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Jan 1

The X-Axis – 1 January 2012

Posted on Sunday, January 1, 2012 by Paul in x-axis

Happy new year!  And while everyone else is on holiday, the comic book release schedule ploughs relentlessly onward.  So let’s take a look at the three X-Men titles that came out in the last week of December…

Astonishing X-Men #45 – Marvel’s publishing strategy for 2012 seems to mainly involve cutting back on all the low-selling titles and putting out extra comics with the big franchises instead.  Hence the further expansion of the X-Men line, which is now up to five ongoing titles, most of which are shipping twice a month.  This makes a certain degree of sense in the short term, but it also begs the question of what exactly is going to appear in all those fourth-tier X-Men comics, which don’t get to tell “important” stories, but still have to somehow avoid appearing redundant.

X-Men Legacy solves the problem by focussing on minor characters who don’t get used in the major titles, and giving them their day in the sun.  X-Men kind of sort of tries to solve the problem by being a team-up book, which doesn’t work, but at least goes for something.  And Astonishing X-Men… nope, I’m still trying to figure it out.

Very broadly speaking, I suppose the agenda for Astonishing is to do let the creators do what they like as long as it’s broadly self-contained.  So Greg Pak and Mike McKone’s “Exalted” turns out to be a Cyclops solo story with parallel worlds thrown in.  Cyclops has been kidnapped by a guy called the Savior who’s using X-Men counterparts from various dimensions as batteries to power… well, something or other.  Possibly his city, though it’s a bit unclear.  He helps other captives to escape and forms a makeshift X-Men team to take on the Savior, comprised of X-Men counterparts from different worlds.

In other words, it’s basically Exiles.  Which is fine as far as it goes.  It’s been a couple of years since Exiles was cancelled, so the idea’s been allowed to lay fallow for a little while.  Even so, the idea of X-Men from parallel worlds is hardly a novelty.  There are a couple of neat ideas here – I like the non-combatant schoolboy version of Nightcrawler who, instead of recovering his weapons like the rest of the group, retrieves his lunchbox.  And the closing splash page of the Savior, while baffling, is intriguing enough to work as a cliffhanger.  On the other hand, though, there are clarity issues here – the tail end of the opening illusion sequence is difficult to make sense of, and it’s wholly unclear what the things sticking out of Wolverine’s back are supposed to be until the dialogue finally spells it out.

I guess the idea here is to do a solo story with Cyclops, and ironically play up his role as a natural uniter of X-Men from different worlds when he can’t even keep his own X-Men together.  It’s certainly a decent idea to give him a spotlight at this point.  But the end result doesn’t really grab me for some reason.  It feels more like a big idea than a fully developed story – and that big idea is partly recycled from Exiles.  There are enough smart elements to make it readable, but somehow it isn’t quite there.

Uncanny X-Men #3 – Like Wolverine and the X-Men, this title is opening with a three-issue arc.  That’s shorter than the standard in recent years, which has favoured protracting every storyline to fill a trade paperback, but I think it’s the right length for this one.  Structuring a series so that it’ll read well in collected editions doesn’t have to mean padding out a story to six issues.

The main event here is the defeat of Mr Sinister, or at least this iteration of him.  Another one will be along in a bit, which firmly establishes his new gimmick: that every time he’s beaten, a new and improved version is released to take his place.  While it’s true that this veers some way from the version of the character that appeared in his heyday, the “new version” idea provides some internal justification for that – besides which, that version of Sinister was excessively cryptic.  This one has clearer ideas in mind; they’re insane ones, but they’re ideas.  There’s more to hang onto here, while preserving the flexibility that the character always had.

As for the actual manner of his defeat, that felt a bit abrupt to me.  The basic idea is that this version of Sinister has based himself heavily on Scott’s mind, which leaves him vulnerable to Emma because she knows Scott so well.  That’s a fine idea, and it gives Emma a suitably heroic moment by having her change out of diamond form in order to use her psychic powers.  But I’m not sure that the story set up the idea of Sinister using Scott’s mind clearly enough – it’s mentioned in passing in the previous issue, but still seems to come a little out of the blue when it reappears in the finale.  Not sure about the closing dialogue, either – it feels a bit weak for an ending.

Sinister hasn’t completely abandoned his old tendencies to throw in information to advance the plot, as he helpfully takes a moment to set up Avengers vs X-Men by confirming that Hope does indeed have some sort of connection with Phoenix.  If you can trust him, at any rate.  While I’m slightly wary about the prospect of the line been dominated for months by a committee-written crossover, I’m also pleased to see that the pieces seem to be being set up in advance; it’s always reassuring to get the impression that there’s a plan here.

Carlos Pacheco really does seem to be having trouble hitting his deadlines – for the second issue running, he’s joined here by two fill-in pencillers, not to mention three inkers and three colourists.  The resulting work isn’t bad at all, but it does look a little rough around the edges at times.

Regardless, since Sinister is evidently coming back at a later point, it’s okay to leave some of the plot points open for now; the key point is that Cyclops’ team get a clear win over a major threat, which is what they need at this point in the storyline, to set up the credibility of his Extinction Team.  While there are some elements here that don’t land, the overall idea works.

X-Men: Legacy #260 – Mike Carey’s final issue concludes the two-part story oddly devoted to bringing Ariel back into circulation.  Since Ariel wasn’t even appearing in the X-Men titles until Carey introduced her for the sole purpose of killing her, I guess this is a case of him putting the toys back in the box before he leaves.  Along similar lines, the Starjammers are packed back off to space.  And Korvus is split off to take  charge of the Shi’ar crew, probably dooming him never to be seen again.  Since Carey barely used Korvus in the previous arc, this one feels rather more like a case of getting rid of an unwanted character so that Rachel will be free for use in Wolverine and the X-Men.

The bulk of this issue consists in such wrap-up material, and Rogue once again assembling characters from the X-Men’s supporting cast to carry out her rescue mission.  There’s never really much doubt about which side Rogue will choose in the split, nor why – since in theory she’s supposed to be in charge of looking after the kids, of course she’s going to go to the school.  Not that this format has played much part in the last two or three storylines, and that slightly haphazard aspect to the book pretty much prevents Carey’s final issue from serving as a satisfying wrap-up to his run.  There just isn’t a sufficiently consistent through-line for him to resolve.

But there have been good stories and good use of minor cast members.  Perhaps that’s the point of devoting his final issue to reinstating a thunderously obscure character and spending a few pages to sell us on why we might want to read about her under the next writer; more than anything, that’s what people will remember about Carey’s extended run on this series.

Bring on the comments

  1. Eric K says:

    At least Carey explains why Korvus left. What ever happened to Hepzibah? Brubaker brought her back to earth and then… nothing.

  2. Mika says:

    Yes, I occasionally get annoyed that they never never explained where Hepzibah is. Now Warpath is part of the core cast, I wish she would turn up/get referenced in X-Men just so I can stop thinking about it.

    Also, Astonishing’s remit will soon be ‘the x-book written by Marjorie Liu’ – which might not be enough of a purpose for most people, but will satiate me at least, as it will fill a gap for me. And it’s getting its own cast of minor (and not so minor) characters, so it will also be the x-book where I can read about Northstar and Cecilia, which again makes me happy if nothing else.

  3. Andy Walsh says:

    Since Mr. Sinister’s latest scheme was based on supervised learning, it seems apt that he was foiled by overfitting. As for the specific focus on Scott, perhaps that was meant to be implied by his long history of Summers’ obsession.

  4. Brad says:

    Ariel was back in the X-books for a few months before she was killed off as part of Second Coming’s “all mutants with teleportation powers are to be killed (or at least shuffled off to Limbo for an oddly timed diversion)” mandate. I suspect Carey had brought her back planning to make more use of her before crossover requirements killed her off.

    Carey’s affection for dredging up minor characters was my favorite aspect of his run. He really seemed to be the rare writer these days who looked at the scores of rarely used X-characters and thought “Say now! There’s someone who has a lot of untold stories in them” as opposed to the more common “Say now! There’s someone who I can kill off in order to make my run of the mill story seem GRIM and GRITTY without too many people getting upset.”

    My second favorite aspect of Carey’s run was his dispatching of Korvus to outer space, hopefully to never be seen again. I couldn’t stand that character when Brubaker introduced him and I’m glad to see him written out of the picture.

    Although I have to confess I never read any of the War of Kings stuff. Did Abnett, Lanning, Yost and whoever else wrote that manage to actually make Korvus or Vulcan interesting characters? I have my doubts that such a thing would be possible, but you never know.

  5. I don’t recall Korvus doing a damn thing in War of Kings, frankly. Vulcan is used fairly well in it, even going a bit beyond self-servingly insane.

  6. Paul C says:

    Could Marvel be going with the tactic of putting both opening arcs of ‘Uncanny X-Men’ & ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’ (totalling it up to the usual 6 issues) into the one trade in the hopes people with end up following both titles?

  7. Paul O'Regan says:

    @Paul C: No, the first PHCs of both books are already up for pre-order on Amazon.

  8. Zach Adams says:

    Re: Hepzibah

    Hasn’t shee been comatose and in critical care ever since either Messiah Complex or the first arc of X-Force? I could’ve sworn she was taken off the board with some finality (but not killed) in one of those two stories.

  9. Tdubs says:

    She was a big plot point in the SWORD ongoing. Hepzibah was captured and set to be deported, my shop never got a copy of issue five so I don’t know if that explains it.

  10. ZZZ says:

    I could have sworn Hepzibah appeared in the role of “X-Man standing around in the background while the plot happens in the foreground” that was always good for a few random cameos per issue in a book pretty recently. Like Gambit in this month’s Legacy. I may be imagining that because I can’t think of any specifics, but I distinctly remember thinking “hey, someone remembered Hepzibah!” in the last few months.

    Something that’s been bothering me a lot about Legacy is that it has a tendency to drift away from being an X-Men book with Rogue as its central character toward being a Rogue book with the X-Men as the power donors who provide Rogue a wide array of ingredients with which to cook up moments of personal awesomeness.

    This issue wasn’t nearly as bad as some of them have been lately, but there was still that moment when Rogue basically said “Hey Frenzy, let me make you a little more vulnerable so that I’ll be a little less vulnerable and, uh, Pixie, Hellion and Rachel can worry about their own asses.” I mean, logically, yeah, it makes sense: if it’s even possbile for the other to survive the trip then Frenzy can afford to donate a little of her invulnerability, and Rogue’s the only one who can benefit from that fact, but there’s a subtext that Rogue’s the only one who really matters.

    On a final note: Personally, I’m sad to see Korvus and his buster sword go, because it makes it less likely he’ll be killed to prove how dangerous a villain is any time soon.

  11. Patrick Hamilton says:

    ZZZ:Don’t give up hope. Korvus could always be wiped out as part of the Phoenix’s progress towards earth in time for Avengers vs. X-men this spring.

  12. Ever since I heard about “Avengers vs. X-Men” I was wondering what role Korvus (the wielder of Phoenix Sword) will play in it. I think it would be nice to see some cosmic-themed Avengers like Nova and Protector hunting him down and retrieving the sword.

    I know the weapon is absurd, but since it was such a big deal in Brubaker run, it should be at least mentioned in the “return of the Phoenix” Marvel event of the year.

  13. Master Mahan says:

    While there’s a lot unclear in Astonishing, I didn’t find the last page to be that cryptic. Savior cut off bunch of Charles Xavier heads and linked them up to a Cerebro machine, and so his final line means he is an Xavier, only with hair. Which does explain the name: Savior/Xavier.

    Incidentally, is that supposed to be the Emma Frost from the one-shot connected to Warren Ellis’s Ghost Box story?

  14. Brian says:

    “The main event here is the defeat of Mr Sinister, or at least this iteration of him. Another one will be along in a bit, which firmly establishes his new gimmick: that every time he’s beaten, a new and improved version is released to take his place.”

    The more I think about this, the more I think that this was a bad idea. How long can they continue introducing “new and improved” versions of Sinister that keep racking up losses to the X-Men and expect us to take the new premise seriously? With this kind of a set-up, he has to win eventually.

  15. Rhuw Morgan says:

    I may have missed it, but when did they get rid of the miss sinister persona? It was never referenced in the Uncanny issues so I’m assuming she was killed off somewhere?

  16. Ash says:

    Korvac’s sole premise was having a portion of the Phoenix Force imbued in his sword; once the Phoenix Force left it, the blade was powerless, so his big gimmick and macguffin, as well as his character, is no longer relevant.

    Has no one in the X-Men noticed Hope’s resemblance to a teenaged Jean Grey, red hair, green eyes, and all?

  17. lambnesio says:


    I think pretty much everyone has noticed it. Emma Frost, Cyclops and Wolverine have all directly made reference to it.

  18. Rich Larson says:

    I have mixed feelings about the new Uncanny arc.

    I like Sinister’s new approach well enough. At least, it gives him a clear sense of purpose and he’s funy and interesting in a megalomaniacal villain kind of way. I also think Kieron Gillen will explain Ms. Sinister at some point.

    I’m less onvinced by the use of the Celestials. They are supposed to be cosmic level powers probably second only to Galactus in the Marvel Universe hierarchy. I don’t see how you could evolve enough to simply pop the head off of one.

    The combined might of the Extinction Team would be no threat either, but I can see how the visuals on MU TV will look like the X-Men faced them down, even if that’s not what really happened. That part plays nicely into Cyclops plan to make everyone too afraid to mess with Utopia.

  19. Blair says:

    @ Rhuw Morgan

    I believe that the last we saw of Miss Sinister was in the second arc (issues 4-7) of the current X-23 series. I forget what exactly happened to her but I think there was some implication that her mind was placed/reborn inside a clone. It was definitely a plot thread that was left dangling but I do not suspect it will be resolved any time soon.

  20. wwk5d says:

    I won’t miss Korvus all that much if he leaves. I never got into his character, so if he is sent off to character limbo, I’m ok with that. But I do wish they would resolve Hepzibah’s status…keep her on earth, ship her back off into space, but at least resolve loose ends. Personally, I wouldn’t mind having her hang around the X-men.

    I will miss Carey, though. His last few arcs weren’t the best, but taken as a whole, he’s had one of the better runs we’ve seen in a long time.

    This new version of Sinister may have the same problems as Nimrod did…

  21. Mika says:

    Well, I’m still waiting for someone to tie up Skids’s plotline from her last appearence. That’s really never going to happen. But maybe one day someone will remember she exists.

  22. Zach D. says:

    Anyone find it interesting that the latest arc of Astonishing X-men, which is essentially like an Exiles story, is drawn by the same artist who originally drew Exiles?

  23. Steve says:

    Hepzibah is still on Utopia: she appeared in the background of Generation Hope #12 (but was miscoloured, unfortunately). She generally turns up whenever Steven Sanders draws an X-Men issue, because he’s fond of her.

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