The Pull List Comic Reviews: ‘Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia’, ‘X-Factor’ and ‘Berseker’

This week was, to say the least, a BIG week in comics. My personal Pull List was 23 issues of all new books. Comic stores even said how expensive a week it was just by the sheer volume of books released. I’m just doing my best to keep you informed with the newest quality and best ongoing series from around the comics world. With that said, let’s get to the pulls.

Pull of the Week:

dark-avengers-uncanny-x-men-utopia-coverDark Avengers / Uncanny X-Men: Utopia #1 – Marvel – $3.99

Score: 8.5

The new superstar creative team of 2009 has finally arrived. Matt Fraction and Marc Silvestri may be the best combination of writer and artist to be placed on any series thus far this year. This one shot issue does a fantastic job of setting events in to motion for the Utopia crossover as well as the formation of the Dark X-Men team.

With anti-mutant tensions at an all time high following footage of the massacre in Alaska following the first mutant birth since M-Day coming to the public’s attention, Simon Trask and his Humanity Now organization march on San Francisco to support the enactment of a law regulating mutant breeding to prevent another incident like that in Alaska from occurring again.

They are met on the streets by another peaceful protest lead by Beast along with Northstar, Hellion, Rockslide and Pixie. Trask incites a riot to break out which ultimately results in his injury at the hands of Hellion and the incarceration of Beast. Playing off the anti-mutant sentiments, the media puts the blame on the X-Men for the riot which leads to further protests and violence around the city between the opposing groups for and against mutant rights, as well as the X-Men who put themselves in the roles of peacekeepers between the two.

The world looks on as these protests lead to further rioting to the point that the San Fran PD and the X-Men can no longer keep everything in control. Enter Norman Osborn, H.A.M.M.E.R. and the Dark Avengers. Split up and playing with kid gloves on, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Hawkeye and Ares take to the city to calm the riots.

Norman doesn’t put himself in the field but instead calls a meeting with one of his Cabal, Emma Frost. He had placed Emma in charge of making sure mutants were kept in control and promised not to intervene until she failed to uphold her side of the bargain. Norman hands Emma a folder with a large white X on it and lets her know that now is the time to think big.

As said before here on the Pull List, Fraction knows the X-Men. He can handle all of the characters expertly, much like Chris Clairemont was able to during his famous run on the series. Fraction also displays an understand of not just the major players like Cyclops, Emma and Beast. He also takes the supporting roles very seriously with his great representation of Mercury, Hellion and the Cuckoo triplets.

And when it comes to the Dark Avengers, Fraction doesn’t miss a beat. His use of Bendis’s team meshes flawlessly in to this book. He continues all the little eccentricities of the lunatic team to the point that it felt like Bendis was actually writing it. Fraction even gives a hint of personality to Daken, other than being the homicidal offspring of Wolverine with severe daddy issues.

Paired up with Fraction comes Top Cow founder, Mark Sylvestri. It’s a joy to look at his pages between the great storytelling from panel to panel or the tremendous job he does allowing things as simple as the character’s body language to further the story. A great example of this comes when all the mutants have assembled themselves within Graymalkin Industries and stand idly by watching the reports of the riots on the news as they look to Cyclops for direction and Nightcrawler asks God to help them through their tough times.

Another fantastic frame comes from the New Avengers single representation in the issue as they all look to Wolverine who is currently with them in New York city at the time of the initial protest march. With two lone exceptions, a masculine image of Loki and one oddly proportioned stance from Spider-Man, the artwork in the book is near perfect. Along with Frank D’Armata’s coloring, the issue is simply beautiful. Starting off on a bright and sunny morning with the peaceful march, the issue progressively follows the darkening thread of the story as the world of the X-Men gets increasingly bleak.

One of the greatest aspects from the issue comes in the way Cyclops is handled. At no point did Cyclops ever ask to be put in charge of the mutant population. It was just thrust on him and he accepted. Now, with the political machine of the world’s savior Norman Osborn attacking him, Cyclops becomes another scapegoat for the mutant race.

Despite not being informed of Beast’s actions rallying against Humanity Now and only setting out to aid keeping peace and not taking a side in the riots, he becomes the fall guy for the entire war going on. Where Charles Xavier would have taken that role years ago, with his exile at Scott’s hands, his star pupil now takes the responsibility and hazards that once would have been shot his way.

With the great minds working on the crossover and the first true crossover between the X-Men and Avengers in about fifteen years, Utopia has a strong footing already built under it. With two expert scribes working on characters that they have helped put in to their current places, there should be no excuses with the final product. As long as it can keep on pace with the potential in front of it, Utopia is bound to be one of the must read stories of the summer.

X-Factor_45_Cover

Other Pulls:

X-Factor #45 – Marvel – $2.99

Score: 7.5

X-Factor finally got back to the pacing that it should have had. No longer was it split between four separate and seemingly unconnected stories. Instead, this issue focuses primarily on Madrox and Layla Miller eighty years in the future and the attack that Rictor and Guido suffered at the hands of Shatterstar. The best part of the issue was finding out that these two actually were closely connected as the seeds had been planted issues ago.

Madrox, Layla and Ruby Summers (Cyclops’ daughter in the future) head off to talk to the one man they think that can help them find the cause of the temporal disturbances that have been causing members of the Summers Rebellion to disappear and reappear seemingly at random, the only living man with the most knowledge of time travel, Dr. Doom. Unfortunately for Madrox, this Doom has gone a little batty with old age.

At well over 100 years old, Doom may still be physically alive but he still needs an oxygen tank and wheel chair to get around and his mind is far from what it used to be. Still, Doom may be their only hope in discovering the cause of the time displacements occurring around them. Back in the present day, Rictor, Guido and Madrox’s priest dupe square off against Shatterstar (who has much shorter hair than he used to).

It’s quickly revealed that Shatterstar isn’t in full control of himself and is under the mind control of another entity. The best part of Peter David’s writing comes when he reveals how the two stories are tied together. Cross reality and cross time stories can be hard to get a handle around from a storytelling perspective but David is able to nail it with the intersection between the two.

X-Factor has done a great job being a sleeper book as long as it has been able to stay in its own world, away from the rest of the X-Men tales or the big crossover events like the Secret Invasion story with She-Hulk which was just dismal. As long as Peter David is allowed to work on the stories he wants to tell, this book really gets the chance to shine. David gets the chance to take a virtually ragtag list of X-Men dropouts and turns them into one of the best dramatic books on the Marvel line.

Between the somewhat awkward and slightly disturbing romance between Jamie and Layla, the ongoing tension between Siren and Jamie, and the surprising homoerotic moment at the end of this issue, David has romance nailed. He also does a fantastic job of incorporating action. While Jamie and Layla’s story follows a detective theme, David has Rictor, Guido and Shatterstar to fill the action quota to keep a strong balance between the two. Though not ever in the top in terms of sales, it is without a doubt one of the tops in terms of consistent quality in storytelling.

Additionally, Marco Santucci and Valentine De Landro’s pencils are great throughout the issue and have fit the tone of the series perfectly. For those not exposed to X-Factor, it is a fantastic book that still has a superhero feel but loses some of the tights, capes and damsels in distress that can often overpopulate other series.

berserker-coverBerserker #1 – Top Cow – $2.99

Score: 5.5

“Well… that was violent but I’m not really sure why.” It may be a challenge to find someone who had a different first impression of this issue. Produced by Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli from Heroes), Berserker focuses on two men, Aaron, a high school wrestler, and Farris, a factory worker who have some anger issues to say the least. There is also a woman named Rowena who has a quick fight with another character over Farris.

Referred to in the book’s backup material as “serk outs”, the two men are prone to blackouts in which they lose complete control over their body and go into homicidal rages with Aaron breaking the arm of one of his wrestling opponent and Farris throwing his boss through a wall on to his car. After being kicked off the wrestling team, Aaron and his girlfriend decide to leave their small town and head to New York so she can pursue an acting career.

Before they can make it out of town, they get involved in a car chase with friends of the boy whose arm was broken by Aaron. The final page of the story is one that goes for shock value, but ultimately feels like more gore for the sake of gore.

The unfortunate part of the story, unlike a book like Irredeemable which has lots of shocking moments and violent scenes, is that this book almost completely lacks any character development. Instead many pages lack any dialogue at all and are just filled with brutal, over the top violence. But with the lack of character development, the characters being given Mortal Kombat-like deaths don’t really have much meaning.

Instead, Aaron, Farris and Rowena just look like three bloodthirsty lunatics, although Rowena seems to have displayed a more conscious control over the enhanced strength she receives during her serk out. At the same time, after killing a man with a punch to the larynx, she breaks his hands just for the hell of it before leaving his body. These seems to be some underlying theme in the issue about breaking hands and arms as all three of the main characters do some form of damage to their opponent/victim’s hand or arm during their serk out.

Whether this is hinting at a future revelation behind the cause or powers behind the serk out or merely coincidence that the creative team thought these were just great violent images remains to be seen. The part of the book most out of place, at least thus far, comes from the Norse mythological references to Asgard and Midgard. While this appears that Norse mythology will come in to play soon with more details about these Berserkers, no research with any well known or established Norse mythos had anything related to the rages and powers of these characters.

The artwork of the issue was fairly basic with occasional inconsistencies with characters faces or the level of detail involved. Also contrasting the beautiful artwork of both The Darkness and Witchblade which are also advertised in the issue don’t help this series win any bonus points.

While there are some interesting concepts at play being hinted at in the story, so far there have been no likable or relatable characters to draw the reader back for a second issue. The issue itself feels like it is missing a human element that is lost as the main characters dismember those who seem like they may have had the potential to be someone for us to care about. Though not completely writing off the series, being on the fence after only the first issue is never a great sign.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of The Pull List.

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