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Jan 19

X of Swords

Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

X of Swords: Creation #1
X of Swords: Stasis #1
X of Swords: Destruction #1
X-Factor vol 4 #4
Wolverine vol 7 #6-7
X-Force vol 6 #13-14
Marauders #13-15
Hellions #5-6
New Mutants vol 4 #13
Cable vol 4 #5-6
Excalibur vol 4 #13-15
X-Men vol 4 #13-15
by various creators

The first major crossover of the Krakoan era is an important point for the line. Not just because of the plot itself – much of the appeal of Jonathan Hickman’s run turns on a sense that there’s a bigger picture. Although his X-Men mostly tells short and self-contained stories, they depend on the sense of a wider context for their weight. And the aura of a grand plan was important to get buy-in for the radical change of direction represented by Krakoa in the first place.

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Jan 16

Chris Claremont Anniversary Special #1

Posted on Saturday, January 16, 2021 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

by Chris Claremont, Bill Sienkiewicz, Sean Chen, Diego Olortegui, Brett Booth, Marc Deering, Roberto Poggi, Adelso Corona, Chris Sotomayor, Rachelle Rosenberg, Erick Arciniega & Guru-eFX

Now there’s a title. You don’t often get creators named in the title of a comic – not unless they’re Stan Lee, at any rate. But Chris Claremont is a special case, and this issue is intended to celebrate five decades of his contribution to Marvel Comics.

I confess to being a little unsure what exactly this is taking as the starting point for its anniversary. His first credited script wasn’t until 1973; his first uncredited contributions were for stories that came out in 1969. But whatever. When you’re talking about a half-century career, a year here or there is no big deal.

Oct 3

Giant-Size X-Men: Tribute to Wein & Cockrum

Posted on Saturday, October 3, 2020 by Paul in reviews

“Second Genesis”
by Len Wein and… well, about 60 names would be listed here.

This is certainly unusual. It’s a remake of Giant-Size X-Men #1, using the original script, but with modern artists doing a page each. I’ll be honest – the main reason I bought this was just in case they sneaked in something significant in the art. They don’t. It’s exactly what it’s promoted as: a straight cover version of “Second Genesis”.

It goes without saying that Giant-Size X-Men #1, now 45 years old, is one of the most significant single issues in X-Men history. Most people with a vague interest in the franchise have read it (and needless to say, it’s available on Marvel Unlimited). It’s the issue that relaunched the series after several years in reprint, and it’s the introduction of Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Thunderbird, as well as the point where Wolverine and Banshee join the team. Len Wein didn’t stick around beyond this point, which Chris Claremont swiftly taking over – but Dave Cockrum hung around for quite some time, which gives it more sense of unity with the run that follows.

Sep 22

X-Men: Marvels Snapshots #1

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

“And the Rest Will Follow”
by Jay Edidin, Tom Reilly & Chris O’Halloran

The Kurt Busiek-curated Marvels line is difficult to keep track of, not least because so many of the books have such similar titles. As you might expect, much of it consists of well-handled character pieces written in the margins of past history; the original Marvels series was largely about revisiting the history of the Marvel Universe from a different perspective, after all.

This book – the cover says Marvel’s Snapshots X-Men, the digital copy says X-Men: Marvels Snapshots, and does this stuff really have to be so confusing? – takes a rather different approach. It’s an origin story for Cyclops.

Hold on a minute, you may be saying. Cyclops has got an origin story already. He’s had one since the sixties. And of course Jay Edidin knows that very well – he’s been podcasting on X-Men history for years. The thing about Cyclops’ back story, though, is that it’s not so much an origin story as a big pile of baggage that Scott is expected to lug around with him.

Sep 6

iWolverine 2020

Posted on Sunday, September 6, 2020 by Paul in reviews

iWOLVERINE 2020 #1-2
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Roland Boschi
Colourist: Andres Mossa
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Editor: Darren Shan

There’s no point being a completist if you’re not going to be a completist. So… iWolverine 2020. Or at least, that’s what the logo says. The Comixology listing says it’s called 2020 iWolverine. And the event checklist says it’s just called iWolverine (though on every other book, it agrees that the “2020” comes at the end). Let’s go with what it says on the cover, and resign ourselves to the fact that when this thing finally appears on Marvel Unlimited, nobody will ever be able to find it.

It’s a curious commission. It’s part of the Iron Man 2020 event, which basically consists of six issues of Iron Man plus a bunch of tie-in issues. The broad plot of the event involves artificial intelligences around the world rising up in a rebellion against the humans who want to use them as simple tools. But unless I’m missing something, iWolverine 2020 has nothing to do with that storyline whatsoever. There’s a passing mention of the fact that Albert and Elsie-Dee are technically Donald Pierce’s property, but it’s really a red-skies crossover. This story would have worked just as well whether or not the rest of the crossover existed.

Aug 12

Moon Knight vol 1 – “From the Dead”

Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Paul in reviews

There weren’t any X-books to review last week, so let’s take a (belated) look at another title that did complete its first trade paperback.

Moon Knight is the sort of bubble character who hasn’t really been able to sustain an ongoing title in years, but who keeps getting relaunched regardless.  This happens partly because of Marvel (and DC)’s conviction that everything in their back catalogue is a masterpiece merely awaiting the right take, but also because people look at Moon Knight and think to themselves, surely this ought to work.  It’s the book Bill Sienkiewicz made his name on.  It’s been interesting in the past.  Surely it can be interesting again.


Apr 25


Posted on Sunday, April 25, 2010 by Paul in reviews, x-axis


(X-Necrosha one-shot, X-Force #21-25)
Writers: Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost
Artist: Clayton Crain
Letterer: Cory Petit
Editors: Jeanine Schaefer & Nick Lowe

Thanks to the knock-on effects of the volcano, there are no new comics in Britain this week, which in turn means no X-Axis.  So instead, I’ll take a look at the last X-Force storyline, “Necrosha.”  Technically this is a crossover with X-Men Legacy and New Mutants.  But in practice, the story is contained in X-Force.  The other two titles simply did their own stories in the margins, taking advantage of the opportunity to use dead characters for a couple of issues.

First time around, I wasn’t a fan of this.  As often happens, reading it again in one sitting does at least make it a little clearer what the creators were going for.  This is a story with a lot of clutter, and the main threads come through more clearly without a month-long gap between chapters.  But it remains a clunky story that doesn’t really hold together – albeit one which is at least trying to pay off a number of long-running storylines.

The basic idea goes like this.  As we established quite some time ago, back in ancient Rome, Selene had a stab at sacrificing everyone in the city to turn herself into a goddess.  It all went wrong because her lackey Eliphas made a hash of things.  Eliphas is now trying to get back in her good books by offering to provide her with a zombie army raised from the dead with the Transmode virus.  Selene’s big idea is to use the virus to revive the slaughtered population of Genosha, and then sacrifice them to turn herself into a goddess.

Running alongside that, the writers get to throw in cameos by a ton of dead characters; subplots about Elixir and Wolfsbane are wrapped up; and Selene’s zombie army invades the X-Men’s island.

So, fine.  It’s all ridiculously melodramatic, but hell, it’s comics.  Selene’s going to raise the dead and use them to gain ultimate power or something.  But in an attempt to wring six issues out of it, it’s become incredibly complicated, littered with unnecessary characters, and plagued by plot holes.

The final two issues have major logic problems.  Issue #24 sees X-Force launch a completely unnecessary frontal assault on a castle, charging through an army of the undead, instead of just asking the Vanisher to teleport them straight into the building.  Vanisher teleports them in at the start of the scene; he teleports himself into the castle later on.  The plot requires him to be separated from the group; but the story brings that about by having everyone’s IQ drop to single figures for two pages.

Issue #25 sees Selene defeated.  I honestly don’t understand how.  Something about a mystic ritual never mentioned before that issue, but beyond that, I’m lost.  It’s obviously supposed to be some sort of pay off for the violation of James’ tribe, but there’s no proper set-up, so it doesn’t work.

And what about the early issues, where Selene’s zombies attack the X-Men’s island?  Granted, Selene has a reason to attack the island.  She needs to recover the magic knife that Eli Bard lost to Warpath in a previous issue, because apparently it’s essential to her ritual.  But she only discovers that she’s missing a macguffin in chapter three, by which point the invasion is well underway.  So why did she order the invasion in the first place?  The dialogue seems to suggest that she just wants revenge on Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw, but that’s a ridiculously flimsy motivation – can’t she wait until after she’s become a goddess in twelve hours time? – and the story does nothing with it anyway.

The story also suffers from a bloated cast.  The horde of zombie cameos is forgiveable, because it’s kind of the gimmick, but it also creates a smokescreen that obscures the important parts of the plot.  A bigger problem is Selene’s inner circle, some of whom seem to have been selected using the Official Handbook, a blindfold and a pin.  Yes, we need Eliphas, because he’s essential to the plot.  And we need Wither because he was already linked to Selene in an earlier story, though he’s written here as a disappointingly one-dimensional villain.

Blink?  Well, the plot requires some teleporting, though Selene’s a sorceress and could do that for herself.  But the other two?  This group seem to have been assembled so that X-Force have a rival team to fight halfway through the storyline – but once you’ve spent three issues fighting zombies of characters people have actually heard of, it’s hardly raising the stakes to bring on nonentities like 90s henchman Senyaka, or Dazzler’s staggeringly obscure sister Mortis, last seen in 1984.  (Dazzler doesn’t even have a major role in the plot.)  Wouldn’t this have been a simpler and stronger story with just Selene, Eliphas, Wither and the zombies?

So: the plot’s a mess.  Nor does it really end up being about anything in particular.  Selene is not what you’d call a rounded character at the best of times.  The emotional core of this story is apparently supposed to lie in Eliphas trying to get back in her favour, which never reaches a satisfying resolution, and James being tormented by the return of his brother, which is almost pushed to the sidelines.  (The fact that the zombie horde includes James’ entire tribe only gets a passing mention in the whole arc.)  A subplot with Wolfsbane’s boyfriend sacrificing himself to Hela in order to save her does carry a bit of emotional weight, but it’s a subplot.

As for the art… well, it’s a Clayton Crain story.  He pulls off some nice effects on the transmode-infected characters, with little lines of brightly coloured circuitry standing out against his generally dark images.  There are some moody establishing shots of Genosha which work well, though quite when the city got remodelled in gothic style, I have no clue. And sometimes, when he’s forced to work with brightly coloured characters hitting one another, there’s real energy to his layouts.

But it’s not great.  His characters don’t do emotion very well, though it has to be said that the plot doesn’t exactly give him much to work with.  The whole thing is murky and frequently hard to follow.  Backgrounds seem to be a foreign concept to him.  I realise that he’s going for mood, but for the most part his interiors don’t seem oppressive or claustrophobic – just undefined and vacant.  Still, there are moments in these issues that do impress.  It’s just that they’re usually the moments where the art breaks from a general air of monotonous gloom and does something interesting with colour.  Much of the rest of the time, it comes across as a comic which has just painted its bedroom black.

This is a disappointing comic, because all involved have done far better in the past, and no doubt will do so again.  Nonetheless, the bottom line is that it’s a weak concept, and a clumsily constructed plot, rendered predominantly in assorted shades of murk.  One for completists only.

Apr 11

Uncanny X-Men #515-522

Posted on Sunday, April 11, 2010 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

“Nation X”

Writer: Matt Fraction
Pencillers: Greg Land, Terry Dodson, Whilce Portacio and Phil Jimenez
Inkers: Jay Leisten, Rachel Dodson, Ed Tadeo and Andy Lanning
Colourists: Justin Ponsor and Soto
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Editor: Nick Lowe

Goodness, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.  But then, “Nation X” has been running for six months.  And besides, I’m not getting this week’s comics until Monday, so let’s start on the backlog.

Despite the “Nation X” logo on the cover, this isn’t really a single storyline so much as a bunch of stuff that came out between the “Utopia” and “Second Coming” crossovers.  There are several different strands here.  They don’t entirely add up to a coherent whole, but then they weren’t necessarily meant to.  View it as seven issues of an ongoing title rather than as a single storyline, and it makes rather more sense.  In that context, it’s interesting to note that the “Nation X” hardcover, scheduled for May, features not just these seven issues, but also the Dark Reign – The List one-shot and the entire Nation X anthology.

“Utopia” ended with the X-Men retreating from San Francisco to live on their own little artificial island in the bay, something which was presented as something of a victory over the corrupt officialdom of Norman Osborn.  It seemed a rather strange thing to do, when the X-books had only just relocated to San Francisco with such fanfare.  Marvel’s wider publishing schedule may play a part here.  We’re told (though the book never finds space to actually show it) that the team are still popular with the people of San Francisco, and there’s nothing really to stop them from moving back… except Osborn.  But his story ends with Siege, so if they’re going to do this story, there’s a fairly narrow window of opportunity.  What happens next is anyone’s guess; logically, there’s nothing to stop the X-Men simply moving back to the mainland in a couple of months time.  This is a problem with the whole set-up; Fraction seems to want us to see Utopia as a permanent move, but the plot’s driven by something that we all know is purely transitory.

Rather more interesting, and more successful, is the general uncertainty and ambivalence about the island.  Scott clearly wants it to be some sort of mutant homeland and source of pride.  As a haven for virtually all the surviving mutants, it’s at least managed to unite them all in a single group and put an end to the usual inter-mutant squabbling (though again, this is really just asserted as a fact, since Fraction doesn’t find time to show us the low-rent villains and bit part characters supposedly wandering around the island).  Other characters see it as last-ditch retreat by a team who are increasingly backed into a corner.  And Hank, channeling the feelings of long-time readers, spends the first few issues wondering why on earth he’s still bothering, before throwing up his hands in despair and walking out at the end of issue #519; for him, this just doesn’t resemble the X-Men any more.  Of course, Fraction might just be writing him out so that he can be used in the Avengers titles, but it’s a smart move to use him as a mouthpiece to acknowledge all the problems with this direction.  Scott’s pride in the island hovers somewhere between making a virtue of necessity, and outright denial.  That’s a promising angle; is he suppressing things that are just too depressing to think about, or is he simply losing the plot?

Fraction also makes good use of Magneto, who shows up apparently to lend his support, and who naturally spends the next few issues trying to persuade people that he doesn’t have an ulterior motive.  He probably does – he’s Magneto, after all – but his attempts to get the X-Men to trust him are well written.

On the other hand, the idea of the island as a “nation” never really comes across.  It’s basically the X-Men running a facility and offering free board to any passing mutants – and that’s essentially what we had a couple of years ago when there was a refugee camp in the X-Men’s garden.  This is presumably meant to feel different, but it doesn’t.  And the main plot for these issues is a bit weak too.  It involves a bunch of new villains attacking the island with Predator X’s, apparently as a cover to infiltrate the island with nanotech so that they can catalogue all the remaining mutants.  This eventually builds to the revelation that they’re in league with John Sublime.  But it doesn’t really go anywhere in the course of these issues, and the bad guys are not well established as characters.  A couple of them have nice one-liner powers (a kung-fu speedster is a fun idea) but they have no personality and the designs are uninspired.

There are also some gratingly awful plot problems in there.  Issue #517 can’t make up its mind about how hard it is to beat a Predator X – Magneto is wiped out by fighting one, yet some random Atlantean can beat one singlehandedly by chucking a spear at it.  That’s inconsistent.  Then, a few issues later, this same depowered Magneto is supposed to be powerful enough to pluck a spaceship from light years away and turn it back round.  That’s stupid.  Issue #520 wants to tell us that Wolverine’s sense of smell is so acute that he can sense Fantomex in the sewers while he’s standing on the roof of a skyscraper.  That’s ridiculous.  That said, these problems become less prominent when you read the thing in one go, because they tend to be matters of detail rather than going to the heart of Fraction’s story.  But they’re still bad.

Spliced into the middle of all this, issues #518 and #519 are a seemingly unrelated two-parter about Scott, Emma and the Void.  “Utopia” ended with Emma getting contaminated by a sliver of the Void, the evil alter ego of the Sentry, in a scene that came completely out of the blue.  These issues get rid of that plot almost immediately, in a way that almost makes you wonder why they bothered doing it at all.  The upshot is to transfer the Void to Scott’s mind, and then have him contain it with his staggering powers of repression.  Now, that’s a great idea, and I do like the concept of Scott having superhuman levels of worryingly misdirected willpower.  And perhaps it’s not a complete detour; Fraction’s take on Cyclops is a character who has the responsibility of leading but has no real plan.  He’s just clinging on and hoping for something to turn up.  He is, in short, on the way to a nervous breakdown.  Saddling him with the Void might pay off down the line, then.

And while these issues seem unrelated to the surrounding story, they’re still the best ones.  Partly, that’s because they have the benefit of art from Terry and Rachel Dodson, who have the visual inventiveness to pull off great sequences in the astral plane, and to make the Void a striking jet-black visual.  Their pages have all sorts of eccentric panel layouts without losing clarity.  It’s good stuff.

The rest – well, aside from issue #522, which is a fill-in by Whilce Portacio – is drawn by Greg Land.  Now, in fairness, it’s getting better.  There’s a bit more atmosphere in the inking, and less sense of airbrushing.  Some of his action scenes are quite striking, and he does good establishing shots.  But his women are terrible – interchangeable and inexpressive.  His acting’s not great generally, to be honest, and his pages are still littered with awkward, slightly odd facial expressions.  There’s too much manic grinning.  Still, there are also moments where he gets it right, and we’re moving in the right direction here.

It’s a very mixed set of stories.  There are good ideas in here, but too much of the “Nation X” set-up is left to assertion instead of being properly explained.  The main villains are weak.  The art’s patchy.  And the Void two-parter comes across as a story being aborted prematurely.  But the Dodson issues look great, Fraction does have some strong ideas for Scott’s character, and the idea of Nation X as described (even if we don’t actually see it on panel) is a decent last-stand concept, something which makes sense if this is meant to be the mutants being backed into a corner before Hope shows up to save the day in “Second Coming.”

But having good ideas isn’t enough; you need to get them across.  Even at their best, these issues all too often feel like Fraction is telling us about the story, instead of actually telling it.  There’s a stronger idea in here somewhere, but it isn’t coming through properly.

Dec 27

GeNext United #1-5

Posted on Sunday, December 27, 2009 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

“Passage to India”

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Jonboy Meyers
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Colourist: Jim Caralampidis
Editor: Jordan White

Since I get my comics by mail order, and since the Royal Mail doesn’t deliver on public holidays, I won’t be getting this week’s books until Monday at the earliest.  So instead, let’s make a start on my backlog of completed storylines.  And this one really is backlogged – the collected edition came out a couple of weeks ago.

GeNext United was Chris Claremont’s second GeNext miniseries, but in his mind it’s clearly issues #6-10 of a GeNext ongoing series, complete with slow-burning subplots.  The first series didn’t sell particularly well, but evidently did enough to justify a sequel – and it actually wasn’t bad, with likeable central characters.  The second series ended up at around the 10K mark on ICV2’s estimates, and despite evident good intentions, it doesn’t really work.  I suspect this will probably be it for GeNext.

On paper, the premise is outlandishly complicated.  This series is supposed to be about the next generation of X-Men in a world where the Marvel Universe advanced in real time.  On top of that, Claremont clearly views it as a sequel to X-Men: The End, which itself already took place in an alternate timeline.  Fortunately, most of these convolutions can be ignored happily enough; for practical purposes, it’s enough to know that this is a series about the X-Men’s teenage kids in an alternate future where the team have given up being superheroes and are just trying to run a school.  And part of the tension is about whether the kids should follow in their parents’ footsteps, or just learn from their mistakes and try to live a quiet life.  Now, obviously, we all know what the answer is, because it wouldn’t be much of a series if it consisted entirely of them studying for exams, but what matters is how you get there.

So far, so good… but then we get to this story.  Loosely, it keeps up the central theme by giving the kids another adventure and letting them angst again about whether they want to do this for a living.  But mainly, it’s about taking them to India and bringing on the local heroes and villains, including a goddess who’s into mind control (because heaven knows Claremont has yet to fully explore the thrilling possibilities of this underused plot device).  That aside, though, there’s nothing wrong with the Indian setting; aside from being generally an interesting sort of place, it also has the advantage of keeping the characters away from better-established areas of the Marvel Universe. 

The problems come when the story tries to make some sort of grand point about the diversity of India, and never really manages to connect it to either the characters or the plot.  The second half feels horrendously rushed, as an entire plot about the team being turned into typical Indian citizens and leading normal Indian lives is set up and then resolved in less than an issue.  Then everyone has to race back to fight the villain, who gets beaten not so much because of anything that happened along the way, but more because it’s time for the story to end.  And everyone gets turned back to normal, except for No-Name, who stays Indian for no apparent reason, presumably with a view to furthering a subplot about her ambivolence towards her as-yet-mysterious background.

There are other clumsy aspects.  Gambit and his daughter show up out of nowhere in issue #4 to reunite the team, with no explanation of how they actually found them in the first place (particularly odd since they then have to rely on Oli to track the rest of the group himself).  The daughter of Dr Doom is brought into the story for no obvious purpose, again perhaps with a subplot in mind.  Issue #5 opens by announcing, out of the blue, that Kalima has enchanted an entire city, and then does nothing with the idea.  And the story can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s being narrated by the Beast or by Claremont’s usual authorial voice (or how the Beast knows some of the things he’s supposed to be narrating).

Then there’s the art.  The first miniseries was drawn by Patrick Scherberger, who was rather good; this one is by Jonboy Meyers, who leaves a lot to be desired.  His characters do a lot of awkward posing, and struggle to convey emotion.  And for the most part, everyone looks alike.  This becomes particularly noticeable when the GeNext characters are supposed to be turned into Indians, so that you can no longer rely on hair colour and skin tone to tell them apart.  The women, in particular, are all but indistinguishable. 

It’s a choppy and unsatisfying read, with some half-formed themes that never quite get anywhere, and art that isn’t ready for prime time.  Since the first GeNext miniseries was promising, I had some hopes for this, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work.

Dec 5

The Year Of Our War

Posted on Saturday, December 5, 2009 by Al in reviews

My books for this week have arrived, but total a mighty three comics, two of which we’re going to be covering on the podcast, so I don’t think it’s necessarily worth my putting together a separate post just for them. Instead, I’d like to have a look at a weighty tome that landed with a resounding thud on my doorstep two weeks back.

War of Kings, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Paul Pelletier, is the recent event series that played out in Marvel’s ‘cosmic’ books – Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy and the War of Kings miniseries itself, which was preceded by a one-shot called Secret Invasion: War of Kings, titled as such for seemingly no reason beyond the presence of Skrulls, and followed by another one-shot called War of Kings: Who Will Rule?. There were also two tie-in Darkhawk minis, one simply called War of Kings: Darkhawk and one called War of Kings: Ascension for some reason, and a loosely connected one-shot entitled War of Kings: Savage World of Skaar, which, as you can imagine, features the Hulk’s hilariously-named son. This was supplemented with four shorter online comics, which were eventually released in print form as War of Kings: Warriors, and an issue of Marvel Spotlight. That’s a lot of comics, and aside from the Nova and GotG issues, which are collected in the current (and, in GotG‘s case, imminent) volumes of their series, the War of Kings hardcover contains all of them.

The basic premise of War of Kings, in case you don’t know, is relatively simple. During events taking place prior to Secret Invasion, Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans, was kidnapped and replaced with an undercover agent by the Skrulls. Having been recovered in Secret Invasion: Inhumans, he and the rest of the royal family decide to wipe every last stinking Skrull out of the sky. In doing so, they are faced with a choice – let the escaping Skrull fleet go, or chase them into Shi’ar territory, taking out Shi’ar ships as they go and generally provoking an interstellar war with the barking mad Shi’ar emperor, Gabriel Summers aka Vulcan. No prizes for guessing which they choose, and when the Shi’ar Imperial Guard strike at the Inhumans during the wedding of Crystal and Ronan the Accuser (a symbolic marriage designed to link the Inhumans with their new subjects the Kree, whom Black Bolt decided also needed to learn a lesson at the Inhumans’ hands) it is, as they say, on like Donkey Kong.

Abnett and Lanning have carved themselves out a niche at Marvel over the last few years, launching the Nova ongoing, guiding the second Annihilation crossover, writing the Guardians of the Galaxy series that span out of that, and now running their own little star empire in the form of the cosmic books and their various spin-offs. They’ve assembled a fairly motley bunch of characters, from ex-Infinity Watch, Avengers and New Warriors members to one-time Atlas monsters and raccoons with guns and managed to use them to populate compelling books that use cliffhangers to great effect to bring readers back month on month. It seems that Marvel trusts them enough to take up plot threads from the X-books too, as Havok’s Starjammers and Vulcan play central roles in War of Kings.

War of Kings is the natural next step for Abnett and Lanning – they haven’t had the opportunity to do a properly big crossover since the second Annihilation, and with two ongoing series under their belts they have the ability to spread their wings a bit with this story. This is a big plus for the crossover, with the widespread nature of the war playing out on different fronts in the different books involved, giving the conflict a scope and scale which is much broader than most recent events (where the central story happens in one miniseries and the reader gets the feeling that everything else is that most dreaded of non-essential purchases, the ‘tie-in’). With War of Kings, there may be different strands of the story playing out in different locations, but the whole thing hangs together as a multi-faceted huge story.

It would be easy for Abnett & Lanning to draw up battle lines with ‘good guys’ on one side and ‘bad guys’ on the other, the noble Black Bolt facing down that monster Vulcan, but to their credit they take the harder road and muddy the waters a little. Black Bolt’s the one who starts the war, with his zealous pursuit of the Skrulls, and it’s hard not to wonder if he’s gone off the deep end when he starts invading the Kree empire and prosecuting war with the Shi’ar. Likewise, Vulcan may be madder than the night porter in Scooby Doo’s Nutjob Motel, but the Inhumans do pose a clear threat to his people, and let’s not forget, Black Bolt shot first. The reader gets to see both of these perspectives through the use of alternating narrators who are each one step removed from the key decision-makers – Gladiator on the Shi’ar side, who narrates the odd-numbered issues, and Crystal on the Inhumans’ side, who does the rest. This isn’t just a clever technique to allow us to effectively follow the events taking place in both camps, but a way of showing the moral complexity of war by removing the main players from the expected positions as the readers’ POV characters. Between the sure writing hand of Abnett & Lanning and the never-more-polished artwork of Paul Pelletier, the War of Kings series is one of the highlights of Marvel’s cosmic books since the launch of the first Annihilation.

The main series aside, though, the rest of the collection is something of a mixed bag. C.B. Cebulski co-pens the first of the two Darkhawk series, with Abnett & Lanning handling the follow-up, and while the two series do set up plot points in the main mini, the core story can be read and understood perfectly well without them. The repercussions are felt more in current issues of Nova, and one may wonder in an idle moment whether six issues of Darkhawk comics were necessary for the crossover at all or whether they’re just there to bulk the event out a bit. The Warriors stories are a little more worthwhile, adding a bit of flesh to the characters of Gladiator, Crystal, Blastaar and Lilandra (surely the dullest character ever to appear in the X-mythos), but in the end are just mildly diverting fluff. The Skaar one-shot, on the other hand, is pure filler, and completely inessential stuff seemingly just there to shoehorn the character into a spare crevice in the story. None of these stories are offensively bad, though, and aside from Skaar they all add in their own way to the package so long as you treat them as ‘extra’ stories rather than as part of the core series.

The War of Kings story is being followed up right now with the Realm of Kings, which appears to be more along the lines of the Initiative banner post-Civil War than a separate event per se. Happily, there’s not a lot you need to know about War to follow Realm that isn’t set out in the titular one-shot, but if the idea of Marvel’s cosmic side floats your boat and you’re interested in seeing exactly how the cosmic books got to this point, you could do far worse than pick up this shelf-bending tome.