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

Skyward, Volume 1: My Low G Life by Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett

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Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date – 25 September 2018

 

Those looking for the next amazing comic book adventure they can get addicted to should look no further than Skyward, one of 2018’s breakout hits, which takes away a fundamental force and replaces it with a sensational story.

One day, around the planet, gravity all but disappeared, and the one thing that was previously holding everything to Earth’s surface all of a sudden became a fraction of what it previously was.  In the resultant chaos, huge swathes of the population simply floated away into the atmosphere.  Those that remained were forced to adjust to a new world with different rules.
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Twenty years later, humanity has adapted to its new low-gravity reality.  For some, such as Willa Fowler, it’s the only way of life they have ever known, and Willa excels at navigating the skies above Chicago.  Living with her father, Nathan, a brilliant scientist traumatised by the events that sent his wife tumbling into the skies, Willa scrapes a living as a high-speed delivery girl with a number of risky and dangerous tricks up her sleeve.  But when her father reveals he has a way to bring gravity back, Willa doesn’t believe him and instead plans a meeting with Roger Barrow, her father’s rich former research partner, who has created much of the technology that allows the world to survive its new situation.  Descending to ‘The Streets’ of Chicago, the lowest level, inhabited by its richest citizens, Willa quickly discovers that Barrow is not the saviour she thought he would be.  Instead he is determined to keep gravity from returning, and will go to extreme lengths to stop Willa and her father.

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This is one of the first comic book works from Henderson, whose main claim to fame is as showrunner for the Lucifer television show.  The artist, Garbett, is probably best known for his work on the comic Loki: Agent of Asgard.  Together, this new team has created an incredible new comic book series that has already been picked up by Sony for a potential feature film, and it will be intriguing to see how this challenging and creative series will be adapted to the screen.  This first volume contains issues #1-5 of this new series.

Skyward contains an excellent story that examines life in a different and catastrophically affected version of Earth while also presenting an action-packed adventure with a wild protagonist.  The central idea of this series, the removal of gravity, is a crazy concept that allows for an exceptional overall package that combines great storytelling with incredible and unique artwork.  Throughout this first volume, there is a great combination of humour, action, character development and powerful emotional moments, all set within a fascinating new world shown in great artistic detail.

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It was quite intriguing to see the various ways in which a lack of gravity could affect the world that we live in.  Henderson and Garbett have come up with a range of different ways for the characters in this book to navigate around the skyline, and it is interesting to see the range of tools that are shown in the artwork.  The creative team has done an amazing job highlighting the various ways that the lack of gravity has affected the world, from food production to water gathering to human mobility.  One of the more intriguing aspects of the new world is the way in which guns have become obsolete due to the recoil pushing shooters back through the air, making it an ineffective weapon and more dangerous to the user than the target.  That said, the protagonist, Willa, has some more extreme and effective uses for the gun she carries around with her.  Perhaps the most intriguing idea presented in Skyward is the location known as The Streets, the lowest street level of Chicago, where the city’s richest inhabitants live in a state of denial at the changes that have happened and are trying to live like there is still gravity.  This includes wearing grav-boots to keep them stuck to the ground and forcing a man with no legs to sit in a wheelchair rather than floating in the air as he would prefer.  There are also some crazy inventions, like a magnetised hem to keep a dress from rising up.  These inhabitants of The Streets are absolutely terrified of the sky and have a very different lifestyle from the people living in Chicago’s skyline, who have embraced the new world.  One funny scene involves Willa traumatising an obnoxious bouncer by wrecking his grav-boots and making him float up into the sky a little.  Overall, this is a fun new world to set this great story in and has a lot of potential for future volumes of this series, where additional changes to day-to-day life are no doubt going to be revealed.

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The artwork in Skyward is just gorgeous and is definitely a key highlight of this incredible book.  The creative team have done an outstanding job showing off the low-gravity concept in art form, creating some fantastic scenes and drawings.  Most of the characters are shown floating around and navigating the air, which creates some amazing panoramas of the city from high above for the reader to enjoy.  All the characters, even those rich individuals trying to ignore the lack of gravity, are shown with their hair floating up in the sky, and multiple scenes have various liquids floating in the air around the characters attempting to have drinks.  It also means that fight scenes are constantly surrounded by droplets of blood that float around the characters and add a whole new sense of realism and brutality to the story.  The artistic highlight of this book has to be the incredible and exceptional drawings of the storm in low gravity that becomes such a massive part of the background in the later part of the volume.  Due to the effects of the low gravity, the storm manifests itself as a gigantic ball of water in the sky, surrounding several high-rise buildings.  The first drawing of this is amazing, and the following scenes which show the main characters navigating around this bubble and creating massive pockets of air are just fantastic, and represent some exceptional comic book art.  I was also suitably terrified by several of the drawings in this volume, from the opening scenes which show multiple people being lifted away by the low gravity, to the horrifying shot of the planet Earth and its new artificial ring, made up of planes, cars, ships, other debris and of course multiple dead animals and humans that have not decayed in their 20 years in orbit.  Lee Garbett and the creative team have outdone themselves in Skyward and I cannot speak highly enough of the artwork in this book.

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The main character, Willa, is an excellent protagonist for this series.  As a character who has never known what it’s like to live in a world with gravity, Willa’s antics through the air are pretty crazy and she does some amazing and unpredictable things throughout the book.  Whether it’s using a gun to gain rapid altitude and to come down again, or blowing out a window underwater in a low-gravity storm of water after creating an air pocket with her oxygen tank.  The constant incredulity of the other characters as she does these things is very amusing and makes it quite clear that these actions are not the social norm in the new world.  My favourite quote of the books is when the antagonist, realising that Willa is about to blow open a window with her gun says ‘She wouldn’t…’ while Willa’s friend who is being held hostage responds with ‘Oh, she would.’ I must again return to the artwork of Skyward when it comes to showing off this main character.  The artists do a fantastic job highlighting the joy on Willa’s face as she flies around in the upper city; she looks like she was born to float.  I also loved the drawings that show off her crazy antics, from the early sequence which shows her using a gun to blast off away from people attacking her, to that fantastic scene where she blows open the underwater window.  The drawings themselves are incredible and really show off the action, while the looks of shock and amazement on the faces of onlookers tell a whole new story.  Henderson and Garbett have created a perfect main character and protagonist in Willa, and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to in future volumes of this series.
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Skyward is an incredible new series from the fantastic team of Henderson and Garbett.  I really enjoyed the central concept of a lack of gravity, as it allowed the creative team to present a bold and exceptional new setting for this exciting and powerful story.  I really cannot hype up the artwork of this series enough, and I love the various ways that the artists show off what impacts these gravitational changes would have to everyday life on the planet.  An outstanding five-star start to a series with incredible potential, this is the perfect read for current comic book readers and a great starting point for those trying to break into the medium.

My Rating:

Five Stars