Posted on Sunday, July 21, 2013
by Paul in x-axis
Back to a more typical level of X-related output this week…
A+X #10 – Judging from upcoming solicitations, Marvel have finally conceded the commercial limitations of this format and decided to introduce a six-issue serial – which is the equivalent of a three-issue regular story arc, but still suggests a belated recognition that the appeal of a book that’s actively billed as utterly inconsequential is pretty limited.
That’s not to say that decent work can’t be done in the current format, but for the most part, given the apparent lack of interest in doing anything other than throwaway pieces, it works (when it works) largely on the level of a style showcase. Hence, there’s not much to be said about B Clay Moore and Kris Anka’s Black Widow/Fantomex story, which is an entirely serviceable piece that has a vaguely sensible plot and makes sense for both characters, but inevitably doesn’t get to be anything more than superficial. It’s pretty but it’s nothing out of the ordinary, unless you really have a big nostalgic passion for seeing largely forgotten Soviet-era villains like Sibercat namechecked. It’s basically a generic story that hits some key character traits and has some nice art.
Adam Warren, on the other hand, is always a bit more distinctive, and his half of the book features Domino and the Scarlet Witch. The linking theme with those two characters is probability manipulation – with one much more powerful than the other – and so Warren gives us what’s basically a riff on the idea of really unlikely things happening, with the visual hook of Domino being able to visualise all the possible things that could happen as she tries to cross the room. In practice that turns out to be a big room full of dead Dominos, ultimately backtracking to the point where the story collapses in on itself as Domino realises that the original plan is literally impossible, and just does something seemingly random instead.
There are, to be sure, some major continuity issues here. Domino’s currently a member of X-Force, and passing mentions of Forge acknowledge that. But X-Force’s gimmick is that they’re on the run from the authorities, and specifically on the run from the very Avengers team that features the Scarlet Witch. So the idea that Wanda could, let alone would, call in Domino to help with this mission is, um, a bit of a strain. Let’s assume, though, that this takes place at some indeterminate point in the future where all that isn’t a problem. You’ve still got an issue with Wanda being pretty radically out of character – this story casts her as the stern traditionalist reluctantly paired with what she perceives as Domino’s uncontrollable wild card. That’s a fine dynamic, but it doesn’t feel like any very recognisable version of Wanda. (With Domino, it’s less of an issue – but I’ll come back to that shortly.)
Still, it’s a story with a cute idea about how to visualise some not-inherently-visual ideas, and that’s always a nice thing to see.
All-New X-Men #14 – Well, that was a bit of an anticlimax. Not the fact that Marvel Girl turns out not to be Phoenix after all – that was always pretty obviously an illusion, though I do like the idea that everyone is seeing the illusion because this version of Jean is too inexperienced to cast it selectively. It’s more that, after all this build-up, we end up with Mystique being beaten in one issue, thus rendering her much-heralded plot pretty much academic, and then escaping prison by the end of the issue, presumably because she’s being used in so many other stories that she just can’t stay there. Alternatively, if she’s escaping so as to continue this storyline in All-New, then the battle in this story ends up feeling rather inconsequential. Either way, not a great deal seems to be resolved.
There are a couple of cute moments in here – Iceman chucking a snowball at Thor and then realising he isn’t an illusion after all, and a lovely final page of Jean reflecting on why everyone seems to scared of Phoenix. In fact, in the bigger picture, that seems to be the real point of this story – it confronts Jean directly with exactly how terrified everyone is of what she could become. But it’s pretty underwhelming when it comes to the goodies versus baddies side of things.
Cable & X-Force #11 – The set-up for this arc is that Cable’s visions are pointing him towards several potential disasters at once, so the team have to split up to deal with them. This issue gives us Domino and Boom Boom in New York, and the result is an interesting contrast with A+X. That issue casts Domino as the wild child whose unpredictability infuriates the Scarlet Witch. But in this story, Domino is the exasperated professional and Boom Boom is the reckless lunatic.
Marvel are, of course, pretty relaxed about letting different creators interpret the same character in different ways. Even so, what struck me most on reading this issue is that these don’t feel like two takes on the same character at all – yet neither of them immediately seems to be out of character. I’m left with the nagging feeling that it’s almost impossible to write an out-of-character Domino because she’s such a cypher that she simply doesn’t have any defining character traits that ought to be coming through in every version. And for a character who’s been in regular use for over twenty years, that’s pretty bad.
Seriously – what is Domino’s personality? What would you have to do to write an obviously out-of-character Domino, short of making her a villain or a coward?
Admittedly, these are two pretty extreme takes on her. Adam Warren’s stories are always gleefully exaggerated, and this story likewise goes crazily over the top with Boom Boom in a way that doesn’t seem to quite work; she’s just screwing about in this story and making life more difficult for everyone because it seems like fun, and given that massive destruction is supposed to be at stake, I don’t really buy that. There’s a moment when even Domino has to object that she shouldn’t be acting like this given her years of experience, and since that doesn’t come across as setting up a subplot, it has a bit of a canary-in-the-mineshaft effect on the story’s credibility.
If you can get over that hump, the story does a good job of playing up the idea of a reckless Boom Boom nearly ruining everything, and Larroca’s art is lovely – the liquefying bridge at the end is particularly well done. But I’ve got issues with a lot of stuff in here.
Savage Wolverine #7 – Say, what happened to Spider-Man? Wasn’t he all over issue #6, as you’d expect given this story’s acknowledged origins as a commission for Avenging Spider-Man? Well, he’s nowhere to be seen here, which might just be a clue as to how far Joe Madureira had drawn before the retooling started.
With Peter out of the way (and the theme of how Wolverine fits in with the more conventional superheroes in the Avengers out of the window as a result), this story focusses instead on Elektra and the internal machinations of the Hand. The central idea here goes like this. A rival faction in the Hand are trying to kill the Kingpin. The Kingpin enlists Elektra to help. She agrees because the Hand are reviving Bullseye to use as their assassin, and obviously she cares quite a bit about that. Wolverine then agrees to help her because of the relationship that was established between them back in the Larry Hama run. Cue the fighting. The rather nice twist (which also explains why this story doesn’t clash with Mark Waid’s Daredevil) is that Bullseye’s not actually in this story at all. Kingpin just thought that would be a useful thing to tell Elektra.
That cute bit of plotting aside, it’s an issue of running around and fighting things. But there are some nice character designs in here, Zeb Wells’ dialogue is pitched just right to sell a rather silly story, and I do like that twist.
Uncanny X-Force #8 – It seems that issue #7 was indeed starting a completely new storyline instead of going on a brief detour – so apparently we’re parking the whole question of what’s up with Bishop, or Spiral, or pretty much anything else that happened in the first arc. I question that pacing. Eight issues in, Uncanny X-Force still hasn’t got around to forming an X-Force, and seems to be in no immediate danger of doing so.
This issue continues the pattern of cutting back and forth between Psylocke’s summer romance with Fantomex/Cluster (drawn by Adrian Alphona), and her present-day encounter with Weapon XIII (drawn by Dalibor Talajic). The art styles are drastically divergent, but if you’re going to have multiple artists, this is the way to do it. Alphona’s work sells the summer dream aspect of the flashbacks, while Talajic is darker, harsher and more in line with the general tone of the book. Even if there had been a single artist on the book, a similar shift of styles between those two scenes would have been a good creative choice.
I’m not sure I buy the bottle of champagne as being anywhere near as exciting as the story wants to claim, but Sam Humphries does have some interesting ideas in here about the splitting up of Fantomex into three personalities, which end up crazy enough to be manipulative even to one another. Weapon XIII also turns out to be a bit more charming and reasonable, at least superficially, than the other two personas have led us to expect. Even so, the story doesn’t entirely sell me on the idea that Psylocke might genuinely be hooking up with Weapon XIII in order to get revenge on Fantomex (which I assume is what I’m meant to be getting from this) – it feels a bit obvious that she’s stringing him along.
Despite the very questionable pacing of the series’ broader plots, there’s good stuff in here.
Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted #2 – Wolverine goes looking for somebody who might be able to explain why he’s being manipulated into being wanted for murder, but nothing really gets resolved – it’s more a development of the theme. This issue’s a bit less flashy in its use of the Guided View gimmicks, though I suspect that’s more because the creators have chosen to confront the novelty value head on and it get it out of everyone’s system before settling down to the real story.
There’s not a huge amount of plot in this, but I’m not sure that’s a feature of the Infinite format itself. Comparing these things to ordinary comics is not straightforward – Comixology’s app lists this as a 62-page story, but of course many of those “pages” are slightly varied repeats of the same panel, or extreme close-ups. One is the title and another is the “to be continued” caption. On the other hand, quite a few of the pages do feature multiple panels. By my count there probably is about the equivalent of 20 pages of regular comic in this; but in order to take advantage of the opportunities of the Infinite format, you end up doing things that would be pretty “decompressed”, for want of a better word, in regular print. These are priced like regular comics, and you can certainly defend that call, but I wonder whether it’s a price point that will work.
X-Factor #259 – Finally for this week, Peter David’s string of epilogue stories continues, by checking in on Rictor and Shatterstar in a convoluted time travel story. The main point of this issue is to finally resolve a subplot that’s been dangling for over twenty years: what exactly is the connection between Shatterstar and Longshot? First teased at the tail end of Jim Lee’s short run on the X-Men in the early nineties (apparently because somebody thought it would be a cute thing to throw out there, rather than because anyone had any particular plans for it), this idea has surfaced periodically ever since. Shatterstar’s back story, however, has been more or less quarantined as toxic sludge ever since the notoriously botched Benjamin Russell arc that linked him somehow or other to a guy in a coma. As I recall, writer John Francis Moore said the end result had been so heavily revised by editorial that even he didn’t understand the version that had seen print. Nor, given the lack of follow-up, did anyone else.
Anyway, this issue ignores the Benjamin Russell stuff entirely, and justifies the claimed links between Longshot and Shatterstar with a fiddly time loop that basically means they end up being each other’s father. It does at least cut through the murk and give them both semi-workable back stories, but it’s not a particularly compelling origin for either of them – I can’t help feeling that this is one of those stories which is so busy unravelling a knotty continuity problem that it’s forgotten to do anything else.