Posted on Sunday, October 28, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Quite the grab-bag we have this week – some second-tier X-books, a new title from the Max imprint, a blaring novelty.
A-Babies vs X-Babies – Do you need me to tell you that this is the novelty? I can’t be the only person who saw this in the solicitations and groaned at the prospect of yet another rehash of a joke Chris Claremont coined in the late 80s, and which has been relentlessly beaten to death over the years by a company seemingly oblivious to the fact that, when Claremont revived the one-shot joke X-Babies (originally just the X-Men de-aged in Silver Age style for a comedy one-shot) as actual characters, he did so as a not-even-remotely-veiled parody of Marvel’s money-grabbing dilution of his beloved franchise.
What Skottie Young and Gurihiru have produced, however, is not the umpteenth retread of that ailing joke. Young’s script ignores all previous versions of the concept and goes for a mixture of cuteness and knowing absurdity. There’s barely a plot here, but to the extent there is one, it goes like this: there’s a suburban neighbourhood, and all the little kids who live there are the Avengers and the X-Men. Why? Because they just are, that’s why. And they’re fighting because Scott has stolen Steve Rogers’ Bucky doll, and Steve wants it back. It’s silly, but it’s kind of adorable for all that, and keeps up the variations on the gag just long enough to ensure it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Astonishing X-Men #55 – My god, it just keeps going. Is there no end in sight? Well, the January solicitations are for a Warbird story, so I guess there is. But eight issues in, my overwhelming impression is of a series that might be paced perfectly acceptably in a collected edition, but is dragging like hell as a serial.
The plot does advance a little bit. Hatchi’s plan turns out to involve some sort of scheme to discredit the X-Men in general and Karma in particular, so apparently there’s a bit more going on with her than just screwing with them for the hell of it. Iceman’s supposed death at the end of last issue isn’t exactly followed up, but we’re given enough information to let us figure out that, yes, it is indeed a deliberate scheme to free him from Hatchi’s control. Gambit is also surreptitiously giving messages to the other side. And Karma’s father is also apparently around. But overall, it’s another issue of Hatchi screwing with the X-Men because she’s a scheming villain, and – yes, WE GET IT, move on.
Oh, there’s also a brief origin flashback for (presumably) Hatchi, but thus far it doesn’t really do much to flesh out her one-dimensional character, other than to add some “sold into slavery” cliches.
Perhaps this arc will read better in a single sitting with the benefit of hindsight, but right now, I’m bored.
AvX: Consequences #3 – Despite the A in the title, the “consequences” in this series are overwhelmingly for the X-Men. The cover, showing Iron Man lamenting the wreckage of K’un-Lun, relates to an opening two-page subplot, while Cyclops’ storyline continues to predominate in the issue as a whole. The point of that two-page scene, by the way, is to push the idea that Iron Man’s faith in rationality has been shaken by the recent Phoenix storyline, which was at least meant to be a main theme of that story, and which Kieron Gillen can presumably develop further when he takes over Iron Man after the upcoming relaunch.
Cyclops’ storyline develops the idea that he’s determined to make himself into a martyr, but not by getting himself killed by a bunch of thugs in the prison workshop. Instead, we’re seeing his rational planner start to re-emerge, as he starts to quietly take control of his surroundings and build an image (or at least self-image) as a political prisoner. Instead of going into the usual emotional tailspin for a hero who’s hit rock bottom, Cyclops is remaining radical and only partially repentant, and it makes a lot of sense. And he still has at least somebody on his side helping him out – something that feels necessary if he’s actually going to occupy this political leader role in future.
Other subplots seem more concerned with checking in on loose ends or setting up future stories – Kitty visits Emma in jail, Magik tips Storm off to Colossus’ whereabouts, Hope goes looking for Cable. Still, even these give an impression of direction for the wider line, and Hope gets a nice monologue that feels like it’s trying to round off the emotional loose ends from Generation Hope before she moves on. Considering its seemingly transitional remit, this is turning out to be a rather satisfying book.
Gambit #4 – James Asmus dials up the scale on his caper book, as Gambit and That Mysterious Woman Who Hasn’t Been Named Yet (she gets named this issue, though) discover that their attempt to retrieve (and in her case, exploit) some old Guatemalan macguffin, they’ve accidentally opened a portal to a world of three-headed giant serpents. The idea is apparently meant to be that these were the sort of things the ancient locals used to worship, except, um, I’m not sure the design really does have much to do with anything south American.
But whatever – it’s Gambit fighting a giant snake, in an inventive and well-constructed action scene that understands there’s more to this sort of thing than just having them fight. Clay Mann’s art gets the set pieces across well, and that segment of the audience that enjoys seeing Gambit with his shirt off will be pleased to hear that he spends much of this issue with his shirt off.
Wolverine #315 – I get the feeling here that Cullen Bunn has a storyline he wants to do with these Covenant characters of his, and he’s shoving it in here because he’s got a few issues to kill before the relaunch. In general terms, the plot is that, long ago, the members of the Covenant hired Wolverine to find and kill somebody called the Dreaming Maiden, who is apparently terribly dangerous for reasons that remain unrevealed. Wolverine didn’t kill her, and now the various members of the Covenant are trying to track her down and… do something?
While there are some imaginative touches in the fight scenes, and some well-written dialogue to liven up the “Melita goes to a library to learn some exposition” bit, the heart of this story is a mystery about who the Dreaming Maiden is and why she matters, and the story doesn’t really give us material to let us speculate on that. The result is a story in which a bunch of characters run around chasing after an undeveloped macguffin, but without us having a particularly compelling reason to care.
Wolverine Max #1 – Unexpectedly decent. Quite honestly, my expectations for this book were rock bottom after Marvel’s last attempt at a “mature readers” Wolverine title, the abysmal Best There Is. That series plainly started from the premise that it needed to justify its mature readers tag with over-the-top violence, and worked back from there to fill in the pesky details of a plot and a point afterwards. The result, while committing too enthusiastically to its grindhouse agenda to be dismissed as merely lazy, certainly failed to work, and didn’t connect in sales terms either.
Jason Starr seems to be taking a different tack. His series starts by embracing the advantages of not being set in the Marvel Universe, and pares its Wolverine down to the very core elements from the character’s defining era – the claws, the healing powers, the amnesia, the (largely unremembered) history of violent urges and a struggle to contain them. That last theme was the one that made Wolverine a success for Chris Claremont in the 1980s, and while it’s largely been exhausted in the Marvel Universe by Wolverine’s gradual transformation into an alpha male and elder statesman, Starr is free to return to it in this book’s rebooted history, shorn of the sci-fi and spandex trappings of the wider Marvel Universe. The book justifies its adult rating with a bit of swearing and some slightly more graphic violence, but doesn’t seem to be going out of its way to do so. So while the official selling point of the series is uncensored violence, the actual selling point of the series is Wolverine without the compromises required by the Marvel Universe.
The book has two artists – Roland Boschi does the present day sequences in a relatively clean and sparse style, while Connor Willumsen’s flashbacks are looser, more exaggerated cartoons and sketches, verging at times into Kyle Baker’s territory. It’s an odd contrast but one that sort of works in terms of selling Logan’s mental state. The flashbacks also offer an interesting reinvention of Sabretooth, who shows up in this world as Victor, a genial suited psychopath who makes the case for Logan simply embracing his violent urges. Sabretooth makes an ideal arch-enemy for Wolverine when he’s being written with this approach, since he represents what Wolverine would become if he didn’t try to be better than his instincts. (Equally, without that context, he tends to either devolve into a tedious serial killer, or be “developed” into an ersatz Wolverine in his own right.) Here, Victor is serving the same function, but he’s the killer who you can imagine functioning in society, and he’s making the sort of argument that follows semi-logically from the platitudes of a culture that tells us all that we should learn to love ourselves just the way we are.
Admittedly, it wouldn’t have taken much to exceed my expectations for this book. Correct punctuation might have sufficed. But Wolverine Max refreshingly sees that the real opportunities open to it are those presented by the chance to reboot Wolverine outside the Marvel Universe, not to dump the things that work about him, but to focus everything around them.
X-Treme X-Men #5 – This Exiles relaunch remains decidedly hit and miss, and unfortunately, it’s more miss than hit. There are a couple of interesting ideas or subplots – a curious suggestion that the worlds they’re visiting are somehow matching their own preoccupations (which would obviously be a remarkable coincidence), and a clear confirmation that the Professor X head is hiding something from the rest of the group. This seems to be building towards the idea that the series’ rather contrived premise will eventually turn out to be just a front for something else – perhaps inevitably given the inherent limitations in the team’s starting mission. And there’s a nice moment with Howlett’s rather bleak idea of how to make sure his underage local counterpart retains his childhood innocence. (“A boy shouldn’t kill anyone until he’s at least eighteen.”)
On the other hand, the actual story still boils down to the heroes running around a western town fighting cosmetically altered versions of familiar characters in a way that doesn’t really seem to do very much with the western setting, and in a story that boils down to not much more than “they find the bad guy they were looking for, and they fight him”. It all feels a little half-baked. If the whole set-up is going to turn out to be a feint then that might turn out to be a deliberate choice, but it’s not working right now.