For the last year I’ve been reading a few Marvel comics and talking about them on Facebook and Google+. From now on I’ll do that here (and probably talk about other comics as well).
X-Men #7 (contains spoilers I guess)
I was super, super excited when Marvel announced the new X-Men comic by Brian Wood and Oliver Coipel. I hadn’t read much by Wood, but I’ve loved Coipel’s work since Legion Lost, and I was excited to see him on this book. His designs for some of my favorite X-characters looked great too. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up though. Coipel only stuck around for three issues. Is he coming back? Who knows? That’s kind of the problem here. Marvel sold this title not just on the premise of an all female team made of some of the most popular X-men, but also on the promise of a super solid creative team. Maybe I should have known better, but there was no indication given that Coipel would be leaving after issue 3. With his name plastered all over all the advertising, I was sold on a Wood/Coipel book, not a Wood/whoever-is-available-this-month book. Does it matter? Yes, it totally does! In the hands of a good creative team X-Men characters can come alive. They can be compelling and interesting people faced with enormous and thrilling problems. A good artist can define a character with just a little body language, and Coipel is that good. For the most part his 3 issues on the book sing (even if they aren’t his BEST work)!
Unfortunately… Wood isn’t that good. Or maybe he is (I haven’t read much else he’s done), but just not here anyway. To be fair, lots of very good writers have made a mess of X-Men books. Wood seems to have an okay grasp of the characters. He knows how they walk and talk. But his first story is a jumbled mess, with way to many characters and too little character development. The cast is HUGE! Not just the 6 title characters, but an entire school full of students, other X-Men (prominently Beast and Wolverine), 2 villains and a coma bound but plot important Sentinel. That’s a lot of characters for a comic that’s supposed to be bringing in new readers. I haven’t read X-Men regularly for about 10 years and I was feeling kind of lost. And the next few issues cram in even more characters with a giant crossover!
Maybe this isn’t Wood’s fault, since the other 2 (3? 4? 5?) X-Men books are also loaded down with way too many characters to keep track of. With 10-20 characters featured in each issue we never have enough time for those moments that let us connect to the characters. You know, the moments we remember decades later, the ones that make these characters our favorites? This X-Men book desperately needs to slim down it’s cast and focus on the star characters. Give us more character moments!
My biggest complaint about the series so far isn’t the disappearance of Coipel or the bloated cast that leaves little space for character development, it’s the stories. The first arc had a very weak ending. It was followed by a single issue Wolverine/Jubilee story that was pretty dull (but at least provided some of the character development and focus that had been missing in the previous issues) and then jumped into an enormous, confusing crossover for the next few issues. If I was a new X-Men reader I would be confused, unimpressed and bored with these stories. In fact, I mostly am!* X-Men doesn’t stand on it’s own as the interesting adventures of an all female X-Men team. It suffers most of the same problems as the much better All New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men by Bendis. But where Bendis has given us an interesting story and lots of character development (despite teh same bloated cast problem), Wood can’t seem to find anything interesting to do with his X-Men. After 6 issues, the books lacks focus or a compelling story,and seems more like an after thought to the other X-Men books than a thing of it’s own. Which is too bad, because this comic features all my favorite X-Men!
Okay, so issue #7:
Terry Dodson is the artist this month, Maybe he’ll stick around for awhile? That would be nice. Dodson is no Coipel, but he’s pretty good. He’s fantastic at drawing pretty women and less fantastic at anything else. He’s not half as inventive as Coipel, but few current superhero artists are. Of course, I fully expect that he’ll be replaced by a different artist within a few issues, and that’s a shame. This book could really benefit from a single consistent artist.
This issue is focuses on a new(ish) villain, the resurrected Lady Deathstrike. We’re introduced to Ana Cortes, a wealthy heiress who injects herself with a computer program (or nanites or something) that allow her to share her body with the consciousness of Lady Deathstrike. We also meet Reiko, the woman who enables all of this and is a friend of Deathstrike. It seems like we’re supposed to know who both of these characters are, but I have absolutely no idea. I googled Ana and I think she MAY be one of Magnetos former Acolytes. Maybe. The characters don’t look the same at all though. Reiko is apparently a character from Wolverine’s stint as “Patch” in the early 90’s. There’s nothing wrong with bringing back obscure characters, but we can’t be expected to know who these people are, especially in a brand new series. Similarly, it’s assumed we know who Deathstrike is, how she died and what her relationship with these women is. I do know who Deathstrike is, but there’s no explanation for why Ana would want to inject herself with Deathstrike’s personality and then continue the dead woman’s vendetta against the X-Men. And yet Ana seems really enthusiastic about doing so (even before the injection). It’s weird and confusing, and I kept waiting for an explanation (one was never provided).
Deathstrike’s new look is… either really cool or really awful. I can’t decide. Psylocke refers to the outfit as an annoying hipster look, but that might not be a fair assessment. It’s a busy and complicated costume that might not look very great if drawn by another artist, but thankfully Dodson has the kind of attention to detail that this needs.
This issue introduces 3 more characters to a book that absolutely does not need more characters. Karima, Monet and Typhoid Mary. Karima and Monet are new additions to the team, while Mary is a new villain. The problem here is that they all kind of look the same. To his credit, Dodson does put effort into giving his characters recognizably different facial features, but he really only does one body type (athletically curvy), and as a result Monet and Karima (and Ana, and Psylocke and Typhoid Mary) all look kind of like the same person. Yes, different outfits and somewhat different hairstyles help, but introducing 4 attractive young women with roughly the same body type, hair style and coloring is… I mean, it’s not confusing… I could tell who they were. But Ana is Colombian, Monet is French and Karima is Indian… and yet they all look more than roughly the same. It’s easy to say “well it’s superhero comics, all women look like that”, but this just isn’t true, even in this very issue, even with an artist who mostly only does one female body type. In the single scene where Ana, Monet and Karima are together you’d mistake them for sisters. Their facial features are different (but similar), but their build, hairstyles and skin tones are nearly identical. In fact, take away the word balloons and try to guess what this story is about. It looks like a new super villain trying to kill her sisters who have just joined the X-Men!
That’s pretty much the issue. Monet and Karima join the team, Deathstrike makes a failed assault on the Mansion. Jubilee has a single page scene with one of the students who was violently rejected after confessing her feelings to another girl at the school. That’s a nice touch. It reminds us that the series takes place at a school,and that the students look up to these X-Men and trust them. Not just the ones that are teachers. I wish that had been more of a focus this issue.
Overall, this issue isn’t great, but it’s stronger than the last few. What’ll it take to make this series better?
- More character development. We need to spend more time with these women and learn/remember who they are.
- Less characters. The 6 woman cast is large enough, adding 2 new team members on top of a whole student body, other X-Men (Beast seems to be a permanent member of the cast) and the villain of the week is just too much.
- A regular artist. A good artist can do so much for a series. Switching out artists every few issues makes the comic seem inconsistent and never gives any one artist time to develop the characters. It may seem like I was bagging on Dodson, but I’d be happy to see him on this series regularly. Or Lopez, the artist from the last few issues. Without a consistent artist this book feels like just a random X-Men book.
- A consistent cast. Instead of focusing on a distinct team or set of characters, this book is starting to seem like just an outlet for stories featuring any female X-Men characters. That’s not a good approach I think, if only because there are too many female X-Men to easily focus on,and large casts prevent good character development. I want to see the 6 lead characters. I want to read about them and get to know them. I want stories focused on them.
* Okay, so if I’m not really enjoying the series, why am I still reading it? I got a subscription. I was so excited when the series was announced that I went out and paid for an old fashioned “delivered to your mailbox” subscription. Which was a mistake, by the way. But I’ll talk about that later.