Open Mike Night: X-Men (vol. 4) #1 and Shadowman (vol. 2) #0

X-Men (vol. 4) #1

Written by: Brian Wood
Penciled by: Olivier Coipel
Inked by: Mark Morales and Olivier Coipel
Colored by: Laura Martin
Lettered by: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $3.99

Maillaro: This is one of those books that I suggested we review because I had some agendas I wanted to talk about that don’t necessarily tie directly into the actual content of this issue…

1) I do like the fact that there is an X-title that is devoted to female mutant characters. For a long time, X-Men has really been a showcase for great female characters, like Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, etc, etc. That said, it kind of annoys me that they called this book X-MEN. Like Fearless Defenders, Marvel seems determined to hide the fact that these books feature a lot of female characters. Now, we could say these are just gimmicky titles, since there doesn’t even seem to be a reason that this book only has female characters, but it is a gimmick I definitely like seeing.

2) Marvel now have 5 books called X-Men. Wolverine and the X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy, All New X-Men, and X-Men. That is just ridiculous. The X-line has been excessively large since I started reading comics back in the early 90’s, but it’s just getting worse and worse. On top of five books called X-Men, right now there are two titles called X-Force, Wolverine has two solo books (not to mention all the team books he shows up in), and three titles with Uncanny in it. This just makes me want to ignore all of them, which is unfortunate since All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men are very good books.

3) I haven’t read much by Brian Wood, just Star Wars and Ultimate Comics X-Men, but I was very excited to see him on an X-Men comic. He really seems to have a lot of great ideas, and I thought he would be a great fit for this title. And I always love Olivier Coipel’s art. LEGION LOST IN THE HOUSE!

Weaver: I’m going to go point by point through your agenda, and mention up top that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this comic.

1) (Insert obligatory Peter David “low self-esteem Polaris” comment here). Seriously, though, I’m not sure I’m as up on a book just featuring the ladies. In some ways, this comic felt more forced that way than Fearless Defenders did, and I think a lot of it is because such a large portion of the X-Women tend to have a certain amount of power overlap, most of it in the support power category. I was afraid this would denigrate to “I’m reading his mind” “And me too!” It didn’t, really, but it has that danger. I think Fearless Defenders benefits from having a bit deeper pool to pull from, and I think this can work, but I still sort of fear for it. There is Rogue and Storm to hit the physical threats, though, so it might not be as bad as I’m thinking, but I have a feeling most plots are going to feature one or more members just kind of shrugging and staring at the action. I agree with the titles to a degree…in another way, it might be overly pandering to call it X-Ladies or something. There are concerns from the feminist crowd that specifically labeling things as feminine tends to Barbie-ize them a bit more, either consciously or subconsciously. I don’t fully disagree.

2) Good god, there’s a lot of X. However, I prefer it to the style they had a little while ago where every X-Men was given a shot at a solo comic…didn’t Captain Marvel get canceled for a Jubilee solo title? I kid, I kid. I think it’s oversaturation, but if all the titles are selling, then I guess it’s oversaturation that works.

3) Brian Woods is a new one to me, I think, but he seems like a good fit for X-Men so far. The first issue really highlights some of the characters in a way that shows he understands them very well, especially impressive with Jubilee, who tends to have a new backstory and attitude with each new writer. This is as definitive Jubilee as I can imagine. Olivier Coipel is an artist I really like too, especially when he was on Avengers. He definitely knows how to make characters look unique, and that’s fantastic here.

Maillaro: I definitely agreed that the existence of this book doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in character. There was nothing about this threat that really said “only female mutants should be involved.” It was definitely a huge contrivance to only have female characters at the mansion to deal with, and I think that could get tiresome quickly. At least Fearless Defenders came up with a storyline reason to have a team of female heroes.

I was actually pretty torn about this comic too. I did think that there was some great characterization here, but I have never really been a fan of Sublime in the comics…which is odd since he inspired so many ideas for me for the X-Men RPG we run. Giving him a sister who can control machines just seemed like a real odd stretch. Sure, it should be able to set up some cool stories, but I am just not sure those are “X-Men” stories that I want to read about.

The train crash sequence was pretty cool (though gratuitous as hell), and I am always in favor of comics showing evil babies…because all babies really are evil and they need to be outed as such. If nothing else, Wood did write it all in a way that was convincing at least.

Weaver: I also want to note that this team of women is organized largely around a plot involving babies. Way to get them out of the kitchen, Marvel. I’m kidding here, but I really think that people might draw some poor conclusions from that.

The train wreck was my favorite part. Kitty and Rogue got to show off a bit, Storm got to be the tactical leader, it establishes the characters and how they handle threats. And comics need a fight sequence against something low tier to establish those things. I’d hesitate to call it gratuitous since they did find a way to insert it into plot, so it wasn’t “And now Spider-Man fights muggers!”

I’m not a big fan of Sublime either, and this also seemed to borrow heavily from a number of other X-Men plots I’ve already read, which was another minus. It seems a lot like Cassie Nova with a dose of “bad guy comes to warn the good guys of another bad guy” which is so played out that it’s getting seriously old to me now. Cliches are cliche for a reason, but I think this cliche has done way too much X-lifting lately.

Maillaro: Yeah, I was thinking Cassandra Nova too…and that is never a good thing.

Another thing I think might of helped this book would have been to build the tension of the story a little longer. Revealing the baby as evil pretty much right on the first page of the book seemed to be a bad choice to me. There wasn’t a lot of fear about “who’s following Jubilee” since we already knew the baby was the real bad guy here.

One thing I did find very amusing was the last page, since Omega Sentinel has been getting such a big role in Avengers Alliance lately.

Weaver: Well, I mean, it’s a baby. Of course it’s the bad guy. The sweeter and more innocent something appears, the more evil lies within its blackened soul.

Yeah, Omega Sentinel amused me for the same reasons. Oh well, looks like we get to see her in action.

Alright, I’m going to score out the writing at a 2.5. There’s some really good stuff in the character establishment side, but the overall plot and premise, I’m really nervous about if it is a story worth telling.

Maillaro: I am going to score it a little higher, I definitely think it did more right that wrong. 3.5/5 Honestly, it’s not a book I would be willing to pay 4 bucks for every month, but it does seem to be trying to carve our it’s own little niche, so deserves some credit for that.

Artwise, it’s typically Coipel. The characters have a ton of personality and individuality. I think the art helped make up for any potential deficiencies the story might have. It won’t stand up as one of the great artistic works of the industry, but it’s rock solid. 4.5/5.

Weaver: I’m going to give Coipel a 4/5. I generally agree, but sometimes the background characters got really lazily detailed. One thing I really liked is that Jubilee has more pronounced Asian features than typical for her. I like that artists are starting to make ethnic characters something other than white characters with a darker skin tone. Which, granted, was in itself a sort of necessary overcorrection from the early era of…well, let’s charitably say over-exaggerating things. I’m just glad that now, we can have characters that look like a realistic specimen of the ethnicity they’re supposed to be.

Maillaro: I think we might have talked about this in the past, but when I first saw Jubilee in the cartoon and comics, I had no idea she was supposed to be Chinese. When I went back and saw some of her earlier appearances, she looked far more Asian than she had for a long time in comics. It definitely is nice to see the art heading back in that direction.

Shadowman (vol. 2) #0

Written by: Justin Jordan
Art by: Roberto De La Torre, Mico Suayan, Lewis LaRosa, and Neil Edwards
Colored by: David Baron
Lettered by: Rob Steen
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

Maillaro: So, I picked Shadowman 0 because I remembered you saying you really liked the earlier series, so you want to start us off on that one?

Weaver: You betcha! So, it seems like one of my tropes here is to say things about how I normally don’t like space stories or steampunk or kittens or something…Shadowman is essentially a title that hits right into my wheelhouse, perhaps moreso even than Midnight Nation. We have here a story about dark magic, voodoo, creepy old houses, everything. And set in Louisiana, the most natural possible setting for it.

One thing this title has always done is set a good ambiance for the story. It reminds me of the best examples of the 70’s horror comics, coupled with more of an ongoing narrative than most of those attained. I assume that this standalone story is background for the next arc of Shadowman, which I’m definitely going to be picking up.

The whole thing is set in the 19th century, and the art team mutes the palette quite a bit to convey that to you. This causes the brilliant colors of certain magical effects/areas later to pop even more. A really fine effort from the art team here, too.

If there was one thing I didn’t like about it, it’s that it took a few pages for me to understand that we were reading this from the girl’s perspective. That might have just been me, though.

Maillaro: I am kind of surprised, I mean the first panel of the book is “My brother and I were born in Louisiana in 1812.”

I immediately knew it was going to be Sandria’s story…which was cool because I always like the character in the old Valiant comics. I do have to admit I was a little disappointed though, since the cover suggested it would be a story of an old Shadowman, not Darque’s origin story. Thankfully, the quality of this book made up for that disappointment quite a bit.

I will go back to talk about the story some later, but one thing that really sold this book for me was the terrific color choices and shadowing. This comic had a very haunting feeling to it, from Sandria and Nick’s pale skin to the dark shadows that seemed to hang over every inch of the plantation they grew up on. There was no mistaking this for a happy comic…

Weaver: You have to remember, you read all the Valiant comics in the last year or so, I haven’t touched them since they were new. I also hoped we’d see a ye olde Shadowman, but this comic was quality cover to cover regardless. And I agree, the colors really gave this comic all the ambiance it needed. I also like the withering flowers and such during Nicky’s power grab, and other thematic elements.

You know, it’s pretty amazing how often we talk about the colors, I think it’s a topic we go into almost weekly. It’s one of those things that when it’s done right, it really hits you, and we’ve been blessed to see a lot of great colors (and a few really poor ones).

Maillaro: You have a fair point about me reading Valiant recently…though I still think that first line was about as clear as it can get. But you are slow some times…

Yeah, I care much more about the coloring and tone of a book than even the art at times. That is why I always try to make sure to credit the letterer and colorist for any comic we review, they are unsung heroes in this industry and can often take a good book and give it that little push it needs to greatness. Everyone can name their favorite artist and writer, but names like Dave Baron, Chris Eliopoulos, Dave Stewart, and Richard Starkings are just as important to the industry to me. Damn, there I go with the name dropping again…

Back to the writing, while I was reading this book, a part of me did kind of feel like “this is a story I’ve read before,” about power and what an evil man would do to possess it, and how that power can corrupt even innocentish children. But I enjoyed this book so much that in the end it didn’t matter how familiar it felt, this was still a very good comic.

Oddly enough, Shadowman has been my least favorite of the Valiant relaunches so far (still a good comic, but the others have just felt more fully realized), but this issue gives me a lot of faith that Shadowman is starting to find it’s footing.

Weaver: Part of the beauty of the story is how it takes a number of simple premises and pulls it all together to make the sum larger than the parts. This, to me, is a great example of a horror comic done right. Heavy on the theme, simple on the plot, with still a bit of a twist to hang it all on at the end. Which wasn’t really a twist for either of us, but to someone who’s never read stories featuring these characters, it should come as a bit of a surprise.

I know that we’ve talked before about how horror is very much about what you don’t show versus what you do show, and I think another way this comic was effective at that was to do cuts at various times. It does show us Mr. Hossenfeffer. It does show us Nicky. But it shows us clues to that before we see them…the blood, the withering plants, all the thematic elements. It built up those reveals so well.

Maillaro: By the way, I think Mr. Hossenfeffer is the best name I have ever heard for a rabbit. Maybe I just have a twisted sense of humor that way.

OH! One last thing I wanted to comment about this book. At the end of the comic in the letter page, a line from my review of Harbinger Wars 1 is quoted as promotional material. I love when that happens! I used to get cover quotes on Crossgen comics all the time.

But enough about me, I would give the writing a 4/5 here and the art a 5/5. Sort of an unfair world where I give the writing on this book a 4 when I gave X-Men 1 3.5 and it was no where near this good. One day, I really need to try and normalize my scores a little…but that day isn’t today.

Weaver: A line from our site is quoted on the cover, as well. Glad to see Valiant reads our site.

I’m going to give it straight 5’s. This comic did everything it could be asked to, and did it well. I think it’s really the best example of a horror comic you’ll find that doesn’t have Teddy Kristiansen art. And I’m going to shed a sad tear for Mr. Hossenfeffer.

Next week, a double dose of Busiek for us as I read up on Avengers Forever again, and get introduced to Astro City. Meanwhile, I’m considering doing solo reviews of sections of the run of Thunderbolts, or maybe dual reviews with a more mature partner.

Maillaro: It’s really not hard to find someone more mature than me…but we did get a request to review some Niceiza Thunderbolts, so I am actually looking forward to reading that review, it’s been a while since I read those issues!

Final Scores

Maillaro – Story Weaver – Story Maillaro – Art Weaver – Art
X-Men (vol. 4) #1 3.5 2.5 4.5 4
Shadowman (vol. 2) 0 4 5 5 5

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