Saturday, March 04, 2006

Belle and Sebastian and The New Pornographers at the Nokia (3/3/2006)

Yesterday I went to see Belle and Sebastian and The New Pornographers at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. As I mentioned a while back, this is a big month for concerts, and it's gotten even bigger since than. I've got Jenny Lewis coming up on March 19, and two days before that, Elysian Fields are playing and I want to check that out. I discovered them because Jennifer Charles, their vocalist, worked on Lovage with Dan the Automator. I'd love to hear a Lovage track from them, but pretty much all their stuff has a smoky, noir trip hop flavor that's quite good. And then on March 20, Annie is doing a show at Mercury Lounge. I've heard she isn't great live, but perhaps she's improved since then, and besides, her songs are great, so it should be entertaining enough.

But of all these, the concert I was looking forward to the most was definitely B&S and the New Pornos. I saw Belle and Sebastian back at Across the Narrows, which was a really fun show, but at a festival the bands had a lack of control over the environment and setting, it's not quite the experience they would have playing their own show. And I missed The New Pornographers when they were in the fall because I had school, but I'm a huge fan of their stuff, so I was psyched to see them as well.

Before to the concert, I went to a CD signing at Virgin Records in Union Square. All of Belle and Sebastian was there and I got The Life Pursuit signed. It was a pretty assembly line affair, when you've got seven people to sign the thing, it's tough to move people through quickly, but I talked to Mick, their trumpeter, a bit about the trumpet work on "I Love My Car," my favorite Belle and Sebastian song. Apparently, they brought in a jazz band to back up on the song, which explains why it's different from their other stuff. I was wondering where all those additional instruments came from.

So, after that I went over to the Nokia and literally sat on the floor for an hour and a half waiting for the show to start. I hadn't been to the Nokia before, and after last night, it's definitely my favorite venue in the city. Walking into it, it seems like you're walking into a UFO and the whole thing is laid out nicely. And on top of that, the sound was fantastic, it was loud enough, but with none of the distortion you usually get at a live performance. Everything was smooth and really easy to listen to, so great work on that, Nokia. Also, because I got there early, I was able to get a spot right in the front and center. The only gripe I have about the show is that the people next to me wouldn't shut up, they would talk all through the song then yell stuff at the band during the break. But, I moved away from them midway through Belle and Sebastian. Honestly, why go to the show and stand in the front if you're going to spend all your time talking about random stuff.

Anyway, enough of that. I'm going to try to remember the setlists as best I can, but these aren't necessarily all the songs, or in the correct order. But I can guarantee that's what down here was played.

The New Pornographers
Star Bodies//Use It//The Bones of an Idol//The Bleeding Heart Show//Jackie, Dressed in Cobras//Mass Romantic//
Three or Four//Laws Have Changed//The Body Says No//Twin Cinema//The Jessica Numbers//Testament to Youth in Verse//
Sing Me Spanish Techno//Letter from an Occupant

As most any article about this performance will discuss, this was The New Pornographers without Neko Case, and, at least on record, Neko has a voice that isn't really matched by the keyboardist who subbed for her here, though she certainly performaned admirably at a task that wasn't made any easier by the fact that the setlist featured most of the signuate Neko songs. The setlist was mostly tilted towards stuff off of Twin Cinema, but there may be a couple of earlier songs I'm missing here.

Still, The New Pornos are a band where pretty much every song is good, and then there's a few that go above and beyond. So even though my favorite album of theirs is The Electric Version, and they only played two songs off of it, I wasn't in any way unsatisfied by their performance here. They don't have any bad songs, and pretty much everything they've got translates well live.

I thought their performance was fantastic, just great musicianship throughout. However, the crowd wasn't that into them. I think it's tough being an opening band, while I was looking forward to both acts equally, it was pretty clear that most of the crowd was primarily Belle and Sebastian fans, and as a result, there wasn't as much intensity to the set as could have been. This was probably also due to the fact that they seemed to take a minute or so between songs just hanging around, doing some banter with the audience. This led to some funny moments, but there wasn't the sense of really getting caught up in the action that I got from Belles' set later. The highlight of this banter stuff was definitely the improptu rendition of "Eye of the Tiger," if they were ever to do a covers album, that would be an ideal selection.

The highlight for me was definitely "A Testament to Youth in Verse." At one point in the show, Newman announced they were going to play it, then switched songs, so I was worried that it wouldn't make an appearance. However, shortly after, they broke it out and it was easily the highlight of their set. The vocal round at the end of the song was amazing, hitting on some Polyphonic Spree territory. Other highlights were "The Body Says No," and "Letter From an Occupant."

On the whole, it was an excellent performance, and I'd love to see them at a solo show, where more of the crowd knows their material.

Belle and Sebastian
Expecations//Another Sunny Day//Sukie in the Graveyard//Electronic Renaissance//Women's Realm//The Boy Done Wrong Again//The Blues are Still Blue//Like Dylan in the Movies//Act of The Apostle I//Piazza, New York Catcher//Your Cover's Blown//Funny Little Frog//To Be Myself Completely//I'm a Cuckoo//The Wrong Girl//White Collar Boy//Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying//Judy and the Dream of Horses//You're Just a Baby//

This was a really phenomenal performance. Coming after The New Pornos, who were good, but seemed less than confident, it was refreshing to see Stewart come out and really take control of the audience. Early on, there was a bit of disengagement, but by the end everyone in the audience seemed to be completely wrapped up in the performance.

I think that's largely due to the choice in the setlist. Early on, there were a lot of slower, more acoustic songs, while towards the end we started to see a lot more of the singalong anthemic stuff, like "I'm a Cuckoo" and "White Collar Boy." I'm not that familiar with Tigermilk, so I recognized the first song, but wasn't quite sure what it was, and it was a rather slow note to start on, and "Another Sunny Day," a song I really like on the album, didn't really ignite the crowd when done live. I'm not sure if it was next, but "Sukie" came pretty early in the set and was fantastic live. It was clear that a lot of people were really into the new album, since people were singing along to those songs as much as they were to the "Sinister" era classics. Sukie should definitely be kept around for future tours, it was one of the highlights of the show.

The low point for me was "The Boy Done Wrong Again," a really slow song that just sucked momentum out of the show. Now, people may like that song, but I think few would consider something that plays well live. However, a lot of people still seemed stuck in the old mode, notably the guy who shouted out "First three albums" as a request. In terms of live performance, I'd rather see stuff from 2000 or later, from Fold Your Hands Child... on. I think those are better songs, but also they use a lot more of what the band has to offer. Again, I was surprised by how many instruments they all played, there was constant switching around, often leaving one person shaking a percussion instrument that looked like an orange.

In the second half of the show, they brought out some of their best songs, and I got completely wrapped up in what they were doing. "Your Cover's Blown" was a high point, as was "White Collar Boy," a good song on the album, but one of their best live. It reminded me of how "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love" went over at the Across the Narrows show. And I've got to give props to Mick Cooke on trumpet, he elevated every song he played on.

This was definitely one of the best shows I've been to. The band seemed to be having a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it too. I hope they do another pass through the States in support of this album because I'd love to see them again, and I don't want to wait two or three years for them to finish another album.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Gilmore Girls - Brideshead Revisited (6x16)

This week's episode of Gilmore Girls was the last until April, at which point they'll presumably build things up to the season finale. Last season was the show's best, and the opening of this year was carrying a lot of the tension over from that year, however I think there were two big mistakes made in the middle of the season.

One was the ease with which Lorelai and Rory reconciled. It felt like they all of a sudden felt that storyline wasn't working, and as a result got them back together way too quick. I don't think they would have ever been in conflict for so long, but if it was going to be played that way, the resolution was much too quick. I think part of what made it not work was the subplot in that episode, in which Rory pesters the editor of the newspaper she used to work for, annoying him for an entire day, until ultimately he offers a job. It just made no sense, particularly in light of the fact that considering Rory is now editor of the Yale Daily News, she wouldn't have time to work for another newspaper anyway.

I think one of the problems the show has is the fact that the creators clearly really love the characters, a bit too much. I don't know much about Amy Sherman Palladino, but it seems like she's split her personality into these two people, and as a result, is reluctant to really play on their flaws in the way that Joss Whedon or Alan Ball do to their characters. This means that the Rory/Lorelai relationship is completely smoothed over, with no lingering consequences of her actions. This is true to character as written for most of the series, but at the same time, from a narrative point of view, it's difficult to take.

And this love of the characters can be bothersome in scenes like the one in this most recent episode where Rory speaks on an editors panel. The scene serves the purpose of bonding Lorelai and Christopher, but it's primarily about showing off how smart Rory is, and I'm not really interested in seeing a character presented like this. There's no sense that she earned her place there, it's something that she inherently has, and this means that we get no satisfaction out of seeing her succeed. Read on a metatextual level, the scene is just Palladino marvelling at how smart her creation is.

In fact, the whole second half of the season seems to be concerned with elevating Rory and Lorelai, generally by dejecting the other characters. This was present in the business with Logan here, the guy who last episode was the perfect boyfriend is now dumped. I like the way the show presents the situation with him and Rory as open enough that you can sympathize with both of them. On the one hand, Logan was obviously at fault for sleeping with these women when he was trying to get Rory back, but at the same time, Rory knew what kind of guy he was, so she shouldn't have been shocked. And also, if she thought they were still together, maybe she should have reached out to Logan, rather than just waiting for him to come to her. The whole storyline seems weird because Rory is the one who was reluctant to get back into a relationship with him, which implies that they were actually broken up, not on a break. Of course, she believes that Logan broke up with her indirectly through Honor. It's such a convoluted situation, it's tough for her to take such a strong moral high ground.

Over with Lorelai, there's similar conflict between her and Luke. The first chunk of the season presents Luke as this flawless guy, fixing her house, agreeing to put off the wedding, putting up with all her problems with Rory, and then in the more recent episodes, Luke seems to be getting turned into a rather dislikable guy. Despite actually being together, there's less affection between Lorelai and Luke in this season than in any other.

And the big reason for this is Luke's daughter. I'm surprised they would come up with this plot because it seems to be right out of the book of stock plots to mix up a long running show, and it usually doesn't go well. The biggest issue I have with the April storyline is that it seems to exist solely becuase the Palladinos feel like just having Lorelai and Luke together won't be interesting. It's conventional wisdom that when your long flirting couple finally gets together, all the tension is gone, but good writers can avoid this. While Spike's pursuit of Buffy is some of my favorite stuff on the show, the twisted relationship they finallly have is infinitely more interesting. Similarly, Nate and Brenda are much more interesting when they're actually together than during their awkward courting period in season four.

Of course, citing examples from two of the best shows of all time doesn't really prove anything, and these are two relationships that are rather unhappy, even though there's real love there. And, unless Lorelai befriends a prostitute, I really don't see their relationship going down the dark path, nor do I necessarily want it to. Lorelai and Luke are more of a David and Keith type couple, where you really do want to see them succeed.

I think you can do interesting stories about Luke and Lorelai learning to function together without going the extreme dark route, and without creating these artificial barriers to separate them, and that's what April feels like, a completely artificial barrier. She literally comes out of nowhere. April seems designed to give Lorelai the upperhand over Luke in their relationship. He put up with a lot from her over the beginning of the season, and it made Luke look like a perfect, flawless guy. So, this business brings him down, while at the same time making Lorelai more sympathetic, through her suffering.

It's frustrating that neither Luke or Lorelai will talk about the April issue. They've become so distanced, something that was particularly notable in last week's episode about the trip to Martha's Vineyard. They could clear up most of the issues if they just talked things over, if Lorelai told Luke that she wants to get to know April, or if Luke realized that he needs to share this part of his life with her.

A recent episode that I did really like was the Friday Night dinner confrontation. It was shot and paced completely differently from anything else that's ever been done on the show, and it was fun to see all the issues that had been brewing for most of the season come to the surface. The stuff that's been going on with the elder Gilmores has been really interesting this year, particularly the feelings of resentment that Emily has about being rejected by Rory, reliving her failings with Lorelai.

A storyline I really liked in this new episode was Zach's attempt to get the band back together and subsequent proposal to Lane. In some respects, Lane's whole storyline feels like a different show, since none of the characters ever cross over with Lorelai and Rory. At this point, Rory and Lane don't even feel like friends, let alone best friends. But, I'm a big fan of what's happening with her. The whole band storyline is really interesting, and Zach's breakdown a few episodes back was frustrating. One thing I loved in this most recent episode was the return of Zach's tambourine buddy, and the use of Lane's extreme happiness at her relationship as a contrast to Lorelai, Rory and Paris's troubles was well done. I'd like to see them get married and reform the band.

So, looking to the future, there seems to be a triangle between Lorelai, Luke and Christopher. I'm not sure if this Gigi storyline was a one off, or laying the ground work for a storyline in which Lorelai takes a larger hand in caring for Gigi as a way of showing up Luke's commitment to April. This would draw her closer to Christopher, and could set off jealousy in Luke that would drive Lorelai to Christopher. I think one of the most important things to do as a writer of serial fiction is to consider the plots you keep coming back to, and turn them into character flaws. So, rather than Christopher messing up a potential Lorelai marriage being a retread of what happened in season one, it could be examined more a character flaw, that she's continually drawn to Christopher at the worst times, and then this would lead to the question of whether or not she actually should be with Christopher.

I think the most critical thing for the show to do is to bring the issues with Luke and Lorelai to the fore, and either have them recommit to each other or break off, becuase right now they're trapped in a stasis that is holding both characters back from moving on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Top 20 Belle and Sebastian Songs

I'm going to see Belle and Sebastian and The New Pornographers Friday, a concert I am psyched for. And to prepare I've been listening to a bunch of stuff by both bands, and that prompted me to make a list of the top B&S songs. Originally it was going to be ten, but the top ten is heavily weighted to one album, and I felt to be fair, I should expand the list. So read on and discover the best songs of one of the world's best bands...

20. Dylan in the Movies (If You're Feeling Sinister) - This was the first Belle and Sebastian song I really liked, mainly because it's a catchy, ingenious chorus: "Don't look back, like Dylan in the movies." There's a great build during the chorus, and there's something funny about this really impassioned plea being backed up by an obscure allusion to a 60s documentary.

19. Family Tree (Fold Your Hands...) - This is a song in which a girl gripes about the shallowness of her high school friends, and high school life in general. Lyrically, it's a strong plea against materialism in favor of art, which is effective, and the narrator does seem like the sort of fangirl who would probably really enjoy B&S. The part of this song I really like is the chorus at the end, "If my family tree goes back to the Romans, then I will change my name to Jones," and so on. Very catchy and clever, and the rhythm of the vocals throughout the song is satisfyingly unique.

18. I'm Waking Up to Us (I'm Waking Up to Us) - This is from one of their 2001 LPs, a bridge between the "sad bastard" era and the hyperpop of their latter incarnation. This song reminds me a lot of Love, the 60s band, a major B&S influence. It's got that 60s style vocal harmonizing, and the multitude of voices is something unique to B&S. Like a lot of 60s pop, it's a bit of downer in terms of subject matter, but the music is upbeat and jamming, another hallmark of a B&S song.

17. The Wrong Girl (Fold Your Hands...) - I mentioned before abut the two phases of B&S, and nowhere is this more evident than on the underappreciated Fold Your Hands. The album starts out in Sinister mode, but by the end, you can hear the start of what would develop on Waitress, and this song is a great example of that. The simple chorus rocks, and the swirling strings make it more impressive. Structurally, it's a precursor of I'm a Cuckoo.

16. Me and the Major (If You're Feeling...) - This is a great example of an early period Belle and Sebastian song, intricate lyrics and folky acoustic style. The highlight of the song is the ripping harmonica solo in the middle, it's nasty and makes this song special. And the "snow is falling" outro is fantastic.

15. White Collar Boy (The Life Pursuit) - Like The Wrong Girl, this is a song with a simple, anthemic chorus that's just irresistably catchy. The title part of the chorus is great, but the highlight of the song is the call and response with "She said “You ain’t ugly, you can kiss me if you like,"" which is followed by "Go ahead and kiss her," a great example of the multiple vocalist stuff they do so well. It's a catchy, remarkable pop song.

14. The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner (Jonathan David) - This is the sort of audaciously pretentious title that only B&S could pull off. Once again picking up the track theme, this is a mini epic. It's a big buildup and the catharis when the title is stated is great. Ride through the field indeed.

13. Dress Up in You (The Life Pursuit) - I'm usually more into the upbeat, rocking songs by B&S, but this lowkey ballad proves an exception. This is another song about a girl wronged by her more popular friends. The highlight of the song is the telloff "They are hypocrites, so fuck them too," which builds to a fantastic trumpet solo. I always love when they let the instrumentalists go, and this is a fantastic, emotional solo that makes the song infinitely larger.

12. Sukie in the Graveyard (The Life Pursuit) - This has been called the Belles' first dancable song and it's pretty impressive. The ascending line that leads into, and continues throughout, the song is great, and provides the base for one of the more interesting characters in the B&S pantheon. This song reminds me of Six Feet Under, you throw art school and the graveyard together and that's what you get.

11. Don't Leave the Light On Baby (Fold Your Hands...) - This is a downbeat song, like Belle and Sebastian doing Portishead. The really successful thing about this song is the contrast between the noir, low vocals of the beginning and the shining ethereal vocals of the chorus. It doesn't sound like any other song that they've done, it's much darker musically.

10 Sleep the Clock Around (The Boy with the Arab Strap) - I used this song in my film, Ricky Frost, so I now associate it with that movie, but that only enhances my appreciation of it. The vocal delivery is almost monotone, but still rhythmic, fitting in with the bubbling music underneath, culminating in the instrumental solo in the middle of the song. I'm not sure what instrument that is, but it's great.

9. Your Cover's Blown (Books) - This is the pop epic that's so rich it could almost be an album in itself. The song starts out in a kind of lowkey disco mode, before blowing up into an anthemic groove for the chorus, speeding things up for a chaotic section of the song and then finally bringing it down to acoustic for the finale. It's quite an accomplishment, hearing the song mutate is a lot of fun, it's like all the eras of B&S were synthesized into one.

8. I'm a Cuckoo (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - This is one of a string of incredible songs off of their best album. The verses are so full of energy, like they're trying to burst into the chorus, and when the chorus finally does arrive it's an upbeat march. I'm a big fan of the instrumental jams that follow each statement of "I'm a Cuckoo." Every moment of this song is just full of fun and greatness.

7. Roy Walker (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - This is a 60s style song, with a tinge of Western. It's a really catchy chorus, but the highpoint of this song is the scorching guitar solo that occurs about midway through. It takes the song out of the comfort zone and into an edgy, exciting realm, and then when the chorus returns, it feels even more exciting than it did originally.

6. Step Into My Office Baby (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - Full of double entendre, and backed by a fun, upbeat arrangement, this was the perfect song to announce the new B&S to the world. I love the way the song slows to a near halt, then gradually starts up again building to a final statement of the chorus. It's so happy, if you don't like this song, I sentence you to listen to Staind on repeat for all eternity.

5. Stars of Track and Field (If You're Feeling Sinister) - This is perhaps their signature song and with good reason, it's a warm, textured song with cutting lyrics. The imagery is vivid, but what makes it such a great listen is how well orchestrated it is, a big jump from the comparatively minimal Tigermilk. The trumpet work here is a highlight.

4. Lazy Line Painter Jane (Lazy Line Painter Jane) - This song is an enigma for me. I read the lyrics and ponder, is she pregnant and having a child, is she having sex, possibly with a girl? I don't know, but what I do know is that the interplay between the male and female vocal on the track is great, and regardless of what it means, the parts about "the first bus out of town" sound great, and by the time we finally get to the title statement, it's a driving stomp, a fitting conclusion to a great song.

3. If You Find Yourself Caught in Love (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - Say a prayer to the man above...for this song! It's the best of their poptastic anthemic tracks. I really like the message of the song, and the way the lyrics remains sophisticated even though on the surface the song is pretty simple. What's astonishing about the song is that every part feels like a sing along chorus, this was a highlight when I saw them live back in October, and I'd love to hear it again on Friday.

2. Stay Loose (Dear Catastrophe Waitress) - The last track of an album often hints at a potential new direction for the band, going beyond what the rest of the album did. Think "Day in the Life" on Sgt. Pepper or "Street Spirit" on The Bends. Stay Loose is one of those tracks, unlike anything else B&S have ever done. The song has a techno 80s feel, with a slight android quality in the vocals in the verses. This builds up to a more jamming chorus, and ultimately to the nastiest guitar solo in the band's history. I love the repeated guitar arc in the middle and that ultimately fades out the song. It's a completely different texture for the band and it works wonderfully.

1. I Love My Car (I'm Waking Up to Us) - And at last the apex of the oevure. I Love My Car starts out as a fairly standard, 60sish pop tune, in which the narrator points out all the things he loves more than "you." I'm liking it, but then things go to another level, and the song takes on a heavy jazz type feel, and drops an incredible trumpet solo on us. This trumpet solo just comes out of nowhere and transforms the song into something that feels like a 1920s speakeasy. I play trumpet myself, so I'm a bit biased towards songs that use it well, and this one certainly does. The instrumental sections of this song are just unbelievable, and that makes it Belle and Sebastian's best song.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

X-Men 266-273 (X-Tinction Agenda)

It's the second to last X-Men review post, as the six month, 200 issue journey approaches its finale. When last I talked about the X-Men, things were not looking good for the book, with the team splintered, plots loose and directionless. These issues restore direction, in what seems like an elaborate meta commentary on the book's direction following Inferno.

But before that, issues 266 and 267 see the resolution of the Storm as child thief arc, and include the introduction of the character who's Claremont's last significant contribution to the X-mythos, Gambit. While he's had some evolution since, the basic appeal of the character is present from the start. He's got the disregard for rules of Wolverine, but with a more suave, wordly demeanor. Even though the storyline with the Shadow King here is a bit convoluted and misguided, it's still fun to watch Gambit and Storm work together.

268 is a rather pointless issue in which Wolverine flashes back to a mission he did with Captain America during World War II. This reminded me of a few Angel episodes which featured similar historical adventures for our hero, and generally speaking, they don't work too well. It never feels organic to the character, and is more about name dropping. What is important about this issue is it sees Jim Lee become the regular penciller, and his work is significantly better than the other artists who were doing the book, even though it is a bit too early 90s.

269 sees the return of Rogue. She'd been missing since the business with Master Mold back in 247, and keeping her out of the spotlight was a major mistake. She was one of the best developed remaining characters, since Kitty and Kurt were sent off to Excalibur. Side note, I watched Sex, Lies and Videotape earlier today, and Laura San Giacomo would have been an ideal choice to play Rogue if they were doing the movie back in the late 80s or early 90s. Anyway, this issue is pretty good, and I'm intrigued by what will happen with Rogue and Magneto in the Savage Land. There's a lot of potentially interesting stuff here, though it gets some time off for the big crossover.

The first three X-Men crossovers were all pretty fantastic. Mutant Massacre is arguably the high point of the book as a whole, I would say it's even better than Dark Phoenix. Fall of the Mutants would have been a perfect end to the series, and Inferno is just so over the top you can't help but enjoy it. So, X-Tinction Agenda had a lot to live up to. This crossover follows the mold of Mutant Massacre, where a major crisis sends all the teams into chaos. This crossover actually marks the first time that all the X-teams have actually teamed up together.

The major problem is that the crisis they're teaming up for just isn't that engaging, it lacks the emotional pull of the morlock massacre, or the character based storytelling of Inferno. Instead, it's basically a replay of stuff that Claremont already covered back in the original Genosha storyline, this time with Cameron Hodge. Now, I haven't read the issues of X-Factor that led up to this, but the idea of this guy's head mounted on a giant robot spider is pretty ridiculous, he's such an over the top evil villain that it's hard to get involved in the crossover. There's no emotional conflict about whether they should defeat him, it's basically just a bad guy they're going to fight. Compare that to the conflict surrounding Maddie back in Inferno, where Scott is at least partially guilty for everything that happens. This is more of a gung ho, this is a bad guy, let's go get him type of story.

The major attempt to lend emotional strength to the story, as well as raise the stakes, is to kill Warlock. It's an effective scene, but it felt too much like they were just trying to say that this is an important story, that it's not a real threat unless a character dies, and unfortunately, Warlock had to go. So, that felt a bit crass, like they were trying to get that same level of emotional involvement that the Morlock massacre leant to the first X-over.

Reading this as someone who's only read the X-Men issues, the story isn't that important. This is much more about resolving things from X-Factor and New Mutants, and since the X-Men are so disjointed at this point, it's hard for them to actually play a major role in the story.

One of the major developments for the X-Men is the return of Alex Summers, the man who's suffered more than any other X-Man, he's reaching a Nate level of suffering. This is a guy who's just trying to live in peace, until he's possessed by Erik the Rd and made to fight his own brother. Then he crashes his car, and his girlfriend is possessed by the evil entity Malice. So, he goes to the X-Men and they want to kill him. He then gets involved with Madylyne Pryor, who gets possessed by a demon and turns him into her demon prince. Then, he goes through the Siege Perilous and winds up as a guard in Genosha, where he's soon sent to kill his own brother. Considering all he went through, you'd think he'd have some good karma, but apparently, the siege chose to screw him. Anyway, it was good to have him back and see things resolved between him and Scott by the end. Perhaps he can patch things up with Lorna, who hopefully isn't still a giant, that was one of the dumbest plotlines Claremont's come up with.

Anyway, I think the strongest emotional arc in the crossover was Rictor and Rahne's dashed chance for love. His guilt about letting her go back and her transformation into a mutate were really strong and emotionally engaging even for someone who wasn't that familiar with the characters. What was more contrived was playing off the Logan/Jean relationship yet again. It's always hinted at, but for no real reason other than to get people talking.

One of the major figures in this arc was Cable, who at this time was just an intense military leader, there's no indication that he is in fact Scott's son. Cable here is a very early 90s figure, all attitude and guns, clearly playing off what made Wolverine popular, except without Wolverine's underlying humanity. He's almost a caricature, but at the same time, he does make some points that are relevant. He reminds me of season seven Buffy, with his take the fight to them mentality. And much like it was in season seven, his speeches get annoying. The odd thing about Cable now is that he really isn't very cool looking. he rocks a light blue shirt, blue/white boots and his face always looks a bit weird. And he's also got the absurd overmuscling that afflicts many of the characters here, notably Scott, who apparently spent a lot of time working out since his jump over to X-Factor.

The crossover has a bunch of little character events, but on the whole, not much happens. It's basically Hodge captures and tortures some X-Men, they try to fight him and lose, he captures and tortures some more, then they fight him and lose. Then they fight him again and win. It's difficult with a 9 part crossover because we know whatever they do in parts 1-8 will not defeat him. So, there's this lengthy buildup and by the time they actually do win, it's not that exciting. The problem with an invulnerable foe like Hodge is there's no progression. You have no sense of them winning the fight, or even what the stakes are. And it's ridiculous at the end when just his head is still able to fight Scott and Alex. Whoever thought of the head strapped to a robot body concept was clearly not thinking straight at the time.

Another issue I have with the crossover is the idea that capturing these "innocent children" is so wrong. The New Mutants seem to be more competent than the X-Men, so when the media in the story tries to play it as these children in peril, you feel like they're manipulating the facts in the X-Men's favor unfairly. You're actually sympathetic to the Genoshans, because they're getting misrepresented. Also, shouldn't the media make note of the fact that the "child" who died was in fact some kind of alien?

The most thankful development to come out of this whole crossover was Storm's return to adulthood. The child Storm plot was dumb and undermined a lot of the brilliant development in the character's past. It's something that makes no sense and has no real emotional value for the character.

So, this isn't the best crossover, but it was still a fun read, and thankfully returned some sense of order and momentum to the X-Men. The book really couldn't have kept drifting like it was during the 250s and 260s, and if it took a less than great crossover to do that, it's worth it.

The issue following the crossover seems to be a meta commentary on the direction of the series. When Storm is criticized for the X-men pose as dead plan, it also functions as a critique of how that worked out from an artistic point of view. I think that was a great idea in theory, but as I mentioned in some of the previous reviews, they never followed through on it. Gateway's powers made the X-Men too powerful, and we never got to see the emotional impact of their decision. This was largely because Claremont spent too much time on extended action storylines and never delved into how the characters felt about what they did.

Similarly, when Jean Grey is talking about how she feels like the mansion is her home, it's talking about what people think of when they think of the X-Men. After all the experimentation of his run, Claremont at last returns to the mansion for the first time since the Mutant Massacre, and with most of the classic team intact. While I think Claremont lost control of the book, the conservative vibe here is a bit disconcerting, the idea that such wild experimentation was misguided is not something I'd agree with, and at this point, the mansion seems like an alien place. But I suppose after all this crazy journeying around, the most unexpected thing to do is to return home. It's like "All that You Can't Leave Behind" after Zooropa and Pop, part of you is happy to have that familiar world back, but at the same time the return to the familiar construes the experimentation as failure.