Open Mike Night: Uncanny X-Men #303 & Captain Marvel (2012) #11

Maillaro: I was surprised to see Marvel add two of my all time favorite comics to Comixology this week. One was X-Factor 87, which has the unique position of being responsible in many ways for this column. Many, many years ago, some jerk on GameFAQ’s who posts by the name of Havok3595 dared to make a disparaging remark about how badly Peter David treated women in his comics. This doofus used the Polaris costume that she gets in X-Factor 87 as an example…which pissed me off to no end. This was not a woman who was being sexualized, this was a woman expressing her individuality and strength. But, this conversation eventually evolved into respect and somehow this mouth breather has become my best friend. Go figure.

Weaver: Expressing her individuality and strength in terms of going with an extreme style makeover in order to desperately convince her boyfriend that she was attractive. Sounds pretty individual. I remember reading comics with Polaris where she actually was an individual and strong woman, “I’m nobody’s girl, Drake, except my own!” I can’t understand how someone would be stuck in the 1800’s enough to think that a woman who is completely remaking herself to appeal to someone else could be considered individual, unless you’re congratulating her for stepping out of the kitchen and putting some shoes on.

In honesty, X-Factor 87 is the only comic I’ve ever taken to be signed. My main thrust in that argument, and several other ones, is that there’s certain comics and certain writers and certain artists who get congratulated for their work with particular subject matter, and Peter David often gets congratulated for making strong female characters. I don’t wholly agree. He often chases the cheap joke, which with at least some frequency undermines the strength the characters have. At the time of that discussion, I was pretty bitter with David over incidents involving the signing, and you know what, I’m a big enough man to admit that’s pretty cheap of me. I actually wrote him an apology letter for talking junk beyond what was reasonable, and he apologized to me in turn for incidents surrounding that. However, oddly enough, having unreasonable beef with Peter David was a good thing in the end, since it brought other Mike and I to each other’s attention. And at least I didn’t do something truly embarrassing or damaging like make up a story that doesn’t even begin to pass the smell test but is repeated around the internet anyway (like the infamous completely imaginary tale that maligned Chris Claremont).

Maillaro: And yet I never got a letter of apology. Nice friend.

Uncanny X-Men #303

Written by: Scott Lobdell
Penciled by: Richard Bennett
Inked by: Dan Green
Colored by: Joe Rosas
Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $1.25 ($1.99 on Comixology)

Maillaro: The other comic added to Comixology this week that is on my top ten favorite comics of all time is the one we are reviewing Uncanny X-Men #303. When Uncanny X-Men #303 came out (August 1993), I was still only flirting with being an X-Men fan. I loved X-Force and X-Factor, but when it came to Uncanny and Adjectiveless X-Men I would typically just pick up an issue every few months to see what I was missing. This issue would change that, and both books were added to my pull lists for a very long time after.

When I read this comic, I knew the main characters, but not all that well. Jubilee I knew (and didn’t really like) from the cartoon and various X-Men comics I had read (before this issue, the only scene I loved with Jubilee was her yelling at X-Force while they were in prison during X-Cutioner’s Song). Shadowcat I only knew from Marvel cards and Pryde of the X-Men. I wasn’t really doing much with back issues at this point (as a broke 14 year old), so hadn’t really begun my love affair with New Mutants, so I had never even really seen Magik/Illyana before I read this comic.

I have to admit, I was suckered in by that cover “If you only read one X-Men comic this month, it should be this one.” I figured, what the hell, and tossed my $1.25 on the counter…and damn, did this comic rip me apart. I have read this comic easily a dozen times since, and I still get emotional every single time.

Weaver: Hey, it’s opposite day again, because I’m coming at this from the other angle. I had been regularly purchasing X-Men since Inferno at this point, and had read almost every issue from Giant Size #1 to here. I actually was growing sick of Uncanny because I didn’t like the way the teams were shuffled to make two X-titles, feeling adjectiveless had the far better group. I’d read almost everything with Kitty in it, plus the Magik limited series, and definitely every appearance of Jubilee. Although…and I may be a bad X-fan for saying this…I didn’t have a strong attachment to any of them. Kitty had always vaguely annoyed me as the Wesley Crusher of the series, Magik peaked early with the excellent Magik LS and kind of drifted into unfulfilled potential until they just called a mulligan on it and put her back to “young girl”, and Jubilee…well, I think it’s pretty acceptable to hate Jubilee. It’s almost the default stance.

So I saw this cover in the window of my local comic shop…man, I miss that shop, it was kind of neat, they had a long narrow window display on one of the main streets of East Lansing and each week put one of each new comic in it as a display…anyway…so I saw this cover as I was walking around town and I rolled my eyes. I thought, “Maybe this is the month to drop Uncanny, that’s just silly pandering.” I ended up buying it, though, and then had much the same reaction. I kept buying Uncanny for another year and a half.

You know what’s funny? I walked past that shop all the time. I looked in that window all the time. I know that there are dozens of times that seeing something there impacted a buying decision. This is the only one of those times I remember.

Maillaro: Just to explain what this comic is, Pietr Rasputin’s sister Illyana was infected with the Legacy virus. Up to this point, the virus had mostly been attacked the X-Gene, but in Illyana’s case, the virus was far worse, and killing her. This issue is told completely from Jubilee’s point of view, telling the story to Jean Grey later on. The jaded, streetwise teenager ends up really coming to care for Illyana in the last days of her life. The two of them can’t even understand each other without Kitty translating, but they quickly build a strong bond.

While this is all going on, the X-Men (including Illyana’s brother Colossus) are dealing with the aftermath of some battle in Dallas. Professor Xavier and Moira MacTaggert are racing to find a cure, but coming up empty. There is some discussion about using a Shi’ar device to put Illyana into a stasis coma to give them more time, as things are getting worse and worse. The comic ends just as the X-Men finally get home, and Colossus finds out that he was too late to even say goodbye to his sister…

One thing I had never noticed when I read it was that in a lot of ways, the ending of this comic could have been read as ambiguous. Maybe Illyana didn’t die, maybe they had just put the “coma” device on her…it really would not have changed the comic all that much. But when I read it, I knew that Illayana had died. I loved that Lobdell never spells it out. The most amazing part is that as you read the comic, you are pretty certain there is only way this comic could end…but it still is painful to read. Jubilee actually describes it brilliantly in the issue “You brace yourself for a punch in the stomach, only to get kicked in the teeth.” Hell, I have read it many times over the last twenty years, and STILL feel that way every single time.

Weaver: I want to put an additional history note on here. Before even going to Dallas, Colossus had told Xavier that he didn’t want to go since Ilyana was in such bad shape. Xavier seriously pushed him into going anyway, which has a pretty deep impact on the reactions of both Xavier (who is grasping at some serious straws to keep Ilyana alive) and Colossus (who…man, that’s rough).

This issue actually started out with some lightheartedness here and there, like Jubilee “speaking German” with the Bamf doll. And that to me is the part that rips me heart out, when Jubilee picks up the doll and puts it back in the certainly dead Ilyana’s hands. I personally don’t think the end is ambiguous at all, but that’s just me. This issue developed Jubilee better than anything that came before, showing that while she does build an emotional wall around herself, it is capable of letting people in. She immediately resists Kitty showing up, but warms to her. Initially she’s kind of annoyed that she’s babysitting, then she grows to care about Ilyana. It was great. I’d put it in my ten best too.

Maillaro: Lobdell seemed to think Jubilee had far more potential than most writers gave her credit for.  He would write her really well in Generation X, and after X-Cutioner’s Song Jubilee has a great moment when she is watching Xavier walk (briefly).  Issue 297, really powerful moment that I had forgotten about until we say down to do these reviews.

Lobdell gets a lot of flack, but I really think he did a great job grounding X-Men again and making the characters take center stage. Towards the end of Claremont’s run, things were getting a little chaotic. First X-Men comic I’ve ever read, Storm had been turned to a child, a new random group of mutants were calling themselves the Muir Island X-Men and fighting Reavers which led to Destiny being killed by Legion.

Issues like this and Uncanny 308 (when Jean proposes to Scott) just stand out to be as some of the best comics I have ever read. There is not a lot of action, but you still feel like you are getting a lot out of reading these comics. They manage to reach into some difficult and complex emotions, and connect with the readers in a way that few comics before or after ever have. Easily a 5/5 for the writing for me.

Weaver: I remember talking to Fabian Nicieza once about how rough it is to replace, say, John Byrne on Fantastic Four. Lobdell had to pick up for one of the all time greats with X-Men here, and you know what, I agree. Claremont towards the end was very clearly wrestling with how to continue to make the book new and fresh for him but also keep old readers and appeal to new ones and follow editorial mandates. I really don’t think his heart was in it anymore, so he just kept tossing in new elements hoping one would stick. Some, like Gambit, did. Some, like Super Sabre and Stonewall, didn’t. I honestly think that he should have moved on after Inferno, if not earlier. And remember, I’m a HUGE fan of Claremont X-Men.

I’m also giving Lobdell a 5 here. It’s really tough writing a superhero comic with this much humanity. Claremont’s Uncanny 138 is in the same league, but (heresy!) I think this one is better. Other superhero comics that reached this level of humanity include Henry Pym’s trial in Avengers (an issue which I was disappointed to see comixology doesn’t have yet…maybe when the Ant Man movie gets closer to production) and some random issue of X-Men around this same era where they’re playing football on Thanksgiving. As for the art, I had to look at the credits five times to make sure it wasn’t really Jim Lee. I’m very tempted to give it a 5 there too. Lots of nice little details. Especially the very subtle change in Ilyana’s expression after Jubilation gives her the doll.

Maillaro: The Thanksgiving football issue is 308! The team ends up tackling Xavier. I might be misremembering this, but later Xavier is giving a phenomenal speech about what it means to be an X-Men, and I think he still has a bandage on his nose. I always found that such a perfect moment showing both sides of the X-Men.

I actually had no idea who Richard Bennett is, and he doesn’t seem to have done many comics. Wiki says he freelanced on some X-Men books and Wildstorm. And that is a shame, because if this issue is any indication of how good an artist he is, he should be a much better known name. I don’t think I would quite go 5/5, but a 4.5/5 is definitely well deserved.

Weaver: That’s a shame on Bennett. His stuff was great here. I wonder why he didn’t get bigger. Because a great story is great, but great art just puts it over the top.

Captain Marvel #11

Written by: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Christopher Sebela
Art by: Filipe Andrade
Colored by: Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $2.99

Weaver: Now, speaking of art…let’s talk about Captain Marvel.

Good lord, this is the laziest art I’ve ever seen. It’s very rare that they actually put an entire face on characters.

Maillaro: Yeah, as much as I like the writing of Captain Marvel, the art for this series has been pretty weak. I don’t mind stylized art, but I do tend to agree with you, the execution comes of as lazy, not stylish. Lack of any real definition for most of the art, especially when it comes to the faces. And I think that has a real detriment to the impact of this book.

Carol’s “cancer” should be a real powerful moment, but without the characters being able to show any real complex emotion, it definitely takes away from making the reader feel anything. Look at Uncanny 303 or recent events in Daredevil for good examples of how the right art can really make sure the comic gets a full impact on the reader.

Weaver: The writing is great, but it’s emoting into the wind without the art to come along with it. And you know what, I’m going to say it. I hate when a series that has decidedly subpar interior art has really nice covers. It’s like the Austin Powers “That’s a man, baby!” moments.

Maillaro: Yeah, that is becoming more and more of a trend, with the cover artist NOT BEING WHO DREW THE COMIC.

All that aside, I still am a fan of this book. I think it’s great to see Carol in a starring role, and to actually seeing characters who look up to her. I laughed when the process server said, “I’m a fan!” Too often, Carol has kind of been the punching bag of the Avengers, with so much failure heaped on her. She still has a lot of angst, but it seems to be from circumstances beyond her control for a change and not “I’m a drunk” or “I got knocked up by a future version of my own kid.”

Weaver: I really liked her title that ran through Civil War and such, I’m really happy to see her carrying a book. And I really love her being Captain Marvel now.

Definitely Carol is one of the women I feel the worst for in comics…that whole pregnancy thing was just creepy, especially the Avengers just kind of nodding and smiling about it. But back to this issue! Purple Man, Deathbird (sorta), Carol…I’m definitely about this. I liked the “Oh, it’s on now” moment too, with the villains getting close to people she protected and cared about. It was a very good issue. I also liked the creative solutions for not flying she had.

Greatly written comic. Horribly drawn comic.

Maillaro: Yeah, I will definitely stand by that. I usually care more about writing than art, so that keeps me buying this book.

One thing I have really enjoyed about this book (and this goes for Daredevil and Hawkeye too) is the book has a strong supporting cast. I used to love during Claremont’s X-Men that there were always a lot of “normal people” around. Superheroes aren’t superheroes twenty-four/seven, and by creating a solid supporting cast, Kelly Sue DeConnick is able to show us a lot more about who Carol Danvers is, and why we should care. From seeing her neighbor’s daughter looking up to her to seeing her friends trying to make Captain America’s flying motorcycle into something Carol will actually use to her aging pilot friend who is always suffering from a medical condition, we are able to really get to see everything there is to see about who Captain Marvel is.

Weaver: Yeah, it’s always great to see someone grounded in reality to some degree. Spider-Man and Superman are always strongest when their supporting characters are around, and Carol’s much the same. I love that her supporting cast is capable of standing up to the big bad superhero and saying, “Do not fly!” That is something this book (and Hawkeye) does well also, everyone that shows up on panel has some level of development. Even the process server, who you mentioned earlier, clearly has likes, dislikes, and emotion.

Maillaro But, back to Captain Marvel; I would say 4/5 for the writing, 2/5 for the art.

Weaver: I agree with a 4 on the writing, but I’m dumping this art to a 1.5. I’d give a two if it actually had, you know, faces.

Maillaro: The sad part is that this has been going on for pretty much this entire series. I wonder if it is an homage to the Trickster from Doctor Who…

So…you up for one more of these bad boys, or you out for the next two weeks?

Weaver: I should definitely be able to work one more out…I was ambitiously hoping to have an additional one in the tank before I leave so we could post one, but I don’t know if that will happen now.

Maillaro: Maybe tomorrow we can do a quickie review of Star Trek 17 that I will save until the week you are gone?

Weaver: Sounds good! Make it so!

That’s Star Trek humor for you.

Final Scores

Maillaro – Story Weaver – Story Maillaro – Art Weaver – Art
Uncanny X-Men #303 5 5 4.5 5
Captain Marvel #11 4 4 2 1.5

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