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New X-Men #142
By Grant Morrison, Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend
Published by Marvel Comics

It's somewhat ironic, I think, that my recent review of The Authority Vol. 2 concluded with the notion that that book's less-than-five-year-old concept (kickin' and splodin' in fabulous WIDESCREEN, baby!) is old and worn out and should be allowed to die a natural death.

Here's an X-Men comic, a concept that's been around for nearly half a century, and Morrison and Bachalo turn in an issue that -- while not visionary or cutting edge in any particularly notable manner -- still manages to seem fresh, entertaining and well worth reading. Offhand, I'd say it's the best issue Morrison's yet turned out.

It's the beginning of a new storyline, "Assault on Weapon Plus," which means nothing to me in particular. I don't really even know what that is, Weapon Plus, but it's something to do with Wolverine, and despite myself (and decades of shitty stories, of course) he remains a favourite of mine.

It's difficult to explain (or at least embarrassing to remember) how amazing and cool Wolverine was when I was 13 or 14 and he was taking on the Hellfire Club alone during the Dark Phoenix storyline of the 1980s, but that issue (still widely in print in TPB and even as a bonus with the most recent Wolverine action figure from Toy Biz's Marvel Legends line) made a big impression on me as a teenager and the resulting disappointment over the next two decades or so was entirely the fault of Marvel and the writers and artists it chose to succeed Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

Those two, along with inker Terry Austin, letterer Tom Orzechowski and colourist Glynis Wein (says something that I remember the entire creative team of a decades-old superhero book in such detail, no?) captured magic in a bottle for a few years, cranking out exciting superhero comics every month that didn't seem quite like anything that had been done before in the medium.

I stopped reading any X-Men comics regularly after Paul Smith stopped drawing them, but Morrison and Quitely's potential brought me back and this issue more than fulfills the promise Morrison held as writer. The issue finds Scott Summers, his marriage in pieces, getting soused at The Hellfire Club -- the very same one that he was once a prisoner in during that same Dark Phoenix story. It's an amusing conceit for longtime readers and a perfect example of Morrison's strengths as a writer, turning shit on its ear just to see what happens.

What happens is, Wolverine shows up and the two engage in a half-issue-long drinking contest in which their friction-filled relationship is observed from some new and delightful angles. We also get a feel for the dynamics of the Hellfire Club in Morrison's universe, and damn if the guy doesn't make me love reading an X-Men comic for the first time in a long time in this extraordinarily quiet but spectacularly eventful issue.

Bachalo's art is even stronger here than on the recent Ultimate War (which I reviewed for Movie Poop Shoot on this page), with only a couple of wasted pages thrown away -- but that's the price you pay for the good work Bachalo does in his actual storytelling.

A particular favourite panel of mine here is the first time we see Wolverine, leering and tempting Scott with a better brand of booze and the promise of an adventure to take his mind of his sordid love triangle with Jean and Emma. Bachalo's mannered stylizations, organic and just a bit wonky, come as a nice palate cleanser in the wake of a series of issues by the slick, somewhat lifeless professionalism of Phil Jimenez's George Perez imitation.

The ending is nothing short of hilarious, and honestly if Marvel could find a way to alternate Quitely and Bachalo as artists, New X-Men could very quickly become one of my favourite monthly superhero reads. Considering how few of those there really are, that's no mean feat. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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