Tuesday, July 24, 2007

X-Men #201

Mike Carey and Humberto Ramos bring you X-Men #201, Blinded by the Light (part 2 of 4), available this week from Marvel Comics. Last issue, Mystique blindsided Rogue’s squad, reformed the Marauders and nearly decimated the heroes in one fell swoop. This month? Fightin’. Lots and lots of fightin’.

Humberto Ramos is an artist that I’ve always meant to get really into, but never really got around to investigating more closely. It’s been years since I’ve seen his work, and while there were always similarities between his art and that of Chris Bachalo, over the years he’s accrued a nice variety of styles. I’m seeing shades of Joe Quesada here, bits and pieces of Joe Madureira there, and enough fresh work to know that he isn’t ripping any of them off.

Ramos really excels in these battle scenes, where the dialog is kept to a minimum and he can focus on the story of a large-scale brawl on his own. He maintains Wolverine’s squat proportions, while keeping his appearance ferocious and dangerous – which is nowhere near as easy as it seems. His take on Cannonball is explosive and intriguing. Seeing both in the heat of the battle only serves to further highlight his talent. It takes a good writer to trust his collaborator with this kind of a scene, and an even better artist to make it work out for the both of them.

While I’m slowly becoming an even bigger fan of his work, Humberto does have his little quirks and seams. Almost everybody has their mouth hanging wide open throughout the issue, which initially makes for an outstanding visual. After a few panels, however, one starts to wonder how they’re keeping the bugs out of their throats and whether there’s a big problem with lockjaw among the superhuman community. He also tends to overemphasize the size of his characters unnecessarily, and occasionally struggles with facial expression. There’s a panel midway through this issue where Kitty Pryde looks like she has some sort of a mental disorder. An overwhelming, enveloping visual style can be both a good thing and a bad thing, and Ramos doesn’t quite know how or when to show restraint. It’s all-dynamic, all the time.

Mike Carey does a fairly good job of balancing the high-intensity fight scenes that dominate this issue with a few scattered change of pace segments. While he’s dedicated to advancing the main plot through explosions, mutant powers and knock-down drag-outs, his best writing in the issue is with a conversation between Kitty and Peter back at the mansion. He explains more about these characters through a short chat about scary movies than he could with any amount of fireworks or fistfights. As a matter of fact, there’s a fair amount of dialog throughout the issue for an action book, but it’s never too verbose and it remains realistic and subdued throughout.

My main complaint about the issue is that it reads too quickly. Since it’s primarily an action issue with a few brief asides, that’s to be expected, but it remains a problem. Unless you’re familiar with a lot of these characters, you’re likely to be overwhelmed, too. There are a lot of faces scattered around these pages - more than four teams’ worth of heroes, villains, tweeners and outsiders - and there isn’t the room nor the inclination to introduce them all for first-timers.

The artwork is outstanding, the writing has moments of brilliance, and neither creator is hesitant to take serious risks with these big-name characters, which makes for a fun read. If you’re any kind of an X-Men enthusiast, this book will already be on your radar, regardless of my opinion, and with good reason. If you’re like I’ve been, casually browsing the titles for some time but never seriously following them, give this book a borrow. You might see a few things that you’ll like.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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