Local, New X-Men, and Fear Agent – A Trio of Trades for January

Ah, late January. The holidays are over, and yet the winter is more with us than ever. The cold conspires with the economy to keep us at home, hopefully with some time on our hands, providing us with the perfect opportunity to actually read those trades we never actually cracked open last year, or we recently received from someone who actually took the time to read our Amazon wish list.

I’ve talked about the trades before — how they sit proudly on your bookshelves, proclaiming to your guests, “Yes, I read comics and these are particularly awesome comics that I want with me as long as my eyesight will last!” Trades are a great, economical way to go, especially if you have dropped reading single issues.

Of course, if you are still reading issues, it can take a long time before you get around to reading — or even opening — the trades (I have a copy of Absolute Sandman, Vol 2, which I can admit to breaking the plastic wrap on, but that’s about it) because of the steady influx of weekly books. This is a battle that only you can wage, but I thought I would actually force myself (I know, poor me) to read for the good of you, the iFanbase.

Today I’ll be discussing three (well, four) books: New X-Men, Vol 1, Local, and Fear Agent, Vol 1 and Vol 2. They are all pretty different but all come highly recommended by a variety of people, so I’d thought I’d give ’em a go.

Let’s start with the most recently released of the three, Local, by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly. These comics have been discussed at length in the podcast, and it is no secret that I’m a fan of Wood and Kelly, so I guess it makes sense that this highly anticipated volume is mentioned first. I bring it up not only to vouch for its quality (very high), but to reflect on how different it is to read this story in trade form rather than in single issues.

In the back pages (I guess they call it “back matter” which makes me think of something different and not altogether pleasant) of the first issue (all of the matter both front and back, including covers and pinups are included in this thick, if somehow surprisingly light, volume), Brian Wood writes how basically each issue was going to be a shot of one year from the main character — Megan’s — life. I actually did know this when I was reading this in issue form, but I guess it makes sense. Each issue features Megan in some way — sometimes she’s the absolute focus of the story (first and last issues especially) but other times she’s a side character, completely tangential to the main storyline, which I thought was kind of interesting. While we care about her story, this book is also about the location (somewhat obvious, given the title) and the kinds of people Megan ends up meeting, the relationships she ends up forming… relationships that she invariably either bails on or just out and out sabotages.
The inconsistency of focus sounds interesting, but I am not always sure that it works, to be honest. While I get issue 7 — the one about her hardcore cousin — that we see Megan’s character though the postcards she sends to him, I was less certain what to get from issue 4, with the two brothers. Yes, it’s a comment on family and yes it underscores her own inability to communicate with her own brother and family, but it really just felt contrived — she picks up a hitchhiker who pulls a gun on her and then we go to a diner the guy argues with his brother about their dad’s will, etc, etc. It does foreshadow Megan’s struggle to cope with her mom’s death (which she finds out about in issue 9, I guess give years later), but even so, it felt random, which, of course, could very well be the point: random events happen and we have to deal with them — and how we deal with these events informs how we engage the future.

What I liked most about this book was the progressions, not only of Megan’s own life, but in Ryan Kelly’s art and Brian Wood’s storytelling. The first issue came out in 2006, the last in the summer of 2008. When we discussed the last issue, #12 (Pick of the Week Podcast #137, where Local #12 was Ron’s Pick of the Week), we discussed how so much time had passed between issues that by the time we got a new one, the previous one really was a distant memory — which really works. I actually felt that reading it with the time breaks made for a more effective story than reading the issues straight through. In fact, if have never read this book and you plan to read it, I strongly suggest waiting a week or so between each issue. I know, it sounds kind of ridiculous, but to condense the 12 issues, basically 12 years of Megan’s life into 90-120 minutes just does not have the same impact. Megan is a very real character, and as with any relationship, she begins to mean more the longer you know her. If anything, reading it straight through made me… I dunno, dislike is too strong a word, but for awhile, Megan just seemed like a selfish brat, really. She’s really not that likable much of the time. She treats people badly and is so self-centered that it can be hard to relate to her. With time, you realize that she does learn from her mistakes, and we can only hope that she learns how to be more patient with those around her (and herself) now that she’s returned home.

Ryan Kelly is a gifted artist and it’s a real pleasure to have it all gathered in one volume. As time passes, we see, as Megan becomes older and, well, wiser, Kelly’s art becomes more mature, his storytelling more elegant. Megan ages gracefully — she really is a woman at the end of the book, and I thought her aging was handled very skillfully.

I could write an entire article about Local, but suffice to say, I find myself thinking more about Megan and her life than I do about any of the superheroes I read about from day to day. This is a great gift for a friend who may not be into comics — I hesitate to say this would be a great trade for your girlfriend, lest I offend someone (it is)–but it’s also a great gift for yourself. This is a special book and if you like comics about people, relationships and, well, places, you should own it.

After all the self-reflection and emotionality of Local, I thought it was time to take on some good ol’ fashioned mainstream comics. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men fits that bill… or does it rip the bill apart and turn it into a paper based alien sculpture? Nothing ol’ fashioned about this book, really. I picked up New X-Men, Vol 1 at San Diego Comic-Con and was not sure how to tackle it (I was going to get the other trades first) because I had heard so much about it… Morrison’s run sounded controversial, some people liked it, others hated it… I just wasn’t sure if I need to know more about the books before reading them. In the end, it doesn’t matter what other people think, and while historical context is interesting, it wasn’t really necessary for the purposes of this article, so I just jumped right in. Man, am I sorry I waited. I don’t care whether or not this follows “normal” X-Men books or ideals or whatever — I had a blast.

Whereas I thought Local was best enjoyed over time — each chapter basically a short story within a larger tale — New X-Men, Vol. 1 is just balls-to-the-wall comic book glory. I had forgotten that Frank “All-Star” Quitely was on the book, which was obviously a welcome surprise. It’s was really interesting to compare his work then to his more recent work in All-Star Superman; it’s still so nice, but just a little different, less fluid, almost rigid at time — but still, really, really nice. Gorgeous. And the covers? Gimme a break — awesome. His portraiture treatments remind me of John Cassaday’s covers on Astonishing X-Men. Great way to go.

Since we are talking about art, I might as well mention that you also get a few issues from Ethan Van Scriver and it is equally thrilling to see how his art has improved… but also how good it was to begin with, you know? We also get “early” Lenil Francis Yu (another great surprise) and then this guy Igor Kordey, who… like… I dunno what to say, but compared to the other guys, his art is… I mean, maybe he was rushed or what, but the art is just… well, I hate to say “bad” because art is so personal, but let’s just say it doesn’t hold up well next to these other masters. In fact, I actually remember picking up New X-Men at this time and it was because of Kordey’s art (and the fact that I had no idea, at all, what the hell was going on), that I dropped the book. The pages are just a mess.

[Note — Readers have told me that apparently Kordey was put in the unenviable position of having to rush to keep the issue on schedule — at one point he had just a few weeks to do an issue? Unfair, not only to the book, but to readers like myself who were unaware of the pressures he was under and had only this effort to judge him on. Just wanted to mention that.Mike]

That brings up one aspect of reading trades that I did not expect: being able to see the early works of artists that I admire now. Seems obvious, right? But the thing is, when I got back into comics, I was following characters, not creators, so I really was just taking comics at face value, in a way. Now, thanks to the iFanboys — and the iFanbase, I am much more clued in, and I daresay it has made going back and reading a trade a much more enjoyable experience.

If you are an X-Men fan, you probably already have a pretty good idea — and a pretty solid opinion — of what New X-Men was/is all about. I totally did not — I had no preconceptions about the story or the characters, though I will admit I was excited to read more Grant Morrison. Now, I am sure he introduced a bunch of new concepts (Beast being more beastly, Emma Frost being good, Jean Grey being back (no idea — is this true? I thought she was dead… but whatever), but what I really enjoyed was how much of a team book this was. I really, really enjoyed the team dynamic and the overall unity that I felt between the members. It made me really like the X-Men a lot and I can see why people get so into these characters and their relationships.

I’m not going to go over the plot, because there really is a large, far-reaching plot in this volume, which makes it a really great read, it would just make this article too long (happy to discuss it in the comments below), but suffice to say it is chock-full of the fantastical ideas high concepts that one tends to associate with Grant Morrison. I love how Xavier had to fight his sister in the womb and how she comes back and comes very close to taking down the team. I love the dilemma of having Xavier and his team “outed” to the press and the pains the team makes to be more open. I found Hank’s gradual de/volution to a more beastly form (and how his teammates react to it) very affecting. The whole issue that was silent as they tried to rescue Xavier? Brilliant. And can I just admit to you that I never actually realized that Emma Frost’s costume was an inverted “X” until just last night? Like the flesh is the “X”? No idea. I guess… I guess I was distracted. Also, that alien who was trying to be a boyfriend to Emma’s Stepford mutants? His alien base form looked a lot like Doop from X-Force. That cracked me up.

I did notice patterns with this book, this superhero story, that I am not sure I would have noticed from issue to issue: there’s quite a few cliffhangers where a group of characters will be in a jam, constricting the heroes into a specific time and space, only to be followed by the heroes getting out of said jam, and characters, time and space expanding. It was like the sequence of events was breathing, in a way — tension growing and relaxing, at fairly regular intervals. I know, it sounds weird, but it’s just something that I don’t think I would have consciously noticed if I were just reading the issues, because, again, of the time that passes — real time, you and me time — between issues. With the trade, everything is so compressed and patterns begin to emerge. I can only imagine that this is what the story is like in the writer’s head, that s/he has to provide these hooks to keep the momentum up, all while keeping the main story going. If anything, reading New X-Men, Vol. 1 made me appreciate the intricacies of writing comics even more and gave me the opportunity to add a few more candles to my Grant Morrison shrine.

Confession: I meant to make my third trade be The Starman Omnibus, Vol. 1 but I just ran out of time. I started reading it — it’s totally cool — but I did not want to rush through it, so I skimmed Fear Agent, Vol 1 (which I had already read) and followed it with Vol. 2. I promised, during same podcast where we discussed Local #12, to read this book in trade, and wow do I suck for not reading it earlier. Whadda book!

Where Local is very much indie black and white with all kinds of emotional grays, and New X-Men is (admittedly somewhat subversive) mainstream color extravaganza, Fear Agent is back to basics, Erroll Flynn/Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon action adventure for the 21st Century crowd. It’s swashbuckling, it’s rude, it’s crass and it’s glorious. Rick Rememder introduces us to Heath Huston right in the middle of a mission — it’s like we arrived at the movie about 10 minutes too late and you just never get a chance to catch your breath… terrific. Volume 1 has art by Tony Moore, whose character design reminds me of one of my favorite artists of all time, Darwyn Cooke. It’s just great art, the imagery is 50s sci-fi pop — Heath’s rocket ship is a straight-up rocket ship, like the one the original Flash Gordon used in the old-timey serials. The first volume is pretty much an extended action sequence — Heath is literally leaping from frying pan into the fryer, into a skillet with some butter, right into a microwave and then landing, face flat into a (closing) George Foreman grill. I would have preferred a bit more plot, but there’s just not enough time — we’re moving fast. The first volume sets things up for Volume 2 (wow, that sounded intelligent) — it sets things up for a much broader story, let’s just say that.

Volume 2 has art by Jerome Opeña, who keeps the energy and enthusiasm of Moore’s art, but gives it just a bit more edge, a bit more sketch. I kept thinking that I would love to see him draw Spider-Man for some reason. Volume 2 we get a more into Heath’s personal history, and ends with a nice (if not totally unexpected) plot twist that made me order Volume 3 late last night.

The guys talk about Fear Agent all the time, so my recommendation should not be a surprise. What is particularly cool about the book is that Remender really balances out the swashbuckling aspects with a darker, grittier backstory — I mean, Heath Huston goes through a lot in this story and I ended up caring for him much more than I thought I would. In fact, if I had any criticism, it’s that Volume 1 just doesn’t provide as much depth as it could — I could easily see someone getting Volume 1, enjoying it, and never buying another issue. I think Dark Horse should release Volumes 1 and 2 (and 3, why not) in an omnibus of some sort.

These are nice books. They go very well together, in a way — I would love to see Heath and Wolverine meet up and drink after a particularly harrowing intergalactic adventure… we could have Megan serve them drinks and watch them in the background, wondering when she was going to quit the job, just to round it out.

Each of these trade is very different, and these selections just continue to illustrate how wonderfully diverse comic book stories can be. Though I have my concerns that reading some kinds of stories in trades “rushes” things a bit, thereby undercutting dramatic tension, they are mitigated somewhat by the opportunity to see the earlier work of current artists — and see an overall story really come together.

Finally, I realize that I have only touched upon aspects of these books; I wasn’t able to really dig into the various plots of New X-Men or Fear Agent (but believe me, they are engaging stories with solid characterization and high stakes), but I hope you’ll at least get a sense of some of the fun that’s had to be inside.

For those of you who have read these books, what do you think about reading these stories in this compiled format? What’s the general consensus of the Morrison New X-Men run, anyway? Why is it so controversial? I look forward to reading your takes!


Mike Romo is an actor in LA and is considering creating a work out video comprised of various exercises that you can do with DC’s Absolute and Marvel’s Ombnibus lines — he’s gonna call it “Absolute OmniAbs”. You can dissuade him from this by writing him at mike@ifanboy.com or follow his adventures on Twitter. He also promises to update his website soon. Really.


  1. i loved all these books. i LOVED Grant Morrisons run on New X-Men and thats what got me started in X-Men. Local was a good pick up reccommended by Ron and I was glad i picked it up. Same goes for Fear Agent a good reccommendation by the iFanboys.

  2. I liked New X-Men a lot. It came out just as I was getting back into comics after 15+ years and once I got past the "Hey, Emma Frost is EVIL so why is she here?" kind of problems I enjoyed it all the way to 150. The last four…well, not so much.

    As for Kordey, he got that gig because the schedule had gotten out of whack (thanks, Frank) and he’s a mad bastard when it comes to putting out product. Something like 2-3 pages a day, when he wants to. Not his top quality work – check out his Black Widow for better – but servicable in its own way.  The inconsistent art was the one real issue I had with the book. It was all good, but it went from FQ to EVS to Kordey to Silvestri to Yu to whomever. kinda distracting is all.

    Can’t say anything bad about Fear Agent; haven’t read Local yet. Nice article Mike.

  3. Jean had been "back," and a core X-men character, for close to 15 years when ‘New X-Men’ started. She didn’t get a reputation for always-being-dead until. . .well I want to spoil it for you.  Anyway, Morrison’s Jean is *great*.  Particularly in the first few arcs there is so much damn potential for the character.  I bitch about ‘New X-Men’ a lot but I genuinely liked a lot of stuff in the first volume.  It starts to go off the rails for me in the third trade, when some of the characters Morrison created take over the narrative.  And don’t even get me started on Scott and Emma.

    Your mileage may vary.

  4. I’ve tried many times to purchase Fear Agent, but my store never has it.  Argh.

  5. I really, really enjoyed 90% of Morrison’s NEW X-MEN.  It got a bit too wonky in parts, but on the whole it’s my second favorite run on the regular X-Men books behind Whedon’s ASTONISHING.  The thing that really hurt it was the inconsistent art.  And as @RobAbsten noted above Kordey’s art looks so bad (and it does) because he was drawing entire issues in weeks to get the book back on schedule.  His art is much better when he has more time.  Also, he is terrifying in person.

    On the whole, though, I think that Morrison’s NEW X-MEN was a great success (you can’t fault any book for giving us the endlessly interesting Scott and Emma pairing) and I’m kicking myself for missing out on the Omnibus before it went out of print.

  6. Dude, I heard Kordey drew an issue of New X-Men in less than a week. His work might look rushed, but still, that’s an incredible amount of work in such a short amount of time!

  7. Everyone typed my points while I finished my screed. I was basically going to say the same thing; having not read New X-Men at all, I’m a pretty big fan of Kordery’s work and guessed maybe it was bad because he was rushed because they were so ridiculously behind? Kordery said in an interview that he uses little-to-no ref and is able to go ridiculously fast if need be. So…now that I know he drew issues in weeks, I’m interested to see his New X-Men stuff. Because this stuff is just beautiful.

    It’s to be noted that as I was typing and retyping this I got distracted searching Amazon and found some poor girl selling her HC NXM volume 1 (Condition: Very Good) for $8.95! Sold! Hot dog!

  8. I’ve been one the fence about these books and I think you may have pushed me over. I heard the premise to Fear Agent and it peaked my interest, but I’ve kind of forgotten about it until now. I think I did look it up once and my LCS didn’t have it.

    Haha, @conor you are the only person, other than me, that I’ve heard use the word "wonky." Anyways, when New X-Men first came out and I first saw those costumes I thought Marvel was just cashing in on movie popularity. Now, I know that can be a good thing sometime(I’m looking at you Invincible Ironman). Just at at the time I thought Morrison was looking for a payday and the more info I get on this book, the more I want to read it.

  9. Read Fear Agent Now… don’t wait.

  10. Interesting what you say about Fear Agent; I read the first trade and enjoyed it but wasn’t too fussed to pick up the second. Maybe I should of course since I’ve just started on Scalped and DMZ as a direct result of iFanboys I might be just be adding to the size of my stack. What I need is an intrevenous injection of Fear Agent.

  11. >(you can’t fault any book for giving us the endlessly interesting Scott and Emma pairing)

    I can in fact do this.  I bet Ron can, too ;).

    (Not asking anybody to agree with me, I just hated that storyline). 

  12. hey guys!

     sitting in the airport, on the way to being seven hours late for my Ohio trip…argh! anyway, finally able to connect up. thanks for the comments on Kordey’s art; I added a note to clarify and noted that he was rushed. Wow, I had no idea–why not just delay the book a few weeks? What a rough position to be in. I will check out his other work. It was just a jarring difference that really came out when reading the trades. Thanks for clarifying the situation.


    @Pompster – right? the first issue is good, it’s fun, but it just didn’t hook me for some reason. Luckily, I did one of those combo purchases on Amazon, so I had the second–it’s more rewarding, I think, than the first volume. What will be really interesting if I go to single issues or not. I wanted to for Scalped, I just haven’t timed it right.


    @ottoBot – thank you for posting that image. Kordey’s obviously a talented guy and it’s frustrating that my first encounter with his work was in the context of the NXM trade. Thanks for sharing that link!


    okay..now to Vegas for an hour, then to Columbus. Pity they don’t sell comics at airports, I really wanted to grab Final Crisis 7!



  13. @mikeromo If they sold comics at places other then my lcs I really would have an economic crisis. Comics at the newsagent what a novel idea, but maybe that’s another thread.

  14. Also on kordey, if i remember correctly he was drawing something like three other books for marvel ALONG with his european comics work at the same time.

    Mark Bagley eat your heart out.

  15. if you thought Fear Agent grew deeper into Heath’s character from volume 1 to 2, then I can’t wait to see what you think about 3.  More backstory and more fleshing out Heath’s character.  good getting better.

  16. I see people credit (or discredit) Morrison with making Emma Frost good, but hadn’t she been running the school along with Banshee in the Generation X title for years before Morrison came along?

  17. Nobody ever remembers Generation X!  But yeah, as I recall when they pull Emma out of the rubble in Genosha, Jean doesn’t just say that she’ s mutant but that she’s an X-man (or something in that vein).