Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

03 October 2008

X-Men vs. Apocalypse, v. 1: The Twelve

Collects: Uncanny X-Men #376-7, X-Men #96-7, Cable #73-6, Wolverine #145-7 (1999-2000)

Released: March 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 312 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785122630

When I started buying trade paperbacks in earnest four years ago, I was obsessed with value — how many issues I could get for the dollar. I think X-Men vs. Apocalypse, v. 1: The Twelve would have made me very happy back then, with eleven issues for less than $20 at Amazon. That’s less than I would have paid for the individual issues.

X-Men vs. Apocalypse: The Twelve coverBut Twelve isn’t actually a good deal, and you know why? Because almost two-thirds of the book is useless and irrelevant. If this collection had added the Uncanny X-Men and X-Men issues that preceded the ones included here and dropped Cable and Wolverine, this collection might have been worthwhile. I mean, it’s a simple story: genocidal, idiot-Darwinist Apocalypse and his religious-themed henchmen capture the long-prophesied mutants called the Twelve and try to drain their powers to make Apocalypse all powerful. But no, you’ve got to slog through ancillary stuff to get to the meat.

Wolverine #145-7 is a distraction to the main story, and without earlier stories, the tale of how Apocalypse made him “Death” and how he reclaimed his soul (or some such thing) isn’t important. Everyone at the time knew his turn to the dark side wasn’t going to stick, and everyone knows it eight years later as well. And then Angel, another former “Death,” takes over the Wolverine story with his struggles with what Apocalypse had done to him. No one cares about that; that was resolved years ago. Let it go.

The Cable issues are no treat. They too are irrelevant to the main plot, showing who the new “Pestilence” and “War” are but not much else. It doesn’t take four issues to do that, believe me. Cable #75 takes the cake: Cable, captured by Apocalypse, very briefly escapes and is recaptured; #76 takes place entirely in Cable’s mind and doesn’t move the story forward at all.

(The weirdest part of the Cable issues is that the art is split between enemy of perspective Rob Liefeld (#73 and 75) and Bernard Chang (#74 and 76), presumably because Liefeld needed the break. But Liefeld’s art is actually better. I’m not saying Liefeld is good, but his work has an intensity and seriousness Chang’s cartoony style can’t match. I mean, you have to deal with Liefeld’s weirdly creased faces — everyone’s faces fold inward toward the eyes — and perspective problems and odd feet and … well, you get the idea.)

And the lettering … I never mention lettering, a credit to the many professional, competent, occasionally brilliant people who have lettered comic books over the years. But the lettering in Cable — ascribed to “RS and Comicraft’s Said Temofonte” — is godawful. I’m assuming RS refers to Richard Starkings, and Starkings and Comicraft have done a lot of Marvel’s lettering over the past decade. But man, this painful stuff: an unconventional font that makes it seem Cyclops, Cable, Caliban (a simple-minded, mutated mutant), and Jean Grey all speak in the same tone. … I think this font is my least favorite part of Twelve, and that’s saying something.

The main issues are no picnic either. I know writer Alan Davis is trying hard, but without the proper setup and foreshadowing, the conclusion to Twelve looks slipshod. The four issues of the X-Men / Uncanny X-Men crossover seems to almost be as much about mutant Skrulls as about the X-Men themselves. The X-Men fall into Apocalypse’s clutches without putting up much of a fight, and they escape their prisons to stop by accident, not something they did. (You can argue it was a miscalculation on Apocalypse’s part, but I don’t believe it.) The cast is far too sprawling for a mere four issues, and it doesn’t help that some people pop in solely for the purpose of being used by Apocalypse and pop out for their own stories / plot convenience (Bishop, Mikhail Rasputin).

And the shifts in art styles throughout the books … Davis on X-Men, Roger Cruz and Tom Raney on Uncanny X-Men, Liefeld, Chang … There’s a different penciller on each issue of Wolverine: Leinil Francis Yu, Mike Miller, and Cruz. It’s a mess, and the artistic continuity is nil. Chang’s and Cruz’s exaggerated, cartoony styles contrast with Davis’s elegant pencils and Yu’s gritter realism. Raney’s style works pretty well with Davis’s, and Miller’s work is a good fill-in for Yu, but although Yu and Miller’s work appear in consecutive issues of Wolverine, they’re separated by three issues in Twelve. And then there’s whatever Liefeld does; that doesn’t play well with anyone at this end of the ‘90s.

Twelve could work as it was originally structured in the original core X-Men titles: meandering stories with a bit of foreboding, a bit of Skrulls, and a lot of Apocalypse. (And a goodly amount of Alan Davis.) Instead, with the tie-ins, well …

Sadly, despite knowing better, I’ll probably end up buying X-Men vs. Apocalypse, v. 2.

Rating: X-Men symbol Half X-Men symbol (1.5 of 5)

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