Posted on Sunday, February 12, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
This is a podcast weekend, so don’t forget to check out the show (just one post down!) to hear our reviews of the first issues of Winter Soldier, the latest Conan series, and Thief of Thieves. I’m not going to repeat those books here, since we’ve got five X-books to cover, starting with…
Daken: Dark Wolverine #21 – Part one of “Lost Weekend”, which looks to be the wrap-up to Rob Williams run before the series gets cancelled with issue #23. The Los Angeles storyline is now behind us, and Daken has effectively lost. He didn’t get to become the local crimelord; he didn’t get the girl. And thanks to issues of heavy drug use, he burnt out his healing factor, so now he’s dying.
All of which leads the battered Daken back to New York, initially to look for a cure, but eventually to try and go out in a blaze of glory, with one last futile gesture directed at his estranged father Wolverine and the New York superhero establishment. He drops by at the Baxter Building to gratuitously show his true colours to the FF, and tell the Human Torch that his return from the dead “is simply an insult” to real people. He drugs Wolverine with Heat. And generally, he just wants to vent his spleen at superheroes.
There are multiple artists on this issue, which isn’t ideal. Riley Rossmo is back to do his hallucination pages again, though it has to be said that the scene feels suspiciously as though it was shoehorned in to provide an excuse to use him. Regular artist Matteo Buffagni does the first half of the book in his usual sparse linework, and then Andrea Mutti shows up to do the rest in a more shadowy, atmospheric way. They’re both fine in their own way, but there’s a bit of a style clash.
It’s all decidedly meta. Asked why he’s doing this, Daken’s explanation is simply that “superheroes are stupid”. One reading of this story would be that it’s a cancelled antihero throwing one last tantrum at the marketplace that wouldn’t accommodate him. And having enjoyed most of Williams’ run, despite the flawed ending of the LA arc, I’ve got some sympathy for that. Perhaps more directly, Daken’s defining character trait has always been his obsession with self-determination and autonomy, an ironic aspiration for a character who is ultimately always going to be a Wolverine knock-off. In large part, this series has been about whether Daken can escape the shadow of his parent character. Williams’ ultimate answer to that question is an emphatic “no”, and that’s a realisation that leaves Daken with nowhere to go beyond lashing out. In its own curious way, it’s a very fitting way for the series to end.
New Mutants #37 – After the slightly underheated Diskhord arc, this self-contained issue is both a fun change of pace and a welcome return to a more interesting subplot, as Magma goes on that date with Mephisto that she signed up for a few months ago.
It’s an issue to irritate the purists, since Abnett and Lanning’s take on Mephisto doesn’t really have a great deal in common with anyone else’s. They’re clearly going with the idea that he’s the actual Satan, which technically isn’t the official line, but isn’t that uncommon either. Perhaps more contentiously, they’re also writing him as a basically human personality who just wants to be normal, which is miles off from the usual version of the character. But it works here, which is all that really matters (though admittedly, the issue also references Journey into Mystery, where he’s being written very differently). There’s a particularly neat idea that Mephisto is actually putting a lot of his efforts into fighting infant mortality. After all, dead infants haven’t had a chance to sin yet, so they get a direct pass to heaven…
The idea here is seemingly to set him up as a rather bizarre love interest for Amara, and build a romantic triangle with Roberto. Obviously that’s a ridiculous storyline, but it’s played well for comedy in this issue, and frankly, at least it’s something for Amara to do. And with David Lopez pencilling, they’ve got an artist who can pull off the character work needed for this sort of comedy issue.
Flagrantly over the top, and a bit of a continuity headache, but a winner on its own terms.
Wolverine and the X-Men #5 – Ah, we’re doing Fantastic Voyage, from the look of it. Kitty’s been infected with microscopic Brood, but fortunately the Beast’s got a machine hanging around to let somebody go deal with it. Unfortunately, that somebody is Kid Gladiator. Meanwhile, Wolverine and Quentin Quire are off into space to try and raise some money to keep the school open. And Angel’s bank accounts have been frozen because for some strange reason, everyone thinks he’s mad.
There are some ludicrous elements here, but as usual, the book pretty much gets away with it. Nick Bradshaw’s art once again strikes the right balance of cartooning and detail to pull off the more ridiculous bits of plot, and it’s nice to see him being used on a story that plays to his strengths. There’s an incredible amount going on in this issue, both in terms of plot and background details in the art – this is the pendulum finally swinging back in the other direction after years of “decompression”, in a book that seems to have its foot permanently jammed on the accelerator, and manages to juggle a huge cast and a range of storylines.
There are some glitches here. With hindsight, last issue’s pregnancy cliffhanger was more than a little misleading, since the explanation given in this issue is pretty much unconnected. And while I realise that the Hellfire Club subplot has to be kept ticking over, I’m not sure that it works to have them lobby to declare Warren mentally incapable. He so plainly is mentally incapable that it’s hard to see why the Club would need to bribe anyone. Exposing the cover-up ought to be enough at this stage, and I think this is a point where the book’s overplaying it. (Don’t worry, though. I’m sure Warren will be back to normal soon, since Marvel have thoughtfully ruined that plot point by including him in the house ads for Avengers vs X-Men.)
Still, these are minor problems in an issue that’s overall very strong, and lovely to look at.
Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega #2 – No, really, this is shipping in the same week as the parent title. Marvel scheduling, ladies and gentlemen.
My main reservation about the first issue of Brian Wood’s series was that Quentin Quire’s “Construct” psychic landscape wasn’t desperately interesting in its own right, and (since we knew it was just an illusion) there was nothing obvious at stake. Fortunately, this issue swiftly moves past that problem. Wolverine and Hisako have figured out that something’s wrong, but aren’t quite sure what. Meanwhile, Quentin’s got a problem of his own: having impulsively hauled two of the X-Men into his psychic landscape, what’s he going to do with them now? He’s got to sleep some time. And that might be a problem.
All this means that there’s less emphasis on the Construct as being interesting in its own right, and more on the battle of wills between Wolverine and Quentin. In fact, the central joke of this issue is that nobody is as impressed by the Construct as Quentin is. His attempts to explain his tremendous achievement to Bling and Mercury are met with polite disinterest and mild bafflement respectively. Once again, his grand rebellious gesture has gone unappreciated. (All of which is wonderfully drawn by Roland Boschi, doing the Westchester segments.)
The recap page, incidentally, suggests that the Construct is supposed to be “cobbled together from bits and pieces of [Quentin’s] favourite video games and movies”, and I’m not sure that’s really come across as clearly as it was supposed to. Obviously it’s derivative, but I’m not getting the patchwork element that that recap seems to suggest was intended. And there are other bits that don’t quite make sense. I get that everyone will just assume Wolverine’s off doing Wolverine stuff, but has nobody missed Armor? And after escaping the barn at the end of issue #1, why does Wolverine hand around in the grounds for a whole day before finally trying to enter the building and attack Quentin?
But this is a definite improvement from issue #1, simply because the focus is much more on the bits that work.
X-Men #24 – And we’re back to the vampire storyline. This is basically an issue of the Forgiven trying to deprogram Jubilee. If you’re struggling to remember who the Forgiven are, well, you won’t be alone – they’re a group of vampires who don’t attack humans and who first showed up somewhere in the more obscure reaches of the Fear Itself crossover. Presumably, they’re serving the role of this arc’s guest stars. There are several of them. They have names like Quickshot and Nighteyes. They are about as interesting as that makes them sound.
To be fair to Victor Gischler, he’s trying to do a long-term storyline with Jubilee in the context of a team-up book, and that’s a tricky thing to do. The idea here seems to be to get to a point where Jubilee no longer feels an urge to kill people and is willing to get by on animal blood, so that she can get back to living a relatively normal life. (Well, un-life.) Problem is, for this to work, we really need a stronger sense that she was in some way out of control before now. And instead, the X-Men’s solution of giving her Wolverine’s blood seems to have worked out pretty well. The book hasn’t even really flagged up any problem arising from Wolverine leaving her behind on Utopia. So the overall impression here is an issue devoted to resolving a problem that most readers will have assumed was already solved. Consequently, it’s a bit of a misfire.