Posted on Sunday, June 10, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Let’s get straight to it, shall we?
Age of Apocalypse #4 - We’re four issues into this series, and it’s not really working for me. There are some interesting ideas floating around in here, but it’s missing something.
This issue, the human resistance (“the X-Terminated”) continue their efforts to stop the Dark Beast from reviving a whole load of dead mutants using the Life Seed. To help out, Goodnight tracks down their world’s version of Bruce Banner to get the Hulk on their side – at least as a distraction. The basic idea, I guess, is to play up the lead characters’ “end justifies the means” attitude, which is consistent with their roots as fanatical villains in the mainstream universe, and to present it as something which, in the context of the Age of Apocalypse world, nonetheless counts as a note of optimism.
That could work. But there are big problems with this series. I’ll be blunt: I don’t care about any of the characters, and I don’t believe in the world.
So far as the characters are concerned, there’s not enough variation between them to give light and shade – particularly in an issue like this one which doesn’t use Jean Grey. It’s essentially a whole team of variations on the same theme. The most interesting of the bunch probably remains Goodnight, though this issue’s I-must-atone origin story does nothing to help – and why on earth is he randomly telling Bruce Banner something that he apparently conceals from his colleagues? Prophet is also presented as suitably enigmatic, running his own secret plans without telling the others what he’s up to. But Deadeye and Fiend remain wholly forgettable, and there’s nobody here to really root for. Harper Simmons, the supposed point of view character, gets nothing much to do in this story beyond provide largely generic narration.
The world doesn’t really hang together coherently either. On the one hand we’ve got a world run by demented supervillains in a dictatorship. But then we’ve also got scenes of Bruce Banner hanging around in his apartment with his collection of science textbooks. Leaving aside the question of where he’s getting them, it seems that life is in some sense going on for the ordinary folk, but I still have no real clue as to what their lives are supposed to be like. Maybe that’s why it feels like there’s no weight to this book and nothing really at stake. This might not matter so much if the book was pitching itself as large-scale craziness, but it’s chosen to opt for grim-n-gritty, and that makes it harder to avoid questions about whether the world makes sense. The art doesn’t really help; all the locations are thoroughly generic, and there’s not much sense of place here.
In theory, it’s not a bad idea for a book, and I can see moments of promise here, but on the whole it’s a ponderous affair that doesn’t really have any weight to it.
Avengers Academy #31 - An Avengers vs X-Men tie-in. Incidentally, you need to read it before this week’s Uncanny X-Men (which gives away the ending), though there’s no sign on either book to warn you of that.
Sebastian Shaw, it turns out, isn’t trying to kill anyone. He’s just trying to escape and take the X-Men’s students with him. So the storyline of his redemption remains alive, though with Generation Hope cancelled, it’s understandable that Christos Gage ends this story by shunting the character off into limbo for the time being, having him go his own way for now.
The cast of this story is unavoidably huge, since it involves the entire student bodies of both Utopia and the Academy. It’s to Gage’s immense credit that he makes it work. In part, it’s because he keeps the central story very simple and allows the characters to orbit around that. But it’s also because he’s able to keep all of these characters distinctive instead of letting them blur into faces in a crowd; this arc is probably the first time in years that Loa has had any personality at all, and she’s not even got a major role here. There’s also a nice emotional core to the story, with X-23 both siding with the mutants’ desire to escape, and deciding to stay with the Academy to further her friendship with Finesse, the one character emotionally blank enough to understand her. Enough characters switch sides to make the argument resolution effective, but a few are allowed to credibly stand their ground and insist on the Avengers’ point of view. And there’s good comedy with Hercules overselling his attempt to convincingly throw a fight. (“Aaagh! I am undone! O cruel fates, why have you cursed me so?”)
There’s an awful lot being juggled here, and pretty much without exception, Gage gets it to work. Tom Grummett is a fairly old-school superhero artist, but he’s a very good choice for a story like this; with this many characters, it really does help to have everyone clearly recognisable and on model, and to keep the storytelling as clear and straightforward as you can. Considering that it’s a peripheral crossover issue being shoehorned into an unrelated series, this has been a surprisingly good couple of issues.
Avengers vs X-Men #5 - Matt Fraction is the committee member delegated to script this issue, not that you’d really know. It’s basically a whole issue of everyone fighting on the moon. Hope asks Wolverine to kill her, but the X-Men won’t let him. Iron Man goes after the Phoenix itself in a giant suit of armour, though since its function is just to fire a gun at the Phoenix, it’s not altogether clear why a normal sized item wouldn’t have done. The gun in question is billed as a “disruptor”, though what exactly that means, or what Iron Man expected it to do, isn’t really elaborated on. Oh, and in a one-panel cameo, Professor X and Legion are apparently paddling on a beach in Ibiza while fully dressed.
And yet, and yet…
It does build well, pushing the idea that this is something that Scott is not just passionate, but desperate about. And so the closing twist – the disrupted Phoenix goes right past Hope and powers up the other five X-Men standing next to her instead – is a rather nice idea. Having spent so long pushing the idea that Cyclops is obsessive about letting Hope fulfil her role, there’s some genuine story potential in having him end up with the Phoenix himself. It’s a twist that makes sense, at least from the standpoint of the general structure of the story. From the standpoint of what actually happened, of course, it doesn’t make much sense at all, since the entire question of what the disruptor was meant to do is hand waved away. The question is how much that sort of thing bothers you. On a first read, the momentum kind of carries it through.
Where do we go from here? Well, presumably this is heading towards a story where Cyclops, having actually become Phoenix, can’t control it and has to be reined in by the Avengers and the remaining (vast majority of) X-Men. And in the long run, I can see that working. Cyclops is now theoretically in a position to reverse M-Day and save mutant kind, which has been his central preoccupation for the last few years of stories. If it all goes horribly wrong – and let’s face it, it’s hardly going to go smoothly – then there’s a lot of potential there.
Uncanny X-Men #13 - With Avengers vs X-Men, Marvel seem to be putting a lot less emphasis on the tie-in issues being self-contained than we’ve seen in recent years. Most of the book’s cast are off on the moon in Avengers vs X-Men #5 getting turned into Phoenixes, but while all that is acknowledged, it’s not the central point of this book. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Trying too hard to keep all the books self-contained results in a lot of grinding repetition as key plot points are repeated again, and again, and again. I’m not sure the events on the moon as shown in this story would make a lot of sense to people who weren’t reading the core series, but so be it.
What actually happens in this issue: the remaining X-Men (Magneto, Storm and Psylocke) find themselves stuck in a safe house, realising that they’ve missed the boat in terms of getting to the big fight, and wondering if there’s anything much they can do besides wait and hope for the best. In the context of the crossover as a whole, this works pretty well; the major characters need a bit of downtime like this, and it fits the bigger picture of what’s going on.
Meanwhile, following their escape over in Avengers Academy, the rest of Generation Hope return to Utopia to ask Unit for an explanation about the Phoenix. What they get is a surprisingly direct answer, assuming that you can believe Unit. According to him, this is the second time the Phoenix has shown up to break a world out of an M-Day-like spell. What was meant to happen was that Hope and the Five Lights would commune with the Phoenix (which, incidentally, presumably explains why there are precisely five X-Men up on the Moon) and save the world. Unit could have told Hope that, but, well, he already knows what would have happened then. This is much more interesting. It’s a lovely scene for Unit, casually explaining that he’s deliberately screwed the whole thing up in a spirit of scientific curiosity.
Billy Tan takes over on art with this issue, and it’s a big step up. Unlike Greg Land, who did the punch-kick tie-in issues, Tan’s better able to sell the conversational moments. The story here can’t really be separated from the broader crossover of which it forms part, but it does complement the main story very nicely.
X-Factor #237 - Meanwhile, wholly divorced from crossovers of any sort, X-Factor gives us an issue in which Lorna and Theresa take Rahne on a road trip to try to cheer her up after she had the mystical child a few months back. The big idea here is that Rahne’s been deeply depressed ever since, though that’s a storyline that’s somewhat been lost in the shuffle over recent issues. It might have been an idea to give it a bit more prominence before shoving it centre stage here.
Anyhow, they take Rahne to meet the Madrox duplicate who became an Anglican priest, and there follows a lengthy conversation about forgiveness and redemption. Madrox is here to put forward the argument that there is always scope for forgiveness and moving on; Rahne is there, as usual, to convince herself that she’s going to hell. It’s a very talky issue into which David tries to introduce some tension through the melodramatic deployment of a cat-o’-nine-tails, with Madrox pretending to think a bit of old-school flagellation will be just the ticket. Theoretically I guess the idea is to take Rahne’s guilt-trip to its logical conclusion and demonstrate its pointlessness, but I can’t help thinking it’s pitched a bit over the top for the scene; it’s used as an out-of-context flash forward at the start, which perhaps contributes to the sense that it’s forced drama.
Still, it’s a story that needed done in order to nudge Rahne’s arc along, and now we can move on to the obvious next step of trying to find the missing demon kid.