Retro Comics: X-Men Unlimited #3, The Whispers Scream

To begin my first edition of Retro Comics, I decided to go back and look at the first comic book I ever read: X-Men Unlimited #3. First published as a double-sized quarterly between 1993 and 2003, X-Men Unlimited served as a short story anthology series in the X-Men universe. The series focused on small, self-contained one-shots between major monthly storylines and events, and provided a vehicle for lesser known writers and artists to work with these well-known franchise characters without impacting the rest of Marvel’s continuity. Issue #3, titled The Whispers Scream, was written by X-Force and Deadpool co-creator Fabien Nicieza and penciled by Mike McKone. It was released December 1993 with cover art by Bill Sienkiewicz.

This issue follows Maverick as he seeks the help of Wolverine in stopping Sabretooth. Following the death of his friend and partner Birdy at the hands of his son Graydon Creed, Sabretooth is on a vicious killing spree, murdering the members of an illicit trade operation that took place some years prior. When Wolverine proves too elusive to find, Maverick instead enlists the assistance of X-Men, to help him track Sabretooth to Japan for an encounter with the Silver Samurai. While this issue first presents itself as a straightforward chase story with Sabretooth as its antagonist, it quickly becomes an intriguing look into the mind of a murderer.

X-Men Unlimited

Sabretooth, who had previously relied on the telepathic influence of Birdy to quell his violent urges, is now at a total loss. Overcome by insanity, he begins searching for another telepath to pacify his broken mind. This opens the door to several fascinating questions of morality as Charles Xavier takes it upon himself to venture into the hellish landscape of Sabretooth’s memories. There he finds the source of Sabretooth’s cruelty: A childhood spent under the fist of his abusive father indoctrinated the young Victor Creed in an endless cycle of violence and pain. With Birdy’s help he was able to bury his guilt behind the trauma, and excuse his own savagery as a product of his father’s abuse. Determined to rehabilitate Sabretooth, Xavier agrees to house him at the school, entering into a tenuous pact to put an end to his violence and make him pay for his crimes.

Overall this is a solid and captivating story with some serious emotional punch. A lot of the strength lies in the writing, with some deft handling of the morally compromising situations presented here. At no point does Nicieza attempt to rationalize or excuse Sabretooth’s violence, and that works to his advantage. He appropriately paints the young Victor Creed as a victim of violence, who turned his cruelty outward rather than attempting to overcome his demons. Yes, Sabretooth is a product of brutality, but he chose to pursue this life, making him culpable for his actions. He is a wounded animal, but also an intelligent one as Xavier finds, and something about him is worth trying to redeem. This moral question of putting Sabretooth down like an animal or choosing to rehabilitate him is certainly interesting in the context of a superhero book, given the weight of his crimes and the full breadth of his violence.

No matter the strength of the script, however, it’s the artwork that really carries this book. McKone’s offers some strong art here, with several really engaging panels and dynamic page layouts peppered throughout. There’s a peculiar static quality to his lines that makes the book feel somehow quiet to me, perhaps even a little eerie. It reads like Xavier’s clinical detachment as he moves through Sabretooth’s memories, looking for answers, and perhaps it’s meant to. To put the reader in Xavier’s frame of mind as an unintended viewer looking in on Sabretooth’s madness. Whatever the reason, there’s just something about the ferociousness of McKone’s flat-nosed, dog-like Sabretooth that really sticks with me. It’s sinister and beastly without coming across as cheesy or overplayed, and helps to ground Sabretooth as a villain, albeit a much more complex one than we expected.

This issue is emblematic of 1990s comic books in a lot of ways. From the elaborate and often clunky costumes designs to the sometimes long-winded dialogue, complete with the almost perplexing accents from Rogue and Gambit, this book is quite the product of its time. Even for that, the story is striking with some truly memorable scenes. A nice balance of philosophical questioning and action-adventure storytelling, this is a favorite issue of mine with real staying power, even after twenty years.

Magen Cubed

In Review: X-Men #1 – #3

The latest irritation of the X-Men opened with the storyline Primer, a three-part arc that saw the hesitant formation of a new team on the heels of Jubilee’s surprising return to Westchester. This critically acclaimed title, helmed by writer Brian Wood and penciled for the first three issues by Olivier Coipel, features an all-female X-Men squad, led by Storm with Rachel Grey serving as a strong but firm second-in-command. The cast is rounded out by an interesting batch of characters choices in Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Psylocke, and Jubilee, who has recently taken in an infant named Shogo. The book also garnered a lot of attention when Wood made it very clear that this is a book about female X-Men and not X-Women. This sparked a debate about the industry’s expectations of female-only team book and the need to divide teams by gender lines.

XMen 1In a market where many female-only team books have shown the tendency to err on the side of the gimmicky or exploitative, this title is bold and interesting, but a little out of place. Given the traditionally gender role-defying history of the X-Men franchise, the need to reaffirm the reader’s understanding that all X-Men are X-Men, regardless of their sex, race, religion, or any other mitigating factors, is a bit uncertain. The main cast, with the exception of Storm, are the creations of writer Chris Claremount. They are some of the most notable characters in the X-Men’s stable of well-developed women, from a writer that did a great deal to further the presence of women in comics. Perhaps, in that respect, this book serves as the logical progression of the franchise, rather than a red flag to address issues in the franchise’s representation of women.

Still, while there may not be a dire necessity for an all-women X-team, this book is a solid title and a strong addition to superhero genre at large. It takes great strides to avoid the designation of X-Women all together, and undermines any pretense of a “chick book” by focusing on character dynamics over gendered politics. This isn’t about women, as Wood argues. It’s about family.

The premise of this arc is fairly simple: Sentient parasitic bacterium Sublime realizes that his sister Akrea has returned to Earth. Piggybacking on a recently crashed meteorite, his sister is back to continue their ancient rivalry over control of the planet. Adept at hijacking technology through cybernetic implants, Akrea’s first host is an orphaned infant boy, using him to get back to civilization and begin spreading to more useful targets. Jubilee takes the boy in and names him Shogo, unaware of the intense family struggle she’s stumbled into until Sublime begins following her to New York. With no one else to turn to, Jubilee returns to Westchester to seek the help of her only real family, the X-Men.

From there the mystery of Akrea’s plot deepens as she gets loose in Hank McCoy’s lab. She takes control of the XMen 2comatose Karima Shapandar, using her Omega-Prime nanites to wreak havoc. The hunt for Akrea sends the X-Men all over the globe, a struggle that gravely compromises the security systems of the school and nearly destroys it as Akrea hijacks the computer mainframe. With Akrea using Karima to enact her plans of global domination, the team is deeply troubled by the prospect of their friend’s consciousness still being trapped inside her stolen body, and the realization that killing Akrea would kill Karima as well. Karima emerges from her coma to stop Akrea herself, but Storm’s order for Psylocke to kill Akrea’s then-unconscious host doesn’t sit well with Rachel, which causes tensions between them. Meanwhile, Jubilee comes to terms with the responsibilities of parenthood now on her young shoulders, and draws strength from those around her in her decision to keep Shogo.

The underpinning theme of this arc is family, which Wood handles in several subtle ways. While the entire X-Men family tree has been embroiled in various and ugly internal struggles over the last few years, the unifying idea of team-as-family, despite their differences and misunderstandings, is refreshing to see again. Obviously there is the enduring rivalry between Sublime and Akrea, which facilitates the suspense the plot is framed around. Beyond that, however, Wood makes great use of his cast in exploring their dynamics. Each principal character is strongly defined with organic and well-rounded characterizations, playing to each of their strengths and individual contributions. Their interactions, banter and disagreements come from a place of familiarity, a warmth of tone that the reader understands from the strength of the writing. Many team books show teams interacting, and the writer takes for granted that the readers simply know that these characters know each other. Wood manages to make it appear effortless. Their relationships are complicated, but built on years of trust and respect. Even as tensions rise between Rachel and Storm, which spill over into the recent fourth issue, their conflict reads like a natural extension of that relationship.

XMen 3One of the best examples of family-oriented character development is Jubilee and Shogo. Her emotional struggle to care for the boy she’s decided to raise is palpable. An orphan herself, her instincts to protect the boy (whom she herself names Shogo) is relatable, even as she remains fraught with uncertainty about her decision. She seeks comfort and counsel from her own adopted family, looking for reassurance that she’s fit to parent her son. While the presence of an infant in a book with an entirely female cast can be read as suspect, the inclusion of Shogo in Jubilee’s life forces her to grow up and develop as a character, and works well here. It sheds an interesting light on her and her emotional processes, and tackles the topics of child-rearing and family in a natural and appropriate way. Jubilee is an orphan, in a family of orphans, now raising an orphan of her own. The theme is cyclical but effective, and poignantly handled. It’s going to be difficult for Jubilee as a single teenaged mutant vampire mother, but she’s going to make it work.

One of the great strengths of this arc is Coipel’s artwork. He achieves great narrative economy with his dynamic page compositions and panel design, and captures each character with well-developed distinction and charm. The well-struck balance of each character’s internal state with the action-adventure elements allows every cast member to feel completely realized on the page, wearing their personalities like their iconic costumes. This precise storytelling makes for organic characterizations that feel effortless and well-rounded, and really makes the most of the emotional subtleties of the scripts.

Overall, this is a strong opening storyline for a book attempting to establish a new status quo. Wood and Coipel successfully set the tone for the development of a new, untested X-Men team, and all the family problems that comes with it. Instead of being weighed down by the complications of family dynamics, the book is strengthened by it, exploring the various permutations of family within the team itself. Just where this book is headed as it hurdles toward the upcoming Battle of the Atom event is unclear, but its future looks bright.

Magen Cubed

New X-Men – Read it and enjoy it

X-Men-v4-001-(2013)-(Digital)-(Nahga-Empire)-01Let’s see this all new X-Men title by fan favorite creators writer Brian Wood and artist Olivier Coipel along with the talented colorist Laura Martin and inker Mark Morales. There has been much anticipation for this X title due its new twist.  This time the roster consists of a full cast of X-Women Storm, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Rachel Grey, Psylocke and Jubilee and it seems that many more will be featured and referred to from all ages of X-Men history from the youngest to the eldest.

I too anticipated with a thrill this comic because it features my favorite female heroines from all the Marvel Universe and wanted to see how Brian Wood will handle this comic. All the characters have a big history and are known for having the strongest most dynamic personalities which thankfully Chris Claremont had built a couple of decades ago. So did Brian Wood do justice to these heroines? Yes he definitely did.

Each heroine is shown strong and dynamic using their powers as an extension of their personalities.  All of them know their place on the team and how they will be more useful in achieving to save a situation from a fatal disaster.  They are well-trained heroines who take the initiative to act upon a critical moment but also know when to follow orders and listen to suggestions.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen such a well-organized full functional group that use methodical tactics in an almost successful way.  This does not mean that their individual personalities aren’t fleshed out.

Storm is portrayed as the ultimate confident leader, Kitty shows her usual wittiness and cheekiness, Psylocke is prv16373_pg3lethal and a strong inquisitor, Rogue has full control of her powers and is more passionate in using them; all seven of are in character to the point.  They are not weak insecure females, they do not flaunt their powers and physiques they are strong confident heroines but above all with a realistic human personality.

Brian Wood has built a strong character driven comic with a lot of emotional and action moments perfectly balanced.  He has created a story arc where the main villain is considered an extreme threat and you understand this by the terrified reaction another arch nemesis of the X-Men has when he realizes the villain is in the X-Mansion.  Also from issue one Brian Wood is weaving a new plot thread concerning the students which eventual will become a main story at some point.  Story wise it’s a great issue one promising even greater ones in the future.

X-Men-v4-001-(2013)-(Digital)-(Nahga-Empire)-16Now the art is fantastic Olivier Coipel has given his best work.  It’s beautifully drawn with an excellent storytelling and great perspective angles.  Each character is drawn with a different body language showing both attitude and personality.  Also colors by Laura Martin and inks by Mark Morales compliment the art making it a visual delight.  The art on this comic is simply brilliant its level is so high that you cannot distinguish it as something separate from the story. You have to see it to understand how good it is.

So the new X-Men title has succeeded in delivering an amazing issue one and we have to thank this brilliant creative team that has approached it with total respect both for the heroines and for the readers. It’s not about how the women of X are perceived but a team book with individuals who are shown to us in the best way; dynamic, powerful and strong-minded.  This is a comic book I strongly suggest to read because it promises a lot of thrilling moments in the future which people will be talking about for a long time with satisfaction.

Read it and enjoy it!

Con Barbatsis for eCharta

Comic Last Week -Apr.20.13- Preview

This week’s list is all about mutants, monsters, warrior princes and vigilantes!

X-Men Legacy 009-000X-Men Legacy #9  by Simon Spurrier and Tan Eng Hat! Legion continues his romancing with Blindfold going out on another date… which sadly doesn’t end quite happily!!! This issue hasn’t got that much action but still continues to be interesting as we see how Legion chooses on which path he will follow …alone! The art is getting better issue by issue!

Cable & X-Force #7  by Dennis Hopeless and Salvador Larocca! This comic book Cable and X-Force 07-000is getting better and better each issue! The art continues to be brilliant; the story is excellent with great action scenes and great character interaction!

Dr Nemesis is becoming my favorite member of the team and now I’m actually not bothered by the addition of Colossus on the roster! All in all a cool comic where Cable continues his quest to save the world. But don’t expect a daddy and son quarrel as Cyclops steps by… its interesting what father says to son!

Read it…


Venom #34  by Cullen Bunn and Declan Shalvey! The war between the symbiotes continues!!!  Venom and Toxin battle in a much raw splatter filled way…although still for all ages the art delivers perfectly the harsh violence in the battle!

This book is also getting better both art and story wise it seems Flash/Venom is here to stay unless he doesn’t make it out safe in next month’s fight!!! This issue is all action not enough of the inner demons that Flash dwells on and troubles him, but still it’s a cool read!

Godzilla #11  by Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane! This issue is filled with all00 action battle scenes of monsters! Godzilla is all about the monsters and how Boxer and his team deals with them but in this issue we get more than enough awesome art of monsters doing what they were made for…destruction!!!

It’s a character driven comic but Simon Gane seems to get to have fun with his brilliant battle scenes that cannot despoint. A fun issue with excellent art!

The Black Beetle - No Way Out 003-001

Black Beetle #3  by Francesco Francavilla. This comic still amazes me from story to art to its lettering and coloring even the sound effects a simply amazing!

A preview is not enough to say what I want to say so when this arc is done I’ll tell it all in a review…until then just read it! This issues Black Beetle finds out that the dead are not so dead and the mystery thickens!

He Man and the Masters of the Universe #1  by Keith Giffen and Pop Mhan;  I was HeMan_1_TheGroup-000a big fan of the show as a kid so I had to read this new number one issue. It’s an O.K. issue…

Giffen has a great sense of humor and he uses it in a really balanced one in this comic! In a way its funny just at the points that it will bring laughter just as you would see it in an animated TV series, it’s not exaggerated and forced.

The art is great too although I would prefer a tone more realistic!

That’s all folks! Enjoy all our gathering!

Con Barbatsis for eCharta