Comics

Clawing (and Struggling) for Relevancy in 'X-men Blue #4'

Everything Jimmy Hudson does just makes Wolverine fans miss Logan.


Julian Lopez

X-men Blue

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Publication date: 2017-05-24
Amazon

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for certain comic book characters to be too awesome. It's rarely the fault of the characters themselves. The problem is that when one writer finds a winning formula, a hundred others work tirelessly to recreate it, which leads to some predictably spectacular failures. With all due respect to characters like Hyperion and Sentry, the sheer volume of characters that try to match Superman's winning formula proves that even great success can breed greater problems.

When it comes to the X-men, Wolverine is the spitting, swearing poster boy of this issue. In terms of the overall X-men mythos, he's the standard by which all others are measured. He's an amazing character with a convoluted, but compelling past. He has personality, charisma, and mass appeal that's easy to stick on a T-shirt or lunch box. Few characters can hope to match that standard. Some characters, such as X-23, come surprisingly close. Others, however, fail miserably and become afterthoughts at best.

Up until Secret Wars, Jimmy Hudson was a case study in such failure. In the now-defunct Ultimate Marvel, he attempts to replace Wolverine and falls woefully short at every turn. He does nothing to distinguish himself. He brings nothing new or compelling to the story. He's basically just a teenage Wolverine, minus the skills, the mysterious past, the personality, and the overall appeal. At a time when there are so many other characters, such as X-23 and Old Man Logan, who do a much better job following that formula, Jimmy Hudson enters X-men Blue facing some significant headwinds.

In some respects, he's entering a favorable situation. Like him, the original five X-men are exiled from their own timeline. They're also teenagers with lofty legacies to live up to. However, the baggage of being a failed replacement character from a failed series is not easy to escape. Cullen Bunn and Julian Lopez try to make the case in X-men Blue #4 that Jimmy can overcome that baggage. The verdict, however, is incomplete. The jury is still out, but the evidence is not on Jimmy's side.

The structure of the story is concise and well-crafted. The original five X-men respond to news of a distressed mutant. That's what the X-men of all generations do, time displaced or otherwise. Bunn establishes in the first three issues that this is the core mission of the team. It's simple, familiar, and functional. It works in the sense that it brings out the best in the original five X-men. It continues to work in X-men Blue #4. However, when Jimmy Hudson enters the picture, this core mission clashes with his heaviest baggage.

If Jimmy didn't have claws, wasn't related to Logan, and hadn't been part of a defunct world that stopped being relevant years ago, then his appearance would have some intrigue. Instead, he enters the world of X-men Blue in a way that's so familiar, so predictable, and so devoid of drama that it's hard to get excited about his arrival. Nothing he does sets him apart as a new and intriguing character. If anything, everything he does will just make Wolverine fans miss Logan.

It's one of Jimmy Hudson's biggest problems, both as a character and as plot for X-men Blue #4. It's a problem that has lingered since his first appearance in Ultimate X. The fact that Jimmy Hudson is Logan's son isn't the issue. The problem is he does nothing to really set himself apart.

In every comic since his first appearance, he doesn't carry himself as Jimmy. He carries himself as teenage Logan. It would be far more intriguing if someone had just cast a magic spell and reverted Logan back to a teenager. Given the abundance of overpowered sorcerers and time machines in the Marvel universe, that really isn't much of a stretch.

That all-too-familiar tradition continues in X-men Blue #4. All the familiar Logan tropes are there. Jimmy is alone in a hostile wilderness, stuck in a blood rage, and can't remember where he came from. These are all core themes of at least a dozen other Wolverine stories since 1975. There's nothing distinct or memorable here. Jimmy once again conducts himself as a teenage Logan and nothing more. Unlike the original five X-men, though, he can't use time displacement as an excuse.

It might be understandable for Jimmy to struggle to escape his Logan's shadow in the sense that he sets the bar pretty high. Wolverine is one of the most popular comic book characters of all time. He's the one who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. Expecting Jimmy to even come close to that bar seems unreasonable. However, that excuse fails too because there is a precedent, which further undermines Jimmy's case.

Other characters inspired or derived from Wolverine have succeeded. Both X-23 and Daken have established themselves as solid, compelling characters who can hold their own without being too similar to Logan. X-23 does such a good job of this that she went onto become one of the best parts of the last Wolverine movie. Jimmy Hudson, though, gives no impression that he deserves a role next to Hugh Jackman.

Unlike Daken and X-23, Jimmy does nothing to stand out whether he's in a fight or standing on a street corner. His only distinguishing feature is his blond hair. If Lopez were to use the wrong color, then few would be able to discern Jimmy from an overly youthful Logan. Given all the other distinguishing traits of Daken and X-23, which include tattoos and different claw configurations, Jimmy feels less like a derivation and more of a rip-off.

At the very least, his presence doesn't derail the story in X-men Blue #4. Bunn never makes him the primary focal point and that keeps the narrative on-track and consistent with the themes of the series. Jimmy's presence even manages to incur a distinct twist to the story that couldn't be done with X-23 or Daken. He acts primarily as a catalyst for the original five X-men's next challenge. He succeeds in this, but fails be distinct or compelling at any point in the process.

He's still that character who failed miserably to fill the void left by Logan's death in Ultimate Marvel. Now, he's in a world where two other characters can claim some measure of success, one of which made Dafne Keen famous. Jimmy is a long way from that kind of success. That baggage is still as heavy as ever. He's still that character few mourned when Ultimate perished at the end of Secret Wars. Escaping that baggage isn't easy and with X-men Blue #4, he's off to a poor start.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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