Posted on Sunday, May 6, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
And finally we get back up to date. (There’s also a bunch of interesting first issues this week, but I’ll either deal with them separately, or cover them in the podcast next week.)
Age of Apocalypse #3 - My main problem with this book so far has been that too many of the main (human) characters were interchangeable, so it’s good to see David Lapham addressing that in this issue. This is the first point where the likes of Donald Pierce and Graydon Creed have really come across as having distinctive personalities of their own, albeit that Creed is essentially a generic drunken antihero. Pierce, though, is starting to look more interesting – he’s the guy who leads a double life as a member of what passes for the elite.
Even Deadeye gets some opportunity to establish a personality; somewhat implausibly, stranded journalist Harper Simmons happens to know that her brother Matthew was an anti-mutant lunatic on our world, and so there’s a nicely strained quality to the scenes where she eulogises him as a noble hero to Harper’s obvious scepticism. As for Fiend… yeah, looks like she’s a redshirt.
This issue also seems to dial back on the bleakness a bit, with a tone a little closer to deadpan dark absurdity. I suspect that’s probably what they were going for all along, but this is the first time it seems to really connect. The art remains a little too self-consciously gritty for my tastes; I almost think this book would benefit from something a little more over the top, to match the tone of the writing. I can’t say I’m desperately excited about a storyline involving the Dark Beast and the Sugar Man using a Life Seed to revive a bunch of characters I’d forgotten were dead in the first place. (Emplate? Have we even seen him before in the Age of Apocalypse?) But yeah, this series is growing on me. Maybe it’s finding its feet.
Avengers Academy #29 - This week’s only tie-in issue sees the kids from Utopia dumped at Avengers Academy for safekeeping, along with some of the saner – well, more moderate – members of the X-Club. We’re very much off in the margins of the crossover here. It certainly counts; it’s a story that wouldn’t be happening but for the crossover. Even so, this issue is mostly about the two groups of kids bonding (or not bonding, as the case may be), with the main plot actually picking up the Sebastian Shaw thread from the recently cancelled Generation Hope. As with the current Wolverine arc, I’m pleasantly surprised to see these dangling subplots being followed up for a change, though in this case, it may also be a function of casting about for stories to fill those tie-in books.
Christos Gage and Tom Grummett are saddled with an enormous cast in this storyline, and inevitably that results in something of a parade of cameos. But Gage has always been good with large casts, and he’s able to give everyone their own voice here. X-23 also gets a few good scenes, understandably irritated that the X-Men have shown up on her doorstep when she was trying to go off and do something else entirely. The notable exception is Madison Jeffries, who seems to have largely lost the spaced-out quality that (for better or worse) has defined him in recent years; he seems wildly out of character here. You’ve also got to sympathise with Surge and Gabriel’s disbelief that everyone else is happy to make friends so quickly, but I think it works for the tone of this book.
Avengers vs X-Men #3 - Ed Brubaker takes over as this issue’s scripter. And the opening pages, I quite like – Cyclops’ group surrenders and the Avengers wonder what on earth they’re going to do with a whole island of X-Men. (As it turns out, not much before they escape. It’s still a nice little scene.) On the other hand, the plot does involve wrenching Captain America into service as a bit of a bastard, something which even the other characters comment on. This could be some sort of subtle foreshadowing that something’s wrong, but since it’s a summer crossover, I think we can proceed on the assumption that subtle foreshadowing is not in the toolbox. More likely, he’s just out of character.
Still, the basic idea is quite good. And there’s some good use of the other half of the X-Men, by establishing that Cyclops still has contacts on that side of the divide. Casting Rachel in that role is a little more questionable given her own connection to Phoenix, which this series appears to be entirely ignoring. If you don’t want to deal with that, fine, but then don’t use her at all.
And then, after all that, my heart sinks a little as we establish that there are five targets for everyone to chase after, where Hope might or might not be, so we’re all going to split up and fight. I was rather hoping that, with the big fight in the early issues, we were moving on to something else – but this sounds alarmingly like the vastly overrated Avengers/Defenders War structure, where the plot consists of little more than people chasing after widgets. And, as I’ve said before, that’s not really the bit of this that interests me.
Exiled - This is a one-shot leading into the Exiled crossover which runs through the next two issues of New Mutants and Journey into Mystery. So now we know why the New Mutants were given that hell-dog to look after. Why the two books have been taking such a drastically different approach to Mephisto – who appears in this issue, in his JiM persona – remains to be seen, but presumably it’s heading somewhere. The basic plot here involves the Disir escaping from Hell and Loki being enlisted to get them back (in exchange for Mephisto keeping their previous deal secret). Meanwhile, the guy living across the road from the New Mutants turns out to be an estranged Asgardian in disguise.
From the final page, it looks as though the concept here is to have the Asgardian characters turned into ordinary (well, ordinary-ish) humans while the New Mutants investigate what happened to them. I can’t help feeling that we’ve seen the Asgardians as ordinary people before, and not too long ago. Then again, Hela is such an obviously weird “mom” in the final page that we’re probably heading somewhere different and more quirky with it.
The connections between these two books are there – Dani’s still technically a Valkyrie, Amara is dating Mephisto, and there’s a hell-dog in the house – but there’s still a slight sense here that this is a Journey into Mystery story into which the New Mutants have stumbled by accident. With Abnett, Lanning and Gillen writing, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that one, though it remains to be seen how everything is be drawn together; it certainly does seem like the plot is driven by the enormous coincidence of Sigurd happening to move in next door.
Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega #5 - The concluding part of one of the better miniseries we’ve had in quite some time. Ironic that it comes just as Marvel seem to be dialling back on all those superfluous minis, but there you go. The basic story here has been about Quentin massively overestimating what he can get away with, and realising far too late that hauling Wolverine and Armor into a pocket reality was probably not the smartest prank he’s ever attempted, especially because he has no idea how he’s going to get out of it.
The ending is admittedly a little predictable; Quentin ends up having to throw himself on his sword in order to get out of the whole mess, and in doing so, he redeems himself up to a point. But what works about this story is that Brian Wood gets what makes Quentin work as a character. He’s not a cool rebel; he just thinks he is, and tends to only realise his limits far too late. This story also does the heavy lifting of establishing why on earth Quentin is co-operating with the school at all, given that it’s not so long ago that he was trying to bring down the United Nations. It’s not merely that he doesn’t have a choice; ultimately, he does know his limits, even if he tends to ignore them, and he does have some respect for the adult X-Men. Equally, Wolverine wants him around not just to keep an eye on him, but to take advantage of what he’s got to offer.
Does that make Quentin the ultimate winner of this story? He evidently thinks so, since instead of wanting to punish him, Wolverine’s principally impressed about the power he’s demonstrated. Wolverine sees this as taking the moral high ground and being responsible; Quentin doesn’t really think that way. Regardless, the story does lead us to a clearer understanding of how these two characters relate, and thankfully, it’s one that dovetails nicely with Jason Aaron’s take on the characters over in Wolverine and the X-Men.
X-Factor #235 - Ah, it’s a storyline about the Rain City Superhero Movement. That’s Phoenix Jones and his mates, if you don’t know. Obviously the idea of the “real life superhero” works a little differently in the Marvel Universe, but basically, this story is about a bunch of completely ordinary people dressing up to fight very low level crime in Seattle. They’re also, from the look of it, completely deluded – or at least, their leader Lord Defender is, improbably claiming to be a mutant with “recessive genes”.
What could be a fairly cheap story turns out to be a little more balanced than that. Lord Defender is a fool, but in a nice touch, his sidekick turns out to have a rather more realistic grasp on the whole situation, and he seems to be there mainly to stop Defender from getting himself hurt. Since a serial killer is currently taking out members of the group, of course, that may be easier said that done. Meanwhile, Madrox and Shatterstar show up to go undercover with the group – so we’ve got actual superheroes posing as people posing as superheroes, which is precisely the sort of thing that Peter David does well.
Aside from the usual strong art by Leonard Kirk, and some neatly worked-in subplot material about Havok and Madrox’s awkward status as co-leaders, there’s also a nice contrast here between a broadly comedic set-up and a mysterious but clearly Very Nasty Indeed threat building around the edges. Another strong issue; the book seems firmly back on track after its digression into alternate earths a few months back.
X-Men #28 - First part of a new storyline in which the X-Men (specifically, Pixie and the book’s regular group) join up with the FF and Spider-Man against some Skrulls. You don’t buy this book for stories that “matter”, and this is not a story that “matters”. But to give it its due, it does offer a rare attempt to use the Skrulls’ gimmick properly, as the group of shape changers start the issue by cheerfully outwitting everyone in good old-fashioned style.
I also like the basic idea of the Skrull group – they’re basically soldiers from Secret Invasion who deserted under fire and, with one exception, really just want to power up an escape vessel and get home. Unfortunately, the only one of them who can actually get anything done is a bit of a Skrull version of Rambo. That’s a nice little dynamic, and a potentially fun set-up for the story. Sadly, Will Conrad’s art doesn’t really succeed in drawing a clear distinction between the members of the group; granted, the body language is right when it matters, but they really do all look very much the same, and that’s a pity when the story is built so heavily around the differences within their group. Decent idea for a story, nonetheless, and actually quite well executed on the writing level.