Monday, June 20, 2011

UNCANNY X-MEN 538


IN WHICH DEATH IS EXPLAINED AND THEN EXPERIENCED AND THEN REVERSED, A FEW TIMES, I THINK.

PART 1. S(P)ELLING IS MY BUSINESS AND BUSINESS IS BAD.

It's been a year since I posted. So why now, on the anniversary of my own demise, have I been moved to file a new report? Stirred from infinity, returned from beyond, not unlike so many X-Men we know? Well what brings me crawling back from my critical grave is this most pressing issue to all career comic book readers; why, after 48 years of unbroken numbering, is Uncanny X-Men restarting with a new number one? It's been two weeks of making jokes about DC's hysterical move of renumbering every single title in their line in a desperate attempt to be relevant and new, and suddenly the most classy of all ongoing mainstream titles jumps the fountain of youth bandwagon. There goes it's ability to even stand in the Shadow of 2000AD. Uncanny X-men, surviver of all other renumberings over the years has always been rewardingly consistent(for example Avengers ran 402 issues, then 13 issues, then 84 issues to suddenly be ridiculously reverted back to original numbering for issues #500-503 to then jump to New Avengers 1 and on and on). But with a quick handjob to the masses, a thin ploy to get the numbers back up for a pathetic issue or two before slipping to prior sales, Uncanny pulls a Phoenix. This series was a direct path to the beginning, a bridge to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, a mangled, tangled, twisted, sometimes pathetic but never ever broken bridge. Is there really any artist or writer in the world who would prefer working on an Uncanny X-Men #1 over a X-Men 94 or even the upcoming now lost Uncanny 550 or 555! Marvel claims that this upcoming "Schism" storyline is so jarring that the title could just not go on as it was, but really, is anything more jarring than what has come before? They insult their own comic. So here is my advice. Publish a nice 4-6 issue Kierron Gillen scripted mini-series and then return to the original number with no gap. That's the key right? Think of it as a Giant Sized X-Men #1 spread over a half a dozen books. No missing 94. No missing 545-549 prior to it's return with 550. We all know the original count is coming back for #600. Marvel could not pass up such a fiscal opportunity. Just remember we fans with our longboxes and clip-on Nightcrawler tails have to file this shit in an orderly fashion. So it brings me no joy to do what must be done and call for an astonishingly uncanny boycott. Friends, enemies, nerds from around the globe. I say this. Boycott the new Uncanny X-Men number one. Read a copy in the store. Buy two copies of 544! Then walk right out that comic book door! Teach these scheming money juggling comicrats who's in charge of their plummeting paper publishing program. Boycott Uncanny X-Men #1!

Sadly, I won't be able to. Because I am a collector. And because I want these comics as frustrating as they are to continue.

After the "X-Men Schism" in the regenerative period to be dubbed "X-Men Regenesis" there will be two titles launching to fill Uncanny X-Men's void. A New Uncanny X-Men scripted by current Uncanny writer Kieron Gillen with art by Carlos Pacheco and internet fan-forum favorite "tracing paper" Greg Land, and Wolverine and the X-Men by Scalped writer Jason Aaron with art by "cartoony" Chris Bachelo. Here's the cover to the "Wolverine and the X-Men" first issue,


I put the question recently to Jason Aaron via my pal AW Dude's twitter , read from the bottom...


He really put me in my place. These guys responded too...


Mahatmazombie is trying to get all Infinite Crisis with Mr. Aaron by crossovering universes. PS. Scalped is getting rebooted starting with a new issue -4, counting backwards for 2 and a half men issues, then returning with a number 11, skipping even numbers from there culminating in a guest appearance by Obama and Charlie Sheen. And you know what, I will continue to buy it cause Scalped is one of the best books out there. Here's the cover of issue 46 by series cover artist Jock.




Scalped is grim, gritty, a modern Native American crime drama with myth at it's edges. It's full of complex characters who make decisions that in general tend toward the worst all in the brutal resource-deprived landscape of the modern day Indian reservation. Somehow, despite the darkness and the odds, the characters have enough life to keep you charmed. To continue with more psuedo-Scalpish dramatic flair; Scalped is vicious, bloody, a grounded affair, anchored so deep in the base of humanity it threatens to pull the boat underwater and drown us all. I am devoted to it.

One more page from Scalped. This book deserves much more than this scant mention. Regular artist R.M. Guera delivers impeccable darkness.


Back in the TwitterVerse(a place not unlike Marvel's recent CancerVerse) we fired a few more tweety questions into the abyss but to no avail, everyone was busy making Weiner jokes I assume.


Weiner jokes.


Twitter seems not to be in a position to support my argument for a stabilized numbering system. Organization is a basic thing, in order to not confuse two items in the same category, you number them. TV does it on a season by season basis, season 1 episodes 1-16, some comic books have adopted a similar method such as Criminal, doing story arcs with a name dividing them into issues. "The Sinners, books 1- 6". Dark Horse's BPRD's on this tip, you have "BPRD, The Dead Remembered" issue 3 of 3 but inside the book they make a point to also put "number 79 in a series" so if you want to sit down and read a run of the actual comics as opposed to the collections you have a chronological guideline. Simple. For Criminal you will have to look at publishing dates to figure out which issue one is the earlier issue one. Look, you have to develop some standard on numbering, and the long running 2000AD model(the newest issue being #1736) works pretty damn fine. But I don't think Marvel is wrestling with experimental numbering solutions, I think they are shopping for dollars.


In this economy, and with paper comic sales slipping even previous to people's declining fortunes, publishers need the dollars. It just makes you wish they would step up and say, "Uncanny X-men is being restarted from 1 because we need some cash." Fuck it. Simple. But even with honest marketing does that really change the bottom line in the long term? I'll use a personal example with Batman and Robin. I've been collecting it, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely kicked it off, Morrison held on till issue 16, then it's been running "filler" till the Peter Tomasi/Pat Gleason run begins. I was buying each "filler (sorry that sounds very insulting to the creative teams doing the filling)" issue so I could have a complete run, but with it's newly announced "new number one" when the Tomasi run actually starts, I am dropping the book 2 or 3 issues before it's over. DC is losing money off me with a new number 1. About $6. Marvel already launched a new X-Men #1 last year. Anyone who went and saw the critically-acclaimed-but-I-thought-the-trailer-looked-crappy "X-Men First Class" can pick up a low numbered X-Men floppy. So what's the point? Let's look at some sales figures, we'll use Captain America cause he's been jerked around quite a lot...

Captain America 1 November 2004 67,223 copies sold. (Brubaker scripts, this is considered volume 5)
Captain America 7 June 2005 47,151
Captain America 19 June 2006 47,318
Captain America 25 March 2007 290,497(death of Captain America) Top Book that month
Captain America 27 June 2007 99,046
Captain America 39 June 2008 79,348
Captain America 49 April 2009 63,869
Captain America 50 May 2009 66,928
Captain America 600 June 2009 112,244(book reverts to original numbering)
Captain America 607 June 2010 52989
Captain America 617 June 2011 45400

July has this main Cap book becoming "Captain America and Bucky" with 620, while they start a new Captain America! with a new number 1! to coincide with the movie! Looking at these figures, which do not include digital sales and collections, I think we can predict the success of a new series. Captain America 1 will see around 80,000-100,000 books sold, but a year from now it will in the low 40's. Something else other than the little number in the corner has to change. As if new readers will understand how the hell Cap can block bullets with a shield whether it's issue 1 or 621. By issue 7 it will thankfully be as steeped in history as 627 would have been. The figures above prove that to really make a splash you need to keep killing the characters. So kill them. Brand new issue 1 in which the character dies. Over and over. Returns on investments demand it.

Figures are fun, let's look at the Uncanny X-Men.


Uncanny X-Men 346 June 1997 173,453 (top book of the month)
Uncanny X-Men 383 June 2000 120,672 (top book of the month)
Uncanny X-Men 400 Nov 2001 134,206
Uncanny X-Men 487 June 2007 81,430
Uncanny X-Men 499 June 2008 81,069
Uncanny X-Men 500 July 2008 151,923
Uncanny X-Men 512 June 2009 76,254
Uncanny X-Men 525 June 2010 76,068
Uncanny X-Men 536 April 2011 53,502

All these figures are from Comichron.com, who post monthly Diamond Distribution product reports. This doesn't take into account the addition of books such as X-Men Legacy, Astonishing X-Men, recently just "X-Men", various X-mini's. A wealth of Wolverine'ish books. These guys are still selling a lot of X books. But yes, the bottom line is the industry is sagging, and I am assuming it's the long running fans that are keeping things afloat. The same long running fans who were looking forward to such things as an Action Comics #1000, or more importantly, #999! 987.65?

The earliest print run info i can casually find for an X-Men comic is off the Lone Star Comics website, and it is for X-Men 30...

The X-Men face the Warlock (i.e. the Mad Merlin from Thor/Journey into Mystery 96; not Adam Warlock) in "The Warlock Wakes!" Script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Jack Sparling, inks by John Tartaglione. Thor cameo. This issue contains a statement of ownership--average print run 412,086; average paid circulation 255,070. Jack Kirby/Tartaglione cover. Cover price $0.12.

That's the mid 60's! 412086 copies! And no Twitter to get the word out! Next up we have our in-house cartoonist's newest rectangle, then we'll bury our heads in the past for a while.

PART 2. TAKE ME BACK TO THE PARADISE CITY WHERE THE LINES WERE CLEAN BUT THE SCRIPTS WERE SHITTY. UH, AWESOME.




Wow! Check out the General's choice of word's in panel 7. I'll zoom in for you. Remember "Uncanny" is not added to the title till issue 142 in 1981.


Below is the classic issue 94, the in-numbering bombshell that changed the whole lineup in one swoop. No more jagged a flight path, yet no new plane needed. Well, maybe a new plane is needed after looking at the cover.


All it took was one key out of numbering special, the one and only Giant Sized X-Men 1,


This was the book that brought us Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird and all these other covers, as if you haven't seen this shit a hundred times...





This new version of Giant Size X-Men 1 just came out. It's s'allrite.


This next one is the first issue cover from the 6 issue series "Deadly Genesis" scripted by Ed Brubaker with art by Trevor Hairsine and it's one of my favorite X-stories. Brubaker was great on this, I'm not sure why his confidence in the face of team books seems to waiver. His ditching of Secret Avengers is a sad moment for us Prince of Orphans fans, though apparantly it does leave room for Warren Ellis to return to toying with the Marvel U.


Here is a page from Deadly Genesis 1, in which Brubaker does his usual mining of history, but this time placing diamonds back in instead of just digging them out. He inserts another team of new X-Men into the timeline just prior to X-Men 94, a team that failed and was massacred on their mission. A tragedy that was unfortunately covered up by Professor X. Brubaker of any writer out there digs into the colloquialisms of his characters and sticks to them. It's believable stuff no matter how unbelievable the context. Track down this six issue series.


That almost brings us up to current X-world business so let's get back to the Now of things. For new stuff I highly recommend Uncanny X-Force. Here's a page from last year's issue one. The artwork by Jerome Opena is quite handsome. Too handsome to last in a Marvel comic?

Opena can't seem to stay on a book for more than half dozen issues(in the mighty Marvel manner) having leaped from Moon Knight to Punisher to here. I don't know what this strategy is. Luckily issues 5-7 were drawn by Esad Ribic and it's powerful work. Writer Rick Remender is channeling some of the best Heavy Metal(the magazine) Sci-Fi vibes for this new X-Force book. It's creepy, gorgeous to look at, and mindbending. And it features a lot of Fantomex, a Grant Morrison creation from his New X-Men run. Fantomex is charming, snide, wears a handsome suit and is pretty good at surviving (and stealing). Thankfully Remender is deepening the mystery on this character where a lesser writer could spoil him fast. All the characters in X-Force have depth to them and are continually grappling with the concept of their morally challenging missions. Here's a Ribic page from X-Force 5, make sure you read the print on there, it's cool.


Ribic is also series cover artist. I love a series with a dedicated cover artist. Well, a good one.

Ribic is off to work in the Ultimate Universe(They haven't given up on that yet?) to kick off a new Ultimates series with Jonathan Hickman. (I think Ribic is better off on X-Force, but Opena is coming back so it's ok.) With Hickman(FF, S.H.I.E.L.D.), Aaron, Jeff Parker(Thunderbolts, Hulk), Matt Fraction(Fear Itself, Iron Man, Thor), Brubaker and Remender Marvel is really delivering a high quality set of comic books each month. If only the numbers of sales reflected this. Here's another current Jason Aaron book, Wolverine. Issue 9, 2011 (not to be confused with Wolverine 9(1989) or Wolverine 9(2004) or Wolverine 9, 2013)

This book is killing it. From the Jae Lee cover to the awesome Daniel Acuna artwork inside and a tight script. Look at this Acuna page. Look At It!

Here's hoping Wolverine sticks to back and forth arcs from Acuna and series starter Renato Guedes. This is a great one two punch of artists.

Damnit, this is going on forever. Speaking of X-Men the recent Age of X story was very entertaining, really good to see artists Clay Mann and Steve Kurth working in tangent, all written by Mike Carey through X-Men Legacy and New Mutants. X-Men Legacy seems to finally have hit it's stride, which it has hit before but usually crumbles in the face of artist change ups. Here's hoping it stays good because Mike Carey can deliver a creative plot and interesting script. Looking forward to this storyline,


It features the return of Korvus, the Berserk(Guts) looking Sh'iar warrior. Oh man, did you check out John Severin's awesome art in Witchfinde........ sheesh. I have to stop.

PART 3. "ISSUE 538 THE ACTUAL REVIEW". IN WHICH ONE BOOK IN 538 IS DISTILLED IN ORDER TO DISCOVER THE QUALITIES OF ITS CREATORS.


A page from Uncanny X-Men issue 538, pencilled and inked by Terry and Rachel Dodson in a soft detail-free style that communicates drama well and fits snugly with the humor that giggles up in the book. I'll refrain from commenting on the quality of that humor. They have some nice visual angle shifts in there.


There is a scene in the previously mentioned Wolverine 9 where an assassin shoots through the earth to kill a target on the other side of the planet. I don't like the scene. Beyond absurd and it sets the bar for this assassin just way too high as he can only shrink in stature from there. But still, this minor guffaw aside, I completely trust Jason Aaron to do a fantastic job on Wolverine and The X-Men. Keiron Gillen, the man behind issue 538 of Uncanny X-Men and soon to be behind the very first issue of Uncanny X-Men in nearly 50 years, I don't trust. Of course I'm drooling drunk on words by now so I'm not trustworthy either, but there is something fundamentally flawed in the worldview portrayed in issue 538. Here is a page Gillen scripted for Generation Hope issue 4. This disturbed artist has his scars on the outside.


In Generation Hope issue 4, the X-Men take a mutant under their wing who has slaughtered residents and destroyed a good chunk of Tokyo. My interest was piqued during the first four issues of Generation Hope because the Akira influence was mammoth and you don't see that in X-Men titles very often. Some obvious thematic Akira-ness in the Salvador Espin pencils above. But if the aesthetics of manga's influence have been absorbed by Gillen and his artists, the moral values have been eschewed. Japanese comics walk heavy with a sense of guilt and social responsibility. This character above, Kenji, says on an earlier page, "The critics always said my underlying influences were obvious and somewhat juvenile." A portrait of this X-Men writer?The X-Men and Kenji all walk out of Tokyo after they destroy it and they don't appear to look back. It's all sort of shrugged off.

This juvenile reality is seen again in the cutesy ending to Uncanny 538, where everything is wrapped up clean and tight. Kitty Pryde's "Permanant Phase" is fixed, her and her boyfriend Colossus (who was earlier gutted) sit on a cliff holding hands exactly where the story started. (While you are reminded by the drawing of robots below that "there is still always trouble around the bend!") The "bad guys" who are beaten in this story, the revenge driven Breakworld aliens, are given a derelict section of San Francisco to peacefully live in even after attempting to kill many of the X-Men. It's all......wrong. Especially in an arc where throats have been slit, multiple people have died, been resurrected and blood has been launched in ever direction. It's silly. Weightless. It feels like a child's portrait of reality. Is Kenji from Generation Hope writing these stories? It's nice when a writer shows some semblance of understanding cause and effect. I miss it here.

And then there is editor Nick Lowe(main editor on Generation Hope and Uncanny X-Men). Is he the one who can't figure out how old he or his readers are? Here's his banter on the letters page.


This stuff would feel more at home in the Tiny Titans book, which again is especially weird given the slit throats. Let's quote a little Nick Lowe from some recent letter's columns, we'll keep it well out of context so he sound's especially insane, "HELLO X-HEADS! KRUUN IS KICKING THE X-MEN'S BUTTS AND THAT ALIEN LADY JUST KILLED KITTY! Oh X-Head's My X-Heads. HARDCORE. STOP PREENING YOUR MOUSTACHE! Both stories are the tasty juice. TASTY JUICE!". I seriously fear for a flagship book under this writer/editor team. And perhaps that's my real issue with this renumbering gimmick. It's not the desperation in Marvel's schemes. It's not the aggravation in seeing a simple system of continuity maligned. It's not the fact that I'm there for more than the story of the day but that I'm reading to celebrate and understand the history that lead to the story of the day. Maybe my real problem is that this team of creators isn't ready to be birthing a new Uncanny X-Men issue 1. A book that is very serious indeed.

Ah, comics blog. It's good to be back, see you in a year. hahaha.

We had a colossal Storm roll through Providence RI the other night. Wreaked some serious Havok with it's 75 mph winds. The night sky was white with lightning. Uncanny.



11 comments:

Shannon Smith said...

This is probably the single best comics blog post I've ever read. (At least today.) See ya next year.

Brynocki C said...

you're too nice Shannon. Say hi to Pete Spiederman for me.

Brett Von Schlosser said...

so glad marvelous coma is back on my google glob reader.

Horak said...

Thanks fer that. Too much bleh in these books that deserve better. Scalped and Guera are so good. I would love to see the X Men books taken somewhere interesting.For all the good stuff out there it seems like the X books should be better. The characters and concepts have been stretched pretty thin the last few years and I would love to see a cohesive narrative behind them but I'm not holding my breath. Then again I only read whatever makes it to the quarter bin or my local library so what do I know. I'd love to see more of these reviews though.

Chuck McBuck said...

That storm was nuts. It entered our apartment and gave our couch a bath.

Joel said...

I don't remember a storm last night...

awesome post buddy, good to have you back!

don1138 said...

You are absolutely right about the Severin art on Witchfinder -- he's still an absolute master of the form. IMPO, the highlight of 21st century comics so far.

Brynocki C said...

It's totally ridiculous that I give the X-Men a dozen paragraphs and I can't even finish a sentence about John Severin. Witchfinder was all joy to behold.

Brett Von Schlosser said...

those n-men are the technech right?they don't make em like that no more, today's marvel universe could really use a seriously large dose or weird looking characters like them. also uncanny 254! forgot about those days when uncanny was practically a solo forge title. without digging through the long box, who do we have here? forge,sunder,banshee, mioria mactaggert, amanda steffon, legion,and polaris? is that right? do I get a no prize?

Brynocki C said...

I miss Forge. Warren Ellis threw him off the deep end in Astonishing X-Men. If you really recognized that guy on 254's cover as Sunder without looking in the back issues, you really have achieved hard drive memory status. I would have guessed old Guido, "Strong Man". I am amazed that the X-titles don't milk Giant Sized 1's technique more often, I would have "All New All Different" like once a year with brand new dudes. As for the glory days of bizarre folks showing up, not as weird as The Technet, but X-Men Legacy has featured some pretty wild characters over Mike Carey's 50 plus issue run. But nobody makes up colorful characters like Alan Davis.

Strfkr said...

Speaking of Alan Davis; it pisses me off that the covers for Fantastic Four were so damn good but they couldn't get him to draw the issues.
The issue artist should draw the covers.