Posted on Sunday, January 22, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
It occurs to me that some of you may be wondering why I didn’t review Magneto: Not a Hero #3 when it came out a couple of weeks back. Well, the short answer is that it didn’t show up in my delivery, but since I didn’t notice, and nor (it seems) did any of you, I’m kind of figuring nobody else really cares. Such is the reality of X-Men spin-off minis these days. Which, to be fair, is one reason why Marvel seems to be giving up on such projects – albeit in favour of extra issues of the core titles. Because hey, when you’ve got a nice basket, put all your eggs in it. That’s always worked, down through history.
Anyway! This week, we have four X-books and a couple of other titles of interest, at least one of which may well show up on next week’s podcast too.
Generation Hope #15 – Bleeding Cool has an advance copy of the April solicitations and rightly points out that this book doesn’t seem to be on it, which would imply cancellation at issue #17. If you’ve been reading the sales charts, this won’t come as much of a surprise. For whatever reason, despite extensive promotion in Uncanny X-Men with an entire lead-in story, the book never found the audience you might expect, and the Regenesis relaunch had only a minor effect on sales. And writer James Asmus had previously said that Marvel were guaranteeing him one story arc. And pretty much everything down at the bottom end of Marvel’s range has been axed in the Great Scouring. So… that’s where we are, it seems.
This issue, the team return to Utopia with their new mutant, only for everyone to immediately recognise him as Sebastian Shaw and wrestle him into submission. That’s a nice idea in theory, but I’m not sold on the execution. For one thing, Scott’s whole deal is supposed to be that he wants all the surviving mutants together on Utopia, even the former villains (some of whom show up in this book). But Hope’s the only character who even raises this as an issue. Yes, it’s her book, and yes, it’s fine for her to be the one who leads that case, but to create that argument, Asmus ends up wrenching Scott miles out of character.
For another, I could have sworn that the reason Emma wiped Shaw’s mind and dumped him in the middle of nowhere was to stop Namor finding out that Shaw was still alive after all. Now that Shaw’s shown up in full view of the population of Utopia, Namor’s going to find that out – but even though Emma’s all over this issue, there’s no mention of that plotline. Sure, it was a stupid storyline (what was she afraid of?), but just dropping it entirely doesn’t work for me.
Fill-in art comes from one Tim Green II, and it’s a bit of a mess. It’s one of those strange books where the two inkers – Cam Smith and Rick Ketcham – have interpreted the pencils so differently that it looks incredibly uneven despite having only a single penciller. And even on its merits, it’s sub-par mid-nineties work. Page 3 has a frankly laughable panel of Psylocke contorting into absurd shapes for no apparent reason, and when the ex-villains show up to confront the team, Green cranks up the melodrama to such a degree that when it turns out they just want to talk, the effect is unintentionally comedic.
There are still a couple of decent ideas in here, but they’re dealt with in such broad strokes that it doesn’t work. Not a very good comic.
New Mutants #36 – The final part of the Diskhord arc, which didn’t really click. I like the concept – a band who’ve accidentally stumbled upon some sort of low-level Chthulhu demon which they’re carting around in their tour bus, and are causing chaos everywhere they go – but I don’t feel it ever developed into a very interesting story. The demon, the band and even the audience members remain ciphers throughout, as if Abnett and Lanning, having come up with the premise, couldn’t actually figure out a story to build around it. And Blink, who was the initial focus of this storyline, just fades into the background, because there’s no real story linking her with the band beyond the bare plot mechanic of “I’ve been investigating them.”
That said, there are still good moments here, and fortunately they’re the bits that suggest the book will get back on track once it moves on to a stronger story. The opening pages of Cypher explaining the plot are very nicely done; what could have been a tedious exposition sequence is made deliberately choppy and weirdly paced, giving it an unsettling quality that comes closest to capturing what the story was presumably going for. Lopez draws a good action sequence. Sunspot’s clumsy pep speech to Magma is well pitched, and develops their relationship skilfully. And the closing pages with the team returning to their San Francisco house are nicely homey, even if Mrs Livitz remains a rather broad comedy character. Overall, it’s a case of generally good book, bit of a dud storyline.
Prophet #21 – This is the one we might come back to on the podcast, as if you can’t guess. Despite the number, this is a relaunch of Rob Liefeld’s long-dormant character, as part of his curious (but genuinely intriguing) decision to relaunch Extreme Studios with a roster of indie creators whose style couldn’t be more different from his own. This may seem like a weird call, when Liefeld’s highly distinctive style is, for better or worse, usually the selling point associated with his work. But some of his books did have decent enough concepts, in theory at least.
Prophet – whose previous twenty issues are being cobbled together from several previous runs – doesn’t even merit a Wikipedia entry, but was apparently something to do with a warrior from the past awakening in the present day after a lengthy hibernation. Given Liefeld’s, shall we say, highly consistent design sense, I’m not sure how well he would have pulled off the fish-out-of-water idea. But the premise is basically sound.
Brandon Graham and Simon Roy keep to that core concept but change pretty much everything else. The series opens with Prophet waking up in the very, very far future, on a world now apparently devoice of humans but full of utterly unrecognisable thingies. The first issue basically consists of Prophet travelling to a weird city in search of his contact, to find out what he’s actually here to do. The plot’s pretty basic; Prophet himself is a largely silent protagonist, with the narrator carrying the burden of progressing the story. (Other people are comparing it to Conan, but since I’ve never read any Conan comics, I’ll leave that to them.) Mostly, it’s the design sense that stands out, and the thought that’s been put into the details of a world that’s wholly alien but somehow still seems to make sense as a future Earth. It’s a book good on steady world-building, and the art plays to that. It’s certainly a book with a very distinctive voice, and about as far removed from anything you’d associate with Extreme Studios as it’s possible to imagine.
Superior #7 – The final issue of Mark Millar and Leinil Yu’s mini, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it ain’t subtle. Obviously, Superior isn’t an original idea – it’s a riff on the original Captain Marvel, with the “child becomes adult superhero” idea. But there’s plenty of mileage in variations on that idea.
Much like Kick-Ass, what Millar has written here is a crashingly heavy-handed story that nonetheless reads like it could easily make a very good film. In the same way that Kick-Ass dialled down the comic’s contempt for its characters and allowed the story to have the wish-fulfilment elements that it needed to give it a bit of heart, this could easily be turned into a fun summer blockbuster. In that form, it would not have to wrestle with things like the painful epilogue that ends this issue, in which Millar tries for a worldwide outpouring of emotion; or the questionable depiction of journalist Maddie Knox, who has the vague echo of a character arc to be developed on a future rewrite, but within the context of this series, essentially does a jackknife U-turn from cynical seductress to surrogate mother because it’s time for everyone to achieve resolution.
Yet it does have a strong core idea, one heavily inspired by other comics but not overexposed to the general public; it does have a plot that would make a good movie, based on the old classic Faustian bargain device; and it does have a clever piece of twist plotting by Millar to get himself out of a seemingly inextricable corner, which I have to admit I didn’t see coming, and makes a great ending. It’s not an especially good comic, but it’s a very good pitch for a much better film. I’d license it. I’d change a hell of a lot, but I’d license it. Mission accomplished?
Uncanny X-Force #20 – Part one of “Otherworld”, in which the Captain Britain Corps put Fantomex on trial for… well, officially, for killing Apocalypse, it seems, though I’m not quite sure why that’s supposed to be in their jurisdiction. Presumably there’s meant to be an ulterior motive here, and the story duly hints at that by pointing out that Fantomex is apparently unique to our world, making him a bit disturbing to the Corps who protect the multiverse. One-off characters aren’t meant to happen, according to them.
(And yes, I know you can point to plenty of stories that claim the timeline doesn’t work like that. But the reality is that Marvel continuity on the nature of alternate timelines is such an utter mess that I’m past caring about it. As long as X-Force is internally consistent – which it is – I don’t much care if it contradicts Mark Gruenwald’s interpretation of Stan Lee.)
Meanwhile, Otherworld is also under attack by parties unknown, so Captain Britain tries to bring Psylocke back into the fold to help out. And as part of that, he’s offering to undo pretty much everything that’s happened to the character since she was folded into the X-Men cast, such as returning her to her own body. I have a suspicion that, in order for this to really work, you need to have a working knowledge of Psylocke’s continuity – or at least what a mess it is – but the basic idea of offering her a reboot, particularly coming straight after the rebooting of Angel, seems a smart one.
There’s certainly a style change here from the last arc. Remender seems to be trying to echo Chris Claremont and Alan Davis’ Captain Britain stories, which makes Greg Tocchini’s entirely different art style a bit jarring. On its own terms, it’s rather good, it just doesn’t seem to draw influence from the same sources as the story. Still, it’s probably a good move for X-Force to go for something a little lighter after the extended Dark Angel Saga, which was great, but a bit bleak at times. One of the strengths of Rick Remender’s take on the team has been his willingness to keep some balance in that area, and this issue, we have new member Nightcrawler (from the Age of Apocalypse) showing up as a mopey brat who, if anything, needs to be cheered up by the X-Men’s secret hit squad. For those readers who remember Warren Ellis’s X-Calibre mini, there’s also a fun running gag of Nightcrawler trying to use his decapitation technique and never getting it to work.
Interesting issue; not quite convinced that the various styles at work have meshed neatly, but I’ll give it time to win me over.
Uncanny X-Men #5 – The X-books seem to be rediscovering the possibilities of passing story elements from one book to another. So this arc sees the X-Men investigating Tabula Rasa, the weird time-bubble of parallel evolution which was a fun throwaway idea in the last X-Force arc, and which now becomes the focus of an arc. With Emma still recuperating (strangely, the story doesn’t actually make clear whether they managed to reattach her arm), Psylocke again takes her place on the team, and steers the Extinction Team into helping clear up the mess left by X-Force. Not that she’s about to tell them how Tabula Rasa got there. In a nice touch, the issue skirts around Psylocke’s own involvement for most of the story, until Magneto (who already knows about X-Force) finally takes Psylocke aside and extracts a proper explanation from her. It’s a nice way of working the exposition into a dramatic scene, but it also means that X-Force readers get the tension of wondering whether Psylocke is ever going to explain the plot properly to her teammates.
Greg Land is back, and… actually, it’s not that bad. Yes, there’s some blank expressions, there’s a bit of vamping and grinning, and there’s a badly botched panel of a horde of attacking creatures flying towards a group of people who seem to be shooting back in every direction but the right one. But on the other hand, it tells the story well enough. It does quite a good job with the weird design of Tabula Rasa’s fauna. (Land’s work is often improved when he can’t fall back too heavily on photo-reference.) And a moment with Colossus and Magik appreciating the beauty of the landscape is genuinely well done.
There are some smart ideas in here about the reaction of the people inside Tabula Rasa to the end of the time bubble, which from their perspective means that the sun has suddenly started racing across the sky in a very worrying fashion. Aside from being a neat thought in its own right, it also makes something of the “time bubble” concept of Tabula Rasa, and stops it being just another fantasy landscape. Gillen also plays with that idea by having the locals treat X-Force as legendary figures from the mythological past. Normally it’s the title characters who are put in that position in stories like this, so I wonder where the variation of sending in different heroes for the sequel leads us.
Overall, a decent issue, and while I’ve seen better art, it’s not the stumbling block I’d been fearing.