Best Shots Extra: UNCANNY X-MEN #534.1, WITCHFINDER #3

Preview: UNCANNY X-MEN #534.1

 

Uncanny X-Men #534.1

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith, Dan Green, Nathan Lee and Frank D'Armata

Lettering by Joe Carmagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Magneto. He's an icon, an X-Man, a force of nature, and, as Kieron Gillen rightly notes — a PR liability.

You wouldn't expect questions of reputation, branding and image control in a superhero book, but that's one of the reasons why Uncanny X-Men is so different than the rest. Riding high with an upbeat energy and a clean visual style, this book asks some smart questions about the X-Men fighting a war on multiple fronts — both in the public eye and in the public imagination.

Just as far as pacing and construction goes, Kieron Gillen has delivered what I think is one of the best single issues he's written during his tenure at Marvel. There's almost zero fat on these bones, but there's so much going on that you honestly might think this book is longer than 22 pages. And it definitely is a smooth entree into the current status quo of the X-Men, who now live off the coast of San Francisco and actually make plans with the local mayor as a legitimate subculture. I love the energy that's brought to this series, as it's no longer just fisticuffs or angst — the X-Men aren't just victims, but they're being led organically from mission to mission, dealing with more complications than figuring out who to punch.

Gillen's character work is the other selling point here. It's probably not too surprising to see that Magneto absolutely steals the show with his conversation with PR specialist Kate Kildare. Kate is one of those characters that is a logical legacy from Matt Fraction's collaborations with Gillen — because she's somewhat of a blank slate, she can bring in that perspective that nobody else brings, as she and Magneto discuss the necessity of rebranding one's image versus dishonoring yourself to save face. That's not to say that the rest of the characters don't get some good moments here, either — particularly, Namor gets a great line as he puts the smackdown on a faux A.I.M. trooper: "Your arrogance sickens me, beekeeper. Only Namor has the ability to make the Earth move. And he reserves that privilege for one woman at a time."

The art, meanwhile, is a very interesting study in the importance of finding the right colorist for the right artist. Carlos Pacheco works with three different inkers on this book, but the visual tone of this book is held together thanks to some mostly-sharp colorwork by Frank D'Armata. D'Aramata is able to take these darker colors and really punch up the real-life mood, even if it also makes Pacheco's pencils look just a hair like Phil Jimenez on Astonishing X-Men. Pacheco doesn't really reinvent the wheel with his composition, but again, this is meant to be an entree to the X-Men — he's accessible, he's cinematic, and he absolutely draws the hell out of characters like Cyclops and Magneto.

Flaws? I suppose they do exist in this book, but to be honest, they're all going to sound like nitpicks anyway. (At least I kind of think they are.) Really, the only two things that popped out at me were these — Kitty Pryde is on the cover of the book and on the recap page, but she's not actually in this issue. (Even I'm rolling my eyes as I type this.) (Edit: As Kieron Gillen himself points out to us, Kitty actually is in the issue. "Kitty is in this issue, if only briefly. Her main thing is she hacks the airport's security.") And the only other thing? Magneto's big moment — a double-page splash — I think could have been a single splash with a one-page intro to really punch up Magneto's power and skill. But to say any of these things slow down this book? Absolutely not.

After reading many of Marvel's Point One books, I definitely have to say that Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-Men #534.1 is by far the best of the bunch. It's accessible, it's got a great energy to it, it wrestles with some questions that you might not expect from the prerequisite punching and bantering, and it sheds some new light on what's already some of the most overlooked character dynamics in today's superhero genre. This book is definitely one of the best I've read this week.

 

Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #3

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

Art by John Severin and Dave Stewart

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

All supernatural detectives in comics have their emotional baggage. John Constantine is kind of a nihilistic jerk. Hellboy has that whole demon-of-the-apocalypse thing to deal with, but Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder, has a uniquely flavored angst. The previous Witchfinder series showed Grey as a fellow who was, above all things, resentful. He’s not a guy full of righteous anger, or sullen fatalism. He’s bitter. Grey’s been gifted with a knack for facing down the boogeymen of Victorian England and it eats away at him, untempered by a sense of destiny or justice. John Constantine fights the devil with a shrug and a wisecrack, Hellboy with an angry yell and gritted teeth, While Grey goes about his dark business with a scowl and an irritated sigh.

Lost And Gone Forever, the second Witchfinder series, loses sight of this interesting aspect of Grey’s developing character. In fact, this tale of cowboys and demons almost makes Grey a guest star in his own book, a walking reaction shot rather than an annoyed hero. Sure, issue #1 had him throwing lead in a saloon and putting the local yokels in their place with appropriate British disdain, but Grey shouldn’t be another a steely-eyed man-on-a-mission kind of hero. He should be pissed, sure, but pissed in grouchy, I-hate-my-job kind if way, the way that made him so tragic in the last series.

It’s obvious writers Mike Mignola and John Arcudi wanted to add an old west horror tale to the Hellboy Mythos, and Lost and Gone Forever’s plot has the elements to develop into an exceptional example of this fruitful genre subset. There is the story’s typically unnerving revisionist approach to the old west, an element artist John Severin vivifies with his beautifully queasy, gangrenous visuals, and there’s also the theme of European black magic and Native American mysticism bumping heads and swirling together, as well as plenty of whooping gunfightin', zombie lassoing, werewolf wrestling old west action. This is all good, but why is Edward Grey along for the ride?

Issue #3 has Sir Edward trailing along with his two newly befriended frontier mates doing little more than running away from monsters, getting his limey butt saved (twice) and looking horrified. The Americans have all the answers, perform most of the action and basically use Grey as an exposition dump for the readers.

Lost And Gone Forever, is a good horror Western, but, unless Mignola and Arcudi pull out some continuity-developing shenanigans with the heliotropic brotherhood of Ra in the last issue, then its not much of a Witchfinder story. Coupled against the series’ positives, especially Severin’s sumptuously tactile illustrations, maybe that’s not such a big deal. Still, I hope the next Witchfinder outing will tap a little more deeply into the resentful, bitter psyche of the Hellboyverse’s most truly reluctant supernatural hero.

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