X-Men #2-4 by Brian Wood (Comics Review)

I mentioned in my review of X-Men #1 by Brian Wood, that I was struggling to find an X-Men book that I could enjoy. That was a rather specific case and the thing is that uutside of Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, I’ve had a really tough time getting into Marvel comics. With DC, the fact that they rebooted their universe in Fall 2011 and that I’m already super familiar with a lot of their characters helped me in figuring out what to read and what not to. Not so with Marvel. And that’s despite the fact that Marvel too rebooted their universe in mid-Fall 2012. Although, they didn’t do a hard reset like DC, merely started renumbering their titles and putting out new books while (presumably) cancelling the ones that weren’t bringing in anything. Still, given my lack of familiarity with many of their characters, I just can’t figure out what to read.

I gambled on Aaron’s book because I’d enjoyed the Chris Hemsworth movie, but that’s about it. I tried reading Bendis’ All New X-Men but gave up after the first issue since I couldn’t understand any of what was happening. The same applied to Simon Spurrier’s X-Men: Legacy. Recently, I’ve started reading more, gambling with the titles, but still, Aaron’s Thor and Brian Wood’s X-Men are the only books that actually get me excited. One of my main draws to Wood’s book is that is has an all-female team and features some of my favourite X-Men characters. And, the first issue was right darn excellent, and the three issues since, including this week’s #4, have been just as great at least.

In #1, we saw the John Sublime, an old-time enemy of sorts for the X-Men had returned with a warning: his sister Arkea was back and that she wanted to take over the entire planet. We also see that Jubilee had turned up after a long time, with a toddler boy in tow. These two events were brought together to form a very exciting plot that united several prominent female members of the X-Men team at the Jean Grey School: Kitty, Storm, Rachel, Psylocke and Rogue. And that concept is at the heart of the book. Wood brought these characters very organically, without any sort of gimmicks. They were the ones who were at hand to respond to Arkea’s threat, and so they became a “team”. In issues #2-4, Wood explores this concept and breathes life into this new series and continues to turn out one rocking issue after another.

XMenBW02In #2, we see how Arkea is played up to be a big threat to the X-Men. She is something on a level they have next to no experience with, and they are struggling to confront her at every point. Typically, this would mean that the characters are played off as incompetent at best, stupid at worst, but thankfully, that is not the case here. Wood treats his characters with respect and he fosters an environment where the team takes snap decisions instead of getting lost in the “woe is us” mentality or bickering about what to do. And this is where Wood proves his characterisation skills. I love what he’s been doing on Star Wars and what he did on the first couple issues of Mara (Image Comics, creator-owned), and he replicates his characterisation here.

Each character, whether Kitty or Storm or Rachel or Psylocke or Rogue or Jubilee has her own distinct voice that never blends into that of the other. And team roles are clearly being established with Storm as leader being the most obvious and Rogue being the heavy muscle being another one. Within these roles, its great to see how each character develops.

I am still a bit confused by who and what John Sublime is, but thankfully, Wood steers clear of any long exposition on that front. What helps is that the focus is never on him long enough for me to ask questions about his backstory prior to this issue.

And much like #1, we get to see some really cool action scenes in this issue as well. Rogue and Kitty take point once again, while the others come up with a way to neutralise Arkea. The thought process involving that decision is quite fascinating to watch.

Olivier Coipel’s pencil work is on top-form once more. There are a few panels here and there where character faces and silhouettes are indistinct, but they are few in number and don’t impact the enjoyment of the entire issue all that much. Coipel has a good handle on all of the characters, in an artistic sense and I can say for sure that I’m really enjoying his work. With assists from a near-army of inkers, colourists and letterer VC’s Joe Caramagna, X-Men #2 is a visually arresting book. And the cover by Coipel and Frank Martin is just phenomenal.

Also, Shogo, the toddler that Jubilee has assumed responsibilities as a mother for, is the cutest kid in comics right now. Hands down. No debate.

In all, I really enjoyed this issue. Definitely a thumbs-up. Or two maybe. Three even.

Rating: 9.5/10

XMenBW03Issue #3 marks the close of this first arc of the book, involving Arkea and John Sublime. Last issue, Arkea took off from the Jean Grey in a spectacular style and here, we are treated to how the “current” X-Men team under Storm’s provisional leadership is dealing with the whole matter.

Right off the bat, there are two huge highlights of this issue. The first of these involves Kitty, who has been left in charge of the school while the rest of the team takes off to take the fight to Arkea. It was a bit weird to see Kitty in a leadership role since, in my experience with the movies and the various animated series as far as I recall, she has never been in that kind of a position. So instantly, I got to bond with the character. In a bit of a narrative decision twist, Wood doesn’t dwell on whether Kitty is a good leader or not. That is simply not the point of her being “left in charge”. Rather, its all about how she brings everyone else together to fight the surprises that Arkea left behind, such as overriding the controls for the Danger Room, which is now churning out Karima Shapandar drone bots to annihilate all the kids in the school.

This entire narrative allows Kitty to take the prime spot on the stage and shows how she coordinates the other kids together. Bling, Primal, Pixie and Helion are among the second-gen kids that we get to see here and it was great that Wood did not limit his cast of characters to just the “main” team. The interactions between all the kids, especially Kitty and Bling, definitely stole the show. And now I want to read more of their adventures.

The second big highlight is the utter… normality of Jubilee talking with Shogo while the others take care of Arkea. Emotionally, these are slow moments in the narrative and they help to connect these two characters together as Jubilee shares some of her hopes and dreams with her adopted son, the cutest toddler in comics right now, as I’ve said before. I’m kind of dying to see Jubilee in a more action-oriented role but it was still a treat to see the other side of her, to see how she could adapt to life as a single-parent. Truly fantastic stuff.

Of course, all the scenes between the team of Storm, Rachel, Psylocke and Rogue isn’t slouching either when it comes to dealing with Arkea. To be honest, these scenes were somewhat disappointing in that they didn’t exactly end on a good note and they lacked some connecting bits of story. Coming into this entire story without any real previous knowledge of John Sublime or Arkea or Karima Shapandar, I struggled to connect with the emotional attachment that the X-Men have toward Karima, and why they would be reluctant to kill her in order to take out Karima. A few more panels here and there with a bit of exposition would certainly have helped here.

That said, it was fantastic to see Psylocke go all medieval on Arkea, a panel sequence that Olivier Coipel drew pitch-perfect. I want to see more of this Psylocke!

When it comes to art, this is Olivier Coipel’s last issue on the series (for the moment, I hope). The consistency he built over the previous two issues is reflected well here and once again, I loved his work. Still some minor negative points here and there, plus a cover that didn’t quite do it for me this time around. Still, all I can really say is that I’m enjoying the art regardless of all the minor gripes. Coipel is definitely going to be missed for the next few issues.

The only other negative with this issue is that once the entire thing is over, John Sublime kind of just disappears and no one makes a note of it, for the reader’s convenience. That jarred.

In the end though, this was still a cracking good issue.

Rating: 8.5/10

XMenBW04Issue #4 marks the start of a new arc in the series, although things are somewhat in a transition phase right now. To understand what this issue is about, all one needs to do is just look at the cover. It explains everything. Having read the Victor Gischler X-Men run where Jubilee first turns into a Vampire and Logan goes after her to bring her back to her family, I definitely wanted to see how Wood would deal with their father-daughter-esque or brother-sister-esque relationship, and whether he would address her as a Vampire. This issue does all that and more.

The story this time around is split into two separate narratives. The first narrative deals with Logan coming back to the Jean Grey School (all happens off-panel) and then taking Jubilee and Shogo out for a day in sunny California. Their chosen spot is the Santa Monica Beach. You know, up until now, I’d merely been impressed with all the character work that Wood had been doing on Jubilee. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I love the character, yeah, but still, Wood had been doing a great job so far. With this issue, he knocks it all out of the park for a back-to-back home run.

The scenes between Jubilee, Logan and Shogo provide a nice downtime from all the action that the team has recently been through with Arkea/John Sublime, and I just enjoyed the heck out of all the bonding scenes between these three characters. Logan here is a completely different character than I remember, whether from the movies or the animated series, or even in some of the other Marvel comics I’ve read to date. The man actually laughs, he is affable and good-natured. And it totally fits him. I loved Wood’s taken on Wolverine here. But more than that, I loved what he did with Jubilee. The star of this entire book so far, across the four issues, is undoubtedly Jubilee.

It also helps that new artist David Lopez draws an amazing Jubilee. I liked how Coipel drew her in the previous three issues, but all the same, Lopez one-ups him. He gives Jubilee a very distinctive asian look, and this makes her really stand out. especially when she’s wearing shades and all. She also happens to be slightly taller, and in general Lopez’s characters have slightly bigger body-dimensions, more so with their faces. Its like the characters have all filled in clothes that were a size too big for them previously.

No complaints at all with any of Lopez’s character work, which was excellent. Much more detailed than Coipel’s, that’s for sure. One of my main criticisms of Coipel’s characters were that often he’d zoom out of a scene and we would see very little, if at all, of the character faces. Lopez doesn’t do any of that. Small things like that really build up.

The second narrative involves the X-Men saving a passenger airliner from crashing. This also dives into Rachel challenging Storm’s leadership, or rather, her assumption of leadership of the “team” and her cold decision to have Psylocke take out Arkea in the previous issue. This was hinted at in the ending of the previous issue, and the concept absolutely blooms here. The tensions between these two characters, and the way that the rest of the team tries to head them off, were portrayed excellently. Brian Wood’s characterisation is near flawless here, especially when it comes to Rogue acting all gung-ho once she taps Psylocke and executes the team’s mad-cap plan to save the airliner.

The narrative ends with a thrilling free fall scene that had badass written all over it and that entire sequence was just… mind-blowing. That’s the only word that comes to mind really, the way that Lopez draws it.

I remarked earlier that I would miss Coipel on this book. But in hindsight, I have to say that Lopez is doing a fantastic job, coming on mid-series like this. Hands-down, his pencilwork is that much better than Coipel’s, which I wasn’t expecting to the case, and in that respect, this issue knocks the ball out of the park once again. The rest of the art team has also gone through a shuffle, with inkers Cam Smith and Norman Lee coming aboard alongside colourist Cris Peter. The entire tone and mood of their artwork is different from that of the previous team, but they all still do a fantastic job. No complaints all all from me on that front.

This issue marks a substantial rise in the stakes where the creative team is concerned and I will say that I absolutely cannot wait to read the next issue, or holding a print copy in my hands sometime next month once my orders come in. Should be a blast.

Just to add, and this is not a criticism of this issue per se: I was a bit thrown off by the fact that this issue doesn’t really address the events of the previous three issues, aside from a throwaway comment. That was the only thing that jarred, and I suppose that’s more down to the changes that Brian Wood had to make when the series launch was delayed earlier this year, necessitating a cut in the length of the previous arc. All that said, I hope the series stays on track like this for future issues!

Rating: 10/10

More X-Men: v4 #1, v3 Volume 1.

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Posted on August 22, 2013, in 2013 Reading Challenge, 2013 Writing Challenge, Challenges, Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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