REVIEW: Uncanny X-Men #2

(Marvel Comics, 2013)   –   Reviewed by Sam LeBas

UNCANNY-X-MEN-2-Cover-smallThe sister book to one of my favorite Big 2 on-goings, (All New X-men) offered up its second helping this week in the pages of Uncanny X-men #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo. As of now, I am having a hard time falling in love.

Brian Michael Bendis, master that he is, constructs a lovely, intimate narrative involving the lingering tensions between Scott Summers and Emma Frost. The pair shares a history that would make most Lifetime movies green with envy, and that is apparent in the way they interact here. Emma is not only struggling with the ramifications of a life-altering split with Scott, but also facing the terrifying prospect of living without her mutant abilities. Bendis does an incredible job portraying the storm of emotions raging inside of her.

Facing the age-old dilemma, best defined by The Clash, “should I stay or should I go?” Emma makes the decision to stay.  She decides to serve as a mentor to the world’s newest mutants, whom she, Scott, Magneto, and Magik have been collecting. As the group attempts to explain the mutant way of life to their new recruits, they encounter trepidation from the initiates. Eva, one of the newest mutants, is concerned for the safety of her family. In a display of compassion, Cyclops and his team transport back to her home in Australia. They are unaware that a double agent, Magneto, has called in back up.

So with such a solid storyline, why am I still hesitant to give away my heart? The answer is simple: I cannot embrace the art. Not only does the style of the art seem incongruent to the tone of the book, I question some of the choices made by the artist in a general sense. For instance, I cannot understand why in some when a full figure is shown the proportions of the characters seem altered, while in three-quarter view they retain standard dimensions. I am also leery of the cut and paste style used in some of the ensemble frames. The work looks like a collage of paper dolls pasted on a photo of the sky, because they have a white outline and none of the figures interact. This also makes the figures appear very static. Some pages have large white borders while the panels on the page seem squished. Scott Summers here looks younger (and a whole lot more like John Karsinski) than his younger counterpart featured in All New X-Men.

As you read this be aware that these critiques involve stylistic choices. Bachalo does not do anything wrong, these decisions just does not appeal to my tastes. The art is not bad, and I suppose that for readers who enjoy an Asian-inspired art style, it will seem particularly successful. Two pages in particular did impress me, the full page of Emma Frost in profile and Bachalo’s rendering of the Xavier School.
Another frustrating feature of the book are the layouts. Bendis apparently favors confusing panel distribution in his scripts; I have encountered these snares in his other work. However, if you persevere and find the flow of the panels, you will be rewarded with a great story.

So there you have it, Bendis tells a great story; and I personally can’t get into the slightly manga-inspired art style. The world will eventually recover from the shock I am sure.
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Follow Sam on twitter @comicsonice or check out her blog comicsonice.com

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REVIEW: “Hawkeye” #8

(Marvel Comics, 2013)   –   Reviewed by Sam LeBas

Hawkeye_7_Cover-small1Hawkeye #8 starts with a visual bang of brilliant storytelling from Aja and Fraction. This issue marks the beginning of a new story arc centering on Clint Barton’s seemingly ill-advised involvement with a red-headed stranger, Penny, and her litany of complications. From the beginning of this series, Fraction and Aja have stressed that their focus is purely on what happens to Clint when he is not working with the Avengers. That’s for the best, because issue 8 takes him to some decidedly un-heroic (a strip club mafia-front and jail come to mind).

Clint gets tangled up in Penny’s charms and proceeds to make a series of questionable decisions. Fraction bravely allows Clint to be a guy, not a perfect, shining, armor-clad hero. Clint’s ability to (and at times downright insistence that he must) make bad decisions make him intensely relatable and endearing. The humorous tone of the book remains grounded firmly in Clint’s refusal to take himself seriously. Against all odds, Fraction is able to make an elderly man wearing a tracksuit and an oxygen mask work as a villain in a Marvel superhero book; this should give you some insight into the outrageous twists and turns you can expect in this series. Near the end of the issue Fraction relates these street level skirmishes to some truly heavy-hitting monuments of Marvel mythology, showcasing his skill as a writer, and setting the table for the next course.

While Fraction’s choices make the narrative of this book stand out, what cements this book’s must-read status for me is Aja’s artwork. Nowhere in the cape-wearing comic world is there a more identifiable trademark style than an Aja on Hawkeye. Not only his rendering style, but his aesthetic choices regarding everything from layout to the angles he chooses to show scenes might as well have his name in neon lights.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Aja’s art style its somewhere between pop art and 1960s advertising graphics. Aja uses very little shading, and coloring is generally very monochromatic. Because he commonly fills a page with up to twenty-four panels, his canvases can be very small. So, considering that Aja works with a limited: color palette, linear variation, and space; and still manages to tell such incredible visual stories, I am going to go ahead and label him a genius. I am so glad that he’s back for this issue.

In addition to getting Aja back on the title this month, we have also been given the extraordinary gift of five big beautiful full-page illustrations from Annie Wu. Wu’s work evokes a completely different feeling than Aja’s and provides brilliant contrast by hearkening back to the genre of romance comics. I do not think there is another medium on the planet that allows you to purchase so much great art for $2.99.

Hawkeye is a completely original take on hero books tethered by Fraction’s bold storytelling and Aja’s signature artwork that hits the mark in a big way this month.

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Follow Sam on twitter @comicsonice or check out her blog comicsonice.com