Posted on Sunday, July 8, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Two crossover issues this week, plus the comic you’ve all been waiting for – Jeph Loeb returns to Wolverine! May God have mercy on our souls.
Age of Apocalypse #5 – First up, though, Age of Apocalypse shifts gear by giving us what looks to be a single-issue story. The focus here is on the AoA version of Quentin Quire, who turns out to be a wildcard in that universe. He’s still a powerful telepath, but without anyone to teach him, it’s driven him a bit mad. The result is a character who mainly talks gibberish but, in an echo of the original’s iconoclastic pretensions, is steadily building a street-level following of other psychics who fall under his influence.
Alongside that, the story also gives Jean Grey something to do for the first time, as Prophet takes her out to try and talk Quentin into helping the resistance – on the perfectly reasonable logic that as an ex-telepath, she might be able to help him get a grip.
For my money, this is the book’s strongest issue by quite some way. It keeps the focus on those characters who actually have a personality; the more generic cast members are still around, but since we’re not asked to care much about them this issue, it’s not a problem. Fill-in artist Davide Gianfelice is also a big improvement; where regular artist Roberto De La Torre tends to produce pages that are self-consciously gritty but ponderous and lifeless, Gianfelice’s work here is more reminiscent of Rick Leonardi, and his characters have infinitely greater charisma. It’s really quite striking how much better this book is when the characters display some proper emotion; the regular art may look on the surface like it’s got the serious tone the book needs, but in fact it’s just suffocating the stories.
Avengers vs X-Men #7 – The X-Men set about hunting down the Avengers. As has become drearily familiar with this series, once again the book skims obliviously over what ought to be a major plot point, as the Scarlet Witch is apparently just with the Avengers again, because she just is.
Let’s be clear about this, since editor Tom Brevoort’s standard response to these sort of criticisms is to miss the point. The problem is not that this doesn’t make sense. It does make sense, in that you can fill in the gaps without too much difficulty. But it’s failing to deliver the pay-off of a long-running storyline. It’s like doing a romantic comedy that skips over the bit where the couple get together, just because we all know it’s going to happen. It doesn’t work. It’s a creative choice that’s just plain wrong.
Like other committee-written crossovers, there are bits in here that make you wonder how well any of this has been co-ordinated. Matt Fraction, scripting this issue, may well believe that somebody else was doing the big scene where Wanda rejoined the team. It’s abundantly clear that neither he nor his editor has any clue about the way Hope was set up for this story. The established reason for the Avengers to want Hope is that she has some kind of connection with the Phoenix Force. But this story says that her value is that she’s an expert on the topic. ”I trained my entire life in anticipation of possessing the Phoenix,” she says.
No she didn’t. As Fraction and Brevoort would know if they’d actually read Uncanny X-Men, the X-Men didn’t tell Hope about the Phoenix Force, and she only found out about it from Sinister – a plot point that is reiterated in this week’s issue of Uncanny. Her desire to find out about the Phoenix was the whole bloody point of the storyline where she gets suckered in by Unit, who was offering her the answers.
This isn’t Fraction’s fault. It’s the editors’ job to keep him straight on these things, and he’s clearly trying to find something for Hope to do in this story. In fact, there are a couple of good ideas in this story – the Avengers deploying the Scarlet Witch as the one trick they’ve got that still freaks out the Phoenix Five, and Cyclops starting to lose the respect of his cohorts who just want to smash things up. One thing Fraction does handle well is the way the Phoenix Five are slowly losing their grip on reality, even in their dealings with one another. The issue also has excellent art from Olivier Coipel, who does some lovely action sequences.
But there are a lot of big problems with this series – the largely-absent public apparently siding with the X-Men for no adequately explained reason other than cheap story convenience, glaring continuity errors, plot points skimmed over. It’s an advertisement for why writing by committee is a bad idea.
Uncanny X-Men #15 – Meanwhile, over in tie-in territory, Kieron Gillen and Daniel Acuna are doing a rather better job of making things make sense. Wondering whether anyone was going to address the fact that Colossus is meant to be the Juggernaut? Well, this issue at least gives it a shot. Colossus tries to persuade Cyttorak to let him go, on the grounds that he’s taken on a second master just like Cain Marko did. Cyttorak says no, because the Phoenix is going to cause loads of lovely destruction, and besides, heroes have far more fights than villains do, which is also good for Cyttorak. It’s not a bulletproof explanation – wasn’t Cain pretty destructive during Fear Itself? – but it’s a solid attempt to acknowledge the point and address it.
The main business of the story sees the Phoenix Five decide that they need to take down Sinister, since he was the one who told Hope about Phoenix, and therefore he must have some sort of interest in the topic. Naturally, the rest of the team find themselves pretty much surplus to requirements and are just left standing around to shrug their shoulders. I like the way the book has set up this story so that it has material for its tie-in stories without having to link too closely to the main story. And I also like the way the book manages to build Sinister is a serious threat to the team even though they’ve got the Phoenix Force on their side. It’s simply a matter of making them look just a little bit complacent and out of touch, and making Sinister look as if he’s thought this all through very carefully. Sinister comes across as though he’s not at all confident he’s going to win this one, but he does have a plan and it’s likely to be a better one than anything the X-Men could be bothered coming up with in their current condition.
A good issue which uses the crossover storyline to springboard a story of its own.
Wolverine #310 – And before you ask, no, issue #309 hasn’t come out yet. It’s coming out in two issues time, and it’s a fill-in issue. Why isn’t it shipping in order? Who the hell knows?
Anyway, this is the long awaited (but not long enough) return of Jeph Loeb and Simone Bianchi to do a sequel to their arc from a few years back, which was borderline gibberish and would never have been allowed out the door if it hadn’t had Loeb’s name attached to it.
Mercifully, this is better. It’s at least intelligible. By the standards of Loeb’s work in recent years, this counts as a return to form.
The story opens with the same Wolverine/Cloak sequence that already appeared in issue #300, which apparently was a trailer. Wolverine rescues Cloak from the top of the Empire State Building and Cloak reveals that he was left there by Sabretooth, who has captured Dagger. Cue the bit when they fall from the building, and Cloak saves them by teleporting away, which begs the question of why he didn’t just do that in the first place instead of waiting for Wolverine to climb the Empire State Building to rescue him. Such subtleties are not for the likes of Jeph Loeb.
But Wolverine then does something reasonably logical, which is to dig up Sabretooth’s body and make sure it’s still there. And it is. There also turns out to be a reason why Cloak and Dagger are in this story – Loeb wants to use Romulus, and the last time we saw Romulus, he’d been dumped into Cloak’s pocket dimension. For whatever reason, Sabretooth has forced Cloak to release him. Wolverine then goes to fight Romulus, who is holding Dagger prisoner. Since she’s apparently awake and able to use her powers, of course, you might have thought she’d just zap him and win the fight without much difficulty. But Dagger is here to be a damsel in distress – in fairness, one Loeb’s only using in the first place because he needs to get Romulus back into circulation – and so for the purposes of this story she and Cloak are ineffectual losers to be shoved aside once they’ve served their purpose. And in fairness to Loeb, this is often the lot of the guest star who no longer has his own book.
What follows is a fight scene with Romulus that ends with a mystery woman showing up to run the bad guy through with a sword, then tell Wolverine to go the Weapon X Facility before he passes out. Romulus will presumably be back later. Wolverine then heads to the Facility, and what do you know, it’s clone time. So that’s how Sabretooth’s back, apparently. The same way Marauders always come back from the dead. Not an enormous shock.
Loeb’s previous arc, which introduced Romulus, seemed to have him in mind as some sort of immortal alpha male wolf-creature. Daniel Way’s take on the character in Wolverine: Origins ignored that entirely in favour of making him a shadowy manipulator. Since Loeb has Romulus fighting Wolverine in chapter one, it seems fair to say he’s got no interest in Way’s approach. In theory I ought to disapprove of that, but since I found Wolverine: Origins‘s conspiracy storyline excruciatingly dull, I can’t say it honestly bothers me. A bigger problem is that the story has no particularly clear reason for why we should be caring about Romulus, beyond the fact that we’re told he matters. And given that Sabretooth’s been back in circulation for a while now, are the plot mechanics that bring him back really anything more than a continuity footnote at this stage? An explanation is welcome, sure, but it’s not going to carry a story on its own.
Still, it’s better than I’d braced myself for. Bianchi’s art is often beautiful, and he’s shaken off his earlier tendency to do ornate layouts at the expense of storytelling. The story is uninspired but vaguely coherent. It’s mediocre, but given Loeb’s track record, it could have been a hell of a lot worse than that. Only completists need apply, and there’s certainly nothing here to suggest that Loeb is in any danger of producing comics you’d actually want to read any time soon, but it’s nowhere close to the atrocity of his last effort.
X-Factor #239 – Havok and Banshee go to upstate New York where a little girl has conjured up an actual banshee. It’s not one the book’s stronger stories, and rather feels like a case of setting up villains for use later. The evil banshee is eventually defeated in rather straightforward fashion, and the main point seems to be to set up her sidekick Jezebel as a mystical villain of mixed allegiance who will presumably crop up in future stories – most likely those involving Rahne’s search for her own mystical child. But as a story in its own right, there’s not a tremendous amount going on here. And while Paul Davidson’s art is clear and serviceable, it’s also a little bit stiff and undramatic at times. There’s a nice little subplot with Guido trying to romance Monet, but otherwise it’s a middling issue.