Posted on Monday, March 12, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
These are going to be fairly brief, but hey, better than waiting for another week…
Age of Apocalypse #1 - To give credit where it’s due, if the X-office are under orders to come up with yet more ways of expanding the franchise, at least this one clearly has its own identity, rather than being yet another X-Men title (of which they shipped three last week). The original “Age of Apocalypse” alternate-reality crossover was way back in the 90s, but it was recently dusted off in X-Force as part of the “Dark Angel Saga” – no doubt with an eye on promoting this title, though there’s nothing wrong with that.
Despite the title, Apocalypse himself is nowhere to be seen in this new series. Instead, he’s long dead, and his heir Wolverine is running the world instead. The humans have largely been wiped out and a handful of guerrilla rebels defending the few survivors form the main cast (joined by the local versions of Jean Grey and Sabretooth, both of whom lost their powers in a Convenient Plot Contrivance in X-Force‘s Point One issue).
Writer David Lapham establishes quite a few concepts in the first issue. The attention-grabbing central idea is that the stars of the series are all characters who, in the mainstream Marvel Universe, are raving anti-mutant lunatics. In the context of the Age of Apocalypse, where the mutants really are genocidal lunatics, those same characters become passionate defenders of truth and justice. Oddly, most of them also seem to be better people in this world, rather than just lunatics who look better because of the context. Presumably this is one of Lapham’s central themes for the series – the idea that these characters become heroes when placed in a world where their particular obsessions happen to be right.
Along with that, we’ve got a curious subplot about a journalist narrator who’s stumbled from our world into the Age of Apocalypse, apparently serving as the point of view character. Harper Simmons seems to be a new character, and he’s apparently here to serve as the point of view character – with his past tense narration implying that at some point he escapes back to Earth. Mind you, his narration reads more like melodramatic narration than journalism. Alongside all that, there’s the set-up of Jean and Sabretooth on the fringes of the mutant group, and individual introductions for all of the new characters. And a subplot about Wolverine deciding to hunt for Jean. And a cliffhanger ending with a surprise return.
So there’s a lot here. Whether it actually grabs me is another matter. Perhaps inevitably, there’s a sense that the members of the X-Terminated are multiple variations on the same character, admittedly with different emphasis. I can’t honestly say any of them really grab me. Roberto de la Torre’s art is stylish but sometimes lacking in clarity. And both the writing and the art takes itself desperately seriously. I think one reason why the original Age of Apocalypse worked was because everyone knew going in that it was a four-month story, so it was about how this world fell apart. But as a setting to tell stories in on an ongoing basis… I don’t know about that. It’s a very professional book, but it doesn’t feel like much fun.
Uncanny X-Men #8 - The end of the “Tabula Rasa” arc, which is oddly structured indeed. The battle against the Immortal Man was wrapped up last month, leaving this issue to tie up the remaining subplots – Namor and Hope with the underwater people, Colossus rescuing Magik – and to stabilise the ecology. And the two subplots work rather well, with Namor’s ladies-man persona being played bizarrely as he charms a weird-looking slug thing, and Magik having to talk Colossus down again.
The actual resolution of Tabula Rasa’s problems, though, ends up as something of a throwaway, as a big dome is simply put over the place. While this makes perfect sense logically, I can’t help thinking this would have been a stronger issue if the main storyline had finished up here, instead of last month.
Greg Land’s art remains decent on the fantasy elements, inconsistent on the humans. He doesn’t really have the subtlety to do comedy; he struggles with the Magik scene, though he does do a rather good Colossus. And the dreaded Enormous Grin makes its return on Hope.
Decent storyline overall, but slightly odd pacing to wrap the main plot an issue early.
Wolverine #302 - This “Back in Japan” storyline is kind of all over the place. Both the story and art are wildly uneven. The art’s split between Billy Tan and Steve Sanders, and while the story at least allocates the pages more sensible this time, the fact remains that their styles clash horrendously. And the story can’t seem to figure out whether it’s playing the whole thing for over-the-top laughs or trying to go for serious angst with Wolverine drugged and thinking he’s back in hell. The throwaway use of the recently-returned Sabretooth is still just plain bizarre. I’m more sold on powering-up Mystique so that Wolverine can’t identify her by scent any more – that just removes a plot obstacle that lets her shape changing power work effectively. But for the most part, I’m kind of confused about what Jason Aaron’s going for with this story, and pretty certain that the art is doing it no favours.
Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega #3 - This, on the other hand, is much better. After the slightly rocky start, it’s now clear that we’re not really being expected to care about the Construct world at all – it exists to be disbelieved, even by the characters in it – so that the real battle is between Wolverine trying to find his way out, and Quentin trying to… Well, not so much win as figure out what the hell he’s going to do to get out of this mess, since he’s completely crossed the line.
The split art on this book, with Mark Brooks drawing the Construct scenes and Roland Boschi drawing the real world, works much better, since their respective styles actually emphasise the differences and help the flow of the book, instead of feeling randomly assigned. And both are good storytellers in their own right, which helps. It’s also a very good story for Quentin, which gets the character’s mixture of overconfidence and belated realisation that he’s out of his depth, and allowing him to be more than just a super villain in waiting. Good book.
X-Club #4 - An issue of running around combined with extremely dense exposition, as we finally get a clear explanation of what’s going on, in the form of an extremely compressed four-page origin flashback for a rather convoluted concept that turns out to be the plot device behind this whole thing. You know, like they used to do in the 70s. It’s very compressed, this, and I suspect the series as a whole could have been better paced to avoid hitting a massive info dump like this in the penultimate chapter.
But it’s still a book with a lot of fun ideas in it, and I like the way Si Spurrier is trying to give every member of the group their own parallel story, rather than writing them as a group. (After all, splitting them up is the simplest way to stop Dr Nemesis from drowning out Kavita and Madison altogether.) Yes, the talking starfish gag feels like it ran its course a while ago, and yes, the “Danger is pregnant” stuff is a bit silly – the art really struggles to sell it, with the final page cliffhanger looking more cumbersome that was presumably intended. But there’s some fun stuff in here and it’s hard not to like a book which throws this many ideas at the wall.
X-Men #26 - So… the X-Men have gone to an island to rescue Jubilee from the Forgiven, but it turns out the Forgiven are Good Vampires. And now a bunch of mercenary characters randomly attack the island because they’re after the Forgiven. So the X-Men and the Forgiven have to team up to fight them. And that’s basically it.
It’s a thin story, let’s be blunt. And it seems to be conceived mainly as a device to have the various members of the Forgiven take on B-list villains and show off their stuff. In theory that’s fine, since it’s an opportunity to showcase the characters. Trouble is, they still aren’t doing anything especially memorable in their respective scenes. I’m just not seeing what the hook is meant to be.
Still, it does make a pleasant change for the attacking horde of randoms to be made up of characters from recent stories or continuity backwaters – Black Axe, Bruiser, Lady Bullseye – instead of the usual suspects from the 1980s Official Handbook. If new characters are going to take root in the Marvel Universe, other writers need to be willing to use them. (That said, I seriously question the wisdom of using Lord Deathstrike in this book before Jason Aaron has even finished his first arc in Wolverine, and at a stage when he’s still being used in that book as an unstoppable newcomer. Once Wolverine’s beaten him, then he can have a sword fight with Jubilee.)
All this would be fine if the Forgiven were more interesting, but so far, they’re just not working.