AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.1 out of 5
JLA: American Dreams
(Art by Howard Porter, Oscar Jimenez, John Dell, Chip Wallace, Ken Branch and Anibal Rodriguez)
Here the Justice League of America, finding themselves short-handed, begin seeking new recruits. Meanwhile they have to face infiltration, the legions of Heaven and an old enemy; the Key.
There are actually three separate by contiguous stories here, with the first being the length of a single comic issue and the other two being two issues in length. This means that none of the three gets much room to develop and they all feel pretty shallow and rushed. The first is a call-back to comic stories of old, with a one-off android hero finding their humanity before being destroyed. It works as an homage to the classic style of story, but feels weirdly out of place in the continuity it's set in. The second story is just pure bizarre as the JLA find themselves fighting literal angels. The implications of this (i.e. God is real, the Bible is all true etcetera) are never explored and everyone just shrugs this all off as one of those things. The final story is the best overall, with the JLA incapacitated in a computer-generated dreamworld which sees them having very personal hallucinations such as Kal-El becoming Krypton's Green Lantern and Batman being old an acting in the Alfred role as Tim Drake goes into action as Batman with Bruce's son (with Catwoman) as Robin. There's some interesting stuff in the dreams and Batman's in particular put me in mind of an updated 'The Dark Knight Returns' (by Frank Miller) universe.
Unfortunately the dream sequences are too short to redeem this otherwise bizarre collection of mismatched storylines. And that's before you get into the fact that this was the era when Superman was blue and made of lightning (the 90s... what can I say?). Credit is due, however, to the cool introduction of the young new Green Arrow to the team.
2 out of 5
New X-Men By Grant Morrison Book 8
(Art by Marc Silvestri, Batt, Joe Weems, Billy Tan, Eric Basaldua and Tim Townsend)
150 years in the future, the timeline has gone horribly awry. Humanity is on the brink of extinction and mutantkind is not far behind them. This apocalyptic world is ruled by the Beast Almighty, who uses stolen genetic power to create cloned armies of mutant killers. The only power capable of stopping the Beast and putting time back on the right track is the reborn Phoenix, but she has fallen under the Beast's sway.
First off I'll try to figure out the numbering of this book. The different way it's titled shows that this is part of a different run of trade paperbacks of Morrison's New X-Men run than those I've previously read ('New Worlds' and 'Riot At Xavier's'). As near as I can tell, this Book 8 coincides with Vol. 7 of those other reprints (both seem to present issues 151-154, the substory entitled 'Here Comes Tomorrow'). So, hopefully that clarifies where this book stands in relation to the other ones reviewed here.
This is the last story of Morrison's run on the series and, frankly, it's pretty weird. Clearly trying to recapture the popularity of 'Days of Future Past', we're presented with a post-apocalyptic future and then have to work backwards to figure out where it went wrong in the present day. It's handled fairly clumsily, to be honest, but there were definitely elements of the future we see that were really intriguing. The partnership between Tom Skylark and the antique Sentinel Rover was my favourite element, but I also really enjoyed the way the new generation of X-Men react to the old-school veteran that is Logan. The evil future version of the Beast, actually being controlled by the sentient bacteria Sublime, makes for a great antagonist and his army of clone Nightcrawlers is a great idea, particularly in the way he keeps playing with their genome to add powers from other X-Men, such as Angel's wings or Cyclops' optic blasts.
Ultimately, however, this story is just too disassociated with the X-Men I know and love to actually be great. It may be because I've only read small bits of Morrison's New X-Men, rather than having the whole story up to this point, but this story just fell pretty flat for me. It's certainly not helped by the anticlimax of exactly what decision point in the present day caused this terrible future to happen. The moment in question never really feels justified as a significant tipping point in the timeline.
3 out of 5
New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Vol.1
(Art by Frank Quitely, Igor Kordey, Ethan Van Sciver, Leinil Francis Yu, Tom Derenick, Prentis Rollins, Tim Townsend, Danny Miki, Rich Perotta, Scott Hanna, Sandu Florea, Mark Morales, Dan Green and Gerry Alanguilan)
The X-Men face one of their most dire threats when an apparently all-powerful and entirely malevolent woman name Cassandra Nova unleashes a new type of Sentinel. Reeling in the face of an unparalleled mutant genocide, Cassandra then sets her sights on her true target: Professor Xavier and his dream.
This book collects the very beginning of Morrison's reinvention of the X-Men, dramatically changing the style and tone of the series whilst also dramatically altering the characters themselves and the world they live in. It's a little bit unsubtle in how it does some of these things, particularly the Genoshan genocide, and the real-world influences sometimes overshadow the in-universe logic. However, this was originally written in the wake of the success of the first X-Men movie and that film showed that shaking up and modernising elements of the X-Men mythos could really work.
There are a couple of stand-out characters in this book whose presence I particularly enjoyed. The first is Cassandra Nova herself, whose origins could sound cheesy and contrived if it weren't for just how malicious a character she is. This is a powerful antagonist who genuinely feels dangerous not only to the X-Men, but to the whole universe and the fact that she's undertaking all these horrors out of pure spite makes her even more compelling a villain. The other stand-out for me was Emma Frost. Here we see her officially join the X-Men but despite doing so she lets go of none of her natural nastiness or vanity, making her feel more complex than some of the more traditional mutant heroes. It's a bit of a shame that she spends the majority of her time half-naked, which feels like pandering to the traditional teenage male audience, but at least it can be said that she owns her sexuality and it's not out of character for her to want men drooling over her.
The problem with this book, and why I've not scored it higher, is that Morrison tries to cram in too many subplots and sideplots, making the whole feel messy and disjointed. It would've been enough to focus on Cassandra and her plans, but we're also given a mysterious Chinese mutant called Xorn, the dynamics of the new class of mutant students, the Beast struggling to cope with his new mutation, the U-Men trading in mutant organs, Scott and Jean's marriage problems, the establishment of a global network of X-Institutes and the collapse of the Shi'ar Empire. It's just too much for one book.
3 out of 5
New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Vol.2
(Art by John Paul Leon, Igor Kordey, Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, Keron Grant, Frank Quitely, Bill Sienkiewicz, Andy Lanning, Norm Rapmund, Tim Townsend and Avalon Studios)
As Charles Xavier's mutant outreach programmes run into challenges across the globe, a group of students at the Xavier Institute decide to stage a misguided revolution. When Emma Frost is then murdered at the institute Bishop is called in to investigate and unravel who is responsible.
The first two thirds of this book collect shorter graphic novels that I've previously read, 'New Worlds' and 'Riot at Xavier's' (both individually reviewed below), but I found that re-reading them collected together and immediately after having read the Ultimate Collection Vol.1 actually gave them a context and cohesion that felt lacking the first time around. Added to that is a third act in which the Jean Grey telepathically assaults Emma Frost for her apparent affair with Scott and Emma is found shot and shattered into countless diamond pieces shortly thereafter.
The book deals with three main themes. The first is the idea that since Professor X was outed as a mutant by Cassandra Nova, mutants have become more mainstream in the world around them, with some humans admiring them even as other continue to hate and fear them. The second theme is the love triangle between Scott, Jean and Emma, which whilst the least interesting part of the book, does have some real impact when Jean breaks into Emma's mind and finds the latter and Scott telepathically in flagrante. It's made worse by the fact that Emma is wearing Jean's old Phoenix costume at the time. The third and most important theme examines what happens when students begin to doubt the wisdom of their teachers. It shows our familiar X-Men heroes as the outdated has-beens to a new generation of mutants growing up in a very different world.
Overall this book is definitely better than the sum of its parts.
4 out of 5
New X-Men Vol.3: New Worlds
(Art by Igor Kordey, Ethan Van Sciver, John Paul Leon, Phil Jimenez, Bill Sienkiewicz, Andy Lanning and Norm Rapmund)
Charles Xavier's worldwide X-Corporation and the mutant heroes who populate it face numerous trials around the globe including the products of the Weapon Plus progamme, ghosts in the wasteland of Genosha and an enraged Shi'ar Empress.
Now I've not read books one and two of this series, so I found myself a little adrift with this book. Because there are numerous, largely unrelated stories going on throughout the book, you never get a sense of a cohesive story which perhaps you otherwise might if you've read the rest of the series. Personally, however, I like my graphic novels to be able to stand on their own merits and not require me to buy other graphic novels in order to understand them.
I'm not saying what's here is bad, in fact the stories focusing on the mysterious new mutant Fantomex (a bit like a saner French Deadpool) and on the aftermath of the Genosha genocide were quite compelling. Overall though, for me, this book wasn't much cop.
2 out of 5
New X-Men Vol.4: Riot At Xavier's
(Art by Frank Quitely, Keron Grant, Avalon Studios, Tim Townsend and Norm Rapmund)
The young mutants at the Xavier Institute struggle with their growing powers and with the prejudices of the world arounds them, whilst simultaneously chafing against the restrictions placed on them by their teachers. One group of students, led by Quentin Quire, begin to take violent action in order to overturn the status quo established by Professor Xavier.
This was a far more engaging book than the last one in the series, telling a cohesive narrative about the rise and fall of a rebellion within the ranks of Xavier's students. I also enjoyed the way that the rebellion by Quire and his peers is juxtaposed with the development of the so-called 'remedial' class, who grow beyond their original natures with help from Mister Xorn.
I particularly liked seeing the more familiar X-Men such as Wolverine, Beast and Cyclops try to reason with Quire's revolutionaries from a position of experience where once they themselves might have shared the revolutionaries' righteous anger.
4 out of 5
(Art by Frank Quitely)
A secret government weapons project has been using lost pets as test subjects to turn them into cybernetic killing machines. The first three, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, are scheduled to be destroyed but instead escape to seek their freedom. Pursued by government troops and the deadly fourth test subject, they have to work together to survive.
The three cyborg animals that make up WE3 can all talk, but where Morrison shows his masterstroke is by having their mode of speech and their thought processes be unique to each animal. 1, the dog, is loyal, protective and driven by the desire to be a 'GUD DOG'; 2, the cat, is antisocial and scornful and 3, the rabbit, is full of energy and thinks of little but food. Although this is a relatively short graphic novel, I defy anyone not to have become emotionally engaged with these characters by the end. It's sort of like 'Homeward Bound' but with killer cyborgs.
The bond between the three main characters is almost instantly engaging and carries the book through to its bittersweet conclusion.
4 out of 5