X-Men Red Volume 1: The Hate Machine by Tom Taylor, Mahmud Asrar and Pascal Alixe

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 18 September 2018

 

Writer Tom Taylor and his artistic team have created an excellent and thought-provoking new X-Men series that not only follows the reintroduction of one of comics’ most interesting characters to the turbulent Marvel Universe but once again examines the real world problems of hatred and prejudice.

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For years, Jean Grey’s fate has always been tied to the universe-ending Phoenix Force, the cosmic entity of rebirth and destruction that is constantly seeking the most powerful host it can find.  However, following her latest resurrection during the events of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, Jean has renounced the Phoenix power once and for all and is now determined to live her life on her own terms.  Still one of the most powerful mutants in the entire world, Jean Grey sets out to restore her connections and find her place in a world that has changed dramatically since her last death.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that mutants are still feared and hated by a world that doesn’t understand them.  Despite all the adventures and endeavours of Charles Xavier and his X-Men, animosity towards mutants has never been higher.  Determined to change the world for the better, the resurrected founding member of the X-Men sets out to achieve her vision for the future and change world opinion about mutants once and for all.  To do that, Jean first attempts to create a mutant nation at the UN.  But when she is framed for the murder of politician, Jean is declared a criminal and mutants are subject to greater hatred from mankind.

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Realising that someone must be behind the recent upswing in anti-mutant sentiment and determined to protect those mutants targeted by hatred, Jean forms a new team of X-Men, made up of Nightcrawler, Storm, Namor, Gambit, Gentle, Wolverine (Laura Kinney – X-23), Honey Badger (Wolverine’s adorable clone) and newcomer Trinary.  But even as Jean and her team fight to save those mutants being targeted, more hatred and attacks are occurring around the world.  The sinister Cassandra Nova is determined to wipe mutants out once and for all and views Jean Grey as the greatest threat to this goal.

Following the end of his All-New Wolverine series, Australian author Tom Taylor returns at the head of a brand new X-Men series, X-Men Red, which takes fans back to the basics of the X-Men franchise.  Volume 1 of X-Men Red is made up of issues #1-5 of this new series, as well as Annual #1.  After enjoying Taylor’s work in All-New Wolverine (check out my review here: https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/09/08/all-new-wolverine-volumes-1-6-complete-series-by-tom-taylor/), I was excited to see him continue to work with Marvel, especially as it allows him to expand on characters and story elements he introduced in his previous Marvel series.  Most of the artistic work in this new series has been produced by veteran artist Mahmud Asrar, who has significant work in DC, Image, Marvel and other publishers.  X-Men fans may be familiar with his work on All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men.  Asrar was the main artist for issues #1-5, while the work on Annual #1, which is placed at the start of the volume, was drawn by Pascal Alixe.

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It is always fun when starting a new superhero team comic book series made up of established characters to see which heroes the creative team will include in their version of the team.  Taylor has certainly chosen an intriguing and previously unseen mixture of characters for this new X-Men series, and it is interesting to see which characters he focuses on.  The central character of this new team is the newly resurrected Jean Grey, the red in the series title.  This is one of the few times we see Jean step up to lead a team, as she is no longer in the shadow of her mentors or former lovers.  Aside from Jean, the main team members are Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Honey Badger, who are featured in all the issues contained within this first volume.  It was great to see Nightcrawler given such a prominent role in the comic, and it feels like it’s been a while since he’s been such a major character within an X-Men series.  I also liked new character Trinary, who is introduced in this series and is given an interesting set of powers.  Trinary is from India, and has technopathy powers, or the ability to manipulate technology.  Introduced as a new mutant who is attempting to fight the good fight in her own way, Trinary is given a key role in the series understanding the full nature of the technological attacks of the volume’s antagonist, while also taking over a sentinel to use as the team’s new primary source of transportation.  I think this character is given a great introduction, and could have an interesting future in the Marvel universe.  Other characters, Namor, Gentile, Gambit and Storm join the team at various points in the volume, and have a slightly reduced role, appearing for some of the big team ups, with only some short introductory storylines.

I was especially happy to see Taylor transplant the main characters of his previous All-New Wolverine series, Wolverine and Honey Badger, into his next project.  As I mentioned in my previous review, this version of Wolverine, Laura Kinney, also known as X-23, has always been one of my favourite X-Men characters, so I was very happy to see her used again in this series.  She plays a similar role in this team to the original Wolverine, as the silent infiltrator and bodyguard who is loyal to the team’s leader, who in this case is Jean rather than Professor X.  Just like in All-New Wolverine, the heart and soul of this series is definitely Honey Badger, Laura’s clone, who, as well as being a full member of the team, is the series’ comic relief.  Her humorous interactions with all the other characters in the book, especially the stern and serious characters, add a good amount of levity to the book.  Having her refer to Namor as Abs-lantis, or making Gambit hurriedly justify his actions for blowing up Honey Badger by saying it was “for strategic reasons” is particularly amusing and definitely made me smile.  However, the best line in the book has to be given to Wolverine, who casually replies to Jean’s amusement about Laura’s excitement about being in an underwater city with “Being Wolverine doesn’t make me impervious to the wonder of a #$%@%$& mermaid”.

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One of the most defining things about the start of this new series is how it focused on the evolution of the character of Jean Grey.  Despite being a founding member of the X-Men, Jean’s most significant storylines have usually been about her relationships with Cyclops and Wolverine, or her connection to the Phoenix Force.  Now, after coming back to life, Jean has stepped out of these currently deceased characters’ shadows and starts her own attempt to change the world, as she is no longer content to return to her old life.  Essentially, Taylor is trying to set Jean up as the new Professor X, with her own vision for mutant kind and her determination to change the world for the better and end the current level of hatred and prejudice.  While she has her own unique style and vision, there are a lot of call backs to the original Professor X, including the standard “To me, my X-Men” saying that Professor X and other X-Men leaders utilised throughout X-Men history.  I also enjoyed seeing a Jean Grey that is no longer defined by her relationship with the Phoenix Force, especially as Jean lets it be known that the Phoenix Force was holding her back.

It was also nice to see Jean repair the relationships she previously lost with several prominent X-Men characters, as well as establishing new relationships with characters she’s never had a chance to meet before.  This is particularly prevalent in Annual #1, which starts the volume, as she reunites with her surrogate X-Men family, which is heart-warming, especially as there is a focus on her friendship with Nightcrawler, who spends the volume as her BFF.  I also really enjoyed seeing her think about her relationships with Cyclops and Wolverine.  For the first time in X-Men history, Jean is alive when Cyclops and Wolverine are both dead, and must focus on the world without the two men she’s loved.  As such, she spends time adventuring with the daughters of these two men, Rachel Grey and the new Wolverine, and meeting up with them is one of the first priorities she has returning to the world.  I liked how one of the definitive love triangles of Marvel Comics is acknowledged in this new series, even though two points of the triangle are currently dead, and the focus of Jean’s relationship with the next generation of these characters was a clever idea.  I’ll be very interested to see what relationships are explored in the future, with all sorts of different iterations or offspring of Jean and Cyclops out in the world at the moment.  It will also be very intriguing when the original Wolverine is resurrected to see what role he plays in this series, as the creative team will have to have a look at the relationships that this character has with Jean, the current Wolverine and Honey Badger, a new daughter character he’ll have to interact with.
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Since its earliest days, X-Men has always been about the fight against prejudice, as the hatred the mutant characters experience has often been seen as an analogy for social issues such as racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.  Taylor and the creative team behind X-Men Red continue this tradition of using their X-Men series to reflect social issues, in this case focusing on modern issues such as the latest rise of the extreme right-wing, intense nationalism, islamophobia, fear and concern about refugees and migrants, as well as racism.  All of these social issues are reflected in the portrayed hatred of mutants in this volume, with various elements of recent world events shown directed towards the mutant characters.  For example, you have Poland attempting to use their military to round up and detain mutants, similar to how some countries have been using their military to stop or detain refugees.  In another very unconcealed scene, rioters carrying tiki torches start attacking mutants, not considering them people, and even killing one mutant counter protestor, in events that are reminiscent of those of Charlottesville.  There is also a focus on the damage or the impact that social media and the internet can have on these events, as many of the anti-mutant events or rhetoric are contained online.  This will be very familiar to readers, as it is impossible not to see the online hatred that many anonymous people direct towards various groups around the world, and at least the one in the comic may be the result of supervillain plot.  Overall this focus on prejudice is a familiar subject to X-Men readers, and many will appreciate how the creative team have tried to bring in modern issues in this new series.  The creative team do end Volume 1 with a message of hope, with some of these antagonist people given a proper understanding of an opposing viewpoint, momentarily giving up their hatred and prejudice, and is something aspire for in the real world.

The artwork within Volume 1 of X-Men Red is just gorgeous and a real highlight of the book.  As mentioned above, Alixe does the artwork for Annual 1, while Asrar does the artwork for issues #1-5.  Both artists’ works are visually distinctive and give the reader something different when it comes to character design, displays of power and fight sequences.  Asrar in particular does some gorgeous backdrops and landscapes, as the stories he is illustrating see the characters go to all sorts of locations, including India, underwater cities and Wakanda.  There are a lot of well-drawn action scenes throughout this volume, although I found the final pages of issue #1 to be some of the most powerfully drawn in the entire volume.  Not only is there a somewhat graphic scene for a Marvel comic but the final panel shows the look of despair on the main characters as the volume’s antagonist makes her first move.  The artistic team of X-Men Red have outdone themselves in this first volume, creating some superbly drawn artworks that are catch the eye and the imagination.

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X-Men Red takes this new version of this iconic superhero team back to the sort of storylines that made the X-Men such a smash hit in the first place.  With a resurrected Jean Grey taking the lead, Australian author Tom Taylor and his creative team have cleverly brought current social issues to the forefront of their new series while also doing some superb character work, including redefining one of the original X-Men.  This is a great start to an amazing new comic series and a fantastic read for fans of the X-Men franchise.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Hit-Girl, Volume 1: Colombia by Mark Millar and Ricardo Lopez Ortiz

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Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date – 26 June 2018

 

The baddest little vigilante in America goes international in this outrageous new series from comic book legend Mark Millar.

Hit-Girl is the moniker of Mindy McCready, a pre-teen vigilante killer who is the Kick-Ass universe’s most effective and terrifying hero.  Introduced early on in the first volume of the Kick-Ass comic, Mindy was a 10-year-old girl who had been indoctrinated by her father, Big Daddy, into becoming an expert killer and crime fighter.  Despite an attempt to live a normal life after the death of her father, Mindy has reverted to her vigilante ways with her trademark extreme violence and sassy attitude.

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Following the events of the Kick-Ass 3 comic, Hit-Girl has decided to take her vigilante gig international and bring her version of justice to criminals around the world.  However, with her partner, Dave Lizewski, the original Kick-Ass, retired, and his replacement (a young man Hit-Girl randomly recruited off the street) deciding to quit in the face of armed criminals, Hit-Girl is all on her own.  With a request for help in Colombia looking too big to handle by herself, Hit Girl decides to recruit a partner as deadly and deranged as herself.

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Enter Fabio ‘Mano’ Mendoza, the most ruthless and dangerous hitman in Palmira, Colombia.  Freeing him from imprisonment, Hit-Girl ‘convinces’ Mano to help her with her mission, utilising an explosive device to keep him in line.  Armed with an array of advanced and insanely destructive weapons, Mano helps Hit-Girl turn all of the city’s gangsters into corpses.  But what will happen when Hit-Girl forces Mano to target his own gang?

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Hit-Girl was created by author Mark Millar, one of the most impressive and recognisable names in modern comics.  Millar has worked with a number of different publishers throughout his career, including DC, where left his mark on titles including Swamp Thing, Superman and The Flash, and Marvel, where he wrote the iconic Civil War series and had significant input in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, which serves as the inspiration for many recent comic book movies.  Millar has also created a number of the best alternate universe stories these two major comic book publishers have ever produced, from the inventive Superman: Red Son to the incredible Old Man Logan, which served as the basis for 2017’s best comic book movie, Logan.  Millar has also created a range of independent series, many of which are quite dark and brutal, such as Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jupiter’s Legacy, Superior and Wanted.  However, one of Millar’s most iconic works is his independent series, Kick-Ass, which was adapted into a fantastic movie in 2010 that helped dramatically increase the author’s general profile.  Kick-Ass ran for three volumes, and the final issue revealed that Kickass and the above independent series all exist in a shared universe, known as the Millarverse.  Readers may recognise several of the above comics from recent movies, with Kingsman and Wanted both having been adapted into big screen movies.  In addition to this current Hit-Girl series, Millar is currently working with Netflix to create a number of intriguing new comics, such as The Magic Order, and a range of movies and television series.

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A large amount of the success of Kick-Ass can be attributed to the character of Hit-Girl, a sensational addition to both the comics and the subsequent movie adaption.  Hit-Girl is easily the most popular character in the series due to the sheer craziness of having a 10-year-old girl tearing through groups of dangerous criminals while swearing her head off.  This cool character continued in the movie, where Chloë Grace Moretz brought Hit-Girl to life in all her foul-mouthed, murderous glory, albeit with an altered costume.  Hit-Girl appeared in all three volumes of Kick-Ass, and has already been the star of her own Hit-Girl miniseries comic, much of which was adapted into the Kick-Ass 2 movie.  This current series of Hit-Girl represents the first work that has been done on the Kick-Ass storyline since 2014.  The first volume of this new series is called Colombia and contains issues #1-4.  The second volume of this series will continue Hit-Girl’s international murder spree as she heads to Canada, and will be released in late October.

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This new Hit-Girl series contains pure insanity as the titular character goes on a rampage down in Colombia.  There are some fantastic sequences throughout this book as artist Ricardo Ortiz draws a series of demented murders and deaths as Hit-Girl and Mano attack and kill hundreds of gang members in Palmira.  These gang members suffer an insane amount of different gruesome deaths including being shredded by bullets, sliced by swords, shot with arrows, killed by a train, blown up into tiny pieces, vaporised by flesh-eating gas, and thrown off buildings.  Ortiz’s artwork pulls no punches during these scenes, with the highlight having to be the microwave gun that cooks one gang member from the inside out.  There are also a ton of great action sequences throughout this book, with the artist presenting some excellent battle artwork that really highlights the fast-paced and frenetic action portrayed within.  Some of these scenes are so wonderfully over the top that it is hard not to laugh, such as the sequences where Hit-Girl and Mano are forced to overcome a zoo of coked-up animals standing between them and their target.  This is some brilliant work from the artist and a real highlight of the volume.

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While all the superfluous violence is outstanding, this first volume of Hit-Girl is far more than just about the killing of criminals.  It is actually a complicated revenge plot, and Millar has created a fantastic overarching story for this entire volume.  Watching the full extent of Hit-Girl’s plan unfold is so much fun, especially when you realise just how much she is playing all the other characters in the book.  Hit-Girl revealing that her plan involves saving a kid who served as her patsy from joining a gang is pretty powerful, especially when the kid is left wondering about the origin of the ‘final message’ from his brother.  By the end of these four issues, all the characters get what they deserve, leaving the reader extremely satisfied with the result, while Hit-Girl is left determining where to go for her next rampage against crime.

Hit-Girl is once again a fantastic main character for this book, and Millar and Ortiz’s portrayal of her is absolutely amazing.  Placing murderous attitude and terrifying adult personality inside the body of a little girl is still spectacular to see, and it is quite jarring and very entertaining to see this little kid doing crazy stuff like jumping up and down in excitement while requesting that her associate perform a particularly gruesome murder.  Ortiz presents some incredible changes in facial expression throughout the book that really show off the dual personality of the character.  In some scenes, she looks quite innocent and childlike, while in others, she looks positively demonic, especially when she establishes control of a situation.  While she is mostly portrayed as destructive, adult and emotionless, there are times when she comes across as more human and acting her age.  She spends several scenes getting closer to Mano, and the two work out that they have some interesting similarities, including being manipulated by a controlling father figure for most of their lives.  In hindsight, it is quite horrifying that she spent time getting close to Mano, considering the multiple ways she was playing him and her eventual intentions for him, but it is still great to see her team up with someone who has the same killer instinct, as well as a similar moral compass.  I also love the scene at the end when Hit-Girl allows her ally, Camila to get a chance at revenge, but is not surprised when she does not take the shot, stating “you’re a good person”.  Hit-Girl’s facial expression while she says that is perfect, as it helps portray the fact that our protagonist knows she is not a good person and never will be.  Overall, this is some amazing character work and Hit-Girl is still an amazing protagonist.

Mark Millar is once again in top form as he brings in the first volume of his new Hit-Girl series.  Featuring some outstanding artwork from Ricardo Ortiz, Hit-Girl Volume 1: Colombia contains an insane amount of graphic and entertaining violence and death, while also containing a fun and satisfying story with an awesome main character.  I am already excited for the next volume of this new series, and I cannot wait to see what chaos Hit-Girl causes in Canada.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Runaways Volume 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 8 May 2018

 

From bestselling young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and exciting Marvel artist Kris Anka comes the revival we have all been waiting for, with the return of Runaways.

Years ago, six young friends found out a terrible truth: their parents were members of a supervillain group known as The Pride and were working towards the destruction of the planet.  Uncovering their hidden powers and strengths, these friends, genius Alex Wilder, the sorceress Nico Minoru (Sister Grimm), alien Karolina Dean (Lucy in the Sky), mutant Molly Hayes (Princess Powerful/Bruiser), mad scientist offspring Chase Stein (Talkback) and proud dinosaur owner and daughter of two time travellers Gertrude Yorkes (Arsenic with her deinonychus, Old Lace), became the Runaways to escape their parents’ evil plans.

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After the death of Alex and all of their parents, the surviving Runaways become family and even brought in new members, including the cyborg Victor, the Skrull Xavin and the time displaced mutant Klara.  While the team’s plans to live in peace were often disrupted by their forced heroics, for a time they were happy.  But even the best families have a hard time staying together in the Marvel Universe, and following the death of Gert, Xavin’s forced departure for the stars, the events of Murderworld and the elevation of several members to the Avengers, the Runaways have gone their separate ways.

However, one former Runaway has had a hard time letting go of the past.  Stealing a time machine, the team’s wildcard member, Chase, has gone back in time to fix his biggest regret: the death of his girlfriend, Gertrude.  But being brought back to life several years in the future is tough, and all Gertrude wants to do is reunite with her friends, even if they are now older than her.  Chase is his old goofy self, but Nico and Carolina have moved on with their lives, , Victor is now just a head and Molly has moved in with her grandmother.  Will the Runaways get together again, or have their subsequent adventures affected their relationships too much? And who is the evil scientist stalking them from afar?

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Runaways was a ground breaking series originally released in 2003 that focused on a fresh new group of heroes with no previous connections to other characters in the Marvel Universe.  Created by Brian K Vaughan of Y: The Last Man and Saga fame and artist Adrian Alphona, Runaways represents some of their most significant work with Marvel.  Runaways was an exciting tale of teenage rebellion which was amplified by the superhero elements.  Featuring some incredibly iconic characters, the initial series of Runaways featured a fantastic enclosed story about crime and heroics in Los Angeles with only minimal inclusions from the outside Marvel Universe.  Featuring characters who acted in a contrary way to the other superheroes by actively avoiding fights, making fun of costumes and team names (they never actually referred to themselves as the Runaways) and only using superhero monikers ironically, this was a fun series with some clever new ideas.

Following this initial run, the story became a more traditional superhero series, focusing on the adventures of the titular heroes as they fought crime and other threats in LA.  There were a series of great adventures during this period, which included memorable events such as the tragic loss of Gert, Xavin’s sacrifice, several team-ups with the Young Avengers and involvements in the Civil War and Secret Invasion crossover events.  The series would abruptly end in 2009, and readers would have to wait years to see a significant follow-up.  The characters have appeared in several other series, including Daken: Dark Wolverine and Avengers Academy.  However, the characters would not significantly return until Avengers Arena, where Nico and Chase found themselves trapped in Murderworld, and Avengers Arena’s follow up series, Avengers Undercover, which saw the return of Alex Wilder.  At the same time, Victor would join the cast of Avengers A.I.  An alternate version of the Runaways got their own series as part of the 2015 Secret Wars crossover even, and Nico would eventually become a member of the female Avengers team in A-Force.
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With the release of 2017s Runaways television show, a new comic series of Runaways was announced by Marvel which saw the first run of the original characters in nearly nine years.  This new series is helmed by acclaimed young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and dedicated Marvel artist Kris Anka.  Volume 1 of their run of Runways, Find Your Way Home, contains issues #1-6 of the series, with a second volume to be released in October 2018.

Runaways has long been one of my favourite series, and is probably one of the best comic examinations of young teenage characters that Marvel has ever produced.  As a result, I was very excited to get my copy of Find Your Way Home, and headed into this new series with high expectations.  I was not at all disappointed by the result and really enjoyed this new series.  This first volume expertly captures the heart and soul of the original series, reunites several fan favourite characters, and skilfully addresses all the tragic events that have impacted this team over the last few years.

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The first thing that can be seen in this series is the extreme emotional damage that most of the characters have experienced over the last few years and the strain this has placed on the team.  Because of all the pressures in their lives, the Runaways have disbanded and each have gone their separate ways.  This appears to have affected team members Nico and Chase the most because of their traumatic experiences in the Avengers Arena series.  Nico comes across as very emotionally compromised from the very first scene, while Chase is still obsessed with his greatest tragedy, the sacrifice Gertrude made to save his life.  The other Runaways are just as damaged in their own separate ways.  Karolina is apparently trying to live a normal life, but while she seems unhappy, she is the most reluctant to re-join the team, and her eventual return results in emotional upheaval between her and Nico.  After dying, Gert finds herself alive again in the future with older versions of her friends, as well as an adult boyfriend.  She spends most of the volume trying to deal with these significant changes, the fact that her only real family fractured after her death, and the emotional trauma she experienced dying.  After his death in Vision, Victor spends the entire series as a disembodied head, and keeps his status hidden for most of the volume as he tries to work out if he wants to remain online and re-join the team.  Of all the characters, Molly seems to be the most together, as she is being looked after by her grandmother and is her usually bubbly and high-energy self.  However, her behaviour disguises the fact she knows about some of the deep problems happening around her, and her emotional breakdown at the end of the volume is quiet heartbreaking to behold.  Overall, the creative team handle these deep emotional issues well, and I really appreciated the fact that they did not deny or shy away from the trauma that these characters experienced in other Marvel series.

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Despite the high level of emotional trauma, there are quite a few very nice moments within the book that fans of the original Runaways series will really appreciate.  The team coming together at the end of the volume to save Molly and Gert is an amazing moment.  After viewing all of the above trauma, it was also great to see the team decide to get back together to become each other’s emotional support.  I also challenge anyone not to get emotional during the scene where Gertrude is reunited with Old Lace, as the two mentally connected friends are finally reunited for the first time in years.  Once again, the youngest Runaway, Molly, is the heart and soul of the team, and it is great to see that despite her age, she is still one of the most emotionally mature, giving sage advice and actually being the only person to notice the threats around them or the fact that Victor’s head is rolling his eyes at the events around him.  I also love that she still has the same Marvel fangirl attitude that she had in the original series, as she spends time wearing Captain Marvel inspired leggings.  Here’s hoping she gets to have some fun interactions with the rest of the Marvel Universe as she did before (the issue she spent running around with Wolverine is one of the funniest bits in Runaways’ previous run).

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One of the more interesting parts of this volume is that it focuses more on the character interactions than on action or adventure.  There really is not too much violence until the end of the book, and even then their biggest fight is against a group of psychic cats whom they do not actually want to hurt or kill.  I think that this is a good choice for the first volume, as this allows them to really focus on the characters, while also showing off the difference this series has to a classic comic book story.  Despite the lack of action, the series starts with one of the best scenes in the entire volume, when Chase appears in the middle of Nico’s apartment with a mortally wounded Gert.  Nico, despite her shock and the implications of what Chase has done, tries to use her magic to try to save Gert.  While Nico is a powerful magic user, all her magic is tied up in The Staff of One, her parent’s magical staff that has bonded to Nico’s body.  The Staff of One can bend reality to what Nico requests, however, it will only do the specific spell once.  This far along in their adventures, Nico has used a lot of spells already, including ‘heal’, and must use a range of more obscure or very specific statements to try and achieve her goals.   The first sequence where she uses a huge range of different spells really shows off the unique and in some ways limited nature of Nico’s powers and really shows emotional depth right off the bat as the characters get more and more desperate in their attempts to save Gert, and there is palpable relief when they manage to save her.

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This series of Runaways has a new artist at its helm, Kris Anka, and as a result the art style of Find Your Way Home is slightly different from the previous series.  It still works well to show off the story, and the depictions of the characters’ superpowers being used are pretty cool.  The new character designs are interesting, as Nico, Chase and Karolina are each given a different design to reflect how they’ve aged up since the last series.  Nico looks particularly worn and sad at the start of the comic, and is definitely showing off the strain of her adventure.  Anka has created an interesting look for Chase, and he now looks like a cross between a beach bum and a mad scientist.  The other characters, Molly, Victor, Gert and Old Lace retain similar styles to those they had in the previous series.  These similarities make a lot of sense, as Gert has time-travelled from the previous series, Victor is a cyborg head and Old Lace is a dinosaur.  The artist has also chosen not to change Molly’s age too much, and thankfully she retains her distinctive looks and hats.  One of the highlights of Anka’s work is the dinosaur Old Lace, and quite a lot of the book’s humour can be seen in her funny reactions and antics.  Overall, I really enjoyed the new art style of the book and found that the new character designs suited the book’s necessary changes.

Runaways return in top form with this fantastic first volume, which sticks true to the core of the beloved original series while also going off in some interesting new directions.  Rowell has created an intense narrative that expertly plucks at the heartstrings and examines all the problems and horrors that this group of young heroes have experienced since their initial run.  This is a superb new start to an excellent series.  I’m so happy to have my Runaways back, and I can’t wait to see how they resolve some storylines from the original series.  This is definitely a must-read for fans of the original series, but this is also the perfect chance for new readers to find out about this awesome superhero family.

My Rating:

Five Stars

All-New Wolverine: Volumes 1 – 6: Complete Series by Tom Taylor

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Dates:

All-New Wolverine Vol. 1: The Four Sisters – 24 May 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 2: Civil War II – 8 November 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 3: Enemy of the State II – 3 May 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 4: Immune – 29 November 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 5: Orphans of X – 27 February 2018

All-New Wolverine Vol. 6: Old Woman Laura – 24 July 2018

 

Prepare yourself for an all-new Wolverine in this exciting new series from Tom Taylor and a skilled team of Marvel artists, as one of the best characters in the Marvel Universe, X-23, rises to take the place of one of comic’s most beloved superheroes.

Following the death of the original Wolverine, Logan, in the 2014 series Death of Wolverine, Marvel chose to elevate his clone and surrogate daughter, X-23, to the role of Wolverine.  Starting in 2015, the All-New Wolverine series followed X-23 as she took on the moniker of Wolverine and made it her own.  Originally running between November 2015 and May 2018, the series is made up of 35 issues.  These issues have been assembled together into six collected editions, which were released between May 2016 and July 2018.  With the upcoming return of the original Wolverine to the Marvel Universe, All-New Wolverine has been cancelled, and the character has reverted back to the X-23 moniker, with a new X-23 series having just started.

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I have been a major fan of X-23 for years, and find her to be one of the most interesting characters in the entire Marvel Universe.  As a result, I was excited to see how she would be utilised as the new Wolverine, and have been keenly collecting all the volumes in this series.  I had originally intended to review the latest volume, Old Woman Laura, by itself; however, as this volume ends the series, I thought I would take this opportunity to review the entire series in one go.

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The protagonist of this series, the brand new Wolverine, Laura Kinney, is a fascinating example of character creation, and it has been intriguing to see how this character has evolved over the last 15 years.  Originally known by the code name X-23, the character was first introduced in 2003, in the season 3 episode of the X-Men Evolution animated television series, X23, and was established as a female clone of Wolverine created by an evil scientific organisation.  In her first appearance in X-Men Evolution, X-23 took out every single X-Man and went toe-to-toe with Wolverine himself, only stopping when he broke through to her emotionally.  This was a surprisingly dark episode for kids cartoon, but the fun appeal of a young female Wolverine and her sheer badassary quickly made Laura a fan favourite character, and her transference in the comic universe was quickly established.  These days most people would recognise the character from her amazing appearance in the 2017 film Logan, played by young actor Dafne Keen, which showed a slightly altered version of her origin story.

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Her first appearance within the main comic Marvel Universe happened in the 2004 series NYX, where she was shown to be living in New York City.  She was later introduced to the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men 450, with her origin story fleshed out in two limited series.  The first of these series, Innocence Lost, looked at her creation, early life, training and missions as part of the institute that created her, as well as the relationship she had with her mother and their attempts to escape the institute.  The second series, Target X, follows on directly after Innocence Lost and focuses on Laura’s attempts to start a life outside of the institution, her interactions with her mother’s family and the pursuit that would haunt her for the rest of her life.  This second short series also shows how she ends up in New York in NYX and her first interactions with Wolverine, and is framed as a retelling of her life story to Captain America and Daredevil.  Both of these series are extremely well written and serve as an excellent introduction to the character.

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After her introduction, X-23 appeared in a number of different series including Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, New X-Men and Marvel Team-Up.  She was a major character in Volume 3 of X-Force and appeared in key roles in several of the larger X-Men storylines.  She obtained another X-23 series in 2010, before having starring roles in Avengers Academy, Avengers Arena and All-New X-Men.  Following The Death of Wolverine, Laura was involved in some of the following storylines dealing with his death before taking up the role of Wolverine herself.

This series was created by Australian author Tom Taylor and a rotating roster of Marvel authors.  Taylor has a range of writing experience in a number of different formats, including theatre, musicals, books and television, and has also created an animated series, The Deep.  Over the last 10 years, Taylor has worked on several different comic books, including several Star Wars series, some Injustice series, Superior Iron Man and Green Lantern Corps.  The original art style and new character design for the series was developed by veteran artist David Lopez, and the other artists closely replicated his style.

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The first volume of the All-New Wolverine, The Four Sisters, sees Laura newly in the role of Wolverine and keen to honour the name by becoming a non-lethal hero.  In this volume, she encounters four clones of herself that are being hunted by the sinister corporation who created them.  In order to save them, Laura must work with several other Marvel heroes, such as Dr Strange, Wasp and her boyfriend, Angel (the young one transported from a past timeline).  The volume ends with Laura taking in one of the surviving clones, the young girl Gabby, who becomes one of the main characters in the series.  This book is a fantastic introduction to this new incarnation of the character, and it sets the tone for the rest of the issues.

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Volume 2 of the series, Civil War II, starts with Laura teaming up with Squirrel Girl in a zany escapade to save a squirrel Laura wronged in the previous volume, while also introducing the actual wolverine Jonathan, who becomes Laura and Gabby’s pet.  The second adventure in this volume sees Laura and Gabby help SHIELD, Iron Man and Captain Marvel fight against the giant monster Fin Fang Foom.  During this story, Laura and Gabby encounter and rescue the Old Man Logan version of Wolverine.  While the first two issues are both fun significant, the main storyline of this volume ties into the Civil War II crossover event.  The Inhuman Ulysses has a vision of Logan killing Gabby, so SHIELD and Captain America attempt to intervene, but the confusion and chaos that follows only results in tragedy.  This sees an exciting tie-in to one of Marvel’s more intriguing and high-profile recent crossover events, and this volume also helps highlight the discord and disagreement that the other Marvel heroes were experiencing in the main Civil War II event.  Seeing Logan’s alternate world connections to Laura and Gabby is rather interesting, and the reveal of Gabby’s full potential as Laura’s main side character is amazing.

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The third volume, Enemy of the State II, sees the return of Laura’s arch-nemesis and sadistic former handler, Kimura, who is once again determined to make Laura’s life a living hell.  After engineering the massacre of a small town with Wolverine present, Kimura forces Laura and Gabby into hiding as part of a terrible plan to control Laura once again.  However, Gabby, with the help of Angel, Gambit, young Jean Grey and Nick Fury Jnr, has a plan to free Laura once and for all from the terror of Kimura.  This is probably the most emotional volume in the series, dealing with the protagonist’s biggest fear: being turned into a killing machine once again.  Enemy of the State II is strongly connected to both of the original X-23 series, especially Target X, and represents a massive turning point for the character.  It is fantastic to see some of these storylines concluded and Laura given the happy ending she’s been denied for so long.

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Volume 4, Immune, takes Wolverine up into the stars for an intergalactic adventure.  When an alien ship crash lands on Roosevelt Island, the dying alien child piloting it has time to whispers one name: Laura Kinney.  Within minutes, the island is infected with a fast-acting alien virus and is immediately quarantined.  Laura travels to the island and must work with Gabby, Ironheart, Logan, Daken and Deadpool to cure the disease.  Laura, Gabby and Jonathan than travel into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy in order to trace the origins of the alien virus, but they find a far more dangerous threat on the planet they visit.  This is a very fun volume that includes some notable team-ups, while at the same time really highlighting Laura’s potential for heroism.  This serves as a fantastic example of a really well-done one-off intergalactic adventure for a terrestrial based series and proves to be very entertaining.  It is probably the most laugh-out-loud funny volume in the series, with some remarkable interactions with characters such as Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

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The fifth volume of this series, Orphans of X, goes deeper into the mythology of Wolverine, as the only weapon that had the power to kill him, the Murumasa Blade, is recovered and unleashed upon his children.  A mysterious organisation known as the Orphans of X is hunting down and killing all of the Marvel mutants with claws and a healing factor.  Laura, Gabby and Daken must find a way to defend themselves from these devastating and well-coordinated attacks, but find themselves conflicted once they find out the truth behind the Orphans of X.  This is another heavy and emotional volume with a great story premise behind it.  This one ties into both Innocence Lost and Target X, and shows the devastating consequences of the Laura’s childhood missions.
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The final volume, Old Woman Laura, contains an interesting mixture of stories.  The first issue features Gabby and Deadpool teaming up to take down the scientific laboratory that Jonathan was rescued from in Volume 2.  The second story follows on from the Orphans of X storyline, and sees Laura and Amber Griffen, the daughter of one of Laura’s first kills, team up to take down the person who ordered the hit.  The final story is set far in the future and sees an older Laura and Gabby go on their final mission together in order rescue their long-lost sister, Bellona, from a dystopian landscape ruled by Dr Doom.  These are some intriguing and diverse stories, and it serves as a good wrap-up to the entire series.  The two team-ups in the first two adventures are very fun, while the issues showing the potential future for All-New Wolverine’s main characters is an intriguing and emotional affair that has some nice closing thoughts for this series.

A recurring theme throughout this series is Laura’s attempt to build on her character and to move past her childhood of being raised to be a vicious killer.  Now, as Wolverine, she’s trying to live up to the legacy of her father, the original Wolverine, and become a non-lethal superhero, even though she will still maim many of her opponents.  Taylor does a good job of conveying the guilt and responsibility that Laura feels.  There are times where Laura thinks back to her past with Wolverine, seeing herself in his shoes.  Like the original Wolverine, Laura establishes and maintains relationships with many of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, most of whom find her to be a worthy replacement for Wolverine, even if they are surprised that she wanted to take on the mantle.  There are also elements of family involved in this story, as not only does Laura take responsibility for Gabby, but she becomes closer to members of the Wolverine family, including Daken and Old Man Logan.

This series is a bit lighter than you’d expect of a series focusing on Wolverine or X-23, and perhaps this ties into the overarching feeling of redemption that Taylor was trying to infuse into the story.  There is actually a huge amount of humour included within the various issues, including several crazy adventures and some real laugh-out-loud moments.  Examples of this include Squirrel Girl randomly showing up to declare that Laura has “wronged the squirrel world” and bringing along a real life wolverine to help get her point across (she was under the impression that Wolverine could understand real life wolverines, just like Squirrel Girl can understand squirrels).  Another of the series’ really funny scenes occurs when a serious conversation is interrupted by two burglars who break into the apartment and come face to face with Wolverine, Old Man Logan and Gabby.  Having all three characters break down laughing as they consider just how unlucky these burglars are is a fun, hilarious scenario.

While All-New Wolverine has a somewhat lighter tone, Taylor is still able to produce some deep and emotional stories throughout the series.  Many of these darker and more emotional stories are tied into the main character’s tragic past.  It is great to see several of the old storylines wrapped up, and I was glad to see Laura reunited with the family who was forced to go into hiding.

For me, one of the best parts of the All-New Wolverine is the introduction of new character Gabby, who becomes the secondary protagonist of this series.  Gabby is a young clone of Laura who has many of her abilities and training.  However, due to protection she experienced from her clone sisters, Gabby grew up without the emotional damage that Laura and other members of the Wolverine family experienced.  As a result, Gabby has a very funny and bubbly personality, as well as kick-ass combat skills, retractable claws and a healing factor.  Given the moniker Honey Badger, Gabby ends up accompanying Laura on a range of missions, and proves to be quite a capable field agent.  Much of the series’ comedy comes about because of her antics, as well as her humorous interactions with other members of the Marvel Universe, which sees her pull funny moments and comments out of several usually serious characters.  Her instant friendship with Deadpool is comedy gold, and the two play off each other wonderfully, easily stealing the show in the issues they feature in together.  Despite her major humorous overtones, Gabby does get serious when it comes to protecting her family, and she has several intense moments, as well as scenes where she makes scary threats in order to protect her sister.  Laura’s relationship with Gabby is a major part of the series, and it is great to see Laura mirror the role Wolverine had in her life as a mentor and parent.  Gabby is definitely one of my favourite new Marvel characters of the last couple of years, and I’m really hoping that she’ll have a similar role in the new X-23 series and will continue to have some insane adventures in the future.

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Lopez and the other artists of the All-New Wolverine series have created a great style for this series, and I loved the new costumes that they pulled together for Laura, as well as the original and unique look of Gabby.  There are some slight variations in drawing style between the various books, but the artists keep the style somewhat consistent throughout the series.  There are a number of drawn scenes throughout the book that are particularly beautiful or memorable for various reasons.  The final battle between Laura and Kimura in Volume 3 is very dark and brooding, but the artists are able to show the raw emotion on Laura’s face as she finally frees herself from Kimura’s shadow.  I was also particularly drawn to the striking drawings of the Hand assassins in Volume 5, where the assassins wore the masks of the Orphan X organisation.  The artists are also able to draw some funny pieces into their work.  The potential comic cover art that Gabby imagines when she finally comes up with a superhero moniker, Honey Badger, is fantastic, especially as several classic Wolverine covers are replaced with Gabby’s evilly smiling face.  I can also barely describe the awesomeness of the drawings in Volume 4 of the series, which see Gabby and Jonathon play with Baby Groot in the background in several funny scenes.  Overall, the art displayed in this series is fun and has many uses to enhance the story.

Overall, All-New Wolverine is a fantastic, entertaining and really enjoyable series that promotes one of Marvel Comics’ most unique characters into the role of Wolverine.  Featuring some amazing uses of humour, an excellent new supporting character and some deep, emotional storylines, this is an incredible series that is well worth getting into.  I am definitely keen to check out the new X-23 series that has just been released, and I will also be looking into the new X-Men Red series from the Australian creator of All-New Wolverine, Tom Taylor, which will feature both Laura and Gabby.  A perfect read for long term fans of the X-23 and the X-Men series, and also a great introduction to the comic universe if you loved X-23 in Logan.

My Rating (Series and Each Volume):

Five Stars

Low Chicago Edited by George R. R. Martin

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Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 12 June 2018

 

From of eight of the world’s leading science fiction and fantasy writers comes the latest addition to the superhero-filled Wild Cards universe, edited by fantasy legend George R. R. Martin.

Wild Cards is one of the more interesting series currently running in the world today due to its distinctive anthology format and the unusual way the series came into existence.  The stories that would eventually form the Wild Cards books were originally written as part of a lengthy Superworld role-playing game campaign that had Martin as gamemaster.  Martin and the other players, all of whom were science fiction writers, created elaborate backstories for the campaign and characters, which were eventually incorporated into the first book in the series, a dark and gritty superhero based anthology also called Wild Cards.  The following entries in the series, despite routinely changing authors, tended to follow the same format as the original book by combining together a series of short stories into a connected narrative.  Low Chicago is the 25th Wild Cards book to be released since the 1987 debut, with two other entries due to be published later in 2018.

The Wild Cards books are set in an alternative universe where an alien virus, known as the Wild Card virus, was released in 1946 above New York City.  This virus affected thousands throughout the planet, killing most of the people it came into contact with and altering the DNA of the survivors.  The vast majority of the infected who remained alive were mutated physically and are now referred to as Jokers.  However, a small percentage gained superhuman abilities and powers and are referred to as Aces.  The stories that followed have been set between 1946 and a time period that usually corresponds to the book’s real world publication date.

In Low Chicago, Martin continues to serve as editor.  The book includes input from two long-running Wild Cards contributors, John J. Miller and Melinda M. Snodgrass, who authored stories in the original Wild Cards.  There is also input from previous contributors Paul Cornell, Marko Kloos, Mary Anne Mohanraj and Kevin Andrew Murphy, as well as newcomers to the series, Saladin Ahmed and Christopher Rowe.

Low Chicago starts in 2017, where a high-stakes poker game has been set up in the city’s famous Palmer House Hotel by a prominent mafia boss.  Each of the seven players has a one million dollar buy-in, and is allowed to bring two attendants including bodyguards.  However, all hell breaks loose when a mysterious assailant targets one of the players, causing the other players and attendants, many of whom are powerful Aces, to unleash their abilities throughout the room.  In the middle of the chaos one of the bodyguards unleashes his own mysterious power and accidently scatters everyone in the room back in time.

Now with history changing outside the hotel, it falls to John Nighthawk and the Sleeper, Croyd Crenson, to travel back to various points of Chicago’s past and find the people trapped there before the present unravels.  But among those who have been sent back are some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, who have decided to change time for their own benefit.  Stuck throughout key points of Chicago’s history, can the time travellers be recovered before the present is permanently altered?

Like many of the books in the franchise, Low Chicago is an anthology featuring several short stories that have been combined together into one overarching and interconnected narrative.  Each of the short stories is unique and features one or more of the characters sent back in time, or inhabitants of the timeline they encounter.  Whilst these short stories all have the same starting plot point, they all have different focuses thanks to that story’s specific characters or time periods.  As a result there are several varied stories, each with their own unique features.  For example, the story Stripes, by Markos Kloos, features a fantastic narrative about the half-human, half-tiger character Khan being trapped in Chicago in 1929 and getting involved in the events surrounding the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Not only is the narrative about an obviously powered individual attempting to influence such an iconic moment in a mob war fun and exciting, but Kloos also includes some significant and heartfelt ethical and emotional decisions that really make you feel for the character of Khan.  At the same time, the story Meathooks on Ice is a complex and emotional story from Saladin Ahmed that focuses on a young and troubled Ace, Meathooks, as he attempts to find redemption and his place in the world back in prehistoric times.

In addition to the overarching time travel plot feature, each of these short stories is also connected together by the characters of John Nighthawk and Croyd Crenson, who could be considered the book’s main protagonists.  Nighthawk and Crenson either appear in the stories themselves or later interact with a story’s central character in order to resolve the specific storyline.  Nighthawk and Crenson are also the main characters of the book’s central storyline, A Long Night at the Palmer House, written by one of the founding authors of Wild Cards, John J. Miller.  This central storyline, told from the viewpoint of John Nighthawk, a character created by Miller in a previous book, is broken up into 11 parts and spread between Low Chicago’s other stories.  The first part of this storyline features the initial poker game and shows the events leading up to the other characters being sent back in time, while the reminder of this storyline focuses on the protagonists’ attempts to find them.  Large portions of this storyline directly tie into Low Chicago’s other short stories, but there are also some sections where they hunt down characters not featured in any of the other short stories.  Miller has included some great scenes in this central storyline, and they get particularly compelling when they encounter the results of the other characters meddling in time and they have to discuss the ethical implications of resetting the timeline.  One particularly outstanding example of this is a sequence that requires the characters to navigate through and fix up a messed up dystopia caused by one of the runaway Aces.

Despite the different authors and the varied content of Low Chicago’s stories, many of the entries complement each other and fit together really well as a result.  Nearly all of the stories contain links to the Wild Cards universe, make full use of Chicago’s rich history, have a comparable dark humour, feature intense action sequences, tell the story in the third person from point of view characters, and have a very similar pace.  There is however, one story that doesn’t follow this trend.  A Bit of a Dinosaur, by Paul Cornell, stands out from the rest of the entries in Low Chicago, as it breaks from third person narration that the other authors utilised, and is instead written in the first person.  Cornell capitalises on this by ramping up the humour in the story and making it a little lighter in tone than the other stories in the book.  The first line of A Bit of a Dinosaur, “I think it’s important to say, immediately, that I am no way responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs” really sets the tone for this whole short story and it only gets better from there.

One of the most enjoyable parts of Low Chicago is the rich history of the book’s titular city, Chicago.  Throughout all of the short stories, the reader is transported to various periods of Chicago’s history in order to witness several of the most significant events in the city’s past.  These include The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the opening of the first Playboy Club, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  All of the authors take significant pains to explore the significance of these events and the impact they had on Chicago and the rest of America.  The reader is given a crash course in the history of these proceedings, and also experiences the author’s interpretation of several key historical figures.  Many of these events occurred before the 1946 release of the Wild Card virus which removed the Wild Cards universe storyline from real world history, and it is fun to watch these events get altered due to the inclusion of several super-powered beings.  It is also extremely fascinating to see the various authors’ interpretations of the historical occurrences that happened after 1946, as they occur in a world where superpowers and mutations are rampant.  As a result, the authors have provided some inventive and captivating alterations that will prove to be highly enjoyable for the reader.

Fans of the Wild Cards universe will also love the deep connections that Low Chicago’s stories have with the rest of the franchise.  In addition to some interesting and complex new characters, Low Chicago features a huge range of characters who originated in the previous Wild Cards books.  There is a deep focus on the history of many of these characters and the readers get to see them placed in a range of unique and compelling situations.  In addition, the authors make full use of the overarching time travel storyline as they visit a range of characters who were killed off in previous books or whose main adventures occurred in storylines set many years before 2017.  Long-time fans of this series will love the inclusion of or nods to these early characters, especially as several have significant roles in the narrative.

Readers unfamiliar with this series may be slightly overwhelmed at the start of the book, but all of the authors contributing to Low Chicago do an amazing job of providing the relevant exposition and explanation for all the characters and the overall history of the Wild Cards universe.  Indeed, Low Chicago might be a perfect book for first time readers of the Wild Cards franchise, as the huge range of characters and the focus on time travel provides the reader with a huge amount of backstory and history that the previous books did not need to contain.

Low Chicago is an outstanding new release that is a sensational and memorable inclusion to one of the best science fiction series currently on the market.  It makes incredible use of its distinctive anthology format and the overarching time travel storyline throughout Chicago’s history that is an inspired and marvellous in its execution.  Low Chicago really stands out from the rest of the books in the Wild Cards franchise and readers will not be disappointed by this latest offering.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars