graphic novel challenge 2015

Collects Fantastic Four # 574-578
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie

All of the stories in this collection refer to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby area, the earliest history of FF. (By the way: Marvel, only 4 issues in a collection? Man, that’s stingy!) They’re also setting up further stories in the future.

In the first issue, the Mole Man comes seeking for help from the FF. The High Evolutionary has a city underground, in the Mole Man’s kingdom. However, the Ascension Engine, which power’s the city, malfunctioned and started to warp the minds of everyone in the city. The High Evolutionary and his people fled, leaving the engine on. Now the city is rising to the surface and the Mole Man doesn’t want a war with the humans, so he asked for help.

In the next issue, the FF go to the Antarctica and do some underwater exploration.

Next up is the Blue Area of the Moon. The Inhuman city of Attilan has left. However, the Inhumans have formed an alliance with some other races and it all bodes trouble for Earth and the FF, particularly.

The last issue focuses on Johnny who has brought a date back to the Baxter Building. Unfortunately for him, the lady is far more interested in the Negative Zone portal… especially because she has some bugs inside her skin who are eager to go to the zone.

These are all really short pieces but they don’t have slugfests, instead they have FF exploring which I always love. Eaglesham’s art is stunning, especially in the underwater issue. My only complaint is the covers: in the first one (which is also the collection’s cover) Susan is being rescued by Reed and in the last one Susan is missing. Really? Haven’t we established already that Susan isn’t a damsel in distress and that she’s an integral part of the team? But inside she’s just as valuable member as the others and in the undewater issue she gets a very interesting new job.

Collects Fantastic Four # 570-574

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie

Hickman starts his writing gig with clearing up some leftover stuff from the previous writers. First off is a three issue story about Reed. The FF defeats the Wizard (again) and it seems that he has cloned himself and has a child clone around. Franklin is worried about what happens to the child clone, Bentley, and that makes Reed thoughtful. Reed returns to his “Fix everything” solution. He has rebuilt the Bridge which leads to another dimension where a whole lot of Reeds are trying to fix the whole omniverse. He has a hard choice to make.

We get to see Reed’s dad, too, and that’s pretty rare. I don’t remember seeing him anywhere else but in John Byrne’s run. Anyway, Reed sees both the good and the necessary evil which the Reeds of other dimensions are doing and it’s both great and creepy. We get to see a lot of different Reeds from alternate dimensions and some other pretty cool science fiction stuff. Of course, we know how he will choose in the end, but it’s a great way to put an end to that Bridge stuff.

Next is a fun one-shot issue centering on Ben and Johnny. They’re going on a vacation on Nu-Earth, the artificial paradise planet designed by a bunch of geniuses. Except that things go wrong right at the start. For one thing, Franklin and Valeria hitchhike a ride with them. This turns out to a very good idea indeed because time runs different in Nu-Earth and things have changed radically.

The last issue is Franklin’s birthday with a guest appearance by Spider-Man, Franklin’s favorite hero. We get to see Power Pack members and there’s even a time-travel story to wrap the issue up. The traveler brings grave warning… to Valeria Richards.

Hickman’s run centers on FF as a family again, rather than superstars. They also do more exploring than basic superhero slugfests, which I really like. The last issue also builds a foundation for future stories when Reed invites the clone Bentley, Leech, and Artie to stay with them and offers a job to Alex Power.

The art isn’t as slick as Hitch or Davis but it feels to me reminiscent of Kirby’s style, especially with all the FF in short sleeves. I’m looking forward to rereading Hickman’s run.

Collects Fantastic Four #554-561

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Andrew Currie, Matt Banning, Cam Smith

I love Hitch’s art and he’s in top form here, so the art is fantastic! Except for some really weird faces on Alyssa and some of the other women who apparently talk with their tongues out.

Millar’s writing promises big things to come and he does start with a bang: the FF are returning from a time travel journey. Then Reed’s old girlfriend Alyssa returns and she needs Reed to consult something. It turns out that Alyssa’s new husband is also a genius scientist and he’s built another Earth because according to their calculation this Earth is going to be uninhabitable in less than ten years. Not from a supervillain attacks but from environmental collapse. And rather than trying to stop it, it’s easier to duplicate the Earth in a parallel dimension. It’s called “Nu-Earth”. Well, not everything will be duplicated. Weapons won’t be and the geniuses also built a huge robot to keep the peace. Of course, the robot (called Cap) gets loose and tries to kill everyone.

Meanwhile, Johnny rans across a supervillain who’s robbing a diamond shipment. Instead of arresting her, he sleeps with her. He’s also building a band and his house is rigged into a reality show. Ben has a new (ordinary teacher) girlfriend and Susan is forming a charity.

The second story arch is “The Death of the Invisible Woman” and it brings back Dr. Doom and introduces a new villain group, the New Defenders. In fact, the New Defenders are hunting Doom who needs help from Reed. But Reed and Sue are away so the New Defenders wreck the Building fighting Ben and in the end take the rather worn-out Doom with them. Reed is determined to find him and we’re shown that the group is headed by a very familiar green giant.

Oh and the Richards’ have a new and mysterious nanny. She’s a sweet old lady who is really good with the kids. But soon we find out that she knows more about Valeria than her parents.

Millar takes the FF back to their roots, as Marvel’s first family. Unfortunately, he also resets everything the group’s learned in the (recent) years. In a way this is the perfect time for new readers to pick up the comic because no background information is needed. Johnny is, once again, the irresponsible teenager, Reed the genius with his head in calculations, Ben a jock with a heart of gold, and Susan is the responsible one. Unfortunately, I found these FF more obnoxious than heroic. Johnny is especially terrible: he’s arrogant and thoughtless. Susan is jealous about Reed and women sigh over Reed and Ben. In essence, they’re movie stars. Like in many FF stories before Millar’s, Reed’s story is the only one which really matters.

To me this was a frustrating read because Millar has a lot of interesting ideas (Galactus Engine!) and he works with troupes I really like. I also enjoyed the new villains and even more when I found out who they really were. But I was less happy with the representation of the characters and where the stories went.

The collection has entertaining stories but not as great as they could have been.

Collects Uncanny X-Men #294–296; X-Factor #84–86; X-Men Vol. 2 #14–16; X-Force #16–18

Writers: Scott Lobdell, Peter David, Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Jae Lee, Al Milgrom, Greg Capullo, Harry Candelario, Brandon Peterson, Terry Austin, Andy Kubert, Mark Pennington

For a huge cross-over event across all x comics at the time, this held together quite well. The main enemy is Stryfe but Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse appear as well. Of course there are bad points, too. The cast of heroes is very big but most of them don’t make a marked difference. There’s even a point when Boom-Boom’s jaw is broken but in the rest of the issues it’s Polaris whose jaw is broken. There’s longwinded monologues from the villains, mostly Stryfe but also from the rest. Archangel makes a deadly mistake by not offing Apocalypse when he had the chance. Lots of unnecessary exposition. The whole thing winds around the Summers clan which some reader hate and other like. And people who apparently die, don’t stay dead. But the X-Men were mostly in character and I had a blast rereading it.

The event kicks off when Professor Xavier is at Lila’s concert talking about peace between humans and mutants. Some of the people in the crowd are listening but some talk back. Then, Cable appears and shoots Xavier! At the same time, Jean and Scott are kidnapped from a diner by Caliban and some other Storm Riders.
Xavier is quickly taken to the Mansion where the Beast and Doctor MacTaggert start to work on him. The professor has been shot with a techno-organic virus which is taking over his body but is still alive. The X-Men and X-Factor band together. Some of them go after X-Force who are the former New Mutants whom Cable took under his wing. Nobody knows where Cable is but the X-Men think that the X-Force will know. Unfortunately, they don’t but the X-Men take the kids as prisoners anyway. The rest of the X-Men go after the Horsemen and Apocalypse.

The Summers clan is at the center of the whole event, especially Jean and Scott. The writers don’t explicitly say it but Cable is the son of Scott and Madelyne (Jean’s clone) and apparently Stryfe is the clone of Cable. So, Stryfe has now decided to avenge his crappy childhood on his parents (Scott and Jean), brother Cable, and Apocalypse, the man who raised him. Jean isn’t his mother but he treats her as one. Of course, Madelyne is dead at this point so it’s not possible to get satisfaction out of her. Still, Jean could have protested as some point at being made to pay for things her clone had done. Mr. Sinister is also involved.

Still, the story sticks together surprising well and the art isn’t too different from one comic to the next. The only exception is Jae Lee’s art which I ended up enjoyed quite a lot. It’s more stylized and darker than the other artists’ work. However, I think following the story requires knowing the backstory; without knowing it the story can seem just a mess.

Writers: Jim Lee, Scott Lobdell, Whilce Portacio, John Byrne, Fabian Nicieza

Artists: Whilce Portacio, John Romita Jr., Scott Williams, Andy Kubert, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Thibert, Tom Raney, Hillary Barta, Rurik Tyler, Josef Rubinstein, Al Milgrom,

Collects Uncanny X-Men #281–293, X-Men Vol. 2 #12–13, material from X-Men (1991) 10–11

This is clear example of 1990s X-Men: a large team, lots of plotlines, some of them “soap opera”. Bishop’s origins are intriguing and I always love time travel stuff. But his mystery is far from solved in this collection and I have vague memories that they weren’t really resolved at all. Also, it has a lot of stories which don’t have much to do with Bishop. The writing makes everything a melodrama and continues storylines which I think were started in X-Factor. But for me at least most of these were entertaining stories. Unfortunately, I don’t care for Portacio’s art. It also seems that the writers’ can’t handle happy couples: Jean and Scott were separated into different teams and Scott starts to dream about Betsy (!), and everyone else’s love life is a mess or a melodrama. I was also disappointed to see Morlocks killed off.

The collection starts with a bang: Hellfire Club’s Emma Frost asks for help from the X-Men. Apparently someone has been murdering the Club’s leaders and Emma could be next. Xavier sends the gold team to see what’s going on. Storm, Iceman, Colossus, Archangel, and Jean Grey go to the club and get into fracas with the Hellions. But that dies down quickly. Then Emma mind-tortures a young woman in armor who attacked her. However, a green haired man calling himself Fitzroy appears in some sort of power armor which is also able to withstand psionic attacks. He seems to lead the attacks on the Hellfire club.

Meanwhile a new group of self-repairing Sentinels attacks the Reavers in their Australian base (yes!). Their leader Pierce manages to escape through one of Gateway’s portals to the Hellfire club where both X-Men and the Hellions have to fight the Sentinels. In the end, though, it seems that both Emma Frost and Jean Grey are dead. The Sentinels leave, with the Hellions and Emma’s body. But Pierce is killed! (double yay!)

However, Jean was able to put her mind into Emma’s body which Xavier is able to sense. The gold team X-Men (+Xavier and Forge) track the Sentinels to their Artic base and attack. In the base, green-haired Fitzroy is in the process of sucking up life energy from his captives and using his powers to open up a huge time portal. Super powered people pour out from the portal and on their heels are Bishop and his two assistants, Randall and Marshall, who are some sort of mutant police intend on either killing or capturing Fitzroy and his goons. When Fitzroy reveals that he can’t send people back to the future, Bishop and his goons start killing the mutants.

When Bishop sees the X-Men, he’s at first filled with hero worship but when the X-Men stop him from killing, he turns against them, claiming that they are impostors. Bishop and some of the other mutants manage to escape. Meanwhile, Xavier puts Jean’s mind back to her body.

Then, the X-Men go to the Sahali Island where a void has opened up. The Japanese scientists try to control it by bringing in Sunfire. The scientists have built him an armor which will channel his powers more effectively than ever and they think that he can just blast the portal out of existence. Unfortunately, the portal absorbs the energy and strikes back with it. Also, strange creatures crawl out of the portal and attack everyone near it. However, soon the X-Men notice that the creatures are just people in armor. But too late: the portal sucks in everyone near it including Storm, Jean, Iceman, Archangel, Colossus, and Sunfire.

The team ends up on different parts of the world on the other side of the portal and meet different people. It seems that the portal leads to another planet where one group of people have seized power and others fight against them. Peter and Jean end up with the rebels and the leader of the dominant group, Avatar, brainwashes Warren to kill on her behalf. However, the strangest thing of all is that Peter finds his big brother in this world and he’s a mutant. Mihkail Rasputin is a former cosmonaut thought to be dead. Peter idolized him and is heartbroken to find out that Mihkail doesn’t live up to his legend.

Meanwhile, back on Earth Bishop and his two flunkies continue to kill mutants who have come from another time and the local people, including the police, think that what they’re dealing with is mutant powered gang violence and blame it on the X-Men.

Finally in issue 287, we find out Bishop’s story. He comes from a future where XSE is a mutant police force and the X-Men are revered. LeBeu is the last known X-Man and he seems to be in some sort of prison/guest house and access to him is very limited. During his last mission on his own time period, Bishop stumbles on a tape where Jean says that she’s the last X-Man standing and that the X-Men were betrayed by their own.

The X-Men capture Bishop and after a private talk with Xavier, he joins them. Some of X-Men aren’t happy about it. Xavier gives Storm the task of trying to acclimatize Bishop to current times.

X-Men issue 12 and 13 dig into Xavier’s past: it seems that his father worked alongside Ryking who confined his own son to an intuition once he found out that the boy was a mutant. The boy is now man and has come for his revenge on Xavier. Gold team tries to defend their teacher.

The rest of the collection is devoted to gold team’s adventures and troubles in their personal lives. Bobby introduces his Asian girlfriend to his parents and his father disapproves of her. The meeting turns into a fight with ninja cyborgs. Forge asks Storm to marry him but before she can give him an answer, he accuses her of being so emotionally stunted that she can’t have a life outside the X-Men and leaves the group with Mystique.

The last issues pit the X-Men against Morlocks. Now Mask leads the Morlocks. They attacked Callisto (who has a very shapely body now and lives among the humans) and when the X-Men attempt to investigate, they attack the X-Men (Storm, Jean, Archangel, Bishop, Iceman, Colossus, and Xavier). Also Mikhail Rasputin allies himself with the Morlocks and against the X-Men (and all of humanity). At the same time, Callisto and Archangel have to confront their past with the Morlocks.

Collects X-Men Forever vol.2 issues 11-16. The third and final volume of X-Men Forever vol. 2.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Rodney Buschemi, Greg Adams, Robert Atkins, Rick Ketcham, Sandu Florea, Andy Smith, Cory Hamscher, Ramon Rosanas

We finally get to know what’s up with the two Storms. First, the X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Gambit, Rogue, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Havok, Polar, Sabertooth, and Shadowcat) fight Storm’s forces in Genosha. She’s trying to annex the island but the X-Men prevent that. Then the X-Men go to Wakanda and confront the adult Storm, who is now the Queen of Wakanda. However, Storm has invited the Avengers (Captain America, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman) to assist her. Dr. Strange guest stars and another old X-Man dies.

In the final issue, the X-Men mourn their dead and look hopefully in the future because now they have allies and don’t have to fight the Consortium alone.

I was happy that the mystery around Li’ Ro and the adult Storm was explained but the other plotlines were left dangling.

This wasn’t a bad series but I thought the second volume was better than the first. It had some very interesting plots, like Kurt and Rogue switching powers but also some less successful stuff. Adding Mystique to the team was fun, too. It’s not the best X-Men story ever but it was mostly entertaining. However, I can’t really recommend the series to anyone but the most hardcore X-Men fans and those of us who aren’t too thrilled with the current continuity (surely I can’t be the only one?), and of course those who like alternate worlds a lot (like me). The whole series is available through Marvel Unlimited.

Collects X-Men Forever vol.2 issues 6-10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Mike Grell, Greg Adams, Tom Grummett, Ron Lim, Cory Hamscher, Nelson, Hennessy

The Marauders are back! Mr. Sinister is supposedly dead but isn’t. And he’s a different person in this world. He sends the cloned Marauders to get Scott’s son Nathan from the Summers’ Cove in Canada. Fortunately, the Starjammers, Havok, and Polaris are there to protect him. Wounded Corsair manages to teleport to the mansion and brings the X-Men to the fight, too.

One-handed, blind Sabertooth fights against his clone. But Mr. Sinister has another dirty trick up his sleeve: he’s also cloned Wolverine. Kitty faces him and during the battle the clone wounds her grievously. But she seems to have more and more of old Logan in her: besides being more bloodthirsty than ever and having one adamantium claw, Kitty now has a healing factor, sharper sense of smell, and manifests long claws in her left hand.

After the fight, Kitty, li’ Ro, Jean, and Gambit stay with Corsair while the rest return to the mansion. Jean is worried about Kitty who behaves more and more like Logan. She has nightmares about the clone and thinks in Japanese. She realizes that the clone Wolverine isn’t dead and that he’s gone to Japan, so Kitty follows him there. Ro and Lockheed have hidden in the shuttle which Kitty uses and so they come accidentally along.

The final issue in the collection is set in Japan. Clan Yashida and the assassin guild the Hand are now allies, as Kitty sees when skulking around the Yashida mansion. Then Wolverine attacks and chases Kitty, li’ Ro, and Lockheed around Japan. In the end, he’s defeated for now but Mariko Yashida, Wolverine’s former love, captures li’ Ro to use her as leverage. Mariko is now part of Consortium because Logan’s betrayal wounded her so deeply that she now wants to destroy all mutants. The Consortium wants to ally themselves with Ororo who is now the Queen of Wakanda, after T’Challa’s death. However, Ororo isn’t keen on working with people who have betrayed her. So, Mariko offers her little ‘Ro.

The collection ends in a cliffhanger.

Mr. Sinister is my least favorite X-Men enemy so I wasn’t happy to see him back. But I like the Marauders, the cloned Wolverine and Mariko so I ended up really liking this collection. Another subplot has Ghost Panther who is a new character in Genosha. This all leads to the next, and final, collection, where Ororo’s mystery is finally solved.

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