Posted on Monday, July 23, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
It’s the heaviest week for X-books in quite some time – so since I didn’t get the books until today, this is going to be something of a rush job…
Avengers Academy #33 – The only Avengers vs X-Men tie-in from the Avengers’ half of the franchise qualifies for that title by virtue of having the Phoenix-powered Emma Frost show up at the Academy to destroy Juston Seyfert’s Sentinel. But it’s not fundamentally her story, and besides, it would remain basically the same plot even if all the Phoenix elements were removed.
Emma wants to destroy the Sentinel as part of the X-Men’s overall demolition of anti-mutant munitions. She doesn’t get why it’s a big deal, since it’s just another Sentinel. We’re presumably meant to be fairly early on in the Phoenix Five part of the crossover, as Emma’s personality is pretty much normal here. She thinks she’s being mercifully indulgent by just dismantling the thing and wiping its personality. And all that makes sense.
Principally, it’s Juston’s story, and a nice pay-off for the “boy and his robot” set-up. Christos Gage writes the Sentinel rather well, for the effect he’s after – it doesn’t display any personality in the normal sense of the word, but it does just enough on its own initiative to make the point that it’s not simply running on programming. For the rest of the regular cast, the whole thing is also used as a metaphor to play up the idea of whether the Sentinel is beyond redemption simply because it was originally constructed as a killer and has no apparent emotions, both of which are naturally points of interest to X-23 and Finesse. The crossover elements of this story are pretty minimal, but for the regular cast it’s a lovely little issue.
Tim Green’s art is a bit patchy – he gets the key emotional beats well, but he’s also got a tendency to draw characters standing around in overly dramatic poses, something which works particularly badly on the cliffhanger. And that cliffhanger – in which Hank and Tigra suddenly announce out of the blue that they’re shutting the school for the students’ own safety – comes completely out of the blue, as if a few pages of set-up for the next issue simply had to be bolted on to the end of this story. These flaws aside, though, it’s a good issue.
Avengers vs X-Men #8 – Namor attacks Wakanda, the Avengers fight him, and Namor actually gets beaten. This turns out to mean that his Phoenix power just gets redistributed to the others. Professor X finally expresses some concern about the way things are going. And the Avengers escape to K’un-Lun so that they can appear in those issues of New Avengers that already came out a while back. Yup, that’s basically it.
It’s largely an action issue, which makes it a little surprising that it got assigned to Brian Bendis, not exactly known for writing that sort of material. Mind you, it’s not that bad; for the most part, Bendis seems happy to sit back and just let Andy Kubert get on with the big fight scene, rather than trying to turn it into a talk fest.
That said, there are some really odd storytelling choices in here – a silent panel in mid-fight followed by a random cutaway for a one-page subplot is just odd. And Namor’s stand-off against Wanda jumps straight into a shot of both having collapsed, with a beat missing somewhere. Still, it delivers some fighting and advances the plot a bit, which fulfils the brief. Not much else to be said about it, really.
New Mutants #46 – The final part of “Fear the Future”, although since the next issue begins “Fight the Future”, I’m assuming a lot of this is set-up for what will turn out to be the book’s final arc. It’s a time travel story, and the idea is that Cannonball and Karma have come back from the future to try to alter history and stop Cypher taking control of everything and generally becoming a bad guy. Understandably, our version of Cypher is quite surprised to hear about this.
The “team member turns out to go mad in the future” schtick isn’t new, and the whole thing ends in a rather anticlimactic way when the two time-travellers pretty much literally press the cosmic reset button- though at least the New Mutants remember what happened so that it still advances the story. I do like the idea behind future Cypher, which takes his powers to the logical extreme and has him conclude that, since he has superhuman levels of understanding, therefore he knows best what to do and how to do it. And Leandro Fernandez delivers a few striking visuals, admittedly interspersed with more standard fighting. But it’s not an especially strong story beyond that, and even though I’m much less of a continuity purist than I used to be, I’m slightly irked by a plot in which everyone accepts without question rules about time travel that have never applied before in the Marvel Universe.
Uncanny X-Men #16 – It’s a little odd that Uncanny X-Men finds itself doing stories in the margins of the crossover instead of participating in the core story, but then frankly, we’re probably getting better material this way. The Phoenix Five are going after Mr Sinister, and haven’t really thought through the fact that he’s likely to be waiting for them. So this issue sees the group charging boldly into battle against Sinister’s bizarre array of cloned weapons, and as you’d expect, that doesn’t go entirely according to plan. Which leave the rest of the book’s regular cast to try and bail out their overclocked colleagues next issue.
It’s pretty much an action issue of the Phoenix Five versus Sinister’s forces, but there’s enough invention in Sinister’s increasingly bizarre plans to keep it interesting. You could – and probably should – query why Cyclops’ defeat at the end of this issue doesn’t have the same consequences as Namor’s defeat in Avengers vs X-Men this very same week; I’d guess that Wanda’s involvement is meant to have something to do with it, but I’d still say that ought to be explicit. (Don’t the X-Men in Avengers vs X-Men remember that this story has already happened to them?) As for the art, I’m not sure this is Daniel Acuna’s best work – or maybe it’s just that comedy moments aren’t his best area – but it’s still good strong stuff on the whole.
Wolverine #309 – Continuing Marvel’s bold and innovative approach to numeracy, this issue came out after issue #310. Even the “next issue” box plugs issue #311. This is particularly odd because it’s a fill-in issue by Ivan Brandon, Rafael Albuquerque and Jason Latour, which you would have thought would be relatively easy to schedule. Since it clocks in at 36 pages, I can’t help wondering whether it’s a Wolverine one-shot that’s been reassigned to the regular title following Marvel’s recent policy shifts.
Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess, and the first reading just left me confused and lost. There’s an astronomical amount of plot in this single-issue fill-in story, even at 36 pages, as I shall now illustrate by synopsising the book.
So… it starts with Wolverine in a bar when Elixir, of all people, shows up to try and strike up a conversation with him. Elixir’s played here as a polite kid in his mid-teens, which doesn’t quite feel right to start with. We get several pages of Wolverine saying he’s not a nice guy before he dumps Elixir and wanders off after a redhead femme fatale, whom he goes home with, only for her to reveal that she knows he’s Wolverine, and him to reveal that he knows she’s… well, he doesn’t really say, but we eventually find out that she’s a depowered mutant still partially stuck in mutant form. There’s something she wants him to sort out. Alright then.
Then we get an odd little scene of Cyclops trying to train Elixir (and inexplicably asking him to shoot at target spheres even though he has no powers of that sort), and Wolverine blowing off some appointment or other in order to carry out the mystery redhead’s request. Elixir insists on tagging along. This scene appears to place the story before Schism, even though the opening scene had dialogue about “back when we were all one team”. God knows. Anyhow, Elixir wants to come along because he wants to understand Wolverine for some reason, and thinks this will somehow help.
Wolverine and Elixir ride out into the desert, following the mystery redhead’s directions, and find (as expected) a group of depowered but still deformed ex-Morlocks calling themselves the Dregs. A bloody fight ensues, with Wolverine attacking first, for no clearly discernible reason. (Presumably they’re supposed to be obviously threatening, but there’s nothing in the story to actually indicate this.) Elixir, not unreasonably, suggests that they leave. The fight continues until Elixir steps in and calmly dispatches the last remaining baddie. They go on and find more Dregs, who are slowly dying and say that “only the Russian tries to make us whole again.”
Elixir tries to heal one of the Dregs but for some reason it doesn’t work and makes him sick. As a healer, Elixir still wants to stay and help, which kind of makes sense. Wolverine points out that most depowered mutants didn’t become sick as a result, and that something else must be to blame. So they wander further into the complex and find “the Russian”, who turns out to be Meltdown from the Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown miniseries that came out way back in 1988. Wolverine helpfully points out that Meltdown is “a nuclear reactor” who once fought him and Havok, but gives no other real indication of who this guy is or what he might want.
We then get a flashback explaining how Meltdown returned from his death at the end of the aforementioned miniseries (which ended with him being vaporised in the Chernobyl meltdown, though the issue doesn’t actually explain that, and a flashback panel showing how he died is only really intelligible if you already know what happened). Meltdown says that he woke up in the desert in Siberia and discovered that he now had the power to keep himself alive by absorbing the life energy from animals and so forth. He travelled to America, found the Dregs, and has evidently been feeding off them ever since.
The redhead woman – Eva – then shows up to deliver a three-page expository monologue in which she confirms all this; explains about depowered mutants retaining their inhuman appearances, which is all stuff she should logically have told Wolverine several scenes ago; explains that Meltdown has been “us[ing] his radioactivity to kickstart mutation like setting their cells on fire so he could drain them at their brightest”; and explains that she has helped string the Dregs along, but in fact all Meltdown is doing is making them steadily sicker, while passing it off as the effects of power loss. Eva says that she has brought Wolverine there to end it (and again, if she was willing to explain all that to him as soon as he showed up, why didn’t she explain it before he left, other than to drag out the reveal?).
Meltdown apparently then decides that the game is up and that he should drain the remaining life energy from the Dregs in order to power himself up to fight Wolverine again. But Elixir – remember him? – says that Meltdown is an evil parasite, and now he understands Wolverine’s urge to kill people. Elixir apparently wants to kill Meltdown, despite Wolverine’s warning that his nuclear powers make that very dangerous. Wolverine suggests that Elixir’s mind has been affected by the sickness he picked up when he tried to cure the Dregs. Eva tries to make a break for it and Elixir stops her. Meltdown applauds Elixir as some sort of powerful alpha mutant, but Elixir then (somehow) channels the… uh, the badness he picked up from the Dregs, I suppose… into Meltdown… which… I think makes him self-destruct. It’s not very clear. Elixir says he doesn’t want to be a killer again, Eva half-heartedly asks to die rather than live with what she’s done, and Wolverine reminds us that he wakes up every day trying to atone for things he’s done in the past. The end.
You can’t deny that Ivan Brandon’s trying to cram a lot of material into this issue, but none of it really gets a chance to properly develop. As I’ve pointed out, the plot is rather obscured by delaying Eva’s crucial (and lengthy) exposition until the final act even though she apparently knows it all at the start and has no motivation to withhold any of it from Wolverine. Meltdown is a one-dimensional villain, and on the face of it, the story gains nothing beyond complication by using him instead of just creating a new character. And Elixir’s whole motivation makes little sense; he says he wants to understand Wolverine’s darker side, but the whole reason why these characters have any connection in the first place (as the story acknowledges) is that they were in the black ops version of X-Force, which did similarly nasty things on a daily basis. I don’t buy Elixir’s naivety in this story, nor do I buy anything that happens in the issue as something that he would find revelatory.
Still, it’s more a case of overambition than anything else, and some of the art is lovely; Latour in particular makes great use of colour in the fight with Meltdown. But it’s seriously flawed, and can’t really be recommended beyond the completists.
X-Factor #240 – It’s a Layla Miller issue, and it’s called “Run Layla Run”. And if you can’t figure out what that means, you evidently haven’t seen Run Lola Run. (Which you should. It’s very good.)
The big idea here is that, after breaking from what she knows is “meant” to happen, Layla is now having visions of multiple possible timelines at crucial moments, something that the story represents with divergent versions of the same scenes, allowing minor differences of timing to have different outcomes. It’s Run Lola Run, in other words, though obviously it doesn’t get to develop the idea at such length, and the final pay-off is decidedly corny. Still, in the wider context of the series, the ideas here about the direction of Layla’s character are interesting enough to give regular readers something to chew on.
X-Men #32 – With neither a crossover nor a gay wedding to attract attention, X-Men ploughs on with its story about ancient mutant DNA. This is the breather issue where instead of fighting mysterious ancient mutant clones, the X-Men get to discuss what to do about the whole thing, and whether they agree with Storm’s policy of keeping it from Cyclops. That leads into a discussion about what she wants her team to actually achieve, which seems like it’s a way of trying to give this book its own purpose and agenda – in theory, a very good idea, with Storm arguing for a broader agenda than Cyclops’ obsession about defending the handful of people left on Utopia.
Unfortunately, it’s not the best time to be telling this story, since Avengers vs X-Men appears to have torn down that status quo anyway, leaving the characters in this book to argue about something which has every appearance of being academic. And there are other problems here too. I still don’t get why the discover of old mutant DNA is meant to be of such symbolic importance. It turns out to be not that old after all – medieval rather than truly ancient – and the X-Men already knows there were mutants around before then. And both Colossus and Magik seem out of character – Colossus because the Juggernaut plotline is ignored, Magik because she’s being way too empathetic and cuddly.
Still, if you’re prepared to look past those problems of intra-X-book synching and take the story on its own terms, it’s got enough to recommend it – and David Lopez’s art continues to look beautiful.