X-Men: Now A Little Less Astonishing.

14 08 2013

1376426459The most-talked-about superhero wedding of the decade. Sibling rivalry at its worst. A heartbreaking tale of an alien artist. A world shrouded in ice and on the brink of an apocalypse. These were a few of the memorable moments that Marjorie Liu has shared with us during her all-too-brief tenure on Astonishing X-Men.

What made this book so special in a myriad of comics on the shelf featuring Marvel’s band of mutants?

If comic book readers have learned anything over the past few years, it is that there will never be a shortage of mediocre stories featuring brawls between A-List superhero teams or Wolverine SNIKTing everyone and everything in every title (because, let’s face it, he really IS in every title). Once in a while, though, we are treated to a rare gem that doesn’t rely on a “This changes the Marvel universe forever!” gimmick. If you haven’t been following Marjorie Liu’s run on the Astonishing title, then you’ve left that rare gem buried in the sand.

I have always been a proponent of stories that rely heavily on character development. A story is only as strong as the characters presented in the pages. Looking at her previous work with Marvel (NYX:No Way Home and the X-23 solo series), it should not have come as a surprise to readers that Ms. Liu was going to waste no time in digging through the fluff and getting down to the emotional core of her ragtag band of X-Men.

Whether it be societal prejudices (Northstar and Kyle), familial ties and the trauma of abandonment (Karma and Susan Hatchi), a flirtatious friendship and budding romance (Gambit and Cecelia Reyes), a search for oneself (Warbird), or even the reflection on failed past relationships (Iceman), Astonishing has dealt with an entire airport of baggage that life throws out on a daily basis. An extra dimension was given to these characters which showed readers that they aren’t just swinging fists used to clobber eachother in a battle royale for the fate of the world. They become relatable and empathetic.BRfd6deCQAAIQib

This is not to say that Liu’s run on Astonishing did not have its fair share of knock-em-down, drag-em-out moments. We witnessed Bobby Drake bring about a modern day glacial age that made the Blizzard of ’77 look like a few passing flurries. It doesn’t get more action packed than that. Liu is just constantly aware that if these characters are put in mortal danger, the reader needs to first care about them. That hearkens back to the importance of developing a character and giving the audience a reason to concern themselves with the well-being of said character.  

After the series concludes with issue #68, I will truly miss having Astonishing X-Men as part of my monthly pull list. Marjorie Liu’s knowledge of continuity and passion for the characters coupled with stunning art from the likes of Mike Perkins, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Phil Noto all made for something very special that I will undoubtedly revisit time and time again.

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The Geeks Take Manhattan.

23 10 2012

A little over a week has passed since my first experience at NYCC (New York Comic Con to those of you that are not in the know) and very little has been able to calm the buzz that I still get when I flip through the photographs that document the epic weekend. Not only was it my first NYCC but it was also my first comic con in general. I suppose it was a “go big or go home” type of scenario. A regular sink or swim kind of deal.

An overnight drive from Buffalo to New York City kicked things off. Will behind the wheel and me dozing on and off in the passenger seat. Long car rides (along with short ones and everything in between) bring out my narcoleptic tendencies. Stopping at an unattended gas station in Deliverance-land led to my commenting about how the horror movies of yore always began with the kids from the city getting lost in the sticks and pulling over at the dilapidated gas station for help before finding themselves strung up on meat hooks in a redneck’s basement.

Breakfast was had at the McDonald’s on the corner of W. 34th and 10th Ave. There was a parking lot. It’s seems a rarity to find any place in Manhattan that has its own parking lot. We had a schedule to adhere to so the hotcakes and coffee were devoured promptly before marching down to the Javits Center for Day One of the convention. The time was about 5am.

To say that the first day was an overwhelming whirlwind would be an understatement. Maneuvering through a sea of Adventure Time, Bane, Harley Quinn, and (female) Loki cosplayers would bring us face-to-face with some of the most respected names in comic books from both the present and the past. Chris Claremont’s face with it’s proud and nostalgic smile as he would thumb through an old issue of New Mutants and comment about the scandal that Emma Frost’s less-than-there wardrobe caused. Kieron Gillen drawing a sad-face of Leah on the cover of Journey Into Mystery #641. Posing for a quick photo-op with Clay Mann (he may or may not need to slap us with a restraining order). Halting the queue to catch up with Marjorie Liu (who we previously befriended in Boston) and make tentative coffee date plans for the near future.  “We were worried you were going to be a dick.” is what we said to Rick Remender because we were worried he was going to be a dick. He laughed and wasn’t at all a dick. Cosplayers. So many cosplayers on that first day. Robin and Raven. Kitty Pryde and Lockheed. Emma Frost and Wanda Maximoff. She-Ra.

I suppose it would be criminal to leave out the fact that the day ended with a Carrie Fisher meet-and-greet.

Fatigue, bruised shoulders, aching lower backs, and hunger followed us back to our hostel in Chelsea where we agreed  that we would concentrate moreso on “just having fun” during Day 2 instead of slowly killing ourselves in order to get as many books signed as we possibly could. We would parrot our declaration of “just having fun” over the course of Day 2 whenever frustration would begin to set in. But first, sleep… sweet, sweet, luxurious sleep.

Sleeping through the alarm led to a mad dash back to the Javits Center the next morning. Thankfully Day 2 was about “just having fun.” Chuck Palahniuk was our first stop that morning. Gracious, friendly, and very willing to give advice about the best way to go about reigniting my desire to start writing again. A more creative day for cosplayers, it seemed. Selene. Lady Deathstrike. Marrow. Jubilee, X-23, and Pixie. Even the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a Little Sister from Bioshock. Northstar was sketched in my Astonishing X-Men trade by current cover artist for Marjorie Liu’s run, Phil Noto. Another visit to Clay Mann (see: restraining order) where he sketched Destiny, Mystique’s deceased lover, on a comic book backing board. Clay’s X-Men Legacy tie-in issues to Necrosha centered on her brief return from the dead. During the “Gay Marriage in Comics” panel, I would be branded the “guy with the beard and hipster glasses” when posing a question regarding the future of gay characters being portrayed as anything but “safe” and the “good guys.” Chuck Palahniuk, during his panel, would read a new short story, Boogeyman, before hurling plastic, severed limbs into the audience (autographed, of course).

“Just having fun” on Day 2 still led to extreme exhaustion. A quiet take-out dinner on the High Line would follow the day’s events. Will and I enjoying eachother’s company and a view of 8th Ave. below.

Day 3. Last Day. No sleeping through alarms. Our big goals for that day were a meet-and-greet with Grant Morrison and sketches by Phil Jimenez… ok, and getting as many of our remaining books signed as possible. The hour-long queue to meet Mr. Morrison was worth the wait. We had the chance to discuss some of the elements omitted from the finished product of Final Crisis. A very friendly man, that Mr. Morrison. Return visits to Chris Claremont, Peter David, and a handful of others would provide opportunities to stretch our legs while we waited 3 hours (give or take a minute or two) for Phil Jimenez. An incredible artist who was providing work at no charge made the wait something I will do again for years to come. As he sketched Tarot of The Hellions for me, Phil mentioned that he loved the character and he originally pitched the idea of a Hellions ongoing to Marvel back in the day. 

Not even a missed flight home could dampen the natural high I was on (and it didn’t) as we ventured back to Boston at the conclusion of the day. It was a weekend of incredible experiences and realized opportunities. These are the memories that will be bagged, boarded, and added to my collection to revisit again and again. Appreciating in value, no doubt.

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