Great Moments In Comic Book History: “Even in Death…”


The Uncanny X-Men #144 finds Scott Summers (better known as Cyclops, the occasional leader of the X-Men) working on a fishing boat in the Florida Everglades.  Scott’s new boss, Lee Forrester, is obviously interested in him but Scott is still mourning Jean Grey.  It’s been months since Jean, consumed by the Dark Phoenix, chose to protect the universe by destroying herself.  Scott has taken a leave of absence from the X-Men to grieve and, as they used to say back in the day, find himself.

When the fear-inducing demon D’Spayre shows up, it not only drives Lee’s father to suicide but it also forces Scott to deal with his deepest fears.  Scott hallucinates the plane crash that led to him and his brother being separated from their parents.  He visualizes the X-Men dead, having been killed by Sentinels.  And finally, in the issue’s most famous scene, he finds himself walking down a church aisle with Jean.

As they walk down the aisle, Jean’s costume changes to reflect all of the different roles that she played as member of the X-Men.  She goes from being in her underwear to being in her green Ms. Marvel costume to being the Phoenix to being the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen to finally being the Dark Phoenix.  When they reach the minister, Jean is dressed as a bride.  When the minister tells Scott that he may kiss the bride, Jean suddenly reaches up and lifts Scott’s visor.  A blast a red energy brings the wedding to an abrupt end.

Eventually, Scott teams up with the Man-Thing (who is Marvel’s version of Swamp Thing) and is able to easily defeat D’Spayre.  Since all you have to do to make D’Spayre go away is refuse to believe what he’s showing you, he is not one of Marvel’s most intimidating villains.  Still, Scott’s church hallucination provides not only a perfect coda for the Dark Phoenix saga but it also shows a comic book character dealing with depression.  That’s an emotion that, until Chris Claremont started writing the X-Men, super heroes rarely had to deal with for more than an issue or two.  Even Spider-Man, with all of his problems and guilt, always kept his sense of humor.  This issue of the X-Men finds Scott deeply mired in his grief.  Even after Scott defeats D’Spayre, the sadness remains but he swears to himself that will not surrender to it.

Of course, the impact of this issue is lessened by the fact that Marvel would later reveal that the Dark Phoenix who sacrificed herself was just an energy force that took on Jean’s memories and personality while the real Jean remained in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay.  X-Men #144 is still a good issue and a good example of Chris Claremont’s ability to bring out the humanity in even those with super powers.

Plus, we learn how Cyclops plays pool

The Uncanny X-Men #144 (April, 1981)

“Even in Death”

  • Writer: Chris Claremont
  • Guest Penciler: Brent Anderson
  • Inker: Josef Rubenstein
  • Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
  • Colorist: Glynis Wein
  • Editor: Louise Jones
  • Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus

Last Stand Of The X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, directed by Simon Kinberg)


Last week, I finally watched Dark Phoenix and I could tell within 15 minutes that it wasn’t going to be good.  From the start, everything about it seemed to be off, particularly compared with other, more recent comic book films.  This is not Logan or Joker.  It’s not even as good as ApocalypseDark Phoenix felt like a comic book film from 2002 that somehow got made and released in 2019.

The latest installment of the X-Men film saga opens in 1992.  The X-Men have been hailed as heroes and it finally looks like like the dreams of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) are going to come true.  Humans and mutants are going to co-exist.  Unfortunately, all of that progress is undone when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) connects with a surge of energy and her powers go supernova.  Jean discovers that she was responsible for her mother’s death and her father rejected her as a result.  She also learns Xavier placed a mental block in her mind.  Seriously pissed off, Jean flees to the island of Genosha, which is ruled over by Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  She also accidentally kills Mystique, therefore freeing Jennifer Lawrence from having to appear in any more of these movies.  All the while, a shape-shifting alien named Vuk (a slumming Jessica Chastain) wants to capture Jean’s powers and use them for herself.

This was the second attempt to bring the Dark Phoenix saga to the screen and somehow, it was even more bland and forgettable than X-Men: Last Stand.  The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the greatest comic book storylines of all time but it seems destined to never be the basis of a good movie.  In the comic books, the Dark Phoenix saga was the accumulation of two decades of storytelling.  After being the most forgettable member of the original X-Men, Jean suddenly became the most powerful mutant in the world.  When she sacrificed herself for the good of the universe, it was not only the end of her life but also the end of one of Marvel’s longest-running love stories, as Cyclops could only cradle her body afterwards.  As usual, Marvel later lessened the emotional impact by revealing that the Phoenix wasn’t actually Jean but just an alien force that took on her memories and personality while the real Jean remained in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay.  Despite this, the Dark Phoenix saga still remains a prime example of Marvel at its best.

Why, with such great source material and a talented cast, was this latest film version of the Dark Phoenix saga so cumbersome?  No one seemed to care.  Unlike in the comic books, there was no emotional depth to the story of Jean Grey losing herself and becoming the Dark Phoenix.  Instead, every scene felt like it was just there to set up the next CGI-fueled confrontation.   Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan (who played Cyclops) seemed to barely know each other and the film spent more time on Nicholas Hoult’s Beast mourning for Mystique than on the relationship that should have been at the center of the film.  None of the actors seemed to be invested in the story.  I’ve never seen Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy look so bored.  The inevitable Magneto scene felt pointless.  The comic books could take a break from Magneto and let other villains have a turn.  The movies have to find an excuse to force him into every story.

It’s been said that the X-Men will be moving into the MCU and will get a whole new reboot.  We’ll probably get a third Dark Phoenix film someday.  I hope this one gets it right.

Quick Review: Logan (dir. by James Mangold)


logan_2017_posterHey, bub! Before you read this,  Lisa already has an awesome review for Logan. Start there first, and if you feel like it, double back here.

The short of it:

+ Might be Jackman and Stewart’s best turn in their roles since X-2:X-Men United.

+ Logan’s well written, with some good characterization, particularly among the leads. There’s a vulnerability here.

+ It’s brutal. Logan is the bloody version of Wolverine we all hoped for.

+ Moves like the best of Westerns. Just about as cool as 3:10 to Yuma.

+ Though changed from her comic book origins Laura (X-23) is awesome on screen.

– The film feels long. For a film that’s just a hair over 2 hours, it feel almost like 3.

– Some of the action scenes may be a little quick for the camera.

– There isn’t an answer/explanation for everything (nor should there be).

The long of it:

I was 25 when I saw the original X-Men in the cinema. While everyone was excited to see their favorite mutants show up on screen (no Nightcrawler for me – that would take the sequel), it was Wolverine that caused the most buzz. When Hugh Jackman first stepped into the role, there was a great deal of skepticism. He wasn’t short and stocky nor big and bulky, and there was only so much one could do to give him that Wolverine look. Yet, he made the role his own and despite a few stutter-steps (such as X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), it’s hard to fathom any X-Men film without him.

The same can also be said of Patrick Stewart. Just about the easiest first pick for Charles Xavier anyone could have, his time with the X-Men is only slightly shorter as he wasn’t really needed for X-Men: First Class.

It’s been roughly 17 years for them both. That’s longer than any single actor’s run of James Bond. Longer than any superhero portrayal – Christopher Reeve only had a decade as Superman. Robert Downey Jr. Has about 9 years under his belt as Iron Man. It’s about time that their stories come to a close.

There was a bit of yawning and exaggerated sighing in my screening of Logan, which leads me to believe the audience was really expecting a faster paced film. I didn’t get the outright snoring that occurred during a Manhattan showing of the Robocop remake, if that’s any consolation. Usually the Midnight crowd are the liveliest bunch of patrons, particularly when it comes to superhero or action films. At its heart, Logan is a drama piece peppered with action sequences. It honestly felt like a really good Western, with an old cowboy that wants nothing more than to hang up his guns, yet finds their peace constantly challenged. The film has a lot of exposition through dialogue, and for some, this could make the story feel really slow at times. It’s not a superhero action film, even though it has its moments.

The Western angle is of no real surprise here, given that Logan reunites 3:10 to Yuma and The Wolverine director James Mangold with both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. It flows in the same fashion as Yuma, but with mutants.

Logan takes place in a future timeline where no new mutants have appeared in nearly 20 years (which is very similar to Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men). James Howlett is a broken individual working as a limo driver. Time has taken its toll on The Wolverine. He doesn’t heal as well as he used to and he struggles with the Adamantium in his bones. Adding to Logan’s troubles is an ailing Charles Xavier. Forced to take care of him both out of friendship and the possible danger he poses, I felt it added a great level of vulnerability to both individuals. They’re both nearing their end and they can’t count on their abilities to rescue them as well as it once could. The conversations between them speak of regrets and/or just keeping afloat, though Xavier is still hopeful that there’s some good on the horizon. Their long term friendship also adds to the banter between the two, with a few comical quips throughout the film.

The audience never truly learns how this timeline occurred, but it doesn’t truly matter. This is a character driven film, not so much a plot driven one. The story amps up a little once Laura (Dafne Keen, in her first role) enters the mix. Those familiar with her comic origins will spot the connection, though it’s been changed in a number of ways to fit Mangold’s screenplay. Both Keen and Laura match up so well here that you could disregard the comic altogether in favor of this cinematic origin. Laura is being chased by a group of mercenaries led by Pierce (Brad Holbrook – Netflix’s Narcos), and her protector asks Logan to take her to a designated place.

Taking a cue from Deadpool’s success, Logan went with a R rating and makes the most of it. There’s profanity abound, and when the claws come out, there’s major bloodshed. Heads are skewered, limbs are lost and it’s a beautiful sight to behold. Did the movie have to have the blood? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t really detract from the story. If anything, it might come as a surprise when you first witness it all on screen. The only drawback to this is that some of the fight sequences are so quick that you could miss some of the movements. It’s not a terrible thing at all, but it may warrant a second viewing to catch everything.

In the end, Logan a perfect final chapter for one of the most popular X-Men out there.  We’ve all grown with both the character and the actors involved.

Logan: The 2nd Trailer


Fox recently released the 2nd trailer for James Mangold’s Logan, and we finally get more an idea of what one of my favorite Marvel characters has to offer, with a little bloodshed. I’ve been waiting for some confirmation that the girl is actually Laura Kinney (a.k.a. X-23), and this trailer pretty much removes all doubt with her dual blades. So far, it’s looking interesting, though I’m not sure how it all fits into what’s become of the X-Men Timeline. Hopefully, those answers will come when the film premieres in early March (in the U.S.). Enjoy.

 

 

While you’re at it, if you’re looking to learn more about the character, Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men-The New Age: The Cruelest Cut covers Issues 450-454, with the first two showcasing X-23 as a feral assassin up against the X-Men. You can also find Kinney in Marvel vs Capcom.

It’s Better Than Last Stand: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, directed by Bryan Singer)


X-Men_-_ApocalypseIt is easy to forget what a big deal the first X-Men movie was in 2000.  At a time when Joel Schumacher was still the industry’s go-to director for super hero films, X-Men announced that films based on comic books did not have to be campy, silly, stupid, or feature Alicia Silverstone.  When X-Men was first released, critics and audiences were surprised to see a comic book film that was intelligent, well-acted, and actually about something.

The only people who were not shocked were those of us who grew up reading the X-Men books.  We already knew that the X-Men was about more than just heroes with super powers and flashy costumes.  We knew that the battles within the pages of the X-books were always meant to serve as a metaphor for racism and real-world prejudice and, since many of us felt like outcasts and mutants ourselves, we related to the characters.  We already knew that Magneto was often a sympathetic villain while Prof. X was not always a likable hero.  We knew that almost every battle that the X-Men fought came down to the question of whether or not different types of people could peacefully co-exist.  Unlike the critics, we were not shocked by X-Men‘s subtext.  Instead, we were just happy that Bryan Singer did not fuck things up.

All of the comic books films that have followed have owed a debt to critical and commercial success the first X-Men movie.  Without that success, there would probably have never been a Dark Knight trilogy or even an MCU.

FallofmutantsThe success of X-Men has also led to a 16 year-old franchise of movies about mutants and their struggle to live in a world that fears them.  X-Men: Apocalypse is the 9th installment in that franchise and it is based on the Fall of the Mutants storyline, which ran through several Marvel comics in 1988.

Continuing the pattern set by X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse takes place in the past, back when Charles Xavier was still James McAvoy and Magneto was still Michael Fassbender.  (Unlike Days of Future Past, neither Patrick Strewart nor Ian McKellan makes an appearance.)  The year is 1983.  Ronald Reagan is President.  The Cold War still rages.  The music is better than it is today.  Xavier is running his school for gifted mutants youngsters.  Magneto is living, under an assumed name, in Poland.  Magneto is married and has a young daughter and as soon as I saw them, I knew they were going to die.  Magneto’s family never survives.

In Egypt, an ancient and powerful mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is awakened after being entombed for centuries.  Readers of the comic books will immediately recognize En Sabah Nur as Apocalypse.  Planning to destroy the world so that he can rebuild it in his own image, Apocalypse recruits his four horseman — Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto.  Apocalypse also wants to recruit Xavier to his side but Prof. X still believes that humans and mutants must learn to co-exist.

livingeraser1What’s interesting is that, even though Fassbender and McAvoy share a few scenes, this is the first X-Men film to not feature any sort of debate between Xavier and Magneto.  Magneto, one of the greatest comic book villains of all time, is actually a little boring here and, without those debates, Apocalypse lacks the subtext that distinguished the best of the previous X-Men films.  The emphasis is less on what it means to be an outsider and more on defeating Apocalypse.  Unfortunately, Apocalypse is a great character in the comic books but he does not translate well into film.  Unlike Magneto, who has several good and justifiable reasons for not trusting humanity, the film version of Apocalypse is portrayed as being pure evil and little else.  His plan to destroy the world never makes much sense and he is almost as bland as Dr. Doom in the latest Fantastic Four reboot.  Apocalypse could be any villain from any comic book movie that has been released over the past 16 years.  He could just as easily be the Living Eraser.

Apocalypse is also an origin story, showing how the modern incarnation of the X-Men first came to be.  We meet young versions of Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler (played by Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, and Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) makes a brief appearance that feels like it was mostly included to set up the character’s third stand-alone film.  Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Evan Peters also return in the roles of Mystique, the Beast, and Quicksilver.  Peters is featured in the movie’s coolest scene, though that scene is basically just a redo of Days of Future Past‘s coolest scene.

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(There’s also a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Dazzler, which I guess means that Marvel’s disco queen will eventually be appearing on movie screens.)

X-Men: Apocalypse is not as good as either First Class or Days of Future Past but it’s still better than The Last Stand.  (Since Apocalypse takes place in 1983, Scott and Jean go to see Return of the Jedi and talk about how the third film of any franchise always sucks.)  It’s entertaining but, without an interesting villain or any sort of examination of what it really means to be an outcast,  Apocalypse is also forgettable in a way that X2 and Days of Future Past never were.  As a lifelong fan of the X-Men, I could not help but be disappointed.

Plus, this movie needed more Deadpool! (Note: Deadpool is not in X-Men: Apocalypse.)

Plus, this movie needed more Deadpool! (Note: Deadpool is not in X-Men: Apocalypse.)

One thing that especially bothered me is that Days of Future Past ended with Xavier promising to explain to Wolverine why he, Scott, and Jean were all still alive despite having been killed in The Last Stand.  If you were hoping Apocalypse would clear that up, don’t hold your breath.  I guess that question will remain unanswered until the 10th film.

Speaking of which, First Class was set in the 1960s and Days of Future Past largely took place in the 70s.  Apocalypse is an 80s movie so the next installment should be set in the early 90s.  Will Scott be listening to Nirvana or will he be playing air guitar to November Rain?  I guess we’ll have to wait to find out!

x-men-apocalypse1

X-Men: Apocalypse Drops In With It’s Final Trailer


X-Men Apocalypse

20th Century Fox have to be feeling quite giddy and confident with their slate of blockbusters this summer. Deadpool slayed everyone that went up against it during it’s February release and has climbed the box-office charts to the levels I think even Fox executives couldn’t imagine.

Now comes it’s main comic book film property returning this summer with it’s biggest story, yet. X-Men: Apocalypse has been a storyline fans of the Marvel Mutants (not part of the MCU) have been clamoring for ever since the first X-Men film surprised everyone all the way back in 2000.

Bryan Singer returns for his 4th go-round with these new band of Merry Mutants (Hugh Jackman as Wolverine the only holdover from his original cast) with the immortal and first mutant En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse up to no good. We get a bit more of the plot in this final trailer and even more city-wide destruction (I’ll give it a pass considering it’s being committed by someone called Apocalypse and not Superman).

X-Men: Apocalypse will bring the war on May 27, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse Super Bowl TV Spot


X-Men Apocalypse

The X-Men film franchise helped usher in the this golden age of comic book films. Looking back at those early films makes for a love them or hate them reaction. The first two helped establish the beloved characters onto the bigscreen while successive sequels and spinoffs did much to try and tear down the goodwill created by the former.

Matthew Vaughn helped in the franchise course correction with the surprisingly good X-Men: First Class. Bryan Singer’s return with that film’s follow-up with X-Men: Days of Future Past was another step in the right direction. It even marked the beginning of Fox’s attempt to replicate Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe building.

X-Men: Apocalypse is suppose to help build on the foundation laid down by the last film. It also looks to be a sort of reboot of the core characters to their much younger versions. The doomsday vibe of the film really comes off well in the trailer and it shows enough action to excite fans.

Then they show a great looking Psylocke using her psy-blade in a way it was never meant to be as. Just embrace books Fox. Just embrace it instead of mucking it up.

X-Men: Apocalypse will bring the war on May 27, 2016