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Mike Carey

X-Men: Origins

This graphic novel gives us the origins of six X-Men: Colossus, Jean Grey, Beast, Sabretooth, Wolverine and Gambit. Each story is told by different authors and illustrators, thus there was some inconsistency in how each story unfolds.

Colossus by Chris Yost and Trevor Hairsine

Pioter is a young Siberian teen who is devastated when his older brother Mikhail is killed in the line of duty and during his grief turns into Colossus for the first time. A friend of Mikhail witnesses it but keeps the secret, but the Russian secret police suspect something. A baby sister Illyana is born and Pioter finds it harder to hide his powers so this gentle giant leaves his home and joins the X-Men to keep her safe. This story was my favorite, for despite its short length told a cohesive story that gave you enough details on his origins. The art was well done, especially a splash page of Pioter saving Illyana’s life. 

Jean Grey by Sean McKeever and Mike Mayhew

The story introduces Jean Grey as a teen who is so overwhelmed by her psychic abilities that she has become a recluse so her parents reach out to Professor X to help her learn how to control her abilities. He gets her past her trauma of feeling a friend’s death and teachers her to harness her gifts. But as a teen, she is still unpredictable and leaves the academy alone where she needs to use her powers to help when a crisis occurs. While chastised at the end by the Professor, you see Jean is healing. The art in this story was the best of the six, with a photo-realism style similar to Alex Ross. 

Beast by Mike Carey and J.K. Woodward

We are introduced to Beast as a burly high school genius named Hank who is mocked for his appearance but then heralded as a hero when he helps the football team win State. A bit of an explanation of his origins is given when it is revealed that his Dad was exposed to a high amount of radiation before he was born, thus genetically passing it on to him. Then there is a villain who wants to use Hank as his pawn and Professor X gets involved. Without Hank’s consent, he wipes the memory of Hank from his parents and the community and enlists him to join the X-Men. I hated the Professor for doing that, how cruel to rip Hank away from his family without warning. The art was hideous in this story- the artist was aiming for a photo-realism style found in the Jean Grey story, but it was muddy and distorted. 

Sabretooth by Kieron Gillen and Dan Panosian

Long-lived Sabretooth is seen as a child in the rural late 1800s who kills his older brother over a piece of pie on his brother’s birthday. Horrified, his parents lock him away but he grows into a feral and cruel teen who eventually escapes and kills them. As an adult, he meets Logan who he befriends but then betrays and begins a tradition of finding him every year to fight on his birthday (or perhaps his brother’s birthday?). I was quite put-off when Logan’s lady love is a sexy Native American with the name of Silver Fox. It was a racist and inaccurate depiction of Native women of that era and took me out of the story.

Wolverine by Chris Yost and Mark Texeira

This story draws from the 2001 story Wolverine: Origin and how Logan’s power came to him as a child in Canada when he witnessed his parents being killed. The story then deals with later years and how Professor X tries to show him that he is more than a killing machine and that he needs to tap into his morality and become an X-Men. The art is solid with good depictions of Logan throughout the years along with his iconic yellow costume. 

Gambit by Mike Carey, David Yardin and Ibraim Roberson 

I love me some Gambit, so I was willing to overlook that the story didn’t truly show his origins. Instead, it begins with his marriage to Bella Donna. The whole idea of them marrying didn’t make sense, as they were from feuding clans – the Thieves Guild vs the Assassin’s Guild. It was supposed to have a Romeo and Juliet vibe but I think the marriage would have been stopped before the ceremony, not immediately afterward. But…the rest of the story shows while Remy briefly works for bad people, his goodness wins out at the end. The art was decent, but sometimes facial features were oddly puffy looking.

This wasn’t the strongest collection of stories, as the shift in writing and art styles kept it from being consistent. I felt the Colossus and Jean Grey stories were the strongest, both in writing and art. The X-Men were one of my first comic loves, and even though I haven’t been reading a lot about them in recent years, I noticed inconsistencies in the stories. It was an interesting early look at some X-Men heroes and villains but not what I would consider canon. 

-Nancy

The Dollhouse Family

A dollhouse lures generations of people into its clutches, but why?

In 1979 Britain, Alice mysteriously receives an elaborate old-fashioned dollhouse from a great-aunt that she was unaware of. She loves to play with it and the dollhouse family to escape the abuse that her father is inflicting on her family. With a child’s innocence, she accepts it when the dolls talk to her and is thrilled to use the chant they teach her so she can become small and join them. There is an unusual balance in the house, the dolls seem content yet they are aware there is an evil entity in the house that soon draws Alice in and tries to make a Faustian bargain with her. This is where the plot goes sideways to me- a tragedy befalls Alice and she spends years in a foster home. But as Alice grows up and has a daughter herself, we get odd flashbacks to Ireland in the late 1800s and how a surveyor’s exploration of a cave and his meeting with a succubus lead to the dollhouse. We get the expected fight of good vs evil at the end, but only after the narratives of past and present are confusingly knit together.

The art was good, and I actually found the illustrations portraying the past to be evocatively authentic and more to my liking than the modern-day depictions. I enjoyed the chapter openings that showed creepy dolls that gave a hint of what was to come. Some of the lettering in my online copy was off, such as additional details to the side of the illustrations were covered by the art or so faint as to be unreadable. I would hope in a print edition this would be corrected. 

Despite the strong start with the Hill House label, this third graphic novel isn’t up to snuff. It felt like a mix of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline plus a weak Locke and Key, which Joe Hill wrote.  In fact, Hill’s single-issue Small World was all about a dollhouse, so this felt like a convoluted British knockoff of it. But I still look forward to the last two titles in this label and am glad I was able to read an early copy through NetGalley. 

-Nancy

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