Sure, he saved Rey from Snoke showing he has some light in him, but shortly after he wanted to kill her. Mood swing. The status quo for Ren changed in the film but was ultimately reset back to the beginning of the movie when The Last Jedi ended. That’s pretty lame.

Finn and Rose we’re something irrelevant. You could literally rip their storyline straight out of the movie and nothing would change outside of Captain Phasma still being alive (but she was irrelevant anyway). To recap: Finn wakes up, runs into Rose (who got over her sister’s death pretty quickly) and they take off to the Casino to pad out the movie. They find the Slicer DJ, end up getting caught by Phasma, getting saved by BB-8, go to the planet Crait, get both of their speeders wrecked, they both escape, and then the movie ends. They literally did nothing in the film and as such, their existence in the The Last Jedi was irrelevant.

Lesser characters, Poe, General Hux, Captain Phasma, Luke, and Leia, ultimately didn’t have much effect on the film either. Their storyline could’ve all been left out.

Poe went from being a rebellious jerk to being a rebellious jerk. General Hux didn’t change at all. Captain Phasma goes from being completely irrelevant in the first film to being completely irrelevant in the second. It was if neither director knew what to do with her. We learn Luke’s story over the past forty years, but ultimately we go from not having Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens to not having Luke Skywalker by the end of The Last Jedi. Leia was the voice and leader of the Resistance and continued to be so. She was left unchanged.

“I’m in this movie for all of the wrong reasons.”

Looking back at Little Miss Muffet with The Last Jedi – we have our characters on their tuffet and a status quo of their curds and whey. The First Order is the disruptive element and well. . . that’s as far as we get. We’re back to everyone on their tuffets eating their curds and whey.

So my biggest problem with The Last Jedi? In 152 minutes, our characters physically fly from Point A to Point B. The rest is filler. No ones character evolved in the movie and as such, the status quo did not change.

Character Development

Snoke dies. Luke dies. Rey lives. Kylo Ren lives.

Why didn’t I care what happened to these characters, living or dead? The answer is motives. The audience isn’t given any – and if they are – they’re not strong enough to care about.

Let’s take a look at Snoke: what’s his motive? How did he create the First Order? Did he create it? We have no back story to him, despite his few moments of spewing out exposition when talking to Rey. We really don’t know what his character is about outside of him being big and bad. That’s it. He dies and that’s the end for him. Not only was he a lame character, but without a back story, we’re unfortunately victims to lazy screen writing and character development. R.I.P. Snoke, we hardly knew ye.

“I’m irrelevant.”

Luke’s death, while a bit of a surprise, upset me for the wrong reasons. He didn’t need to die (let alone however he died which I’ll get into below). But his motives still weren’t entirely clear. He trained Rey out of guilt, I guess. But it wasn’t much training at all. By the time we learn his back story, Rey’s already buggered off and we’re left with Luke’s final moments straining to delay Kylo Ren from killing the rest of The Resistance. Did Luke get closure because of this? Rey and Leia confirmed Luke felt “at peace” but did he really? The characters had to tell us that in the film because I certainly didn’t understand or feel it.

With Rey, we have her wanting to learn her origin but we’re still left ambiguous about it. Kylo Ren tells her something about her parents, but hey – he could be lying! We’re given vague answers to her throughout the whole movie – what her power set is, where’s she’s from, and most importantly – why we should care about her. She only became “the last Jedi” by the end of the film. Her status quo didn’t change outside of a title, so my care for her is the same as it was at the end of The Force Awakens: I really don’t know how to feel.

And with Kylo Ren, he’s still a moody, angry teenager. He killed his master, which was probably the most development we received about him in the film, but that’s about it. He lives to fight on and kill the Resistance, but I mean, how’s that any different than what he was in the first movie? It’s really not.

Consistencies

I’ll try to keep these to bullet points as I’ve already whined too much:

– Rey goes to Ahch-To to find Luke. Given the night and day cycles, we can assume she’s there for at least a week. We also know that the Resistance only has a little amoutn of fuel left from the start of the movie (we’re told around eighteen hours then down to six hours). By the end of the film, Rey and the Resistance meet up at the same time. Nice. The only explanation is if Ahch-To has significantly shorter day cycles, which obviously isn’t discussed.

– For plot convenience, I’m glad BB-8 can become an X-Wing conductor to help destroy a Dreadnought, can talk to a prisoner who fortunately happens to be a Slicer and steal a ship for our characters to escape, and can suddenly pilot a First Order walker (conveniently destroying its hull from the inside to reveal it’s him to the audience) to save his friends. BB-8 became the most convenient deus ex machina in cinematic history.

– I guess Threepio doesn’t need a red arm anymore? Between escaping the secret Resistance base and getting onto the Resistance capital ship, they swapped his arms?

– Yoda is cool with lying to Luke about the Jedi books and burning trees down (in case you missed it, the books were on the Millennium Falcon at the end of the film).

– The First Order has hundreds of TIE fighters at their disposal and can easily destroy the hull of the Republic cruiser (R.I.P. Admiral Ackbar). Why drag the movie out for two hours when a handful of TIE’s could’ve ended the film? We know TIE fighters can destroy the bridge easily so. . .

– From the previous point: so the Resistance exited hyperspace to a random place only to be followed by The First Order. Whose idea was that? Even IF it was with plans to fly to Crait all along (which conveniently showed up for the Resistance to escape to if it wasn’t), why would only Leia and Admiral Holdo know of the plans? There’s probably an argument that the rest of the people “in the know” died on the bridge, but in reality, the audience was left out of the information to add some drama to the story. It was unnecessary.

– What camera was following Maz around? That’s one helluva cool selfie stick.

– DJ was a slicer who helped Finn and Rose, then back stabbed Finn and Rose. What happens to him? Who cares.

– Where’s the rest of the Knights of Ren Luke spoke about?

A showdown with little build up, tension, or history behind it. Finn is undefeated with Phasma. The score’s 2-0 now.

– Nit-picking as a Star Wars fan, Luke’s death bothered me because of how he died. In Revenge of the Sith, we learn Qui Gon Jinn discovered the “path to immortality” which is why Obi Wan and Yoda disappear and become one with the Force after they die in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. This is also why Anakin Skywalker’s body doesn’t disappear in Vader’s suit, or why all of the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith do not disappear after their deaths. However, we see Yoda come to Luke presumably for the first time (as per his reaction) since Return of the Jedi. Unless Yoda explained Qui Gon’s discovery to Luke off-screen, I can’t see how Luke could’ve disappeared at the end of The Last Jedi without that specific knowledge that Yoda didn’t even seem to have known some-eighty years prior.

General Questions

– It bothered me in The Force Awakens and it still bothers me now: WHO ARE THE RESISTANCE?! We have the Republic in The Force Awakens. They were the five planets that were destroyed by the Starkiller Base. The Republic and its fleet were wiped out.

But why did the Resistance exist to begin with? Wasn’t the Republic in control? Was there a civil war? What was going on? Why is General Leia against The Republic? Was she against the Republic? To that extent, why did the Republic only exist on five planets? More so, at the end of The Last Jedi, if the Resistance had “other friendlies” to contact, why are they such wussies and refuse to help the Resistance on Crait? Are they even relevant? To that extent (and to reinforce what I’ve said earlier), if the Empire was defeated in Return of the Jedi, who let The First Order rise to be the size that they were? How is The First Order funded? What’s Snoke’s back story? Answer: it’s lazy screen writing.

– If we assume The Last Jedi takes place right after The Force Awakens, can we also assume enormous grief is what’s going to kill General Leia off in the final installment? We can assume that in a span of maybe, twenty-four to forty-eight hours(?) she loses Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Admiral Ackbar, Admiral Holdo, most of the Resistance/her friends, and admits her son cannot be saved. That’s arguably a bigger loss than Alderaan’s destruction. However, Leia seems to handle that all in-stride. Classy.

– I’m all for jumping into lightspeed to split Star Destroyers in half, but how did it manage to destroy ALL of the Star Destroyers? Convenient.

– More of a comment: this movie isn’t Fern Gully. I can’t remember a Star Wars movie where the film goes full-stop and suggests cruelty to animals and the wealthy are bad. There’s obviously social messages in prior movies, but Star Wars was never the kind to make it so apparent. That bothered me because scenes at the Casino planet made Star Wars feel more like a Disney product than a Star Wars film.

Despite all of what I’ve said, I liked some things in The Last Jedi. Here’s what I liked:

– Leia’s use of the Force bubble is something pulled from the Expanded Universe/Legends in the book, The Courtship of Princess Leia. In there, Luke and Isolder fall from orbit safely onto a planet because Luke wraps them in a Force bubble. It was neat to see that used in the film.

– While I pointed out issues with some character development above, there was one character who had tons of back story given to her with very little screen time. Admiral Holdo’s arc and development stood out – especially when Leia and her share a scene together. We get a lot of history with Holdo with very little exposition and it completely works for the character. We have her full arc, going from a emotionally shut off Admiral to someone who had a plan unfolding all along. She has a rich history and ends up saving the Resistance due to her commitment to the cause. A true martyr. The Little Miss Muffet poem, Admiral Holdo is.

One of the few decent things to come out of The Last Jedi.

– Yoda’s cameo was great – not for nostalgic reasons, but because Yoda had some ridiculously good words of wisdom to share to Luke. While I snickered at Yoda’s CGI appearance at first (’cause he looked like a baby), they switched him over to a puppet for close-up shots and he looked fantastic.

– I loved some of the directorial artistry in the film. Some scenes I wished I could take a picture of because they were so beautiful. Those scenes are: Luke and Yoda sitting in front of the burning tree, Luke vs. Kylo Ren and their standoff on Crait, Admiral Holdo ripping through the Star Destroyers, and of course, the First Order walkers on Crait.

While I’m not petitioning to remove The Last Jedi from canon, I do feel like this’ll be the end for me and Star Wars post-Episode Nine. I’m two movies into a new trilogy and the only characters I’ve cared about died already, with Carrie Fisher unable to reprise her role in the third. I’m disappointed how the new trilogy has presented itself and have minor hopes it can turn around for Episode Nine. However, I’m cautiously optimistic and will find out in a few more years.

What do you folks think? Did you love The Last Jedi? Hate it? Was I wrong with anything I’ve said? Sound off below and let’s start a discussion.

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

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My Top Albums of 2017

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Premiata Forneria Marconi – Emotional Tattoos

Starting off the list is a band of which sort of dropped off the radar and really are only mentioned when discussing the their strength of progressive rock albums in the 70s. Premiata Forneria Marconi, or PFM, are an Italian prog rock band that with their new album, Emotional Tattoos, surprised me at its strength. This hefty double-disc album features a great mix of prog rock tunes which feel like they’re from the 70s but with a modern production value. It’s a refreshing album that is unfortunately held back by its song placement (it takes a good four or five songs until the album really begins to kick some butt). Despite that, it’s deserving on a top spot for 2017.

Check out the music video for “The Lesson” here:

14. Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack

The first time I’ve ever put a soundtrack into my list. The Blade Runner 2049 movie, while visually stunning, was audibly awesome. The cyberpunk/noir feeling originally established by Vangelis back in 1982 gets tastefully expanded upon by composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The soundtrack provides a sweeping landscape of emotions and feelings which can be confusing given its sterile and mechanical sound. It’s completely worth checking out.

Listen to “Flight to LAPD”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGxyGcZ5jsY

13. Sarkrista – Summoners of the Serpents Wrath

Intense is one way of putting it. Rip-roaring music from the second album of these German black metallers, Sarkrista’s Summoners of the Serpents Wrath is in your face with its blasting beats, screaming vocals, and shredding, ambient guitars. The album rarely lets up, giving you a solid black metal album from front to back.

Listen to the full album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOz42CgKjks

12. Rude – Remnants…

Rude’s second release, Remnants…, is another great traditional death metal album. Their first album, “Soul Recall,” made my top fifteen back in 2014 and these guys have impressed yet again. The production completely sells me on this album, let alone the songs. This album pounds your ears hard and is yet another exceptional sounding death metal record from these U.S. based metal heads.

See the lyric video for “House of Dust” here:

11. Paradise Lost – Medusa

Pulse-pounding and crushing, the death/doom metallers Paradise Lost release yet another solid album off the back of 2015’s The Plague Within. While there’s nothing surprisingly in terms of riffing or production, the album just keeps its momentum and variety up long enough to be a great album.

Listen to the final track, “Until the Grave” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2JRD4r4Yuw

10. Dumal – The Lesser God

When I think of American black metal, my first thoughts come to Agalloch. While these guys are no Agalloch, I feel the influence is there. Crisp production is one thing, but Dumal’s incredible sounding riffs create an almost nostalgic feel for me – reminding me of the first time I got into black metal (with Mayhem’s Pagan Fears). Lost Caverns is definitely the track that won me over on this album, but the rest of it is just so, so great. For their impressive debut album, I’ll definitely me following Dumal closely in the coming years.

Check out the full album here (especially “Lost Caverns”): https://dumal.bandcamp.com/album/the-lesser-god

9. Auðn – Farvegir Fyrndar

This Icelandic black metal outfit release a torrent of cold atmosphere with their second album, Farvegir Fyrndar. Melodic riffs are eerie and define the tone of the album. Often dramatic, the album builds momentum, starting from the first track. Crushing through, listeners are given other great glimpses of brilliance through this very bleak sounding album. Easily takes the spot as the best black metal album I’ve listened to this year.

Listen to Skuggar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkOgY8P4NUY

8. Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome

Given Anathema just released their newest album this year, I was surprised to see something released from their lead songwriter only a few months later. Daniel Cavanagh’s acoustic album, Monochrome, is brilliant, loving, sad, uplifting, and therapeutic all at the same time. While much can be said about Anathema’s music, Daniel’s own personal flare and attention to detail certainly shines something special here.

Listen to “The Exoricst” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKGoYUZ_B1c

7. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

If there was one thing I wasn’t expecting from this technical death metal band, it was an incredibly dramatic science fictional album. Much like the title of my favourite track on the record, this album is Estranged from Orbit. It’s different and yet feels familiar. The music is composed to make sense – there’s nothing purposefully flashy on the album. The parts in the songs have purpose and riffs are crafted to build and explode with emphasis. It’s smart, clever, intense, and sounds absolutely different than many death metal albums out there.

Listen to the whole album here (especially “Estranged from Orbit”): https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/infrared-horizon

6. Steven Wilson – To the Bone

Steven Wilson always does something different – not because he has to, but because he can. With this album, Wilson crosses the boundaries of pop rock and prog rock, creating an album that heavily reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s So. Featuring a handful of songs with Ninet Tayeb sharing vocal duties and incredible musicianship, the classic Steven Wilson “sound” makes To The Bone not only a strong album, but somewhat of a “gateway” album to introduce pop fans about prog. With a well-rounded album and even a subtle nod to Porcupine Tree in one of the songs, To the Bone is yet another Steven Wilson album that made my Top 15 list.

Seen the video to the astounding “Pariah” here:

5. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

What. A. Heavy. Album. Featuring drums, bass, vocals, and a Hammond, this near hour and a half long song, in my opinion, well-defines funeral doom metal. Dark and dreary, Bell Witch brings the dead to the listeners ears in this haunting slow burn of an album. It’s atmospheric, moody, crushing, and so many other feelings, that “Mirror Reaper” is really something needed to be experienced.

Listen to an excerpt from “Mirror Reaper” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrc1ch3O9Fs

4. Anathema – The Optimist

One of my favourite bands return with somewhat of a sequel to 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit with their newest release, The Optimist. Smartly crafted, the album begins where their previous album, Distant Satellites left off – with electronic music. However, the band cleverly makes the electronic to real-instrument transition within the first song and continues to put the listener through a literal journey of musical and lyrical emotions and feelings that are purposefully left ambiguous. It’s a damn pretty album. “Wildfires” is my favourite track.

Watch the video for “Springfield” here:

3. Bent Knee – Land Animal

When I first heard Bent Knee, I couldn’t get over how tight the band was. As if they’ve been playing for decades, this American prog rock outfit showcases their songwriting abilities all over this album – and they’re supremely tasteful. Often times prog rock showcases (and can sometimes celebrate) musical wankery. Bent Knee shows restraint and thought behind each note, chord, and lyric. While Land Animal is their fourth album, the band takes nothing for granted with the effort clearly put into this record. What a treat.

Watch the live video of Bent Knee performing “Holy Ghost”:

2. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

In The Assassination of Julius Caesar, ex-black metal band Ulver create something that’s dark, experimental, and would appeal to Depeche Mode fans. Upon first listen, I felt engrossed with the production: the synth, reverb; the drama. Like the music, Ulver’s lyrics are also intelligent and deep. Music builds and slows, putting the listener through an interesting journey of sounds which engrossed me like no other album had this year. Ulver’s newest is a gorgeous electronic-feeling album with nothing but respect to its listeners.

Check out the first track of the album, “Nemoralia” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq0Kb4bFNzg

1. Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day

When this album came out in the middle of January, I had hoped for another album to be released later in the year that would be better than it. Not because I disliked the album, but because it was so damn good and so early on in the year, I really hoped another album could topple it. Now here we are at the number one spot on my list.

When lead singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow went into the hospital a few years back, he discovered he had a life-threatening disease. This album is that story and goes through the emotional trauma and thoughts running through his head while in the hospital. At times uplifting, the album can become sad when you can feel the emotions coming from Gildenlow’s voice. He’s felt the pain he’s singing about and he wants us to experience what he’s experienced.

Tracks like “Silent Gold” and “If This is the End” are both mournful and powerful. “Full Throttle Tribe” is catchy, while “Reasons,” “Meaningless,” and “On a Tuesday” are direct and in your face. However, it’s the final title track which absolutely steals the show. At fifteen minutes in length, “The Passing Light of Day” explains the fears and joys of being in love while given the listener an emotional roller coaster of music to follow suit. Songs are strongly crafted by both Gildenlow and multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Zolberg. Zolberg joined the band in 2011 and co-wrote most of the songs on this album. Now no longer in the band, I can’t help but follow where he goes next to see what he does.

I’ve been a fan of Pain of Salvation since 2002-2003. While I can say with certainty that this is my favourite album of 2017, I can also say that In the Passing Light of Day is Pain of Salvation’s best studio album to-date.

Check out the music video for “Reasons”:

See the music video for “Meaningless” here:

Honourable Mentions:

Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes

Threshold – Legends of the Shires

Bison – You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient

Ayreon – The Source

Aborted – Bathos EP

Kreator – Gods of Violence

All Pigs Must Die – Hostage Animal

Nordic Giants – Amplify Human Vibration

Most Disappointed:

Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard

Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black

Pallbearer – Heartless

Sólstafir – Berdreyminn

Vuur – In This Moment we are Free – Cities

Sons of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony

Moonspell – 1775

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

The Biased List: My Top 15 Favourite Uncanny X-Men Covers

Let’s talk about some comic book covers from the Uncanny X-Men series.

If it wasn’t obvious from the title of this website, the X-Men have had a pretty monumental impact on my life. I grew up reading the comics, watching the cartoon show, and harshly judging the films. More recently, I’ve even gone as far as to compile a fantasy X-Men team because this boy can dream!

While there’s plenty of X-Men books to talk about: from the Uncanny X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Generation X, X-Force, and so on, I wanted to sit down and discuss my all-time favourite Uncanny X-Men covers.

While the stories are ultimately what sold me on the X-Men, covers were really the selling point for people to pick up comic books. For example, Batman had to be doing something cool for someone to want to read his stories and not just think of him as some guy in a bat suit. And while there’s tons of X-Men to choose from, having the most popular X-Man, Wolverine, on the cover would be sure to drive up sales. A cover without Captain America fighting the Red Skull would be more awesome to pick up and read than one with him versus Batroc the Leaper, y’know.

Literally judging books by their covers isn’t my plan with this list however. I want to talk about the artwork and what about the cover draws me in. Colours, details, storytelling – what the cover says rather than what it’s selling. So here goes:

Some Honourable Mentions

Uncanny X-Men #525, Aug. 2010 (Cover by Adi Granov)

Six X-Men under siege by robots may seem like a typical X-cover (which we’ll see more of later), but this really gives us a sense of dread. The grey palette contrasting against Armor’s, Psylocke’s, and Cyclops’ reddish-pink weapons give a nice pop to the page. And Namor’s face though.

Uncanny X-Men #213, Jan. 1987 (Cover by Alan Davis & Paul Neary)

I considered adding this cover to my main list, but felt that the impact of this cover is actually more nostalgic feeling. I say that because at this point, nobody knew who Sabretooth was, let alone his history with Wolverine. However, the cover is action-packed and claustrophobic, especially considering how few colours are actually used on the page. It’s as if we’re in hte fight with them. One helluva great inking job too.

Uncanny X-Men #251, Nov. 1989 (Cover by Marc Silvestri & Dan Green)

I love me some Silvestri, which is why it pained me to leave this cover only as an honourable mention. In typical Silvestri style, we have lines, lines, and more lines running down the page, giving this Biblical representation of Wolverine’s crucifixion an incredibly sombre feeling. The green back-lighting against the crucifix is stunning.

Now the list:

15. Uncanny X-Men #476, Sept. 2006 (Cover by Billy Tan, Danny Miki, & Frank D’Armata)

While it’s definitely not the most action-packed cover on the list, this solo cover of Warpath stands powerful for me as it really speaks to his character. Out of the shadows, both literally and figuratively, comes Warpath with his Vibranium Knives and the head of the enemy. Figuratively speaking, he’s the little brother of the fallen X-Man, Thunderbird. Outside of Cable’s X-Force books, Warpath was a thrown away character lost and forgotten about. This cover for me represents his coming-of-age in the Uncanny X-Men – a bigger book than X-Force. With this one cover, without any dialogue, the viewer is given everything they need to know about Warpath.

14. Uncanny X-Men #205, May 1986 (Cover by Barry Windsor-Smith)

I couldn’t have a X-Men cover list without the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith on it, could I? The detail and confusion for the viewer on this cover is shared with Wolverine’s expression. The helplessness of both the viewer and Wolverine trying to figure out what is happening. The lines, wires, and colours all give a threatening feeling. It’s uncomfortable to see, let alone to understand. It’s a beautiful mess. Wolverine’s right hand – his claws extended as if they were forced out of him – add to the feeling of dread. Much like the cover, this issue is messy, violent, and mechanical.

13. X-Men #61, Oct. 1969 (Cover by Neal Adams & Sam Rosen)

The second appearance of the X-enemy Sauron lands in my top 15 list as it really encapsulates the threat of Sauron. An incredible landscape within a busy city adds to the sense that the public isn’t safe. Up in the air, Angel is alone against Sauron as the rest of the X-Men helplessly look on: they can’t fly! How can they save their friend? Sauron’s size engulfs the page and yet surprisingly his monotone green body doesn’t feel boring. What is he to the viewer? The grey city below doesn’t help with colour variety – yet the cover pops out with the bland green and grey as the dominant colours in the cover. How did Adams and Rosen pull this one off?

12. Uncanny X-Men #395, Aug. 2001 (Cover by Barry Windsor-Smith)

Fifteen years after our last entry with him, Barry Windsor-Smith still dominates the X-books with another favourite of mine as both a cover and an X-Man. Jumping over from the Generation X books, Chamber dominates with his literal explosive power taking over the cover, despite there being very little action at all on the page. His eyes scream attitude, almost as a “screw you” for his Gen. X series being cancelled. With his head slightly tilted, it’s almost as if he’s asking, “Are you talking to me?” as he makes his mark. The cover is bright, bombastic, and the lettering compliments – if not helps – the impact of the cover. A great premise behind the cover’s simplicity.

11. Uncanny X-Men #268, Sept. 1990 (Cover by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, & Tom Orzechowski)

The only Jim Lee cover on my list. It’s my favourite for a few reasons: firstly, it’s an iconic cover. Three big names in the Marvel Universe together on one cover and “together again for the first time.” Secondly, their stance and dominance on the page make the viewer forget the trio really aren’t anywhere. There’s a city in behind, a bridge, and. . . steps? The trio seem to be looking off at something – are they above it or at eye-level? It really doesn’t matter because we focal point of the cover draws us away from the background’s strangeness. The viewer is forced into seeing Captain America’s chest and shield, then Wolverine, then Black Widow. The distinct colours and inks wonderfully make your eyes circle along with the figures – only to circle back around from Black Widow’s head into Captain America’s chest and shield again. Repeat. It’s truly a great cover, if not a bit clever, cover.

10. Uncanny X-Men #290, July 1992 (Cover by Whilce Portacio)

Making a graceful cover even more wonderful is Whilce Portacio’s Uncanny X-Men #290. Here, Storm stands literally and figuratively in her element(s) as few colours are used to define the image. Heavy on the inking to define the white space and rain, the viewer is left uncertain on whether there are tears running down Storm’s face or the rain. The cover is a simple idea which is manifested into something much more grand with Storm’s body language suggesting either relief or joy. She stands in front of the X-Men logo, making sure she is the focal point for the cover. Everything else is secondary.

9. X-Men #137, Sept. 1980 (Cover by John Byrne, Terry Austin, & Jim Novak)

Blunt and to the point: Phoenix must die! With their backs against the wall on an alien planet (notice Earth in the background!), the X-Men are in for the fight of their lives to save Jean Grey. Cyclops and Jean holding on to one another while fighting off the enemy (or in this case, the Shi’ar could be considered good guys?), in a battle to the death. Words do a lot to sell this issue. “Special Double Sized” and “MUST DIE” really stand out as a selling point – to a lesser extent earning $2500 sounds great as well, but that’s besides the point. However, there’s a bit of a throwback in this cover. We have Jean back in her earlier costume, giving bright composition to the dreary background. She’s front and centre on the cover, both her and Cyclops launching weapons at an unseen foe. Lots of mystery and intrigue is given on this cover (and what happens inside the book is a doozy!)

8. Uncanny X-Men #207, July 1986 (Cover by John Romita Jr. & Dan Green)

A simple cover still reeling with incredible action. Wolverine ripping the cover he’s contained in? Talk about breaking the fourth wall. This cover is so basic, but feels like there’s a lot going on. Straggly vertical lines; little details on Wolverine’s otherwise boring costume colours; the pose. I like this cover because, to paraphrase physicist Lawrence Krauss, it makes something from nothing. What could be a ho-hum cover by Romita Jr., ends up being one of the most iconic covers featuring Wolverine.

7. X-Men #101, Oct. 1976 (Cover by Dave Cockrum & Danny Crespi)

Speaking of iconic covers: the first appearance of the Phoenix certainly is one! Cyclops drowning, Nightcrawler struggling to swim – Storm seems as if her cape is weighing her down, yet still looks over to help see Cyclops in danger – the fear the cover strikes is enormous. Given it was only a few issues earlier where X-Man Thunderbird died, there’s still a chance for any of the main members to go as well. Cockrum was so far ahead here, one can even see the fear in Cyclops’ eyes through his visor. Much like issue #137, we have another bright green Phoenix cover, contrasting against Jean’s red hair and the blue sky – lots of colour composition is happening here and the characters seem purposefully chosen to make the colours work. And not to mention the impact of Jean’s explosion out of the water. It’s just one big “wow.”

6. X-Men #133, May. 1980 (Cover by John Byrne, Terry Austin, & Gaspar Saldino)

So about those iconic Wolverine covers. . . often considered to be one of the best Uncanny X-Men covers, Wolverine taking on the Hellfire club soldiers helped define his character. Clearly out-manned, alone, and forced into melee combat against armed combatants, Wolverine simply kicks some serious ass. Keeping mostly primary colours: red, green, blue – and yellow, the individual characterization of each person on the cover really shine. The fearless shooter from a distance; the annoyed soldier behind Wolverine, the three goons getting knocked away and whose pain the viewer can actually feel because the bodies aren’t in unusual positions – this cover, “delivered” by John Byrne and Terry Austin, not only defined the X-Man, but helped define the series.

5. X-Men #98, April 1976 (Cover by Dave Cockrum & Gaspar Saldino)

One could say that battling giant robots could be considered the X-Men’s forté. The giant Sentinels literally tower over the X-Men, leaving the dynamics to this cover to be in the hands of the legend, Mr. Cockrum. We only really get an idea of the scale of the Sentinels by Wolverine and Cyclops, making the fall of Colossus from the building that much more dramatic. Lots of action sprawls over the cover with every X-Man doing something relevant on the cover (which is a thing older X-books had a problem with – see my #3). The purple of the Sentinels compliments the strangely green-lit background featuring a Kirby Krackle sky. In my eyes, if there’s one cover that screams “The X-Men,” this would be it.

4. X-Men #141, Jan. 1981 (Cover by John Byrne & Terry Austin)

Everyone’s dead! In a dystopian future, we have an older Wolverine and Kitty Pryde up against a wall with their friends – and all of the characters we’ve read about – all apprehended or dead. It’s a dark, dreary cover for the X-Men which actually reflects the storyline contained within. It’s gritty and reeks of fear and anticipation. Who’s after Wolverine? Who has killed them all? How will anyone survive? Looking at this cover to this day, I still imagine what happened to the X-Men who were captured or killed. The cover gives more questions than answers and begs the reader to pick up the book.

3. X-Men #12, July 1965 (Cover by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, & Sam Rosen)

I bet some of you were asking yourselves when the Kirby representation was going to appear. X-Men #12 takes the cake for me as his best X-Men cover as we witness the first appearance of the mighty Juggernaut. His explosive entrance to the cover (and the series) knock back the X-Men – save for Jean Grey which Kirby never seemed to know what to do with on his covers. But what works well for this cover is a few things: the mystery behind the Juggernaut. We see his back, a gigantic fist, huge shoulders – what sort of creature is he? The cover is bright and red; instilling fear and drama on the cover. It makes the X-Men’s yellow costumes pop out, which in-turn also adds to the dramatic feel to the cover. There’s nothing happy happening here. It’s dark, obstructing, and moody, not only making it a really strange cover for its time, but one of my favourites to go back and look at.

2. Uncanny X-Men #210, Oct. 1986 (Cover by John Romita Jr., Bob Wiacek, & Danny Crespi)

Alright, alright. I’m sure you folks are wondering why this cover is so far up on the list. The real reason is that this cover totally hits the mark of the “definitive X-Men lineup” for me. While the catch phrase on the cover is cheesy as all hell, it’s the body language the X-Men give off that really strikes me. If you were to gauge the X-Men on their covers, to this point, save for issue #141 (and its next issue), it would’ve felt like regular comics for all ages. This cover was the turning point in the books for me, featuring the Marauders and a lot of dead Morlocks. The following covers feature blood, violence, fear, and action – but all originate from the storyline in this book – based off of the attitude from these characters. I wouldn’t want to mess with any of the X-Men based on this cover. They’re fearful, they’re menacing, and most importantly, they’re the best mutants for the job. Much like issue #207, Romita keeps it simple with a plain background and some horizontal lines to give this cover the edginess it needs to really hit home.

1. Uncanny X-Men #142, Feb. 1981 (Cover by Terry Austin & Danny Crespi)

Like I said before, save for issue #141 and its next issue, the X-books felt like comics for all ages. Then comes along Uncanny X-Men #142 by Terry Austin and all hell breaks loose. A giant Sentinel obliterates Wolverine on the cover as an impaled and broken Storm looks on. In this issue, EVERYBODY DIES. It’s a gut-wrenching cover for anyone to gaze upon. The action – and Wolverine’s death – demands your attention. Eyes focus on the colourful composition of his face. Just based on colours alone, everything compliments one another – green goes with purple which goes with yellow and orange. It’s inked beautifully to mask the real gore behind Wolverine’s death. It’s like the old horror movie trope: it’s better to have the murder done off-screen to leave the gruesome details to the imagination. And Wolverine’s death being caused by a soulless, faceless machine makes the hit so much stronger. As far as Uncanny X-Men covers go, this one delivers.

So that’s it! That’s my list of my favourite Uncanny X-Men covers! I’m sure a lot of you could agree with my choices, but I’m certain a lot of you would disagree with what I’ve said or my selection.

What have you? Did I overlook a cover? Let me know below! Or you can let me know on Twitter and Instagram!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

My Top Albums of 2016

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Evergrey – The Storm Within

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While it has only been two years since Evergrey was last featured on my Top 15 list, they knocked it out of the park with this album. What I feel to be their best album since 2004’s The Inner Circle, Evergrey takes it up a notch with The Storm Within; showcasing some of the most aggressive song writing, grand choruses, and dark lyrics.

Watch the music video for “In Orbit” featuring Floor Jansen:

14. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

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Yet almost redefining their sound again, Darkthrone somewhat goes back on their black metal roots but now taking shape with some bits of crunchy doom metal. Coming at the listener with thundering beats and punishing riffs, Darkthrone really impresses with this surprisingly straight-forward album that, despite being their sixteenth studio album, still comes as a breath of fresh air.

Listen to the first track, “Tundra Leech”:

13. iamthemorning – Lighthouse

iamthemorning

One part chamber pop, another part progressive rock, iamthemorning have always been a bit different. With beautifully haunting music and vocals, Lighthouse stands out as a daring take on making something complicated sound so beautiful and elegant.

Check out the entire album streaming here:
https://iamthemorningband.bandcamp.com/

12. Deströyer 666 – Wildfire

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As far as blackened thrash metal goes, Deströyer 666 create a solid album with gripping choruses and challenging aspects to their listeners. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill thrash album. There’s lots going on. The production is solid, the songs are great, and the riffs are crunchy. Putting this album on makes for one helluva fun ride.

Listen to the single, “Wildfire”:

11. Borknagar – Winter Thrice

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Even into their tenth studio album, Borknagar still shows the skill and comfort in their songwriting capabilities as Winter Thrice can take you over a variety of genres while still being Borknagar. Thrash, black, viking, progressive – thematic elements and bombastic choruses make for a audibly exciting album that anyone could really get into. Borknagar has always been a band that delivers quality – and with Winter Thrice – they still do.

Watch the lyric video to the first track, “The Rhymes of the Mountain”:

10. Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run (FEAR)

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This was a surprise to me. Hands-down to be one of their greatest albums, Marillion’s FEAR truly harkens back to classical progressive rock times. Lyrically speaking, the album mirrors the title as it reflects upon the changes in England and people left behind; between the have and have-nots. Sometimes feeling like a gloomy, slow burn, the music is emotionally driven and if anything makes the listener realize that they are not alone with their thoughts.

Listen to “The New Kings” here:

9. Drombeg – Earthworks

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I stumbled onto Drombeg by sheer luck. Listening to the first few songs of this debut album, I was sold. His publisher’s description of the album describes it best: “A soundtrack for the middle-of-nowhere, the wild landscapes of Brookes’ native Southern Ireland are littered with historic, and geological structures hardened under the relentless elements. Sinuous string melodies, and tender piano phrases reach like sunlight breaking through heavy clouds, blended with electronics and field recordings in careful balance to produce a rich cinematic sound.”

Check out the entire album here:
https://futuresequence.bandcamp.com/album/earthworks

8. Devin Townsend – Transcendence

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I wasn’t sure if I liked this album at first. As a biased Dev fanboy, I felt like I was simply getting another version of Epicloud. After a few spins, it hit me, and I fell in love with Transcendence. Truly showcasing how much Devin has progressed as a musician over the years, his songwriting skills have tightened and makes for an engrossing album that sonically delivers. Not to mention this is the first album that features song writing credits to the rest of the band – being Dev’s first real collaboration with them. A true treat for the ears.

Watch the music video for “Stormbending”:

7. Aborted – Retrogore

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Absolutely devastating death metal, Retrogore is a feast to the ears for those into horror films and, well, gore. It’s vile to the point of hilarity, and the band is fully-aware of that. With song titles like “Whoremageddon” and “Forged for Decrepitude” (which also features classic lines from Re-Animator), Aborted makes a much improved effort from their previous release and excites me to see what will come next.

Listen to the title track here:

6. Abbath – Abbath

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Immortal’s ex-frontman Abbath debuted his first album earlier this year to great success. Never would I have found black metal to be this damn catchy (which I suppose goes against the grain of what tr00 kvlt black metal is), but damn it’s catchy! Beat after beat, this album comes at you with stellar force.

Check out the video for “Winterbane”:

5. Anneke & Árstíðir – Verloren Verleden

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Icelandic folk band Árstíðir teamed up with one of my favourite vocalists, Anneke van Giersbergen, to showcase a variety of traditional and classical songs. It’s a wonderfully peaceful album with great resonance naturally showcased within the albums’ production. I found myself spinning this album a surprisingly large amount of times this year. Absolutely beautiful.

Listen to the wonderful cover of “Bist Du Bei Mir”:

4. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

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What’s not to like about Meshuggah? This band is always pushing the listener to something that rhythmically uncomfortable yet familiar. Always a great band to divulge into, if not a bit challenging to fully comprehend, The Violent Sleep of Reason is a crushingly great listen with riffs that will still have your head spinning to understand.

Check out the music video for “Clockworks”:

3. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
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Gorguts was last seen in my Top Albums of 2013 with their full-length, Coloured Sands – reaching the number two slot on my list. While I often don’t like to count EP’s as an album, Pleiades’ Dust stands out for being such a work of art I’d hate myself for not giving it proper recognition. The album forms a historical experience about the House of Wisdom and its destruction within a thirty-three minute song that is broken up into several movements. While Gorguts still stick with their technical death metal roots, the experimentation – and the overall experience – is an absolute joy.

Listen to the full song/album here:
https://gorguts.bandcamp.com/album/pleiades-dust

2. Moonsorrow – Jumalten aika

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I first got into Moonsorrow when I first got into metal. In fact, I learned about them when they were first starting out. I dug their first three albums (I started with Kivenkantaja) and fell in love with the band. And they’ve only become better over time. With their seventh album in place, these pagan black metallers have created another success. “Mimisbrunn” may just be one of the best songs they’ve ever written.

Check out the music video for “Suden Tunti”:

1. Vektor – Terminal Redux

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The gap between my second place album and this spot is gigantic. I don’t think there has been an album deserving a number one slot as much as Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I cannot say enough good things about this stunningly brilliant, progressive thrash album. I’ve been gushing over it since its release in May and am still excited listening to it.

The concept is grand, if not surprisingly ambitious for the thrash genre, but these guys make it right. While the lyrics are deep, intellectual, and well-written, the music is on a league of its own.

Lightning-fast riffs with tremendous variety makes the album refreshing to listen to on each spin; vocals representing the agony of the traveler and his yearning to learn more – as does the music want the listener to do. Nothing is stale and everything is wonderful. With the addition of female soul singers during integral parts of the story, the album begins and concludes with such choral ferocity, I still get goose bumps when I’ve fully invested myself into the album.

From the first track, “Charging the Void” to the incredible finale with “Recharging the Void,” Vektor brings the listeners on a wild journey through the far reaches of space all in the span of nine pulse-pounding songs.

Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I simply cannot say enough good things about this album. It has easily become one of my favourite albums ever to have graced my ears. It is now one of my favourite albums of all-time. An epic masterpiece worth your attention.

The incredible opening track to my album of the year, here’s “Charging the Void”:

Honourable Mentions:

Testament – The Brotherhood Of The Snake

Opeth – Sorceress

The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream

Anderson/Stolt – The Invention of Knowledge

Fates Warning – Theories of Flight

Amon Amarth – Jomsviking

Most Disappointed:

Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Megadeth – Dystopia

Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape

Redemption – The Art of Loss

Dream Theater – The Astonishing

Levin, Minneman, Rudess – From the Law Offices of Levin, Minnemann, Rudess

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

The Dream X-Men Team

Man, I love me some X-Men. I grabbed my first issue back in 1994 and was hooked from there: indulging myself in the world of X ever since. I’ve watched many teams break up, reform, or take turns becoming “Uncanny” in various ways. I’ve seen X-Men both die and come back to life, join other non-X-related teams like the Avengers, or became enemies against their friends. It’s been a wild ride.

Author Kelly Thompson recently retweeted a link from Comics Alliance which featured an X-Men Fantasy Draft. While some of the teams are great (like Katie’s and Aaron’s choices), I thought I should probably showcase my own.

While there’s well-over 300 X-Men to choose from, I’m going to limit myself to ten. I know the folks over at CA capped it at 8, but I’m making my own rules. And now, in no particular order:

moonstar1. Mirage (Danielle Moonstar)
Part of me hates that I have to explain why I’ve chosen Moonstar when I know she speaks for herself. Not only is she a quality leader, she’s still a complete bad ass even without her powers. On more than one occasion has Moonstar been the voice of reason, keeping her calm and head in the game when things get rough around her. She seems to always be there for someone even when her own life seems to be in shambles. Empathetic, compassionate, and yet still tough as nails, easily proven when she took on Hela herself. A natural, gifted, and talented member – an obvious choice to be on the team.

2. Archangel (Warren Worthington III)
For the record, I’m referring to the original Worthington, not the new one brought up through time travel (like I said, it’s been a wild ride). I’ve always had a soft spot for Worthington as he’s not only an emotional basketcase that I have sympathy for, but also still clear in mind to help his friends when needed. Despite turning against his friends time and time again, his heart (and fortune) is always in the right place.

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One of the original five X-Men, Archangel has always been a background character of sorts. While his powers of flight aren’t as aggressive as Cyclops’ optic blasts or Wolverine’s claws, they keep him cautious and clear headed in action. That is, unless the Archangel takes over. . .

monet3. M (Monet St. Croix)
I’m always a big fan of confidence. M oozes it. Her confidence is backed by her mutant powers of strength, flight, healing powers, and telepathy – essentially “perfection.” She’s a super-smart one-woman show who, as I once reviewed, doesn’t take crap from anyone. Originally with the Generation X team, she later grouped with X-Factor to showcase her investigative side and how she works in more intimate, adult groups. My only beef with having her on the team is that a lot of the other members would have a hard time putting up with her attitude. While it’s not usually warranted, it makes for some great stories.

4. Chamber (Jonothon Starsmore)chamber

Another character originating from Generation X, Chamber has always struck me as a tortured soul – unable to eat, breathe, and speak like a normal human, Chamber’s lower jaw was destroyed by his mutant powers when they first manifested. The energy that flows within his jaw can be controlled, giving him immense power and making him a formidable X-Man.

I first really understood Chamber when picking up Uncanny X-Men #395 (which also features a great X-Men roster) and reading his development as a character. I grew attached to him from there and been a big fan of his ever since.

5. Multiple Man (Jamie Madrox)mm

If I am ever given the chance to write an X-book (Marvel, are you there?), I would NOT use Jamie Madrox. This is simply because I believe he is author Peter David’s character. David’s work on the Multiple Man over his long run of X-Factor showcases character development and dedication to both a story and character arc. Multiple Man always struck me as Joss Whedon’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly before Firefly was even a thing. Madrox’s humour, strength, tenacity, and struggle with leadership makes him the most human person on the team. But, oh man, his powers would be so freakin’ useful. (And once upon a time I went as Multiple Man for Halloween).

6. Domino (Neena Thurman)

dominoFor the uninitiated, Domino may seem like the mutant version of Black Widow – but with a luck on her side. Quite literally. Domino’s powers of shifting the odds in her favour not only make her a terrifying force to be reckoned with, but a incredible asset to any team. Originating in X-Force, and then later in a new X-Force, only to be put into another X-Force after that, Domino knows a thing or two about sneaking around, combat, and making stealth a priority.

While some of her snarky attitude and over-confidence may mirror M’s, Domino knows when to duck out if things get too dicey. She’s experienced, tough, and yet will stick to her guns (literally, too) if something doesn’t seem right. It also helps that she’s also worked with my next pick!

7. Boom-Boom (Tabitha Smith)boomboom

If your idea of Jubilee comes from any of the X-Men cartoons or movies, think of her near-opposite and you have Boom-Boom. While Jubilee was the hip teenager who wanted to go to the arcade and chew bubblegum, Boom-Boom was out hunting for boys and blowing stuff up. Her mutant power – creating ticking time bombs made out of plasma energy – can explode with great force. While working with both X-Force and X-Factor, she has never really been written as a fully-matured character. While that may be a turn off for some folks putting together a team, Boom-Boom still has it where it counts and her light-hearted attitude and spirit would make for easing tension and energizing the group.

8. Fantomex (Jean-Phillipe/Charlie Cluster-7)

fantomexOne-part James Bond, one-part Wolverine. One-part three brains. What.

Fantomex is a creative secret agent out of the Weapon Plus program that uses his powers for confusion and escape more than anything. If there’s one thing that Fantomex does do, however, is make himself look good to others by getting the job done. Whether it be him single-handedly saving Uncanny X-Force from the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or managing to make The World work in his favour, Fantomex’s bag of tricks seem to be limitless as he (and trusty E.V.A.) are a tag-team of terror. Fantomex’s only real challenge being on the team is my next choice. . .

9. Psylocke (Elizabeth Braddock)psylocke

Psylocke is a character which many authors struggled to understand (and even more artists struggle to draw properly). Explaining her origin would take longer than what you’ve read here so far, so let me leave you with who she is: a psychic ninja assassin with more baggage than most people. One would think that being on another team with two men she has dated (Archangel and Fantomex) would mean trouble – and you know, it probably would. But she doesn’t let things linger or bother her for long – pushing emotions aside to finish the mission. Psylocke has been a tremendous force in the X-Men for many years – her devotion to the team and making things right is part of her moral code. The soft-spoken ninja never needs to prove herself because she lets her actions do the talking.

10. Banshee (Sean Cassidy)

At the end of my list, we have the leader of Generation X and the only (currently?) dead X-Man. While the movies (or failed TV pilot) don’t give Cassidy any justice, he is totally on my list because he is probably one of – if not the most – experienced character in the roster. He’s seen his fair share of action as he’s been in the X-books since the 60’s. He’s lost his powers by damaging his vocal chords when saving Japan from tremendous waves (caused by a villain). He founded X-Corps: a short-lived mutant police force. He’s been a detective with Interpol. He’s a father. The list just goes on. Noble, honest, and self-sacrificial (I mentioned he’s dead, right?), Banshee would be the most likely to lead my fantasy group of X-Men.

My honorable mentions go to: Captain Britain, Juggernaut, Polaris, Rogue, and Nightcrawler.

So that’s my list! Do you agree? Disagree? Do you think there would be too much drama or that everyone would be mature enough to get over it all?

And what about you?! Who is on your X-Men dream team? Heck, who is your dream team of superheroes? Sound off below!

And keep on Space Truckin’!

My Top 15 Albums of 2012

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. 3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal

3IoB

To-the-point and still a whole lot of fun. As the title suggests, this album is a testament to what heavy metal is. True to its roots, 3IoB’s album is a classic throw back to early Judas Priest or Manowar, with hella-cheesey lyrics that leave you questioning what you’re even singing along to. It’s hilarious, it’s great, it’s heavy, and it’s fun! For anyone looking to have a good time, please call 3 Inches of Blood – Long Live Heavy Metal

14. Vintersorg – Orkan

vintersorg

Swedish band Vintersorg (which is technically just two guys), produced a straight-forward, avant-garde folk album. If that last statement wasn’t paradoxical enough for you, listen to Orkan to understand. While still following traditional musical stylings, Vintersorg ups-the-ante by incorporating different chord changes, unconventional song styles, vocal techniques, and performances on the lute! The kicker is that it does all sound-straight forward. While you don’t expect to hear a chorus when listening to this music, it flows naturally, making it a great album to listen to for “something different.” Oh, and the lyrics aren’t in English.

13. Overkill – The Electric Age

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This album is too much fun. You’ll be head banging for a solid fifty minutes. What a rush.

12. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

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Get through the first track (and the single) Tattoo, and you’ll be loving the rest of the album. While starting off sloppy, Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth picks up and over-exceeds in all ways possible. Solid hard rock from this album kicks your butt and keeps rocking all the way until the end. Singer David Lee Roth still has what it takes to make music fun – not being the traditional singer – he adds so much more atmosphere to the music. This “better late than never” album really lives up to expectations.

11. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

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Who hasn’t heard “Hold On” yet? Alabama Shakes made an impressive impact in popular music this year with this album. Beyond expectations, the band stays true to soul music and southern rock while taking advantage of recording technology to this day. A really, really solid album comes from this band – especially with their singer, Brittany Howard, who has one of the most incredible voices in music today. If you haven’t heard this album yet, get on top of that!

10. Devin Townsend – Epiclouder

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While Devin Townsend released his album Epicloud earlier this year, if you got the Special Edition copy, you would’ve received the “demos” album titled Epiclouder. To be honest, I prefer the demos. Although they are not “completed” by Devin’s standards, the music is even more beautiful and chilling than the actual album Devin released. While it doesn’t fit Devin’s concept of Epicloud (as he says in the linear notes), Epiclouder tells many more stories, and goes down many more musical paths which would not have worked in the regular album. Most of all: it’s really refreshing and happy.

9. Kreator – Phantom Antichrist

kreator

Don’t take the title literally. It’s actually an interesting fantasy concept which runs through most of the album. It sings about a post-apocalyptic life and the battles to fight oppression. As always, Kreator manages to mix both aggression musically along with the music they perform. However, a few tracks sneak inside the album to change up the flow of music. All tasteful, I found that Kreator’s album is really neat story and a great way to wind down the day.

8. Ihsahn – Eremita

ihsahn

This album is so all-over-the-place, it’s fantastic. Ihsahn, you may remember from the black metal band, Emperor. However, outside of Emperor, he does progressive metal. I’m putting that lightly. Eremita is jazz fusion mixed with metal, mixed with darkness, mixed with orchestrations, fright, bewilderment, and awe. What it does well though, is give a focus to saxophone, and really puts an imprint on how underutilized the instrument is used in popular music today. (Albeit, me saying that Ihsahn is “popular” is just silly).

7. Threshold – March of Progress

threshold

After their 2007 release, Dead Reckoning, no one has heard anything from Threshold. We can see why (well that, and their singer passed away in 2011; bringing back their original vocalist from pre-2008 albums). March of Progress is a really powerful album from start-to-end. It sucks you in with haunting keyboards and keeps you grounded until the album concludes. It’s a great album just to rock out and play along in the background with whatever it is you’re doing. It’s a guaranteed enjoyment.

6. Kamelot – Silverthorn

kamelot

Let’s not lie to ourselves. Kamelot’s 2006 album, The Black Halo, is hands-down their best album. Then came Silverthorn. Featuring new vocalist, Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder), and quite a few guest musicians and singers, Silverthron stomps The Black Halo out of the competition. Heavy, pretty, and down-right awesome, Silverthron is a new beginning for Kamelot. I highly recommend you give it a try too.

5. Anneke van Giersbergen – Everything is Changing

anneke

Ex-The Gathering singer, Anneke van Giersbergen release this hauntingly beautiful album at the beginning of 2012. I find myself still returning to it as it really sticks. Anneke’s voice, happy lyrics, and rocking music, is guaranteed to make you feeling pretty good about yourself once the trip is over.

4. Flying Colors – Flying Colors

flying-colors

A super group of musicians would naturally make a super album. Flying Colors self-titled debut showed how much fun it is to rock out. Piecing together various musical styles, the album grabs you right of the get-go and refuses to let you leave until you soak in all of the greatness it offers.

3. Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light

woods-of-ypres

David Gold’s final album – Woods 5 represents everything that is beautiful and dark in this world. From poetic lyrics to gut-wrenching music, Woods 5 hits all of the right spots and sometimes kind of close to home.

2. The Flower Kings – Banks of Eden

flower-kings

Blues and jazz melded together to make wonderfully crafted progressive rock and one heckuva pretty album. It is an absolutely stunning album, front-to-back, from a band no one really knows about. The Flower Kings have really topped themselves with Banks of Eden. It’s gorgeous, it’s happy, it’s The Flower Kings. The album offers so much for listeners, it’s impossible to tell you everything about it. You’d be doing yourself if a favour if you gave this at least one spin. Just a warning though: you won’t put this down.

1. Anathema – Weather Systems

anathema

What can you say about an album this beautiful? Pushing the envelope with new ground, Anathema’s Weather System’s sets the standard to what music could – and should be. Emotional, uplifting, and so much more, there’s a reason why this album is my number one. Do yourself a favour and find out why.

Honourable Mentions:

Rush – Clockwork Angels

Testament – Dark Roots of Earth

Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion

Torche – Harmonicraft

Devin Townsend – Epicloud

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

My Top 15 Albums of 2013

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Kylesa – Ultraviolet

kylsea

Psychedelic rock, sludge rock, stoner rock – whatever you want to call it – Kylesa’s “Ultraviolet” is all that and a bag of potato chips. Resonating back to the early nineties with bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Kyuss, Kylesa’s newest is a slug-fest of dirty, crunchy, pulse-pounding songs. However, you’re guaranteed to lose yourself listening to this album. To put it simply: Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope kick butt.

Listen to “Unspoken” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-APQ1SQQ6M

14. Occultist – Death Sigils

occultist

Taking from the grunge scene, this half punk, half thrash debut album is all-out fantastic. “Death Sigils” offers a refreshing takes on the genres and really throws it in your face with wonderful female vocals. The mix is what really what stands out though. It is a clean and organised chaos -something that is rarely done well in the genre – let alone with a debut album. Occultist does it all right.

Listen to the entire album here: http://occultist.bandcamp.com/

13. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen

Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen

I feel bad having Ihsahn squeeze his way into my top fifteen again this year,but he continues to push out incredible music. Mixed from jazz, fusion, progressive, black, doom, avant-garde, and so on, he’s really all over the place – yet it all feels like home in the album. To put it simply, “Das Seelenbrechen” is more of an incredible sample of genres that flows together naturally. There’s such a variety of elements are involved with creating such a daunting animal as this album. You owe it to yourself to give it a listen to.

Listen to “NaCI” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92g3KGbZXU0

12. Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light

Fates Warning - Darkness

The pioneers of prog are back! A well-orchestrated and return-to-form album by Fates Warning after along hiatus proves they are still a force to be reckoned with. Screaming from their late eighties/early nineties sound, “Darkness in a Different Light”is a welcomed listen, featuring a wide variety of styles in both guitar and bass work. Not to mention, Ron Jarzombek is drumming on the album. ‘Nuff said.

Listen to single, “I Am” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChFbgZNgCh0

11. Ayreon – The Theory of Everything

ayreon

Over-the-top as always, songwriter Arjen Lucassen manages to create a symphonic concept album featuring four songs over twenty minutes on two discs. To make matters even nerdier, this science-fiction album is broken up into forty-two tracks for you Hitchhiker fans out there. Along with other science-fiction nods, this album is filled with exciting orchestrations, brilliant story-telling, and an incredible line up of guest musicians putting “The Theory of Everything” in my number eleven spot.

Listen to the song “The Theory of Everything” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E98C5BcXnE

10. Amorphis – Circle

amorphis - circle

Finnish folk-rockers Amorphis released “Circle” earlier in the year. An excellent, straight-forward album with solid compositions and Tomi Joutsen’s gorgeous vocals puts this album into the beginning of my top ten.

Listen to the single “The Wanderer” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDpEBMHRp4g

9. Levin, Minnemann, Rudess – Levin, Minnemann, Rudess

lmr

What happens when you throw three legendary musicians together? Bassist Tony Levin, drummer Marco Minnemann, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, come together and piece an incredible fusion album with awesome concepts and moods to melt your ears. This near all-instrumental album seems to shift focus halfway through, with the first half being a mix of blues, while the second takes you back to the early eighties and nineties in video games.

Listen to the single “Scrod” here (and try not to think of playing on the Sega Genesis): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KF9JZTVDB7I

8. Black Sabbath – 13

black-sabbath

I was fearful of this album when it was first announced. I knew Ozzy was too old and worn out to continue writing solid music. While yes, Ozzy’s tired voice was clearly corrected for the album, the song writing, is something else. Black Sabbath makes a clear impression that they are really the godfathers of heavy metal (as if that wasn’t clear already). Sticking true to their form by honouring both blues and jazz, “13” is a solid and incredible album – save for the two singles (which are also the first two songs on the album). Dear Father may be one of my favourite Sabbath tunes of all-time. If anything,”13″ could have been released in the seventies it would have been a perfect fit.

Listen to “Dear Father” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZHUl9G9hfg

7. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

qotsa

Everyone thinks either “Rated R” or “Songs for the Deaf” are QotSA’s best albums. Well, guess which two albums had a baby together? “…Like Clockwork” is a great return for the band after their recent musical flops. Very moody and at times sinister, the album cannot help but force a smirk on your face. Such as when you pick up on the subtle soundscapes in the background, or when you recognise when Dave Grohl’s signature drumming sound becomes real apparent.

Listen to “I Appear Missing” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCy8pjhl97A

6. Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

darkthrone

This is hands-down some of the most fun I’ve had ever listening to an album. I dare you to try not to crack a smile when listening.

Listen to “Leave No Cross Unturned” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0tsFqTulM8

5. Woodkid – The Golden Age

woodkid

A friend recommended me this album and two songs in, I fell in love. Yoann Lemoine makes sure “The Golden Age” overflows with grandeur and experimental stylings. It’s indie, but epic. It’s elegant, but shines bright.This album will drop your jaw onto the ground with its audio brilliance. There’s layers and layers of love thrown into each song, making you want to listen to each track carefully if only to grin wildly along with it. There is a reason why this album makes my top five.

Watch the music video to “Run Boy Run” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmc21V-zBq0

4. Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn

summoning

This dark, ambient album – as with all Summoning albums – is loosely based off of Lord of the Rings. This album features great soundscapes and themes in the long, epic songs on the album. Singing of nature, loss, and a variety of LotR-based locations, you cannot help but feel the wonder behind some of the songs. At times I wish Peter Jackson would attach these songs to his films.What makes this album stand out the most, however, is the beautiful and diverse arrangements the band pieces together.

Listen to “The White Tower” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMQyeise1Ic

3. Carcass – Surgical Steel

carcass

I debated endlessly with myself on whether or not this album deserved the second place spot or not. The return of one of death metal’s greatest bands proves to be an incredible one.

“Surgical Steel” features eleven pounding tracks which not only make you feel exhilarated, but it throws interesting philosophies about human consumption and the nature of man. Reeking in irony, it is quite the educational and introspective album for the impressionable listener.

Watch the music video to “Captive Bolt Pistol” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3fRKGD2GW0

2. Gorguts – Colored Sands

gorguts

Speaking of reunions, it has been over a decade since Canadian band Gorguts released anything. “Colored Sands” is one of the most emotional albums I’ve heard in a long time. Focusing more on the spirituality of Buddhism and Tibetans under Chinese rule, lyrically, this album is not only a historical lesson, but also an exploration of man. Luc Lemay writes an incredible scope of stories filled with both sorrow and pain making the liner notes compliment the album well.

Musically, however, Colored Sands is an incredible journey with a wide variety of musical styles blended into the technical death metal genre. Not only does the album feature odd-timed waltzes or jazz interludes, but the middle of the album features a string quartet for an awesome classical arrangement.

While I’ve given the link to the album below, I strongly recommend listening to my favourite track,”Absconders.” It is, in my opinion, the most emotional song off of the album. The last few minutes of the song really hits the point home.

Listen to the entire album here: http://gorguts.bandcamp.com/album/colored-sands

1. Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)

steven-wilson

When this album was released in February, I knew after the first listen it was something special. Not only is each song a self-contained story, but it is also an audio adventure for the listener. It is rare for the stories and music to complement each other well enough to create a satisfying final product, but each song on Wilson’s album does so perfectly – and seemingly with ease.

The true beauty of the album is how each song sounds different, but still the same. Every song on the album features different tones, atmospheres, influences, and attention to detail, making all of the stories unique onto themselves in the canonical album.

Brilliant, haunting, touching, beautiful, daring, progressive – whatever you want to call it, this album offers it and so much more.

Watch the music video to “The Raven that Refused to Sing” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4XevlloPY4

Honourable mentions:
Anneke van Giersbergen – Drive

Haken – The Mountain

Magenta – The Twenty Seven Club

The Ocean – Pelagial

Portal – Vexovoid

Toxic Holocaust – Chemistry of Consciousness

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?