Posted on Sunday, April 15, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
It’s a podcast weekend, so check out the post below and download the show, where you can hear Al and me talk about Secret Service, Courtney Crumrin and America’s Got Powers. Over on the X-books, it’s an extremely quiet week, so I’ll chuck a couple of other books in as well…
Avenging Spider-Man #6 - This is the start of the three-part “Omega Effect” crossover, which also runs through Daredevil and Punisher. In fact, it looks suspiciously like a Daredevil storyline which has sprouted some guest stars in the name of mutual sales-boosting. The story is built entirely around that book’s Omega Drive subplot, in which Daredevil has ended up in possession of a hard drive full of information about the Marvel Universe’s major criminal/terrorist groups. Naturally, they’d like it back. And for equally obvious reasons, the Punisher would quite like it too.
As for Spider-Man… well, he’s got a bigger audience than either Daredevil or the Punisher, so he’s here too. I’m not exactly convinced that this story has an organic need for him to be here, though co-writers Rucka and Waid at least find a role for him as a peacemaker between the other two, and play up the “nobody dies” angle that Dan Slott has been pushing with him in Amazing Spider-Man. I also suspect that from the Punisher book’s point of view, it would have been better to establish Rachel Cole-Alves’ role as the Punisher’s sidekick a little more firmly before wheeling her out into a crossover. But that’s scheduling for you, and again, the story does make good use of the character.
I have more than a little trouble getting my head around the plot logic of the Omega Drive storyline. So there’s this hard drive with information about all the criminal organisations – uh, why not just release it, or at least hand it over to the authorities? The story tries to answer that question – Daredevil claims that as long as he has the drive as insurance, the bad guys won’t come after him – but that’s hardly a very convincing argument. It’s possible, I suppose, that this is deliberate and it’s supposed to be another illustration of Daredevil’s rather erratic thought processes, but if I’m being honest, it comes across more as rickety plotting. I don’t really buy what the heroes want to do with the Drive – I don’t really understand the thinking behind it, frankly – and that’s a big issue.
And yet, and yet… Rucka and Waid write all these characters very well, and it’s an eminently readable issue. It gets by on character interaction more than story, but then if you’re going to do team-up stories, maybe character interaction should be the centrepiece. My head says this wasn’t very good; but I liked it more than you’d think.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #8 - We mentioned the Buffy titles on the podcast this week, so it might be worth expanding on my comment that the book is back on track with the current “season”, particularly given a storyline which could certainly be accused of messing the readers about. (Even the letters page acknowledges “that some readers will feel manipulated by the choices we’ve made”.)
The problem with Season 8 - well, the main problem – was that it was far too eager to exploit the possibilities offered by comics to do stories on a scale that a television budget would never permit. Of course, given the way the TV show ended, any further stories had to shake up the status quo pretty drastically. But Season 8 ended up doing enormous battle scenes and cosmic weirdness and, in doing so, pretty much lost sight of what made the show recognisable. It wasn’t Buffy without the budget limitations; it was the Buffy characters transplanted into a different sort of story entirely.
With Season 9, the book is still wildly different from the TV show. It’s been relocated to San Francisco and (thanks to the previous storyline) most of the world’s magic is now gone, so that spell casting doesn’t work at all, and any new vampires end up mindless. But it’s back to operating on a recognisable scale, it’s back to dealing with a core cast of a sensible size, and it’s re-established the link with the TV show, without turning into a clone.
Granted, you can question the wisdom of a storyline in which Buffy first discovers that she’s pregnant, and then discovers that, no, she’s actually a robot – the latter twist is actually done rather well, but it undercuts the previous few issues rather fundamentally. Mind you, I’m not sure there was any particularly satisfying direction to take a pregnancy arc with Buffy; the three obvious solutions are sideline, abortion and miscarriage, none of which exactly sounds like a barrel of laughs. The real question is whether you wanted to start down that line in the first place, though there does seem to have been an ultimate aim beyond just swerving the readers (namely, to further a theme of whether Buffy should give it all up for a normal life, which runs through the whole of this season). I think they just about got away with it, but I can entirely understand why you might feel differently.
New Avengers #24 - This is the first Avengers vs X-Men tie-in issue, and it’s a crossover tie-in of the old school. By which I mean, it’s actually concerned mainly with an ongoing New Avengers subplot about Luke and Jessica and whether they should leave the Avengers to keep their kid safe. The crossover figures into the issue simply as the threat-of-the-week which provides the backdrop. That’s handy, since it avoids Bendis having to advance the crossover plot at all; he simply repeats the bits we’ve already seen from a different perspective and with an entirely different emphasis.
And that’s fine. I’ve got no problem with doing crossover issues that way; it’s certainly better than artificially extending the core plot. Of course, it can get incredibly wearing with something like Secret Invasion, which gave us six months of nothing but bloody Skrull stories, but in something a bit more focussed like Avengers vs X-Men, it’s probably the way to go.
It also means this is an issue that plays largely to Brian Bendis’ strengths as a writer – that is, two characters talking to one another. I remain baffled by Marvel’s use of him on team books, which seem to me to be precisely what he does worst, given an apparent inability to juggle a large cast and give them all something to do. (Characters have a tendency to join Bendis’ Avengers and then do literally nothing for the better part of a year.) Character-driven scenes are his strength, and for a change, he’s playing to that here. It’s one of his better Avengers issues. It does nothing to develop the main AvX plot, but would you really want it to?
Saga #2 - Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ series is living up to the hype so far. Which should be no surprise, since the hype was mainly “It’s by Brian K Vaughan, it’s bound to be good.” Alana and Marko are still on the run with their new kid, and the various pursuers are starting to close in. The robot officers with TVs for heads – which occasionally flicker into life to show something random and incongruous in mid-conversation – are a fabulous visual. So is the Stalk, whose debut is the main set piece of this issue. As a concept, it could easily be cliche (she’s half-woman, half-spider), but the execution neatly avoids that response. And then the cliffhanger introduces something that seems entirely at odds with the rest of the series so far, but which seems to work as part of the world that’s been established.
It’s the details that give the book its identity and lift it above the crowd. The broad strokes of the story are familiar enough so far, and it would have been easy to cobble the rest together from the overused space opera tropes. Saga is doing the right thing, building as much as it can from scratch and making its elements fresh.
Uncanny X-Men #10 - The second half of the Unit story is a clever little piece of set-up for the Avengers vs X-Men crossover that starts next issue. Although the solicitations give the impression that this is a team-up with the Avengers, it isn’t really; they’re off fighting the rest of the SWORD escapees while the X-Men deal with Unit. The point of the Avengers’ appearance is to get them onto the stage and establish their relationship with the X-Men in advance of the crossover, and it succeeds in that.
But the other purpose of this story (and probably the dominant one) is to get Unit into the cast so that he too can play a role in the crossover. In importing Unit from his short-lived SWORD series, Kieron Gillen is following in a long tradition of writers bringing their favourite characters to a new series when they change assignments. Sometimes it can be a bit forced, but this story establishes a pretty good reason to use Unit: Hope’s looking for somebody to tell her, in clear terms, what the Phoenix actually is, and Unit says he can help. Of course, he would, wouldn’t he?
It’s a nice twist from what the previous issue led us to expect, as Unit’s plans for Hope are a little more long-term than just cutting her up. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have twigged that there’s anything particularly sinister about Unit at all, though the rest of the X-Men have figured it out pretty quickly. Manipulation is Unit’s schtick, but it’s also a change to cast Hope in the dupe role. One of the character’s problems, I suspect, is that in the X-office has tried a bit too hard to make her Little Miss Awesome in an attempt to sell her to the readers as the next big thing; she’s a much more likeable character when she’s allowed to screw up.
Wolverine #304 - A coda to Jason Aaron’s run, as a whole bunch of villains from down the years gather in a bar to meet with Sabretooth until Wolverine shows up to cause trouble, and some other characters poke their heads around the door in cameo appearances to bring us up to date on what they’re doing. It’s an issue for people who’ve been reading for the last few years and who’ll enjoy – indeed, who’ll understand - the random cameos that litter this story. The likes of Soulstriker and Dr Rot make one last appearance; Rot, as a dropped plot, gets turned away at the door, though I think upcoming issues are supposed to be dealing with him anyway. Random cutaways show the Mongrels in hell, and Fat Cobra enjoying his new throne.
It’s not really a story so much as a final bow, though even on that level, I’m not quite sure why Daken’s wandering around here (it’s not like Aaron used him, and he’s meant to be dead). And is that Tiger Shark? Really?
The entertainment value here is mainly on the “Oh yeah, I remember that” level, with a horde of artists returning for brief contributions. That results in things like a fight scene starting with Steve Dillon and then throwing in contributions from Steven Sanders and Renato Guedes before returning to Dillon again. Judged purely from a storytelling standpoint, that doesn’t work at all. But then this issue isn’t really about storytelling; it’s about recognition factor and drawing a line under Aaron’s run. It’s reasonably successful on that level, but it has to be said that the horde of cameos and random art shifts pretty much kneecap it as an actual story.