Posted on Sunday, September 9, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
It’s a podcast weekend, so if you haven’t checked out the episode yet, it’s just one post down from here. (Actually, it’s one post down from here whether you’ve checked it out or not.) This week, we review Steed & Mrs Peel, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolts, and Phantom Stranger – which really is just as bad as we say it is.
Back with the X-books, it’s a quiet week – but that does give me the opportunity to catch up on the last handful of books that came out while I was on holiday! Um, because the next issues are now out…
Age of Apocalypse #6-7 – I sat down to write this with a vague memory that I had not yet reviewed issue #6. Then I tried to remember what had actually happened in issue #6. And I couldn’t.
That rather suggests that this book still isn’t really connecting with me. Actually, it’s been improving as it’s gone along. The individual personalities are starting to become more distinct. And I’m starting to get the impression that the book’s problems stem in part from a tone clash between script and art. Faced with a series about a small group of freedom fighters in a world run by evil mutants, the art tends to go for grim and gritty. But David Lapham’s script doesn’t seem to be taking things quite that seriously; the actual events of the story are rather more over the top than the look of the book might suggest.
That said, I remain a bit confused by how this world is supposed to work – perhaps because of that tone clash. The art shows a world which looks like a complete wreck, yet the script seems to have society kind of functioning and people going to work. There’s a mobile phone network. There appear to be theatres. The elements don’t fit together properly.
Issue #6 introduces Monet St Croix into the story; she’s one of the dead characters who were being revived in earlier issues, but Prophet made sure that she didn’t get brainwashed. The result is that there’s now a very powerful mutant wandering around and setting herself up as some sort of political figure. Monet isn’t exactly fond of the ordinary humans, but she does regard the regime as way over the line. Her rather garbled philosophy is that the mutants are still living in a hellish world even after winning their war because they haven’t atoned properly for the blood on their hands. Supposedly, she’s going to show them the way to redemption and the better life they were promised.
This is a reasonably interesting idea – as is the idea that Wolverine sees her as a good thing because powerful mutants are precisely what he thinks the Celestials have charged him to breed – but it runs up against the problem that the series hasn’t really established any reason why the attitude of the general public matters, or even what they think about Wolverine’s regime to start with. For this story to work, the public have to be a factor, and I don’t feel I have much sense of whose side they’re on to start with. Still, it seems to be a long-term storyline; perhaps it’ll become clearer in time.
This issue also finally makes a series issue to distinguish Fiend from Deadeye. While all the X-Terminated human members are inversions of anti-mutant villains, most of them seem to be genuine inversions. Fiend is the one who really does hate mutants whether or not they’re in league with the authorities, and this is the issue that tries to establish that point. It does at least finally put some daylight between her and Deadeye, and explain why the book needs both characters, but I can’t say it really points in a particularly interesting direction.
Issue #7 starts a new story, which sees the group hunting for Reed Richards’ old notebooks, in the hope that they might contain something useful about the Celestials (and thus a way of depowering Wolverine). It’s a sensible enough macguffin, and it also gives the cast a reason to leave the USA and visit some parts of the world that aren’t so emphatically under the thumb of Wolverine’s regime. Britain, for example, doesn’t seem to be in such a horrific state – not compared to the ruined cities the artists have been rendering for America, at any rate.
This chapter is mainly setting up the mystery of what’s going on in Latveria (where the macguffin is), and reintroducing the AoA version of Dr Doom. It also gives a pretty substantial role to Emma Frost, which I’ll discuss further when we get to later issues. Suffice to say that Lapham understandably doesn’t see her as a natural hero, so much as somebody who picks sides depending on circumstances. It’s a decent enough intro chapter, but the supposedly moody colouring really is overplayed. The story has a prison camp being guarded by a dinosaur, for heaven’s sake. Is “bleak” really the tone to be hitting so emphatically in the visuals?
First X-Men #2 – Two issues down, and I remain mystified as to why somebody thought we needed a miniseries in which Wolverine and a catastrophically out of character Sabretooth assemble a team of mutants to protect mutants before the X-Men were founded. It doesn’t feel like hidden history, it just feels like a very awkward insert that will probably never be mentioned again. And while you can make a case that there must have been a period when Sabretooth was at least functional as a teammate, and that we haven’t seen much of him during that time, his role in this story still feels hopelessly forced.
This story continues a “gathering the team” format, as the group picks up a bloke called Yeti, and the guy who blew up in issue #1. Yeti seems to have a Native American version of Colossus’s original “gentle giant” role – lots of power, no real interest in learning to fight – and that’s a potentially workable role for a team book character. The other kid (Anthony) is more generic – he spouts explanations of the plot and occasionally says things designed to position him as the enthusiastic young one, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on beneath the surface.
We also get the group trying to recruit Magneto, who isn’t interested either. Mind you, Adams does at least give us a decently constructed action sequence with the guy. Perhaps you can only get away with this by going back to the early days of the character, but the book wisely avoids the “magnetism can do literally anything” approach that has applied for years, and confines itself strictly to Magneto making clever use of magnetism. This is something that ought to be elementary, but like so many characters, his powers have been allowed to drift wildly from a relatively well defined original concept. It’s nice to see a bit of focus on the actual gimmick, not to mention an action scene in which the moves and the use of props has been thought out in some way.
That aside, however, this remains a series that has not made a particularly compelling case for its own existence.
X-Factor #241-243 – These issues are billed as the first three chapters of “Breaking Point”, but they’re actually self-contained stories, each focussing on a different team member. The unifying theme is the group falling apart.
Issue #241 returns to the subplot of Guido having been brought back to life without a soul. Quite what that actually means in practice remains rather vague, but in this case, that appears to be deliberate; Peter David has set up the idea that there’s something seriously wrong with Guido, but that nobody’s entirely sure how, or quite what it means. The backdrop is a fight against the three villains that Madrox picked up on his reality-jumping story a few months back – and since their arrival in the mainstream universe appeared to be the main point of that story, it’s a bit disconcerting to see them brushed aside as quickly as this, as if David had decided that he didn’t really want to follow through on that storyline after all. (They’re not completely gone from the story, but it does seem like a change of direction from what the earlier issues had been setting up.)
The main point, though, is that when the bad guys try the usual trick of threatening an innocent bystander, Guido is completely unfazed. ”Don’t know her, don’t care,” he says. It’s not that Guido is actively trying to harm anyone, or even that he won’t help do his job with the team, but this is the point where it becomes clear to everyone that he simply no longer cares about some of the things he really ought to. Monet’s reaction to that drives him out of the group – and David uses her well there, not just because of Guido’s established interest in her, but because Monet is normally so committed to her cynical persona that when she breaks the character and reacts emotionally, it means something. Still, one rather assumes that without an established role to perform, Guido’s only going to get worse.
Rahne’s storyline dominates issue #242, as she goes hunting for her missing mystical child. Meanwhile, Darwin is also after him, convinced that the kid is “the harbinger of the end” and has to die. By this point, Darwin seems to have little in common with the original Ed Brubaker creation, though that character was bland enough that his retooling is no loss. His role here as the implacable hunter who appears to have a screw loose positions him in similar territory to the most recent take on Bishop from the last Cable series, but it seems to work rather better – perhaps because other characters react to it more appropriately. The upshot here is that Rahne recovers the kid and leaves the team to be with him, though given the length of build this has had, I’m rather hoping that this is just a temporary move – if she’s actually being written out here, it’s terribly abrupt.
Finally, issue #243 digs into the murky and hitherto largely avoided waters of Polaris’s back story. For those who haven’t really followed this, Lorna was introduced back in the late 1960s as Magneto’s long lost daughter who had been adopted as a child. But the very same story promptly established that this was simply a hoax designed to get her on board with his plans, and that they had no connection whatsoever. Pretty much nothing more was done with Lorna’s back story for years (unless you count a swiftly dropped subplot from the 1980s which purported to establish her as the sister of an unrelated villain, Zaladane). And then, for some unfathomable reason, Chuck Austen decided to reassert that she was Magneto’s daughter after all. Despite nobody telling any stories that suggested that there was the slightest rationale to this change, it does appear to have stuck.
In this story, Lorna gets Longshot to use his powers to find out exactly what caused the plane crash that killed her “real” parents (or rather, the real mother and her husband). Apparently Lorna blames Magneto, though I don’t recall any prior mention of that. Regardless, after a couple of attempts by characters to hold back the truth, the upshot turns out to be that toddler Lorna herself destroyed the plane with her powers, and that Magneto’s only involvement was to try and wipe her memory of it.
I’m not entirely sold on this idea. One of the fake-outs is a deliberately melodramatic scene of Magneto confronting his ex-lover, but if we’re being honest, it’s not like the actual story is much less melodramatic – though it does lead to a quieter and more ambivalent ending. That said, Lorna is one of those characters who needs a serious jolt to make her interesting again; for some time now, she’s essentially been the nice one who stands next to Alex, and when a character falls into that kind of rut, sometimes a story like this can help to define them more sharply again. We’ll see how it goes.