Uncanny X-Men - "Hope" (2002)
Uncanny X-Men issues 410-415. Writer: Chuck Austen, Artists: Ron Garney, Mark Morales, and Sean Phillips, Colours: Hi-Fi Design. Published by Marvel Comics in 2002.
I received this trade over a year ago for my birthday (it may have been over two years ago), but hadn't gotten around to reading it until recently. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the gift, I did, it's just that the stories contained within the collection are fifteen issues after my run of Uncanny X-Men issues end, so I figured I'd wait until I filled in the gap. I've come to the realisation that I'm never going to fill in the gap, so I figured I may as well give it a shot, trusting my deduction skills to fill in what I missed.
Before I get to the actual content of the book, I have to comment on some cosmetic things about the trade. First off, this is by no means a classic tale of the X-Men, immortalised in trade paperback form. It is merely an example of Marvel's new tendency to put every story they print into a collected TPB form, regardless of the stature of the original story. It's akin to the DVD release after a theatrical run. I understand the business model, giving books an extra chance to sell, possibly in non-traditional markets like book stores, but it leads to some awkward packaging of issues at times. "Hope" is such an example. In the past, TPB's were gathered according to storyarcs (usually major ones), or themes (the collected work of an author/artist, appearances of characters, etc). "Hope" contains six sequential issues, only three of which were part of the original storyline called "Hope", then three more issues. The fourth issue can safely be called the epilogue to that story, but the next two are just two continuing issues in the series, having little to do with the "Hope" theme (as it is), and are seemingly only included because A) six issue may be the standard number for these auto-collected series, or B) apparently, issue 416 marks the beginning of a run by some manga guy named Kia Asamiya that I've never heard of.
The other reason for this set is that it is the first six issues of Chuck Austen's run as X-scribe, so I guess more than anything that is the reason for six issues (although why they didn't include a seventh-- other than manga-boy-- is anyone's guess, especially since 417 is the start of a new storyline titled "Dominant Species"). Austen picks up from former writer Joe Casey, whose run apparently wasn't all that successful. Hey, I know one thing it was successful at! Helping me to quit collecting comics after about 15 years. Way to go Casey!
So, while there's no real reason for this TPB, other than to sell units (which is why Wolverine, who is barely featured in the stories, is on the cover, in a decidedly un-hopeful pose), that doesn't necessarily mean that its not a good read. It's just no epic. It's standard-soap opera-comic team-book action. The sort of stuff that made me such a big fan of the X-Men in the first place. The characters banter and use their different powers and deal with threats and hang out in the mansion. The anti-mutant racism themes are played out, and new members are introduced to the roster. Nothing particular of note happens, but I enjoyed the brief read quite a bit.
The book starts out strong with the introduction of an average mutant kid that looks like a fish (I shall call him Squid-Boy, as the bullies who torture him do) hating his shitty life in Vancouver (Canada in the house). Austen quickly makes him a sympathetic character (so much so that I almost feel bad for calling him Squid-Boy) through the boy's thoughts and the fact that it appears that Squid-Boy, okay his name is Sammy, wishes to kill himself (and possibly some of the bullies first). This is the first 6 pages, and I'm drawn in immediately even though none of my beloved X-Men have shown up yet. The writing and dialogue is the strength of the series, managing to make the characters feel whole and believable while they grow through re-hashed and, frankly, unimaginative plot-lines. Northstar is later added to the team, seemingly for the sole purpose of adding The Gay One to the book for political commentary (who knew that homophobia would play so well as a parallel for anti-mutant hysteria, brilliant!), but I do like his grumpy quips. Oh, and Havok comes back from the dead, because you can't have an X story without having someone come back from the dead.
All in all, a fun read for X-Men fans that offers nothing really all the special or memorable for those who aren't. It seems as though Austen's goal with these issues is to get the X-Men back to the traditional teambook atmosphere that they had gone away from (and continued to go away from in New X-Men), but is less successful in his attempt than Joss Whedon would be with his Astonishing X-Men run in 2004. But, I liked it enough to consider picking up Austen's next arc.
Astonishing X-Men - "Gifted"
X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong