Monday, 29 December 2014

All-New X-Men Vol.2: Here to Stay (Marvel NOW!) Review

All-New X-Men Vol.2: Here to Stay (Marvel NOW!)

Guys, it's getting kinda' squashy in this
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: David Marquez and Stuart Immonen

Collects: All-New X-Men #6-10

Background Information:

In Avengers VS X-Men (which, if there was honesty in advertising, would be called Stop Liking X-Men and Like The Avengers Instead) X-Men leader Cyclops not only became the new perceivably-evil-dude, but he also killed mentor Professor Xavier and became the most hated figure in the Marvel Universe. Beast, tortured by the fact that his leader and former besty (bestie? Is there a way to say that? Can someone find me a white girl to ask?) is now the least nice mutant out there (and considering that wolverine fronts the other team, is saying something), decides to bring the original X-Men from the past with the sole purpose of making Cyclops feel bad. It doesn’t sound particularly coherent, but there’s a good story here.


Okay, the first volume of All-New X-Men was fantastic. It was a set-up unlike any other. Young X-men confronted their future selves, or lack thereof and ended up fairly traumatised. Volume 2, Here to Stay does build on that trauma, and the story does develop.

It just doesn’t feel that way throughout the whole book.

Man, I'm a Gen Y, and even I agree with Cyclops!
It’s hard to say exactly what the story is here, as multiple things seem to be happening, but basically, it boils down to this: young Jean is scared of her newfound powers, young Cyclops is trying to find out where he went wrong and young Angel wants to know why nobody will talk about what happened to him. Iceman is busy being funny and Beast is… almost absent in this volume- which is weird, since he was a huge part of last volume. In the meantime, Mystique is gathering mutants to create self-satisfying chaos.

I know, it’s probably unfair to make comparisons to the last volume, but there’s really a dip here. It was nice having a volume that had a story structure. It doesn’t feel like that’s happening in this volume. This is more of a “day in the life of very unhappy teenagers”. Not that it isn’t entertaining; just that it feels like not much happens.

See, Here to Stay is a relatively actionless volume. Sure, there’s the odd skirmish, but never are the fights significant to the story- they almost needn’t be there at all. I’m not one to think that comics need to have fights all the way through, by now we need to see the stakes get raised and this volume just doesn’t do that.

It’s not all negative, though, because Bendis’ writing here is awesome. Iceman steals nearly every scene he’s in- be he young or old. You just get the vibe that Bendis loves the character. Young Iceman’s interactions with Kitty Pryde are especially entertaining, considering that she is in love with his older self.

Oh, did I mention old Cyclops has a new costume? Well,
he does.
By far, though, the jewel of this collection is issue 8; where Captain America argues with old Beast about bringing the past X-Men to the present. Here, you don’t actually hear the two discuss much, instead, you get Kitty and Old Iceman mockingly mimicking the two. It’s a great moment of comedy and the kind of scene you want to read again and again. I get annoyed by the amount of focus given to the Avengers in Marvel NOW!, and it’s really great to see Bendis not being afraid to joke at the Avengers’ expense.

The art by Stuart Immonen and David Marquez is just as on point as it was in the last volume. They love drawing these characters just as much as Bendis loves writing them. It’s phenomenal art, and you can’t, I repeat, CAN’T miss it.

Here to Stay doesn’t achieve much, but it’s a fun bout of non-achievement. It gets a three out of five ways to spell besti (seriously, how do you spell that? White girls?).


+ Iceman is perfect.

+ If nothing else, issue 8 makes the volume worth buying.

- Not much happens.

Alternate Option: All-New X-Men: Yesterday’s X-Men

You can’t read Here to Stay without reading this one.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Myth of Objectivity *Updated*

Only one of these applies to fiction

There are a few words and phrases I’d like to see removed from comic-reading community’s vernacular. I’ve spoken about some of them- “anti-hero”, for example is one (it’s not an angry hero- it’s a villain that we follow as though he were the hero. Ergo, BATMAN, SCARLET SPIDER, THE NEW 52 JUSTICE LEAGUE AND AGENT VENOM AREN’T ANTI-HEROES!), “real fan” is another (it’s normally shorthand for “people who agree with me” and is inherently elitist).

The worst one, by far is “objectivity”. It’s one that, like “real fan” gets used to “win” an argument. The comment usually goes something like this; Guardians of the Galaxy is an objectively better film than Man of Steel- that’s not just my opinion, its fact. I can prove this by…

Someone tried to use this as "objective" proof... Kill me now.
And then follows a rather pretentious list of everything the fan believes makes Guardians of the Galaxy an objectively more entertaining film. Box office numbers, ratings on, their favourite bits of Guardians compared to their least-favourite bits of Man of Steel and, that pinnacle of argument-winners; the gif. The idea seems to be that, presented with the evidence, the other side should shut up.

But, of course, the other side never shuts up.

And why should they? They loved the Man of Steel and found Peter Quill’s dance-off to be a little ridiculous.

Yes, please shut up.
The objectivity argument fails to hold water for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is that what many arguers take for “evidence” isn’t actually evidence at all. Box office numbers, for example, only refer to how much money a movie made. That seems like as good a piece of data as any, because it’s an actual number and they don’t lie, right? But box office numbers DON’T tell us a number of things. It doesn’t tell us how many tickets were sold. They don’t tell us how many people went to see it a second time, reducing the amount who actually saw it, or how many saw it once and considered it not worth their time. It doesn’t tell us how many saw it in an IMAX or in 3D- which is a far more expensive ticket. And it doesn’t tell us how many people actually liked the film.

Critical acclaim is another one that the objectivity trolls like to refer to. If lots of people liked the movie that means it’s good and you should like it too, right? Conversely, if lots of people hated the movie, you’d better hate it too or risk being ostracised by the cool kids! Unfortunately, critical acclaim also doesn’t tell you anything more than that this particular critic liked the movie; it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll like it (for example, look at these three very different reviews of Justice League: Throne of Atlantis).

But the ultimate flaw in the objectivity argument is the idea that the quality of a narrative can be objectively determined. See, reading or viewing a narrative is a deeply subjective (that is, non-objective, for those dumb enough to argue objectivity) experience. When we read or view any story, we bring our own thoughts, feelings and experiences to the narrative. Naturally, some stories are going to resonate well with you, some aren’t- but that’s not because of some concrete notion of “quality”; it’s because your thoughts, feelings and experiences have led to closely relating to, or becoming excited by that story. That’s something you can’t qualify or quantify, and it definitely isn’t something you would call “objective”.

From a geriatric Batman/Superman, to a shoehorned
fight between the two characters, to half the book
being given over to talking head newsreaders, there were
many things that didn't appeal to me in this book. It
might be your favourite, though.
I realise, of course, that I’ve worked myself into a corner, here. As a reviewer, I’m “expected” to write objectively. But that expectation is misguided. I’m expected to call things as I see them. If I see, say, The Clone Saga (one that I haven’t read yet) as an entertaining tale that tells a story that I find compelling, then that’s likely what I will write in my reviews. If I see The Dark Knight Returns as a overdrawn, confusing, mess (I’ve read it, and see it as just that), then that’s what I’ll say in a review. You’re experience of either story may be totally different. You may love the constant news anchors talking to each other in The Dark Knight Returns- that’s fine. It doesn’t, however, make my review less valid any more than my review makes your opinion less valid.

Overall, reading is a deeply personal experience. Quality, as such, is highly subjective. Instead of trying to prove “objectively” that one narrative is better than another, we need to know what we like, and just get down to the business of enjoying that thing.