Posted on Sunday, April 8, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Well, after all the hype, we’ve finally reached Marvel’s big event of the year. Also available in exciting “augmented reality!” Yeah…
Age of Apocalypse #2 - I’m still not really sold on this book, but it does have something. In theory, there’s some potential in doing an inverted Marvel Universe where the mutants are all lunatics and in control, while the human villains become the plucky underdogs whose anti-mutant agenda becomes utterly reasonable. And I like the use of the depowered Jean Grey and Sabretooth, who end up stuck with the human resistance – though it’s perhaps surprising that they don’t get more to do, given that they’re among the book’s most recognisable established characters.
Perhaps more importantly, there’s also some sense in this issue that David Lapham is simply having fun with the inverted-world set-up and the casual lunacy of the villains, which implies that the book isn’t going to be the ponderous exercise in mock-seriousness that I’d feared.
On the other hand, it’s still a book with a large cast of mostly interchangeable characters, and that’s a problem. There’s not a huge amount to distinguish the members of the X-Terminated, and Wolverine’s forces are likewise decidedly similar to one another. If the fun of alternate reality stories is seeing variations on familiar characters, then for that to work, the characters need to be distinctive in their own way, and thus far, that remains decidedly lacking. What actually distinguishes Fiend from Deadeye, for example, aside from the fact that they’re wearing slightly different costumes? What does Donald Pierce bring to the cast? I genuinely couldn’t tell you, and two issues in, that’s not a good sign.
Avengers vs X-Men #1 - Or A vs X, Round One, as the cover has it. Personally, if I was positioning this as something to appeal to lapsed readers, I’d be putting the advertised title prominently on the cover, but so be it.
I have a healthy scepticism about the merits of event crossovers. Nor does it inspire much confidence that each issue of the book is being written by a different one of Marvel’s “Architects”, which is surely just a fancy way of saying it’s written by committee. But this was a pleasant surprise. It’s not going to win any Eisners, but it’s a nicely direct first issue which sets up the idea and gets to the point far more quickly than I was expecting.
Nova crashes on Earth to warn the Avengers that the Phoenix is coming. Everyone knows it’s likely to destroy the world. Wolverine tells the Avengers that the host is going to be Hope. Meanwhile, Hope is also starting to manifest the Phoenix effect. The Avengers show up on Utopia to discuss what to do about Hope. Cyclops has convinced himself that when she becomes Phoenix, she’ll save the mutant race. Cue the fight. None of this will come as any sort of surprise if you’ve read the hype (or, to be fair, if you’ve read the main X-Men stories in the last five years). But the book bashes through the set-up swiftly instead of dragging it out in the way I’d expected. That’s fine by me, not least because it means Marvel have actually been hyping the hook of act one, and the actual story remains largely unspoiled.
There are still some issues here. The story skirts over the whole question of why Hope is manifesting the Phoenix effect before the Phoenix has got here, which is surely likely to be a point of confusion for readers new to the concept (not least because it makes little or no sense, even if there’s something of a precedent for it in earlier X-Men stories). And the story seems to ignore the fact that Hope already had the Phoenix effect at the end of the prequel series Avengers: X-Sanction. But on the whole, not a bad start at all. Certainly the strongest opening we’ve had for a Marvel event mini in quite some time.
For those of you with expensive gadgets, there’s also a back-up story in the “Infinite Comics” format (which, to be fair, can be bought separately), and some gimmickry with the Marvel AR app.
“Infinite Comics” turns out to be essentially comics designed for reading in the Guided View format, using many of the same tricks as Reilly Brown’s Power Play - for example, repeating variations of the same pages on multiple pages to take advantage of the dissolve effect, or using the pull-back-and-reveal facility that isn’t available in regular comics. The story is simply Nova’s crash-landing from his perspective, but it is a good use of the Guided View format, and rather pretty to boot.
The Marvel AR thing is pure gimmickry. I dutifully tried it out; it involves pointing your phone at the page and then squinting at some animation while trying to hold your phone steady. I gave up halfway through and deleted the app. It’s a complete waste of time and I have trouble believing it’ll repay the investment in digital content that it’ll require. My guess is, it’ll be dead in six months.
New Mutants #40 - The culmination of the Ani-Mator storyline, as Abnett and Lanning become the latest writers to grapple with the question of how you dramatise Cypher’s power to understand things. Most of this issue essentially consists of the merged Cypher/Warlock fighting the Ani-Mator creature in the real world, intercut with them discussing matters on (I guess) the astral plane. So if you like fighting and you like exposition, this is the comic for you. Normally this wouldn’t work very well, but in this case, it does kind of succeed in conveying what Cypher’s actually doing. And they’ve got Leandro Fernandez on art, somebody who can pull off extended conversation scenes and make them interesting. It helps that he does a decent Warlock, a character many artists continue to struggle to render in their own style.
All that being said, the resolution is a bit hand-woven, with Cypher coming up with a rather new agey solution and it just kind of somehow working. That’s a bit of an anticlimax. But there’s a very nice coda playing up the idea that Cypher’s claim to have come to terms with his fear of the Ani-Mator is all a bit too convenient. Not a perfect issue but there’s more good than bad.
Wolverine and the X-Men #8 - Chris Bachalo returns for an odd little issue that doubles as an epilogue to the “space casino” stuff while also throwing in a self-contained story in which Sabretooth goes after Abigail Brand in an attempt to get under the Beast’s skin. This looks to be driven by scheduling considerations, as there’s a month to fill before the Avengers vs X-Men crossover arc begins – though strangely, the story doesn’t get Wolverine out of his wheelchair in time for the crossover. Presumably that gets wrapped up pretty quickly next issue, as he looked fine in Avengers vs X-Men #1 itself.
The kids going off into space for a second stab at the space casino is a fun little equine, though it actually only gets five pages, in which the main thing achieved is actually to advance the development of Genesis’ character. It strikes me that between Genesis and Broo, this series has two characters on a rather similar arc – nice kid with deeply buried violent tendencies that might end up taking over – and that’s got to be deliberate.
Most of the issue, though, is given over to Sabretooth fighting the Beast in space, as Sabretooth tries to expand his usual modus operandi - kill Wolverine’s girlfriend – to the rest of the team. If the idea is to set up Sabretooth as a recurring villain for this series, it works pretty well, though it’s odd to see Aaron writing Sabretooth as essentially a henchman in this book when he was presented as a new crime lord over in Wolverine just a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t feel like the same take on the character, unless the idea is that Sabretooth is actually working an angle against his employers in the Hellfire Club – in which case the Wolverine arc makes sense as oblique foreshadowing.
Bachalo’s art is visually interesting as ever. That said, clarity in storytelling has never been his strong suit, and the climax of this issue’s battle suffers from requiring just a little too much effort to figure out what’s actually happening. It’s not impenetrable, but it’s not instant, and that detracts from the scene; by the time you’ve figured out the idea, the momentum is lost. (And this is why “art that makes the reader work” is usually a bad thing in action sequences.) Three characters in identical spacesuits; no very clear explanation of how Hank propels himself back to the space station; it’s not quite right. Still, a decent issue on the whole.
Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega #4 - After a slightly sluggish opening issue, this has turned out to be a rather good series. This is the chapter where the penny drops and it becomes obvious how Brian Wood is going to write Quentin out of the corner he’s been painted into: having gone into the Construct to try and get things back on the rails, Quentin discovers that he’s not as good at this as he thought he was, and his control over the thing is actually rather limited. And now he’s stuck inside, which means he’s going to have to team up with Wolverine and Armor. If they’ll have him.
That seems to point towards a finish where Quentin does something sufficient heroic, or at least apologetic, to redeem himself in part. But the issue also ends with a more interesting cliffhanger in which, having no other idea of how to get out of the Construct, Quentin simply conjures up a giant off switch and invites everyone to press it and hope for the best. It’s a fairly safe bet that they’re not all going to die in a spin-off mini, but that doesn’t stop it being a more intriguing way of getting to the inevitable resolution. Wood certainly gets Quire’s character, as a brat with delusions of grandeur who isn’t fundamentally a bad person, but tends not to realise that he’s gone way over the line until it’s way too late to turn back. There’s a lot to be done with that version of Quire and I’d be happy to see Wood write him again.
X-Club #5 - I’ll have to go back and re-read this mini, since I suspect it’s one of those books that, read in a single sitting, will turn out to have all its plot threads dovetail more effectively than it seemed the first time round. It does manage to bring all of its diverse plot threads to a conclusion and (more or less) link them all together – though the stuff about mutagenics in the sea does feel a bit tacked on, and its resolution is equally casual. I may come back to this for a more detailed review, but for now, I like Si Spurrier’s update of the old mad scientist archetype, and I think he’s the only writer in quite some time to really have a handle on Madison Jeffries character that goes beyond “stuttering weirdo”. His Dr Nemesis is a little over the top even for Dr Nemesis, but the general idea is right, and at least the starfish running gag is kept to sensible limits this month.
As for Danger, I can still take or leave her, and I’m not entirely sold on doing stories about pregnant robots anyway. There are also some rather hamfisted “power of love / power of spirituality” moments shoved into this final issue that don’t quite work, and feel like they’re there to try and redress some sort of argument about science and spirituality that the series wasn’t really developing in the first place. The stuff with Madison and Danger is at least earned by his storyline in the earlier issues; Kavita receiving divine inspiration from looking at waves is rather out of left field, though it would have been an interesting beat in a different story. Still, a fun little series.