Posted on Sunday, December 23, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
It’s the week before Christmas, and the scheduling bunnies are on acid. Perhaps it’s a rush to get all this month’s remaining books out before the holiday season hits, but the result is a full-on deluge of X-books if ever there was one – ten books in a single week, surely more than anyone could actually want.
A+X #3 – The stories in this anthology title have generally been pretty decent so far, but I still struggle to believe that it’s a format that will sustain sales once readers and retailers figure out what it actually contains. If it does, so much the better – that would imply that it’s selling on entertainment value (of which it has some) rather than significance to continuity (of which it has virtually zero), and that would be no bad thing.
Some people might regard this issue’s lead story as having a bit of significance, though. It’s a Storm/Black Panther story by Jason Aaron and Pasqual Ferry, and the first story that has to deal with their marriage being casually annulled during Avengers vs X-Men. I never liked the marriage, which committed the twin sins of matching up two characters solely because they were African, and relegating Storm to the status of a supporting character in somebody else’s book, and I have no particular problem with the reset button being hit on it – but Avengers vs X-Men did it in such a throwaway fashion that somebody else was always going to have to try and unpack the consequences to provide a degree of resolution.
Jason Aaron bites the bullet and takes on the task, in a story which mainly serves to reconcile the two characters on a personal level. He has the Panther take the line that the annulment of their marriage was a political inevitability once the X-Men attacked Wakanda, which seems a viable way of justifying the story while allowing some closure to the relationship. It’s still a story that mainly seems intended to draw a line under a direction that one suspects has been belatedly recognised as an error, but it does at least do so while making the relationship between the duo themselves make sense. It’s trying to satisfy both camps by validating the romance for those who accepted it while shutting down the marriage so that we never have to talk about it again if we don’t want to – a tricky balancing act, but I think Aaron pulls it off.
The back-up strip is a Hawkeye/Gambit story by James Asmus and Billy Tan. Basically, the idea is that they’re trying to rescue a pretty girl from a nasty demon and competing with one another to impress her at the same time, which is a solid enough idea for one of these shorts. Since Asmus is the regular writer on the Gambit solo title, it should come as no real surprise that his boy comes out on top. The interplay between the two maybe doesn’t work as well as it ought to, since by playing the story mainly from Gambit’s perspective, Asmus ends up nudging Hawkeye towards the role of uptight foil, for which he’s not really suited.
All-New X-Men #4 – Four issues in, we reach the confrontation between the original X-Men and Scott’s new team. Kind of. What actually happens: there’s an inconclusive fight between the two groups, and the new team retreat. This being a Brian Bendis comic, everyone on both sides then has a sit down to talk about what just happened, which leads to the original X-Men deciding that, hey, maybe they should just go home after all. And then we go back to the storyline about Beast dying.
This is a rather better series than Bendis’ Avengers was, not least because he’s doing a far better job here of juggling his large cast and maintaining a sense of direction. Nonetheless, he’s always been a writer more interested in the character scenes than the action side of superhero comics, and that’s very much apparent in an action scene where the action serves no real purpose; the point of the scene is simply for it to have happened, so that the characters have met and can proceed to talk about it. Bendis needs the original X-Men to want to hunt down the new team so that that confrontation can happen; but as soon that’s been done, that motivation becomes an inconvenience and it’s instantly dropped. This would be fine if it really did feel like a change of attitude that resulted from the encounter itself, but I don’t get that sense.
In fact, quite a lot of this feels decidedly forced, for reasons that are understandable but still leave the strings all too visible. Bendis needs the adult Scott to accept the teenage Scott as genuine, so we get a page of internal narration designed to explain why he accepts time travel as the most likely explanation. I see why Bendis needs to get there and doesn’t want to waste time on having the original team prove their authenticity, but the fact remains that the modern day characters seem all too easy to convince, simply because the plot would prefer to get to the point where they believe. And it’s fair enough that this is where Bendis wants to get to; it’s just that it doesn’t feel as organic as it should.
Still, it’s a beautiful looking comic, and there are interesting ideas here in the direction of Scott’s new version of the team. I’m not sure Bendis has really got a grip on Emma Frost, who appears to have lost much of her signature snark, but the basic idea of her being stuck with Scott for want of any better options even after things have gone horribly wrong is a concept with potential.
Astonishing X-Men #57 – Whither Astonishing X-Men? It doesn’t sell all that well, and it’s being lined up for a crossover with Age of Apocalypse and X-Treme X-Men in 2013. Since those two books both have sales figures that would surely seem to put them on the danger list, it doesn’t seem like auspicious company to be keeping.
But in the meantime, we have the opening chapter in a Warbird storyline that picks up on the origin story established for the character by Jason Aaron in Wolverine and the X-Men: essentially, that she’s been raised in a military culture which has driven her to suppress artistic tendencies that she sees as weakness. In this story, she learns about an alien icon found on Earth and races off to investigate, because she recognises it as a creation of a race the Shi’ar wiped out long ago. The idea is that this race were making art that the Shi’ar regarded as weapons of psychological warfare, though pretty much every other character instantly realises that the problem here might well have been more with the Shi’ar feeling threatened by something they didn’t understand. The icon might be a weapon of some sort, though it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, with the direction of this story, it’ll probably turn out to be something like a music box which is More Dangerous Than Any Bomb.
It’s picking up on the direction established for the character and helping to develop her beyond the strident comic relief figure she was initially presented as. To use her as a main character, Marjorie Liu needs to play up another side of her character, and this is what she has to work with. The long term direction is presumably that she continues to struggle between the values of her culture and her personal interests, and has to do so while living alongside people who think the values of her culture on this point are plainly wrong. There’s a good story to be done with that, and Liu’s taking the classic approach of constructing a superhero story around an admittedly not too subtle metaphor for those immigrant themes.
Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Felix Ruiz provide some excellent artwork; Walta in particular seems by now to have figured out how to strike a balance between his personal style and a more conventional superhero approach, and even manages to accommodate Warbird’s faintly ridiculous costume without it seeming out of place. A decent issue on the whole, if a shade heavy handed.
Cable & X-Force #2 – Crikey, this is slow. It’s trying for a time honoured structure, where you have something seemingly inexplicable happening in the present and cut back to flashbacks showing how we got to this point. The “something seemingly inexplicable” is the new X-Force having apparently attacked somewhere or other and killed people there – though it has to be said that the first issue didn’t do a particularly good job of selling this as anything other than a routine action sequence. The flashbacks are an extended “gathering of the team” sequence which also help to establish that Cable is having visions of some sort of upcoming nastiness and wants to save the world one last time.
But it’s taking its sweet time getting to any sort of point. About half of this issue is Domino and Hope fighting something techno-organic on a beach, a scene which is far longer than it needs to be given how little actually happens in it. This is a series with real pacing problems; thus far it seems to be doing a long, drawn-out reveal of its own premise, but that means that two issues in, it has yet to provide any real hook for the audience.
Gambit #7 – You know the deal by now. It’s a caper story; Gambit has been manoeuvred into having to fight Pete Wisdom but he outwits everyone and comes out on top in the end. This is a series with a formula, and no mistake, but thus far it’s continued to come up with enough inventive variations on the story to make it work. The art is a little patchy on this; Diogenes Neves’ fill-in art feels a little bit sketchy to start with, and then Al Barrionuevo crops up for a few pages to give us a Gambit who’s both slightly off-model and wildly overacting. Still, a solid enough issue on its own terms.
Uncanny X-Force #35 – The final issue of Rick Remender’s run is an epilogue that caps off the character arcs of the main characters. Wolverine buries Daken (who, it seems, is pretty definitively dead this time); Psylocke is reconciled with her brother; Fantomex is brought back, but with a change to his character that avoids giving the impression that the reset button is being hit; and Deadpool gets to be thanked by Evan for acting as a hero. Actually, as Remender has acknowledged in interviews, Deadpool didn’t really have a character arc of his own in this series; he was the comic relief. But putting him with Evan in the final issue gets round that problem nicely.
No sign of Nightcrawler, but then his story is being picked up on in the “X-Termination” crossover next year, so it’s probably for the best that this issue doesn’t qualify its happy ending by bringing him up. And yes, the book does end on a happy ending, more or less, even if it does so with the inevitable acknowledgement that it’s going to be a transitory one. More to the point is that, even if it is only a respite, it’s an ending that the story seems to have earned. Remender’s run on X-Force is, I think, widely recognised as one of the best things the X-books have produced in years, and in part that’s because it really did find a way of taking its characters on a journey over its two year run, despite most of them being familiar and some of them, notably Psylocke, being outright damaged goods. Nobody’s done a really good Psylocke-centred story in years, and while it has to be acknowledged that Remender was assisted by other writers doing some clear-up work to rehabilitate her before he got hold of her, the fact remains that he’s the one who’s finally got her out of the doldrums and back into circulation as a meaningful character.
Remender also found a way to make the black-ops premise of X-Force into something more complicated without betraying it, simply by taking a more nuanced approach to how the characters actually felt about what they were doing. Where the previous volume had just cranked up the darkness and violence, this version of X-Force got far more mileage out of the premise simply by making sure there was light and shade at work. Generally excellent art has helped too, also avoiding the easy option of murky bloodshed in favour of something a bit more graceful, such as Phil Noto provides on this final issue.
It hasn’t always been perfect – the Otherworld stuff didn’t really work, in particular – but as a largely successful and self-contained story, this ought to be one of the runs that should be selling in Omnibus form for years to come.
Wolverine and the X-Men #22 – Part two of the Frankenstein story follows largely along the lines you would expect. The circus is trying to catch Max from the Hellfire Club, and since they don’t know what he looks like, they’re going after all the kids they can get their hands on. That means we have the circus versus the pupils from the Jean Grey School, while the X-Men naturally start to remember who they are, since it’s their book, after all. And stuck in the middle is Max, who for the first time gets a chance to display some personality of his own separate from just hanging around with the other Hellfire kids.
This story does seem to be positioning the Frankenstein Monster as the driving force behind the whole scheme, preoccupied with tracking down and killing the Frankenstein family. I don’t recall that being a part of his character before, and I still can’t help wondering whether it’s misdirection, since the previous issue did acknowledge that he’s generally supposed to be a misunderstood character, not an evil one. There’s not much in this issue to hint in this direction, though, and what you’ll make of it probably depends on your tolerance levels for the crazier elements of Aaron’s stories. I think it just about clicks – somewhat to my surprise, the stuff about Max wondering whether to help Idie works for me, maybe because it’s the first sign we’ve really had of any of the Hellfire kids developing beyond one dimensionality. It’s not going to be for everyone, though.
X-Factor #249 – Not the beginning of the “Hell on Earth War”, which starts in issue #250, but clearly a preamble. I’ve never quite been sold on the mystical storylines in this book, which don’t strike me as its strongest suit. But Peter David does sell the idea that what’s happening in this issue is a big deal, with the cast making one of their rare appearances as a proper team in order to try and stem a demonic invasion of the Bronx while having no particularly clear idea of what they’re doing. It’s an action story, though one mainly devoted to getting across the point that the threat here is Really, Really Bad and that our heroes are out of their collective depth – and that connects, together with the character points that David works into the story. I’m still not all that interested in the concept of demonic invasion, but the sense of crisis here is strong enough to carry the issue and convey that what’s about to happen is a big deal.
X-Men Legacy #3 – Legion has had a vision of two mutant twins being help prisoner in Japan, so he’s decided to have a go at helping, since it’s the sort of thing his dad would have done. As it turns out, though, they’re not really being held prisoner at all, they’re more fellow travellers of a cult that’s still worshipping Ogun, somewhat reluctantly agreeing to help out by using their powers in service of the deceased villain’s cause.
It’s another story where the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but that’s not necessarily a sin in superhero comics. This is, after all, a whole book based around dramatising the arguments within Legion’s own mind. Legion has come to Japan hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps, but ends up learning a lesson about the dangers of devoting your life to the teachings of a deceased father figure. That’s a story worth telling as the book continues the theme of Legion hunting for direction, since copying Charles Xavier is both the most obvious and least interesting thing he could do – so it needs to be raised and disposed of, and this story covers the point in a single issue.
The cultists aren’t much of a threat, but then they probably shouldn’t be; after all, they’re there to symbolise the futility of living your life in the shadow of the deceased. Besides, Legion’s main conflict is internal; if he could actually control his powers then he’d be crushing everyone in sight, and it’s the struggle to subdue errant parts of his own mind, and thus gain access to more of his own power, that really determines the outcome of these fights.
Okay, somebody is still going to have to sit down Si Spurrier and break the news to him that Legion is Israeli, not Scottish. And I’m not entirely sold on the use of the X-Men as the notional villains; is Legion really going to have that much trouble persuading them about what happened? Still, another solid issue as Spurrier continues to make strides on the difficult task of turning Legion into a viable lead.
X-Treme X-Men #8 – The focus moves away from the alternate realities as such, and on to the question of how far the team can trust their floating Xavier head, who says they need to kill a bunch of evil Xavier duplicates to save the multiverse. While they’ve been separated from him, he’s recruited a team of his own, including a paramilitary Dazzler who’s the last survivor of a zombieverse, and is rather more willing to play along by killing everything in sight. But it’s pretty clear that all is not as it seems here, and I’m glad to see the book turning its attention to that side of things, instead of just continuing the world-of-the-month format.
That said, we do get a world of the month: a My Little Unicorn world which Xavier’s new X-Force is all too happy to shoot to pieces. Thankfully, it turns out that Xavier’s actually telling the truth about this world, at least, so the question of quite what he’s up to remains at least somewhat up in the air, even if it’s quite apparent that he’s trying to get shot of his uncooperative team members.
One of the stronger issues of the series, and one where the book actually seems to hit what it was aiming for.