Posted on Sunday, June 13, 2010
by Paul in x-axis
Regular readers will be thrilled to learn that I finally got the printer working. Just a simple matter of taking it back to the shop and getting one that wasn’t broken. Shame it took two tries. I could have sworn Hewlett Packard used to be good for reliability. Still, their customer service helpline’s very good, so I’ll give them credit for that.
Anyway… it’s the first weekend of the World Cup, but for those of you who might not be interested, such as the North American readership – oh, some of you might think you care, but you should see the English – let’s run through this week’s comics.
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #2 – Have we just given up on completing that last Astonishing X-Men arc, then? Apparently we have. Oh well. In this issue, after getting rid of some local soldiers, the X-Men investigate the weird births in Karere, and then at the end of the issue a bad guy shows up to explain the plot to them. And that’s pretty much it. You know a book’s going to be light on plot when it opens with six straight splash pages, but this one really is a throwback to the days before the backlash against decompression.
As tends to be the case with this sort of comic, it’s a book with some very good bits in it. I like the central idea of digging up another reason for weird births to take place and using that as the springboard for an X-Men story. The dialogue’s punchy. The art’s gorgeous, though it’s clear that Kaare Andrews doesn’t get Emma Frost at all (or regards the character as so stupid that he refuses to pretend to take her seriously, which is understandable, but doesn’t do the story any favours). Frank D’Armata’s colouring is beautiful. But there’s just not enough story to make it a satisfying comic – the pace would be languid even in a collected edition, and it’s way too slow to work in serial format.
Avengers Academy #1 – With this and Young Allies, Marvel are shipping the debut issues of two new teen team books in the same week. Doesn’t seem like the smartest move in the world to me, but Marvel’s scheduling decisions have always tended towards the mysterious. This is the “Heroic Age” replacement for Avengers: The Initiative, with the Avengers training a bunch of rookie superhumans as future superheroes. Much like the original set-up of Avengers: The Initiative, in other words, except that the people in charge are benign.
It’s written by Christos Gage, who has a good track record with off-kilter team books from his days at WildStorm. Artist Mike McKone’s clean superhero look works well for Marvel’s new direction, and strikes a good balance between giving the book a retro feel without making the new characters look generic. The first issue is your classic team book intro – it introduces the cast and sets up the big idea, with a twist on the premise at the end. To be honest, it’s a twist you’ll probably see coming a good twelve pages off, but that doesn’t matter, because it works as a shock for the characters. Juggling the cast of a team book is always tricky, but Gage solves that problem neatly by using the likeable Veil as his main character and giving the others enough panel time to interest us in how they’ll develop. A strong debut.
Daytripper #7 – It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned this one, but Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Vertigo series is one of the strongest books running at the moment. The high concept is that every issue is about a seminal moment in the life of lead character Bras de Oliva Domingos… and they all end with him dying. The stories are out of order, they’re slowly building up a picture of the guy’s life, and the unusual concept turns out to work remarkably well. It’s not so much about the shock value – by this point, there is no shock value. It’s more about “What would this man’s life mean if it stopped right there?” It’s a very clever way of making you look at each story both in isolation and as part of a whole, and the awkwardness of trying to sum up somebody’s life. This particular issue is almost more concerned with the subplot about Bras’ lifelong friend Jorge, but even the fact that the events in this issue aren’t altogether about him contributes to the book’s clever use of multiple perspectives. It veers towards sentimentality at times, but has the quality to pull it off.
Hellbound #2 – This is the Second Coming spin-off miniseries where Cannonball and co go to Limbo to try and rescue Magik. I liked the first issue of this, largely because of the way it used the newer, younger X-characters, who implicitly resented the way they were being pressganged into rescuing a more “important” character from a previous generation. This second issue doesn’t really follow through on that as well as I’d hoped. To be fair, the theme is still there – the “adult” members of the team are duly sidelined as the book picks up on the largely-forgotten Gambit-as-Death subplot from Peter Milligan’s X-Men run, leaving the kids to be our de facto protagonists. And Christopher Yost seems to be trying for a story in which those characters have to decide how hard they’re willing to try and help a character they neither like nor especially care about. The thing is, this second issue gets bogged down in characters wandering around Limbo fighting hordes of demons, and while the story is trying for a “reality shifting around us” horror vibe, the art just gives us a load of generic scenes of superheroes fighting demons. The overuse of letterbox panels doesn’t help either – I guess it might be a deliberate style choice to break up the flow of the action, but this story really does need some sort of flow.
Meta 4 #1 – Ted McKeever’s new book, cheerfully billing itself as “A 5-issue Allegorical Series in Black & White.” And he’s not kidding. In this issue, a man dressed as an astronaut wakes up at an abandoned funfair and wanders around encountering strange people. Taken literally, it’s completely off the deep end; taken metaphorically, it’s hard to know at this stage quite what McKeever’s getting at, other than a vague sense of alienation. But it does have plenty of unsettling atmosphere, and the art is consistently excellent. The device of having characters speak in symbols to reflect the lead character vaguely understanding what they mean is a brilliantly effective one. The ultimate question, though, is whether you have faith that it’ll fall into some sort of shape by the end of the five issues (as it’s presumably meant to) or whether it’ll end up as effectively an extended dream scene. A lot of McKeever’s stories end up falling into the latter category for me, but there’s indisputably something memorable about this issue.
S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 – This year’s internet darling, it seems. Leonardo da Vinci shows up with Renaissance Kirbytech to confront the people now running his Illuminati-themed SHIELD organisation, who are apparently not futurist enough for his tastes. Looks like there’s something about Kaballah in there as well. It’s… If I’m being honest, it’s a book I respect rather than actually enjoy. It’s ambitious, it’s boldly oblivious to commercial considerations, and it’s seemingly trying to combine the Illuminati conspiracy with the mind-expanding weirdness of Silver Age superhero comics. If I’m pushed as to why it doesn’t particularly grab me, I suppose it comes down to a lack of clearly defined characters; it’s a book of ideas rather than people, which would normally be fine for me, except that they’re rather New Age-y ideas. It’s certainly not a bad comic and I’m glad to see something like this getting a shot from Marvel at all, but it doesn’t actually entertain me very much.
Uncanny X-Men #525 – Chapter 10 of “Second Coming” follows the established pattern: rack up the tension a bit more, and chuck in one or two extra plot points. So this issue, something odd happens with Hope’s eyes, X-Force actually arrive in the future, and Legion and Rogue are given roles near the end… and otherwise, it reiterates what we already knew and gives us more fighting. All of which is fine. On a weekly schedule, I think this is working very well, carefully boxing the characters into a corner and doing everything possible to build the sense of “How do they get out of that”? On a monthly schedule this would drag intolerably, but shipping weekly, it’s got real momentum and building the sense that something big must, surely, be coming.
X-Men Forever 2 #1 – Chris Claremont’s X-Men Forever enters its second year proper – and yes, the title is officially X-Men Forever 2, it’s in the logo and everything. Back in 1991, by all accounts, Claremont never particularly wanted to hit the reset button and get the X-Men back to the Mansion. It’s often forgotten these days that the previous couple of years had seen some of his most freeform X-Men stories, disbanding the team entirely and more or less reinventing the series as an anthology title. And it looks as though, having served out a year at the Mansion, Claremont is setting out to dismantle that set-up and do something else with the characters instead. The springboard for that, unfortunately, is a rather undermotivated fight with the 1991 line-up of the Avengers, who seem to have been wheeled out mainly so that their battle can provide cover for a necessary plot point at the end of the issue. Still, if Claremont is going off in some completely different direction with his version of the X-Men, and that’s how it looks, then that’s certainly of interest.
Young Allies #1 – Marvel’s other team book launch, by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon, seems to be a sort of twenty-first century New Warriors – a team made up of (mostly) established characters with nothing much in common other than age and relatively obscurity. True, Nomad’s got a back-up strip in Captain America, but the likes of Firestar, Gravity and Arana have been languishing for a while now. Come to think of it, Firestar and Gravity are in the particularly odd position of having respectable in-continuity CVs, which aren’t matched by their following in the real world.
This is, of course, another introducing-the-cast issue. McKeever’s always been a good character writer, and the individual cast members are set up well. What doesn’t come across so strongly is a premise for the book itself, as the first issue basically falls back on the “they team up because they all happened to be passing” schtick. Perhaps we’ll get something stronger next issue. Balancing that, though, is McKeever’s gloriously named villains – a group claiming to be children of established Marvel villains, and billing themselves as the Bastards of Evil. And these guys do seem to have something interesting in their agenda; they seem to be just nihilist wreckers, but the story goes out of its way to give the impression that there’s more to them. That’s a good hook, and I’ll stick around to see where McKeever’s going with that. Plus, they’re called the Bastards of Evil, and how can you not love a team called that?