Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee

Loki Where Mischief Lies

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (3 September 2019)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 9 hours and 10 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

From acclaimed young adult fiction author Mackenzi Lee comes a fun and clever young adult tie-in novel to the Marvel comic book universe that follows the early life of one of the genre’s best villains, Loki, the Asgardian God of Mischief.

Loki has long been one of the most infamous and complicated villains in the Marvel Universe, whose manipulations and machinations are a constant threat to Asgard, his brother, Thor, and the Avengers. However, years before he started causing chaos in Midgard, he was a young prince of Asgard and the unfavoured son of Odin. Despised and mistrusted by the people of Asgard for his magical abilities, and feared by his father as a prophesied destroyer, Loki’s only confidant is Amora, a powerful sorceress in training.

When Loki and Amora accidently destroy an ancient and valuable magical artefact, Amora is banished to Midgard (Earth), where her magic will eventually fade, and Loki loses the one person who appreciates who he truly is. Determined to prove his father wrong, Loki dedicates himself to becoming a dutiful son, but he continues to find himself overshadowed by his brother’s bravery. When a failed mission once again disappoints Odin, Loki is sent to Midgard in order to investigate a series of murders that have been caused by Asgardian magic.

Arriving in 19th century London, Loki makes contact with a small group of humans who police interdimensional travel, the Sharp Society. Loki, despite his reluctance to help, soon finds himself trying to find the mysterious killer who is turning humans into living corpses. But when he discovers who is responsible for the deaths, he is once again torn between doing the right thing and acting the villain. As his adventure on Midgard continues, Loki soon realises that he needs to decide who he truly is: the good prince of Asgard his family always wanted, or the villain everyone expects him to be.

Loki: Where Mischief Lies is a rather intriguing read that caught my attention some time ago. I am a huge fan of Marvel comics and I will always be interested in checking out any tie-in novels connected to either the comics or the movies. As a result, I made sure to grab a copy of the audiobook version of this book as soon as I could. This turned out to be a fast-paced and enjoyable read that explores the life and times of a young Loki, placing him into a fascinating setting that helped enhance the story. Lee, who is best known for her young adult novels set in the 19th century, including This Monstrous Thing and the Montague Siblings books, created a great Loki story that does a spectacular job diving into the psyche of the character and shaping a fun adventure around it. This is actually the first book in a series of three historical novels that Lee has been contracted to write that will feature Marvel antiheros, and I am really interested in finding out which characters will be in these books.

Where Mischief Lies contains a compelling central storyline that follows the early days of Loki in Asgard and his first foray down to Midgard. Lee starts the story off by introducing a young Loki on Asgard, establishing his character, examining some of his early motivations, inserting a major life-changing event and inserting a magical premonition that will haunt the character throughout the rest of the book. I really enjoyed this introduction to the characters and the plot, and thought that it set up the rest of the story perfectly. The next few parts of the book, which are set after a time jump of a few years, do a good job showing how the character has evolved after the introductory events of the book, and then they manoeuvre him down to London where he has to discover the cause of a series of deaths done using Asgardian magic. The set up to get him down to London, the initial parts of Loki’s adventures on Midgard, his introduction to the Sharp Society and the first encounter with the mysterious bodies are all pretty interesting, and is a great follow-through from the book’s introductions.

I did however struggle with the middle parts of the book, as they felt a little flat and hard to get through. Those readers hoping for a complex mystery into who is leaving the bodies on the streets of London are going to be disappointed, as Loki solves the case quite quickly, and it is literally the most obvious suspect ever. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of the following periods of Loki’s indecision and angst as he tries to deal with the fallout from this revelation. However, the ending of the book more than makes up for it, as Lee wraps it up with an epic conclusion that showcases the full extent of the character’s nature and his eventual future, while also utilising story elements set up earlier in the book. While there were periods in the middle of the book where I was starting to get a little restless, I think overall the story of Where Mischief Lies is really good and its strong ending made it all worthwhile.

Thanks to his appearances in the MCU, Loki is probably one of the most popular and well-known Marvel antiheroes and characters, so any portrayal of him needed to be spot on. Luckily, Lee did an outstanding job with her characterisation of Loki, and the examination of the younger version of this character is probably one of the best things about this book. Lee’s version of young Loki contains all the hints of the growing arrogance, swagger, fashion sense, penchant for mischief and casual disdain for mortals and Asgardians that make him such a fun character in the comics and movies. However, what really makes this an excellent portrayal is the fact that Lee also shows all of Loki’s inherent vulnerability, frustration and anger, which have resulted from a childhood of being seen not only as the lesser son but as something that is dangerous and untrustworthy. This examination of the character’s inner psyche is a fantastic central point of the book, and it is interesting to see the world from Loki’s point of view, especially as you really start to sympathise with him. The story also shows some key moments in Loki’s life, and you get a sense of his motivations and determination to torment those around him. I also think that Lee did a fantastic job of examining the relationship between Loki and Thor. While a lot of their relationship is antagonistic, Thor is shown at times to be the only character who trusts Loki, and it is interesting to see the relationship that might lead to Loki’s eventual redemption. If I were to complain about any aspect of Lee’s portrayal of Loki, it would be that his powers and abilities were a bit inconsistent at times. For example, it was a little weird to see him being physically inconvenienced by a human in one scene, and then a chapter or two later he has the strength to lift two people up at the same time. While this is a relatively minor issue and I imagine that you could explain this away as some form of deception by Loki, I personally found it to be a little jarring.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Lee’s portrayal of Loki is his gender and sexuality. In the build-up to the release of Where Mischief Lies there was a lot of discussion about how this book was going highlight certain LGTB+ elements from the comic books, especially as Lee’s previous books have all contained LGTB+ components. Throughout his comic book history, Loki has been portrayed as both genderfluid and pansexual, and both of these elements of the character are explored within this new book to various degrees. While an interesting part of the character, the genderfluid aspect of Loki is only really shown to a small degree in this book. While Loki does not actually change his gender within Where Mischief Lies (which has occurred in some Marvel comics), when asked “if he prefers men or women”, he does indicate that he has been both. There are also several examples of Loki using his powers of magic to appear as a female character (with various degrees of success), and there are also scenes where he dresses in women’s clothing, usually stolen from Amora, who is amusedly annoyed that they look better on him. While it was not as fully explored as it could have been (and to be fair, it would have been hard to add it in to a novel of this length), it is really cool to see a genderfluid character being introduced into a novel connected to the Marvel Universe.

In addition to this, the pansexual aspect of Loki’s character is on full display throughout the book, as Loki has romantic connections with both male and female characters. Not only does he fall in love with Amora (there is a reason they call her The Enchantress), but a romantic connection also begins to spark between him and a young Sharp Society member, Theo. I really liked the way that Lee handled both of these romances. While the relationship between Loki and Amora ends in flames (which should come as no surprise to Marvel fans), the slowly growing feelings he shares with Theo are quite sweet and contain some rather interesting social commentary. The relationship with Theo is underscored with feelings of identity; due to the social conventions of the 19th century, Theo is unable to be who he really is. This is mirrored by Loki, who has complete freedom of sexuality and gender, but who finds that he is looked down on because of his magic, which he sees as a being major part of his identity. All of this was intensely fascinating, and I really enjoyed seeing this additional complexity explored within the character.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the various tie-ins it contained to the Marvel’s comics universe. This was a pretty comprehensive origin story for Loki, and quite honestly it could be used as a prequel to both the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, given that there is a lot more focus on magic, runes, elves and artefacts, it should probably be more associated with the comics. Lee does a fantastic job bringing Asgard to life, and there are a number of cool references to the various settings and characters of the Thor comics that will appeal to major comic book fans. In addition to this, the author also peppers the story with other Marvel references, especially when the story goes down to Midgard. For example, there are mentions of an industrialist called Stark, talk of a green-skinned female alien and discussion that the Sharpe Society should be renamed as either SHIELD or SWORD. While all these references are rather amusing, I would say that no real prior knowledge of the comics or the movies are really required to enjoy this book, although Marvel fans will probably get more out of it.

Where Mischief Lies is being marketed as a young adult fiction novel, and I believe that this would be a great book for young teen readers, who will love this intriguing look at one of the best Marvel characters. Younger readers should be prepared for the typical amount of comic book level of violence and sex in this book, but there is really nothing that is too explicit for younger readers. I personally think that many teens will appreciate the various LGTB+ elements included in the story, and they will be interested to see this side of the character that has not been included in the movies. Like many young adult tie-in novels, Where Mischief Lies is very accessible to older readers, and I know that many will really like this take on Loki as well, making this a fantastic novel for all ages.

While I really enjoyed the awesome cover of Where Mischief Lies’ hardcover edition, I ended up listening to it on audiobook rather than grabbing a physical copy. The audiobook format of this book is narrated by Oliver Wyman and runs for just over nine hours in length. I think that was a pretty good way to enjoy Where Mischief Lies, as it proved to be a rather easy book to listen to, and I was able to complete it in only a couple of days. Wyman is an enjoyable narrator, and I really like his take on the book’s protagonist and point-of-view character, Loki. He did a fantastic job capturing various aspects of the character’s personality and speech patterns, from his sneering contempt to his frustrations at the way he is treated. This excellent narration really added a lot to my enjoyment of the novel and I would definitely recommend the audiobook format to anyone who is interested in checking this book out.

Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee was a fantastic young adult tie-in novel that does a wonderful job of bringing the character of Loki to life. I had a lot of fun listening to this novel, especially as Lee dives deep into the life and mind of Loki, exploring how he became the villain we all love. I was initially planning to give this book a rating of four out of 5 stars; however, considering how much I ended up writing about it, it must be worthy of 4.25 stars instead. I have to say that I was impressed with Lee’s talent for writing novelizations about Marvel antiheroes, and I look forward to her next book in this young adult series.

Uncanny X-Men – Vol. 2: Wolverine and Cyclops

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Publisher: Marvel Comics (Trade Paperback – 2 July 2019)

Series: Uncanny X-Men (2018) – Volume 2

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg

Artists: Salvador Larroca

               John McCrea

               Juanan Ramirez

Colour Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Length: 136 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to enter a whole new era of X-Men comics as writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Salvador Larroca bring forth a second volume in the new series of Uncanny X-Men and focus on the aftermath of the latest disaster to befall mutantkind.

No More X-Men!

For years, the X-Men have tried to fulfil Charles Xavier’s dream of unity between mutants and humans by being the shining examples of their species as superheroes, protecting even those people who hate and fear them. However, in one devastating moment, that dream has been smashed. The godlike mutant X-Man, in an attempt to remove all opposition to his messianic desires, combined his powers with that of the reality-bending mutant Legion in order to end all the X-Men who stood against him. In a single instant, nearly every mutant who had served as a member of the X-Men was gone, and the world reacted accordingly.

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In the aftermath of this loss, Mutantkind is on the brink of extinction. Already suffering from years of losses caused by the Genosha genocide, the M-Day Decimation, the Terrigen Mists and Disney’s wrath for being owned by Fox, the remaining Mutants are now left without their protectors. With public opinion firmly against them, government agencies hunting down and imprisoning any surviving mutants and the new mutant vaccine being made mandatory for the entire population, this looks like the end for the species. However, one mutant is desperate to change this: the original leader of the X-Men, Cyclops.

Having been recently returned from the dead, Cyclops attempts to find his way in the new world, where all his X-Men comrades have disappeared. After an encounter with the mysterious mutant Blindfold, whose cryptic visions now contain nothing but despair, Cyclops will try to do what he always does, attempt to save his species. However, with no allies willing to help and even the Avengers turning against them, Cyclops is finding it hard not to give in to despair. In a desperate move, he makes a televised plea for any remaining X-Men to join him at the remains of the X-Mansion. While at first it appears that only the X-Men’s enemies have turned up in order to kill him, one X-Man answers the call, the last person Cyclops expected to come to his aid, his long-time rival Wolverine.

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Having also just come back from the dead, Wolverine is reluctantly drawn back into Cyclops’s orbit. In their recent past these two legendary X-Men have fought, gone to war and nearly killed each other over their ideals, the future of mutantkind and the heart of Jean Grey, but now they can agree on one thing: the X-Men need to come back. Pulling together a rag tag team, including Magik, Wolfsbane, Havok, Dani Moonstar, Karma, Chamber and Jamie Madrox, Cyclops and plan to go after the biggest mutant threats they can find on order to stop additional escalations against mutants and to leave the world in a better place if this is truly the end of mutantkind. But what happens when they are forced to go up against old friends such as Banshee or Hope Summers, as they attempt to obtain their own form of justice leading a new version of the Mutant Liberation Front?

The second volume of this new series of Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and Cyclops, is a fantastic and enjoyable comic that does a wonderful job introducing a cool new version of the X-Men following the major changes that occurred in the first volume of the series, X-Men Disassembled. Featuring issues #11-16 of the 2018 series of Uncanny X-Men, this volume does an excellent job of showcasing the new, darker version of the Marvel Universe following the disappearance of the X-Men.

Cyclops and Wolverine is written by Matthew Rosenberg, who has been working on a number of cool series for Marvel lately, including the extremely entertaining new Punisher series. In a nice sense of continuity, Rosenberg returns to write this second volume of Uncanny X-Men after completely changing everything with X-Men Disassembled. After setting up the cool story in that book, Rosenberg now puts his thoughts to exploring the aftermath of this tale, not only in this volume but in a number of future entries. For this second volume, Rosenberg is joined by artist Salvador Larroca, who provides the art for most of this book, while veteran artist Rachelle Rosenberg serves as the colourist for all the issues in this volume.

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After the previous entry in the series, the creative team was left with the interesting problem of how to run an X-Men series after you sent away all the X-Men (probably to the universe featured in the various Age of X-Man miniseries). What they came up with was a fantastic story that featured a new end of days for mutantkind and a new version of the iconic team. Since the events of the last volume, the whole world has dramatically changed for mutants. While they were never popular, now they are being actively hunted down, captured, experimented on or exterminated by government-sanctioned groups and there is no one able to stop them until this new team of X-Men come along. I really liked one of the ideas broached in the story that the X-Men, despite their attempts to be peacemakers, really only stopped this sort of government attack because they intimated the government, and now that the X-Men gone, there is nothing stopping them from ensuring there are no more mutants. As a result, this is a really interesting setting for a new X-Men series, and Rosenberg has come up with a really cool story. This is a much grimmer version of the classic X-Men story, as the team no longer has a high-tech base, matching uniforms or an advanced jet. Instead, they are a small team of rebels, hiding out in a bar and getting involved in fights for survival. This first volume contains a number of big plot moments, including the additional deaths of several mutant characters (which probably won’t last that long), noteworthy character developments (one character’s code-name gains a whole new level of significance) and the formation of an intriguing new team of X-Men.

I really enjoyed the way that the creative team set out this story in the first volume and I particularly enjoyed the first issue of the volume (Issue # 11). This issue does a wonderful job introducing the new Marvel Universe, and showing Cyclop’s difficulties coming back to such an altered world, bereft of hope for mutants. As the first issue continues, Cyclops meets several former friends and allies, such as Blindfold, Chamber, Ben Urich, Jamie Madox and Captain America, each of whom try to convince Cyclops that the X-Men are dead and that his mission is over. All of these encounters, including a second tragic meeting with Blindfold, drive Cyclops to his former home at the X-Mansion, where it appears he is truly the last X-Man, and only his enemies, such as the Reavers, the Purifiers and the Sapien League remain. However, at the last second, it is revealed that Wolverine was also on the scene and joins the fight, teaming up with Cyclops to defeat the mass of foes in the front of them in a particularly satisfying fight sequence to end the first issue. The volume then goes on to show two mini-stories, which show the reader that Wolverine had been following Cyclops for a while and had actually been helping him without the reader or Cyclops knowing it. Another story also shows why Blindfold had gotten involved and adds a whole new layer of tragedy to the story. The rest of the volume unfolds in a pretty logical way; without going into too much detail, Cyclops and Wolverine manage to form a team of X-Men, and in the following volumes they face a variety of different threats and find new allies, all of which will set up some interesting storylines for the next few volumes of the series. I liked where the story went towards the volume, and there were some really interesting developments that did a fantastic job following the strong opening issues.

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While this volume features a number of great characters, as the name suggests, the story is mostly focused around Cyclops and Wolverine, who team up again for the first time in years. These two are probably two of the most iconic X-Men ever created, and the longstanding rivalry and dislike between them has long been a recurring X-Men story arc. However, in recent years, this dislike has turned into direct antagonism, especially after the events of the 2011 miniseries, Schism, where a fight of their respective ideological differences saw them split off and lead two separate groups of X-Men. This antagonism continued through several major X-Men arcs, including Avengers vs X-Men, but it was ultimately left unresolved due to Wolverine’s death in 2014. As a result, this volume is the first time Wolverine and Cyclops have both been alive in nearly five years, and it was interesting to see the two of them finally come together again. I really enjoyed their reconciliation in this volume, especially as all it took for these two to get on the same page was two simultaneous resurrections, the complete destruction of the X-Men, one cathartic fight against a group of bigots, and a one-word greeting on the battle field.

The rest of the volume continued to build on their relationship as they work together to reform the X-Men. It is a fun return to the pre-Schism dynamic, as Wolverine once again follows Cyclops’s lead, and the two have a fun, banter-laden relationship built on mutual respect. However, Rosenberg does not ignore some of their prior conflict; rather he incorporates it into their relationship. Cyclops is fully aware that much of the X-Men’s current issues are due to his past actions, such as pushing for a more militant approach while he was the mutant leader, going to war with both the Avengers and Inhumans, and killing Professor X. As a result, he starts to rely on Logan’s opinion a lot more than some of the other X-Men, such as his brother Havok, as he knows that Wolverine won’t just agree with him if he is in the wrong again. This new era of cooperation between Cyclops and Wolverine forms a fantastic heart of this volume of Uncanny X-Men, and it was great to see these two characters back in action again after their lengthy absences.

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I rather enjoyed the artwork that was featured in Wolverine and Cyclops, and the artistic team of Larroca and the colourist Rosenberg do a good job producing an interesting art style for this volume. I personally liked the darker artistic tone quite a lot of the scenes had, which I felt reflected the tone of the series and which was also a result of the X-Men trying to remain hidden by doing their missions at night. I also liked the interesting character designs that featured in the book, as the team is forced to wear a mismatched bunch of scavenged uniforms from across the various X-Men eras, which really helped highlight the low resources and support they have. There are a number of detailed and exciting action sequences throughout the book that the artists do an amazing job bringing to life. I was particularly fond of the first major sequence, in which Cyclops and Wolverine took on the anti-mutant soldiers near the X-Mansion. It was a particularly brutal couple of pages, and I loved seeing the two main characters in action again. I also really liked the scene where Wolverine first reveals himself. The look of horror and resignation of several characters’ faces when they hear “snikt” was just beautiful. Extra art done by John McCrea and Juanan Ramirez for the two background stories, Wolverine Returns and The Last Blindfold Story, added an interesting new element to the volume, and it was cool to see their different art style in the middle of the book. Overall, this was some great artwork, and I cannot wait to see what this team produces in the future.

Wolverine and Cyclops is a bold new direction for Uncanny X-Men that I really enjoyed. With a darker universe, some interesting story directions and the return of two of the team’s most iconic characters, the X-Men have entered a brave new era, and I was glad to be there for the ride. This new creative team for Uncanny X-Men did a fantastic job reintroducing these two amazing characters, and they have proven that they have some intriguing ideas. The next volume of this series is out in October and is already one of my top comics to buy later in the year.

Runaways Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 30 October 2018

 

Recently reunited and still coming to terms with being a family again, the adventures of Marvel Comics’ favourite group of misfit youths continues in Best Friends Forever, the second volume of young adult author Rainbow Rowell and artist Kris Anika’s run on Runaways.

The Runaways, Chase, Gert, Karolina, Nico, Victor, Molly and Old Lace are finally back together and living in one of their parents’ old hideouts.  While most of the team have grown up since the last time they were all together, this does not mean that they have their lives together.  Each of the Runaways has their issues to deal with, be it Gert’s recent return to life after several years of being dead, Karolina’s relationship problems or Victor’s current existence as a disembodied head.  The only one who appears to have their life even remotely together is the team’s youngest and at times wisest member, Molly, who is enjoying her time in middle school.  But even Molly is having problems, as she is faced with a hard choice and must consider whether she actually wants to grow up.

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As Molly deliberates over the dilemma presented to her, a barrage of other arrivals impact on the Runaways.  Karolina’s girlfriend, Julie Power of Power Pack fame, is in town, which causes significant drama for Karolina and Nico, while Dr Doom has apparently appeared on their doorstep, determined to find Victor.  Can a team rife with squabbles, drama and internal strife come together to face the problems before them, or will their significant changes be too much to bear?

Runaways is still one of my favourite Marvel series.  After the revamp earlier this year, previously reviewed here, these fantastic characters are still going strong.  In this second volume, Rowell, Atkins and their creative team continue to produce some outstanding and emotional stories that are based more on the relationships between the main characters than the traditional crime-fighting storylines contained within other comics.  While they do go up against a couple of superpowered opponents within this story, none of these antagonists is truly evil, and their motivations and history are a lot more morally ambiguous than some of the previous Runaways stories.  The creative team do a fantastic job of blending highly emotional storylines with a bunch of fun and heart-warming sequences, filled with random and funny elements, such as an errant Doombot.  This all comes together into one fantastic overall story that hits all the right buttons.  This second volume contains issues #7 – #12 of this new run on Runaways.

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One of the main aspects of this second volume of Runaways is the continued focus on the relationships between the series’ main characters.  Most of these characters are still coming to terms with being back together after all of them attempted to live lives outside of their team.  Quite a bit of Volume 2 involves the characters trying to determine what roles they have within this surrogate family, and the fact that they are not as close as they used to be.  What I liked is the way that Chase, usually the most immature member of the team, attempts to become the father of the group, matching up with the traditional female leader of the team, Nico, as the team’s mother.  This new parental role is highlighted in a funny couple of scenes where Chase and Nico use magic to become Molly’s legal guardians, a shortcut way that “seems totally legit and great”.  A lot of this volume is also focused on the romantic relationships between several of the group’s characters, including the relationship between Gert and Victor and the new romantic feelings between Nico and Carolina.  I thought the lead-in to both these relationships worked out very well and sets up some interesting potential in future volumes.  I am also very curious to see how the friendship between Victor and Chase is going to be impacted as a result of this new relationship in future volumes of this series.  I liked the way that the relationships and romantic considerations that featured between Carolina and Julie and Carolina and Nico were handled very well and with great sensitivity, and showed great representations of LGBT+ relationships.

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I also appreciated the way that Rowell and Anika continued to focus on the emotional and mental damage that the team’s exploits have had on these characters over their entire comic book history.  In this second volume, there is a significant focus on Victor, who was mentally and physically damaged during his previous appearances in Vision.  Chase and Doombot’s attempts to rebuild Victor during this volume prove to be a particularly vivid trigger for Victor, and leads to some significant emotional moments.  There is also a look at Victor’s fear of vibranium because of its addictive and mind-altering impact on him, which drove him to commit terrible acts in a previous series.  The creative team also take a look at the life of old team member Klara, the young powered girl the team rescued from abuse back in 1907 during a time-travel adventure.  It was previously revealed that Klara had been taken away from the team by the state and is now in a loving household.  A brief section of this volume is dedicated to the team finding her and attempting to bring her back into the fold, but Klara refuses to come back, as she is happy in her new life.  You have to appreciate Klara’s sound reasoning for not wanting to come back to the team, due to the death and multiple problems experienced in the previous adventures.
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One of the most significant issues that the character’s experiences have had on them is based around their negative opinions of adults.  Most of the truly terrible things in their lives have been the result of the plans of the adults they encounter, and their distrust of most adult characters has been a long-running aspect of the series.  It is interesting to see that this carries through to the new series, even though several of the characters are now actually adults.  This viewpoint is most prevalent in Gert, whose death during one of the previous run of this series means she still shares the beliefs these characters had while they were fugitives.  However, the rest of the team also have a hard time trusting other adults, such as when they assume Klara’s new adopted parents have to be evil, as every adult they have previously dealt with in similar circumstances were also evil or abusive.  This viewpoint has significant plot impacts in this second volume, as Molly, given the opportunity to stay young forever, talks to several of the other Runaways in an attempt to subtly work out their thoughts on growing up.  Most of the characters, including non-team member Julie Powers, talk somewhat negatively about their current lives and regret growing up, which tempts Molly to accept the chance to stay young.  The final message of this storyline strongly implies that growing up isn’t so bad, as even the antagonist, a young girl who has stayed 13 for 50 years, does not always want to be young.  It was also interesting to see Klara try to correct the team when they say that no adults can be trusted; having had a loving family relationship, she no longer believes that.

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The second volume of this run of Runaways continues to make use of some fun artwork throughout the various issues.  The character designs continue to be fun, and it is interesting to see some new looks and some constantly changing character designs, especially for the trendy Nico.  The art is often used for comedic affect.  Victor has a fun use throughout the book, and it is pretty humorous to see the head floating around in a number of scenes, even in a middle of a fight scene.  I also loved how throughout the course of the volume, he was given more and more advanced mobility upgrades in each scene that he appeared in, each more comedic than the last.  For example, at the start of the volume he is mostly transported in other character’s hand, his own momentum or in a backpack.  However, as the volume continues he is variously attached to a Roomba, a small tracked rover, several helium balloons (so he can get the feeling on flight back again) and eventually a new drone.  All of these are slightly ridiculous and fun, but they do not take away from the emotional nature of several scenes, and I must point out some of the awesome drawings that hint at the issues Nico is having with her magic.

The second volume of this new series of Runaways, Best Friends Forever, is another strong and emotional addition to this new version of this young adult superhero comic.  I really appreciated the creative teams continued focus on the character relationships and the emotional aspects of the characters’ lives.  Best Friends Forever is another fantastic addition to this powerful new run of Runaways, and I am excited to see what happens to this great group of characters next.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

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

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