Comic Review: The New Mutants – Epic Collection: The Demon Bear Saga

Published: July 10th, 2019
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz, Sal Buscema, Bob McLeod

Marvel Comics, 504 Pages

Review:

Man, oh man… I forgot how great the Demon Bear story was! It was one of my favorite New Mutants stories when I first discovered this comic series, as a young kid. But I hadn’t actually read it for probably thirty years now.

This beefy Epic Collection release doesn’t just cover that story, though, as it features the events leading up to it and the story after, which is the debut of Legion.

Every story arc in this collection is pretty damn cool. There really wasn’t a dull moment and you get to see these great characters develop even more while also seeing their bond strengthen quite immensely.

This stretch of issues also feature the art of Bill Sienkiewicz, a comic book artist that truly had a unique style that I’ve always thought was one of the most impressive, expressive and coolest. It’s this series that introduced me to Sienkiewicz’s work, which I couldn’t get enough of. In fact, I bought all of his Elektra and Moon Knight stuff that I could find at my local comic shop circa 1990.

This stretch of issues was always one of my favorite runs on any comic book series. Revisiting it for the first time in eons, I still feel that way.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.

Comic Review: The New Mutants – Epic Collection: Renewal

Published: March 8th, 2017
Written by: Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo
Art by: John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ron Frenz, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Paul Smith

Marvel Comics, 520 Pages

Review:

As big of a fan of The New Mutants as I am, it’s been a damn long time since I’ve read the original graphic novel and their earliest stories. I got into the series around it’s midpoint and because of that, didn’t have all of the earliest issues until more recently. This collects that first year of the regular comic books series, as well as the characters’ appearances before it started.

This was neat to revisit and it brought me back to where I was in the late’80s, as a young kid just discovering comics. Back then, I really liked the youth superhero teams like Teen Titans and New Mutants.

This collection had a few stories I hadn’t read before. It kicked off with Karma’s debut story, which happened in Marvel Team-Up and featured Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.

Additionally, I had never read the story that served as the debut of the Hellfire Club’s Selene and New Mutants member Magma.

Everything else here I’ve read but it was nice checking it out again and refreshing my memory, as my brain gets older and forgets more than it remembers now.

I loved the art style of this series, early on, and the Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo stories were solid.

Now I do have to say that this isn’t as good as the series would become. This is early on and it hasn’t found its grove, here.

However, this is the foundation of this group and they would eventually be faced with some really intense, life-altering storylines that would take this from just being a “Junior X-Men” comic to something unique and very much its own series, standing on its own strong legs.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.

TV Review: Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Original Run: November 19th, 1994 – January 31st, 1998
Created by: John Semper, Bob Richardson, Avi Arad, Stan Lee
Directed by: Bob Richardson
Written by: John Semper, various
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Kussa Mahchi, Jeremy Sweet, Shuki Levy, Joe Perry, Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi, Udi Harpaz
Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Ed Asner, Jennifer Hale, Roscoe Lee Brown, Mark Hamill, Hank Azaria, Joseph Campanella, Martin Landau, Richard Moll, Don Stark, Dawnn Lewis, Majel Barrett, David Warner, Earl Boen

New World Entertainment Films, Genesis Entertainment, Marvel Enterprises, Fox, 65 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of the early ’90s X-Men cartoon on Fox, it was natural for the network to ask for more Marvel properties to adapt for their Saturday morning audience. The Spider-Man series was the longest running and most successful of these animated spinoffs.

While the X-Men show still stands as my favorite of these animated Marvel series, Spider-Man is a very, very close second and nearly as good.

The stories are generally well written and even if they have to take some liberties and alter the plots from the comics. This was due to time constraints and by trying to wedge in the debut of Venom really early in the series, which changes the overall timeline of events in Spider-Man’s life, greatly. Also, the showrunners probably wanted to get as many villains added into the mix, early on, so that each new episode felt fresh.

Spider-Man has a massive rogues gallery and this show utilized the core villains really damn well.

The tone of the cartoon is pretty perfect. Sure, there are cheesy and hokey bits in every episode because this is a kid’s cartoon but it does stay pretty true to the tone and style of the source material. Most importantly, it’s true to the characters and the writers obviously knew the Spider-Man mythos well.

I love this show and it’s still fun to have minimarathons of episodes. Honestly, to me, it’s one of the highlights of Disney+.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other animated Marvel television series from the ’90s.

Comic Review: Marvel 1602

Published: February 10th, 2010
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: Andy Kubert, Scott McKowen (covers)

Marvel Comics, 246 Pages

Review:

This started out as a really cool story and I enjoyed it a lot from the get go. However, it did lose steam after a few issues and wrapped up pretty weakly. I also thought the big reveal/twist was fairly predictable and that this didn’t live up to the high hopes I had for it and the past work of Neil Gaiman.

Still, it piqued my interest enough to make me want to check out some of the other stories that take place in this odd, alternative version of the Marvel universe.

I liked the setting and I really liked most of the character designs. I did, however, feel like too many characters and subplots were forced in for the sake of trying to make this a big deal, big event. A lot of the extra fluff was unnecessary and narratively cumbersome.

I don’t know if that was an issue with Gaiman’s writing or Marvel instructing him to throw in every major old school character. I feel like all the extra characters could’ve been saved for their own interesting spinoffs of this.

Beyond the rickety story, I thought that Andy Kubert’s art was pretty damn impressive. Artistically, this is one of my favorite things that he’s done and the style he used here fit with the story really well.

Also, the covers by Scott McKowen are some of my favorite from this comic’s era. They’re actually framed poster worthy and while staring at them, I thought about seeing if I could buy some.

In the end, Marvel 1602 was a fun experiment and it captivated me early on. But it was too dragged out and overloaded and with that, became more of a chore to read in the back half.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel alternative timeline stories, as well as other comics written by Neil Gaiman.

Film Review: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Also known as: X-Men 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (working titles), X3, X III: The Last Stand (alternative titles)
Release Date: May 22nd, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Powell
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Dania Ramirez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, R. Lee Ermey

The Donners’ Company, Marvel Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.” – Magneto

From memory, this was the worst X-Men film of the lot. Well, after about a dozen movies with spinoffs and whatnot, this one still takes the cake in that regard.

This really killed the film franchise, at least for its time. It wouldn’t bounce back until First Class rolled around and gave the series a bit of a soft reboot.

Here, we see the original trilogy of films come to an end and unfortunately, that end is a very unsatisfactory one. Granted, none of these films have aged particularly well and they actually feel quite dated now.

That’s not to say that some of the performances aren’t great or iconic, a few of them are. Specifically, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. This is probably also why they tried to find ways to include these guys in the X-Men films that followed during the reboot era.

The plot for this is pretty fucking atrocious and the film spends more time killing off beloved characters than trying to tell a good story. It’s like it went for shock and cheap emotional grabs but it failed in generating any real emotion because it all felt soulless and cheap.

I think the biggest issue with the film was that Bryan Singer left to make that big bust, Superman Returns. While Brett Ratner probably wasn’t a bad choice, the final product makes me feel like he was sort of just inserted into a movie that was already well into production and found himself in over his head.

The film is also pretty short when compared to the two chapter before it. It makes me wonder if a lot was left out of the final movie. It certainly feels like it’s lacking story, context and depth.

In the end, this is okay if you want to spend a little more time with these characters and if you turn your brain off, it has some neat moments, but overall, it’s a sloppy misfire.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: X2: X-Men United (2003)

Also known as: X2 (original title), X-Men II (working title), X² (alternative spelling)
Release Date: April 24th, 2003 (UK premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Daniel Cudmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 134 Minutes

Review:

“You know, outside the circus, most people were afraid of me. But I didn’t hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why? Because most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.” – Nightcrawler

When this came out, I was pretty much blown away by it. Seeing it seventeen years later, not so much.

X2 is a film riddled with problems but it’s still good for what it is and for its era. It’s slightly better than its predecessor but after having just watched the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, it pales in comparison to the first two films in that series. In fact, I like the wonky Spider-Man 3 a hair bit more than this.

That being said, this does still have one of the greatest sequences in comic book movie history and that’s the part where the military squad attacks the X-Mansion, abducting the children and sending Wolverine and a few of the younger mutants fleeing into the night. I especially liked the inclusion of Colossus in this scene but that also made me wonder why he didn’t come back into the picture because he would’ve been helpful during the final battle. But I guess someone’s got to protect the kids hiding out who knows where.

Anyway, this is a film that is too driven by plot convenience and poor execution of those conveniences.

For instance, Storm can unleash dozens of tornadoes on military fighter jets but no one is worried about the innocent people living on the ground? And she does this while flying a high tech jet. Where was this immense wind power when the jet was going to be hit by raging water?

Which brings me to another poor plot convenience moment that saw Jean Grey have to push back a raging river while trying to lift the parked jet in an effort to save her friends. She’s powerful as fuck, why couldn’t she have just lifted the jet? An hour earlier, she stopped a missile with her mind. And getting back to Storm, where’s that wind power in this scene? Did you not pick up your power-ups in the final level?

I know I’m being pretty nitpicky here but these moments could’ve been shot better, explained better and just not been as stupid and devoid of logic. It seems like really lazy writing and if you needed to kill off Jean for the story, there are better ways to do it and they still could’ve had her sacrifice herself for those she loves. It just felt cheap and baffling.

This also must’ve been made in the era where they didn’t sign actors to multi-film deals because they spent so much time developing Nightcrawler but then he’s nowhere to be seen in the third film. His arc from the original X-Men trilogy is left incomplete. That just adds to the overall sloppiness of this film franchise. And it sucks because Alan Cumming was great as Nightcrawler and he was one of the high points in this trilogy.

The overall story in the film is pretty good though. I thought that the big finale was too long and could’ve been whittled down somewhat but it moves at a good, brisk pace.

Also, the set design, cinematography and overall look of the picture was a big step up from the previous one.

Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman kill it in just about every scene but Jackman really is the scene stealer, which is impressive when you think about where he was at in his film career in 2003 versus Stewart and McKellan.

In the end, this is still a decent way to waste a few hours but it’s not the great, epic film I saw it as when I was young and didn’t have such refined taste. Also, its since been overshadowed by the Raimi Spider-Man pictures, Nolan’s Batman movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: X-Men (2000)

Also known as: X-Men: The Movie (working title), X-Men 1.5 (longer cut)
Release Date: July 12th, 2000 (Ellis Island premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: David Hayter, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[to Senator Kelly] You know, people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child.” – Mystique

This was the movie that really got modern superhero films off the ground. It became the launching pad for several sequels, spin offs and what eventually became the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched this one though. Compared to what is the norm today, twenty years later, this one feels really small and you can immediately tell that it had a smaller budget than what similar films today have.

That’s because this movie was a big risk in 1999 when it was filmed. Comic book movies other than the two Tim Burton Batman films and the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman pictures just didn’t have a great track record and most of them were made deliberately cheesy and campy. The sequels to the films I just mentioned also fell victim to this creative misstep.

X-Men, however, took itself seriously and it succeeded because of that.

Granted, it’s a pretty flawed film with a lot of creative choices I wasn’t a fan of. These choices would actually go on to hinder the rest of the X-Men movies that Fox made but I think it was probably hard to see anything beyond just this movie when it was being made.

The acting is pretty solid for the most part but the heavy lifting in this chapter is primarily done by Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Anna Paquin. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t bad dialogue and bad acting, there is, but the high points greatly outshine the low ones.

Still, this is a weak adaptation. It chose a strange mix of characters to start with and by choosing these characters, the series sort of fucked itself going forward. It also altered the origins of most of the characters pretty drastically and it set some things in stone that would later lead to the film series’ continuity getting really screwed up. Some of these problems became even more clear after revisiting this.

The general plot is also wonky and weird and I’m not a big fan of it. The whole MacGuffin machine that Magneto wants to use to turn people into mutants was goofy as hell and it sabotaged the initial realism that this picture seemed to have. Well, it was as realistic as a film about superhero mutants could be before we got a hokey old timey comic book superweapon introduced.

From memory, but I’ll find out in a week or so, the sequel was much better. It delved deeper into the lore and tried to get past some of the missteps here.

In the end, this isn’t bad, by any means, it just isn’t as great as I felt that it was in 2000. Sure, it has issues but it also opened the floodgates for the superhero genre to enter the cinematic medium in a more serious way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 5

Published: August 7th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 248 Pages

Review:

This right here is the volume I’ve been waiting to get to! This is the collection of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four where everything changes and the Marvel universe expands exponentially!

This edition of the Masterworks series covers issues 41 through 50, as well as the third annual.

Within this collection, we get a great Frightful Four story, the marriage between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, the full debut of the Inhumans, as well as the first appearances of Silver Surfer and Galactus! There are also cameos from just about every hero and villain from the Marvel universe of the 1960s! This chapter in the saga literally has everyone and everything!

What’s even better than that, is that Stan Lee is absolutely on his A-game with these stories and scripts and Jack Kirby’s art was on-point.

If you can only ever read one Fantastic Four collection, graphic novel or trade paperback, it should be this one.

This is quintessential Fantastic Four at its finest. It’s the epitome of what was so damn great about ’60s Marvel and the work of Lee and Kirby.

Just buy it, read it, read it a dozen more times and cherish it forever.

Rating: 10+/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Giant-Size X-Men, Issue #1

Published: 1975
Written by: Linda Fite
Art by: Werner Roth, Gil Kane (cover)

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

This is where the X-Men team that I grew up with came to be. Yet, I had never read this until now, despite being a massive X-Men fan once I embraced them in the late ’80s.

Now this came out more than three years before I was born and I felt like I knew the story well enough but actually reading it was a worthwhile experience, as the story had a bit more character development than I could’ve anticipated. Especially in regards to Wolverine, Sunfire and Storm. It also allowed me to get more familiar with Warpath’s older brother, Thunderbird, whose superhero career was very short-lived.

This story also involves the island of Krakoa, which is a major aspect of the current X-Men related comics.

All in all, this was solid. I felt like the team was thrown together rather abruptly and it was a dangerous mission without them really training for it but it worked out and we got to see this new crew gel in spite of them all being pretty selfish and petty in the beginning.

What’s really great about this, is that it tells a beefy, deep story with just 37 pages. It really shows the difference in pacing in the comic book medium from the time when this was made up to the ’90s (or so) when comic stories felt like they flew by too quickly.

Additionally, the character designs and the art in this were superb.

I didn’t anticipate this being great, I always just thought of it as a a simple introduction. And while it’s not great, it is still better than I thought it’d be and it just made me appreciate this era of Marvel even more.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s X-Men comics.