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An X-Men Misfire! My review of X-Men Misfits

28 Jan

As many of you know, I am a big X-Men fan, as evidenced by the first entry in this blog and my contribution to the May To Terra MMF titled From Blackbirds to Battleships, and while Shojo manga hasn’t always been my cup of tea, the idea of taking a primarily masculine action comic and boiling it down to its core emotional human values was incredibly appealing to me. That’s what makes X-Men so great, is the emotional and romantic struggles that the mutants have amongst all this action; they are real relatable people. I’ve always been able to connect with these characters because I know how it feels to be different & shunned for it and I’ve always felt that the comics need a deeper exploration of these character elements and what better way to do it with a genre of manga that’s been known for doing just that?

So did it live up to my expectations? Did X-Men Misfits bring our merry mutants into a new thoughtful light?

Not exactly, X-Men Misfits is a bit of a weird mess. Written by husband and wife writing team, Dave Roman (Astronaut Elementary) and Raina Telgemeier (Baby Sitters Club, SMILE ) weave the tale (or in this case tail) of 15-year-old Kitty Pryde, as she discovers her intangibility or phasing, is sought out by Magneto (looking rather dapper) and is enrolled in the Xavier’s School for Gift Youngsters. The only problem: she’s the only girl at the school, surrounded by a bunch of winged, blue skinned, multiple and “accurate” (I hope someone gets this reference) boys all out to get in with her.

I have mixed feelings about this premise. I mean, is she really the only other female mutant aside from Storm and Jean (who isn’t in this volume mind you) that Xavier and Magneto have found? What I like about it is that it centralizes the readers focus onto the character and her struggles, rather than the school and its issues. It’s nice to have a concise approach to a lead character instead of the focus shifting in the book. What I don’t like about it is the objectification of Kitty. Immediately right when she walks in, Her being the only girl in the school makes her a prize to all the other boys. She gets involved with the overly possessive Pyro and his hellfire club, the manga’s Bishounen group, who treat her more like an exotic pet than anything else.

The worst part of it is that after she realizes this and all the issues that she has with Pyro, she doesn’t stand up for herself, her abilities or her womanhood. She instead runs and finds comfort & protection in the arms of other male mutants (Xavier, Iceman, Cyclops). That was one of my biggest problems with this book, is that Kitty Pryde, a character so synonymous with being a strong, independent female character is reduced a weak lovelorn teenage fool. There isn’t a sense of personal growth within the book. There isn’t a strong sense of female empowerment throughout the book on a whole. After Kitty shares her unique trait with the Hellfire Club, they refer to it as a “pretty girly power”. Another example is when Nightcrawler or Kurt Wagner & Kitty are paired to train together, Kurt refers to his teleportation as wimpy. This book emphasizes that violent & powerful element of X-Men that I’ve always disliked, the idea that mutant abilities (human evolution) are only  to be praised useful if they are destructive, masculine and strong.

In addition to this glaring issue, I found that the story was in need of that old media rule “Show, Don’t Tell”. There are a number of instances: where Kitty talks about Pyro being a good boyfriend to her and helping her come to terms with her special abilities, Magneto mentions what sounds like a really cool use of his abilities etc but we never get to see these played out. It creates this weird pacing issue with the story, where the reader has a fabricate a lot of this world in their head and fill in, what I think, is too many gaps.

I’d also like to bring up is the artwork, which unfortunately, is incredibly inconsistent. There are some magnificent scenes in this manga (when Angel descends down the stairs for the first time, when Pyro and Kitty first kiss) but most of the normal panel artwork isn’t very good. Characters faces change shape constantly, most everyone looks the same and there is a whole lot of super deformity happening. Anzu has a lot of talent, that is not without question. I just wish she could pick a style choice and stick with it; I’d love to see her really buckle down and focus on those minute details that bring her art to life.

Ultimately, I would only recommend this book to series Manga fans (and by that, I mean people who are in or care about the development of the industry and trying things like this again) but not to X-Men fans. I don’t think it really does anything for the franchise. The characters in this don’t complement or work from the original source material; they are only represented in image  & namesake alone. Heck, some of them aren’t even named! Did anyone catch the Gambit reference? I still don’t understand why he was in the story, considering he got one line and it was more or less your welcome. Want to know what I would do? Take this concept but use the First Class cast. It’s all already there: great tension between Warren and Scott for Jean’s affection, Bobby’s insecurity, Hank’s beastly changes. This book bite off way more than it could chew and it is too bad because this could’ve been great.

Each time we face our fear…(Usopp’s Yellow Lantern)

5 Dec

I really love Usopp as a character. Not only he is outrageous in his antics & anxieties about the world around him, he is also the conduit for the readers understanding of how emotionally intense One Piece can be. Usopp has always been, at least for me, the most accessible character in the crew. He is unsure of himself, lying to try to prove his worth. He has had to work extremely hard to rise to the level of combat and technical skill, all while standing in the shadow of giants like Luffy and Zolo. He really idealizes the crew members and the value of family that he gets from them and their adventures. They give him, like Chopper, a sense of value and purpose in the world and I think this is great because Usopp, for most of his life, has been afraid…

And I think knowing and beginning to understand that fear is ultimately what brings him to the Yellow Lantern/Sinestro Corp. For those of you not familiar with the rich history of Green Lantern, when the Silver Age Green Lantern’s (Hal Jordan) run began, he was taken under the tutelage of the greatest Green Lantern at that time, an alien named Thaal Sinestro. Though Jordan deeply respected Sinestro, he was aghast at his totalitarian methods of keeping his sector in line; by acting as a dictator instead of a protector. Doing the right thing, Jordan informed the Corp and Sinestro was considered a Rouge member, banished to the Antimatter Universe. There, Sinestro met the Qward, who formed him a yellow ring to fight the GL’s, seeing as their only weakness was yellow materials. Sinestro became a staple of the Green Lantern mythos and soon, his own corp was formed. A sheer mirror image, both in practice and uniform alone, of the GLC, the Sinestro corp members are selected on their ability to instill fear rather than overcome it.

The reason I chose the coward of the crew to be in the corp that brings fear, is because I think to first understand what scares people and how to successfully do it, you first must understand what you are afraid of and become it. I think Usopp has had time to do just that.

From what you can see here, there is a standard uniform to those who join the Sinestro Corp, however like my other designs, I didn’t simply want to forgo what I think makes Usopp’s Sogeking outfit so great. As you can see, I changed the mask, so that instead of being mysterious, it is a tribute to the great Sinestro (Sinestro is best known for his moustache, gaining him the nickname “Frenchy”). There is also that dynamic balance between black and yellow, creating a very science fiction look. You would not be surprised to see this outfit out in space. The yellow is also nice in this design because it isn’t overstating. Too much yellow, like in some of my other designs, can be too strong; this amount of yellow gets the idea of deceit and sneakery across perfectly. In the original SC design, the characters all have these arm and leg bands that look like stacked gold rings so I decided to keep those. They add a sense of dominance, as the color is more focused and contained than just filling in his arms with yellow.

Altogether, this was my most difficult design choice to make because there were so many things I could do with this idea. I revamped the mask in some cases to make it more jestery or devilish, as well as tattering the cape and making the shoes more pointed instead of combat boots. This makes him a Corpsmen but there are a number of ways that Usopp could become a devil…

Love is a temporary madness. (Sanji’s Star Sapphire)

4 Dec

Like Nami, Franky and Brook before him, Sanji’s lantern motivation comes from one the simplest character traits about him: he loves ladies. All of them I might add, in his field of vision.

Though it is often played for comedic affect, as he gets turned down, acts goofy or has to deal with some unattractive admirers, its hard to deny that Sanji is actually quite passionate. He’s a chef who touts quite a bit of knowledge about his craft and understands, better than anyone, the importance of food. He won’t fight with his hands at risk of losing them, his passion and reason for being. He’s passionate about the crew (especially the ladies), his dreams of the All Blue and his mentor for giving him life. He is a romantic and a lover of loving love and thats why he fits into the Star Sapphire’s.

The Star Sapphire’s wear violet power rings fueled by the emotion of love, one of the two emotions, with the other being rage, that most influence their user. The corp mostly consists of women, who have been loved and spurned and the Star Sapphire power was originally used as a way to enact revenge. Now they use their overwhelming power of Love to aid people, sometimes forcing them to change their minds along the way, by encasing them in a mind-warping crystal. This was the most difficult one to work with, not because of Sanji’s normal outfit, but because of the Star Sappphire standard wears. The corp is mostly made of women and their costume takes the form of a crystal swimsuit. I’m sure Sanji looks good in a violet speedo but we’ve already got on guy in the crew doing that so…

I think if you are out looking for love, a suit is the way to go guys. You look composed, thoughtful and all together powerful in the face of any challenge. Sanji knows this; he owns the suit. So it made sense to just work with the idea of a pink suit, playing to his sensitive and understanding nature. Pink is romantic and charming. Pink conveys a playfulness about someone.

There are several levels of sophistication in this outfit, especially when the pink is paired with his grey undershirt. The two compliment each other, blending rather than clashing. I didn’t want to adorn this outfit with the rather large symbol, so like Brook’s, I worked it into the shoes, which again I am very proud of. The reason that I am focusing so much on the importance of shoes stems from my love of a recent modern noir film titled Brick. The tale is about a former drug dealer who acts a detective & begins to unravel the murder of his former lover and if you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do. The director Rian Johnson uses shoes a design element and way to “instantly snapshot the essence of the characters”, a quote which really struck me. So Sanji’s shoes represent sophistication and a sort of chivalrous heroism. They are reminiscent of a more western style of shoe; a bit of a cowboy feel to them. Perfect for rescuing damsels in distress…

Anger is never without reason (Zolo’s Red Lantern)

3 Dec

Although Roronoa Zolo’s life hasn’t been the whirlwind of tragedy that many of the other Straw Hats have had, I still firmly believe that he is the crew member that best represents rage, which is the emotion tied to red light, and here’s why: According to Wikipedia, rage is a mental state that is one extreme of the intensity spectrum of anger, which is usually induced by a threat of some sort. When a person experiences rage, it usually lasts until the threat is removed or the person under rage is incapacitated. Rage can sometimes lead to a state of mind where the individual experiencing it believes, and often is capable of doing things that may normally seem physically impossible.

Zolo is not a character purely driven by rage but more of a disdain towards his situations and interactions with people and I think this stems from a past issues that he’s yet to overcome. As many of you may recall, when Zolo was first training to become a swordsman, he befriended a young girl who pushed not only his buttons but his limitations and belief in his own ability. She became the perfect catalyst for the growth of Zolo’s potential but unfortunately, met with an untimely end, prompting Zolo to make the promise to become the worlds greatest swordsman in her honor.

This character motivator is wonderfully complex. One on hand, it gives him honest and compelling justification towards his actions, making the reader feel more connected to the character, as he becomes closer and closer to achieving his goal. It allows the character to shine when he takes this step forward but when he gets set back, well that is a horse of a different color (sorry, really wanted to use that) Zolo, despite his notable victories, has been put in his place on a number of occasions. During his first encounter with Mihawk, he is devastated at his loss and nearly perishes because of it. Similarly, he is irked by the chance meeting with Tashigi, who bears a strikingly similar image to his long gone friend. What I am getting at, is that as much as this promise drives Zolo, he has essentially haunted by it and when he lacks to the ability to achieve his goals, it drives him to madness.

The same madness that many of the Red Lanterns in the DC universe have undergone. Formed by a shamanistic, intergalactic criminal, the RLC is a group of individuals who have had enough with the atrocities of this world. They, much like the Black Lanterns, are driven purely by the wrongs that were done to them and the revenge they seek to dish out to rectify that. The big notable difference between the abilities and appearance of the RLC with another other corp, is the use of blood. Upon donning their rings, the heart of the recipient is rendered useless, and the blood is changed to a corrosive, acidic state, used only in the violent nature of attack. But, as you’ll see in my Zolo design, blood is so much more than that…

I didn’t use the standard white shirt, haramaki and black pants outfits because to be absolutely honest, I find it really boring. I was really struck by a picture of Zolo, post battle, with his outfit torn and his body covered in blood. He looked defeated, hurt and like he was quietly building his rage to counteract this wrongdoing. So I took that, reformed his outfit to a toga-esque (but with pants) outfit and went “blood-crazy” with it. It’s interesting because the outfit is so unsophisticated that it really speaks to the nature of rage; that it is a baseline human trait.

The blood is on Zolo’s hands and its a fine color. It symbolizes the life and vitality that is in Zolo, covering his whole body to further emphasize the point that he is ready to take action. Red is also sometimes used as a color to protect us from our fears, because of its very bright intensity and associations with strength, which can also be interpreted here. As serious as this design is (blood stains on a black outfit. my lord), it is very energetic in a powerful, almost scary way. I had a lot of fun designing this outfit and this might be my most original piece in the collection. I wish I was better at doing the blood stains though.

He who is greedy, is always in want (Nami’s Orange Lantern)

2 Dec

Nami is greedy.

This is an inarguable part of the One Piece series. No matter how smart, pretty or wonderful of a person she is, her quirky character trait is her inherent greed and love of money. This stems from her childhood, when she lived a poor life with her adopted mother and sister, often unhappy with the lack of funds they had for food & clothing. This is also true, not only in material greed, but in the need for survival. Nami is bossy and especially when it comes to fighting, will shout out commands to every member of the crew, even Luffy. This is because her main concern is her own survival; she can be a bit of a coward when it comes to taking on the big names of the Grand Line. Where does all this cowardice, self concern and greed get her though? Right smack dab in the Orange Lantern Corp!

Currently, the OLC consists of one member and one member alone, a creature by the name of Larfleeze (although Lex Luthor was deputized at one point.) The Orange Lantern, who sometimes goes by the name of Agent Orange, was sequestered to the outer most reaches of the Galaxy and was only re-introduced to the universe at large. He is unreasonable powerful, able to draw in the essence of the deceased and recreate them in the image of an Orange light construct. As the only member of the Corp, Larfleeze is also immensely powerful, holding up to 100X the power capacity as a normal Lantern. The one fault, the one drawback to this immense power is the insatiable hunger and wanting that comes with the wielding of the Orange Lantern. No matter what they consume, the OL’s are always hunting for something to fill them.

As for their costumes, they seem to fall into the same category as White and Black, meaning that there is no set uniform for this corp yet. When Lex Luthor became one of the corp, his trademark armor was bathed in an orange light. As such, Nami is no exception…

Keeping in the tradition of the last few posts, I didn’t change Nami’s normal attire but instead, worked around it. Lets start off with talking about the colors at play here: orange is obviously the main focus. It is vibrant and works more a base color than black or white had in the other designs we’ve seen. Orange brings an energy to the outfit, without being offensively loud or aggressive on the viewers eyes and I wanted to place that energy where it made sense, in terms of conveying greed (Orange is such a warm, inviting color that I’ve always thought it was a bit of an off choice for greed. Although I just learned that in Christianity, Orange is associated with Gluttony) I chose to put Orange on most of the ‘moveable’ areas of Nami’s person, being her joints, arms and torso, to signify the energy and activity. After all, what good is a thief without her hands and feet?

One Piece MMF: Introduction Piece, so you know what I’m up to…

28 Nov

I’ve always been a big fan of both American and Japanese comics and as someone who tends to read books side by side, the streams start to cross for me. I’ve often dreamed of what it would be like if Fumi Yoshinaga did the X-Men shojo or what horrors Kazuo Umezu could add to movies like Alien but the most recent amalgamation came from an American event book that came out last summer, called the Blackest Night from DC Comics.

The Blackest Night, written by Geoff Johns, is a story that centers around Green Lantern; a character whose sheer willpower allows him to create solid light constructs via an alien technology. In this universe, there is the Green Lantern Corp, which consists of beings from all over who have been chosen to wield the rings and act as a sort of space police force.  It was revealed that before the beginning of this event that alongside the Green Light of Willpower, there are 7 (now 8) other lights, each represented by other colors (Red, Yellow, Blue etc.) representing emotions (yes, willpower is considered an emotion) As a result, other emotionally colored corps start emerging (the main antagonist being a light of Blackness/Death ), causing a war of light to erupt. Sounds a tad complicated but it is still an interesting system to put into place for the comic universe. You really start to categorize other characters and even your friends according to the Ring system…

All while I was reading this, I was also beginning to dig really hard into Eiichiro Oda’s epic masterwork One Piece. If you are not already reading One Piece, pick it up. There is no reason that this work should be ignored; it has touched me on so many emotional levels with its insightful story-telling. As I progressed through the series, I began to see that each character really began to represent certain aspects of human emotion. While they all act as whole dynamic people in there own right, the individual members of the Straw Hat Crew act accordingly to a specific purpose. They each have specific desires to see achieved or different problems to overcome.

With my mind currently in categorization mode, it wasn’t long before I started to place the One Piece characters into their respective corps. For those of you who follow me on Twitter (shame on you if you don’t), I’ve already posted picture of the designs for each characters corp look and feel. What I haven’t done, is explained why I think they’d be good for each corp, why I designed things the way I did and what design I liked the best in terms of feel and communication of the ideas behind the Corps.

So with:

Luffy as a Green Lantern (Will)

Zolo as a Red Lantern (Rage)

Sanji as a Star Sapphire (Love)

Usopp as a Yellow Lantern (Fear)

Nami as an Orange Lantern (Avarice)

Robin as a Blue Lantern (Hope)

Franky as a White Lantern (Life)

Chopper as an Indigo Lantern (Compassion)

Brook as a Black Lantern (Death)

…we begin our exploration into the wonderful world of emotional pirates!