Posted on Sunday, November 25, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Happy Thanksgiving, or Black Shopping Day, or whatever it is they call it by this point in the weekend. Despite the holiday, Marvel have several of the Marvel Now! relaunch books out this week (and I’m sure we’ll talk about some of the more interesting ones on the next podcast). There’s also a batch of X-books, and while it’s be fair to say they’re not exactly the central focus of the release schedule this month, we’re not exactly marking time here either.
Well, except on Wolverine. That one’s kind of marking time.
Astonishing X-Men #56 – Hey, Marvel – if you’re going to do a plot twist where you fake Iceman dying, don’t spoil it by sticking him on the cover. I know nobody was ever going to buy it, but let’s at least go through the motions of pretending otherwise, hmm? (Come to think of it, why does the cover of this issue have Iceman throwing cards in the style of Gambit? What’s that got to do with anything?)
This is the final chapter of the Susan Hatchi storyline which has been running for all nine issues of Marjorie Liu’s run. This I welcome. Even allowing for the fact that it had a wedding spliced into the middle of it, it really didn’t need to be nine issues long.
The big reveal in this issue is that Susan’s plan all along has actually been to draw out her estranged father by using her half-sister Karma as bait. You could question whether that really makes sense – Karma’s been in trouble plenty of times before without her father showing up to try and bail her out. But then again, Susan Hatchi is actively trying to leave their father a trail, so I guess you can justify it.
More problematic is this issue’s attempts to give the story emotional heft. Liu clearly wants us to buy into this as a family tragedy, with Susan driven to acts of villainy by her bitterness towards her father, Xi’an trying unsuccessfully to patch things up at the last minute, and ultimately Xi’an recommitting to her remaining family members in the epilogue. Xi’an’s role here is to be saintly and rise above the family history even to the point of forgiving and accepting Susan. That’s fine in theory, but while it kind of works for Xi’an, I don’t think either her sister or her father are written in a way that can carry this sort of thing off, even for the purposes of melodrama. The father’s a bit of a cipher at best, and Susan’s such an OTT cartoon villain even to the last (it’s only the lack of a Y chromosome that prevents her from spending the entire storyline twirling a moustache) that I just can’t take her seriously when the story wants me to.
There’s a reasonable idea at the core of this, and I’ll be interested to see if it holds up any better on a re-reading, but on the whole I don’t think it worked. It’s dependent on an emotional core that I just didn’t believe in.
Uncanny X-Force #34 – Not only is this another final chapter in an overlong storyline (the ten-part “Final Execution”), it’s also another story about dysfunctional families. Daken’s motivation here, from the looks of it, is simply to bring Wolverine down to his level and to put him in a position where he’s “exposed” as the villain. Where his solo series had him try to escape Wolverine’s shadow by ostentatiously going in an unrelated direction, Remender takes the more direct route by having him attempt to destroy Wolverine’s reputation, thus eliminating the shadow itself.
But alongside that, the final fight scene is intercut with scenes of the peaceful life Daken could (possibly) have had if Wolverine had been around to raise him in the first place, scenes which then recur in literal soft focus for the epilogue. At first glance this is the old cliche of nature versus nurture, but I’m not sure that’s really the point that Rick Remender was going for. At the same time, the story has Evan finally embrace his power, but in doing so, he doesn’t change personality and become evil, as every other character seemed to assume he would. He remains the same excessively nice kid, wanting to protect his friends, and understandably appalled by the behaviour of everyone around him. Yes, he’s tempted to kill Sabretooth, but he thinks better of it, apparently after having his attention drawn to the moral lesson of what’s going on around him.
Remender’s point, then, seems to be not so much one of nature over nurture, as that everyone on both sides of the conflict has embraced a way of life that ultimately delivers satisfaction to none of them. The residue of hope is that, in X-Force’s case at least, it’s a job that somebody has to do, and it leaves the possibility for somebody like Evan to retain his innocence, even if at their expense. That decided ambivalence about the whole premise of a book like this has been at the heart of Remender’s whole run, and it makes sense that should recur here as his run nears its end.
I doubt whether Remender’s take on Daken is really in line with the way he was being written in his own series; it certainly feels like Rob Williams’ interesting work on that series is being ignored. I’m also not wild about the Psylocke subplot; it’s not so much that wiping her mind in the previous issue turns out to be a feint, as that it’s reversed in such a throwaway manner as to make the false drama a bit too obvious.
But the central ideas work, Phil Noto’s artwork has a nice elegance to it, and Remender has once again managed to develop some more complex themes from the book’s nihilistic black ops premise.
Wolverine #316 – The four-part “Covenant” arc really does look at this stage like a case of Cullen Bunn marking time for a few issues by playing with a pet concept while he waits for the relaunch to come. The arc is about the Covenant hunting for the Dreaming Maiden because of some vaguely defined threat posed by her. The main focus of this issue, though, is on Wolverine and Elsa Bloodstone being rescued from a Covenant dungeon by Seraph’s Angels (the team of Wolverine’s ex-girlfriends) and fighting their way out of the building.
Paul Pelletier’s artwork is beautiful, and he does a great job with both action sequences and character comedy. Hopefully he’s got some decent offers to follow once this storyline is out of the way. But the story as a whole is less than the sum of its parts. The interaction between Wolverine’s disparate supporting cast members is cute; the visuals of the floating fortress, with its steampunk Wolverine robots and guard drones on loan from Portal, are lovely. But I have no clear idea why Bunn’s got Wolverine wearing his very first costume from the 1970s Incredible Hulk, and the story isn’t selling me on the Maiden as anything more than a macguffin.
Wolverine and the X-Men #21 – The teaching staff of the school are kidnapped, brainwashed, and pressganged into service by Frankenstein’s touring circus, and the kids have to investigate. If this sounds familiar, that’ll be because you’ve read the early Claremont run, and the issue that did much the same thing with the X-Men and Mesmero. It’s certainly revisiting the same idea, though this time the kids get a role, and – perhaps more fundamentally – the circus has an entirely unrelated plan, since they’re actually hunting down the Frankenstein relative from the new Hellfire Club.
Quite why the Frankenstein Monster is hunting down members of the Frankenstein family all of a sudden isn’t altogether clear, though there’s a pretty clear hint that this whole exercise is actually being driven by the circus’s in-house witch Calcabrina. (The story goes out of its way to remind us that the Monster isn’t supposed to be evil, just “misunderstood”.) The storybook qualities of Nick Bradshaw’s art seem at home on a circus story, though it has to be said that his Frankenstein maybe veers a bit too far from the stereotypes to really sell the full oddity of having him in a ringmaster’s outfit.
This is the first time Aaron has really focussed on any of the Hellfire kids other than Kade, and it’s the sort of blithely demented set-up that at least seems to fit with the kids’ inherent ridiculousness. Obviously, if you find the Hellfire brats exceed your absurdity threshold, a story where they fight an evil circus run by Frankenstein is unlikely to change your views on that. For the most part, I think Aaron gets away with it in this book, which is consistently pitched at a nonsensical level, though I’m still not entirely sold on them as the focal point of a story in their own right. I suspect this one is going to divide the readers according to how much tolerance they have for the book’s comedic excesses, and I’ll grant that it works better as wacky comedy than when it’s trying to sell real threat.
X-Factor #247 – Last issue ended with Pip the Troll getting shot, but with his cast once again scattered all over the place, Peter David ignores that story in this issue (it doesn’t even make the recap page), focussing instead on Jamie and Layla, who were last seen running off to Las Vegas to get married, and have now actually done so. That leads into a truly odd single issue story in which they investigate a series of killing of Abraham Lincoln impersonators, which turn out to be the work of the ghost of General Robert E Lee, who is angry about the civil war re-enactment industry. Really, that’s the plot.
In terms of the larger storyline, this seems to be another stage in foreshadowing some great mystical crisis which is coming down the line, but first and foremost it’s there to give Jamie and Layla an issue to themselves to further establish their relationship as a duo. It’s a nicely done comedy story, with some well handled set pieces, and I think it balances the darker elements more successfully than W&TX does – after all, the fact that the story is being treated as a joke is one of the things that Lee’s ghost is angry about, and you can see his point of view about the casual treatment of the long dead. That doesn’t stop it from being essentially a comedy story, as it has to be with a premise like “Madrox fights General Robert E Lee’s ghost at a civil war re-enactment convention”. A good self-contained issue that plays to David’s strengths.