Monday, November 30, 2015

The Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis, Volume 4

The one phrase I can accurately describe the fourth volume of Brian Michael Bendis' The Uncanny X-Men with is that it's been 'a series of escalations'. The previous volume was comprised of oneshots that are more or less independent of one another. It's something I immensely enjoyed but perhaps a more critical reader will find the lack of a unifying arc as wasteful. Luckily, Bendis answered that expectation by getting us back on track with The Uncanny X-Men Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D which ran from issues #19-25.

Since the events from AVX and Scott Summers' murder of Professor X, mutants relations with the government especially the S.H.I.E.L.D agency have been more tense than the usual, and this friction will ultimately play out for this volume's plot. Current head Maria Hill is hunting down Cyclops and his colleagues Emma Frost, Magik and Magneto, believing them as the new face of a more radical mutant revolution. Meanwhile, Scott has recruited young and promising mutants and, together with his colleagues, has been training them for combat and bringing them into missions. Essentially, The Uncanny X-Men allows readers to experience progress and evolution of Scott's new team of heroes, as well as sympathize with the struggles they have against their usual public enemies, both super-powered and human. This Bendis title started rather weak in its first debut but has steadily become an engrossing, exciting and well-crafted tale that's part-Shakespearean drama, part-coming-of-age story and part-political intrigue.

This fourth volume The Uncanny X-Men Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D probably serves as the climactic point of the series' narrative where chess pieces laid before in the previous volumes are finally coming out to play across the board. This include the ongoing strife and misunderstanding among Scott's team, Wolverine/Storm's school, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Whenever Scott's convictions and reputation, alongside his infringed team, are being questioned, the faculty and student body of the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning also take heat which is somewhat unfair when the X-Men have obviously been divided into two distinct factions since AVX and Xavier's death. To Maria Hill, that difference doesn't matter. Mutants have been engaging in more revolutionary phases that she and S.H.I.E.L.D want to limit as much as possible which only end up making things worse. Special Agent Hill even employed the assistance of one Alison Blaire (a.k.a Dazzler) as her mutant liaison which shape-shiffter on-and-off villainness Mystique took advantage of. She abducted Dazzler and posed at her for a good amount of issues. While stashed away, Alison's mutation was used to sustain a mutant growth hormone for the population of Mandripoor where Mystique created a new haven for mutants to roam free and indulge every whim. Magneto (who was battling his own demons after the death of his best friend) managed to rescue Alison from captivity and he agrees to help her take revenge on Mystique.

On the other hand, new kind of Sentinels are hunting down X-Men again, this time having the ability to suppress mutation while near vicinity. Magik is the only one who can defend them, considering she can tamper with her sorceress powers from Limbo, something she has been able to handle much better now, thanks to the tutelage of Dr. Strange. Hijack, a mutant recruit Scott let go of last time, came back to help them defeat the Sentinels and earn his place back in the program. The instigator behind this mass production of new Sentinels is no other than Dark Beast, much to Dr. McCoy's chagrin. Scott and Hank's friendship continue to deteriorate as well as Bobby's respect for Scott.

These two major conflicts (Sentinels vs X-Men vs S.H.I.E.L.D; and Dazzler's quest to get even with Mystique) have been interesting to follow with plenty of restrained exposition in favor of more action-oriented panels which I really preferred. The visual composition for this series has been one of the most recognizable and fun from all the MARVEL NOW! titles I'v encountered so far. There is also plenty of humor to be had in spite of the undermining seriousness of the situations which is really a trademark quality of any Marvel comic book. The most critical storyline for this volume, however, had to be the one with Charles Xavier's last will and testament. The build-up for that issue alone was palpable. Everyone can't agree if Scott Summers should be there but legal representative Atty. Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk) insisted and so after much debate, they fetched Scott from his secret school (Weapon X facility, much to Logan's understandable distaste). The youth were left at the secret school under Emma's care as Scott was accompanied by Magik back to the Jean Grey school. The last will and testament was a hologram and midway through the Professor revealing his greatest shame and secret (and NO, apparently it wasn't MARRYING MYSTIQUE BEFORE HIS DEATH), they had to take a break because it's so SURREAL TO SEE the Professor speaking again, granted it was only a projection. AND YES, XAVIER AND MYSTIQUE GOT IT ON. It was so...weird! I love the sibling relationship they had in the James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence versions (and I do ship them to a degree) but comics-Mystique and Xavier are...just weird together in a romantic context. BLEH. Magneto should have joined this gathering. I would love to see how he would react to this news.

Now everyone figures out why Mystique has gone off the rails after her husband's death. AND THE JEAN GREY SCHOOL MAY OR MAY NOT BELONG TO HER. Logan revealed that he signed back the property to Xavier before he died. So...the widow gets her late husband's possessions, right? Well, Storm ain't having that! But that upsetting news is just a sideshow.The real main attraction is the secret Professor was tackling concerning the mutant Matthew Malloy whose powers are so uncontrollable he can destroy everything in his path with just a single thought. Said adult Malloy has been seen in between pages causing disasters within close vicinity of him. And Xavier is begging the X-Men to help him and ensure he doesn't remember what he is capable of which meant all available psychics at their disposal must help repress Mallow's memories and put the strongest locks in that Pandora's box. As we have see at the end of this volume, they may be too late. Malloy looked like he embraced his fullest potential on that last panel. Also, it's worth mentioning that Scott has been slowly but surely adjusting properly to the fact that he had killed Xavier (well, not according to Bobby at least. He argued that Scott still keeps looking for an excuse to justify the murder). But it's still going to be a looooooong way to go before he gets absolved by everyone else...including by his own judgment.

Volume IV had been so magnificent and entertaining all throughout and I was so THRILLED to see Charles Xavier again in a pseudo-flesh presence or whatnot. I'm not even going to bitch about Magneto's startling absence and the severe lack of Cherik in this volume because that's how amazing the overall content of this volume had been. Hopefully, we will get Magneto again in the next volume since he had agreed to help Dazzler track down Mystique. In my headcanon, he'll find out about the marriage between Ravena and Charles and he will definitely have something to say about that trite affair. Can't wait for the next installment. SRSLY!




RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis, Volume 3

Well, holy shit. This was just lovely. And spectacular. And I can't believe I chose to individually review issues of Brian Wood's X-Men Vol IV instead of this one because this (with the exception of the first collected volume) IS PHENOMENAL. The good news is that I dropped Wood's series for good because I simply cannot latch onto the characters and his stories emotionally, but I will still continue reviewing Bendis' Uncanny as a volumes instead as individual issues because I have a tighter schedule than I expected for the last two months of this year, and I'm barely able to meet my self-imposed deadlines for comics review. But I always strive to make myself available when certain X-titles like this one prove to be too good to pass up on writing a review for. 

The Good, The Bad and The Inhuman is the third volume of this series comprised of issues #14-18 illustrated by Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka and Mark Rudy. Their stunning visual work for their respective issues has truly made Bendis' writing and character come alive. I especially enjoyed Rudy's composition and overall style in issue #18. His backdrops were simply magnificent to look at. I have never enjoyed viewing a comic book volume like this one, not since, well, Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated and most of Snyder-Capullo's Batman and Tomasi-Gleason's Batman and Robin. Arguably, this volume has been said to be the most disjointed of the collected ones so far, mostly because all of the issues herein were a series of oneshots. The last issue was where the Original Core Five (OCF) were spirited away to space for that underwhelming arc in Bendis' All-New X-Men called The Trial of Jean Grey which I never liked, to be honest.

But I think that's what made this volume such a refreshing collection. Even though there is no discernible overall arc that hold them together, they work well enough as individual pieces that I could hardly find fault in their collective. 

The first story delved on one of the recruits, Benjamin Deeds who has the ability to shapeshift though his powers are barely comparable to Mystique's. He feels completely out of place and unsure of his purpose in joining the X-Men so Emma Frost decided that this is an opportunity for a teachable moment, and guides him (albeit extremely pushes him to his limits) in owning up to his mutation...and it worked remarkably. Benjamin is an empathic mimicker; he has the ability to mirror people not just physically but psychologically that anyone in his presence feels as if they can trust him. Artist Bachalo captured his transformations quite beautifully in his panels. Once Benjamin finds the confidence in himself to be a hero, he is welcomed back by Scott and the rest of the team, and they named him Morph--which made me "awwwww" so hard because I thought it was a befitting namesake, and a shout-out to the previous Morph who was such an adorkable guy back in the day. I've enjoyed this issue a lot for its ease and sweetness.

Next we have an Inhumanity issue which is only appropriate, seeing as Marvel is determined to usher this new species of super-powered beings into the spotlight and there is a need to address how that can affect the X-Men as well. Also, it was so hilariously endearing that the X-(wo)Men go out on a much needed shopping spree together (as prompted by the Cuckoo triplets and Jean Grey) and ended up crossing paths with an awakened Inhuman. My favorite Inhuman is Kamala Khan, the current Ms. Marvel, and as sad as I am that Marvel plans to eradicate mutants completely from their future storylines, I'm intrigued about the concept of Inhumans so far.

The last two issues were captivating enough since we get to see how well Scott's recruits mesh together as a unit and they have continuously demonstrated how smart, courageous and sensitive they are of each other's needs. Emma and Ilyanna also continue to impress as teachers, and Kitty Pryde certainly found more dependable co-teachers than what she had with Storm and Rachel Grey back in the Jean Grey Higher School of Learning which is pretty sad. Well, Storm and Rachel are busy with their powerplay and their silly adventures in Brian Wood's title that I just mentioned I decidd to drop because it was such a bland series. But Kitty Pryde and the OCF were taken away and this was just after Cyclops has a moment with his younger self and the younger version of first love Jean. He was devastated to lose them, all right.



Now wait, was I forgetting to discuss an issue? Oh, trust me, I left it on purpose because it's the thing I want to discuss the most so I saved it up for last because it's what I've been waiting for since I began reading titles for MARVEL NOW!. And that is no other than a Magneto-centered piece tackling on how he was dealing with things AFTER THE DEATH OF HIS LONG-TIME FRIEND AND RIVAL AND TOTES SECRET LOVER WHOM HE WAS OPENLY PSEUDO- MARRIED TO Charles Xavier whom Scott Summers murdered in 2012 while under the influence of the Phoenix Force in that crossover event Avengers vs X-Men. HOLY SHIT, MARVEL, FINALLY AN ACTUAL PAY-OFF! 

Issue #16 was all about Erik recovering, dealing and reeling from all that he has lost, and not just Xavier. His powers of magnetism haven't been the same since the Phoenix Force turned him into a punching bag during AVX. This wonderfully gritty issue opens with a gathering of humans proclaiming pro-mutant support and yet Magneto is not happy about it. He doesn't get these pro-mutant humans who to his eyes will never understand the struggles of his people. Because of his weakened powers, he instead daydreamed of killing all of them while he was there in the crowd, just seething. Dazzler approached him since both of them are working for S.H.I.E.L.D. I complained about the fact that Mags was just fake-playing it with the double agency with S.H.I.E.L.D, reassuring Scott that he's still on his side because that's a load of fucking bullshit, Marvel. As a devoted shipper of Cherik, I refuse to believe that Magneto has really forgiven Scott for murdering Xavier. It's canonically deceitful. Sure, Mags also said he will never punish Scott because he would hate to give Scott the satisfaction of affirming his guilt and therefore absolving him of being actually responsible for the murder he had committed--but I know Mags is sorely tempted to anyway. So I don't buy his alliance with Scott and his cover-up about working for S.H.I.E.L.D to protect Scott's interests. Hell, I don't think he even cares about the recruits or anyone at this point. He's having a moment of crisis, and Dazzler was quick to pick up on it. Oh, this Dazzler is no other than Mystique in disguise, by the way (she also had a love affair with Xavier before his demise and got pregnant somehow which makes it super weird for me and I still refuse to acknowledge its authenticity). She claimed that perhaps Magneto's weakened powers is PSYCHOSOMATIC. Perhaps, she offers, it's tied with his grieving process. Losing Xavier has made it impossible for him to gain back his powers to its fullest potential because the death of his truest friend is a loss that is so woefully meaningful that his own superior mutation died along with Xavier.



AND YES, YES, YES, OH MY GOD, YES, MARVEL, YES BENDIS, YES TO ALL OF THIS!!

It's been canonically established that Charles Xavier is Magneto's one true love. It doesn't have to be gay. IT DIDN'T NEED TO BE GAY (though, in my opinion, it should be, and it probably is). There is clear evidence stretching back to Claremont in the late seventies that Magneto and Xavier are so devoted to each other regardless of how they just can't compromise about their ideals concerning mutant co-existence/superiority. There have been countless times that Magneto lost Xavier to some accidents in the past and he has mourned each moment of loss like his universe completely fell apart. Now Xavier is finally dead for good and for a long time (four years and counting) and how could anyone who has been reading X-Men avidly be ever led to believe that he is not quietly suffering about it otherwise? BECAUSE HE IS. Mystique saw through it (mostly because she was boning Xavier pre-demise, ugh, this will never stop bugging me), and Mags is finally learning to admit it. I think he has denied it. He has pushed it down and now the floodgates are ready to open.

They were BOOKENDS OF THE SAME SOUL. Without Charles to contrast him, to challenge him to change, to save him, to stop him from making stupid mistakes, to forgive him, to give him hope for a better way, to sustain his dreams, to fuel his passionate crusade, to talk to and play chess with and argue and bicker and come back to and try to fix things with---then WHAT IS MAGNETO'S PURPOSE NOW? Xavier was the one person whom he saw an equal in, someone he can confide his deepest secrets to, pretend to hate out of political reasons, and always, undeniably, learn from. And now that person is dead and Magneto just can't find it in himself to move forward because most of his battles have been so intrinsically tied to this man and if he's not constantly fighting and making up with Xavier then what? What else is worth going on for?

Oh god, oh god. This depth of sadness in my heart deserves an ugly-crying moment from Toby Macguire. Behold the anguish:
YOU HAVEN'T FELT REAL PAIN UNTIL YOU UGLY-CRIED YOUR WAY THROUGH IT

I'm so sorry for being emotional about this again. The last time I Cherik-ed was in September, and before that it was May. I have no more fresh Cherik material to agonize on so when I am fanserviced with snippets of this horrendously beautiful friendship, I just crumble into pieces all over again. Magneto is lost and grieving, y'all and Mystique took him to the new mutant haven she built in honor of Xavier and tried to persuade him to join her, Blob, Sabretooth, etc. in maintaining the place. And how did Magneto react to this nice gift of theirs? How did he repay them after they welcomed him warmly to live with them? HE LASHED OUT AND ALMOST KILLED ALL OF THEM. Because nothing, absolutely nothing, can possibly compare and replace that small piece of repose he found in Genosha during Claremont's short-lived Excalibur piece where he and Charles tried to make it work for real this time as partners and self-appointed caretakers. If he can't have that again with the one man he completely trusted and loved, then he certainly will not settle for the second best thing that Mystique offered. He just won't, motherfuckers! Did you guys know that he shaved all his hair too because of Xavier? It's just...unreal how much he misses him!



OH MY GOD GUYS IT'S SO SAD. I know I wished for some Cherik moments again in X-Men comics but goddammit, DOES IT ALWAYS--MUST IT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE SO PAINFUL ALL. THE. TIME??!!!



RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Thursday, November 26, 2015

X-Men Vol. IV by Brian Wood issues #11-12


OHMYFUCKINGGOD ROGUE DIED IN THE Uncanny Avengers, a title I will be reading in my comics roster for next year. No wonder she was officially removed from Brian Wood's cast. AND I WAS JUST BEGINNING TO ENJOY HER AGAIN. She's my first love. My childhood favorite. And now she's dead, dead, DEAD! This was only brought to my attention because halfway through issue #11 of this series, Rachel said something about wishing that they could get Rogue back, and I thought they only meant she went on a sabbatical, or had other ongoing adventures with other mutants. BUT NO. She died in another title. Well, fuck that. But then again, it's only a matter of time. X-Men constants have been biting the dust lately. There was Jean Grey then Nightwalker, then Professor X and now Rogue and apparently Wolverine had also died recently (I'll be reviewing Wolverine and the X-Men as soon as I finish this). It's fine. I'm fine. Death comes for all of us even for fictional characters. It's okay. DC Comics' Damian Wayne taught me how to be strong, and his resurrection story in Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Robin was one of daring hope but also a risky venture. If any of these dead X-Men do come back, I'd rather it'd be done respectfully and amazingly. If not, then they better just stay dead then. Dammit, I really don't want to begin this review with such dreadful news. 

But what is there to say about the last two installments for this arc anyway? Well, I have nothing to offer in this post but blatant abuse of Mean Girls quotes GIFs because I can't help but feel like the Sisterhood of Evil is an incarnation of The Plastics. You know what, LET'S JUST SAY IT IS. I'm going somewhere with this, just work with me here. Okay, so we have Lady Deathstrike transferring her consciousness to the heiress of a crime family named Ana Cortes. She then recruited Typoid Mary and Amora the Enchantress. For a while, their triad accomplished some things, mostly by stealing a copy of Arkea (WHO IS TOTES NOT FETCH), an alien infection thingamajit who is also the twin sister of hunky John Sublime (who may or may not have telepathically tango-ed with Rachel Grey, if you know what I mean). Why? Because mean girls can do anything, that's why! Deathstrike said something about power and prestige and world domination but meh. That's too generic of a reason. I feel like her grand motivation should have been like "BECAUSE I CAN AND I WILL, SO FUCK Y'ALL" because that would have been more acceptable, really. I probably would have cared more. Or not. WHATEVER.



So, Lady Deathstrike is Regina George and her army of skanks are Mary and Amora. Mary's the smart one (I think?) so she's Gretchen Wieners. She's Gretchen because I want Amora to be Karen Smith because Amora is a blonde too and I think she's also pretty dumb herself for joining the Sis of Evil anyway. For Odin's sake, she's an Asgardian! She should have standards or some shit.

Have some self-respect and stop being such a blonde, Amora!

ANYWAY, moving on. Once Lady Deathstrike acquired Arkea, Arkea totes possessed the body of her willfully ignorant best friend Reiko. This time, Arkea becomes the new Regina because she's more powerful and persuasive and intimidating when she's really such a GODDAMN CLICHÉ EXCUSE OF A SUPPOSED VILLAIN. Really, Brian Wood. Stop making Arkea happen because it's not going to happen. Arkea did grant Amora some powers again and Typoid Mary got a hold of her multiple personalities, but Lady Deathstrike realized she made a mistake awakening Arkea especially now that Arkea planned to subject her host body Ana Cortes into some freaky experiment. Who really knows. I wasn't paying attention anymore to the entire plot itself because the directions it's going are sporadic AND DID I MENTION MY INTEREST HAS DWINDLED INTO THE SIZE OF A GREEN PEA? Because it did. 

So back to Mean Girls. Arkea wants to recruit two new members for the Sis of E. The contenders are Selene Gallio, a.k.a The Black Queen and Madelyn Pryor. She was Scott Summers' ex-wife and a clone of Jean Grey (it was a weird time in the Claremont era, okay?). You gotta hand it to the Sis of E, though. They're consistently expanding their enterprise even though they're all catty bitches who hate each other and are only tied by alliances that mutually benefit their greedy, pitiful goals. Mean girls are all built the same way like that.

If by "lunch" you mean "world dominance and fuck-yeah power and death to the X-Men"

Where was I again? Oh right, Arkea wants to experiment on another girl's body. Not surprising. She did violate Karima's body before when this series began. A rapist has a pattern that way, you know. But I think Ana Cortes' consciousness switched back to her old self during this attempted rape, and in a desperate moment she stabbed herself in hopes that they won't be experimenting on her body WHICH DOESN'T MAKE BUTTLOAD OF SENSE because she's made it easier for Arkea to turn her into a vessel for someone else' thought consciousness since she essentially abolished herself. God, Ana, don't be such an Amora. If I were Ana, I would have stabbed Arkea's body instead. I mean, sure, the cunt will just transfer herself to another host body but the satisfaction of killing that pesky bitch with a knife on the boob is ultimately worth it. Why does Caesar Arkea get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of them try not to get squashed under her big feet?



BECAUSE THAT'S NOT WHAT ROME THE SIS OF E IS ALL ABOUT! WE SHOULD TOTALLY JUST STAB CAESAR ARKEA!!!

Arkea got to experiment on poor Ana Cortes. And then Madelyn Pryor showed up with a new body. Or did they use Ana Cortes' body and modified her into a smoking redhead? YOU KNOW WHAT I didn't even care to look back on the previous pages to confirm it. Fuck it. So Maddie is here and Selena is here and the X-(wo)Men crash their initiation party in Japan and it was pretty great because I did like the ass-kicking Gretchen-Mary and Karen-Amora got from Psylocke and Monet respectively. And what of the X-(wo)Men? Well, I still like them as the heroines (not like I was given a choice since the villainesses are so crappy). Still, Storm, Rachel Grey, Monet, Psylocke and Karima are actually jiving well together now even if they still have their differences and probably won't work with each other unless the men are there to be ice-breakers. Srsly, where are the fucking men? There is so much estrogen drama here that if only Wood was a better writer then I never would have minded so much because estrogen drama runs in my veins. But hey, an all-girl mutant supeheroine team. Who doesn't want that? Also, nothing bonds women together than when they are trying to take out another group of women.

And YES, Gretchen Wieners is my favorite Mean Girls character. Fucking deal with it.

Madelyn Pryror with her hot new bod, together with Selene who really is just there for prop purposes because she hardly speaks AND WHO THE FUCK IS SHE ANYWAY?, were propositioned by Storm. The weather goddess offered them a truce, that they walk away for now and the X-(wo)Men will deal with them later since their target priority is Arkea anyway. Maddie has no problem with this. Selene is a pushover nobody so she agrees to do the same and leaves the scene. Arkea was pissed. But Maddie, armed with a fabulous new body without having to search for one herself, doesn't give a fuck that it was Arkea who gave it to her in the first place. Motherfucker doesn't even acknowledge the 'betrayal' on her part and she just waltz out of there like a champ. I enjoyed that. Thank you for embarrassing Arkea like that, Madz.

So sorreh, Arkea, but yeah YOU'RE  A WHORE. 

The X-(wo)Men got to apprehend Arkea with the help of her twin brother John Sublime. Apparently, he was able to destroy all copies of her globally so she won't infect any machine ever again. And then he invents a gun that can kill her. Karima did the honors and off-ed her. 


Yay, she's dead!

But the poor girl was a former law enforcement so becoming the assigned executioner (but she volunteered) was too much for her and even though Arkea had it coming, Karima felt like she needed to be a part of another team and so she decided to join Gabriel Shepard and Saber instead, just to get away from the X-Men drama for a while. Her friends easily accept this, knowing she deserves the break and some space. I'm happy for Karima for doing a brave thing. That couldn't be easy, turning her back on her friends but it was the healthiest option for her. 

There's also a Meanwhile story about Jubilee and the mutant teenagers taking on some Sentinels in the sea. Only thing that mattered there was that gay mutant Bling was able to resolve her issues with her crush who finally apologized for punching her and agrees to go out with her--but only as friends. For now. I don't know. But hey, progress! I really hope the next story arc would be more enjoyable than this shite.


SORTA RECOMMENDED: 6/10

EDIT: I have officially dropped this title. I just can't read any more of this. There are simply no characters I emotionally latch to or stories that I'm emotionally invested it. So forget it! I will just devote my time on The Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men instead.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

X-Men Vol. IV by Brian Wood issues #9-10


I don't think Brian Wood's stories for X-Men: Vol IV are necessarily bad or bland, but they do lack that 'enticement factor' which is present in other X-titles. As well done as the visual work has been so far, and as straightforward and comprehensible his plots have been at this point, this title is just not something I look forward to reading, let alone compose an in-depth review of. The crossover issues about Battle of the Atom have been interesting enough, but it also cost Kitty Pryde's  appearance here in his next stories, and, of course, the absence of my childhood favorite is noted as well which leads to some inevitable soul-searching on my part. 

Look, this is a serious question: WHY CAN'T I JUST HAVE MY ROGUE BACK? It's like she's irrelevant now. I miss the nineties because most of my experience in its comics roster for X-Men featured her, even if not heavily. Those small doses of her appearances and participation in the stories were always treasured by me, and I really thought Brian Wood was going to keep her around because I was actually glad to see a Rogue who enjoys siphoning other mutants' powers not for any kind of malicious intent but for good, honest fun, like that time in issue #4 with Psylocke which is coincidentally the best issue Wood has written so far. Why can't Wood just write something like that again?

To replace Rogue, he instead had another brawny lady (Monet) who is originally part of the Incredible Hulk canon. I thought her petty rivalry with Jubilee was amusing enough, but I don't know this character at all and nor am I interested in getting to know her either. I JUST WANT ROGUE BACK. Well, enough pointless whining then, and let's talk about issues #9-10 which are the continuing adventures of Lady Deathstrike, Typoid Mary and Enchantress, otherwise known collectively as the Sisterhood of Evil. It has to be said that the villainesses of this story apparently have their act together and are actually working as a team with different desires yet mutually beneficial goals that enable them to function together to defeat the X-(wo)Men. The same thing cannot be said for the latter. Storm and Rachel Grey have finally stopped fighting over who is to become the leader. Instead, Rachel had a 'moment' with John Sublime. I have never seen this physically manifest in the panels in the previous issues but I'm assuming it was also telepathic, considering Rachel's powers and Sublime being a thought consciousness type of alien. Their could-have-been romance was unfortunately squashed because Sublime is focused on stopping his vengeful twin sister Arkea who by now has a a different target--the X-(wo)Men. God, Arkea, could you be more cliché? I have no idea what she plans to do with tracking down Madelyn Pryor (so she's alive? Did not know this) nor am I that interested to find out.

Arkea is running the show now after she was freed by Lady Deathstrike. She took over her assistant Reiko's body and is now giving commands to the other members of the Sisterhood. She restored Amora the Enchantress powers after they were stripped by Thor, and helped Mary merge her split personality once and for all. I forgot if she ever did anything for Lady Deathstrike--maybe permanently instill her consciousness in Ana Cortes' meat suit for good--whatever. I'm not even sure Arkea still wanted Karima or if any of these villainesses still want to target her. I suppose Karima belongs to the X-(wo)Men so most probably they also want to kill her. This was why Storm was adamant to destroy any other replicates of Arkea around the globe. Oh yeah, did I fail to mention there are replicates of her? She did crash-land from a meteor after all and that meteor has remnants of her and said remnants were close to the ocean where several dormant Sentinels got brought back to life, being controlled by Arkea. Jubilee with some of the teenage students (has Wolverine approved this spontaneous field trip?) try to stop these Sentinels and that's how issue #10 ends with Pixie and Bling attacking head-on, never mind that there are no adults. Also, Quentin Quire failed to stop Arkea and that's just embarrassing. The Phoenix Force is watching, Q. Are you worthy of it?

Also, and this is so important, I hate Arkea. I really do. Not only is her role in this story keeping it from becoming interesting, and adding the fact that she's so rigidly characterized by Wood, her only real definitive quality is that she's the cliché that cliché pooped and made sentient. I don't care about her endgame. She wanted revenge on her brother. When she couldn't accomplish that, she set her sights on the X-(wo)Men instead. Seriously, go back to space and stop making Arkea happen, Arkea. IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!
The same thing goes for you, Mr. Wood!

I'm going to lower my rating for these two issues, mostly because I now expect something more complex to be developed from this. After all, I'm growing steadily weary, if not bored, of the way Wood is handling his story and his characters. No one here is having their spotlight or any kind of indication that it's their time to shine. Everyone has been consistently mediocre as both heroines and villainesses. At this point, I probably should start reading the third volume for Bendis' The Uncanny X-Men. At least Arkea isn't there. Srsly, fuck that bitch.


KINDDA SORTA RECOMMENDED: 6/10

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

X-Men Vol. IV by Brian Wood issues #7-8


I won't be reviewing issues #5-6 anymore which were the crossover issues for Battle of the Atom because I'm not really in the mood to re-visit what happened there because I can't honestly remember anything about those issues and I don't feel compelled to find out again. I remember enjoying that story arc very much, though, and that Shogo, Jubilee's adopted son, will grow up to become another superhero which is relevant, I suppose. So let's jump to the second volume for X-Men Vol IV featuring a brand new though not so new as well, villainess named Lady Deathstrike whom some of you may already know. She had a cinematic counterpart in the second X-Men film of the original franchise (played by Kelly Hu) so that hopefully jogs your memory. For those who read the comics, they know that she's Yuriko Oyama, and probably Wolverine's arch-nemesis of the sort. She's got the adamantium steel in her as well as other genetic enhancements and has worked her way as a mercenary for hire. On her last encounter with the X-Men, her body was destroyed, and now her consciousness was somewhat transferred into the unsuspecting body of one Ana Cortes, who also turned out to be the heiress to a crime family-empire so not too shabby, Yuriko-san, not too shabby at all. With a new body and some face paint, Lady Deathstrike set her eyes on a new prize; acquiring both the previous villainess Arkea and former Omega Sentinel Karima. To accomplish this, she employs the help of Typhoid Mary and Echantress.

For this particular story arc, we have artists Terry Dodson and Barry Kitson working on the visuals and I definitely enjoy the color and composition of their panels. Bendis' focal narrative on Lady Deathstrike was interesting enough. It's great to see that everything about this title remains female-centric, including the bad guys (girls?). I don't really think it's pandering especially to someone like me who barely take notice of gender in my comics unless it's either excellently front-runned or abysmally upsetting. For Brian Wood's run, the jury is still out, although I'm immensely enjoying myself for this current story arc. It was great to see Karima again, now fully conscious and eager to get her life back after it was infected by Arkea, the alien parasite who came to Earth to murder her twin brother John Sublime in revenge because she's a cliché that way. Lady Deathstrike, however, had other plans, and that involved using Arkea for her own means, ignoring the loud protests of John Sublime himself. Lady Deathstrike may prove to be trying to tame forces that are beyond her ken, but I'm eager to see what kind of clusterfuck will that lead to, and how the X-women will fix the mess. I think it's worth mentioning that Kitty Pryde has officially left after the events in Battle of the Atom. She now has to train the OCF who just traveled from the past in Bendis' other title All-New X-Men. She will be missed.

There's a side story here regarding the mutant students where Jubilee was involved in. A female student Bling/ Roxy just asked out a fellow female student was totally insensitive about it and punched Bling in the face. Jesus fuck, that wasn't very nice of her. Being a mutant is hard enough. Try being gay at that too. Anyway, Bling kisses Jubilee which was quite nice. It was all very Degrassi High or something which I can live with as I read this because a nice commercial break from all the deadly action so readers can check out the daily lives of teenage mutants is...necessary? I don't know. I wasn't upset by it. I thought it was pretty cute.

I do find it odd that Wolverine has yet to take part in all this drama. Lady Deathstrike is his foe. Do we keep him busy while all of this is happening since, after all, this title is about the ladies taking over cases and challenges as they find a way to be a unit? How is that accomplished exactly? Not the ladies fighting as a unit because I know they are more than competent to do that. But the one about Wolverine being out of the loop here as Lady Deathstrike wreaks havoc. Well, Wolverine is assigned to handle the delinquents of their school in the other title Wolverine and the X-Men. What's the matter then? Is Quentin Quire enough in keeping Wolverine far too busy for him to notice? 


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Friday, November 20, 2015

X-Men Vol. IV by Brian Wood issues #3-4


There was nothing really special about the third issue of of this series, which is the conclusion of the first story arc Primer. The so-called villain of the story was Arkea, the alien Subtle's twin sister whom he overpowered and pushed during utero or something (because he's a dickhead, I'm assuming). Due to that homicidal negligence, Arkea piggybacked using an orphan human boy to track down her brother in Earth, and then she proceeded to possess machines (particularly Omega Sentinel Karima) because she's so original, and then she tried to kill the X-Men because they were in her way of vengeance. What a fucking cliche. The only real dramatic thing that got to me was that Karima was able to regain control of her body and offered to sacrifice herself to save them all. And that Storm actually considered that an option, much to Rachel Grey's chagrin. I like Karima back in Claremont's Excalibur Vol. III so I do hope she will be revived. For now, they neutralized Arkea, kept the baby Shogo safe, and still salvaged Karima's body. All in the day's work.

The fourth issue, however, was a very substantial installment that truly took its time focusing on characterizations and relationships. Divided between a rescue mission for the ladies, and Jubilee's lunch date with big-brother mentor Wolverine as they brought Shogo along, this was a wonderful well-written piece that explored how the daily grind must be like for people like the X-Men who take what they can get from a world that never stops trying to bring them down. The flow of the narrative and the transition among scenes were deftly accomplished, and Coipel's illustrations are growing on me especially those that featured Jubilee's panels with Wolverine as they have a great time just catching up and taking care of the baby; which were then heavily contrasted by the more action-oriented scenes featuring Rogue, Kitty and Betsy. Rogue, particularly, is enjoying her siphoning of Psylocke's powers. I have never seen her have such crazy fun like this, and it was a nice change because Anna Marie had always been so cautious and a little resentful of her siphoning abilities especially when certain assholes would force her to absorb powers (and memories) she would rather not. So seeing Rogue goofing around but still saving people put a smile on my face for at least a solid hour after reading about it. She'll always be my childhood favorite after all.



And as I enjoy Kitty, Betsy and Rogue just being awesome superheroine-gal pals together, the same cannot be applied to Storm and Rachel Grey who are definitely butting heads. Rachel was not happy that Storm was taking the reigns in their team, particularly when she believed that Ororo doesn't deserve the leadership role to begin with. After all, Storm did not even hesitate when she considered having Karma killed if that's what it took to stop Arkea. This doesn't sit well with everyone but Rachel was the only one who was willing to speak up about it, and it was great for her to question Storm, and I love this new dimension to Storm where we see her also becoming more brutal and less trusting of the world much like Scott now as the leader of the new mutant revolutions. Both are world-weary veterans who have been through so much to still believe in the best of things. That being said, Rachel did get through Storm and she eventually does accept that she shouldn't just boss them around and must be willing to work with them as a team player. Just like Rogue, Storm is a favorite, so I believe in her.



Meanwhile, Wolverine tries to buy Jubilee's childhood home behind her back as a surprise gift and it was all kinds of sweet and nice especially after he promised to look out after Shogo as well. Now, I'm not really that confident about Jubilee's newfound role as an adoptive mother, mostly because of my own issues about motherhood in general. I trust that she will do her best and that she does have other people who can help her raise the kid, but I'm pretty nervous and dreadful of the potential screw-ups along the way (which is why I WILL NEVER become a mother). In a way, I admire Jubilee for taking on the responsibility, but I'm also worried about her and the child's safety which will never be guaranteed, not as long as he's with the X-Men. But hey, if any group of people can make it and make the most of a bad situation, it's the X-Men. It takes a while but they always adjust. So I sure hope things won't get too worse soon. 

Well, issues #5-6 are the Battle of the Atom crossovers so Shogo's future was pretty much revealed there. I won't be reviewing those two anymore since I've finished them already and my thoughts about them are in the overall review of the collected series itself.



RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Thursday, November 19, 2015

X-Men Vol. IV by Brian Wood issues #1-2


I've been wondering where all the other ladies at--especially the fan-favorite ones--and this title series answers that question. Written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Olivier Coipel, it stars an all-female cast fronted by Storm, Rachel Grey, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Rogue and Jubilee. I know it seemed odd that they didn't just re-brand this title into something other than the generic "X-Men" one. I've been aware for a while that there is an ongoing MARVEL NOW! title about all the X-heroines but I couldn't for the life of me figure out which one was it until I googled it properly. So why not renamed this title into 'X-Women' or something like that? From what I know, 'X-Men' is one of oldest titles of the Marvelverse and, in technical terms, this will be the fourth roster released from it since the sixties. Hence, the original title for this particular relaunch should be "X-Men Vol. IV" and that is why I'm labeling my titles with that tag from now on.

And no, I really don't know why they didn't just re-brand this and maybe it doesn't matter. After all, two issues in and I was enjoying myself. I was happy to see Rogue because she's been my childhood favorite from the beginning and I haven't had many opportunities to read about her being awesome since I started my X-Men comics diet. On the other hand, I've been so in love with Kitty Pryde since The Astonishing X-Men and her pivotal role in the Days of Future Past collection, so seeing her working with the other gals was so cool. Storm and her Mohawk are here too which was grea although I wish she'd be able to contribute more to the next stories of this series than just stand there, looking glorious and queen-like (which she really does a great job at, mind you). Rachel Grey and Psylocke, who are awesome psychics, are meshing pretty well together too (though I miss the nineties Psylocke look, to be honest). But the real heroine of this story arc Primer is Jubilation Lee, one of Wolverine's teenage protégé and supposedly the kid that children will relate to in the cartoons, X-Men: The Animated Series. 

I don't really have strong feelings of either fondness or dislike over Jubilee, and her character did go through a lot of weird shit--the weirdest one had to be when she became a vampire...or something. It's as weird as it gets. So this story arc was about her rescuing a baby from an orphanage that was bombed. She traveled back to the States to seek refuge from the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning but was being stalked by a man the entire time. When she managed to reconvene with her friends, some peculiar disaster happened en-route, mostly due to the kid who somehow possesses powers. Thanks to teamwork, Kitty, Storm and Rogue were able to wrap things up and get Jubilee and the baby to safety while Rachel and Betsy confront the man who had been stalking Jubilee. It was no other than Subtle, one of the X-Men's alien villains in the old days. He started talking about his twin sister and how she is out for revenge because he cast her out during fetal stage or something like that. Said vengeful twin had piggybacked with the baby and now she found a better body to possess and its no other than Karima, Omega Sentinel whom I was well-acquainted with since she played some vital role in Chris Claremont's Excalibur Vol. III.

Apparently, Subtle's twin sister named Arkea can hack machines and use them (god, so original) and she attacked Beast and Rogue in the laboratory while wearing Karima. Kitty would have killed her easily; all she needed to do was to phase through Karima, but Kitty was concerned that their friend may still be in there somewhere so she restrained herself. Unfortunately, Arkea got away, but Subtle promised to help them stop her. Jubilee, meanwhile, named the baby Shogo and is now fully responsible of him. She was more than excited to be a single mother. And that's what happened in the first two issues. The third installment is going to be the conclusion of this arc. I like how everything is going so far so I'm reserving any harsher judgments. It's not that amazing but neither is it completely terrible. I'm giving it a solid 7 for now.



RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis, Volume 2

Due to the lackluster debut of this series' first volume, my expectations were already set low before I even started reading this sophomore release. I'm therefore more than pleased to be proven wrong because The Uncanny X-Men's Volume 2: Broken was charming in so many ways that I have come to expect from a Bendis comic book (which I sorely miss after the dwindling quality of his other work, All-New X-Men). For a while I was slightly discouraged to pick up this title because I had a few friends who advised me against it, but since I have made a commitment to embark on a X-Men comics diet journey, I knew I have to include a more recent flagship title. The glaring flaws from the previous volume Revolution were thankfully not repeated in this one. In fact, most of the problems I had were addressed for Broken which was ironic, considering its titular purpose.

After the cosmic terror that was the Phoenix Force laid waste during Avengers vs. X-Men storyline, the aftermath proved to be just as hard for the ones it possessed: these would be Scott Summers, Ilyana Rasputin and Emma Frost (while it also almost drained Magneto of his magnetism) Now each of these formidable mutants face their most difficult trial just yet. Scott Summers can no longer control his own powers which is essentially his nightmare come true; Emma Frost lost the ability to read easily through minds and the restraint not to project her own thoughts to people; Magneto's magnetism has weakened that he can only control metal to a certain extent and length of time before it renders him exhausted; and Ilyana Rasputin's already screwy sorceress powers began to overwhelm her that she had damned herself along with her colleagues and their recruits to the hellish fire of Limbo where a stupidly named demon tries to massacre them all.

Comprised of issues #6-10, Broken is substantial enough to hold and sustain interest while there is enough material concerning both the familiar and new characters that I was so enthralled to explore. The first two issues concerning Limbo finally found its focus when it turned its attention to the young recruits who have no choice but to work together to survive the place. Way to establish a surprise coming-of-age series of moments with these kids, Bendis. Their invigorating spirit and dynamic as a group were painfully paralleled with that of Ilyana Rasputin's internal conflict. This is a girl who had never been normal since childhood. After the Phoenix Force used her mind and body, it damaged her a lot worse than the others, unleashing dark elements from her magic that she has fought so hard to try to gain control over in this story.I was really rooting for her because I've always found Ilyana as a consistently tragic character and for once I want her to be victorious.

On another plus side, another consistent quality about Broken is how it developed its young cast. The X-Men is always about the young blood's transition to functional relevance as superheroes before finally stepping into a stage of semi-greatness. Xavier always gets them young, hopeful and full of potentials. In here we see Scott, Emma, Ilyana and Erik as teachers who, in spite of their unresolved inherent brokenness, are more than willing to impart their experience and knowledge to the children because they know more than anybody that there is still something to fight for. And there is trust between them and these kids, most especially after Limbo, and the more S.H.I.E.L.D insist on attacking them, the more they cling onto one another and fight better as a team.

Notable moments for this volume include: (1) that conversation between Scott and Erik. I was so angry that Magneto seemed not to give a damn about Charles Xavier's murder. I wanted so bad for him to hold Scott responsible, but after reading this interaction, I think what Erik chose to do instead was actually a more dignified response to what I wanted. Scott had committed something beyond forgiveness, even if he was under the influence of the Phoenix force. He had murdered his surrogate father, and the father of every mutant who believed in a dream of peaceful coexistence with mutants. People are never going to stop talking about Scott killing Xavier. They shouldn't. And Scott needs to deal with that. He needs to carry that with him wherever he goes, especially now that he is adamant in fighting for a revolution he believes will empower more mutants who were just beginning to manifest their abilities. Scott's new agenda is to reassure they will have a school not just to learn in but also to thrive in, if in fact they choose to be warriors and fighters for the cause.


(2) Speaking of which, the young mutant Fabio Medina was focused in as well, and he was just adorable! He has the unique and often hilarious ability to shoot out gold balls from his body. After the hellish experience in Limbo, he tried to go back to his home and when he was there, he realized he was proud of who he is even when his parents couldn't accept his condition. Eventually, he does come back to the team, more decisive to fight and grown alongside them. (3) The surprise feature of Dazzler as a recruit for S.H.I.E.L.D was nice but fucking Mystique had to go ruin it by pretending to be her. Honestly, get a new set of hobbies aside from villainy, Raven. The same douchebag moves are getting old. (4) Scott's speech towards the pro-mutant human supporters was both awkward and stirring. I have no idea why he's being painted as some kind of merciless crusader, if not outright lawless villain. I think this is still the same Scott from the old times--only much more willing to deal with reality and is able to respond better. I like this Scott. He may have killed Xavier, and he may still be prone to bouts of insecure ranting, but so far I think Scott is more or less a hero who actually doesn't hesitate anymore to make mistakes and risk condemnation from his peers. I like it. Scott finally has teeth. And people around him are actually more eager to fight with him and for him, such as the young recruits and Emma and Ilyana. I'm not sure about Erik yet. Hopefully, he makes up his mind soon.



Overall, The Uncanny X-Men, Volume 2: Broken was greatly paced, spectacularly illustrated, and engrossing. I didn't expect to have fun reading this title at all, and I was glad I did because for me, the X-Men just isn't the same when a core character like Scott Summers isn't taking the reigns and in this story we see him having the opportunity to do so, and he did not disappoint. The rest of his recruits too are impressive, ready foot soldiers who trust him enough to lead him, and I can only hope he guides them to the right path.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis, Volume 1

It occurred to me that if I chose to start reading this title before All-New X-Men (which I had just consumed last September) then I would be even more critical about The Uncanny X-Men. Written both by Brian Michael Bendis, these two series can be read side by side together since a lot of their scenes do tend to overlap, particularly by TUM's fourth issue where a certain key scene appears much more notably in ANXM issues #10-11. 

I think this had to be my main concern about The Uncanny X-Men. There is so much material that could have been explored here, but Bendis' first five issues for this title were too reliant on his other series which in turn became a disadvantage to The Uncanny X-Men's storytelling framework. If you chose to pick up this title without reading All-New X-Men then pertinent information such as the introduction of the mutant recruits Eva, Christopher and Benjamin, who all appeared first in AXM where the first bouts of their mutation manifested. 

But this wasn't the only glaring flaw for this series.

Illustrated by Chris Bachalo, the first volume of TUM entitled Revolution was really not as terrible as I hoped it would be, considering most of the lukewarm reviews I've encountered online last year. Perhaps it's because I was already familiar enough with what was going on since the events in this first volume where loosely tied with whatever was happening with All-New X-Men, which is exactly why someone who has only read this title without the other might find it infuriating, and they have every right to be. While reading, I decided to separate myself from what I know about ANXM so as I re-examined the content over in UXM alone, it occurred to me that there is a lack of cohesive structure for each installment because everything felt either rushed or sluggish. We barely get to know the new mutants Cyclops recruited, and when the title finally tried to establish itself as a standalone piece from ANXM, it delivered a mediocre story concerning Limbo and Magick, and some whatsitsface demon creature which she had to fight...or some shit. It really wasn't that interesting so I was eager to move on.

What I considered at least acceptably compelling about this first volume was the fact that we get to see Cyclops, Emma Frost and Magneto at their weakest point yet. These are three of the most formidable mutant warriors and now their powers are all broken, and they have to adjust to their sudden lack of control over them. And that only means one thing for me: Scott Summers--in the aftermath of being possessed by the Phoenix force, finally had his worst nightmare come true: he had no control over his power which makes it very dangerous for him and the people he is close with especially when he is so adamant in training and helping the new recruits. Emma Frost is also suffering identity crisis, no longer the White Queen who can flip through people's minds like they're just pages in a book she had no qualms exploring. Now she's busy playing the blame game for her situation. Meanwhile, the master of magnetism is also struggling because his magnetic hold has weakened somewhat. In the first issue, we saw him conspiring with Director Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D to bring down Cyclops by pretending to work with him but was actually backstabbing him. I was all on-board for this because, accident or not, Scott Summers did murder Charles Xavier, Mags' longtime frenemy and open-secret lover. What I wasn't on-board for was that Mags was actually just screwing around with S.H.I.E.L.D and is truly on Cyclops' side. Um, what? Hold the Satanic Bible, that's the most unbelievable plot point EVER! I CALL BULLSHIT, sir!


Marvel, have you forgotten that Charles Xavier was the love of Erik Lehnsherr's life? How could he possibly and easily forgive the man who murdered said best friend, let alone help him in any way he can? Goddammit, if this wasn't a triple-cross in the end where it was revealed that Mags is indeed just faking the faking of his cooperation with S.H.I.E.L.D and is actually planning on destroying Cyclops to avenge Xavier once and for-- then I WILL LOSE IT. I swear to Loki! I don't buy Mags' fealty to Cyclops. He never liked Cyke, let alone be willing to stand with him to fight for the same things. The more I focus on this, the mightier my self-righteous rage gets. For fuck's sake, Bendis, pick up a late eighties or nineties X-Men and see for yourself how potent the love and devotion Xavier and Magneto have for each other, and why it will never make sense for Mags to just turn his back from that. Anyway, what else is there to say about this first volume?

Well, aside from that complaint, I don't really have strong feelings of dislike towards this. I was fine with the first five issues. Reading it really did feel an incomplete experience if you haven't read ANXM yet, but other than that, I want to see the continuous fall from grace of Scott Summers, Emma Frost struggling to re-define herself, and Magneto eventually revealing that he was working with S.H.I.E.L.D after all. I'm also looking forward in getting to know the youngsters better especially with Warren in the mix. But I don't have high hopes. I was told by plenty of people that this series wasn't that great which was why I'm going to review this by volume as oppose to individual issues. That is reserved for reviewing X-Men Vol IV by Brian Wood, mind you! I heard that title has all my favorite ladies at!


RECOMMENDED: 6/10

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Astonishing X-Men by Marjorie Liu, Volume 12: Unmasked


It would seem that the third time is the charm for writer Marjorie Liu. As the very last writer for this 2005-2013 series of The Astonishing X-Men, she really delivered on the last arcs for her run, mainly because it focused on two characters I find so compelling and enjoyable to read about. They are no other than Shi'ar warrior Warbird (issues #57-58), and the youngest of the Original Core Five of sixties X-Men, Bobby Drake, a.k.a Iceman (issues #62-65). All these issues were illustrated by artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta whose visual work was just majestic for me as I explore through the panels, more so when it was accompanied with a more cohesive and meaningful narrative penned by Liu.

As I've stated from my previous review about the Karma-centric story for the eleventh volume Weaponized, this is my very first time meeting Warbird's character. From what I can gather, she is a Shi'ar warrior exiled on earth who is an honorable woman who swore to serve and protect the weak, albeit one who lacked the skills to interact with humans normally. She's an alien, after all, and that makes her ineptness in dealing with people so adorable, especially those panels with her conversing with a human child from the last volume. Since then, I was captivated by her because I'm so amused by that small exchange since it was reminiscent of another character I love from the CW show Supernatural, the angel Castiel. Like Cas, she's painstakingly awkward around humanity but a force to be reckoned with as a powerful fighter. 

Warbird was also respectful even toward others whose values she does not share. For example, she does not recognize Northstar's gay marriage with his civilian boyfriend Kyle as a valid one, but she did not feel the need to personally attack his choice. Instead, she merely declined his invitation to the wedding and doing it by being polite as possible which was nice. It showed that she has convictions but she would never impose those convictions or oppress other people with it. So I was so happy that Liu wrote a two-parter story focusing on Warbird. Personally, I wish it was longer but I was nonetheless thrilled that even with its brevity, it managed to be so insightful concerning Warbird who I think she is officially my NEWEST FAVORITE X-MAN! Witness her adorkableness:



So Volume 12: Unmasked is divided between Warbird and Iceman, and the titular theme is applicable to both of them. We eventually find out over the course of their arcs that both are hiding behind a well-cultivated but ultimately failing facade to arm and guard themselves from whatever shame and rejection they fear or have represse, and Liu did a wonderful job exploring the facets of these feelings for their respective stories. Now this is what I like the most from comic books: riveting character arcs, and Liu delivered. She delivered well enough in this volume that my earlier harsh criticisms from her previous installments can be set aside since she followed up with something daring that possesses a heart. Look, I'm hardly that difficult to please. I'm perfectly happy with a comic book as long as it makes me care about the characters and allows me to root for them and, in some cases, wish them dead. Either way, you would have had be hooked if you as a writer would manage to do this. Liu finally has, thanks to her spectacular characterizations of Warbird and Iceman.

Just in time for Christmas in Manhattan, Warbird feels all alone in an alien place called Earth, and having been invited to have some quiet dinner with Shan (Karma) and her siblings, Warbird still feels awkward and unsure about herself. And then she recognized an image of an artifact in one of the magazines inside the house and she took off without even saying where she is heading. The X-Men, along with S.H.I.E.L.D, tracked her down to Cairo, Egypt. There she uncovered an unsettling truth concerning an ancient race from Earth that the Shi'ar Empire has wiped out, fearing their technology as harmful infection that could destroy the Shi'ar. Warbird encountered one of its last remaining descendants (but was revealed to be merely a machine created by said race) and she was haunted by memories of her past she tried so hard to bury. When the X-Men found her, she was unconscious and upon waking she told them exactly what has gotten her so rattled. It turned out that the ancient race her own kind has wiped out was composed of a civilization of artists which is something the Shi'ar somehow feared because, according to Warbird, their art--specifically their music--can penetrate through their layers of consciousness. 

Therefore, it can be used for manipulation and the Shi'ar expected the worst from this invention and decided to slaughter the race that have found a way to, well, basically, touch their souls. Talk about unnecessary overkill. There truly is nothing more damning that plain old ignorance. But, as Liu put it, "We will always be surprised at what can hurt us. And, equally, what will save us." The most personal thing about is was that Warbird was gifted with a talent for art, and yet she saw this as a 'defect' which made me so sad for her because she was ashamed of something that should have been celebrated in the first place!



In the end, Warbird was overcome with vulnerability and decided to listen to the advice of the last descendant of that unfortunate race, and embrace that she doesn't have to remain a warrior fighting wars because that was her conditioning. She could be whatever she wants now after being freed from her own planet's control. Now she can explore her other skills and that includes and not limited to art. I was so happy for her decision to do the bravest thing she could ever do at this point, and that is to willingly accept that there may be another purpose for her this time than mere violence and war. This simple two-issued story about a character I haven't even known that long and only met just now resonated with me so much and I definitely will check out more of Warbird in other titles next time!



Now, we move ahead with Iceman's storyline. For the first time since Whedon and Ellis, we get an arc that ran for at least five issues which are so exciting, splendid and well-crafted. I'm glad that I gave Liu a chance to redeem herself because she did so in a big way with her deft and painful characterization of Bobby Drake who has functioned in several titles I've read before (Jeff Parker's X-Men: First Class and Brian Michael Bendis' All-New X-Men) as comic relief. Well, that was the teenage Bobby. We are talking about the adult veteran here who has seen his share of horrors and despair. You might have noticed that I skipped issues #59-61 and that's because those are crossover issues about Apocalypse which I just didn't bother myself with because they were not included in this collected volume anyway. But the premise for Iceman's arc here came from said crossover. Apparently, during the commotion in that crossover, goddamn Dark Beast transfered a death seed inside Bobby which then fed on his darkest thoughts and feelings as well as his rage and guilt about his father, authority figures in general and failed romances. That's how this story started; by Bobby having face all his girlfriends from the past (Lorraine, Opal and Annie) while having to deal with his current romance with Kitty Pryde who is also still reeling from the loss of her first love Peter Rasputin (Colossus). 

Everything stings and I can't stop reading because of it! One of my favorite moments was when Kitty went to Logan (of all people) for relationship advice. It's so gooood to see Kitty again even if she's not necessarily part of the X-Men team going on missions. Her mere presence and participation in this reminded me of Whedon's run especially now that she's reminiscing about Peter and the future they could have had. Too bad Bobby was within earshot and listening to this. Like I said, everything about this story just stings, like small paper cuts slowly accumulating in a forgotten corner of your mind until they suddenly become plenty and sharp enough to really make you bleed out. That's how it felt for Bobby, I think, as I read him go through probably the darkest periods of his life. It's great---but also, you know, NOT.



Another important thing worth mentioning is that, apparently, Iceman and Mystique got it on too. Well, should I really be shocked? That turncoating, backstabbing, unpredictable shapeshifter bitch-face gets around, and this is no exception. Raven Darkholme just doesn't give a fuck anymore so nobody trusts her when she offered to help Bobby battle his terrifying demon that's about to unleash the biggest snowstorm that is guaranteed to snuff out life in the planet. Hell, even Thor was freaking out about it, claiming it will make way for Ragnarok. As an elemental, Bobby's powers have always been hard to discern; its potentials, its limits, and so it's not surprising that he would be able to unleash something terrible in the off-chance he started to feel like being the bad guy and you better believe he is consumed by playing the villain for this story that even Mystique is embarrassed to be knocked down a peg by how impressive his girth of villainy is becoming. Nevertheless, somewhere inside that impenetrable giant ice form--refusing to listen to his friends--is still Bobby Drake only that he has also finally learned to deal with ugly feelings, no longer masking his sorrow underneath a false bravado and ready humor. It's quite bothersome to see him this way, as well as the fact that he is maliciously trying to kills us all with snow.



Timely GIF jokes aside, this is some serious shit and I cannot for the life of me can't stop reading even while I was at work. It has got to be one of the most suspenseful reading experiences I had which is saying something because I have honestly zombied through reading this title since the quality of the series has dropped so drastically in just a span of ten or so issues. Now we're back to form. Now I care about characters again, and I'm afraid of what will happen to them. The best part was this interaction between Warbird and Iceman. I FANGIRLED SO HARD because I love Warbird already and her on-point insights about Bobby in these panels just killed me! Girl read him like a book and it was glorious! If I wasn't at work, I would have pumped by fists alternately in air!



But that's not all either! Kitty Pryde also confronts him because if anyone can knock some sense into anyone, it's always Kitten!!



I won't spoil the ending because I'd like you to pick up this volume yourself. Overall, Marjorie Liu delivered, thank Loki fuck, and so I'm more than happy to end my reviews for the official run of the 2005-2013 series The Astonishing X-Men on a positive note! Man, what a journey! Up next is Brian Michael Bendis' Uncanny X-Men because I can't delay reading that title anymore, considering it's happening back-to-back with his other title All-New X-Men which I have read before Astonishing and I would like to see for myself how Bendis balanced his writing on both major titles. I'll also be reviewing X-Men Volume IV alongside it because that's where the ladies at!!~

RECOMMENDED: 8/10