Posted on Sunday, November 4, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
There’s a podcast this weekend, as House to Astonish celebrates its fourth birthday! Check it out just one post down.
Meanwhile, over at the X-office, one new title this week – well, sort of – while two books get wrapped up as we head into Marvel NOW.
A+X #1 – The cover design and recap page present this book as a successor to AvX: Versus, the all-fight-no-plot miniseries that mainly demonstrated that that sort of thing wears thin rather quickly. It’s hard to believe that this book hasn’t just been conjured into existence in an attempt to capitalise on Versus‘s surprisingly decent sales, and equally hard to believe that it will succeed in doing so.
Abandoning the extremely limited “they fight” set-up, A+X simply has two self-contained team-up stories per issue, which the recap page seems to suggest will have no link to any broader continuity. The best that can be said for this, as an premise, is that in theory it gives creators the freedom to do pretty much whatever they like, so if you’re lucky, it could turn out to be a showcase for offbeat shorts. Of course, there’s nothing inherently interesting about “a random Avenger and a random X-Man team up in every story”, and neither of the stories in this issue makes the faintest effort to pretend that there is. The best that can be said for the remit is that it is so broad that the book can serve as an anything-goes grab bag.
But that’s essentially what X-Men Unlimited was for most of its running time, or perhaps Marvel Comics Presents. It’s been quite a while since either Marvel or DC have been able to sustain interest in a superhero anthology of short stories, though it doesn’t help that the contents of such books have tended to gravitate relentlessly towards mediocrity. It’s not so much that readers are only interested in Stories That Matter, it’s that books like this generally haven’t been good enough to hold an audience without the added aura of being something on the compulsory reading list.
Dan Slott and Ron Garney’s opening story is a throwaway piece – Captain America and Bucky in World War II fight a bad guy who turns out to be a time traveller on the run from 90s-version Cable – but it keeps its point simple, it avoids wasting time on exposition by simply hinting at Trask’s back story in a way that leaves us to fill in the gaps, and it delivers some kind of resolution within the allotted pages. Pacing isn’t the problem here, so much as the rather generic team-up story that’s left once you get past the novelty bad guy, and the weak stabs at irony in the closing panels. It’s okay, but it’s bland, and I don’t see it selling many readers on the series.
The second half of the book is Jeph Loeb and Dale Keown doing Wolverine and the Hulk. For some reason the Hulk is apparently now hanging out at Avengers Mansion – did I miss any story anywhere where he joined? At any rate, versions of Wolverine and Hulk from the future randomly show up and there’s a fight for the entire running time of the story, before the future versions go away again, the pay-off being that they’ve been sent back in time to kill the Red Hulk, by the future Red Hulk, who is also the President. It’s vaguely suggested that this plot thread will be picked up against somewhere, though the issue gives no indication of where, and it hardly seems to fit with the “who cares about where this fits into continuity” attitude of the opening editorial page.
It’s tempting to suggest that this story illustrates the old cliche that American writers don’t know how to work with short page counts, not having gone through their British counterparts’ formative apprenticeship under the tender supervision of Tharg. And god knows there are plenty of writers out there who are so used to working in six-issue arcs that they can barely deliver a satisfying story in a single issue, let alone half of one. But the problem with this isn’t really that Jeph Loeb can’t tell a story in half an issue, it’s that he hasn’t bothered to try. All he’s done here is to gesture vaguely in the direction of a story he might or might not tell at some indeterminate point in the future; there’s not even an attempt to make this story work in its own right. It’s far from the worst thing that Loeb has put his name to in recent years; it would be acceptable as a trailer-style hype story tacked on to the end of an anniversary issue. But that’s hardly saying much, and it will do nothing to dispel the perception that Loeb’s time has emphatically passed.
AvX: Consequences #4 – The focus on Cyclops’ storyline has given this book a lynchpin and a sense of structure, an impressive trick considering that this book is, after all, an epilogue and set-up for other people’s stories, and presumably started life as a shopping list of plot points to be covered. With this issue, Cyclops’ story is largely paused and the other elements come to the fore, with the perhaps inevitable result that the story feels rather bitty, and the illusion that all these threads form a cohesive whole falters.
Hope goes down to Atlantis to have a brief chat with Namor, in a well-written scene that seems primarily intended to write him out of the X-books, but also covers the necessary aftermath of his involvement in AvX. Namor hasn’t just retreated to Atlantis (which seems terribly empty) in a huff; he’s clearly embarrassed at having been so thoroughly dwarfed by the Phoenix Force, an experience that doesn’t exactly fit into his worldview. Meanwhile, Storm drops by to visit Colossus, so that he too can be definitively left alone to settle into hermitage.
The end of the issue gets back to the main plot, though, as Cyclops is talked out of his crusade to martyr himself and apparently decides that the way forward is to embrace his outlaw status with the remains of the Extinction Team as the bad guys. I can see that working as a new direction for the character, though his change of heart seems too abrupt, as is the use of Wolverine to give him the necessary pep talk.
There’s still some good material in here, but it’s not the strongest issue.
New Mutants #50 – The final issue, and unlike most of the final issues Marvel will be publishing over the next couple of months, this actually is the final issue, not just an issue with “final issue” written on the front.
The challenge with these stories is to find some way of providing a sense of resolution without it seeming too forced, and it’s one that Abnett and Lanning are clearly wrestling with in this issue, not entirely successfully. “House Party” consists of the New Mutants having a barbecue with the cast from the Abnett/Lanning run, mostly the guest stars. Then Warlock’s former ward Tyro shows up so that the writers can tie up a stray plot thread from Annihilation: Conquest, as well as echoing Warlock’s debut in the “Slumber Party” issue of the original run. It’s all supposed to provide an opportunity for Cypher to save the day and come to terms with all that stuff about his evil future self from recent issues, but it all seems terribly forced, as if the writers are casting about for something that can be resolved to provide a sense of completion in the final issue, and also need to free Cypher from this plot line so that they can put the toys back in the box. Throw in half an issue of undistinguished fill-in art and you’ve got an underwhelming end to a run that, while patchy, had some very good moments along the way.
X-Men Legacy #275 – Another “final issue”, and while this book is being instantly relaunched, that’s only in the sense that the name is being attached to a completely new Legion title by a different creative team. So to all intents and purposes, this too is a proper final issue, bringing an end to what was for the most part a Rogue solo book that merely happened to be located within the X-Men team set-up. Why was that book called X-Men Legacy again? Um, well, because Marvel were already publishing a book called X-Men Legacy, and notionally because Rogue was supposed to be acting as mentor to the kids – though boy, that sure fell by the wayside, didn’t it?
Christos Gage’s wrap-up story is rather better than the one in New Mutants, perhaps because its closure feels a bit less forced. Gage can point to some slow character development over the course of this series, in which Rogue has come to terms with who she is and what she wants, and he draws that out in this story by having her discuss some of these points with the Mimic, who’s in a similar character arc but at a much earlier stage. It’s not a subtle story – in fact, it more or less resorts to having Rogue patiently spell out the themes for the slow members of the class, under the guise of giving life advice to Mimic – and it somewhat repeats themes that were already dealt with when Rogue finally broke up with Magneto in the previous issue. But the story delivers one last showcase for Rogue (by having her put down a supervillain prison break and copy everyone’s powers in the process), and pulls off a sense of genuine, albeit heavily signposted, closure.