Posted on Sunday, February 26, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
This is a podcast weekend, so don’t forget the latest episode, just one post down from where you are now! Reviews include Glory, No Place Like Home and Challengers of the Unknown.
None of which I’ll be repeating here, because it’s a heavy week for the X-books – six of them are out, including three of the X-Men titles. A lesser man might think this was overkill, but no doubt somebody with a spreadsheet has managed to convince himself that it’s a wonderful idea. Luckily for our purposes, most of them are mid-storyline, but there’s still plenty to talk about here…
Magneto: Not a Hero #4 - The concluding part of Skottie Young and Clay Mann’s miniseries. And having re-read the whole thing, I can only say that this was a reasonable idea that needed a few more drafts.
Not a Hero is meant to pick up on the loose ends arising from Magneto’s addition to the X-Men roster, which was never very clearly explained in the first place. He pretty much just showed up and offered his services as a member. What Young is trying to do, from the look of it, is confront Magneto with his past self as an arch-villain, and ask how much he has actually changed. To that end, he dusts off Joseph, the clone of Magneto from the 1990s (who was originally intended to be just a de-aged version of Magneto, and spun off into a separate character when Marvel changed their minds about that story). Since Joseph’s dead, Astra is also brought out of limbo to bring about his return, and to brainwash him with Magneto’s memories so that he becomes a kind of Silver Age Magneto. And Clay Mann does a good Magneto; his style works for old-school superhero designs (which is what this story needs), and this final issue has some nicely done action scenes.
The story is a fair enough use of Joseph, who was always intended to be a vehicle for nature-or-nurture stories with Magneto. Astra turns out to be more of a means to an end, and is rather shuffled out of the way once she’s served her plot function. And Young has a reasonably interesting take on Magneto’s philosophy. In this version, Magneto doesn’t see himself as having switched sides. Rather, he claims to reject the whole concept of heroes and villains and considers that Cyclops’ version of the X-Men now fits in with his agenda.
Where the series struggles is in building a fully coherent plot around these ideas. The story basically involves Astra having struck a deal with an anti-mutant campaigner, Christopher Bach, to provide Joseph as an evil Magneto who can whip up a public frenzy. Bach mainly just intends to exploit the whole affair for profit. But once Astra is out of the way, Joseph becomes more interested in just slaughtering Bach’s people for real. Everyone’s motivations in this whole affair are rather vague. Astra just does what the plot requires of her; Joseph is for some reason apparently happy to leave Bach alive to make his profit even after he decides to kill everyone for real; and Bach is pretty a stock villain, whose plan is acknowledged to be unoriginal even within the scope of the story. More to the point, the story doesn’t quite manage to engineer the dramatic moments for Magneto that ought to be illustrating the big idea. They’re supposed to be there – they’re the bits where Magneto uses lethal force without remorse against bad guys he doesn’t technically have to kill – but somehow it feels a little anticlimactic. Young knows what he’s trying to achieve here, but he hasn’t quite managed to string those key scenes together into a strong story. It’s just not quite right.
New Mutants #38 - This issue starts a new arc, as Abnett and Lanning decide to revisit the death of Cypher way, way back in the late-80s “Fall of the Mutants” crossover. Cypher hasn’t been quite the same since he was brought back from the dead a couple of years ago, so it’s fair enough that at some point we have to go back to this and draw a line under it. After all, he’s a main character in the book, and it ought to be one of the defining events in his history. On the other hand, it’s a story that involves Bird-Brain and the Ani-Mates, not exactly seen as a high point of the original New Mutants run, and as far as I know, unused since. That original story does have some rather nice art by Bret Blevins, but the characters are not exactly ones that I’m desperate to see back.
As it turns out, Bird-Brain does show up in this issue when they revisit his island, but mainly so that he can be dying of a terrible virus which is the main focus of the story. Best use for him, I say. That allows the focus to stay firmly on the team, which is much more interesting. Leandro Fernandez’ art is strong – he does a decent Warlock, who many artists struggle with, and gets the character stuff across well. Considering the dodgy characters they have to work with – and it’s a story that kind of had to be done at some point if Cypher was going to stay in use at all – the creators have done a decent job here.
Uncanny X-Force #22 - The most striking thing about this issue is that Greg Tocchini’s art takes a major step up in quality. Earlier issues of the “Otherworld” arc were alarmingly sketchy. But this time everything looks a lot better. The stuff that worked in the earlier issues is still there, but this time everything is a little bit more stable, a lot more defined, and infinitely more readable. (Shame he evidently couldn’t find any reference for what a barrister looks like, but hey, it’s still a major improvement overall.)
The mystery villain from the end of the last issue does indeed turn out to be the Skinless Man who was mentioned in passing in the Dark Angel Saga, and now shows up claiming a rather grotesque past connection with Fantomex. I’m not quite sure what this character is really doing in the current storyline; thus far, he does seem to have been randomly shoved into a storyline where he doesn’t obviously belong. But he’s another of the eccentric visual designs which have worked well for this book’s villains, and Fantomex could use a few villains of his own.
I’m not at all sure about the final page, which follows a horrifically grotesque cliffhanger with three panels of generic fight scene that add little or nothing to the moment. It’s a strange anticlimax to tag onto the issue, and doesn’t work at all.
Wolverine and the X-Men #6 - Wolverine and Quentin Quire go into an outer space Las Vegas to win money to fund the school, while everyone else does Fantastic Voyage with Kitty – not to save her, but to try and retrieve the useless Kid Gladiator. Oh, and while they’re otherwise occupied, another crazy alien attacks the school. So – yeah, basically an issue of all three plot lines advancing onwards, really.
Nick Bradshaw’s art continues to be impressive, particularly with the casino scenes where he gets to go wild. He’s obviously having the most fun with that bit, and you can see why. The actual content of those casino scenes is all fairly standard – it’s pretty much a stock “getting out of the casino with the illicit winnings” routine relocated to outer space. But it’s good to see the book doing another side of Quentin beyond the riot wannabe stuff. As for Kid Gladiator, he remains defiantly a one-dimensional comic relief character, and if he’s going to be quite this prominent in the story, he might be needing that second dimension.
Basically, it’s a continuation of what was in the previous issue. Nice art. Totally over the top plot. As you’ve come to expect.
X-Men #25 - The X-Men track down Jubilee and fight the Forgiven. And then some other bad guys show up at the end so that the X-Men and the Forgiven can team up next issue.
Here’s the thing. I have no problem with Victor Gischler using this book to push his new characters. In fact, so far as it goes, I’m in favour of that kind of thing. I’d much rather see new characters cycled in, than have old ones kept around long after they outlived their usefulness. Those characters have to be pushed as a big deal in order to get them established. That’s fine.
The problem with the Forgiven is much more fundamental – the premise isn’t strong enough. They’re a group of vampires who’ve kicked their addiction to human blood and are now good vampires. Okay. And…?
Perhaps I’m just at cross purposes with this story. But to be perfectly honest, not only do I not find anything interesting about the Forgiven, I don’t really understand what’s meant to be interesting about the Forgiven. I certainly don’t see the hook with any of the individual members. I get that they have a place in helping to move Jubilee’s story along, but that’s just a necessary step towards the bigger goal. It doesn’t mean I want to read about them for an arc.
X-Men: Legacy #262 - Exodus charges off to teach Cyclops the error of his ways (permanently), and Wolverine’s group give chase. In particular, Wolverine’s rather keen to stop Exodus himself rather than tipping off the guy he’s not speaking to. Wolverine really does come across as a bit of a child in this story. That’s possibly deliberate; it’s primarily Rogue’s book, after all, and it’s fine to cast him in the role of the testosterone-blinded alpha male in that context, because it’s something for her to kick against. Still, it’s maybe a touch overdone.
That aside, it’s a solid enough issue. We get another extended fight with Exodus, given a bit more depth by Rogue and Wolverine squabbling around the edges. Artist David Baldeon does a good old fashioned action issue rather well. And writer Christos Gage has a rather neat solution to the problem of keeping the two X-Men teams apart. It’s too early for the two groups to start teaming up again, but the plot clearly calls for somebody to ask Utopia for help. The solution is blindingly obvious once you see it – it’s not the X-Men who respond to the distress call, but Generation Hope. Which means Wolverine’s group have just put the kids in the line of fire. Oops. That’s a lovely twist, and it’s well handled.