Posted on Sunday, February 26, 2017
by Paul in x-axis
So, more tie-in issues, then. I’ve done All-New, I’ve still got Extraordinary to go after this. That’s a lot of Inhumans vs X-Men. And what could be more exciting than a lot of Inhumans vs X-Men?
But of course, this is a Marvel crossover in 2016/7, which means it’s not as if these stories actually serve to answer the wider plot. The now-standard crossover format is to have the entire story confined in a miniseries, and for the tie-ins to be stories written in the margins of that plot. That’s what we have here.
There are advantages to doing it this way – principally, that in the days when every book had to pretend to advance the plot, the result was hideously complicated stories, a very long shopping list, and a lot of pointless side quests that served solely to provide plot fodder for secondary tie-ins. But the downsides are pretty significant too. It means that ongoing titles find themselves shoved to the margin of their own plot for several months, while casting about for something that can be done with the premise of the crossover.
Many recent crossovers have been designed with a premise that doubles as a suitable plot springboard for the tie-ins – somebody turns out to be a Skrull, some random secret is revealed by the Watcher, some alternate version of the series from Battleworld. Unfortunately, Inhumans vs X-Men doesn’t even really have that – or at least, the Uncanny tie-ins seem to find little inspiration in it. Its three tie-in issues consist of three unrelated one-shots, and while they all use the crossover as background, only one of them really tries to do anything thematic with it.
Issue #16, by Cullen Bunn and Edgar Salazar, at least uses the tie-in for a bit of misdirection. It initially presents itself as an expansion on the idea from the core series of the telepaths trying to tie Karnak up in hallucinatory knots so as to keep him off the board. And this is okay as a cat and mouse battle of wits, with Jean and the Cuckoos trying to convince them that he’s already escape and Karnak continually seeing through the illusions. The fact that the current incarnation of Karnak is so blisteringly amoral means that the clumsiness of the plot presents fewer problems for him, too.
In fact, the real story here turns out to be that one of the Cuckoos (Irma, if you want to know) is secretly trying to go further and access Karnak’s powers to help Fantomex explore what the Someday Corporation did to the World when they tried to “hack” it in the previous story. The upshot of that is that Fantomex in turn is manipulating Irma and as soon as he has what he needs, he cuts her out and cheerfully sets about trying to hijack the World for his own ends. This, of course, has not the slightest thing to do with the crossover story. It’s not a hugely interesting story in its own right either, to be honest, since I can’t say I’m especially invested in Fantomex and the World, and while Irma’s story could potentially go somewhere, it isn’t followed up in these issues, and… well, I can never remember which one is Irma, which is not a good start if you want me to care about her storyline. I get the idea, and it’s a solid enough idea, but I just don’t care. Still, it’s quite a creative way to hide a different story within a tie-in.
Issue #17, with Ken Lashley on art, takes us to Limbo, where (over in the main series) the X-Men dumped some of the Inhumans to keep them out of the way. The hook for this story is that Sabretooth and Rachel Grey are trying to find some bit-player Inhumans who have wandered off, before they get killed by the local demons. But in fact, Sabretooth is trying to find Monet before she kills the Inhumans herself, thanks to Emplate’s influence.
This doesn’t entirely make sense, because Emplate’s whole thing is that he needs to feed on mutants. The story does acknowledge that, in a hand-waving sort of way, which seems to suggest that Monet is going after the Inhumans through vindictiveness, but it doesn’t really make much sense. The bigger point – and it actually is a major development – is that Sabretooth’s normal personality is re-asserting itself, and he ultimately kills an Inhuman bit player in order to keep Monet’s secret.
This falls under the heading of a plot development which is welcome more because it promises to draw a line under a very bad idea than because of its inherent interest. Randomly altering characters’ personalities in Axis was a hopeless idea and in every other case it’s pretty much been forgotten about already. I genuinely couldn’t tell you what Havok’s current status quo is meant to be. Sabretooth has clung in there longer than you’d think, but with fairly limited returns. The effect starting to fade potentially leads to some more interesting directions; but that’s for the future.
Issue #18 heads to New Attilan, where Xorn and his “Sleepers” try to keep order over the remaining Inhumans still living there. Everyone is basically miserable: the Inhumans are terrified, the Sleepers are being pressed into service as unwilling soldiers, and Xorn sees the whole thing as at best a deeply regrettable necessity. Sebastian Shaw is there too, to give Xorn somebody to kick against, and to keep him as a relatively sympathetic figure.
The ultimate idea, I suppose, is that Xorn feels that he’s wound up as a jailer to both groups, and can’t ultimately contain his frustration, leading him to feel he’s … not up to the job or something? It’s all rather vague, perhaps because Xorn’s role in this book so far has largely been to serve as a dispenser of aphoristic wisdom. Seeing the mask slip and letting him feel overwhelmed by the situation ought to be interesting, but his reaction feels too pat for it to work. Perhaps part of the problem is that this is the issue most clearly revolving around the Inhumans vs X-Men themes, with Xorn caught between trying to serve as a bridge between the mutants and the Inhumans, and finding it all beyond him. And that’s where you run up against the problem that Inhumans vs X-Men doesn’t work, but we’ve been through that before.
Given the crossover remit, these three issues could have been a lot worse – while they deliver the advertised crossover, they’re actually more interested in advancing unrelated storylines of regular characters. But it’s all very bitty, and it’s hard to avoid feeling that these ideas would have worked better attached to a story that belonged wholly to this book.