Posted on Monday, August 26, 2013
by Paul in x-axis
If you haven’t listened to this week’s special bonus podcast, one post down, then do. I’m not in it, but it’s great.
There’s one more issue to come out in this series, but that’s the epilogue and wrap-up. We’ve reached the end of “Frozen” itself (which is going to be the bulk of vol 12, if you’re getting the collections), and thus Marjorie Liu’s last full storyline.
It’s a simple enough idea. In the previous arc – the “X-Termination” crossover – Iceman picked up a bit of Apocalypse’s power, and so he’s both powered up and going mad. The result is that the world plunges into a new ice age, while duplicate Icemans run around making contact with his ex-girlfriends. The story can’t quite make up its mind whether the Apocalypse seed is meant to be a big reveal. It’s pretty much signalled up front in the recap page of part 1, but the actual story seems to start off trying to suggest some uncertainty about what’s going on. It doesn’t really matter, though, since the seed is just a macguffin anyway. The more important point is that the duplicate Icemen apparently represent the other parts of Iceman’s personality which have lost control of him, but are still wandering around trying to protect people he cares about – in other words, all his ex-girlfriends, up to and including Mystique. Presumably they just didn’t have the phone number of Zelda from the Silver Age. Mystique both tries to steer the X-Men in the direction of sorting Iceman out, but also has a brief stab at stealing the power for herself, which doesn’t work out well. Naturally, in the end they get the Apocalypse power out of him and everything’s basically fine.
Which… yeah, it’s kind of hard to summarise this story in a way that makes it sound particularly satisfying. There’s a lot to like about this story, but there’s something about it that doesn’t quite click.
The strongest point by far is the art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Hardly a conventional superhero artist, Walta used to look a bit blocky and rough around the edges when he turned up on anthology titles. Now he seems to have found a happy compromise which preserves a lot of what made his work interesting, but also brings in the scale and drama. I’ve always seen him as a character artist first and foremost, and certainly there’s something about his figures here that makes them seem just a little more real than usual. But when he’s called upon to draw giant ice structures and ice giants over a snowbound New York, the results are remarkably impressive. It’s Walta’s art that’s going to stick in my mind most of all from this story, and hopefully we’ll see more of him.
It’s also a story that understands that superhero comics tend to work best as melodramatic metaphor. So we have here Iceman working through his psychological issues on a grand scale. It’s plainly intended to be a story where the big epic threat turns out to really be all about one character’s insecurities. In theory, this is all very solid. Plus, it’s been a good long time since anyone really tried to do a story about Iceman. He’s a character who’s drifted over the years from being the rookie of the team to a veteran whose function is little more than to hang around in the background reminding us that we’re reading an X-Men comic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the series; there’s a lot to be said for having characters whose main function is to be the familiar landmarks around whom others orbit, because even if they’re not doing much themselves, they’re still bringing something to the team dynamic. It’s basically the role that Wolverine performs in the X-Men, or Captain America in the Avengers. Even so, a character like this needs some attention from time to time (especially if they don’t have their own series), so we’re way overdue for an Iceman arc.
So why doesn’t it quite work? Partly, I think, because Liu isn’t really all that interested in the mechanics of the surface plot, except to the extent that they illustrate the psychological stuff she’s really interested in. So the ending feels a bit arbitrary, when Iceman gets beaten because he’s finished now. Mystique is pressed into service as the de facto antagonist for the final issue, which feels a little out of the blue, and also suffers from the fact that the character is being wildly overused right now – so you know this can’t be heading towards any series change in her status quo.
Moreover, a lot of the psychological stuff is similarly heavy handed. Part 4 seems to want to tell us that the crux of everything is Iceman’s relationship with his father. This leads to on-the-nose dialogue like “Why do you hate your father?” and characters imploring Iceman to have a good cry, which is evidently meant to be the emotional core of the whole thing. And this just seems forced. It doesn’t help that Iceman’s father has barely appeared in the story until now – he gets a few pages, but Liu is mainly playing off ideas dating from the Scott Lobdell run which this story tells rather than shows. But there’s also the fact that Liu is imposing Grand Angst on a character whose appeal, and whose value to the cast dynamic, lies largely in the fact that he stands out from his compatriots by not being particularly angsty. Surely that’s the value of Iceman in an X-Men story; he is, if not angst-free, at least angst-lite. Liu’s trying to bring depth to an often thin character, and I get that, but this strikes me as the wrong kind of depth, for the same reasons that Mopey Religious Nightcrawler was a mistake.
I can’t help but suspect that none of the other X-Men writers have the faintest intention of going near the traumas of this story, which is a further problem from the perspective of this story, but probably wise in the greater scheme of things. It’s not a direction for the character that seems like it would have been productive, and buried at the end of a cancelled series, it’ll probably go down in history as an odd curio – hey, remember that time Iceman had an enormous mope and nearly wiped out the human race? I’d like to be more positive about it, since there are some good ideas (the Icemen trying to squirrel his ex-girlfriends to safety in a completely futile gesture is a lovely concept) and gorgeous art, but I just can’t imagine wanting to see more of this rather maudlin take on the character.