Posts tagged with "marvel comics" - Faerye Net 2003-06-19T14:05:19+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Essential X-Men Volume 2 2003-06-19T14:05:19+00:00 2008-08-01T19:39:01+00:00 <p><img src="img/articles/ess_x-men2.jpeg" alt="Book cover" title="Essential X-Men Volume 2" class="imageRight" /><br /> <p>This Marvel <span class="caps">TPB</span> (Trade Paperback) is from before, in the immortal words of Wayne, &#8220;we got the money.&#8221; One of the first Marvel actions upon the box office success (is success a big enough word? Once more with reverb: suuuuukseeeeeess!) of <em>Spider-Man</em> was to hire about a dozen people to start their Trade Paperback department. Since then, while they haven&#8217;t stopped printing these &#8220;Essential&#8221; suckers, they haven&#8217;t been forthcoming with the next installment. You see, the &#8220;Essential&#8221; books are cheap. Very cheap. Reprinted old comics on newsprint in black &amp; white cheap. But I like them. They are sweet, sweet continuity.</p> <p>This particular gem is a big newsprint collation of <em>Uncanny X-men</em> issues #120-144. Those issues were written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Byrne. For those of you curious, this volume not only follows <em>Essential X-Men Volume 1</em>, but <em>Essential Uncanny X-Men Volume 1</em>. The latter volume comprises the first issues of the title, penned by Stan Lee himself. Now, I haven&#8217;t read those, but I can tell you this; they feature Cyclops, Marvel Girl (=Jean Grey), Iceman, Beast, and Angel; the heroes are younger and less experienced, though better at teamwork; and they all wear the same uniform. Very much the &#8220;Xavier&#8217;s Academy&#8221; focus. Those X-Men, along with part-time X-Men Havoc (Cyclops&#8217;s kid brother) and Polaris (Havoc&#8217;s green-haired squeeze), were mysteriously captured at some point. Cyclops managed to get free, and Professor X assembled the new X-Men at the beginning of <em>Essential X-Men #1</em>. These are an older, edgier, and wincingly multicultural group. They comprised Nightcrawler (German), Colossus (<span class="caps">SOVIET</span> Russian ooooooh!), Storm (Harlem + Egypt=whatever), Wolverine (history missing, presumed Canadian), Banshee (Irish), Sunfire (Japanese), and most wincingly of all, Thunderbird (Apache). Oh, and Cyclops (I&#8217;m not whitebread, I&#8217;m red! Well, everything&#8217;s red. My bad.)<br /> <br /> <p>Through stodginess (Sunfire), death (Thunderbird) and additions, we come up with the X-Men featured in this volume: Cyclops, Phoenix (=Jean Grey), Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and either Banshee or Sprite, depending on the period. Banshee has these tragic power-negating attacks of laryngitis, ya see&#8230;well, it happens a lot to him. Eventually he gives over heroing as much inferior to settling down with his girlfriend. As for Sprite (Kitty Pryde, later &quot;Shadowcat&quot;), she&#8217;s a teenager added partway through. She has one of <span class="caps">THE</span> most cool powers ever to grace a comic book (phasing through solids, walking on gases/liquids), and, while the outdated writing is most winceworthy in her case, being a teen (Golly gee! Neat!), she&#8217;s still a very cool character.<p><br /> <br /> Anyway, enough with that, on to the opinions! This volume contains some of the all-time classic X-Men storylines, including the Dark Phoenix saga, and my personal favorite, &#8220;Days of Future Past&#8221;. Both of these stories are epic and moving (at least to me). You shouldn&#8217;t have much trouble figuring out where you stand, because at the time extensive recaps and internal monologue explaining everybody&#8217;s powers was par for the course.<br /> <br /> <p>I don&#8217;t want to make it sound like I&#8217;m trashing the writing, here. Some people probably have trouble with this style &#8211; very word-heavy, paragraph-heavy even, and not very conversational at times. (&#8220;Malefic destiny&#8221;? Dude, Scott, it was cheesy when the narrator said it, so you had to pick it out of the ether?) I admit if you have a headache it&#8217;s not the comic book to head for. But the plot is engaging, the action is quick, and the intense verbiage can be thought of as opera arias &#8211; certainly not realistic, but an important part of the art form.<br /> <br /> <p>The characters are well-defined but not shallow &#8211; each of them has problems and quirks that play into non-fight interaction, as well as the personality and style that is obvious in fights. Storm is claustrophobic, still grieving for her parents, and really alien to mainstream American culture; as well as being &#8220;dignified and moral.&#8221; Colossus misses his family and farming, thinks it would be wrong to act on his and Kitty&#8217;s mutual attraction (she&#8217;s 14 or so, he&#8217;s 17), and questions why he&#8217;s a hero and whether it&#8217;s disloyal to the <span class="caps">USSR</span> to be an X-Man; as well as being &#8220;stalwart and kind.&#8221; You get to know these characters <em>very</em> quickly &#8211; there&#8217;s not much subtlety at play &#8211; but you can&#8217;t help but care about them.<br /> <br /> <p>The art is really great. Of course it&#8217;s dated, and some people&#8217;s costumes (especially the bit players &#8211; Havoc and Polaris need a re-draw STAT) are just a bit weird, but Byrne draws action-packed fights that are easy to understand; clear, realistic emotions; and well-proportioned human figures (leaving aside the comic-book pretty-people issue &#8211; I mean that their eyes, heads, legs, always look comfortable and graceful, and in the right place. Don&#8217;t scoff, I&#8217;ve seen some really gifted comic book artists put eyes too high or forearms too short.) My only real beef is that a lot of the white girls look the same. Jean Grey is &#8220;pretty white girl with medium-length curly red hair.&#8221; Amanda Sefton is &#8220;pretty white girl with medium-length wavy blonde hair&#8221; et cetera. That, frankly, is <em>still</em> common (<em>Ultimate Spider-Man</em>, I&#8217;m looking at you!), and at least these are quite pretty.<br /> <br /> <p>In short? If you hate four-color superheroes&#8230;why are you reading this? If you can take a bit of camp and still care about the characters, this is a great thing to pick up. It has great characters, twisted plots, pretty pictures, the occasional funny, and, I&#8217;ll admit it, the first time I read it I cried at least twice. (<em>&#8220;Once upon a time, there was a woman named Jean Grey, a man named Scott Summers. They were young. They were in love. They were heroes.&#8221;</em> I get misty just typing that.) Time travel, gods, alien empires, love, betrayal, racism, pinball, roller skates, disco, and sweet sweet continuity. Can&#8217;t beat that for $14.95.