Thursday, January 27, 2011
Monday, January 17, 2011
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Yup, that's Matt Fraction....one of Marvel's Architects. Interesting looking guy, and a writer who has developed into one of my favorites at the moment, and possibly my fave X-Men writer since Grant Morrison(it's either Fraction or Joss Whedon). To be honest, I have never read anything by Fraction besides his run on Uncanny X-Men so that's all I have to judge and thusly all this lil' blog will be about. I'm told his Iron Man has been great stuff sooooooo someday I'll get around to checking that out I'm sure, but for now, this is the story of how I once hated Matt Fraction, and yet have grown to love him.
So Matt Fraction joined the "Uncanny X-Men" writing team, alongside Ed Brubaker, beginning with ish #500 and the X-Team's official move to San Francisco. Along with Fraction came the art teams of Greg Land and Terry/Rachel Dodson. This is the part where I get it out of the way how much I can't stand Land's "art" and dig the Dodson's art. Suffice to say my eyeballs melted after looking at three issues in a row of Land's work. Now that that's out of the way, let's move on to why we are here.
So the Fraction/Brubaker era kicked off with team relocation to San Fran, Magneto making a return with his powers back, a Celestial living in the park, The High Evolutionary, Simon Trask starting his crusade, and the Hellfire Cult making its debut. That's just all in 500! I was immediately off put, feeling like this guy was throwing way too much crap at the wall and hoping something stuck. Right off the bat I was mentally comparing him to Chris Claremont and his propensity to run a dozen storylines simultaneously. Suffice to say my comparison wasn't positive, but I decided to give him a few more issues before writing him off.
NOW, since Uncanny X-Men was my first comic book, there was now way I would ever quit reading it, but, if after a few issues, I still wasn't feeling this Fraction guy, I had resigned myself to survival mode just as I had done with Chuck Austen.
Well I'm glad I stuck it out and didn't write Fraction off immediately because the arcs that he has written have been beautifully constructed, with most plotlines having some payoff, in the same fashion that 80's Claremont & Morrison crafted the book during their runs. It took a few months, probably not until Brubaker left, but eventually I grew to love the pages I was reading.
Now as I wrote about previously, Claremont was notorious for hinting at a sub-plot and not coming back to it for months, if not years, but that was generally doable because it really felt like he would be writing the book forever. Fraction thus far has approached his version of Uncanny in the same fashion, and only by sitting down and re-reading his entire run (31 issues plus 2 X-Overs & an annual) have I really come to appreciate his craftmanship.
From jump street, Fraction lays out several major plot points that would carry his book through the first year of stories. Magneto's return, his technological repowering, and the answers to why are only teased at in 500 and very slowly addressed over the course of many issues. In fact it's pretty much left in the background until 507 where his relationship with the High Evolutionary is paid off as Mags gets his powers back for real. Skip ahead past "Utopia X" to 515 and Magneto bows down at the feet of Cyclops, offering his services to the man who finally united mutantkind, a task neither he nor Xavier was capable of. The following issue Mags' backstory is told, answering the question of how he firstly got to issue 500 and how he ended up pledging his fealty to Cyclops. The following year of story is spent with Magneto proving his sincerity to the X-Men by helping to solidify Utopia's base by building the Atlantean tower, by bringing Kitty Pryde back to Earth, by fighting Bastion and armies, and, in a crazy turn of events given their history (read X-Men 25), being the man to help keep Wolverine alive in Quarantine. And that's just one arc...
Along with Magneto's return in 500 comes the revelation in the same issue of the Dreaming Celestial setting up shop in Golden Gate Park for some unknown reason. It just kind of hung out there, got lobotomized by The High Evolutionary to help bring back Magneto's powers, and that's about it. Jump ahead to issue 512, the X-Club heads into the past to try and find a cure for the mass depowering of M-Day, and we get the answer to why the Celestial picked that spot to stand, as well as the first look at an early Sentinel, the grandfather of Sebastian Shaw, and how Dr. Nemesis' parents are involved in it all. A seemingly WTF plot point with the Celestial turns out to be a much more important thing than it first appeared.
And that's a reoccuring thing for much of Fraction's run; the little things that seem unimportant, and disappear into the background, that later become major plot points. The Hellfire Cult (500) and how that all plays into the unveiling of The Sisterhood (508), the seeming random dream of Emma Frost (506) that foretells her fate in "Utopia X" (506), another random Emma dream (510) that returns at the close of "Second Coming", and all of the random moments that build to X-Force being forced out into the open (505 & Utopia X for example). Fraction proved quite adept at sprinkling these moments throughout his run, knowing he would be able to pay them off as he built his stories. This is something only a quality writer is capable of doing as long as he is given the time by the bosses to flesh it all out. For a great example of how this fails read "Shadowland".
In addition to his sub-plot sprinkling, Fraction also does a nice job of throwing in little homages to Chris Claremont & Grant Morrison moments. Maybe I'm just reading into these moments, but there's no denying how they harken back to earlier X-Moments. Ish 503 features a night club scene with Cyclops/Emma Frost/Madelyne Pryor that reminds me of the the Dark Phoenix moments where Jean Grey sees Jason Wyngarde while the plight of Kitty Pryde (522-present) is one Claremont played with following "The Mutant Massacre). The re-introduction of The Sublime Corporation (515-521) is obviously Grant-inspired, even Elixir's character talks like he belongs in "Invisibles", and the psychic tryst between Scott & Madelyne Pryor (503) includes dialogue that feels like it was plucked straight from the Emma/Cyclops moments from "New X-Men". The wonderful thing about these homages/tributes/inspirations from the two most groundbreaking X-Writers of their time is that they come off inspired and not as just rip-offs.
Another great thing from Fraction's run has been the evolution of Cyclops into the mastermind/general that just seems like a logical progression of his teaching. In the face of everything the X-Men have faced in recent years and with the leadership role falling primarly on Cyke's shoulders, it feels natural for him to have evolved into a "Batman" of sorts. He is constantly game-planning and working on scenarios, but unlike Bats, Cyke freely admits when he's just winging it and reacting to situations moment by moment. His fears and doubts are still there, but they don't plague him like they did before. Whether it be the authorization of X-Force or the decision to move to Utopia, Cyke stands by his decisions The only question now, the one posited by several people, is what does the general do now that he doesn't have a war to fight?
His handling of characters from Cannonball (finally someone besides Warren Ellis who doesn't treat him like just a hick) to Pixie to Nightcrawler has been spot on, not to mention how he has treated Hope since her return in "Second Coming". And speaking of the Elf, I just want to point out how...upon 3rd reading...his death STILL brings tears to my eye.
Now that's not to say things have been perfect with Fraction's run, although after my re-read I don't find much fault, but one story arc in particular has probably been lacking: the Sebastian Shaw situation. Emma faked his death in Annual #2 to convince Namor to join up, and then apparently hid him in the brig. The problem being that in recent issues it has been played up that Shaw was a big secret. Problem is, until Danger came around, there was no one to monitor the prisoners (Shaw being the second), and they were all just locked up and depowered. Shaw was kept with Empath and the others, not exactly a secret. And whether it be an artists mistake or just oversight, Shaw is shown during "Second Coming" (now on Utopia) as a prisoner right alongside Danger's other prisoners. It doesn't ever seem like Shaw is a secret until Emma (527) states he IS a secret prisoner at which point she has to spirit him out. Maybe I'm thinking too hard, but if it's so hard to sneak him out, how the hell did she sneak him in? How the hell did he get from Graymalkin Industries to Utopia when the facilities moved? And why does Madison Jeffries have absolutely no reaction to Shaw's presence when Danger tells him Emma kidnapped Sebastian? Little things, and probably the only arc that has bugged me.
So now with the apparently impending departure of Fraction from the book, I'm anxious for what the future may bring. I'm excited to see where this HX-N1 arc goes, or how the Atlantean troubles recently introduced play out. I'm hoping Fraction is here to play those out, as well as this Black Dragon/Wolverine connection that was just introduced in Chinatown, and to see if Emma's most recent dream (528) turns into a plot point like the previous dreams.
It's been a fun 3 year run, great to see how all the things I listed (as well as all those I left out) have tied together, and it's gone by fast! So let me say thank you to Matt Fraction and Marvel for these 40 or so issues, and for however many more Mr. Fraction has left in his Uncanny run. It's introduced a new status quo, not unlike that of Grant or Claremont before him, so let's just hope Marvel doesn't decide to ret-con everything important as soon as you depart ;)
If you're interested in checking out Fraction's X-Work, click on the link....I don't get jack for it, just want people to experience different stuff: Matt Fraction's X-Men Work