It’s pretty clear why Marvel keeps relaunching its entire line — it works, at least in the short term, when it comes to shoring up sales. As a long-term collector and comics enthusiast, I find it a bit frustrating. But there’s another aspect to the relaunches that appeals to me: it seems to instill in the publisher a greater willingness to try new things with familiar characters. While Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” is far from perfect (as I’ll elaborate on below), some of the titles certainly do live up to the label — as limiting as it is. When you call all of your comics “new” and “different,” it’s a pretty clear signal that another relaunch is forthcoming once those descriptions are no longer accurate.
Now, onto the reviews…
Extraordinary X-Men #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jeff Lemire, Humberto Ramos & Victor Olazaba
It’s been a couple of months since this new X-title launched, but I haven’t read any subsequent issues since the series got underway. The reason: this first issue was one of the weakest Marvel books I’ve read in some time. It seems like an incredibly wrong-headed approach to Marvel’s once-towering mutant franchise. Lemire’s plotting and scripting struck me as surprisingly clunky and awkward. Mutants are back to being hated by humanity, but they don’t seem to be feared anymore, with outright hostility being expressed against mutants. The inclusion of Old Man Logan in the lineup smacks of a gimmick, trying to capitalize on that property’s ongoing popularity to shore up the declining interest (among fans and Marvel itself, it would seem at times) in the X-Men. Furthermore, offering a subplot in which Jean Grey declines membership to seek a normal life when the cover shows her in costume and clearly participating in the larger plot to come makes for a waste of time.
I’ve enjoyed Humberto Ramos’s art in the past, and his bombastic, exaggerated style always makes for dynamic action storytelling in the medium. But overall, I found the designs for just about all of the characters to be distracting and, like the story, misguided. Hipster Colossus? All of the female heroines are painfully objectified with their designs. It’s hard to take Midriff Storm seriously, and Magik’s barely-clothed look has been a disappointment for some time. Normally, a disappointing comic-reading experience just leaves me feeling flat, but this one made me wince more than once. 3/10
Illuminati #3 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Joshua Williamson & Shawn Crystal
As I’ve noted in the past, there’s a grey market for the free digital download codes that come in most Marvel comics these days, and my ability to recoup some of the cost of new comics from the publisher influences my decision on whether I’ll try out a new book or check out a new creative team’s work. Writer Joshua Williamson and artist Shawn Crystal were unknown to me when I learned of this title, but the mitigated cost factor, along with my appreciation of the Brian K. Vaughan/Kyle Hotz-created Hood villain got me to see what they offered. I’m quite pleased I took the plunge. While Williamson’s take on the Hood isn’t all that consistent with Vaughan’s, he’s nevertheless offered a compelling story treating Marvel villains as protagonists in their own corner of the world. His efforts to humanize Titania (really, the lead of this book) and Thunderball are particularly effective and engaging. These are still bad guys doing bad things, and a couple of the members of this team are quite despicable, but it’s an entertaining, unpredictable book that celebrates the weirdness and wonder of the Marvel Universe while also grounding it at the same time. Another plus of Williamson’s writing is that it’s accessible; one needn’t be all that familiar with these villains’ histories to follow and appreciate the story.
Crystal’s exaggerated style suits these weird, damaged characters quite well. His art on this title reminds me of the work of Phil Hester, albeit even more stylized. He’s redesigned the villains that make up the title team, and he’s crafted looks that seem more plausible, more like they could exist in the real world. It adds some credibility to the incredible cast of characters and capers they’re undertaking. John Rauch’s dark colors also work nicely for this story and these characters — who aren’t so much looking for redemption, but a stronger sense of self and satisfaction along the darker path they’ve chosen. 8/10
Squadron Supreme #3 (Marvel Entertainment)
by James Robinson, Leonard Kirk, Paul Neary & Scott Hanna
Honestly, the main thing that drew me to this new title and new take on the titular team was Leonard Kirk’s artwork. He’s been a mainstay in super-hero comics for years and a solid performer for Marvel as of late, so it was nice to see him put to work again with this new project. I’ve really enjoyed his portrayal of the five main characters in the previous issues, but with this one, it’s easy to see that more than one inker worked on the issue. Figures in the latter part of the issue definitely look a bit different than they do in earlier pages. Kirk instills the most humanity in Dr. Spectrum and Blur, and that’s a challenge, as their faces are often covered. Hyperion’s power comes through in his depiction of the Superman stand-in, and the intense, sinister look of the Gary Frank-designed Nighthawk is always eye-catching. Kirk also impresses with his rendering of the major and unusual set pieces, not the least of which is the Squadron’s undersea headquarters.
Now, while this is yet another take on dark, mature super-heroes and more than a little reminiscent of The Authority, I have to admit there’s something compelling about Robinson’s plot — at least, there was in the first couple of issues. While the “major death” in the first issue happens far too quickly and casually for anyone to see it as permanent, it certainly set the tone for the book. Robinson’s script really takes us in the characters’ heads. Nighthawk’s drive contrasts nicely with Hyperion’s quest for the mundane, and honestly, I have a soft spot for Blur, given his role in the 1980s series DP7. Furthermore, the alien conspiracy here is intriguing. However, what didn’t work nearly as well for me this time around, though, was the appearance of the Uncanny Avengers (or Avengers Unity Squad, as they’re known in continuity). The Uncanny appearance seems clearly timed to bolster this book’s readership, as they really serve no purpose here. The customary super-hero fight is pointless, as the Squadron is removed from that situation without resolution. Furthermore, this glimpse of the Unity Squad confirms my initial decision to skip the yet-again relaunched Uncanny Avengers series. Deadpool makes no sense in the roster, and I really don’t get why Quicksilver and Johnny Storm are involved either. 6/10
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