Posted on Sunday, September 30, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
The X-office continues to lurch back and forth between weeks of putting out virtually nothing, and weeks of putting out loads of X-Men titles all at once. I’m sure there must be some sort of thought process behind this approach, but I’d take rather more convincing that it’s a good one.
Anyway, Avengers vs X-Men may not technically be over, but it might as well be given that it doesn’t crop up in any of this week’s books. You’ll realise, of course, that that leaves at least a couple of these titles in the odd position of doing stories that take place after the crossover conclude but which require to tiptoe around actually revealing the ending. For the most part they manage that by finding something else to focus on, but again, it’s an odd scheduling choice.
Astonishing X-Men #54 – Wow, this storyline is going on for ever and a day, isn’t it? We’ve been at this for, what, six issues now, and we’ve finally reached the stage of identifying the villain’s plan and giving some vague outline of her motivations. I realise we’ve had a diversion in there to do the wedding, but even so, this is moving at a snail’s pace.
Susan Hatchi, it turns out, seems to have been conceived as a new arch-enemy for Karma. I suppose I can see some logic in that. Karma was created back in 1980, and given an origin story bound up with the Vietnam War, which at that point was at least within relatively recent memory. Hitherto, her arch-enemy has been her uncle Nguyen, whose back story is similarly dated, and who was repositioned as a more generic crimelord quite some time ago. So if Liu is trying to freshen the character up by giving her some defining relationships that are a bit more modern, that might make sense.
But Hatchi remains a singularly uninteresting villain. She’s an off-the-shelf evil businesswoman who is notionally interested in profit but in practice just does evil things because she’s evil. In all fairness, Liu seems to be deliberately giving the character that sadistic streak, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I’ve yet to see anything in this character beyond the generic. A family connection with Karma is not enough to make somebody interesting.
There are good bits in this issue – there’s a strong opening few pages of the team sheltering under Cecilia’s force field beneath tons of rubble, and that’s very well done. The art is pretty strong throughout, and there’s some decent dialogue as the cast argue about whether to play along with Hatchi’s threats. Even so, we’ve got a story based around a rather dull villain who’s taken forever even to advance the plot to this stage, in a book that still doesn’t seem interested in making a case for why it needs to exist in the first place. At best, it’s a decent execution of a story which doesn’t feel especially inspired.
Gambit #3 – James Asmus and Clay Mann are certainly taking the back-to-basics approach with this title. There are no issues of wider continuity in play, nor even any established characters in use beyond Gambit himself. Instead, they’re paring the title right back to first principles: this is a heist book, in which Gambit goes on adventures that largely involve stealing stuff. And while he’s at least trying to target the bad guys, there’s also little doubt that his main motivation here is the thrill of stealing.
Gambit has stolen a Thingy which turns out to be some sort of relic that has instantly attached itself to him. As a result, he is now working with a mystery woman, who remains conspicuously unnamed, to track down its partner relic, in the hope of getting rid of it. And that’s basically what happens in this issue. They find the hidden temple, they break into the hidden temple, they encounter traps along the way, and while all that’s going on, they banter. The added depth comes from the mystery about what the woman is trying to achieve, which Asmus is spinning out nicely. And it also provides more inventive action sequences than just fight scenes.
There are a couple of moments of wonky storytelling – why on earth is she upside down on page 7? And what the heck are we looking at in the last panel of page 8? But on the whole, Mann is doing nice clear, attractive work here, which plays to the strengths of the story and manages a couple of inventive layouts along the way. The Tomb Raider homage is a bit too blatant for its own good, but it’s a nice looking comic for all that.
With the number of X-books already out there, I’m not at all convinced that the market will support a Gambit solo book right now – and by eschewing any connections with the wider Marvel Universe, the creators haven’t made their task any easier in that regard. But they have at least produced a book with a pretty clear sense of its own identity, and one that shows why Gambit can work as a solo lead.
Wolverine #313 – The final part of “Sabretooth Reborn” is not quite as bad as I’d feared, but then my fears were pretty extreme. It remains frankly godawful, and it’s hard to believe that it would have made it within a mile of a penciller if anyone other than Jeph Loeb had handed it in.
The previous issue went for the Big Shocking Reveal option, by trying to sell the idea that Wolverine himself was somehow responsible for the Weapon X Project. If you squint a bit, actually, you can see a way of making that idea work; you could do a story where Wolverine was involved in setting up the organisation, and then years later it comes back to bite him. But this story doesn’t do anything very interesting with that revelation – not even to confirm whether we should take it seriously. As Wolverine points out, none of this material is coming from a remotely trustworthy source, nor is there anything else that should make us pay attention to it.
If it was ten years ago, I might assume that Marvel wouldn’t do a story like this without the intention of following it up, and then I might take it seriously. But it’s 2012, I know full well that incoming writers rarely feel obliged to pay any attention to plot threads left dangling by their predecessors, and consequently my natural expectation is that I will never hear of this again. I will honestly be stunned if it turns out to be a major plot point – hell, any sort of plot point – going forward. In this day and age, stories get resolved before the writer leaves the book, or they don’t get resolved at all. That’s the way it is.
Beyond the bare fact of making him a source of enigmatic revelations, Loeb doesn’t appear to have any interest in Romulus as a character. Nor does he seem to have much time for Sabretooth, who is left as a peripheral character in this story even though it’s named after him. The upshot is a story that dangles some possible revelations, can’t be bothered following through on them, and then just does some handwaving to declare that it’s reached a happy ending. It’s lousy, and the less we hear of it in future, the better.
Wolverine and the X-Men #17 – The Avengers vs X-Men tie-in issues are over, but of course that doesn’t mean the book can just blow the ending of the story. So instead, the post-crossover issue is a comic relief oddity, which explains what Doop is doing at the school, complete with art from his co-creator Mike Allred. Allred’s retro style always plays well against absurdity, and that’s very much what we have here.
The story does actually give a clear explanation of Doop’s job. He’s there to secretly root out threats to the school before they come to fruition, and without anyone else knowing about it. But since this is Doop, the threats he’s dealing with – and keeping out of the book proper – are utterly ridiculous even by this title’s extremely flexible standards. The League of Nazi Bowlers, who are exactly what they sound like, are perhaps the most insane villains the X-Men have seen in years, and that’s just two pages of a relentless barrage of Doop-related oddities in this issue.
As is often the case with Doop, the joke lies partly in having other characters react to him as if they apparently haven’t noticed that he’s a floating green blob speaking in symbols, and partly in building his mythology as some sort of great hidden figure of the Marvel Universe. These elements are familiar from X-Statix, but it’s a smart idea to take an issue to re-establish them in the context of this series, rather than just leaving Doop forever as a background callback to an earlier book.
It’s maybe not an idea that needs an entire issue. Some of the stuff near the end of the book feels a bit padded, and we really didn’t need a cameo by Howard the Duck. It might have been an idea to bring this in at 15 pages and do a back up in the remaining space. But that’s a minor point; the issue as a whole is a barrage of inventively ludicrous ideas that cranks up the lunacy even from the title’s established norms, and makes it work.
X-Factor #244 – This came out last week, and I completely forgot to mention it. For once, that’s not a reflection on a book’s content, as I hadn’t read it at that point.
Even so, it’s not one of the book’s stronger issues. “Breaking Points” seems to be an exercise in shunting characters forward into new status quos, and wrapping up some outstanding plot threads in the process. This issue focusses mainly on Theresa, who is still seeing her dead father in the mirror, but that ends up leading to an awkward mystical subplot involving Morrigan, who wasn’t particularly gripping the last time she showed up. It seems that the aim here is to make Theresa into a quasi-mythical figure herself, which I guess plays off the Banshee name, but doesn’t strike me as a particularly promising direction.
There are stronger scenes dealing with the fallout of Lorna’s revelation in the previous issue, which include some very nice material for Alex. He’s not just concerned for Lorna; without her to support him, his sense of his own role is clearly being challenged. He’s left without any close friends in a team where his relationship with most of the rest of the cast consists of his asserting his leadership credentials. That’s a nice take on the character, who doesn’t really need something dramatic to happen to him; he just needs the comfort blanket of Lorna taken away from him.
X-Men #36 – David and Alvaro Lopez return on art, as the “ancient mutant DNA” storyline continues into a third arc. This time, the X-Men manage to track down a guy who appears to be the sole survivor of the lost ancient mutants, thanks to his powers being immortality. Or very slow aging. He’s not quite sure which.
I shan’t repeat my usual complaint that Wood hasn’t sold me on the intrinsic importance of the ancient mutants, even though all his characters appear to take it for granted; I’ve been saying that for a while and it continues to be the case. As a character piece, though, this is quite a good issue, with Shepherd presented primarily as a character who’s just trying to keep under the radar for the sake of a quiet life, but starts off trying to be commendably reasonable with the X-Men until they annoy him. If anything, the story does rather beg the question of why the X-Men were so keen not to tell Shepherd about David Michael Gray, other than to provide a justification for him to get angry with them. If they’re planning to send him back out there, and they figure that he’s either a potential victim or already somehow connected with Gray, is there really anything to be gained by not telling him? I’m a bit vague about their motivations here.
But the art is typically lovely, and the character interactions for the most part come off well.
X-Men Legacy #274 – Another book which has finished the crossover issues but has to skirt around the result. In this title, Christos Gage avoids the problem by keeping the location away from any of the X-Men’s various bases, and focussing on the stray subplot of Rogue and Magneto’s relationship. Since the book is ending – well, it’s being relaunched as a Legion title, but that’s essentially the same thing for these purposes – you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the result is that Rogue feels she’s developed to the point where she doesn’t need their relationship any more.
That discussion takes place against the background of Rogue and Magneto helping people who’ve been trapped in a subway collision. In keeping with his usual depiction right now, Magneto’s more interested in trying to get back on Rogue’s good side than in helping the victims for their own sake, but he’s still helping. In the way of such stories, they come upon a seriously injured passenger whose life helps to shed light on their relationship issues. You know the sort of thing.
This leads to a rather heavy-handed “seize the day” monologue, which serves its purpose but could hardly be called subtle. Still, Gage has the right idea when it comes to Rogue’s character development, and it’s good to see this thread being properly wrapped up.
X-Treme X-Men #4 – The Exiles revamp’s second arc sees the group arrive in what’s basically a western/steampunk world, with a western village apparently populated almost entirely by counterparts of X-Men characters. Once again, there’s an evil Professor X who needs to be dealt with. The book has taken an odd course by deliberately limiting itself to variations on that theme, and I’m not sure this issue makes much of a case for its merits.
It’s a gimmicky series, which I suppose isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, it’s difficult to get too invested in a world that’s obviously been assembled entirely from established X-Men ideas given a fresh lick of paint. There doesn’t seem to be anything to this world beyond repurposed concepts. Perhaps that’s intentional and it’s heading somewhere, but I rather doubt it. The emotional core of this story seems to rest in the team’s version of Wolverine encountering his local counterpart, who’s a small child trying to defend his mother against baddies. That might work, depending on where it heads, but the level of sheer contrivance makes it hard to care about the characters and get into it as a story.