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.