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Dec 2

The X-Axis – 2 December 2012

Posted on Sunday, December 2, 2012 by Paul in x-axis

I’m taking the opportunity presented by the current wave of relaunches to make the jump from print to digital as each book comes round for a relaunch.  This is fortunate, as I’m still waiting to receive the books from this week that I ordered in print, but by this point, that’s just Gambit and X-Treme X-Men, neither of which is exactly the focal point of the schedule.  What we do have is the second issues of no less than four Marvel Now titles.  Oh yes, and an annual.

A+X #2 – The first issue of A+X sold remarkably well, inheriting the top ten sales of AvX: Versus, of which it is ostensibly a continuation.  I’ll be fascinated to see how long that lasts, considering that (notwithstanding Jeph Loeb’s vague gestures at foreshadowing in issue #1) it now seems pretty clear that this is simply going to be an anthology of self-contained stories united solely by the theme of team-ups between Avengers and X-Men characters – a line which is getting increasingly blurred anyway.  In quality terms, this is probably for the best; A+X is simply a playpen in which creators can do whatever they feel like for a few pages, and the format here is far less restrictive than the very limited Versus.  But books like this don’t have a track record of sales success, so it’s hard to imagine A+X sales holding up once readers and retailers figure out what the book actually is.  If, somehow or other, it bucks that trend – well, more power to it.

The two stories in this issue are throwaway stuff, but they do deliver as fun shorts.  First up is a Black Widow/Rogue story by Chris Bachalo – unusually, credited for the story as well as the art.  It’s straightforward; Black Widow’s day off is interrupted by a Sentinel, Rogue comes to the rescue, they squabble, then they team up.  But Bachalo writes pretty good dialogue, he sets up his jokes well, and generally he looks like he knows what he’s doing.  It probably helps that he’s comfortable with doing large numbers of panels per page, so he can get more into the available space without seeming to rush.  And of course he’s chosen a very simple set-up to begin with, since it’s really just there as a backdrop for the duo to squabble over anyway.  It’s traditional team-up territory, but skilfully done.

In the back-up, Peter David and Mike Del Mundo have Tony Stark offering Kitty Pryde a job, and stumbling upon some stray Brood who weren’t mopped up in that recent Wolverine and the X-Men storyline.  David knows how to use the available pages – his Iron Man is suitably smug, and the central story offers a reasonably inventive way of defeating the Brood that doubles as a way of giving him his comeuppance.  Del Mundo seems surprisingly at home here; he’s not done that much interior work that I can recall, other than a fill-in issue of Uncanny which seemed a little awkward, but here he’s clearly less concerned with trying to work in a house style, and delivers exaggerated yet elegant characters that play well to Iron Man’s persona.

There’s not a huge amount of depth to either of these stories, but they know what they can do in the space available, and they do it well while looking good.  That’s about as much as you can ask for from a book like this.

All-New X-Men #2 – Brian Bendis spent the whole of his first issue finally building to the Beast travelling back to recruit the 1960s X-Men in the closing pages (despite that being the one plot point that was heavily promoted in advance, but that’s not Bendis’ fault).  If the first issue suggested that Bendis was juggling his subplots better than in Avengers, well, this issue isn’t so encouraging, since what we get is literally an entire issue of conversation scenes with the 1960s X-Men.  They react to Beast; they come to the present day and react to that; they talk among themselves; they decide to go and face Scott.  And that’s pretty much your issue right there, along with the present day Beast being promptly sidelined by his mysterious and convenient health problems.

Of course, in taking this approach, Bendis is focussing on the bit which ought to be interesting about having the original team come to the present day.  There’s a fair case to be made that he’s better off just doing it in undiluted fashion rather than trying to work it into an action story, and it’s certainly pacing that’ll work in the collection.  On balance, I think he gets away with it, especially considering that it does end with the promise that we’re moving on to the confrontation in the next issue.

A more contentious area is whether the characters actually are reacting appropriately, or whether they’re just doing what the story requires of them.  Bendis is really writing a folk memory version of the original team rather than trying to mimic their behaviour in the original series.  That may be the right way to go; the style of the early Lee/Kirby stories is wildly out of kilter with today’s Marvel Universe and unless you’re wanting to foreground a metatextual angle, the team have to be filtered through a modern sensibility.  They’re not really the X-Men from the comics of the 1960s, they’re the X-Men from an early point in their history as continuity now stands in 2012.

Bendis has taken the characters from a recognisable scene in X-Men #8, and it’s obvious why he’s chosen that scene – he doesn’t want to use Professor X, and this is the earliest point in history where the team are separated from him without some crisis being involved.  Unfortunately, his research on other aspects of continuity seems a little more dodgy.  Some of the dialogue suggests he thinks that Scott and Jean were already dating at this point (and the art sure has them hugging a lot).  They weren’t – the original set-up was a romantic triangle with Warren as Scott’s rival, which was still being used as a major plot point up as far as issue #26.  If anything, the fact that they ended up together should itself have been a big character moment for all three.  But Bendis doesn’t write it, by all appearances because he doesn’t realise it ought to be there.

And while Bendis knows that Jean didn’t have telepathy at this point, he unfortunately seems to believe that she just doesn’t know about it yet.  That involves disregarding her entire origin story, which has Xavier coming to her rescue after her telepathy drives her mad.  Granted, that story was itself a whopping retcon which didn’t sit easily with any of the early issues, but it has been the established version of history for over thirty years.  Having her start to read minds simply because she’s told that she can, doesn’t work; she knows perfectly well that she can do this, and she’s had the power switched off to preserve her sanity.  I’m fairly relaxed about writers being unaware of backwater stories from decades ago, and taking continuity in broad strokes, but even on the broadest and most generous approach, there’s no excuse for not knowing your characters’ origin stories.

A charitable reading, of course, would be that errors this glaring have to be deliberate, and I still wouldn’t rule that out – after all, these X-Men have to be explained away somehow or other, and either they’re getting their memories erased or they’re turning out to be from a different timeline, in which case all bets are off.  But do I trust Bendis and his editor enough to give them the benefit of the doubt on that?  Hmm.  If I look past those points, I kind of liked the issue – ignore the continuity problems and take the book entirely on its own terms and it works well enough.  It only runs into problems if you insist on trying to treat these characters as the 1960s X-Men.  But then, isn’t that the premise?

Astonishing X-Men Annual #1 – It may be billed as an annual, but what this issue actually contains is a normal length story plus a reprint.  The main feature, by Christos Gage and David Baldeon, has Northstar and Kyle on honeymoon in Paris, which is interrupted when Obscure Terrorist Group #1423 sends its henchmen to assassinate relatives of the X-Men around the world, and Northstar is hauled into racing around the globe to fight them while the rest of the team stay in the hotel room to keep watch on Kyle.

It’s a rather contrived set-up that Gage uses as an excuse to let Kyle have conversations with each of the other regulars, and discuss how a relationship with a civilian could work out.  That’s surely a discussion that would have come up with Kyle moved in with Northstar, rather than when they got married, but it’s still the more interesting material – largely because of what Gage thinks the regulars might have to say about the topic.  Karma laments about how her life has affected the younger siblings she’s meant to be taking care of; Gambit has no civilian family or friends and thinks that’s probably for the best (there’s Cecilia Reyes, I guess, but she’s at least got powers); Iceman tried having a real life and found it didn’t really work out; Warbird looks down on non-combatants on principle; and Wolverine (who does have a history of supporting characters winding up dead) finally gets to encourage Kyle to stick with it.

That’s a good use of the book’s cast to further the theme, particularly considering that Gage is working with characters who were chosen for him.  There’s a risk, though, of Kyle himself not being interesting enough to sustain this sort of focus.  He’s triply damned when it comes to making him interesting.  He’s in a relationship that’s required to symbolise Marvel’s corporate approval for gay marriage, so he has to be a Nice Bloke.  It’s a relationship with Northstar, whose inherent spikiness needs a more cuddly character to balance him out and serve as voice of reason.  And to the extent Kyle has a storyline of his own, it’s about his feelings of inadequacy due to normalcy.  All these considerations necessarily push him in the direction of blandness, and I’m not convinced this story solves that problem; it’s notionally his story, but it really uses him as a springboard for the X-Men to talk about themselves.

Still, the book’s got nice art from David Baldeon, who’s good with conversation scenes; and it’s got interesting ideas about some of the X-Men, which is enough to carry the story.

The back-up is 1992’s notorious Alpha Flight #106 by Scott Lobdell and Mark Pacella, the story where Northstar came out as gay – something that had always been fairly heavily implied, but not previously stated outright.  This got a lot of attention at the time, since it was still a fairly unusual move in 1992.  While a positive move in that sense, the story has a pretty dire reputation among fans, and now that I’ve actually read it, I can see why.

The story has its heart in the right place, but it’s painfully clumsy in the execution.  Northstar finds an abandoned baby whom he takes to the hospital.  The baby turns out to be HIV positive.  (It’s a story about gay people in 1992, you just knew HIV was going to be involved.)  The Canadian public rally in support for the innocent little baby.  This provokes an attack from a retired Canadian superhero called Major Mapleleaf who is bitter because his son died of AIDS, and he didn’t get the same sympathy because he was gay.  Northstar then spends the remainder of the issue fighting the ageing stereotype while they debate whether high profile homosexuals have a moral duty to come out, an argument which Northstar ultimately accepts.

Somewhere in there, there’s at least an attempt to grapple with worthwhile issues.  Unfortunately, the whole thing is rendered by Mark Pacella in an eye-searingly terrible Rob Liefeld pastiche that completely stymies many of the attempts at emotion, and the script saddles Northstar with such excruciating dialogue as “Do not presume to lecture me on the hardships homosexuals must bear.  No one knows them better than I.  For while I am not inclined to discuss my sexuality with people for whom it is none of their business – I am gay!”

It’s awful, and it’s not just a case of styles changing – this was seen as a poor example of the 1990s style even at the time it came out, and in any event it’s a style that was never exactly suited to heart-rending “issue” stories.  It holds a certain interest as a bizarre curio, but that’s about it.

Uncanny Avengers #2 – Despite the awkward seeming premise, I’m enjoying this one so far.  It probably helps that Rick Remender isn’t spending too much time on selling the merged team concept, and putting the focus more on his Red Skull story.  While he’s here because he’s a villain from the Avengers’ side of the Marvel Universe, the Skull is a villain who makes sense as an X-Men opponent.  Remender wisely plays down the Nazi iconography in favour of just making him a full-bore unrepentant bad guy; it’s not that he doesn’t have motivations, it’s just that they come from a philosophy that’s clearly not intended to provoke any degree of sympathy.  And while you can make the case that he should have taken an interest in mutants long ago, the short answer to that is one of dramatic licence: he wasn’t interested in mutants because he was a Captain America villain.  That sort of criticism is valid as far as it goes but really falls into the same territory as “why don’t the public feel the same way about superheroes who aren’t mutants?”  The answer is “because anti-mutant prejudice isn’t part of the premise of Avengers“, and if that makes the Marvel Universe a little bit incoherent, well, so it goes.

Actually, Remender does have a go at addressing some of these points.  So we have Thor, for example, explaining that he’s previously assumed that the mutant issue would sort itself out in due course, but now he’s planning to take a more direct interest.  Still, it’s probably best not to think about it too hard, since there’s not much Remender can really do in these opening stories that ought to be any more dramatic than some of the things that have happened in the past.  I get the impression he’s trying to sell Avalanche’s attack in issue #1 as a major turning point, and I have a bit of trouble getting on board with that; I don’t see it as sufficiently out of the ordinary for that, given the sort of things that happen routinely in the MU.

Much of this issue focusses on Wanda and Rogue as the Red Skull’s prisoners, with the Skull (now boosted by telepathy from you-know-where) trying to convince Wanda that they can work together to get rid of the mutants again, which, after all, is what she wanted, right?  I like the way Remender is using the Skull’s power-up simply to make him more persuasive; it’s more interesting having him nudge characters than simply seizing control of them.  Then again, it does seem to slightly duplicate one of the Skull’s new henchmen, who has the fabulous name “Honest John, the Living Propaganda”.  That’s a fabulous concept for a villain, and it shows Remender continuing to play to one of his strengths from X-Force, by taking the sort of crazy ideas that might have seemed at home in the Silver Age, but presenting them in such a way that they don’t seem retro.

Cassaday’s art also seems to improve on the first issue; the Skull is the sort of ridiculous design that doesn’t necessarily play to his strengths as a photorealist artist, but when it works, the grin works.  His designs for the Skull’s followers are a nice departure from superhero convention as well.

So far, so good.

X-Men: Legacy #2 – Perhaps the relaunched title most likely to divide readers, and certainly the one that represents the biggest commercial gamble among the X-books.  This issue, Legion struggles to regain control of his mind and bring his rogue personalities back under control, then encounters a strange creature from the future who’s apparently trying to manipulate Legion so that he does something he’s meant to do in the future.  So there’s a main story in the outside world, intercut with Legion in his own mind trying to rebuild and capture the personalities with the useful powers.

It’s too early really to tell where any of this is going; at this stage Si Spurrier is still positioning Legion as a viable protagonist with an agenda and some degree of self-control.  The format of having Legion take on his rogue personalities one at a time in order to gain access to the powers that they represent could be a good set-up, though it occurs to me that all of this contains the questionable assumption that the “core” Legion personality is any more real than the rest of them are.  Perhaps they’re coming to that; has he really been selected as anything more than the personality least likely to do damage while he’s in control?

The claustrophobia inside Legion’s mind is well handled, though there are still issues with a slightly one-dimensional villain, and several curious references that suggest Spurrier really does think Legion is Scottish, not Israeli.  Perhaps he’s confusing him with Proteus, which would be understandable.

At the moment, this is more of a book with the potential to go either way, than a title which is clearly working.  The jury’s still out.

Bring on the comments

  1. wwk5d says:

    “I’m simply saying that if you read Carol’s character from #168 through #260”

    Carol’s character and the psyche Rogue absorbed were 2 different things during that era.

    While it may be uncomfortable for either of them to agree to Rogue absorbing Carol’s powers and memories again, I can see them doing under the right circumstances when it is necessary, for the greater good. The first time I think it happened was during the Maximum Security crossover.

  2. D. says:

    “Carol’s character and the psyche Rogue absorbed were 2 different things during that era.”

    I know. Remember Binary’s reaction when she found Rogue at the mansion? And then Remember Carol’s conversation with Psylocke after visiting the Vietnam War Memorial?

    To me this is all inconsistent with allowing Rogue to take Carol’s powers a second time. Claremont described it as a violation on par with a rape. Would a rape victim allow herself to be raped again by the same rapist? It’s just not credible to me. No matter how much subsequent writes say, “Oh, they’re friends now. On the same side.” I just don’t buy it.

  3. Dave says:

    When Rogue was in the last Ms Marvel solo title, they were quite antagonistic towards each other. Carol was left thinking she still wasn’t over it.

  4. wwk5d says:

    I don’t think either Rogue or Carol see it as something they do in a friendly way, more like in a “the ends justify the means/we have no other option” kind of way. Usually when the plot is contrived, but still.

  5. The original Matt says:

    It still makes no sense for the public to be cheering on Thor and throwing bricks at Storm. Either you like weather control people or you don’t, but when you see a super powered punch up in the street, how can you tell juggernaut has magical and not mutant powers?

  6. Somebody says:

    > I don’t think either Rogue or Carol see it as something they do in a friendly way, more like in a “the ends justify the means/we have no other option” kind of way. Usually when the plot is contrived, but still.

    That doesn’t apply in the A+X issue though – the explanation given is that she “let [Rogue] borrow her powers for the day.” That implies comfort with the idea (mixed with a sort of “I can’t be bothered, you do it” laziness).

    > It still makes no sense for the public to be cheering on Thor and throwing bricks at Storm. Either you like weather control people or you don’t, but when you see a super powered punch up in the street, how can you tell juggernaut has magical and not mutant powers?

    Thor occasionally gets fire for the Asgardian gods’ stuff, especially since he (first) brought Asgard to Earth in Thor v2 #50 and left it floating over NYC for a while. The general attitude is that “Thor’s a super-hero, Storm’s a mutant advocate.”

    You might as well ask if it makes sense for people to refuse to buy a singer/writer/other artiste’s work when they find out they’re gay when it makes absolutely no difference to their making the stuff. (i.e., Of course it makes no sense, but it is genuinely A Thing That Happens)

  7. The original Matt says:

    In that sense, you are correct. I more meant in a bypassers POV, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether the lightning was mutant or as Asgardian in origin. How does the lynch mob know to throw stuff at storm? She could be an Asgard too?

  8. Dave says:

    The ‘X’ on the costume gives them a decent idea.

  9. Ethan says:

    This specific example is kind of irrelevant. In general the anti-mutant prejudice has never been portrayed as “a lynch-mob forms whenever a mutant uses their powers”, they’ve had caricatured mobs, but mostly in reaction to a mutant who looks stereotypically frightening (Nightcrawler) or is in a position to be blamed for some catastrophe (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s origin, Magneto post-WWII in Transia). For the most part anti-mutant prejudice has been portrayed as a broader cultural and political movement, in which the fact that you can’t tell easily who is and isn’t a mutant is often a key source of fear. The scenes in UA #2 caused by Honest John’s mind control are way way more extreme and immediate anti-mutant violence than has usually been seen, and that’s because of mind control.

  10. The original Matt says:

    The only non nightcrawler lynch mob I can think of offhand is the random mutant who got beat to death in x-men prime all those years ago now. Or do we just chalk that stuff up to “yeah, it was the 90s” now.

  11. wwk5d says:

    ““I can’t be bothered, you do it” laziness”

    That made me laugh, actually. I can see other people doing it to Rogue.
    “Sugah, we got a Sentinal on the loose!”
    “Eh, take my powers and go deal with it. I had a late night last night.”

    Off the top of my head, Lynch mobs have formed during Uncanny 192, 200, 300, and 304…

  12. kingderella says:

    the marvel population hating mutants and idolizing other super-powered people isnt that strange. its not like that kind of hatred is rational. one cant tell the average jew from the average non-jew, either, but that doesnt mean antisemitism doesnt exist.

  13. Matt C. says:

    Regarding bashing editors, I think Niall summed it up well… it’s not the individual editors I have a problem with, but how they’re used. I guess when I think “editor” I think of “someone who edits” – I realize the comics industry is far different from say, the editor at a novel publishing company, simply because of the time constraints. But I would still hope there was someone whose role was to check over things for continuity. Yeah, I can understand why its low on the totem pole priority compared to actually getting the books out the door and making sure they contain 22 pages of dialogue, art, inks and colors, but considering one of the whole “points”, IMO, of comics is that they’re the same characters with a rich history, I would hope SOME time would be spent on that aspect.

  14. errant says:

    Continuity over the long term is one of those annoying things about Marvel’s current editorial regimes. What’s more bothersome is their total disregard for making sure that their writers keep to a certain internal logic or continuity within a story. Or even the same issue. A crossover is one thing but if you’ve got 3-5 guys writing a major even mini series, you really ought to be prepared at the onset to coordinate with them what is happening from issue to issue. Otherwise don’t bother with the idea to begin with.

  15. Jerry Ray says:

    Good point, errant. There are levels of continuity adherence, and different people desire different levels.

    There are some folks (the real uber-obsessives, and I’m not sure there are many of these left) who fall into the “everything counts” camp and get mad if anything contradicts anything else without explicit acknowledgement and explanation. That’s not really a feasible way to operate 60 years into a shared Marvel Universe, though – there’s just too much story there, and you’d never be able to get everything right or tell a new story if you worried about EVERYTHING that’s come before.

    I think it’s reasonable to at least get the major beats in a character’s background right, otherwise you’re not really telling stories in a shared universe, you’re just telling a series of unconnected happenings with characters with similar names and appearances to those from the past. This also involves some amount of coordination of the status quo of a character, so a character that’s dead or in jail this month in one title doesn’t show up in a completely different situation in another title. There was a big problem with this with the Wrecking Crew and others a few years back – they popped up arbitrarily and with no coordination in a lot of different stories.

    I think it’s an absolute must to maintain internal logic and continuity with a given story that’s being told across time and different books, and Marvel have failed badly with this in most of their recent mega-crossovers. Avengers Vs. X-Men was particularly bad – I don’t think it was possible to place all the crossover issues into anything approaching a consistent timeline. That’s just laziness, and really makes me question why I’m paying a bunch of money to read a story that’s scattered all over the place when IT JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

  16. Si says:

    I’ve often considered how simple it would be to make a set of files, like on Microsoft Access or something, with some basic stats for every character. It could include an image of the current costume, references to major storylines and where to find them, etc. But also it could have current status (dead, gaol, changed sides, etc), and if they are currently, recently, or soon to be in use by other creators. Once set up, you could probably even let customers see it online for a charge. After all, how many people bought OHOTMU?

  17. ZZZ says:

    I kind of wonder if the first story in A+X was written back when Rogue still had Carol Danvers’ powers all the time, with the throwaway line about borrowing Carol’s powers being added to bring it in line with current continuity.

    I’ve used this analogy here before, but asking why anti-mutant bigots hate people who were born with powers but not people who got powers in a lab accident is like asking why racist bigots hate people who were born with dark skin but not people who got dark skin from lying out in the sun all day.

    It’s not really about the powers (or skin color), it’s about the belief that they’re different, that they were born with something “in the blood” (that’s stupid person for “in their genes”) that makes them inherently evil or untrustworthy or inferior or whatever the stupid person thinks they are. Johnny Storm isn’t part of the vast mutant conspiracy because he wasn’t born with mutant evil “in his blood” and cosmic rays won’t put it there. But the Beast, well, no matter how many heroic things he does, oh you just know he’s up to something – it’s “in his blood” you see. Ignorance, by definition, bows to no logic.

  18. odessasteps says:

    After a few decades of being obsessive about continuity, i finaaly decided that for me, a good story was more important than one that dotted i and crossed t about minutae.

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