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Dec 30

House to Astonish Episode 151

Posted on Friday, December 30, 2016 by Al in Podcast

It’s the end of the year, and as always, we’re running through the results of the Homies awards, with Paul’s picks, my picks, and the winners of the listener vote. We’ve got unexpectedly good books, predictably good creators, astonishingly close votes, and shambolically tabulated results. Come hear what we enjoyed this year, and what the voting Housemates plumped for. All this plus a wooden piece of wood, a beautiful leather briefcase, and a perfunctory log fire.
The podcast is here, or here on Mixcloud, or available via the embedded player below. As always, let us know what you think, in the comments, on Twitter, by email or on our Facebook fan page. And hey, it’s nearly a new year, so time for a new look – why not treat yourself to a House to Astonish shirt from our Redbubble store?

Bring on the comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    Multiple choice to determine the main reason the X-Men line is, as Paul mentioned on this episode, arguably as bad as it’s ever been:

    -creators are saddled with ill-conceived story lines like the O5 sticking around for no actual reason and having to manufacture a conflict with the Inhumans to line up with corporate synergy

    -Marvel refuses to hire creators that want to move things forward with the line and the characters in it

    -the X-Men need a break, Fantastic Four style

    -none of the above

    I suppose the answer might really be “all of the above”, and the troubles really do speak to a more systemic issue, especially with Bunn and Guggenheim as the writers on the new titles. Let’s be charitable and say they’re an uninspired choice, which might actually be more unappealing. I mean, call me crazy, but I’d almost prefer exploding communion wafers over promo copy for the new Gold title that says: “They’re at a point where they are trying to decide, is there a future for the X-Men?”

    I said almost 🙂

  2. mark coale says:

    Unless i missed it, surprised no love for Moon Knight, maybe my favorite non-Vision Marvel book this year.

  3. Will Cooling says:

    I think Paul called the problem with X-men a long time ago. It really should be off in its own little universe so it doesn’t clash with the IP that Marvel can actually exploit.

    I do wish Marvel would have the balls to go weekly with their titles. Weekly X-men, Spider-Man, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy & (Netflix inspired) Defenders books would better anchor their publishing line than the current confusing mishmash.

  4. Paul F says:

    Well, I’ve been convinced to give Gwenpool a try. Shame it’s not in the Comixology end-of-year sale.

    I’ve had the Omega Men TPB on my shelf for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  5. odessasteps says:

    If you want more Al, he was on our comics year in review pod, along w Joe from Longbox Heroes and Matt from our magazine.

  6. Billy says:

    Gwenpool is pretty darn good. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but is also fairly logically consistent within its own world.

    Gwen knowing that she is in a comic book universe is also used a bit differently than the standard throwaway joke or internal narration used in similar titles. Here, Gwen’s daily survival is reliant on her being right, that she’s positioned herself as an “important character” and has thus been granted the abilities and protections that such characters have. And even the other characters around her have started to accept that she might be right, even if they might just have pigeonholed it into “She’s special because she’s from another universe”.

  7. Joseph says:

    @mark re: moon knight, Smallwood’s use of negative space in his layouts has been brilliant, not to mention the incorporation of the guest artists into the plot.

    @will I’m not convinced that’d be the best strategy creatively but would likely work commercially. Creatively, books in recent years that have really worked have tended to do their own thing. JitM, Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Moon Knight, SquirrelGirl, Ms Marvel, etc. these wouldn’t benefit from weekly but they also don’t do particularly well in single issues but rather digitally and in trade. These are also books that don’t necessarily hbd an audience buying them compulsively based on addictive habits set in adolescence. Ideally Marvel would be able to strike a balance. Let some books do there own thing, maybe don’t suck these books into line wife cross overs, and make the big popular books no-weekly.

    I would also ask, when was the last time the x office had a really great editor? Will Moss has been killing it with his line it’d be nice to see the x office get a similar creative kick

  8. Voord 99 says:

    I don’t know what would redress the sales problems with the X-Men. They strike me as perhaps more than usually vulnerable to the “once you break the habit…” problem.

    But creatively… well, I really don’t know that either. I suppose that I feel that none of the setups that came out of Secret Wars seemed particularly interesting to me on its face.

    Particularly the idea of having an “X-Haven” in Limbo. The aesthetics don’t work for me, and the idea of a mutant refuge was done comparatively recently with Utopia. (And Utopia had the advantage of being offshore from a major city, allowing for a bunch of “How do we manage our relations with other people?” stories.)

    I think it may be a problem that the one thing that everyone seems to agree does work, Laura Kinney as Wolverine, is a classic legacy story.

  9. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    One good thing I’ve heard about Wacky Raceland is that one issue apparently had Dick Dastardly actually point out that the definition of “cheating” seemed to be “anything he does, and nothing anyone else does”. Which I’ve been saying for years, and is much more interesting as a reinvention of the concept than “It’s Mad Max world, and all the cars talk, and Blubber Bear is a guy in a bearskin…”

  10. Paul says:

    Has it addressed the other famous plot hole in Wacky Races – that since Dick Dastardly has no apparent trouble getting ahead of the pack in order to set his traps, he’d presumably win every race hands down if he just kept driving?

  11. Chris says:

    Why have I never ever noticed that plothole?


  12. Sol says:

    Is there any fundamental problem with the X-men line other than editorial (or somebody) saddling them with some of the dumbest line-wide plotting in the history of the line? “Cyclops is the most notorious mutant terrorist ever… because he got rid of a toxic cloud that was killing people but was never-the-less liked by the Inhumans?” WTH was that? It’s bad enough they routinely have major characters acting completely out of character for crossovers… [sorry, gotta put my kid to bed]

  13. mark coale says:

    It always bothered me that Dastardly never won and the Really Rottens never won in Laff A Lympics.

    The real world shows us the bad guys win a lot of the time (see 2016).

    I understand them never catching the pigeon, but …

  14. Niall says:

    The X-line has been dodgy since No More Mutants. Morrison had taken mutants to an interesting new status quo. Mutant town was an interesting concept (if a bit of a rip-off of Joker Town) and the notion of mutant sub-culture and initiatives like X-Corps all made the world of mutants an interesting place to tell stories.

    Now for the Marvel line as a whole, that did pose problems. Wnat made Richards and Stark “super” when mutants were becoming more common. What made Thor mighty when there were about 20 mutants with more godlike abilities than him? It wouldn’t have been impossible to balance this, but it did make it a problem.

    Then there were the issues with the movies. From an internal Marvel univese perspective, within that context, it made sense for new characters (regardless or not of their role in the x-books) to be mutants. If Falcon or Luke Cage got a new sidekick, the easiest thing would be for them to be a mutant. But in the real world, Fox, rather than Marvel studios, would get the rights to those characters – even if they also belonged to Marvel (like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch).

    The easiest thing for Marvel would have been for them to allow mutants to slowly return after AVX. They could have allowed the depowered mutants to be repowered and said something like new mutants would only emerge when newborns matured and gave birth. There could have still been a small number of “new” characters but these could have been mutants with dormant powers who were awoken after trauma etc. That kind of set up would have allowed them to get rid of the depressing and boring endangered species set up that we’ve all tired of, while stopping the Marvel Universe from being overrun by mutants.

    Wild Cards has shown how you can run with a concept like Mutants and tell lots of stories that allows the original concept to develop over time. Morrison’s run did the same thing. On a character level, what Marvel did with a “boring” character like Cyclops over time (until AVX) shows that you don’t need to keep the classic setup in order for their characters and concepts to work.

    The classic X-Men setup worked. The Morrison setup worked. The Whedon setup worked. The Utopia setup worked. X-Haven just doesn’t work because it divorces the X-Men from the world that gives the central metaphor meaning.

  15. Will Cooling says:

    @joseph – my dream is as follows:

    * Every week Marvel would publish 12 weekly comics.

    * 6 of them would be ongoing double-sized issues; X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Defenders and Star Wars.

    * The format of these comics would vary between multi-writer stories (a la 52), anthologies or lead strip-back up combos.

    * These comics would replace the confusing array of sister titles and spin-offs that have made Marvel’s publishing line overly complex. So if Marvel want to do a Captain America story its just a back-up in the Avengers comic.

    * The other 6 comics would be 12-week single-sized maxi-series. Titles run for a season at the end of which they’re replaced. More popular titles may get two (non-concurrent) seasons rather than one each year.

    * The great benefit of this new system is that Marvel is no longer trying to promote 70-odd titles every month. Instead every month it has twelve titles that its trying to push. That means it can better focus its promotional efforts.

    * It would also help new characters/concepts be launched because they can now be introduced as back-up strips in the on-going titles. And with only six new titles being launched every quarter then Marvel can invest more in pushing new titles.

    * Ultimately these could be used to change how Marvel does digital comics by bundling digital subscriptions in line specific ‘apps’. So rather than buying singles people could subscribe to an ‘X-Men Unlimited’ app that combines the weekly issues, the archive material and maybe cheap bonus content.

  16. Thom H. says:

    Isn’t the big problem with the X-Men that there really are too many mutants these days? Unless some of them are permanently retired or actually killed off without returning, then there’s no reason an X-Men story should have any dramatic tension. Whatever problem they’re facing can most likely be handled by one of the members of their extended team structure.

    Ironically, the “no more mutants”/Utopia era of the X-Men highlighted this problem more than anything else. By gathering all of the mutants together in one place, you literally had the strongest, most diverse fighting force on the planet at your disposal.

    I’m all for whittling down the number of books, but it seems like the big challenge would be whittling down the roster in a way that gave the books some sense of tension/excitement/purpose. That’s one of the big accomplishments of the Morrison/Whedon era: telling compelling stories with a small cast of characters while allowing other mutants to exist in the world.

  17. Niall says:

    I think you make some good points Thom but the problem of there being “too many” mutants but rather how they are used.

    It’s not that there are too many mutants, it is that there are too many powerful combat X-Men. Something they played with a little back in District X was the notion of having more mutants with non-aggressive or pretty useless powers. Even when it comes to the X-Men, there are a lot of combat mutants whose powers make them little more useful than a soldier/cop with a gun.

    You’re right about the Utopia era highlighting how powerful the X-Men became after No More Mutants, but I think it worked relatively well at point simply because they were genuinely under threat of extinction.

    It’s easier for Marvel to write stories where threats seem real when mutants are few in number and disorganised but after decades of stories where teams are small and most known mutants attend a secret school, I think I’d rather see stories where mutants are a minority group with a little more in common with minority groups we see in real life.

  18. Thom H. says:

    Niall: Yes, I should have been more specific — too many X-Men, who are the mutants with the most useful powers (usually).

    Although, honestly, if the mutant population was booming (as Morrison wanted), it would be hard to believe that powerful mutants with useful powers wouldn’t be born more often.

    And I don’t mind the idea of mutants as a more-or-less equivalent to a real-life minority group. But I also want character development and actual stakes in a fight, which I think you can only get with a much smaller number of mutants making up the X-Men team.

    How exactly you get “rid” of all the other powerful mutants (including dozens of current/former members of the X-Men, their training squads, and their hit squad) in a believable way is beyond me. You’d have to de-power a bunch of them again? Make them all pacifists? Send them into space? Just pretend like they don’t exist anymore? Who knows.

  19. Joseph says:

    @Will I think some kind of streamlining akin to your proposal would be a huge improvement. And embracing a “season” model (with more prominent volume numbers) would make finding books a lot easier for future readers. I’m not sold that writing by committee would work for comics the way it does for TV (in fact arguably the bests comics are made by auteurs who both write and draw) but a model like you describe would make it easier for various creators to collaborate assuming each stable of titles has competent editors.

    @Thom and @Niall, I’m likely paraphrasing Paul here but the extinction plot(s) just don’t work for me. It warps the concept too far. It’s established that mutants are born to humans and vice versa, and pushing the idea of separate species seems misguided in so far as it poisons the outsider/minority allegory that drives the x books

  20. Adam Farrar says:

    For what it’s worth, the Really Rottens did win two episodes of the second Laff-A-Lympics season.

  21. Niall says:

    @Thom I’m not sure that more mutants should mean more powerful mutants – the number of Omegas should be kept relatively constant – and even if it did, in real life more powerful mutants would be recruited by say, Shell or Microsoft rather than groups of paramilitaries.

    Sunspot shouldn’t be an X-Man, he should be a power station. Vanisher shouldn’t be a criminal. He should be a high-cost courier. Cypher should work for Google. Angel should work for a medical research company. Mutants with exclusively offensive capabilities would be members of various world military forces or police forces.

    The X-Men’s traditional role – that of the protector of threatened mutants and a group that works to counter those who abuse mutant powers (including mutants themselves – could be reserved – does not have to end. Those stories can still be told.

    X-Corp and Genosha (or equivalent) are the solution to the numbers of X-Men (students, side squads etc) that already exist. But remember, there are still only around 200 named mutants in existence. If you put the 50 or so former X-Men in X-Corp offices around the world, they should still have enough work to keep them busy without everybody having to pretend they don’t exist. Other countries have mutants who need help with powers. Other countries and cities have mutant criminals.

    @Joseph – The extinction storyline works as maybe a year long storyline. Gillen and – to a lesser extent – Fraction managed to tell some decent stories, but yes it was overused and is now being overused again and it hurts the central metaphor.

  22. Voord 99 says:

    I think some of that “wow, the career options for mutants seem remarkably limited” phenomenon is just a convention of superhero comics that one ends up having to accept.

    It’s like Silver Age supervillains: “I’ve invented a machine that controls the weather. Fabulous! Now I can rob banks!” But, um, you’ve *invented a machine that controls the weather*…

  23. Niall says:

    But haven’t we mostly moved past the idea of genius inventors robbing banks? It’s mostly played for comedy if it’s a new character or in the case of some “classic” characters they’re played as having serious mental health problems.

    The thing about the X-Men is that – at least since the 80’s – they’ve played up the minority/outsider metaphor. It’s now a part of the convention as much as the costumes. Surely, it works better in a world where mutants better mirror actual minorities?

    And the bizzare tendency of the public in the Marvel Universe to love Avengers but fear mutants makes more sense in a scenario where mutants are – much like automation or increases in immigrants – perceived as displacing humans from traditional jobs etc.

    I guess I’d find it a little easier to stomach the missed opportunity here if it wasn’t for the fact that in the Morrison era, Marvel seemed to embrace the potential of that status quo.

    While I’m engaged in wishful thinking, I want a new Runaways series in which Alex Wilder recruits a bunch of villains teen offspring under the pretence that he wants to save them from their evil parents but really wants to use them for his own agenda.

  24. Voord 99 says:

    Well, I suppose I think that the X-Men are basically “superheroes [specifically] as a metaphor for minorities” and therefore tend to keep one foot in the superhero-genre camp. The genre conventions aren’t as crudely drawn as they once were, but they’re still there. If you were doing “superpowered individuals [handled “realistically”] as a metaphor for minorities,” you might be better off starting from scratch, so that you didn’t have to deal with all the superhero baggage that the X-Men carry.

    Tangential observation: as you say, the “metaphor for minorities” thing only really starts to be stressed heavily in the ’80s, although it’s intermittently important before that (e.g. in the Thomas/Adams stuff – it’s essentially absent from Claremont, specifically, before Days of Future Past, something I found really surprising when I first when back and read Claremont from the beginning).

    In fact, I would argue strenuously that in the first ten or so issues of the Lee/Kirby original material, the X-Men are really not a metaphor for prejudice, but for privilege. That they’re born with their powers is a metaphor for being born into wealth and status. That’s what the “prep school” aesthetic supports. The only one of them whom you can really assign to to a social position is Warren Worthington III. And far from being outsiders (uniquely among Lee/Kirby creations) they actually work for the government via Xavier’s FBI friends.

  25. Michael Keloisim says:

    The problem with Marvel is whenever they have a successful series,they mess it up.

    Planet Hulk was great so Marvel messed it up by forcing the static quo and making him come back to Earth. The Kyle/Yost New X-Men was great until Marvel messed it up with a ‘event’. The Inhumans were actually interesting when Abnett and Lanning had them intertwined in their cosmic titles…until Marvel cancelled the line.

    So regardless of what you may think works for Marvel right now,rest assured they will mess it up and your favorite books will be trashed. Just give up like I did and read Archie Comics. Jughead loves you…

  26. ChrisV says:

    The problem with integrating mutants in to society is that it does away with the concept of a world that mirrors our reality.

    The same is true for super-geniuses in the Marvel Universe. It wasn’t too long ago when Richards, Stark, Banner, Pym were talking on a monthly basis about how they were going to “fix everything”.
    Considering the inventions characters in the Marvel Universe have invented, their Earth really should be an utopia.

    The same problem crops up when you start implementing mutant powers in the same way.
    Would humans be upset about lack of work at first? Yep.
    However, humans just cannot compete. How can you justify hiring fifty men, when you can hire one mutant?
    It’s similar to Magneto’s dream of a mutant utopia from Claremont’s God Loves, Man Kills GN.
    Eventually, mutants would hold all the wealth and power.

    The unemployment problem would be an issue at first, but eventually society would move on to a post-scarcity/post-money society.

    It’d just end up too far removed from reality, and too much of a futuristic Golden Age sci-fi world.

  27. Voord 99 says:

    ChrisV: The problem with integrating mutants into society is that it does away with the concept of a world that mirrors our reality.

    I’d prefer to say “..requires you to accept certain implausible things for the sake of a story set in a world that mirrors our reality.”

    I don’t know that this is so hard to do. When I was a child, one of the things that I felt was really important about superheroes was that they didn’t kill, even though I was also reading 2000 AD and was well aware that American superheroes didn’t “make sense.”

    Also, since the Marvel universe is permanently stuck at the point “not too many years” after mutants first began to emerge in large numbers and became public knowledge (another thing that one just has to accept as the price of entry), I don’t think one has to worry about the world becoming a utopia. There’s a lot of conflict before it gets to that point (as, I’m afraid, I think there will be in our future), and the Marvel universe is permanently located towards the beginning of the transition period.

    It would be nice if the X-Men got to visit that future utopia at some point, though. Somehow, they manage to time-travel all the time, yet never go to that particular future 🙂

  28. Chris says:

    The problem with Too Many X-Men is solved the same way that Captain America solved so many Avengers multiple times in the 1980s and 1970s.

    Characters were simply written out of the book and retired from plots and subplots until the writer had an idea that used them effectively.

    It’s not a huge problem. At all. People overthink this shite.

    The problem with the X-Men comics right now are that the stories are awful.

    There is no magic problem with the status quo that generates awful stories. The stories are awful and the writers frankly should write out characters without eliminating them for use for future writers.

  29. Thom H. says:

    Chris — I totally agree. The problem arises, I think, when you start considering continuity. In the current editorial climate at Marvel where nearly all of continuity is connected across the entire publishing line, characters can’t just disappear. I mean, they can, but then writers would end up having other characters comment on it endlessly. And the vanished characters would all be back for the next big crossover anyway, to at least stand around in the background and/or act as cannon fodder. It would take a whole different approach to the books, I think, to accomplish what you suggest. Which, again, I wholeheartedly support.

  30. Andy Walsh says:

    Who named it “Journey into Mystery” and not “Meta as Hel”?

    (Presumably Thori chewed up the missing Ls beyond recognition.)

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