Posted on Sunday, June 17, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
This week: three more crossover issues, Brian Wood takes over X-Men, and X-Force mercifully continues to do its own thing.
AvX: Versus #3 - Two more fighty scenes from the tie-in book that does what it says on the tin. The question with a book like this is, since there’s essentially no plot and no character, does it either have spectacular art, or come up with some inventive way of doing the scene? Since this issue has art by Ed McGuinness and Terry Dodson, if you’re feeling charitable, you might well judge that the visuals just about carry it. Plainly, there’s not a great deal more to it than that.
Both of this issue’s stories are expanded from the Avengers/X-Men fight on the moon in Avengers vs X-Men #5. Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness are reunited to do Colossus versus the Thing, which is actually not bad for what it is – namely, a fight scene with above average art and a bit of effort put into adding a bit of imagination into the moves. What’s odd about it is that Loeb spends the entire story trying his damnedest to sell the current Colossus-as-Juggernaut plot, and the tragedy of Colossus’ condition. In a book that prides itself on its aggressive disdain for any sort of actual content, this seems very out of place. It’s like Loeb didn’t get the memo. Even so, the story is none the worse for trying to make some sort of point, even if it’s one that Uncanny X-Men has already been making on a regular basis.
The second half of the book is the rather arbitrary pairing of Black Widow and Magik, which is one of those fights that really ought to have only two possible outcomes. Either Black Widow wins by ambush, or Magik gets time to fight back and wins by massively superior firepower. Both of those are rather short, and so Chris Yost has to put a bit of work into making the story a little longer. There’s a vaguely aggravating gimmick of having the characters talk to one another in Cyrillic, since Russian-ness is the only thing they really have in common, but it’s a nicely choreographed fight, and it puts some work into selling Magik’s current status quo.
Given the limits of the format, this is actually one of the better issues.
Avengers #27 - Avengers is now lagging some way behind the rest of the crossover – this story takes place before Avengers vs X-Men #4 – but then, it’s got a plot of its own that it needs to resolve. This issue is clearly intended as a major turning point for the Protector, who has betrayed the Avengers by taking the captured Phoenix sample back to the Kree Empire instead. He thinks he’s serving the greater good because the Kree are meant to be protecting Earth (this was set up back in Dark Avengers Annual #1, if you’re wondering), but it turns out they’re really kind of more interested in holding on to the Phoenix for themselves and conquering the universe as per usual.
Brian Bendis’ reinvention of this character, who started life in Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy miniseries some years ago, remains little short of baffling. The original character is basically a cosmic vandal, which is a fun idea. Bendis has turned the character into a Kree patriot working as a thoroughly generic hero on Earth, and with this story, he finally ends up with the status quo that Bendis was presumably heading towards all along – an outcast from both Earth’s heroes and the Kree. That’s fine as far as it goes, but there are two major difficulties with the whole approach. First, none of it builds in any way on the original conception of the character. It would have been a better idea to create him as a new character from whole cloth and avoid wrenching an existing (and more distinctive) character into a role for which he is singularly unsuited. Second, to get him to this point, Bendis has had to cast him as a thoroughly generic hero for a period of years; the Protector is perhaps the most boring character design and power set I’ve seen in many a year.
We’ve now got the character to a point where I can just about see him carrying a story. But it should have been possible to get to this point in a fraction of a time and with a fraction of the tedium.
I still like Walt Simonson’s art on this arc – it really does change the tone of Bendis’ writing when you match him up with a more traditional and much broader artist who brings some energy to the page. Something to bear in mind when they’re selecting artists to work with Bendis in future, I think; he really does need a high-energy artist to balance out his weaknesses.
Uncanny X-Force #26 - Ah, it’s a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, setting out to take out X-Force. Not the most original of concepts, but as so often with this book, the details are done very well, which elevates it. We’ve seen the “debauched party” scene a hundred times before, but Phil Noto fills this one with weird features – people randomly dressed as pandas, and Fantomex wandering around in his mask and underwear without any explanation at all. More to the point, he also plays Psylocke in a much more low-key way when she shows up, and it’s a lovely contrast.
As for the core team fighting the Omega Clan – genetically engineered assassins who think they’re avenging the death of their father, but aren’t – I’m a little less sure. The basic idea of the Clan is very strong, but in practice we end up with another of those scenes where the villains do terrible things to the heroes’ bodies, ending in a gross-out sequence. The book’s done this schtick before, and it feels a bit repetitive (as well as being something that would be more at home in a Deadpool story). Perhaps the art ends up playing it for comedy more than the script really intended.
I’m also a bit confused about the Psylocke subplot. She’s sure piling on the angst for somebody who claimed only two issues ago that she had given up her capacity to feel sorrow. Maybe the idea is that she was lying all along, but at any rate it reads a little oddly.
Still, even though not everything works, there’s a lot of good stuff in here, and it remains a nice self-contained team book that works on its own terms without getting dragged into the wider X-Men continuity. The book’s had better issues, but there’s still more good than bad here.
X-Men #30 - Brian Wood takes over as the new writer, which is very welcome after his recent Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega miniseries. (He’s also writing Ultimate X-Men at the moment, which puts him in the odd position of writing two radically different versions of the franchise at the same time.)
As always with the lower-tier X-Men titles, the big question for a new writer to address is, what’s this book about, exactly? X-Men and Astonishing in particular have both struggled to define their function. Until now, X-Men has essentially been a team-up book, but that never really felt like a premise that justified a series. Wood appears to have dumped that idea entirely, in favour of making this a book about the Security Team squad – except the roster he’s chosen consists mainly of characters from other titles. We’ve got Storm, Colossus, Psylocke, Domino and Pixie, and only the latter two are really unique to this book. That said, the book does get one point across: this is Storm’s squad, and she is not necessarily on the same page as Cyclops.
This may not be the best time to launch a storyline based on that premise. Avengers vs X-Men is plainly about to tear up the status quo, and so tensions with Cyclops in his role as leader of Utopia feel like something that surely can’t be a live issue for very much longer, regardless of what happens in this title. In fact, I can’t help wondering whether this might be a case of Wood simply having to play for time in his first storyline because, even though he doesn’t have to participate in Avengers vs X-Men, he can’t set up a permanent status quo until the crossover is out of the way.
The story here involves some bad guys discovering ancient mutant DNA and using it genetically engineer… well, monsters, I guess. Storm’s team get to fight the monsters and investigate the bad guys, but for some reason Storm’s also trying to keep the details secret from Cyclops. That’s pretty much the plot of the first issue, but nonetheless it’s paced nicely to fill the book. There’s a decent set-up of the Security Team’s status, there are a well-executed action set-pieces, and there’s a good little mystery about what Storm’s up to. It’s also nice to see Storm being used as a leader again, since it’s a role that fits her well.
The artists are David and Alvaro Lopez, who have been doing wonderful work lately, and keep up their high standard here. It’s lovely clean work, beautifully expressive and with nice subtle use of layout. If I were Marvel, I’d be using them on a higher-profile book than this, but as a reader, I’m delighted to see them here.
Colossus is used rather strangely here; there’s no sign of the Juggernaut storyline that’s dominated his appearances in other books, to the point where you have to wonder whether Wood is actually aware that that storyline is going on. (The art also suggests at times that he was drawn with his hair and the colourist has fixed it.) It’s not an outright contradiction, but there’s certainly something rather jarring in his portrayal here. Hopefully that’ll get ironed out as the book goes on – either that, or the timeline will become clearer in due course, though again, if this takes place after Colossus stops being the Juggernaut, that’s dreadful scheduling.
Overall, it’s a strong first issue. While the world obviously doesn’t need so many X-Men comics, it’s hard to complain too much when the quality on the lower-tier books is kept at this level.
X-Men: Legacy #268 - Ooh, red skies time! And another very strange piece of scheduling.
This is part of the Avengers vs X-Men crossover. But in practice it just uses that as the set-up for a Frenzy solo story that fleshes out her origin. Even so, the story set-up gives away what the Phoenix X-Men are going to do with the Phoenix power. They’re going to be the Authority. Okay, you probably figured that out for yourself – but it’s still a bit weird to see a major plot point making its first appearance in an issue of X-Men: Legacy that doesn’t even seem that interested in the crossover.
The story sees Frenzy being sent in to help keep an eye on things in Generic African Country #9562 after Cyclops has single-handedly stopped the local civil war. Of course, that still leaves plenty of general chaos around, and so Frenzy ends up protecting local girls from warlords. In amongst this we get flashbacks to her own relationship with her unappreciative father (who she eventually killed with one punch when her powers emerged while fighting back), and we get her rather awkward attempts to be some sort of mentor to the girl she rescues.
The ideas are familiar, but they’re well handled; Christos Gage has a nice handle on Frenzy as a character who’s still trying to remake herself into a heroic role that doesn’t come naturally to her, and who doesn’t always realise when she herself is sliding back into the same cycle of violence she thinks she’s punishing. When the Stepford Cuckoos propose simply erasing everyone’s memories of their past traumas, it’s no surprise that Frenzy chooses the traditional superhero option of rejecting the idea (except for the people who really can’t cope), but the idea gets a bit more dramatic weight given that she’s weighing up the importance of identity against that cycle of violence. Frenzy has a load of undeveloped and contradictory moral opinions, but that makes her an interesting character, and that’s why putting her in one of these old standard moral dilemmas works in a way that wouldn’t for most of the cast.