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Feb 10

The X-Axis – 10 February 2013

Posted on Sunday, February 10, 2013 by Paul in x-axis

And so, in the week when people across Britain weighed up the unexpectedly related questions, “How do I feel about horses?” and “Can I be bothered cooking my own food?”, we find ourselves with another weird example of Marvel scheduling.  Despite the large number of X-books released each month – the checklist lists 19, though that’s counting two Deadpool books – Marvel have only two of them coming out this week.  Not that this is a complaint, as such; more a resigned bemusement at what could possibly be going through their minds.

I’d understand if they were moving stuff aside in order to give a major release like Uncanny X-Men #1 a clear run for our attention – that would make some degree of sense.  Instead, we’ve got two middle chapters coming out, and presumably a vast deluge of X-related material in some later week to make up for it.  I just don’t get the thinking.

(Oh, just a reminder that, as we mentioned on the last podcast, it’ll be another week before the Landmark Issue #100.  Current plan is to record it next Sunday.)

Anyway.  Comics!  Both of them!

All-New X-Men #7 - Even Brian Bendis has started making jokes about this book’s weirdly accelerated schedule, but it actually works to its advantage.  After all, the pace of this series would be glacial if it were shipping monthly.  But as a fortnightly-or-faster, it just about gets away with it.  Which is quite something when you consider that, six issues into the series, the plot really hasn’t progressed much beyond establishing the premise of Bendis’ two titles (and establishing that Cyclops’ team’s powers have been screwed up, but that’s a story primarily for the other book).

With this issue, the plot does seem to be moving forward a bit.  Kid Cyclops wanders off into Manhattan in the hope of picking up a few of his personal effects from his old safety deposit box.  Remarkably few people seem to spot the guy wearing the distinctive visor – it’s amazing what a baseball cap can do – though I guess I can just about buy that he’s so obviously younger that people would at least figure he wasn’t genuine.  Because the plot doth demand it, Cyclops has the good fortune to stumble into a clerk who’s a huge fan, and who might, conceivably, even be being set up as an alternative love interest.

Obviously this can’t go so swimmingly for long, but Mystique (posing as Wolverine) shows up to bail him out of trouble.  Since this Cyclops has no idea who she is, this gives her the opportunity to take him aside and give him the pep talk on the world as she sees it.  The story seems to be going for her trying to manipulate Cyclops by setting herself up as a hero, but that plainly doesn’t work.  After all, she clearly identifies herself with her regular codename; it’s pretty obvious that the first thing Cyclops is going to do when he gets back home is look her up, or at least ask somebody about her.  Then again, the story also asks us to believe that nobody’s bothered asking yet what Wolverine’s powers are, which only works if you accept there’s been very little time to have even basic introductions.

More plausibly, though, Mystique is able to make an argument for him to go after his older self and rebuild the X-Men his way, which is more about generating conflict to keep the X-Men out of her hair.  And this does give Cyclops the opportunity to talk to somebody who isn’t looking at him like a potential maniac.  There’s a nice idea here that Cyclops’ reaction to the whole situation includes something he hasn’t been openly discussing with the rest of his team: understandably, he figures he must have had a reason for all these things he’s apparently going to do when he’s older.  That sets up a potentially interesting direction where, far from young Scott talking his older self into seeing sense, it all works the other way around, with the younger Scott all too eager to accept any rationalisation for what he’s going to do.

David Marquez’ art keeps well to the style established for the book by Stuart Immonen, helped no end by Marte Gracia’s nice bright colouring.  He also manages to make the younger X-Men look younger – frankly, younger than they ever did in the Silver Age.  I’ve made the point before that what Bendis is writing here bears no real resemblance to the way the X-Men acted in their early issues; Cyclops was never was this nervous and inexperienced.  But logically he should have been, and I’m willing to give Bendis a lot of leeway in this department, if only because a faithful rendition of the Silver Age team, complete with their teenage suits, would be ridiculous and absurd.  This isn’t the Silver Age X-Men, but it is what the early version of the team logically ought to have been, from the standpoint of modern continuity.  And that’s what the story needs.

For all that plotlines are being set in train, though, there’s no getting away from the fact that (a brief and largely gratuitous altercation with Scott’s team aside) we’re now into something like our seventh straight of issue of Gripping Conversation.  And while the accelerated release schedule means this is still just about on the right side of acceptable, it’s really starting to push it.  The plot needs to kick up a gear, and soon.

X-Factor #251 – Part two of “Hell on Earth War”, the story Peter David has been building to for quite some time.  David suffered a stroke at the end of last year and will hopefully have a swift recovery; on the rather more prosaic level of what happens to this storyline, it appears that he had written far enough ahead to avoid major problems.  Which is good, since (while it’s hardly the most important aspect of his health problems) it would have been a shame for his lengthy run on this book to end with an unfinished story.

So, what about the story?  The set-up is now clear, and “war” appears to be something of an overstatement.  It’s a battle between the various lords of Marvel’s assorted Hell-type afterlives – Hela, Mephisto, Pluto, you know the usual suspects.  They’re supposed to be fighting to be the overlord of all Hell, but a Mysterious Force Who Is Obviously God has instead determined that they’re going to do it by hunting down the seven billionth person born on Earth.  Whoever kills him wins.  In the manner of such stories, that person was Rahne’s son Tier, which seems kind of a coincidence.  But it’s magic; stories about magic are unusually accommodating to unlikely coincidences.

Not a war, then; more a scavenger hunt.  Nonetheless, this is what Darwin and Jezebel were apparently trying to avoid by killing Tier first.  I confess to be being a bit uncertain about what exactly is at stake here for the humans, other than the obvious point of keeping Tier alive.  Darwin describes the situation as apocalyptic, but why?  Is it really that bad if, say, Hela kills Tier and ends up subjugating a lot of other hell-lords who are considerably worse than her?  Or are we just taking it as read that whoever wins will become vastly powerful and invade Earth?  It’s a bit unclear.

Still, if the mechanics are a bit hazy on reflection, David cranks up the sense of scale very effectively, and gets over the idea that our heroes are thoroughly out of their depth dealing with this stuff.  Their plan boils down to running like hell and trying to contact an A-list team like the Avengers or the X-Men who might actually be able to do something about it all.  On that level, it works very well.  And the action scenes are well put together; the moves matter, they aren’t just random combat to provide an obligatory backdrop to conversation.  It’s still a magic story, which has never been my personal favourite area for the X-Men, or for earlier issues of this series, but David’s selling it very effectively.

Bring on the comments

  1. Alex says:

    As only a partial x-book reader, who was mystique talking to in the van at the end of the issue?

  2. Nick says:

    “As only a partial x-book reader, who was mystique talking to in the van at the end of the issue?”

    I read all the X-Books except Astonishing and I was wondering that as well.

    It just better not be Daken…

  3. kelvingreen says:

    The plot needs to kick up a gear, and soon.

    It’s Bendis. It’s never going to happen.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Paul, even going back to the X-Axis website days you’ve openly wondered about the reasoning behind Marvel’s scheduling but they continue to pack some weeks with books while leaving other weeks very light. Perhaps they have data which shows more people visit their comic shop once or twice a month and try to schedule books to make certain weeks “big” weeks to get these sort of customers into the store during those weeks?

    That’s just a guess on my part, but even in the comments here I’ve seen people mention they like when multiple books are released at the same time because then they can pick up a lot of titles on one trip.

    Plus I can’t imagine Marvel hasn’t put some thought into such things, if only because I’m sure they have a room full of guys whose job it is to figure out how to maximize their profits.

  5. Paul says:

    Well, the person in the van is a mystery. They were kept in shadow in the last issue too.

  6. Taibak says:

    Anyone else wonder what would happen if Bendis tried to write, say, Patsy Walker or Millie the Model (yes, I know, but think of it as an ironic stage name)? Something where he could write a soap opera where the audience aren’t expecting Magneto to fly in and blow something up.

  7. Somebody says:

    > I confess to be being a bit uncertain about what exactly is at stake here for the humans, other than the obvious point of keeping Tier alive. Darwin describes the situation as apocalyptic, but why? Is it really that bad if, say, Hela kills Tier and ends up subjugating a lot of other hell-lords who are considerably worse than her? Or are we just taking it as read that whoever wins will become vastly powerful and invade Earth? It’s a bit unclear.

    This is a problem I had too – Hela definitely, and even Pluto, are verging on Neutral. They have heaven realms as part of the afterlives they rule, after all! (No, Hela didn’t always. That’s part of the aftermath of Ragnarok, etc, with Asgard on Earth, that Hela now runs Valhalla too). PAD seems to have been slightly lazy in his choice of “devils” for that reason, despite the plot requiring that, rather than focusing on Marvel’s actual Hell Lords.

    [And Umar's here, but is the Dark Dimension even an afterlife dimension? I was under the impression it was more like a magic-based version of the Negative Zone than a heaven/hell/etc.]

  8. Alex says:

    Ah. I thought maybe it was someone from whatever other X-book mystique was in now.

    I’m also intrigued by the bank teller / love interest character.

  9. Dave says:

    “we’re now into something like our seventh straight issue of Gripping Conversation.”

    How or why does a writer so bad at dialogue manage to get away with this, or try to do it in the first place? And still manage to have characters not having made basic introductions?

  10. Nick says:

    “[And Umar's here, but is the Dark Dimension even an afterlife dimension? I was under the impression it was more like a magic-based version of the Negative Zone than a heaven/hell/etc.]”

    I think it is supposed to be Satanna, but that doesn’t exactly make much sense either.

  11. ChrisKafka says:

    I’m not completely sure, but I was wondering if Satanna is now supposed to be ruling the part of Hell that Hellstrom used to own.

  12. David Aspmo says:

    “Then again, the story also asks us to believe that nobody’s bothered asking yet what Wolverine’s powers are, which only works if you accept there’s been very little time to have even basic introductions.”

    I think, in-story, the time displaced X-Men have only been around for two, *maybe* three days – and the first day was spent trying to keep Beast from dying.

  13. Joseph says:

    I will begrudgingly admit that Bendis has sold me on this story with the last two issues. Or, if not the plot, the set up itself is executed in a way that is interesting enough as it is. Seeing the world, our world (bottled water, $5 magazines, etc) as well as the MarvelU (Avengers as top-cops, Cyclops as revolutionary, from the perspective of the idealistic outsider. Particularly because “Wolverine” was actually Mystique, the distance in tone helps us assume the perspective of outsider. I had my doubts, but assuming the plot doesn’t completely fall apart, I think this may end up an appropriate 50th anniversary story.

  14. Thomas says:

    In what universe is Bendis bad at dialogue? Sure, he has a recognizable style that may eventually get old, but his dialogue is a million times better then the house style that existed in the 80s and the 90s. Bendis isn’t Elmore Leonard or George Pelecanos, but you can tell his dialogue is influenced by those guys and not by Stan Lee and Tom DeFalco, and that’s a good thing.

  15. Jerry Ray says:

    I feel like I’m going to get “Bendis poisoning” if I read more than 2 of his books in a row. The dialogue tics have reached the point of self-parody, I daresay more than Lee or Claremont back in the day. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that every single character he writes has the same voice: a 50 year old Jewish comedian.

  16. FallenAngel says:

    I had a problem with the bottled water line in All-New X-Men.
    Am I the only one?
    Considering the fact that the Silver Age X-Men, in Marvel’s chronology, did not actually take place in the 1960s. Cyclops must be in his early-30s, at most, currently. And, young Cyclops is, roughly, 17 (I’m guessing).
    That means that young Cyclops would have experienced the 1990s.
    I’m not sure when bottled water first became so popular, but I’m pretty sure they had bottled water by 1998.
    It seemed like Bendis was writing that line as if Silver Age Cyclops was actually coming from the 1960s.

  17. moose n squirrel says:

    I said this last week, but once again: while bottled water existed in the late 90s, it only really existed as a niche product – it only really exploded into mass popularity within the last decade or so. Anyone working in or around retail over that period of time can tell you that what we commonly see in supermarkets and drugstores now – entire refrigerator cases full of bottled water, divided up into various brands and specialty products – is a relatively recent phenomenon.

  18. moose n squirrel says:

    “In what universe is Bendis bad at dialogue?”

    The same universe in which giving all your characters the same voice, and making that voice be the voice of a stuttering, neurotic adolescent, is not the best or most effective way to write.

  19. ZZZ says:

    @moose n squirrel – I don’t want to make a big deal of it (I’m the one who brought up the water thing last time) and I don’t doubt that’s the way it was where you lived in the 90s, but my memory of the 90s is that bottled water was pretty common. I was in college in the early 90s and I remember that whenever you went to a school-sanctioned event (ie one where there wasn’t beer) they always supplied one of those big shrink-wrapped cases of bottled water and I remember looking at those things and thinking “I’m on a college campus. I’m literally never more than 50 feet from a drinking fountaint. This is what the school is spending my tuition on? Saving me a 50-foot walk? Oh well, at least it’s warm!”

    Now, I didn’t go to school in New York, so it’s possible that you’re right that it would seem really weird to Scott. But even if it was uncommon for convenience stores to stock it in large displays at the time, I’d think seeing such a display might be a shock to someone from the 60s (which I believe Bendis is subconsciously using as his benchmark for Scott’s frame of reference), but to someone from the 90s – who’d know of the existence of the product even if he didn’t expect it to be displayed so prominently – it would be like when you walk into a supermarket and see a huge wall of Doritos right by the entrance: you think “wow, this particular supermarket is really pushing the Doritos” not “They don’t market Doritos like that where I’m from; what’s happened in this town that’s forced people to need so many Doritos?”

  20. alex says:

    Well, given the cover of ANXM in the new Previews, i guess we know prob who is in the van.

  21. Dave says:

    Bendis dialogue: what Jerry and moose said.

    Over Christmas I read my first bit of Ultimate Spiderman. It’s always well reviewed (though it was an Ultimatum tie-in, which I know is not exactly the high point) so I thought maybe it wouldn’t be as irritating. I could barely finish it. A double-page spread of Peter and MJ chatting in the school cantina with that same, repetitive voice that everyone always has just reinforced again that I’m never going to like his stuff. Unless he drastically changes.
    I’d take the 80s/90s style every time. Neither is very realistic, but Bendis’ way just doesn’t work in a comic.

  22. Chief says:

    A big problem I have with Bendis’s writing is that the emotions you can tell he’s trying to get across NEVER come across on the page. He’s especially bad when trying to create a sense of urgency/fear/danger. Pretty much every Bendis large scale fight scene has the same short answer quips that everyone has already pointed out:

    “Oh my GOD!”
    “This is terrible”
    “Yeah it is”
    “I should have stayed in today!”
    “Ya think?”

    It’s so bad that no matter how good the artist working with him is, it completely deflates any kind of drama he’s trying to get across on the page.

  23. I Grok Spock says:

    I hate to say it but Bottled Water, Ha! jokes were even prevalent IN the 1990′s.

    I live in a midsized midwestern city and remember there being an entire cooler section at every convenience store devoted to bottled water, even then. You had Evian, Aquafina, and other regional brands to choose from.

  24. Thom H. says:

    I’m not usually a Bendis apologizer, but I do think that his dialogue has gotten worse over time, and his shortcomings are much more apparent on team books. The uncertainty and stuttering worked much better in Alias, for example, and didn’t appear quite so prominently in his Daredevil run. So, maybe he should stick to solo books from 12 years ago?

  25. A.L. Baroza says:

    Yeah, no surprise as to who’s in the van, it’s not a character that needed to be shrouded in shadow as if the reveal would be a big deal. The recent solicitations have already revealed him.

    I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but I find Bendis’ X-Men very readable. The no-plot, talky style works a lot better in X-Men than it did in Avengers, since the book has always been about the soap opera and not the action. As to Bendis using the same voice for everybody, well, Claremont also had a limited number of stock voices that he did to death, and at least Bendis doesn’t have that squicky weird semi-rapey sexual subtext. Marvel dialogue has always been schtick-y; I give Bendis a pass for his excesses. Just my opinion; I have no interest in evangelizing for Bendis…

  26. The bottled water thing will never make sense, just like Marvel’s sliding timeline can’t. Every writer gets it a bit wrong, as every piece of background – ever – goes out of date almost immediately. So, if I really need to point this out to readers of shiny paper with pictures – suspend disbelief.

  27. Taibak says:

    This is a long shot, but Meggan isn’t one of the hell-rulers in X-Factor is she?

    At very least, would be nice to know that I wasn’t the only person who read Captain Britain and MI:13.

  28. Si says:

    The problem with bottled water and expensive magazines is easily solvable. There’s a clue in Young Avengers. Marvel Boy is dancing to Be My Baby, by the Ronettes, which came out in 1963. 1963 was the year Avengers was first published, right? In the comic, it was demonstrably 1963. Yet Kate Bishop says he’s dancing to the music her parents loved (the meta is very nice there but that’s not the point of my seemingly endless ramble). Now Kate’s parents might be very old, I don’t know a lot about her outside of Matt Fraction’s comic. They might also be 80s kids who got heavily into the 60s revival that was going on at the time. But most likely, they were young in the 60s and this was their music. Why else would she reference it? But it’s demonstrably 2013 in Young Avengers.

    My theory is that while 50 years have indeed passed in the Marvel universe, at the exact same time only about 15 years have passed. It is 2013 and a single generation ago it was 1963. Probably because of Eternity, and also Kang and any hepped-up superhero with a time-buggy punching holes in the fabric of time all the … time. Think of it as two steep hills, with a bridge between the peaks. If you walk down one hill and up the other, it’s miles (or 50 years). Walk over the bridge, and it’s a much shorter journey (or duration). Meanwhile the river between the hills keeps eroding away the valley, making the distance longer, while the bridge only stretches a little bit. And this keeps happening until the entire analogy tumbles in a burning heap into oblivion.

  29. A.L. Baroza says:

    Si: Actually, Gillen says in his lengthy YA#1 writer’s notes ( http://kierongillen.tumblr.com/post/41720016054/young-avengers-1-assorted-thinky-writer-notes ), his original line was about music Kate’s parents’ parents loved, but it was changed by editorial, who mistakenly thought it was a typo.

    Generally the sliding-scale timeline will always leave you with anachronisms; these days you kind of have to ignore references to Reed and Ben being WWII veterans, or Tony making weapons for the Vietnam War, or every President’s appearance from JFK to George H.W. Bush (given the 12-15 year sliding scale, Bill Clinton was now president during the events of Fantastic Four #1). So a writer trying to make topical references has to be careful, especially in the current instance where the timeframe of the original X-Men will be constantly moving forward. Bendis’ joke in ANXM #1 having young Iceman remark how TVs have changed in the future (ie, not as much as he thought they would) worked–one can imagine that 15 years from now the technology won’t be so radically different that the line would still work and be funny. But the bottled water joke didn’t work, and will increasingly be more anachronistic in the future. (And besides, sparkling bottled water like Evian has been bottled since the ’80s or earlier, so the concept of bottled water should not have been that much of a shock to a young late-’90s Cyclops.)

  30. Si says:

    Really? So it was meta by accident. That’s like meta-meta, someone must be writing us. Anyway, the point is, instead of having a sliding scale where the Avengers formed 15 years ago, in 1998, you can have, with a bit of imagination, one where the Avengers formed 15 years ago, in 1963. And everything makes beautiful sense.

  31. wwk5d says:

    I wouldn’t say it makes beautiful sense…if anything, it sounds like a DC Crisis in the making.

  32. Jerry Ray says:

    This is why I always choose to gloss over anything related to the sliding timeline – there’s just no satisfactory way to reconcile it, so it’s best to steer clear of it. It doesn’t bother me at all that somehow the original X-Men were around in the 60s and now it’s 2013.

    The sort of thing that does bother me (at least if Bleeding Cool was right – I can’t be bothered to check) is the X-Men were plucked from a specifc point in the past prior to meeting Unus the Untouchable, and yet Bobby made a joke about touching Unus despite not having met him yet.

  33. ASV says:

    Somebody wrote up a theory that you can explain the sliding timeline as Franklin Richards seeking to keep himself in the safety of his childhood. I can’t remember where I read it, but I think it relies on MU time moving in a basically realistic way until Franklin is 4 or so, then he freezes and everything else starts to slide.

  34. Si says:

    The actual in-story mechanism isn’t that important, it could be anything. Vibranium absorbing chronal momentum or Wolverine stabbing history, whatever. It’s probably best not to explain it at all, in fact. The important thing is the X-Men didn’t form in the late 90s. After all, your average fan has been reading X-Men comics for longer than that.

  35. Kreniigh says:

    If you posit that 50 years of culture and technology have happened within 15 years of the Marvel Universe history, it can help address the question of “why hasn’t the work of Reed Richards and Tony Stark revolutionized the world?” Thanks to these amazing scientists, we’ve gone from vacuum tube computers to the Internet astonishingly fast, and culture has progressed accordingly.

    It also, unfortunately, implies presidential elections every year, and a Christmas every few months. But no theory is perfect.

  36. The original Matt says:

    If I had to choose a way to “explain” it in a definitive way, I’d take the mountain and bridge analogy above. Time is broken in the MU and can’t be fixed so deal with it.

    In its current state, I’ve found it’s best to just take it as hand wavingly as “yeah, the comics have been produced longer than they’ve been alive so eerrrr, yeah.” And read more superhero punchy punchy.

    It’s superhero comics. I don’t need a hard and fast in universe rule. I know the comics have been around since the 60s but most characters are 30ish now. Just enjoy the story as it is told. Or don’t.

  37. Niall says:

    Superboy punch.

  38. wwk5d says:

    Don’t you mean Sentry punch?

  39. Somebody says:

    I think the Handbooks may have suggested there really is an in-continuity ongoing reality warp that skews time.

    Problem is, you can never do a story about it – a story implies resolution, and the only resolution would be to “restore” real time. And since that would involve either prohibiting references to the real-life present-day (including background details like the make & model of cars and newer buildings/the demolition of old ones) or rapidly aging their characters, Marvel will never do that.

  40. Si says:

    Hahaha “We did it! we fixed time!” [entire Fantastic Four crumble into dust like vampires] “Uh-oh.”

  41. Dave says:

    But the sliding timescale isn’t just a theory. There’s in-continuity evidence that the Avengers formed pre-9/11, but post-Reagan. So probably late 90s. You may not like it, but that’s how it is.
    I don’t see why I should care that that’s over 10 years after I started reading Marvel, or that the 60s issues now need to be read accepting that they’re set later than presented.

    (I realise that it’s still not an absolute rule and it could be, or may have previously been, contradicted)

  42. Billy says:

    Hypertime.

    As much as some DC fans hated it, it worked, and it really wasn’t much worse than what comics companies already did.

    If it will make people feel better, call it by its other popular name, Simpsons Time (for the TV show The Simpsons).

  43. wwk5d says:

    Hypertime was different. It wasn’t a sliding timeline, it was a concept for fanboys and fanboys-turned-creators who couldn’t let go of the Multiverse concept that was wiped out by COIE.

  44. Billy says:

    Sliding timeline isn’t really much different. With the sliding timeline, books are already going out of date by the time they hit shelves. You’ve got an increasing amount of history compressed into a locked amount of space. And you get Marvel doing those awkward updated origins.

    And the end result is still effectively the same as Hypertime.

  45. wwk5d says:

    Yeah, but with Marvel, the basic origin doesn’t change, just the background details to reflect the era. Hypertime was done to insert/delete whole concepts and characters.

  46. The original Matt says:

    So how long as cap been thawed out for? Did he see 9/11?

  47. A.L. Baroza says:

    So how long as cap been thawed out for? Did he see 9/11?

    As of now, he has. In five years, he can’t have, which will invalidate the John Ney Rieber series, more or less. It’s an imperfect science, and the sliding time scale isn’t a way to explain the universe for long-time readers–it’s a guide for current writers. Unlike DC, Marvel allows for the reader to elide contradictory elements in continuity on their own. The reader decides what they want to keep in play. I like Billy’s use of “Simpsons Time” to describe it. It is what it is, it can’t be explained, really–or rather, however you choose to read it is as valid as anybody else’s…

  48. A.L. Baroza says:

    Which, when you think about it, draws the distinction between Marvel’s “NOW!” campaign and DC’s “New” reboot. Marvel does soft reboots, with an eye on current-day storytelling. DC cleans the slate and starts over–although the New 52 reboot is more like Marvel’s approach than is usual, since some of the past 25 years of DC continuity has been compressed into a five-year period.

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