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Feb 19

The X-Axis – 19 February 2012

Posted on Sunday, February 19, 2012 by Paul in x-axis

If you’re looking for this weekend’s WWE preview, it’s one post down.  Meanwhile – four X-books, plus a couple of others…

Generation Hope #16 – This is the penultimate issue, and so James Asmus grits his teeth and gets down to the necessary business of resolving the book’s main storyline – Hope’s influence over the other members of the team.  That has to build to a climax at some point, and it makes sense to do it here, both to give this title some proper resolution, and to get it out of the way before Avengers vs X-Men.

Fortunately (well, from a certain perspective), Asmus has at least always known there was a good chance of getting axed at this point, so at least the exercise isn’t too rushed.  On the other hand, it’s not entirely successful either; it’s never ideal to have an incoming writer resolve an inherited plot, and the noticeable tone shift between Gillen and Asmus’ issues doesn’t really help.

Roughly half of this issue is about Hope pondering whether she really wants Sebastian Shaw on her team, and stringing him along by claiming that, no, she’s got no idea who he is, and of course she’ll help him find out.  The rest sees various characters deciding that the time has come to rein Hope in, for reasons of varying plausibility.  Zero has the best case; he’s aggrieved by the interference with his own identity and makes the obvious point that if Hope has to stabilise every new mutant, then eventually she’ll end up in control of them all.  Less convincingly, the story also tries to press the Stepford Cuckoos into service (on the logic that they disagree about Hope and the majority find this infuriating in itself) alongside the randoms from the previous issue.  And the cliffhanger has unavoidable problems; they’re plainly not really going to kill her, so I can’t shake the feeling that the pay-off is going to be a bit of a cop-out.

On the plus side, though, the character work becomes a bit more subtle in this issue, and there’s some lovely visuals from guest artist Takeshi Miyazawa.  This story would probably be a lot more successful if Hope wasn’t already being used in other, more important stories that necessarily rule out most of the possible endings and undercut a lot of the drama.  There’s not an enormous amount Asmus can do about that.

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #2 – We reviewed the first issue of this series on the podcast last month, but I thought I’d see how it holds up with regular artist Alex Milne.  And actually, it remains a rather good comic; Milne’s a solid storyteller and decent with a giant brightly coloured robot.  Which is obviously fortunate given that the cast here is exclusively comprised of them.

The obvious caveat does have to be attached here.  It’s a Transformers comic aimed at their fan base, who will understand jokes like mysterious villains chanting about 1984 (which is the year the franchise debuted).  As near as I can figure out, writer James Roberts was recruited from Transformers fandom.  But all that notwithstanding, this is a well put together comic.  The premise of IDW’s new direction is seemingly bizarre – the Autobots have won the war, so what happens next?  For this title, the answer is that they go on a possibly quixotic quest to try and connect with their race’s lost past, which is a decent enough framework – even though it has the seemingly odd result of a Transformers comic with no Decepticons in sight or even on the horizon.

More to the point, though, it’s a well constructed story, it’s carefully put together, it’s got strongly defined characters, it strikes the right balance between taking the premise seriously and acknowledging it as ridiculous, and the comedy bits are actually funny.  (Relentless optimist Drift, advising the captain on what to tell the crew: “I think you should accentuate the positive.  We’ve got the quantum generators working again – big tick.  We’re ready to resume our quest – big tick.  And we’ve managed to save virtually all of the Autobots who got pulled outside – that’s more of a little tick.  But it’s still a tick!“)  I strongly suspect that nobody outside Transformers fandom actually pays any attention to the IDW books, but seriously, there’s some talent working on this.

Uncanny X-Men #7 – Part three of the Tabula Rasa story, and it builds to the big fight against the Immortal Man rather more quickly than you might expect.  The basic story is really pretty straightforward – the Immortal Man has built a Dangerous Thingie which is going to bring his people back to life at the expense of killing everyone else.  The X-Men and Savage must stop him.  It’s the details that make it work – both survivors of the Apex spend the issue being monumentally condescending to the X-Men, and the dialogue pitches that perfectly.  (“Let’s keep it simple.  I’ll be ‘Good Apex’ and my old friend will be ‘Bad Apex.’  Can you handle that?”)

Land’s art is rather patchy on this issue.  There’s a major page near the end which is virtually unintelligible, seemingly unable to make up its mind whether it’s a symbolic splash or not, and ending up with a floating disembodied head out of scale to everything around it.  And he doesn’t really have the subtlety to play comedy moments, though fortunately the deadpan humour largely survives that.  On the other hand, I do like the way he draws Danger turning herself into a makeshift suit of armour, complete with enormous face on the front.

It’s an oddly structured storyline.  By all appearances, the Immortal Man is pretty much beaten this issue, leaving the X-Men to face some more nebulous threat to Tabula Rasa next month.  And the subplots with the other half of the team are parked for the whole issue.  It’s full-blown false ending, and at this stage, I’m not quite sure why.  Still, Gillen knows what he’s doing, so presumably all will become clear in issue #8.

Venom #13.2 – In the interests of completism, I’d better say something about the “Circle of Four” storyline running through this month’s weekly Venom issues, oddly numbered as issues #13.1 to #13.4.  This storyline appears to have started life as a planned crossover between Venom, X-23, Ghost Rider and Hulk, only to be thwarted when half of those books were cancelled.  Now it’s been reassigned as a Venom storyline with a whole load of guest stars.  I’m more or less randomly picking this as the notional X-23 issue on the basis that it’s the one that has her on the cover, but it’s not like she’s the particular focus of this story.

In fact, it’s not altogether clear why she’s here at all.  The story actually involves Blackheart, the son of Mephisto, bringing Hell to Earth within the boundaries of Las Vegas.  The four heroes must team up to stop him before he can break through the barriers surrounding the city.  That’s basically the idea.  As for why X-23 originally came to Las Vegas, she’s supposed to be chasing down samples of her blood, but this seems decidedly tacked on to try and justify her presence.  Even Venom and the Red Hulk have no particularly powerful reason to be in the story, beyond the fact that they were already in Las Vegas (though the fact that the Red Hulk is chasing Venom at least reduces that to one coincidence rather than two).  But ultimately it feels like a Ghost Rider story with tacked-on guest stars.

Casting about for some way to make the guest stars feel integral to the story, the creators dust off the old standard of having them fight demonic opposites of themselves.  This being a refreshingly absurd book, X-23’s opposite number is an irritatingly upbeat cheerleader called X-666, who helpfully points out that, aside from the obvious, she’s X-23’s opposite because her appearance and her true nature are ironically opposed.  That makes her a two-dimensional character, which (she contends) puts her one up on X-23.  That’s quite funny, and it does actually play off X-23’s hang-ups.  But that was in the previous issue.  This one tries to suggest that X-23’s existence in Hell proves she has a soul, and even if you find that a remotely plausible argument to start with (it’s not like she’s meant to be dead), didn’t we already do this schtick in the first arc of her own book?

Ultimately, this is a Ghost Rider story – the final pages depend on you caring about whether she atones for something that presumably happened in an earlier issue of her own book – and the other characters have been nailed onto it rather awkwardly.

Wolverine #301 – Jason Aaron’s final arc isn’t working for me.  He’s finished his major storylines and so far, this feels less like a coda than a time-killing exercise.  People run around and fight… there’s crazy ninja and Yakuza stuff… it’s all way over the top… you get the general idea.  It’s not bad, and it does hurl tongue-in-cheek ideas at the page energetically enough, but it’s very lightweight in a way that doesn’t feel like it really justifies this many issues.

Art continues to be oddly divided between Billy Tan and Steve Sanders, whose styles are very different.  Putting chapter labels on their respective pages is all very well, and covers for the situation as best it can, but it doesn’t ultimately disguise the fact that the art style is randomly changing in mid-scene in a rather distracting way.  And the use of Sabretooth is particularly odd.  After Marvel made a big deal over his return, this is his first major storyline – and yet he’s already being treated as just a face in the crowd.  I don’t understand the thinking behind that at all.

Ultimately, it’s all a bit flat.  Some of the throwaway ideas are fun, but as a story, there’s really not much here.

X-Factor #232 – The final part of “They Keep Killing Madrox”, which turns out to be basically a set-up for future stories.  I’ll cut to the chase: the pay-off is that Madrox gets sent back home but the villains from the three worlds he visited get dragged along with him.  So we’ve had three issues of introduction for these villains, and that was pretty much the story.

This issue, Madrox fights a version of Dormammu, who’s pretty much like any other version of Dormammu, except that he’s possessing the body of Dr Strange.  I’m not sure we really needed a whole issue just to set that up.  It comes off as a fairly generic Dr Strange/Dormammu battle with a bit of possession thrown in, and I don’t really understand what I’m meant to be taking from this beyond “yup, that’s a Dormammu alright.”

Granted, the pages with Madrox’s actual return to the real world are very well done, and they work.  Otherwise… it’s a third issue of set-up without much going on in its own right, and there’s really not much more I can say beyond that.

Bring on the comments

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