Comic Review: X-Men: Mutant Massacre

Published: 1986
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, Ann Nocenti
Art by: John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Sal Buscema

Marvel Comics, 319 Pages

Review:

Well, not all giant X-Men crossover events can be created equal.

This one started off with a bang though. Sadly, it withered away in the second half, as it crossed over into non-X-Men-related titles and became a narrative clusterfuck that slowed down the story’s momentum to a complete halt.

The main reason I wanted to read this was to have a bit of background context before jumping into the following big event The Fall of the Mutants. While I had never read either crossover in their entirety, I had read parts and I knew that the stories had a very close association.

The focal point of the story shows the Marauders invading the Morlocks’ sewer hideout where they murder the shit out of them. Only a few actually survive and that’s mostly due to the X-Men, X-Factor and the New Mutants involving themselves in the ordeal.

As this collection rolls on, the story spins off into issues of Thor, Daredevil and Power Pack. This is where the narrative starts to become a mess. And once we get to this point, a lot of the issues rehash some of the same shit, over and over.

What I was excited to see was Apocalypse show up and the actual breaking of Angel. I thought that he would actually be turned into Archangel in this story but I guess that happens just after, which was kind of disappointing, as I’ve never got to read that actual story. I assumed it would happen here once Angel had his wings destroyed and was nailed to the sewer wall with about half the story left.

There were a lot of deaths in this but none that really hold any weight or matter to the bigger picture.

But I guess this helped plant the seed for The Fall of the Mutants and the introduction of both Archangel and Mister Sinister.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossover events from the ’80s and ’90s.

Comic Review: House of X/Powers of X

Published: June 24th, 2019 – October 9th, 2019
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Pepe Larraz

Marvel Comics, 400 Pages

Review:

Let me preface this review by saying that this is the best new comic book story that I have read in ten years.

That’s absolutely a bold statement but let’s be honest, Marvel and DC haven’t really been bringing their A game for awhile, other than a few things, here and there.

Overall, modern comics just aren’t great anymore. But this is in a league of its own, as Sean Gordon Murphy’s recent Batman work at DC Comics is also on its own plane of existence when compared to what else is coming out from its publisher the last few years.

That being said, it’s been a really long time since I’ve been engaged by X-Men stories. That’s kind of depressing, as the X-Men pocket of the larger Marvel universe is one of my favorite franchises of all-time.

Jonathan Hickman has made me care again.

In fact, this made me care so much that I added every new X-comic to my pull list, as I am hoping that this carries over into something larger, richer and more spectacular. This sort of prologue to the larger X-universe is going to be a hard thing to beat or live up to over the long haul but it’s obvious that Hickman has a plan and I want to see how this all unfolds.

There are some things in this story that seem weird and out of place and I believe that these things are intentional. Primarily, many of the characters are acting uncharacteristic. I don’t think it’s an oversight or the product of a writer that doesn’t know what he’s actually writing about, as many modern writers seem to do.

If I’m wrong, I’ll be pissed and heartbroken but there is real intelligence to this writing and Hickman has a fantastic track record.

Also, this is a great jumping on point. You don’t really need to read what happens before. This is a true starting point for new readers or old readers that tapped out on the X-Men books long ago.

Plus, Pepe Larraz’s art is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: old school X-Men mega crossover events.

Film Review: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Also known as: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (alternative title)
Release Date: June 4th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Halston Sage

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, 114 Minutes

Review:

“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!” – Magneto

Well, I guess there’s a new rule. That rule is that if an X-Men film tries to tell a Phoenix story, it’s going to be the worst movie in the series.

I honestly didn’t think that the regular X-Men films of the rebooted/prequel era could get worse than Apocalypse but this one takes the cake.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, I did. However, for the most part, this movie is a fucking mess and ignores previous continuity more than any other X-film from either era and this comes after they tried to course-correct five years ago with Days of Future Past.

The big narrative problem for me is that it was established that the Phoenix Force in the film universe was dormant in Jean Grey all along. When Days of Future Past corrected the wonky timelines of the film, that shouldn’t have been a reboot of every aspect of the film series. Otherwise, that’s just some J. J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline bullshit.

In this film, Jean Grey gets infected with the Phoenix Force during a space mission. It’s more in line with how it happened in the comics but it doesn’t make sense with what was already established. Also, in just the previous movie, she sort of taps into the Phoenix Force when she’s battling Apocalypse. So it was in her but then it wasn’t? Fuck, these movies are a goddamned clusterfuck of epically biblical proportions!

Anyway, like the three films before this one, this takes place in a new decade: the ’90s. Somehow though, no one fucking ages in these movies even though First Class was thirty years earlier than this chapter. Cyclops and Quicksilver were in their late teens in the ’70s in Days of Future Past. Here they look like they’re maybe in their early twenties. But whatever, it’s not like the filmmakers cared, as Dazzler is wearing her disco outfit in 1992 and everyone else is dressed like its 2019.

Another thing that irked me somewhat, is that I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto but it took an hour for him to show up. Also, three movies into the subplot with Quicksilver and Magneto still doesn’t know he’s the kid’s father and it’s actually just dropped in this movie and not mentioned.

It seemed pretty apparent that the regulars didn’t want to do this movie. Other than McAvoy’s Professor X, the rest of the main cast were only in half the movie, got killed off or got beat up and put on the shelf. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was insufferable in this installment and I’m glad she got impaled.

The main characters that did actually appear for the entirety of the film were completely misused, however. Professor X was a careless prick and didn’t act like himself, Beast was super emo and almost became Dark Beast and Magneto switched his allegiances on a dime because he conveniently didn’t have all the information.

The threat in the film other than the Phoenix Force was a bunch of shapeshifting aliens that were obviously written to be the Skrulls but probably got changed late in production because Disney bought Fox and they couldn’t have Skrulls in an X-Men movie just after they introduced them in Captain Marvel.

Everything in this film feels scaled down as well. Every big battle is in a small area. There’s the fight at Jean’s daddy’s house, the confrontation on a small island, the big second act battle in front of a modest sized New York City building and its generic lobby and then the big finale which takes place on a train. They definitely didn’t do anything epic in scale, which seems like a missed opportunity considering that this is a movie that features the Phoenix Force trying to cleanse the Earth with fire.

Sophie Turner is also the focal point of the movie and I’m still not sure if she can act or not. This movie doesn’t help her case, as she was monotone in every scene, barely conveyed emotion and just acted like she was completely disinterested in the whole project.

While it sounds like I’m bashing the film and honestly, I probably am, I did like a few things.

For one, the Hans Zimmer score was damn incredible. It’s rare that I even notice music in movies anymore but I noticed it here and it actually made some scenes better and more emotional when some of the actors couldn’t even do that themselves.

I also liked the opening sequence, even if these teens going into space, untested, at the request of the United States President seemed strange.

Some of the new mutants in Magneto’s camp were also pretty cool additions in the New York and train battles but they were just kind of there and then discarded. The dude with the killer dreads was pretty badass; think Omega Red… but with dreads instead of hand tentacles.

I was really happy to see Dazzler show up too but she’s completely wasted in a cheap cameo. She sort of just hangs out in the background and doesn’t do anything else. Fans that have wanted Dazzler since 2000’s X-Men will probably feel cheated, especially since she was played by Halston Sage, who is dynamite on The Orville.

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in these films. Their bond transcends the screen, it truly does. It just sucks that the material they had to work with here was so fucking lackluster.

On a side note, I really liked Nicholas Hoult too. He’s a solid Beast, even if I wasn’t initially keen on the casting. But like the other two great actors in this, he also had shit to work with in this picture.

To be fair, a lot of this film’s issues might not be the fault of the actual filmmakers. Simon Kinberg can do some solid stuff and he’s mostly handled this franchise well. However, Disney bought Fox just before this movie was slated to come out. It’s pretty well known now that they meddled with it in post-production because they thought it was too similar to Captain Marvel, which they were banking the entire future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on.

In the end, though, we got a really mediocre movie made by people that don’t seem like they care anymore. I guess it’s fitting that this incarnation of the cinematic X-Men franchise is now dead.

So I guess we’ll have to wait a few more years (or longer) to see what Disney does with the X-Men once they are rebooted into the MCU.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Fox X-Men films and spinoffs.

Comic Review: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Published: 1980
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

Does it make me a terrible X-Men fan that I have never actually read The Dark Phoenix Saga?

I’ve tried to round up all the single issues over the years but some of them are pricey and there’s nine issues that make up this arc. But in my defense, I know the story very well, as it has been referenced a million times over throughout X-Men history. I’ve also seen various interpretations and adaptations of the plot. Granted, none of them are really accurate in regards to this, the source material.

This is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers though, so I thought that delving into it was long overdue and that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore.

I expected this to be enjoyable but it still took me by surprise, as it was better than what I anticipated and all the years of hype I’ve experienced, didn’t diminish it in anyway.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is quintessential Chris Claremont. I can’t say that this is where he peaked but this is certainly a very elevated highpoint in his long run writing X-Men related stories.

This also came out in a time when Marvel wasn’t addicted to big crossover mega-events. This was a mega-event for its time but it wasn’t marketed or structured in the way that these things are now. It was just a good, lengthy story, limited to one already existing comic that found a way to utilize a lot of characters but in a way that balanced them all out and made them all useful to the plot.

One cool thing about this arc, is it also features the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club and Dazzler. There’s a bunch of stuff going on within this story but it doesn’t off track and still builds towards the big battle between Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix and her X-Men family. It’s, at times, heartbreaking and tragic but it also makes you love all these people all over again in an organic, natural and emotional way. This hits emotional notes in the reader in ways that comic books never seem to come close to in 2019.

I can’t just give credit to Chris Claremont and his stupendous writing though. The art by John Byrne is absolutely superb and it is just as rich, colorful and meticulously crafted as the story its telling.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told. It’s classic Marvel and truly represents what I loved about the era and how I fell in love with this creative medium in the first place.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other early Chris Claremont X-Men comics.

Comic Review: X-Men: Inferno

Published: 1988-1989
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, various
Art by: Marc Silvestri, Walter Simonson, various

Marvel Comics, 600 Pages

Review:

This was actually the first big X-Men crossover event that I ever read. Unfortunately for me back in 1988 and 1989, I wasn’t able to get every single issue in this massive event. But I do own them all now, so I wanted to revisit this huge story in its entirety.

It is really good but it also has some problems.

In regards to the positives, the writing is pretty solid. The bulk of this event is written by Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson with other writers contributing to some of the tie-ins. The art is also great, most of which is done by Marc Silvestri and Walter Simonson.

The story sees Mr. Sinister unleash literal Hell on Earth with many weapons at his disposal: Madelyne Prior, S’ym, the evil version of Polaris, the Marauders and the big bad demon, N’Astirh.

Sinister also finds ways to trick the X-Men and X-Factor into fighting amongst themselves and manipulates the stage to pit brothers Cyclops and Havok against each other.

There is a lot at stake here and it changes many of the characters going forward. One of my favorite characters, Magik, dies here. Granted, we all know she comes back because she’s basically a demon queen of the underworld but the weight of it is very heavy and at the time, we didn’t know if the young heroine could return.

This crossover also includes the New Mutants and the X-Terminators. The story serves to merge those two teen teams into one. This set the groundwork for what was to come once Rob Liefeld came into The New Mutants and gave us Cable, Deadpool and eventually, the hugely successful X-Force.

What I love about this story is that it merges superhero Marvel with fantasy Marvel. Like the Magik miniseries a few years earlier, this takes Marvel’s mutant heroes and makes them deal with fantastical and occult evil but on a much grander scale. Also, Mr. Sinister was damn cool in this period of X-history.

Looking at the negatives, my only real issue is that the story drags out in places. That could be due to me also reading all of the tie-ins apart from the main body of the central story. Some of it felt really unnecessary and it also felt poorly organized. The New Mutants issues were on the orbit of the main story but with the death of Magik and how that effected her brother Colossus, I feel like that should have happened within the framework of the stories actual main chapters.

Shaky narrative flow aside, this is still a better crossover event than what the Big Two comic book publishers give us in modern times.

Inferno was my first big crossover event. It’s not the best but it’s still a lot of fun and it came out in a time where the X-titles were at their absolute creative peak.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossover events of the late ’80s and early ’90s like X-Tinction Agenda and X-Ecutioner’s Song.

Comic Review: Dazzler, Issue #33 – Chiller!

Published: August, 1984
Written by: Michael Carlin
Art by: Mark Bright, Vince Colletta, Andy Yanchus, Bill Sienkiewicz (cover)

Marvel Comics, 22 Pages

Review:

I’ll be honest, I only ever wanted to buy this comic book because it has an incredible cover. It’s something I wanted to add to my collection just because of how badass it looks.

Well, now I do own it but I made the mistake of reading it.

Obviously, I wanted to enjoy this loose parody of Michael Jackson’s Thriller but it was barely a parody and read more like a really boring whodunit that was completely devoid of clarity, suspense or a reason to care.

This isn’t the standard for Marvel books of the ’80s. It’s simplistic, slow, utterly pointless and pretty damn strange but not in a good way.

Sure, there is a Vincent Price reference and even a character that is a complete ripoff of Thriller era Michael Jackson. Also, Dazzler finds herself acting in a music video very similar to Thriller but nothing in this excited me or brought me back to the magic of what Thriller was.

Additionally, Dazzler’s powers come off as incredibly lame in this, as she only taps into her light powers when she needs a flashlight. Well, okay… she did use her light blast to burst out of the grave but she spent the whole comic hiding her power from others and then uses them on a music video set, surrounded by dozens of people with no apparent repercussions.

The story wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t fun, had no energy and was duller than a plastic knife melted on a burner.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: I’m assuming other Dazzler comics from the era, as well as other solo X-Men books of the ’80s.

TV Review: X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men (1989)

Original Run: 1989 (first-run syndication, 1 episode)
Created by: Lee Gunther, Margaret Loesch
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Larry Parr
Based on: The Uncanny X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Michael Bell, Earl Boen, Andi Chapman, Pat Fraley, Ron Gans, Dan Gilvezan, Alan Oppenheimer, Patrick Pinney, Neil Ross, Susan Silo, Kath Soucie, John Stephenson, Alexandra Stoddart, Frank Welker, Stan Lee (narrator)

Marvel Productions, New World Television, Toei Animation, Baker and Taylor Entertainment, Metrolight Studios, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 1 Episode, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Pryde of the X-Men was a pilot for a proposed X-Men animated series in the late ’80s. As far as I know, only one episode was ever produced.

The episode appeared on television in 1989 but I never got to see it until the VHS was available to rent in my local video store.

While the failure of this pilot eventually led to the development of the spectacular X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992, it’s hard to say which version of an X-Men cartoon would have been better because this pilot was damn good.

Also, the great X-Men arcade game from the ’90s was modeled after this cartoon and not the better known 1992 one.

I loved the style of this, as it was very similar to the early seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers. All three of these shows were made by Marvel and Toei. The animation is basically done in the same style and this show even uses some of the same voice talent that were featured in G.I. Joe and Transformers.

This show, at least this one episode, is centered around the arrival of Kitty Pryde to the X-Mansion. The X-Men team here consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Dazzler. Lockheed, the dragon, is introduced in this too.

The episode also features the villains Magneto, Emma Frost, Juggernaut, Pyro and the Blob.

Pryde of the X-Men hits all the right notes and is a really cool experience if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and had a love for X-Men and the other Marvel/Toei animated shows. Man, I really wish this would’ve at least gotten a full season run because this setup was well done and left me wanting more.

I’m glad that we got the 1992 animated series but this could have been good and maybe even great. We’ll never know but this show certainly started off on the right foot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: X-Men: The Animated Series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers.