Posted on Sunday, February 24, 2013
by Paul in x-axis
Back to another quiet week for the X-books, but since I’ve got a bit of spare time for once, I’ll chuck in some of this week’s other new releases for a change. (Actually, it’s not such a quiet week for the X-books if you take a broader idea of the line – there’s also Deadpool #5 and Wolverine Max #4, but I don’t count either of them, and besides, I’m buying Wolverine Max in trade. Digression over.)
Justice League of America #1 – Not to be confused with the other Justice League, who are apparently not of America. In fact, that turns out not to be a technicality so much as the starting point for this book’s premise: the US government can’t control the Justice League, so it wants one of its own. Hence, Justice League of America, the operative words being “of America”.
That’s a neat enough take on the title, and a clever inversion of the originally intended patriotism. It also means that you’ve got a team comprised of whoever the US government can get, and an obvious long-term story where the real conflict is going to come from the team’s relations with their own government sponsors (not to mention, one might assume, the actual Justice League, who presumably won’t be entirely thrilled by this bunch). On the other hand, thanks to the rebooted nature of the DC Universe, it’s actually possible to fill out the roster with characters who still give it a degree of credibility, such as Green Arrow and Hawkman, but who have no connection to the real League.
Still, while it may be new for the Justice League, there’s nothing new in the concept of superheroes working for a dodgy government department, and this first issue doesn’t feel like it’s bringing a fresh angle to that idea. It’s just doing it with the Justice League franchise, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but not something to grab those of us who aren’t otherwise on board. In fact, most of the intended drama in this first issue rests on you already being invested in the characters and reacting when they show up; without that element, it’s just a very talky “gathering of the team” issue, which establishes no immediate threat beyond the government itself, and just tours round hoovering up cast members.
As with so much of Geoff Johns’ writing, it’ll probably work a lot better for DC fans. It’s not bad in its own right, and David Finch’s art is perfectly acceptable, but it feels like another part of the DCU uber-story, and if you’re not already on board with that, it’s unlikely that this is going to grab you.
Justice League of America’s Vibe #1 – And if Justice League of America itself is one for the DC fans, the same goes double for Justice League of America’s Vibe – yes, that really is the title – which is an origin issue co-written by the aforementioned Geoff Johns with Arrow producer Andrew Kreisberg. Vibe was originally a character from the Detroit-era Justice League, which even I know has a reputation as a misconceived dead end where the Justice League was padded out with new characters nobody cared about. That’s presumably why the cover bills Vibe as “the unlikeliest hero”; nothing in the actual plot really backs up that theme, and the audacity of launching a Vibe comic really depends on you knowing that he’s a character nobody likes.
Vibe is a kid from inner city Detroit who got his powers on being exposed to… uh, something about an event horizon from a Boom Tube during the Justice League origin story, I guess? Specifically, he got powers while his generally beloved elder brother died heroically. He’s planning to save up and go to college, but he gets sucked into the superhero world by the government because it seems that his powers are terribly convenient for discovering aliens and stuff. Those powers, on the strength of the first issue, seem to be pretty vaguely defined beyond “looks blurry on film” and “can sense things from other dimensions”. Quite how he’s lasted five years without realising that he’s blurry on film - while holding down a job selling camcorders, at that – is a bit of a mystery.
It’s very clearly a sister book of Justice League of America, with the same central conflict – that is, that Vibe is being manipulated by an untrustworthy government department. It adds to that a slightly different emotional hook about Vibe wanting to get justice for his brother, but it’s basically the same book at core, and it doesn’t really make Vibe himself into a very memorable character, nor do his powers seem to lend themselves to anything very thrilling. As with the parent title, it’s a thoroughly okay comic that establishes its concept quite serviceably and which serves its purpose as part of the wider DCU, but doesn’t offer any especially compelling hook that might attract readers to the book in its own right.
Nova #1 – Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness revive the Nova franchise, if not the original character. This is the new Nova who first appeared during Avengers vs X-Men in an utterly gratuitous cameo that added nothing whatsoever to the story and was blatantly bolted on in a clumsy attempt to build interest in this series. But hey, at least they’re actually trying to build interest in a Nova series, which is better than just chucking it out there to wither. (Though come to think of it, doesn’t AvX end with Nova being invited to join the Avengers? Are any of the Avengers books actually using him?)
So. You know what? This isn’t at all bad. It’s not great either, and I’ll come to why, but it’s certainly the best thing Jeph Loeb has written for Marvel in a good few years, and by a very wide margin. A lot of Loeb’s writing in the last few years, such as his Wolverine arcs or Ultimatum, have simply been utterly incoherent rubbish. This, on the other hand, has plainly had some thought put into it. It’s an origin story, and it sets up the premise nice and clearly. Sam Alexander is a teenager from the small town of Carefree, Arizona. His father is the school janitor and claims that, once upon a time, he was a member of the Nova Corps (specifically, some kind of black ops squad, which explains why he hasn’t been mentioned before). Then he was dumped back on Earth and, well, things haven’t worked out so well for him. Sam, naturally, doesn’t believe a word of this and thinks that his father is a delusional alcoholic. McGuinness’ art does a great job of selling both settings, and there are plenty of flashbacks to dad’s career to make sure that the first issue has the requisite amount of action.
You can probably figure out where this is going. And that’s where the “not great either” comes in. The issue feels a bit like the pilot episode for a Saturday morning cartoon, introducing characters whose roles in the series are immediately obvious. The long-suffering mother; the sister who believes dad’s stories; the only other girl at school with a speaking part who is clearly a love interest; the school bully; the stern school principal. None of this feels particularly original; the number of friends and family introduced strongly suggests the book is planning to stick with a “small town teenager is secretly a space superhero” formula; and the emotional core of the book is so plainly the reconciliation between Sam and his father that you can see the inevitable story lumbering towards us from several months away. That doesn’t mean that any of these are bad ideas, and it’s a perfectly solid framework within which good stories could potentially be told, but this first issue does feel a bit like a box-ticking exercise as Loeb establishes a somewhat formulaic framework. But that still makes it the best thing he’s done in years.
Savage Wolverine #2 – This book seems to be a curiously inconsistent mix of the really quite good and the slightly off. The T&A is actually not all that prominent in this issue – well, as much as it’s going to get in a Frank Cho comic with Shanna the She-Devil – and I like the way it develops the concept by having another character show up in much the same way as Wolverine did, but deal with the situation rather better. There’s some pretty good visual storytelling here, too, with the use of smaller panels and white space.
Shanna is coming across as a stock stroppy character, which doesn’t really match any story I’ve seen her in before. Admittedly, I don’t remember any previous story where she seemed to have a personality at all (I assume she probably had one in Mark Waid’s Ka-Zar run, but I didn’t read it), so pretty much any attempt to liven her up was going to face this difficulty, and Cho deserves a bit of leeway there. Even so, the personality she’s been given feels rather generic. Plus, nothing that Shanna and Wolverine do in this issue really seem to advance the plot at all; there’s a definite sense that they’re just being kept occupied by random threats until the story is ready for them. And Amadeus Cho’s appearance really does show that Frank can’t do teenagers – he looks at least a decade too old, and putting him in a suit doesn’t help. He’s so off model that I actually ended up checking on Google that it’s definitely meant to be him, even though the story gives his name. Honestly, I haven’t missed a story where he was artificially aged, have I?
There’s more good than bad in this issue, though; it could still stand to dial back the cheesecake, but it turns out to be more interested in the actual story.
X-Factor #252 – If you’ve ever wondered what the lead times are on Marvel comics, well, this issue finally gets around to mentioning the stroke that Peter David suffered over Christmas. It’s a two line mention on the recap page pointing you to his own website for updates, but then I guess if you’re running that far behind, it’s going to be a bit risky to do anything much more extensive in print.
Anyway, this is part three of the Hell on Earth War, and it’s pretty much an issue of X-Factor fighting Pluto and being hopelessly outmatched until Tier steps in to kill Pluto himself. The idea, it seems, is that while Tier is the quarry that all the Hell Lords are trying to capture, he’s also the one guy who can kill them. Except that of course none of these characters can actually be removed from the board, so the story has to engage in a bit of fudging by saying that, well, yes, he is dead, but he’s going to regenerate, and really he’s just being removed from the current competition, and… Ultimately, it feels a bit like one of those shared-universe fudges that’s necessary in the bigger picture, but doesn’t exactly do the immediate story any favours.
Still, one thing Peter David has done very effectively in this storyline is push the idea of X-Factor being completely overmatched and out of their depth against this threat. It’s still unclear what’s at stake here for the wider world, in terms of why it would actually matter if one of the Hell Lords won the tournament, but that isn’t so important when it’s plain that there’s a lot at stake for the cast. And he racks up the stakes quite neatly here; not only is he a writer who thinks out the moves in his extended fight sequences rather than just regarding them as an obligatory backdrop for dialogue, but in amongst it all, he both establishes how this could all go wrong for the Hell Lords and builds an idea that the cast could get pretty badly mangled in this arc in a way that would normally be outside the book’s parameters. In other words, the ground rules have changed and all bets are off. If you can sell that to the readers – and David can – then the story is most of the way there.