Posted on Friday, January 20, 2017
by Paul in x-axis
Mmm. I had it in mind that All-New X-Men #14-16 were a three parter. And re-reading them, they kind of are, but they’re kind of not. This is the tail end of a string of solo stories, which seemed to be on the one hand spotlight time for individual characters, and on the other a gentle subtext of the team falling apart the longer they spend in their new setting.
Issue #14 is basically Scott’s issue, even if Hank is lurking ominously in the background throughout. Scott is still stuck at home with his leg in a cast, going stir crazy. Probably this book’s best feature is Dennis Hopeless’s ability to find a different angle on the characters’ established traits by sticking them in a different context. In Scott’s case, the workaholic obsessiveness that would have made him the X-Men’s ideal leader (or field leader, anyway) needs somewhere else to go, now that the antics of his older self seem to have debarred him from a leadership role.
So instead we have Scott trying to find out what the heck Hank is up to in his secretive lab, and spending much of the issue patiently trying to outwit all of Hank’s security devices – ultimately to no avail, because Hank is a technical genius. There’s a lovely visual of Scott trying to exploit the Airstream’s Tardis-like properties and accidentally walking into all the rooms at once. Scott doesn’t need to succeed in order for all this stuff to work as character material; he just needs to keep on trying. Moreover, Scott’s more interested in the challenge of finding out what Hank is up to, rather than having any intrinsic fascination in the answer. It’s an echo of an occasional theme with the original character, though not one we’ve seen in a while: that he’s a good guy in part because that’s just the role and the challenge that happened to present itself, and Xavier happened to channel him in the right direction.
Anyway, it turns out that Hank has accidentally raised an Elder God or some such thing, and there’s quite a good sequence of Scott fighting this Cthulhu-issue demon from his wheelchair. It works because, again, Hopeless plays it in the right way for Scott’s character: he remains calm in the face of madness and reasons his way to the solution.
Issues #15-16 are a less satisfying. They serve partly as Hank’s spotlight story, but they also involve the whole team being brought back together, which kind of detracts from that. And they involve two parallel demonic attacks – one the result of Hank’s unwise experiments in black magic in the Airstream, the other the result of the Goblin Queen just showing up for no particular reason. Yes, she was foreshadowed in a subplot a while back, yes, there’s a thematic reason to have her here, but there’s still no good plot reason to have two sets of demons show up at once beyond sheer coincidence, and that’s an irritant.
Then there’s the fact that most of the team, despite being brought back together here, don’t actually have a great deal of interest to do. They spend the two issues fighting a whole load of demons under the control of the Goblin Queen, and it’s pretty much just random fighting until Hank saves the day. And it’s an underwhelming use of the Queen, too. She seems like a sensible choice of villain, since not only does she have the link with the original Scott, but she’s a twisted version of the team’s absentee member Jean Grey. But she doesn’t actually have a plan here beyond causing chaos for its own sake. That’s a bit uncharacteristic of her – yes, she always revels in the madness, but she usually has a clear agenda on top of that. But it’s also not much to hang a story on. Sure, the whole thing is a vehicle for some material focussing on Hank, but it’s a pretty ropey vehicle. A stronger plot would really raise this a notch.
The plusses and minuses are pretty similar when it comes to Mark Bagley’s art. He’s good at selling character moments, and he’s always an effective storyteller. On the other hand, he’s not so good at epic chaos. The original Inferno storyline benefitted hugely from having artists like Blevins and Simonson cranking it up to 11, but that’s not really where Bagley’s strengths lie. He’s always a solid artist, but this doesn’t always feel like his natural territory.
Still, the story does have some good ideas with Hank. The big reveal is his casual announcement that he actually solved the time travel problem a while back, and he could go home whenever he wanted, but he’s become completely sidetracked by his new obsession with experimenting in magic. The idea seems to be that Hank belatedly realises that he’s gone off the rails, and that he’s become distracted by trying to regain a sense of being special in a world that feels like it’s outpaced his intellect. If he can’t catch up with science then he’s going to hide away from it and try something else. There’s an obvious logic problem with this, of course, which is that he could just go home and become special again that way. But it’s the sort of “not logical” that feels like a plausible emotional reaction, rather than a plot hole, so that’s fine by me.
Of course, Hank then gets to somewhat redeem himself by being the one guy who knows just enough about magic to fend of the Goblin Queen – although it’s pretty clear that we’re heading towards the story where Hank has already set himself on the road to ruin and has come to his senses too late to avoid that. No doubt we’ll get back to that after the Inhumans crossover. I’m not altogether convinced by this direction, since it’s obviously meant to be a parallel of what Brian Bendis was doing with the original Beast, which always suffered from the major drawback of not being remotely convincing. But perhaps Hopeless can sell me on the do-over; he’s certainly done a better job of building it so far.