Wednesday, July 22, 2015

'The First X-Men' trade paperback review

Thanks to Hugh Jackman's unforgettable onscreen performances in the "X-Men" and "Wolverine" films, Wolverine has been pushed to the forefront of popularity. He's become an icon in the cape-and-cowl crowd and easily recognizable by fans and even non-comic bok fans.

As a result, writers have made Logan a leader of the X-Men in comic books, the highly enjoyable "Wolverine and the X-Men" animated series (therefore the name!) and also a member of The Avengers.

Neal Adams and Christos Gage's five-part THE FIRST X-MEN is another example of Marvel Comics exploiting what the Powers That Be see as Wolverine's potential leadership. (I don't see it personally; I've always thought Logan shines the best in an ensemble — in other words, when he's part of the ensemble.)

Taking place years before Professor Charles Xavier recruits Logan to join his school of mutants, THE FIRST X-MEN is the writing team's attempt to give Wolverine credibility not only as a leader before he joins the X-Men, but that he is visionary enough to know mutants need to work together.

Also, the 2012-2013 limited series takes advantage of the odd and unhealthy bond between Logan and Sabertooth, as best see in the 2009 "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" film and their battles in the various X-MEN comics since the 1990s.

Cynically, FIRST X-MEN is a way for Adams -- a bonafide, established living legend among artists -- to scratch his writing itch. (Which like a scab, is better off left alone!) Eve more cynically, I'd say it's an excuse for he and Cage to create some mutants team up Wolverine with Sabertooth and tell some mutant stories without impacting the X-Men's continuity.

Logan tries to convince a young Charles Xavier to avoid the "happy, boring
professor's life" he says he wants.
The events don't have to be considered canon. If you want it to be official you can, but if you're like me and have a shoulder-shrugging "whatever" experience after reading this, you can consider the story an out-of-continuity adventure.

Before he is known as Wolverine, Logan gets Victor Creed (aka Sabertooth) to realize there are "more and more like us showing up" (i.e. mutants) and convinces Creed to help him release mutants from government labs so they won't be treated like "lab rats."

In the first issue, they meet a young Xavier whom Logan tells is "tagged" for helping mutants later in his life. Logan is very direct with the future Professor X, saying if he doesn't follow that and leads the "happy, boring professor's life" he wants, he'll hear "the screams (of) dyin' kids in your head."

A scene like this -- and one later where Logan and Creed meet Erik Lehnsherr, the future Magneto -- are supposed to add weight to later interactions among the same characters. But honestly, the delivery is awkward and too heavy handed to work or have any meet to them.

What also feels forced, is you can imagine, is Logan's leadership. He's just too brusk and his tough love with the other mutants doesn't work. There's not a lot of chemistry going on among any of the characters, so these so-called FIRST X-MEN are more of a ragtag group of wannabes who don't have any direction than they do to being precursors to Xavier's X-Men. Story grade: C

As far as Neal Adams' art goes, it's no secret his finest penciling days are behind him. On the other hand, his current art is higher quality and much more visually interesting than most younger artists' working in the comics industry now.

Yet he gets characters to express shock and surprise still much better than anybody else in the business.
Artist Neal Adams chats with a fan at the 2015 Wizard World
Comic Con in Cleveland.

Adams remains a master at drawing voluptuous women, but other parts of his craft are showing his age. (He's 74 and having chatted with him multiple times at comic book conventions the last couple years, he easily could pass for his mid-60s.)

This is particularly nitpicky, but his male characters' cheek bones are, well, "off." They're too severe.

Once a master of drawing great facial details, Adams' lines now are just too much. This is case where less would be more. If Adams -- and any artist, really -- put in less lines and details on characters' faces -- particularly in close-ups -- the end product would be cleaner. The same goes for muscular men. Sometimes -- OK, most times! -- there are too many muscles on Adams' big men.

Having the seen the color prints Adams sells at conventions, I've seen some great work by Adams in recent years. But there's no doubt his latest art has a bigger and more effective impact as posters or covers instead of in sequential panels. Art grade: B-

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