A Wednesday in Review

A laundry-list of stories came out this week! The Chaos War continued in Incredible Hulks #619, the X-Men cleared up the vampire threat in the Curse of the Mutants storyline in X-Men #6, while a What If? showed us what would happen had Hawkeye killed Norman Osborn during the Dark Reign. Also to note, a particular drawing of Rogue in X-Men Legacy #243 by Paul Davidson has shown Rogue at her absolute worst. Just sayin’ is all. I was unaware Rogue was an aged Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Despite all that stuff going on, I felt reviews of Uncanny X-Men #531 and Namor: The First Mutant #5 were necessary.

Uncanny

Uncanny X-Men #531

With part two of the Quarantine storyline, Matt Fraction continues his run on Uncanny X-Men, but this time adding Kieron Gillen from the most-recent Generation Hope series as a co-writer. If you haven’t heard, yesterday Marvel announced their next big event for 2011, called “Fear Itself.” Given Fraction is running the show, I can only assume Gillen will be helming Uncanny very soon on his own.

In this issue of Uncanny, you can read the first couple of panels in the story and see Gillen’s adjustments to Fraction’s run. It seems as if the conclusion to Generation Hope’s current story ties into Uncanny’s pages.

Continuing from last month, the flu-plot thickens as the X-Men’s heavy-hitters are all diagnosed with some unknown flu. Namor, Wolverine, Magneto, and so-on, have obtained some sickness running aboard Utopia – while Cyclops seems to be next on the list. Three other subplots, believe it or not, actually run within the Uncanny story and ultimately cramming quite a bit in such a small book. First, we have the X-Men outside of Utopia dealing with a “new” X-Men team created by superhuman villain Lobe. Yes, now there are three X-Men teams running around in the story. To top it all off, Emma still is off with Fantomex and Kitty Pryde inside EVA to rid of Sebastian Shaw forever, while the vigilante Collective Man is terrorizing San Francisco’s Chinatown. The story ultimately ends with the two outside-of-Utopia X-Men teams closing in on Collective Man’s position, while a silly error in Fantomex’s judgment thickens the Sebastian Shaw developments.

I believe you can imagine how rushed this book seems. It can be very problematic. However, that’s actually not my “big” beef with the book. Whereas last month, I was upset about X-Men Legacy’s continuity problems, Uncanny took that problem then made it happen ten-fold. I really do not know where in the Marvel U this story takes place, as there are too many variables with different characters. For example, Namor is no longer on Utopia. Magneto too, has jumped ship to be in both Legacy and the Children’s Crusade plots. Fantomex’s ship EVA is currently destroyed in Uncanny X-Force. Then there’s Curse of the Mutants, the Generation Hope’s story which I am assuming ends into Uncanny, etc. The list of problems goes on.

And it’s not that the X-Men are spread too thin in various titles. I mean, the vampire/X-Men storyline actually could fit in rather nicely had there been a bit more collaboration. It seems that Fraction set Uncanny up too-wrong-too-fast, post-Second Coming. He’s taking on a lot with the characters and it’s completely unhealthy for the book. Once you bring in art from Greg Land, where I’ve seen in this current book – the Dazzler as Emma Frost and Namor as Wolverine, while Dr. Kavita Rao younger by at least ten years, I’m not impressed at all.

In a nutshell, if I wasn’t so hell-bent on collecting every Uncanny X-Men comic (as being a comic collector does), I quite honestly would have dropped this story last month.

Grade: 2/10

Namor: The First Mutant #5

A gorgeous story about the history of Namor shocked me in Namor: The First Mutant #5. I was absolutely stunned by the completely different change of pace this story turned to post-Curse of the Mutants. And it was done very well.

Namor

Interestingly enough, the writer hadn’t changed at all. Stuart Moore still helms the book – proving to me his immense versatility in writing. The story stems right out of the previous issue where X-Man Loa finds out she can breath underwater because of an amulet she has. That only takes up four pages of the entire book. Immediately, we are taken back to the 1940’s where Namor’s lover at the time, Betty – being both blonde and Sue Storm-esque, and her friend Alice – first introduced back in the 40’s with Namor! Talk about digging up dirt from the past! Anyway, we are taken through how Namor both spoils and berates Betty – being the anti-hero he was back during those times. Fast forwarding to recent years, the story ends with Namor saving a father and daughter from Great White in Maui (with little interesting tidbits in there for you to find out), and finding Alice as a mother/grandmother of the two people Namor just saved. The story ends with a return to present time and concludes the interesting story on how Loa got the amulet. Ending on a positive note, this book serves as a reminder to all Namor fans of who he was before and what he is now.

With Moore writing, he proved to me that he knows Namor and that he is currently in good hands. The story in every couple of pages, gives a different title to Namor’s various attributes – being a lover, destroyer, egotist, and so-on.

Meanwhile, artists Ariel Olivietti and Brian Ching take over as artists and add a tremendous amount of depth to the pages, while Olivietti and Rachelle Rosenberg brighten up the pages with glorious colours, making each page as attractive as the last. To top it all off, a brilliant cover page of Namor, Betty, and WWII by Mike Mayhew really puts the icing on the cake. For $2.99 and keeping up with this pace, I really think we’ll actually have a regular on-going Namor series.

Grade: 9/10

Whilte you’re at it, check out Marvel’s month-to-month sales up to October 2010, courtesy Comics Beat. I also will not be posting Classic Comics for the next two weeks due to various holidays. However, they will return in the new year!

And of course, keep on Space Truckin’!

Classic Comic Fridays: The Mighty Thor #338

I figure that I’ll start doing something a little different. Every week, I’ll review a classic comic from my collection at random. Simple as that.

This week, I’ll kick off with the second appearance of Beta Ray Bill, Thor #338 from December of 1983, back when Jim Shooter was the EiC of Marvel. The art and story was also done by Walter Simonson, where he did Thor’s run from issue 337-367. Thor #337 was the issue which introduced Beta Ray Bill, meaning Simonson created him.

Thor338

What intrigues me most about this issue is that we finally see someone who is not god-like, nor Asgardian, take on Thor. On top of that, we learn that Beta Ray Bill is Thor’s equal. In issue 337, Bill steals Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer for its power (which until Bill, could only be lifted by Thor), and by issue 338, he is teleported to Asgard via the hammer by Odin.

Odin, confused on how Bill holds Thor’s hammer, summons Thor back to Asgard to discuss Bill’s appearance and why Bill wishes to have Mjolnir. Bill explains how his race was dying and needed to leave their galaxy for fear of death. In doing so, his race’s scientists bio-engineered Bill and merged him with the most ferocious carnivore of their empire, so that he may lead their exodus. With his warship the Skuttlebutt, he must save his race from alien invaders. Since Bill bested Thor in battle (by stealing the hammer in the previous issue), he believes he should wield the hammer to save his people.

By all means, Bill is not shown to a man with bad intentions, nor a villain of any sort. He just wants to save his people. Because Mjolnir finds Bill worthy to wield it and Bill believes he deserves the hammer since he took it from Thor, Odin decides that they duel to the death for Mjolnir.

Odin strips both men of their powers and sent them off-world so neither have an advantage. Both warriors fight equal blows with each strike. Their final blow knocks both unconscious on a rock bed riding down a lava lake, soon to be thrown down a waterfall of lava.

Bill awakens first and sees Thor still knocked-out. Being a noble man, Bill feels Thor is too brave to perish and instead tries to lift him to safety, only to be too-late and thrown down the waterfall. Falling, Odin teleports them back to his throne room for Bill to state at the books conclusion, “The hammer is mine!”

The story itself is wonderfully paced, especially for introducing a new character. Simonson makes Bill not just a worthy opponent for Thor, but a just one. Bill’s main drive is to fight off invaders from his people and just requires a weapon to defeat them. However, I did neglect the extremely minor side story involving the Warrior’s Three during the epic battle. Although it did not throw off the pace at all, it shows Simonson’s flawless transitions between stories.

BetaRayBill

Simonson was considered to be the savior of Thor comics at the time for not just introducing Bill, but for great dialogue, and exposing emotions and truths behind characters. Mixed in with his powerful art, Simonson had great imaginative ideas to play with – generating a new race, a new hero, and a brilliant plot point involving one of Marvel’s greatest heroes.

When I look back at other issues from the eighties, I seem to find them lacking substance. They involve characters which seem to get dumb-downed to reach a larger audience. In Thor, we have intellect, mixed in with powerful morals, as well as an enemy we cannot hate. Arguably advanced for its target-market, this issue was a powerful indication that Thor is not the only major power in the universe.

By the next issue, Odin creates “Stormbreaker,” a hammer equal to Mjolnir, and gives it to Bill for being noble by saving Thor. Both Thor and Bill become blood brothers, and help one another in their most desperate times of need. Recently, Bill arrived to Asgard during the Secret Invasion – saving Thor from the Skrulls showing us that blood brothers stretch beyond realms.

Grade: 8/10

Keep on Space Truckin’.