Listen to the episode here!
In which Rachel and Miles return triumphant, the X-Men get a second ongoing series, we hit peak Moira MacTaggert, R-A-H-N-E is definitely pronounced “rain,” Sam Guthrie is the nicest henchman, Claremont is hit-and-miss on cultural diversity, and Bobby da Costa is the teenageriest teenager of them all.
- Nova Roma
- The New Mutants and The New Mutants
- Marvel Graphic Novels
- Greenberg the Vampire
- Whitewashing in superhero comics
- The mercurial Guthrie family
- Xi’an the Obscure
- The Dr. Claw Effect (and why Dr. Doom and Arcade are exceptions)
- Donald Pierce
- Eras of New Mutants
- Lila Cheney
- The Hellions
Next Week: The X-Men do Barbarella
You can find a visual companion to the episode – and links to recommended reading – on our blog.
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Weeks of September 10 and September 17, 2014
In which we play catch-up and review a record nine issues!
- From the week of September 10:
- Magneto #9*
- Death of Wolverine #2
- Nightcrawler #6
- X-Force #9
- From the week of September 17:
- Wolverine and the X-Men #9
- All-New X-Men #32*
- Uncanny Avengers #24
- All-New X-Factor #14
- Uncanny X-Men #26
*Picks of their respective weeks
Rachel wrote more about Uncanny X-Men #26 over here.
A couple weeks ago, I spent some time breaking down my favorite panel from Uncanny X-Men #25, and why it’s both a great Cyclops character beat* and a great illustration (ha!) of how visual storytelling can and should work.
Right now, Uncanny is a semimonthly series, which means it’s alternating between two artists, Chris Bachalo and Kris Anka. That kind of switching off can be risky business: making it work takes a very carefully matched pair of artists, and which commonalities matter most in a given series isn’t always obvious going in.
Bachalo and Anka overlap a lot superficially: they’re both stylish and angular, with clean line art and similar enough visual language to keep the transitions from being too jarring. More significantly, though–and critical to this series in particular–they’re both exceptionally good at conveying emotion through body language.
That’s particularly important here because Uncanny X-Men is currently in large part a book about Cyclops’s personal reckoning with the death of Charles Xavier–the mentor and surrogate father Cyclops killed while possessed by the Phoenix Force. That means it’s a story driven largely by emotional beats–something to which Cyclops is singularly poorly suited on fronts both visual and canonical.
Cyclops is kind of a block of wood. He’s uptight and very guarded–dude’s mantra is “I’m fine,” growled through gritted teeth. There’s nothing fluid about his body language–he’s all stiffness and angles, even in combat but especially in conversation. If you want to make Cyclops emotionally expressive and stay true to the character, you don’t get to use expository dialogue, and you definitely don’t get to use exaggerated expressions. You’re pretty much limited to subtle details.
Now, as it happens, superhero comics have a standard visual shorthand for exactly that scenario. The catch? It usually involves subtle variation in the way you draw their–you guessed it–eyes.
Not really an option here.
That’s where Anka and Bachalo–particularly Anka–come in. Kris Anka isn’t someone I go to when I’m thinking of artists who are masters of facial expressions. He doesn’t have the expressive fluidity of, say, Sara Pichelli or Russell Dauterman, nor the explosive intensity of Bill Sienkiewicz. Anka is all about lines and angles, stylized and sometimes even a little rigid. With Pichelli, you look to eyes and hands; with Dauterman, mouths. With Anka, the emotional beats are all about exaggerated or broken angles: clenched jawlines, sagging shoulders, stances knocked slightly off-kilter. Kris Anka can do a lot with body language.
So: In Uncanny X-Men #26, Cyclops starts out front and center, all false front and righteous indignation:
In fact, Cyclops only talks on one page of <em>Uncanny X-Men</em> #26. After the panel above, he says one more word. And then, over the rest of the issue, he just crumbles.
*You may have noted that a lot of the more craft-specific posts here have focused on portrayals of Cyclops. There are a couple reasons for that. Cyclops is one of my favorite X-Men characters, but he’s also one it’s really easy to handle poorly, and how well he’s done is–at least for me–a pretty good bar for the general quality of any given series in which he’s part of the main cast. And when Cyclops is done right, he tends to become a locus of interesting visual storytelling, because you’re taking a character who’s by definition not visually demonstrative and dropping them into a static visual medium that’s generally all about exaggerated expression.
The 2008 live-action Speed Racer movie is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve seen it easily a dozen times, and I still think it should have won every single possible award, including the ones for which it doesn’t technically qualify and a special new award made specifically to recognize Emile Hirsch’s perfect delivery of the perfect line “Inspector Detector suspected foul play.”
God, I love that movie.
ANYWAY, last night, a conversation on Twitter–specifically pursuant to James F. Wright and Josh Eckert’s pretty damn brilliant Children of the Engine concept–reminded me of the fact that it contains what I keep thinking should be pieces of an awesome Speed Racer / X-Men conspiracy theory.
Consider: Comics Cyclops is basically cosplaying Racer X at this point. Scott Porter, who played pre-Racer X Rex Racer in the 2008 film, voiced Cyclops in both the X-Men anime and the Marvel Heroes MMO; and Racer X’s movie costume is pretty much exactly Cyclops’s old X-Factor uniform, down to the color scheme.
I realize that that these things totally fail to resolve into anything resembling a respectable conspiracy theory. But I still feel vaguely that there should be something there, if only because finding a way to neatly streamline my pop-culture obsessions would probably save a lot of time and action-figure shelf space.
Hi. Rachel here.
I talked some about our panel of the week in this week’s video reviews, but I think it’s a panel whose effectiveness is much better illustrated via static images, so I’m posting this here as a supplement.
This is a panel that grabbed me immediately. It’s the kind of beat I look for in comics–the stillness where you often find the most powerful and subtly significant moments in a story.
Here’s the panel, in isolation. It doesn’t look like much on its own, right?
Here’s the full spread it’s part of. Pay attention to how people are standing: this moment is all about body language.
Can you see it yet? If you’re still having trouble, here’s a hint: Follow the hands–Cyclops’s, in particular.
See what I mean? Is your heart breaking a little right now? It should be.
I would love to see the script for this spread–whether that moment was written, or if Bachalo improvised it; and how it was described relative to how it was drawn. As is, it’s one of the most powerful emotional beats of the story–if you know what to look for.
The fallacy that comics are easy and simple to read is dependent, I think, on the idea that reading is a skill specific to written language. In fact, the language of comics–that integration of visual and verbal, the ways static images can convey and evoke movement and passage of time and a thousand other minute nuances–is incredibly, exquisitely complex and rich. They’re not just illustrated stories. They’re their own discrete medium.
And it’s when creators–and readers–understand those things that comics can really, really get good.
Week of September 3, 2014
In which we actually feel pretty okay about a foil cover.
- Death of Wolverine #1*
- X-Men #19
- All-New X-Factor #13
- Uncanny X-Men #25
- A cat
*Pick of the week (Yes, really.)
Edited to add: Rachel wrote a bit more about the panel of the week over here.