Posted on Sunday, March 25, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
All right, then! We’ve got two weeks worth of X-books to cover – which, in this day and age – is a lot – so let’s run through them. I’ll try and take some of these quickly but, well, I said that last time and it didn’t seem to work out that way. Let’s see how we go.
Avengers: X-Sanction #4 - This is the final issue of the miniseries that’s being billed as a lead-in to Avengers vs X-Men (and, incidentally, Marvel are displaying remarkable confidence in product awareness by shipping it with a cover that completely obscures the “X-Sanction” bit of the logo). A while back, I predicted that the pay-off would be that Cable’s mission ended up tipping off the Avengers to the threat posed by Hope, thus ironically bringing about the very thing he was trying to stop. Well, that doesn’t happen.
Thing is, nor does much of anything else. Cable is finally subdued and carted off to the X-Men’s prison; Hope somehow or other cures him of the techno-organic virus; and Cable and Cyclops have a brief conversation in which they acknowledge openly that she’s Phoenix. Which, from the look of it, is supposed to be the big pay-off. Except any remotely attentive reader must have figured it out during “Messiah Complex”, which was years ago. That aside, it’s a load of running around and fighting, with some leaden attempts at emotional melodrama. Oh, and it has one of the stupidest scenes I’ve read in years, in which we’re asked to believe that Hope understands Cable so well that she can guess correctly which wire to cut to defuse a bomb that he’s set. It’s the sort of thing that would be charmingly goofy in a Silver Age comic, to be fair, but even if you’re willing to be charitable and take it that way, it still seems absurdly out of place here.
If you decided to skip the prequel and go straight to the regular series – smart choice. You missed nothing.
Daken: Dark Wolverine #22 - The penultimate issue, as Daken tries blowing things up in order to make his grand gesture of empty revenge at the superhero community. I’m not sure this entirely works; the plot hinges on Daken’s belief that he’s going to somehow turn the public against superheroes with his terrorist attacks. But the Marvel Universe public are nothing if not notorious for their perennial ingratitude, which has pretty much become a genre convention in its own right – so that when this book tries to build its plot on the idea that it’s something new, you’ve got a problem. Nor can it really play the “self-contained” card, since the whole meta-point is Daken lashing out at the genre as a whole.
Then again, there’s still an issue to go, and maybe it’ll turn out that the whole idea is that Daken doesn’t quite get the superhero thing. I do like the theory of what’s going on here, the failed antihero series going out by nihilistically lashing out at the more established books that spawned it – I’m just not quite sure it’s riffing on the genre in a way that makes sense.
Generation Hope #17 - The final issue. Writer James Asmus has a tricky job here; he can’t really wrap up the Sebastian Shaw storyline properly, but he’s got to do something to give the series some resolution. Sensibly enough, he focusses on the running plot thread that most goes to the heart of the book – Hope’s supposed messiah status and the influence it gives her over the other characters. So this issue sees Zero attempt to take her down, accompanied by a bunch of mind-controlled Utopia residents and Laurie, who, in a nice touch, seems reasonably happy to play along of her own free will until she figures out that the mob isn’t a voluntary mob.
All this leads to Zero becoming an outright villain and getting defeated, and Hope reconciling with the rest of her group. It’s not really the way I’d have wanted to see either storyline develop, and I’d rather Zero had remained as a more ambiguous character. But in fairness to Asmus, when the book’s being axed anyway, lost potential is all a bit academic. This issue does at least wrap up the book’s major storyline and give the series some closure, in a way that more interesting long-term directions wouldn’t have done. While that doesn’t alter the fact that Generation Hope ends up as a book that never delivered on its early promise, the compromise is an understandable one.
New Mutants #39 - The New Mutants are stuck on Paradise Island, where they’ve all been infected with a rather nasty virus except for Warlock, who’s immune and therefore has to take charge of the situation. That’s the basic conceit of this issue, and it’s done very well. The basic plot – everyone’s dying – could easily be horribly grim, but it’s nicely balanced with Warlock’s well-meaning yet utterly hopeless attempts to keep up everyone’s spirits, mainly by deploying his “confident, reassuring smile”. The overall effect is a very funny issue, but one that doesn’t lose sight of an underlying horrific threat. One of the book’s strongest issues in quite a while.
Uncanny X-Men #9 - The first half of a two-part storyline leading, in a way, into the Avengers vs X-Men crossover. According to interviews, Kieron Gillen’s thinking here is that if the series is going to truly stand alone, the Avengers need to be introduced before the crossover hits – so this is a team-up story. But the focus isn’t really on the Avengers; they’re just here to get them on the board. (They’re on three pages, and Wolverine and Cyclops sort of look at each other without renewing their big argument – after all, it’s not in issue.) First and foremost, it’s a story about a prison break from the SWORD orbiting satellite, allowing Gillen finally to do the story about Unit, the alien robot serial killer he introduced in SWORD‘s short lived series and never got around to. Unit’s a fun villain, with his calmly condescending and manipulative manner, and he’s a nice threat to put against Hope. Carlos Pacheco is back on art, and he’s on good form here. He’s getting to draw loads of superheroes fighting loads of obscure aliens, and it looks lovely. This is a great little superhero book.
Wolverine #303 - Jason Aaron’s run nears an end, and “Back in Japan” feels like a very strange way of doing it. With most of his core themes already wrapped up, Aaron seems to be doing a mixture of a coda and some set-up material for the next writer. That’s an unusual way to finish an extended run these days; usually writers seem more interested in making their run feel relatively self-contained. But the main point of this story seems to be to place Amiko, Sabretooth, Mystique, Lord Deathstrike and the new Silver Samurai with a new position in the Marvel Universe, ready for use in future stories. Nothing wrong with that – there’s much to be said for the view that if the series is continuing, the right thing to do is to help smooth the transition, not put up a big neon sign saying “Jumping Off Point” – but it isn’t the way things have often been done in the last decade, and it’s certainly a little unexpected to see it happening here. Aaron has one more issue to go, which will presumably be his farewell story, but the emphasis here seems to be squarely on building for the future.
I’ve not been a huge fan of this storyline, but this issue does pull it back a bit. One of my major criticisms – that Sabretooth wasn’t being given anything to do, despite his return being a supposedly major event – is pretty much addressed here. He’s playing possum and turns out to be the real main villain after all. That’s a nice feint, and I think it works really well. There’s still no explanation for why he’s back, but hey, that’s presumably being saved for the Jeph Loeb storyline that appears to have spiralled off into scheduling oblivion (and long may it remain there). Regardless, it’s a clever twist that raises the story in my estimation quite a bit. Still not really sold on the new Silver Samurai, still think the flurry of artists with clashing styles is a mistake, but there’s more to this than earlier issues may have suggested.
Wolverine and the X-Men #7 - End of the second storyline, and the book remains as raving mad as ever. Some of the team go inside Kitty’s body in Fantastic Voyage style to take on a horde of little Brood; Broo is confronted by a militant alien scientist who thinks he’s a threat to the natural order; and Wolverine and Kid Omega continue their attempt to raise loads of money from an alien casino. (That doesn’t go very well for them. But that’s probably for the best, actually, since it means the whole “Angel losing control of his company” storyline still has something at stake after all.)
The real drama here is obviously meant to be Broo finally lashing out and fighting back in order to protect Kitty, thus proving that he is indeed a killer under the friendly veneer, and advancing the storyline about which side he eventually chooses. The Fantastic Voyage material, to be honest, I can take or leave – Nick Bradshaw draws it beautifully but I kind of have the feeling that the novelty value on that one was pretty much covered in the previous issue. But the alien biologist is fun (“Anyone not willing to murder for the sake of science is no scientist at all”), and the casino stuff is so silly and over the top that you’ve got to embrace it.
X-23 #21 - This looks like a case of Marjorie Liu looking at her one remaining issue, figuring that she can’t possibly resolve all outstanding story lines, and opting for the thematic route. So, despite being billed as “Girls Night Out, part 2″, this actually turns out to be a silent issue of Laura riding out into the wilderness, running around naked with wolves, and having a mystical experience.
I can see why Liu’s taking this route, and visually the storytelling is very impressive, but the story left me rather cold. To the extent that the story seems to suggest X-23 confronting the dark side of her personality and overcoming it, it feels, if not unearned, certainly arbitrary as a conclusion to a series where that internal conflict has been the main theme. I’m sure this is mainly a reflection of the issue having an impossible task, since the slow-burn approach to X-23′s character has been a real strength of the book, and Liu has done well to make an enjoyable series out of such a grim and (superficially) one-dimensional character. The series as a whole has plenty to recommend it, but I can’t honestly say this issue is a satisfying wrap-up.
X-Factor #233 - Madrox has returned from his trip through alternate realities, but while he’s been gone, Havok and Polaris have taken command of the team. So this issue is mainly about establishing the team’s status quo under their command, with X-Factor taking on a camp of anti-mutant extremists, while in the subplots, Layla brings Madrox up to speed, and somebody goes up north to hook up with the Isolationist. For the most part it’s a straightforward story of the regular team in action and, for a change, working effectively as a team – which is presumably going to be the theme here, as Alex and Lorna turn out to be more effective at least when it comes to the practical side of leadership. It also shows why the series needed to get Madrox out of the way for a few months, although his actual dimension-hopping still wasn’t a fantastic story.
Basically a straight issue re-establishing X-Factor as a regular and effective team, with the subplots livening it up. But that’s worth doing from time to time, and Peter David and Leonard Kirk handle it well.
X-Men: Legacy #263 - The X-Men and Generation Hope team up to beat Exodus, which, as he points out, is actually kind of a win for him. He’s all about encouraging them to team up. The idea here seems to be that even if Exodus’ attack didn’t achieve anything in itself, the knock-on effects for the characters will be more significant. I’m not sure I’d have gone for Rogue and Wolverine squabbling this early into the book’s new set-up – I’d have preferred to let the new status quo bed down before disrupting it – but who knows what the scheduling considerations are, given the imminence of the big summer crossover? And bringing in the teenagers from Utopia does make some sense, in giving them an opportunity to voice the argument for rejecting the school, something that’s kind of been glossed over when it comes to the likes of Surge and Dust. A good issue on the whole, just maybe teasing discord a little early in the run.