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From A Library: Ed Brubaker’s X-Men

I like the work of Ed Brubaker. I enjoyed reading the X-Men books growing up. Brubaker has written some X-Men stories. Therefore, I decided to read them. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Let’s have a look (with thanks to the library for providing all the TPBs).

Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire
(Issues #475–486) Art by Billy Tan, Clayton Henry

This is a huge book and a huge story – a year of comics – devoted entirely to the single aim of setting up Vulcan, the third Summers brother introduced by Brubaker in Deadly Genesis (my review), as the new emperor of the Shi’ar Empire. And that’s about it. The art is split between the two artists: Tan does the X-Men character stuff (nine issues), Henry does the Vulcan issues. Both do good work – Tan has a nice grasp on the X-Men, with the possible exception of Xavier (he can’t seem to get him right), and is very much in the Image style, harking back to Silvestri, which is appropriate for the X-Men; Henry is quite different, like a muscular Kevin Nowlan, but equally talented.

It’s an odd group of X-Men: Nightcrawler, Warpath, Darwin, Havok, Polaris, Rachel Grey and Xavier. I may be familiar with the mutant universe, having read a lot as a teenager, with a recent dip back into the waters for Grant Morrison’s run, but it’s still an unusual selection. Because the story is essentially a space story, we meet the Starjammers along the way (it’s obligatory for them to show up in an X-Men space story), and Vulcan fights the Imperial Guard, to add extra nostalgia. Lilandra, Deathbird and D’Ken are also present and correct, so we get all the Chris Claremont X-Men space cast.

The story feels odd – I don’t know if I’m too used to Brubaker doing crime/espionage/noirish stuff, but the space opera stuff doesn’t have the same ring to it. The story seems to be an elaborate building up of the Vulcan character, a bit of retroactive continuity that doesn’t have the same weight or organic quality as Brubaker’s excellent reintroduction of Bucky in the Captain America book. The story ends up with a particularly strange collection of X-Men (Havok, Polaris and Rachel Grey) staying in space with Lilandra and a couple of Starjammers, which seems a weird splitting of the team. Perhaps I’m not the intended audience, but the trade paperback contains, among other things, an interview with Brubaker where he effectively defends his choices of characters, suggesting that I’m not the only person who made this observation.

Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists
(Issues #487–491) Art by Salvador Larroca

I remember the Morlocks from the first time round, so it’s nice to see Brubaker bring them back. However, the story, which involves Masque and a group of Morlocks organising a terrorist attack on the subway (deforming faces of norms due to M-Day), is all predicated on prophecies of The Book, written by a character called Qwerty, who saw all futures and their consequences. I really don’t enjoy stores based on fate or prophecy or destiny; they tend to annoy me, especially when they are really detailed predictions (such as the fight scene with the Morlock group and Warpath/Hepzibah, in which the Morlocks know exactly what is going to happen). It seems lazy but excessive at the same time – does that make sense?

Larroca uses an interesting art style (is Photoshop involved?), so there is a strange lifelessness to some of the characters, and the lack of detail (Ben Grimm wears a checked shirt with no crease or wrinkles that would appear normally – it looks odd) and the different facial appearances for the same characters are off-putting. He is at least an equal opportunity fetishist: he loves to draw Storm’s bottom in her costume, but he also draws men’s bums with the same detail, so fair play to him.

The book is all right but not particularly great. It’s well constructed, except for shoehorning Storm into the narrative – she’s not part of the book now she’s married to Black Panther, but she’s needed for historical reasons of being a leader of the Morlocks. I just didn’t feel any connection with it on an emotional level, even the burgeoning relationship between Warpath and Hepzibah.

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand
(Issues #495–499) Art by Mike Choi

Now this is old-school X-Men – two stories occurring simultaneously: Scott and Emma having fun in Savage Land before coming to San Francisco to help Warren; meanwhile, Logan, Kurt and Peter go to Russia to visit the graves of Peter’s parents, where they get into a fight in a bar (of course) and then kidnapped by the Russians responsible for the country’s mutant agents. Brubaker balances these plots really well, and he has a good handle on the characters: Scott is interesting, Emma is in love (in a good way); and the old-school trio of Logan, Kurt and Peter (hitting my nostalgia zone) are great together, funny and connected and experienced, and I loved the way he had them handle themselves in a fight. The dialogue feels right, the story progresses logically and inevitably in a satisfying manner. This was the first story where Brubaker’s X-Men connected for me.

On the art side, Choi has a simple and clean line to his artwork, with a strong storytelling approach. His characters feel like people despite the Photoshop ambiance. It’s important to get the X-Men right, and he does a good job; I love the hippy X-Men, particularly Scott and Emma, and he also handles the other trio in action.

The move to San Francisco (harking back to an old story) makes sense, so I’ve got no problem with it. The only problem I had was the lack of fact-checking: someone should have told Brubaker that Scott knows all about Celestials – see the Louise Simonson X-Factor stories.

Having read two years’ worth of his X-Men stories, I’m not sure Brubaker will be remembered for his run on them – he’s a talented writer but I don’t think his sensibilities suited the nature of the book. The closest he came was in the Divided We Stand collection; I’m all for creators trying new things and not be pigeon-holed, but this is not to the calibre of Criminal, Sleeper, Incognito or Captain America.

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