Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Comic Review: X-Men: The Age of Apocalypse – The Complete Epic

Published: 1995-1996
Written by: Scott Lobdell, Jeph Loeb, John Francis Moore, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis, Fabian Nicieza, Larry Hama, Howard Mackie, Terry Kavanagh
Art by: Roger Cruz, Terry Dodson, Steve Epting, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Carlos Pacheco, Joe Madureira, Tony Daniel, Salvador Larroca, Chris Bachalo, Ken Lashley, Steve Skroce, Ian Churchill, Joe Bennett

Marvel Comics, 1462 Pages

Review:

I’ve really only heard great things about The Age of Apocalypse storyline since it started back in 1995, an era where I wasn’t really reading comics for awhile, except for Dark Horse’s Star Wars stuff.

In fact, the last major X-Men related event that I had read before this was X-Cutioner’s Song, a pretty good epic. But shortly after that, I got pretty burnt out once the top Marvel guys went off to form Image and then those comics were constantly hindered by delays and irregular schedules.

Based off of all the praise I heard, I always wanted to read this but it was such a massive story, spread over multiple collected volumes that I never really wanted to fork out the over $100 it would cost to buy the whole shebang. So, all these years later, I took advantage of a massive X-Men sale on Comixology and got the entire saga with its prelude for about $20.

Now that I’ve read it, I’m glad I only spent $20 because like Game of Thrones, all my friends and all the critics lied to me about how great this was. It’s not, it’s a clusterfuck of biblical proportions showcasing a lot of the things that were wrong with mid-’90s comic book art from the major publishers.

I’ll start with the art and just come out and say that this was mostly an eyesore to look at. The biggest reason was the colors, which relied so heavily on what I assume are digitally created gradients and overly vibrant colors that this was like staring into the asshole of a tropical fruit salad for hours. Everything is too busy, every single issue collected is made to be overly grandiose and if everything is larger than life and overly vivid, then that becomes the norm and thus, makes everything kind of boring.

Additionally, there is such a mix of different artistic styles that it becomes jarring as these collections jump from issue to issue every twenty pages or so. Some of the artists had great pencils but many of them illustrated in a style that didn’t feel like Marvel and instead felt like the artists were trying to emulate indie comics from Image and Valiant. Besides, the stuff that was illustrated well, ended up being wrecked by the primitive gradients and crazy colors that looked like a giallo film puked all over a box of Prismacolor markers.

When it comes to the narrative side of this, that’s also a mess.

This suffers from trying to be way more ambitious than it needed to be. The whole story is comprised of about seven or eight different subplots that are and aren’t intertwined. Some of them merge towards the end into the bigger story but some stuff just happens within this new timeline. But the story jumps around so much that it makes the whole thing hard to follow as a singular body of work. This is the same problem I have, right now, with all the new X-Men related titles that are tied to a bigger narrative but don’t feel connected as much as they should. But this is what happens when you have a half dozen different titles and different writers, all of whom want to explore different territory in their own way while being trapped within a common framework.

In fact, the only plot I actually enjoyed was the one that dealt with the characters that aren’t tied to the X-Men.

There was a two issue miniseries called X-Universe, which focused on what other Marvel characters were up to during this event. We check in on this timeline’s version of Gwen Stacy, some of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom and a few others. I found this more interesting and it showed me that this alternate timeline could provide the right sort of environment for cool and refreshing takes on old characters.

While I should probably feel the same way about all the X-Men related characters and their stories, it is hard to focus on any of them because of how this jumps around so much. When I got to the non-X-Men characters, it felt like a nice break from the X-clusterfuck I was pushing myself through.

Ultimately, I was really disappointed in this. I kept powering through it because I was hoping that all these subplots and characters would unify into something coherent that clicked at the end but that didn’t happen. We eventually get to a resolution but it’s not all that satisfying.

On a side note (and spoiler alert): the way that Magneto kills Apocalypse is pretty f’n badass.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossovers of the ’80s through ’00s.

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: X-Men: Mutant Genesis

Published: 1991
Written by: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Whilce Portacio, Peter David, Len Kaminski
Art by: Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Kirk Jarvinen, Tom Raney, Terry Shoemaker, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Jerry DeCaire, Ernie Stiner, Steven Butler, Art Thibert

Marvel Comics, 437 Pages

Review:

I’m pretty excited for the current Jonathan Hickman run on the X-Men titles. I haven’t started reading them because the two miniseries that are coming out are doing so just about weekly. So I want to wait to have all twelve issues before giving it a read. But from what I’ve heard, it’s absolutely solid and quite refreshing.

However, before getting into the new stuff, I wanted to travel back to the height of my time reading and buying X-books: 1991.

The reason I wanted to go back there was because it was a transitional period, as the original X-Factor team came to an end, the New Mutants became X-Force and two new X-Men teams formed, each with their own ongoing monthly series. It was also a transition from the Chris Claremont era into the era of Jim Lee.

This thick trade paperback collects multiple story arcs but all of the arcs are unified in their purpose, which was to end an era and to create a new one.

Here we have the final stories of the first X-Factor team, as well as stories involving the newly formed X-Force and New Warriors, Freedom Force and the X-Men team as it existed when Claremont moved on from the series.

This almost feels like an omnibus.

It also features a lot of great creatives on the writing side and art side.

Ultimately, this was a hell of a fun read that flew by despite its meaty 437 pages.

We get dozens of heroes and a whole slew of major X-villains like Magneto, Apocalypse, the Shadow King, Proteus and Fabian Cortez, just to name a few.

While a lot of the ’90s comics I go back to don’t have the same effect on me as they did when I was twelve, this is a solid f’n read. Seriously.

And what’s really surprising is that it has all these creatives working on it and it still turned out to be a really well managed and fully realized vision that brought an era to its end, quite epically, and generated real excitement and enthusiasm for what was to come.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other major X-Men crossover events from the era: X-Tinction Agenda, X-Cutioner’s Song, etc.

Comic Review: X-Men ’92

Published: 2016-2017
Written by: Chad Bowers, Chris Sims
Art by: Mirati Firmansyah, Coby Hamscher, David Nakayama (cover)
Based on: the X-Men animated series by Fox Kids

Marvel Comics, 240 Pages

Review:

If you were a kid in the ’90s, you probably watched the X-Men cartoon that used to be on Fox on Saturday mornings. It was solid, did a pretty good job of adapting some of the comic book’s big storylines and introduced a lot of non-comic reading kids to the X-Men franchise.

It ended after a few seasons and never really had a proper follow up. Well, that is until recently, as the show moved into the medium it was born out of: comic books.

Maybe this took its cues from DC Comics and how they came out with Batman ’66, a comic book series that revisited the 1960s Adam West Batman TV series. But one can’t deny that Batman ’66 was a cool comic, a great idea and with that, should have inspired other comic books that continued the stories of comic book characters as they were presented in other mediums. Hell, I’m still waiting for that Batman ’89 comic that was once teased and then had those teases retracted.

But this is about X-Men ’92, which was a decent follow up to the animated series.

Overall, this was a fun read but it didn’t wow me in the same way that Batman ’66 did. Where that Batman comic felt tonally right and as if it was a true continuation of the series, X-Men ’92 throws some weird curveballs and also tries to force in way too many characters just for the sake of the creators trying to give you the animated series’ versions of these characters.

Maybe they knew this series would be short lived and therefore, they wanted to wedge in every character they could but it really becomes too much to process in the second half of this series. Also, I wasn’t a fan of devoting so much time to a Dracula/vampire story. None of that was central to the core of the cartoon and it shouldn’t have been central to the core of this comic.

Also, this feels like it is just borrowing the visual style of the TV show but it doesn’t seem to understand the tone or the spirit of it.

It’s still entertaining for fans of the source material but I wouldn’t call it a must read or all that necessary. Die hards should check it out but I can see why this didn’t make it a year where Batman ’66 has still been hanging on for quite awhile with a long running series and several crossovers.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the animated series it’s based on, as well as ’90s X-Men comics and various spinoffs.

Comic Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Published: 1980-1981
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

I read the collected trade paperback of this famous story but I was surprised to find that Days of Future Past is only a two issue story arc. The majority of this collection is padded out with a few different stories around that saga. However, everything in this collection directly follows The Dark Phoenix Saga.

Days of Future Past is a story I have never read, until now, but it’s been heralded as on of the best in the decades since it came out. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t think it was a real classic of a story. At least, not in how it has been sold to me over the years.

It’s a good, fun story but I think it’s severely over hyped. I think that it’s fondly remembered because it introduced the idea of possible dark futures to the X-Men mythos and that’s a storytelling device that never really went away after this tale. We’ve had time travelling characters showing up in X-Men stories all the time ever since Days of Future Past.

That being said, one can’t deny the impact that this story had and anything with lasting power like that is going to always be a pivotal point for fans to go back and reference. But looking at it objectively, without any actual nostalgia for it, allows me to rate the story on its own merit, detached from decades of nostalgia and hype.

Also, maybe I’m a bit less impressed than I should be because I read this just after The Dark Phoenix Saga and that story is legitimately a real classic, in my eyes. But that’s not to say that Days of Future Past isn’t a milestone, it is.

Ultimately, this is still a solid collection of stories where the two issue Days of Future Past story arc is the high point. But I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t a long, massive epic like I always thought that it was.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other X-Men stories from the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era.

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: Second Coming

Published: June 22nd, 2011
Written by: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Matt Fraction, Zeb Wells, Mike Carey
Art by: David Finch, Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson, Greg Land, Mike Choi, Rachel Dodson, Sonia Oback

Marvel Comics, 360 Pages

Review:

I went into this thinking that I would like it for the most part. The events that precede it were pretty good reads. What I didn’t expect was to be blown away. But in the end, I have to say, this was one of the absolute best X-Men crossover events that I have ever experienced. Seriously, this was nothing short of superb.

More than anything, this story made me love Cable more than ever and it got me to love Hope Summers, who I would say is one of the best characters to come out of the last decade, even though she previously appeared as a baby before this in Messiah Complex.

This had a lot going on in the story but there was room for it all. Plus, all the key players were well balanced throughout and it gave most of the top characters a real purpose and mission.

There are real consequences in this story, as some key X-Men figures die. Granted, one could argue that those consequences are never real because no one truly dies in comics and the two biggest victims of this story are already alive and well, once again. But despite that, it felt like a real blow within this narrative. It didn’t lose its impact knowing that they’d eventually be back.

Second Coming carries all the doom and gloom of Messiah Complex over and it brings more doom and gloom but it ends in a way that finally sees a glimmer of “hope” appear in the darkest time of the X-Men franchise. I don’t want to spoil too much because I’d rather people give this a read.

Being that this is a crossover event, there is a mix of art styles. All of it works for me though, even if there are noticeable style shifts from chapter to chapter. Ultimately, the tone stays about the same from beginning to end.

This is a fairly long read but none of it is boring or filler. It moves at a brisk pace, keeps you engaged and makes you cheer for these heroes in a way that you haven’t since the early ’90s.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the stories that precede it: Avengers Disassembled, House of M and X-Men: The Messiah Complex, as well as the one this leads up to: Avengers Vs. X-Men.

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.