Posted on Sunday, December 4, 2011
by Paul in x-axis
This is about as quiet a week as you’re going to get. For shipping purposes, this was week five of November, and for some reason DC has decided that in order to keep its schedule nice and regular, it’s just not going to ship any of its regular DCU titles when a fifth week comes up. They’ve got a couple of minis out, and that’s really about it. As for the X-books, it’s a relatively light selection of three books. I shall take the industry’s invitation, and keep this one relatively short.
THUNDER Agents #1 - This is one of the handful of DC minis filling the release schedule. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea – it’s certainly getting a clear run with the DC readership.
Before the DCU reboot, Nick Spencer was getting decent reviews for his work on THUNDER Agents, and now they’re giving him another six-issue mini. At least, that’s how it’s being presented. But this doesn’t exactly read like a first issue; it reads like an issue of a series that’s already well under way. It’s not particularly interested in establishing the premise or introducing most of the title characters; a large chunk of the issue is given over to scenes between two characters called Toby and Colleen which certainly feel like they’re continuing a subplot about the characters’ relationship.
This is not to say the book’s inaccessible – just that it’s explaining the back story in the way you might expect of issue #17, rather than issue #1. If you take it on those terms, it works quite well.
The THUNDER Agents, if you’ve never heard of them, are a relatively obscure Wally Wood creation from the 60s, who drifted through an assortment of publishers before finally winding up at DC in the last few years. The high concept is that they’re a UN-sponsored team who’ve been given super powers with a process that will eventually kill them; how much of that was in the original, I’m not entirely sure, but there seems to be an interesting idea here that the costumes and identities just keep getting recycled by new members.
What you actually get in this issue: three of the team are in “Subterranea” on some sort of peacekeeping mission, where the locals are having one of their periodic riots (which may or may not just be the sort of thing they do on a particularly exuberant religious holiday). Needless to say, the team aren’t entirely happy about having to deal with ordinary protestors. Meanwhile… well, Toby and Colleen talk about their relationship and go to see a movie, in scenes that feel like they’d probably be pretty good if I’d read the earlier issues and had a bit more context for them. There’s some talk about dead characters which really doesn’t mean a tremendous amount to a new reader. But there’s also a bit of exposition about the origin of the Menthor helmet (which Toby wears as a member of the team) which sets up a very nice idea about the way the helmet affects its wearer; it’s the sort of high concept that Spencer does well.
Wes Craig’s art is nice and clear, with some good use of subtly skewed pages and panels to liven up the action. And his characters are expressive enough to sell the extended conversation scenes, even if you’re not familiar with the cast. If I was approaching this as a random issue of an ongoing series, I’d be pretty impressed. As a first issue, though, it’s a strange beast, and one can’t help suspecting that Spencer’s planned next issue has simply been repurposed as a post-reboot issue #1 without any great thought being given to whether it truly belongs in that role.
Uncanny X-Men #2 - Second issue and we’ve got fill-in artists covering some of the pages already? Tsk. Not that it’s actually a problem here; Jorge Molina draws a flashback sequence that works perfectly well in a different style, and Rodney Buchemi’s work seems to blend quite acceptably with Carlos Pacheco.
So: in this issue, the X-Men continue fighting Mr Sinister, who then does something rather uncharacteristic for him: he explains what he’s up to. The problem with Sinister, historically, is that he drifted from a genuinely mysterious character in his early appearances, into a villain who would do whatever the plot required, under the pretext of being enigmatic. That made it rather hard to draw all the threads back together again, and when he was eventually given a back story as a Victorian mad scientist, it didn’t quite account for everything that had gone before.
From the look of it, Kieron Gillen’s approach recognises that some drastic retooling is called for, and that the best way to knock Sinister into shape is to reboot the character, draw a clear line under what has gone before, and give him a specific agenda and style – and if anything that went before doesn’t really fit, well, let’s just not speak of it again. With a garbled character like Sinister, this is probably the best bet. So there’s a pretext of sorts for Sinister’s change of demeanour; with the original dead, this is the “improved” clone designed to take his place, in a continual cycle of attempts to perfect himself. His style is now melodramatic Victorian villain; his agenda is to create a master race by mass producing the most perfect person around, i.e. him. This doesn’t quite dovetail with Sinister’s previous obsession with the DNA of mutants in general and Cyclops in particular – though you could always argue that mutants have become unviable since M-Day, so this is Sinister moving on to Plan B. More importantly, though, is that it takes a hazy and unfocussed character and nails him down to a clear agenda that makes him more than just a mad scientist plot device.
So as a rehabilitation of Sinister, this is going rather nicely. And I like the way he’s being positioned as an unequivocal villain; with Cyclops’ group already being portrayed as the morally ambiguous X-Men, it’s useful to play them off against somebody who’s unequivocally a bad guy.
It’s true that this issue is basically a fight scene with some exposition of Sinister’s plan, but I think it gets away with that. Since it’s primary an action issue, Sinister’s villainous speech works as a break. More to the point, Gillen’s obviously put some work into making sure that everything that happens in the action sequences means something, instead of just treating them as a genre requirement and leaving the artists to draw some carnage. The sequence on the last couple of pages, hammering home the idea of Sinister’s hivemind, is very nicely executed. A pretty successful issue overall.
Wolverine #19 - This is the final part of “Goodbye Chinatown”, which is billed as a “Regenesis” storyline, but is really more a case of Jason Aaron tying up the remaining loose ends from Wolverine’s stay in San Francisco and relocating the character and his one-woman supporting cast to New York.
The arc picks up on plot threads from Aaron’s first Wolverine story, in the Manifest Destiny miniseries, where he notionally became the leader of organised crime in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and as always happens when members of the X-Men accept such an office, it was never mentioned again. In theory, “Goodbye Chinatown” draws a line under that subplot, and also has Wolverine hunting down a stash of his money, which is supposed to explain how he’s able to fund the rebuilding of the school over in Wolverine and the X-Men - though I see from the solicitations that his need for cash is going to be a plot springboard for a little while yet. In reality, what we end up with is Wolverine, Gorilla-Man and Fat Cobra (a supporting character from Iron Fist) fighting kung fu drug dealers and giant dragons in a hidden underground society.
There’s no real pretence that we’re supposed to take any of this seriously; plot points are cheerfully and brazenly handwaved aside, inspirational speeches about freeing the baddies’ slaves are caveated by warning them about the poor state of the economy on the surface, and the villains from Manifest Destiny look to have been brought back simply to serve as some cannon fodder that provides a neat bit of symmetry for Aaron’s run to date. But given the generally bleak tone of Aaron’s run over the last year or so, and the fact that he’s usually at his most entertaining when he embraces his tendencies towards lunacy, the story makes a nice change of pace.
X-Men: Legacy #259 - This title has been off in a little schedule of its own lately, but with the outer space arc concluded, it’s finally time to get to grips with “Regenesis”. However, issues #259-260 are also Mike Carey’s swansong on the title, which he’s been writing since issue #188. Considering the number of new directions that he’s had to deal with in that period, he must be a sucker for punishment – remember when this was a book about Rogue leading her own team? And then when it was a book about Rogue being the mentor for the kids? And then when it was a book about Rogue leading her own team again? Remember how none of those directions really got very far before something else came along and slammed the book off course?
But, perhaps because he’s concentrated more on telling strong individual stories than on any bigger picture, Carey has managed to keep the quality pretty high through it all. And “Regenesis” handily doubles as something that gives a sense of closure to what he’s doing – though that doesn’t stop him from having Frenzy note that “your team’s breaking up before it fairly got going.”
So this is primarily an issue about Rogue trying to decide which side of the schism to choose. It’s presented as a rather more difficult choice here than it was in the Regenesis one-shot, but whatever. There’s also a more immediate story, as Rogue and the Starjammers find that they’ve accidentally brought a passenger back with them – apparently, Carey’s final act on this series will be to undo one of the more pointless pieces of artificial drama from “Second Coming”, which seems a slightly strange choice given the relative obscurity of the character in question.
But hey, at least it’ll get her back in circulation for future use, and it’s not like the stop-start nature of Carey’s tenure on this book really lends itself to some sort of big climax. As usual, Carey’s strength lies in making the characters believable despite the chaos of the story they’re appearing in.