Fifty Greatest X-Men Characters

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This September comic book fans are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the X-Men. Since their September 1963 debut, the group of mutant super heroes (and their on again, off again villains) have been involved in some of the best and most memorable stories that Marvel has published.

It’s amazing that the franchise, which has spun off countless movies, video games, cartoons, toys and other merchandise was almost cancelled due to low sales in 1970. Fortunately, the Cockrum/Byrne/Claremont era began around 1975 and the series has been a mainstay since.

So why have the X-Men lasted so long and have been so successful?

The main theme has been about the desire of proving that no matter how different you are, you can be a productive member of society. At one point, everyone has felt insecure about their place in the world, and how they have to work harder to prove to everyone that they belong.

The other theme is about inclusion and diversity. That doesn’t need to be explained. Just look at the all-time roster of the X-Men, having come from different races and cultures, some from different planets. And those are just the differences on the surface. But the point is that we are all mutants people, and everyone deserves to be treated equally.

So to celebrate this, I’m going to be blogging the fifty greatest X characters. This should be fun and I can’t wait to see your responses.

Fatale Volume 1

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I’ve enjoyed the Criminal series by writer Ed Brubaker with artist Sean Phillips, so I assumed I would like the duo’s Fatale. 

The two books are alike, in a sense that they’re both very well written and illustrated noir pieces. However, Fatale goes a little darker into the supernatural direction and loses me along the way.

Nicolas Lash has uncovered a “lost” manuscript written by his recently deceased godfather. His discovery of this has put him at odds with several gruesome occult types and in contact with a would be protector named Jo. The mysterious woman said that her grandmother Josephine had been with his godfather who experienced a similar supernatural problem fifty years prior.

Fatale goes back and forth from the past and present, and at times it gets a little difficult telling what timeline you are reading. It becomes clear by the end of the book that Jo and Josephine are the same person, and I’m sure that becomes a plot point for later issues.

Fatale is a dark fantasy, but it really doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t think I will be continuing with this.

The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling

road-warriors-danger-death-Many professional wrestling fans consider the Road Warriors one of the, if not the, best tag teams ever. The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling gives an inside look into the spike and war-paint clad brawlers.

Since he’s the author, the book mostly focuses on Joe Laurinaitis life in Minnesota and how he and a friend of his named Michael Hegstrand changed their names to Animal and Hawk respectively and became professional wrestling royalty.

One of the things you take away from this book is how there was such a close-knit group of wrestlers from Minnesota who grew up together, worked out together and even bounced at the same nightclubs together. Animal and Hawk came into the wrestling business alongside Rick Rude, Demolition Smash, Nikita Koloff and even Curt Hennig, all of whom they had known since they were teenagers. Animal also goes out of his way to mention how Koloff is his best world, and makes me wonder how different the Road Warriors would have been if Koloff was part of the team instead of Hawk.

Once the Road Warriors made a name for themselves, the book goes on to explain their wrestling career and world traveling, taking them to Japan and to the World Wrestling Federation and every other major promotion in between. I was surprised to see how important their on-screen manager Paul Ellering was to their development as performers and helping them as a business adviser. You get the sense that he was equally responsible for their success.

Unfortunately for the Road Warriors, their biggest enemy was Hawk himself. As their years went by, he became increasingly difficult to work with and made poor professional choices that hindered their growth. And his reputation for partying hard certainly had a negative impact on both of their careers. It’s interesting that at certain points in the book Animal pretty much blames some of their problems on Hawk’s behavior, but takes responsibility himself for what happened, as he was supposed to be the level-headed one of the group.

Things started looking up for the Road Warriors in the early 2000s, with Hawk getting his personal problems under control and them getting ready to make a comeback. Unfortunately, Hawk died of a heart attack in 2003 and ending the Road Warriors career.

Wrestling career aside, you really get a sense of what makes Animal tick. He’s a devout Christian and his family is the most important part of his life, equal if not greater than his in-ring career. Animal comes across as a great guy who lived out his dream. He also makes a point that personal problems aside, Hawk was a very good friend of his and he is glad that they shared such a successful career.

While not accessible to non-wrestling fans as Mick Foley and Chris Jericho’s first books or as super detailed as Bret Hart’sThe Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling is an enjoyable read for die-hard Legion of Doom fans or casual wrestling watchers.

Batman/Deathblow: After The Fire

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I really thought I was going to like this a lot more than I did. Batman/Deathblow: After The Fire is a collaboration of sorts between Batman and Deathblow in Gotham City. There is a caveat: the two characters never encounter each other and writer Brian Azzarello did an awesome job with that plot twist.

The premise is fairly simple. Ten years ago, Deathblow and another government black ops soldier named Scott Floyd failed to stop a crime syndicate that employed a pyrotechnic hitman. At the current time, Floyd becomes a friend of Bruce Wayne and is murdered by this fiery villain. Bruce/Batman are off to avenge his death and bringing this criminal to justice. The story goes back and forth between Batman’s present and Floyd’s past as they both race to stop this new mysterious villain.

Batman/Deathblow never delivers that big Batman and Deathblow encounter that I assumed would happen, so in that sense the book doesn’t deliver. Instead, there is a slow burning mystery, which you would expect from an Azzarello written Batman. It is certainly not the most exciting or well written story in Azzarello’s bibliography, but if you are a fan of his you will enjoy this.

Art in this was by Lee Bermejo, who later went on to collaborate with Azzarello on the Luthor and Joker books. It’s dark and moody, thanks to Tim Bradstreet’s inking and an extremely muted color palette.

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling

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Speaking of massive books, I finished re-reading Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s massive memoir Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling.  There is so much crammed into this book; it’s an invaluable guide to several key areas of pro wrestling lore.

Hart goes into great depth about several things. Obviously, the inner workings and dynamics of the Hart family (Canada’s wrestling dynasty) and his career are covered extensively. But just as he tells his own story, he tells several others: the history of Stampede Wrestling and it’s demise, the expansion of the World Wrestling Federation during the 1980s and its turbulent 1990s, the end of his business relationship with the WWF, the death of his brother Owen Hart, the mismanagement of World Championship Wrestling, and the accidental ending to his own career due to concussion issues.

Reading Hitman, you get the sense that Bret is a flawed person, as he goes into great detail of life on the road that is filled with perils involving adultery, steroids and substance abuse that claimed the lives of so many of his friends and colleagues. Every few chapters he recounts the deaths of wrestlers that he was close with. While he’s not travelling, he is dealing with an ever-increasingly difficult marriage with his wife.

If there is any one parallel in the book for Bret, it seems that he is a lot like Michael Bluth in the sense that he has to constantly put aside his own personal interests to protect his family from the outside world, each other and in some cases themselves. I never knew how close Bret was with the Dynamite Kid professionally.

Bret goes into great detail about the end of his career with the WWF at Survivor Series 1997 as a result of a personal and professional feud with Shawn Michaels, both on and off-screen. Perhaps the most depressing part of the book is him recounting the death of his brother Owen at a WWF pay preview in 1999, which completely tore apart the Hart family.

Remarkably, Bret really doesn’t come off as being bitter towards his peers or family, among all the public feuding that he has been involved with throughout his life. His goal was to not let the wrestling business destroy him, and he somehow managed to pull that off. He always had a strong relationship with his parents and his children, and seemed to have wound up with a better one with his wife Julie once they divorced.

Hitman shows Bret Hart as someone who took his job–and his legacy–very seriously. The book is his opportunity to tell the story of his own life and he put together an incredibly compelling story. If you are a professional wrestling fan, it’s a must read.

Thunderbolts #9-11

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These issues make more sense when read as clump. There is a lot going on in Thunderbolts to conclude this story arc. There are explosions, gamma powered Crimson Dynamos and more bad one-liners from Deadpool: everything that you would want from this series. But writer Daniel Way delivers much more.

It turns out that the Crimson Dynamos are owned and operated by Elektra’s brother Orestez, as somehow he has gotten himself involved in the black market weapons trade. Ultimately, it’s up to the Thundebrolts to destroy these weapons and stop Orestez. There’s a bit of a twist, as he is on to their plan and is somehow attempting to set up a broadcast of this, hoping that he will be killed and wind up as a martyr. Way never really explains this, and it feels a bit out-of-place. Issue #11 ends with the above scene, with Elektra killing her brother off panel in private and not giving him the brutal public display that would influence future terrorists, which he seemed to have wanted. There’s an earlier seen with her being shocked that the Punisher would so easily kill Orestez, and I wonder if that was done to set up future relationship problems between the world’s deadliest trouble.

The rest of the team is pretty static through this. Red Hulk is, well, Red Hulk. Venom and Deadpool are still very uneasy about everything that is going on but seem to get along with each other for the most part. The Leader is turning out to be an asset to the group, as it turns out that he’s gained the ability to speak with electronics the way that the Drummer does in Planetary. This skill comes to use in the groups final battle with Orestez. The issue ends with Leader speaking to a vision of Mercy, with her telling him that he has much more potential than he knows.

This was Way’s last issue in the series, and I would say that he did a decent job for the most part. Even though there were some odd parts of the story that didn’t come across well (like Orestez’s attempt at martyrdom), Thunderbolts has worked for me because of the way he built the team’s shaky group dynamic. It’s like he’s trying to get the point across that the Thunderbolts’ biggest threat is themselves. And that he clearly was able to get across.

Thunderbolts #8

thunderbolts-8This cover is a bit of a swerve; Deadpool doesn’t attack the Punisher at any point in Thunderbolts #8.

While the main team is on various stake out missions against Middle Eastern terrorists and weapons dealers trying to get a lead on the gamma powered weaponry, writer Daniel Way is still building up the tension among the team’s members, specifically as a result of the Punisher/Elektra/Deadpool love triangle. I also love the way that the Leader is portrayed as being somewhat incompetent and not realizing the full potential of what he can or cannot do.

There is a lot of foreshadowing going on, as Orestez Natchios is giving an author lecture about his newest book on terrorism. I’m sure as the story unfolds he is going to have something to do with the gamma Crimson Dynamos from the last issue.

Thunderbolts #7

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Thunderbolts #7 starts out a bit different from the previous issues, with Phil Noto taking over from Steve Dillon on the penciling duties. Daniel Way has the team dealing with the fallout from their first mission while travelling in a submarine.

There is growing tension on the submarine, as Punisher and Elektra’s somewhat secret relationship has come to life, and Deadpool is quite the jealous merc with a mouth.

The issue ends with all of the Thunderbolts attempting to overthrow the Red Hulk, as they’re still not exactly sure of what’s going on.

Because he’s, you know, gamma powered and everything, Red Hulk quickly dispatches the attempted coup. He finally starts to explain more of their mission and how he has assembled this group to stop enemies of the state that have acquired gamma weaponry. There was a large gamma weapon that was taken during the first story arc and they have to stop it from falling into the wrong hands.

The last pages of the story pretty much reveal that; whoever got a hold of the gamma weapon has used it to put together a battalion of gamma-powered Crimson Dynamo battle armored soldiers.

I’m liking where this is heading and by this point you can see that Way is hitting his stride. Phil Noto’s art is pretty sweet as well. I still don’t get why everyone is so harsh on this series.

Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories

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So while on my summer vacation, I did something that was sort of a challenge: rereading the first collected volume of Jaime Hernandez’ “Locas” story from Love & Rockets from beginning to end. Could I survive this battle of wills with a 700 page omnibus?

Well I did! It might be the heaviest thing that I’ve read all summer, but it was a fun read. I had previously read these stories about a decade ago and I enjoyed getting reacquainted with Hopey, Maggie and the rest of the crew. And I know it’s silly to say, but I think since the last time I visited these characters, I’ve really learned to enjoy them more.

Hopey and Maggie have an interesting relationship, switching tracks from friendship to romantic on and off through the years. And as the story progresses, they change as characters growing older and their life choices  have shaped them. There is a lot of nuance, detail and subtlety in Hernandez’s writing that I didn’t notice the first time I read through his work.

I also like reading this, as you can see how Hernandez evolved both as a writer and as an artist through the series. In the earlier parts of the story, elements of the plot are a lot more absurd, with Maggie being a robotics mechanic and there being dinosaurs. But as everything moves forward, the story becomes more grounded in reality and gets much more enjoyable. And about halfway through, you can tell that Hernandez is visually hitting his stride.

Definitely check this out. By now you all know that my reading taste and habits veer more towards the super hero end of the spectrum, but it’s really nice to branch out to something different. It really is a masterpiece and deserves more attention.

Batman/Superman #1-2

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I know I’ve been kind of harsh on some of the New 52 stuff that DC has been putting out, but I was pleasantly surprised after I read Batman/Superman #1-2. But then again, anything that combines Jae Lee’s art with a Greg Pak script will be great.

This series starts out with the two meeting for the first time, shortly after Clark Kent is investigating Bruce Wayne for an article he is writing. After a costumed encounter, they realize each other’s extracurricular activities and there is a lot of fun super hero battling. This newly found friendship/alliance has them take on the mysterious shape-shifting Trickster and eventually sends them to Earth 2 where they encounter alternate versions of themselves!

It is a bit of a complicated read, with all the shape-shifting and multiple versions of the same characters, but it’s definitely worth sticking with. Pak is a great writer and I’m sure it will all make sense at the end. And for Lee’s art, it’s just awesome.

So I give this a thumbs up. It was a pleasant surprise that I wasn’t necessarily planning to check out.

Dolph Ziggler at San Diego Comic Con 2013

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It’s not really a surprise to me that WWE superstar Dolph Ziggler was at San Diego Comic Con last month. I saw him at last year’s New York Comic Con. But what amazes me is seeing him interview the Toxic Avenger and his creator/Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman! If that doesn’t make your head explode, I don’t know what will!

Red She-Hulk: Hell Hath No Fury

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Now this was awesome. Red She-Hulk: Hell Hath No Fury was something that felt completely fresh in its concept. Betty Ross (who can change at will into the Red She-Hulk) in a situation like The Fugitive; she has to shut down a top-secret military super soldier program called Echelon.

Since this is technically an attack on the United States, the Avengers have been sent to stop her. They don’t know that Betty has been informed by Nikola Tesla via an ancient computer called the Terranometer is that Echelon will eventually bring about the end of humanity. I know that doesn’t make sense, but if you have been reading Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. it would.

She is in pursuit by Machine Man, who winds up joining her after he connects to the Terranometer and learns of this future. Somehow there is a mute girl named Eleanor who is tied to this. Jeff Parker adds a lot of suspense to the story by having the two fighting to escape S.H.I.E.L.D. The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, with Jennifer Banner–the original She-Hulk–seemingly getting involved with Echelon’s plan.

I liked Red She-Hulk a lot. Parker put together a really fast paced story, everything ties together and looks to be building to a huge pay off. Carlo Pagulayan’s art is stellar, but there were a few errors in the coloring/after effects that were left in, like notes to the colorists and what not. Normally that could bother someone, but the story and art are so strong that it makes you ignore them. This is good stuff and I want to read more.

X-Factor Forever

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It’s no secret that I’m a super fan of Louise Simonson’s work, so getting the X-Factor Forever collection was a must buy for me. The book resolves plot-lines that she had set up nearly twenty years ago!

The first part of the story pretty much reestablished the dynamics of the characters. Cyclops (and his son Nathan, who, you know grows up to be Cable) are adjusting to life with a newly returned from the grave Jean Grey, and the rest of the team is enjoying themselves.

At first, it seems like the kidnapping of young Nathan by Caliban and Mister Sinister is the worst that will happen. But instead, X-Factor finds itself in an uneasy alliance with Apocalypse to find the child, for he is the proof that the cosmic Celestials need to deem mutant-kind a worthy species.

The resulting story has to be the best written Apocalypse I’ve ever encountered. Through the main narrative (and a back-up feature that chronicles his life) we learn that he has been subtly influencing the direction of mankind into evolving, ensuring its survival among the planet’s other species, the Deviants and Eternals. Apocalypse had appointed Mister Sinister to be his apprentice who unfortunately has his ideas on how humans and mutants should evolve. It’s a race against time and whoever has Nathan will control the outcome of the Celestial’s judgement.

Again, the writing on this is amazing. Louise is able to conjure the feelings of Jack Kirby style cosmic drama with Grant Morrison-like sensibilities, all the while not sacrificing her own style. I highly recommend this. And if you pick up the collected version, it includes X-Factor #63-64, which concluded her run on the original series. Get this…you won’t be disappointed.

New York Comic Con 2012 Sketchbook: Nova by Andy Lanning

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British comics writer/artist/inker/all around awesome guy Andy Lanning drew this headsketch of Nova for me. I love how he was able to add some silver Sharpie squiggles, adding an awesome effect to it. But what was equally awesome about Andy was the face that he took the time to answer all my silly questions about his writing practices and habits. I was a fan before, but he certainly made a fan for life out of me!

New York Comic Con 2012 Sketchbook: Venom by Declan Shalvey

Venom by Delcan Shalvey

More fun from my New York Comic Con 2012 sketchbook! I got this awesome sketch of Venom from Declan Shelvey! The Irish artist is super awesome and I had a discussion with him about the city of Philadelphia, the setting of his Venom series! You can check out more fun stuff from Declan at his blog.

New York Comic Con 2012 Sketchbook: Cable by Reilly Brown

Cable by Reilly Brown

I’m on vacation this week so we’ll be posting some quick stuff, mostly sketches I picked up at New York Comic Con 2012 starting with this one of Cable by Reilly Brown.

Reilly is an awesome artist and I really loved his work on the Cable and Deadpool series. That said, getting a sketch of Cable from him made me super excited. You can catch up on his current projects on his Tumblr. You should also check out his own project Power Play which I highly recommend.

 

Uncanny Avengers #9

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What’s the best part of birthdays? Birthday presents! One of my coworkers gave me the recent Uncanny Avengers #9 which comes at a perfect time, since I just got through the first collected volume of the series.

The series is still following the same main plot points from before. The Apocalypse Twins are now shown as adults who seem to have some sort of plan to destroy everything, and it’s up to this group of Avengers to save everything.

To make matters more confusing, it turns out that a lot of these current problems are the result of Kang the Conqueror and Immortus’ influence on the time streams. I know they are the same person, but the fact that both of them have independently messed things up has to count for something.

There’s also a lot of division on the team, between the mutants that make up the group and Thor being on one side, and the traditional Avengers on the other. There’s a lot of yelling when it’s revealed that Wolverine lead the covert mission to kill the young child Apocalypse.

The book ends with the Apocalypse Twins revealing their new Four Horsemen: Banshee, Daken, Grim Reaper and Sentry. Things can’t be going to well for the Uncanny Avengers.

Rick Remender does a great job carrying plot points from not only earlier in this series, but going back to his work on Uncanny X-Force. And on the visual side of things, David Acuna is great in how he creates a very unique take on these classic characters.

WWE Classic Superstars: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper

"Rowdy" Rody Piper“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of my favorite wrestlers as a young child. I don’t know why I connected so much with him so much; maybe it was because he’s the only significant Scotsman in popular culture or maybe because I’ve always been a snarky, wise cracking person. Anyway, I always loved Piper, even more so than Hulk Hogan. His figure in the WWE Classic Superstars line was a must have.

"Rowdy" Rody Piper

The sculpting on the figure is really good, capturing his signature “Hot Rod!” ringer t-shirt. The only problem I have with the figure is that the face doesn’t really look that much like Piper. They got the hair perfectly though.

"Rowdy" Rody Piper

Get rowdy!

But face aside, Jakks did a really good job capturing his look. He’s wearing his kilt, with the appropriate tartan. You can remove the kilt, and he’s wearing his blue wrestling trunks underneath. I wouldn’t recommend it, as he looks kind of odd wearing just trunks and a t-shirt. The figure looks awesome on my shelf with the rest of his wrestling chums.

On the accessory side, he comes with the original style WWF Intercontinental Championship title belt that he had in early 1992. I still think the match he had with the Mountie on Saturday Night Main Event, with him wearing a zap proof shirt to prevent the Canadian villain’s zap stick from being a factor, was one of the silliest things ever in pro wrestling.He also comes with a microphone. It’s appropriate since he was/is among the best talkers ever in the history of wrestling.

Criticisms aside, it is a really fun action figure and I’m very happy to have it. He stands proudly over Hogan.