Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reviews: Uncanny X-Men 501, Jonah Hex 33, Scott Pilgrim Full-Colour Odds & Ends 2008

Uncanny X-Men #501

This should be one of the best superhero books on the shelves right now, but it isn't. Writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and penciller Greg Land continue to put out fairly average work on Uncanny, which is a shame considering the caliber of writers and the rich history and potential of these characters. I'm not exactly sure why this isn't clicking -- Land's art is not terrific, so that doesn't help -- but one problem is that the stories in Uncanny since the Messiah Complex crossover simply have not had real weight. This should be the most important time in these characters' lives, what with the near extinction of their race and the sole newborn mutant recently arriving, but everyone is just kinda hanging around. Angel complains about being a wealthy businessman, Nightcrawler plays teleportation tricks on Wolverine, and Emma Frost talks about using their private jet to go shopping. Don't the X-Men have better things to do with their time?

One other note: as many people know, the X-Men recently left their long-time digs at the Xavier Mansion in Westchester County, New York, for San Francisco. Initially, I couldn't understand why this could matter -- who cares where the X-Men live, after all? Why should this be the most important thing to happen in issue 500? But there is a point, and you see some of the results in this issue: the move from suburban/rural Westchester to urban San Francisco provides the writers with a much better launching point for new stories. So many more opportunities for adventure are created by moving the setting to a city: we've already seen the X-Men go to an art gallery opening gala (leading to a confrontation with Magneto) and, in this issue, an X-Man gets attacked after a night out clubbing. And there are more chances for neat little throwaway moments like this:

(click to enlarge; notice the nice way that penciller Land has Angel's arm break the panel, making it feel like he's flying right out of the page)

Hey -- I love Westchester County, but I gotta admit it's kinda dull when compared to San Fran. Again, the potential for this comic to be great is there. The writers just have to step up and perform at the level that we expect from them.

Jonah Hex #33

This one came out a couple of months ago; I managed to snag it the other day from my new local shop. I didn't get it when it first appeared because I've never followed Jonah Hex and didn't know that this was a one-shot story with art by Darwyn Cooke.

It's worth tracking down, especially for people who like Cooke's art. This guy can draw -- he has a deceptive style that feels simple, due to the clean lines and slight cartoony look, but actually contains some terrific character work and some of the most dynamic storytelling around.

And colorist Dave Stewart really outdoes himself here (although he always turns in excellent work), taking advantage of a story set in the snowy Canadian forest by giving us a mostly white background and making the other colors pop.

Together, Cooke and Stewart's work is outstanding. Check out this panel:

(click to enlarge)

Notice how the art makes your eye move through the panel, first seeing the snapping trap catching this poor guy's leg, the blood spurting out, following his leg up his body to his anguished face to read the word balloon, and then to his hand grasping his son's scarf, and then to the boy's shocked face. The panel feels like it takes place over several seconds instead of being a snapshot. And the RED! That blood red shows up in several places in the book, and it's always put to good use to jolt the reader.

But I must also recommend this story for the writing, which is excellent. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti turned out a wonderful done-in-one story with good characterization and dialogue. And they really make you feel for this boy, suddenly thrown into a terrifying world. Plus, Jonah Hex is one bad ass dude. So yeah, go find this one, if you haven't already.

Scott Pilgrim Full Colour Odds & Ends 2008

This thirty-two page compilation from writer/artist Bryan Lee O'Malley is just a little less heavy than Jonah Hex #33, thankfully. It's got one long story, a two-pager, a one-pager, some pinups, and then a four page story about Kim Pine that effectively gets across what it feels like when you live with jerks.

All the stories are fun, and if you haven't read Scott Pilgrim before, this could be a relatively cheap way to check it out and see what all the hubbub is about. (But don't expect too much, and know that it doesn't advance the story of the ongoing series.)

I particularly enjoyed the one page story about sushi.

(click to enlarge)

Previously you only could find this at conventions, but publisher Oni Press recently made it available for purchase on their website here.


  1. That totally cracked me up, but actually the analysis you did of the art work on one of the X men panels and also on the snapping trap panel was right on target.

    I am incredibly embarrassed that the X men is my favorote comic conceptually. The initial idea is so uplifting for parents of children who are "different" or "outsiders". Now I don't feel great about any of it. It sounds dumb, frankly.


  2. Don't be embarrassed -- X-Men does have one of the best concepts of any comic, ever. But over the course of more than four decades, that concept won't always be executed perfectly, unfortunately. Right now the main comic isn't in a great place (although I hope it's going to get there), but some of the stuff going on in the other books about mutants is really very well done.