Posted on Monday, November 19, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Better late than never…
All-New X-Men #1 – Regular listeners to the podcast won’t be surprised to hear that I was bracing myself for this to be terrible. It’s not that Brian Bendis is a bad writer by any stretch of the imagination; I think he’s written a lot of good stuff for Marvel over the years. But he has been consistently bad on books with large casts, showing no real grasp on how to juggle them. His Avengers has been a bit of a mess, shall we say.
This is much better, though. This time round, Bendis cuts back and forth between his subplots quite effectively, and seems to have a pretty clear focus on where he’s going.
All-New X-Men was promoted on the hook that the Silver Age X-Men are brought to the present day, and are naturally a bit upset by some of what they see. That’s a fun idea. (Strangely, I’m perhaps most looking forward to Iceman’s reaction on discovering that he grew up to be an accountant.) But it’s not the central focus of the first issue; in fact, the preview pages where our Hank goes back in time to recruit them take place right at the end of the issue.
That’s because the main emphasis in the first issue is actually on the new status quo of Cyclops’ group, who are out there still claiming to be the X-Men, and recruiting new mutants into their ranks. At the same time, the team proper are sitting around at the mansion with their head in their hands trying to think of a good idea for how to get these guys off the streets before they cause yet further trouble. Oh, and there’s also the introduction of two new characters, a subplot with Hank, and the aforementioned trip back in time… all quite nicely balanced. It’s far better than I was expecting (and a lot less talky).
Naturally it looks fabulous; it’s got art by Stuart Immonen, who doesn’t do bad comics. Lovely clean work, with a classic superhero vibe that works well for the X-Men. He does the Silver Age team very nicely, keeping them in the suits and ties that they tended to wear in that period but not dating them too badly.
There are some points here that might be glitches or might be deliberate. Hank’s claim at the end that Scott is committing “mutant genocide” bears no resemblance to anything that’s happened previously in the issue. Emma’s back with the Extinction Team with no explanation. (I suppose she was broken out between issues, but it’d be nice to cover it off – after all, it would double nicely as another example of Scott’s militancy.) And when Scott’s team help the girl who’s trapped in the time bubble she created, they tell her that the soldiers outside are waiting to charge her as soon as they can. In fact, when the bubble comes down, the soldiers are written as being completely confused about what’s going on, so Scott could have simply told her to pretend she had no idea what was happening. This could be a plot hole, but I’m inclined to give Bendis the benefit of the doubt and assume that Scott’s deliberately being written as paranoid or manipulative or both.
A promising start for Bendis’ run.
First X-Men #4 – This isn’t a great book by any means. It has some very odd ideas about Sabretooth’s character (and to a lesser extent Wolverine’s), it’s an unwelcome complication to continuity, and it’s busily introducing a whole bunch of characters as if it were angling for a sequel in which to actually tell their stories. But I’ll give it this, I do like Virus as a character, and especially a design. Putting Wolverine’s group up against a mutant they instinctively reject as a monster is a good idea, and his origin flashback sets up a clever inversion of the X-Men’s dream by making him the guy claims to be cheerfully pursuing co-operation with humans – just with a view to reining the troublemakers. It’s a good visual, too, with Virus being literally carried around on the backs of the people he’s mind-controlling. But one strong character doesn’t make a series, and the book has still yet to make a compelling case for why it’s here.
Gambit #5 – I have no idea why the cover shows Gambit in front of a Union Jack, since he won’t be getting to Britain until next issue. This issue sees him on another heist in Switzerland – the heist story evidently being the stock in trade of this series, which makes sense, as it’s what Gambit’s thieving exploits naturally lead to. This time, the bad guy from the first couple of issues has pressganged him into service to steal a macguffin from a lab, which it turns out will be part of a bigger plan that builds from here.
You may note that “Gambit is pressganged into helping a bad guy against his will” is also the plot currently running in Astonishing X-Men, and in an ideal world that sort of duplication would not be happening. It’s also not the strongest issue of the series visually; Diogenes Neves is a perfectly okay fill-in artist, but he’s very much working in the mid-nineties house style here, and there are a few points where his characters could really stand to show a bit more emotion. But there’s a very well executed “falling from the sky” setpiece near the end (which Neves sells well), and enough invention in the plotting to keep up the interest.
Wolverine and the X-Men #20 – With the re-emergence of new mutants, we’re naturally getting a glut of stories in which characters go off to recruit them. This issue, it’s Angel, and a Brazilian girl with shark powers. As is traditional, the bad guys are trying to win her over as well – on this occasion, Mystique and the Silver Samurai, which suggests that writer Jason Aaron may be looking to import their unresolved storyline from his Wolverine run.
Guest artist Steven Sanders won’t be to everyone’s taste, and while I quite like him as a cartoonist, I’m unconvinced that he’s especially well suited to action stories. Still, this is a solid standalone story, which achieves two main things – it introduces a new character with a suitable showcase, and it gives Angel a chance to be something more than just a comic relief naif. This story starts to re-establish him as somebody who can be taken a little more seriously, as well as foregrounding another aspect of his new gimmick: he has extra powers as a result of the Celestial life seed, if he keeps using them he’ll burn out his power source and eventually die, but because he thinks he’s on a mission, he doesn’t really seem to care as much as he should.
This version of Warren doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to his established persona most of the time, but then given the storyline, nor should he. Certainly better to do it this way than to write him as a tragic amnesiac.
X-Men Legacy #1 – We’ll probably be talking about this on the podcast, since despite notionally being another relaunch, it’s actually one of the handful of new titles launching as part of Marvel Now. With no connection whatsoever to the previous series, this is now a Legion solo title by Simon Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat – though at least the Legacy title actually makes some sense in connection with a book about Professor X’s son.
Legion is a fabulously odd character. In fact, as presented in the original Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz story from New Mutants back in the 1980s, he’s not really a character at all, merely a concept. He’s a character with multiple personality disorder, each personality having its own powers, and (though this has been lost somewhere along the way) with most of those personalities being based on the “real” Legion’s childlike idea of adulthood. Nowadays, the “real” Legion has become a bit more central and he’s more of a conventional character, but the idea of a boy who contains a multitude of warring personalities remains.
Since we last saw him, Legion has been off living in a Himalayan commune, trying to get his head together. Normally this would be the traditional wise old monks; here, it’s a community of burnt-out Marvel Universe psychics, which is a smart twist. I’m a little less sure about the local lynch mob, who are rather more directly from central casting. At any rate, most of this issue is about establishing Legion’s complicated status quo for new readers, and setting up the inciting event of him losing control (with disastrous consequences) when he finds out that his father has died.
I am hugely sceptical that the market is going to support a Legion title, but if Marvel are determined to have this many X-Men comics, I’d rather they filled out the line with quirky oddities like this, instead of more generic team books. It’s a bit light on plot beyond the conflicts within Legion’s own mind, but then again, perhaps a book like this can get away with that; and it does make his core personality less of a cipher than usual. Not a bad debut.
X-Treme X-Men #6 – The book detours from the restrictive “hunting evil Xaviers” format to visit Kurt’s home version of Earth. As it turns out, this Earth was doing really very well… until the robots rose up and took over the world, turning the place into a sci-fi dystopia.
Surprisingly, this turns out to be one of the better issues to date, since Greg Pak has an unusual slant on that idea. The all-robot world really isn’t that bad (unless you happen to be a stray human who’s wandered in). After all, they ran out of humans to slaughter ages ago. Most of the robots have been getting on with a perfectly pleasant society of their own, and most of them were only built after the war anyway. So instead of being a post-apocalyptic society, it’s a world of basically ordinary robots who happen to have done rather well from the efforts of the killer robots a couple of generations back.
I like that as a variation on the cliche, and if the previous version of Kurt’s world might have been a more pleasant place to read about, at least this explains why nobody has previously suggested that he ought to just go home. On the other hand, the actual story (which involves Kurt’s treatment being a political issue with some sort of vaguely defined interstellar council whose function is less than clear) doesn’t take flight, and the art is wildly uneven, with Stephen Segovia and Raul Valdes splitting the pages but having little in common between their styles. Still, there are some ideas here that succeed.