Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2011
by Paul in x-axis
This is the quietest week for X-books in some time, which is perhaps appropriate since everyone’s attention is on comics that won’t be out until September. Marvel have a few second- and third-tier launches out, DC are holding off on everything for the moment… yeah, we’re kind of in limbo right now. Which is kind of odd considering that we’re also in the big “event” season, but it’s clear that DC’s Flashpoint is basically an alternate reality story that doubles as a means to an end, while Marvel’s Fear Itself is just stumbling through the motions.
In fact, DC might have picked a good time to do a relaunch of the line. Sure, they’re hoping to get in completely new readers, and maybe they will. But in the short term I’d sure they wouldn’t mind picking up readers from Marvel – and with Marvel’s line looking particularly stale and shopworn right now, I can see the long-suffering Marvel hardcore being more than usually willing to see how the DC relaunch turns out. You never know.
On the other hand…
Birds of Prey #13 – …is the sort of book that gives me pause about how far DC has really planned this whole thing.
This is the end of a two-part story called “Hostile Takeover”, in which the regular cast team up with the Question to take on a mysterious new villain called Junior. There’s an extended fight scene with said villain (who does have an intriguing low-tech gimmick), but it doesn’t build to a clear resolution, and the story ends with the cast vowing to go after her. So it looks like it’s a set-up for future stories with the same villain. Meanwhile, over in the letters page, we’re told that Gail Simone will “continue zeroing in” on the characters in “upcoming issues.”
But the next two issues are a fill-in by Marc Andreyko, and then in September the book is being relaunched with Duane Swierczynski as writer. So this is the end of Gail Simone’s run. Without a proper resolution, and with a promise of future stories that won’t in fact exist. Uh… just when did DC decide they were doing this relaunch, exactly?
Needless to say, this isn’t the best of issues to go out on. Diego Olmos’ art is on the bland side, but the extended fight scene does manage to sell the central idea that Junior is a different (and demented) kind of fighter. But while she’s set up as a future threat, it’s hard to see where that can be going, if the whole line is rebooting in a few months time. As the middle chapter of an ongoing storyline this would be fine, but as a wrap-up? It’s a very odd choice, presumably forced on the book by circumstances – and that’s not a good omen for the reboot.
Empowered: Ten Questions for the Maidman – I’m not sure Empowered really lends itself to these one-shot formats. In the digests, Adam Warren does strings of short stories that kind of build into a narrative over the course of each volume, and given the book’s sheer oddity and campness, that hit-and-run factor works for it. With the one-shots, we’re getting book length stories, which doesn’t feel like it has the same energy. Mind you, with the next volume not scheduled until 2012, there’s no harm in putting something out there as a stop-gap. This book actually cuts back and forth between Warren drawing the regular cast talking about Maidman (perhaps Warren’s most bizarre creation, even by the standards of this series), and a full-colour TV interview with the man himself drawn by Emily Warren – an odd style clash that I’m not sure entirely works. But Warren also knows that if you’re going to go over the top in comics, you’ve got to go really over the top… and there’s something quixotically irresistible about his determination to wrestle real characters out of such deliberately contrived concepts.
Ghost Rider #0.1 – I’ve never been much of a fan of the Ghost Rider; he’s very much a character of the 1970s, and while the design is fantastic, it’s kind of hard to translate into proper stories. Jason Aaron seemed to be on kind of the right lines when he was turning the book into a weird kind of exploitation B-movie homage, though even that didn’t really hold my interest. And the opening page of this issue seems to hint in the same direction. But what we actually get in this issue (after an opening power-demo sequence) is Johnny Blaze moping about his curse, meeting a girl (which doesn’t go well) and then agreeing to palm the curse off on someone else. Rob Williams’ script is all a bit emo without much in the way of humour, and Matthew Clark’s art isn’t big on atmosphere either. Pretty much a distillation of what I don’t want to read in a Ghost Rider comic – but then like I say, I was probably never going to be the audience for this book.
Iron Man: The Iron Age – Alpha – I have no idea why Marvel have stuck “Alpha” and “Omega” issues on this miniseries, which seems to be essentially a straightforward Iron Man miniseries in which he travels through time meeting guest stars and trying to sort out a catastrophe that happens in the first issue. Perhaps they’re trying to pass it off as some sort of event, but I can’t help thinking that this is not the book on which to play that card.
Still, treating it as what it is – Iron Man in a time travel romp – it’s actually not bad at all. This is another Rob Williams story, and this time, I like the central idea quite a bit. The springboard is basically the return of a ridiculously obscure villain who fought Iron Man once in 1965 and was never heard of again, but who turns out to have been making preparations for a rematch ever since. That’s all fairly stock, but I do like the idea that Iron Man (and the readers) have no real idea who this guy is, while he naturally regards his one published story as the defining event of his life. And hey, it’s all just a starting point to do time travel and guest stars anyway, so it’s not like it needs to be Shakespeare.
A part of me thinks it’s a bad idea to wheel out the likes of Dark Phoenix for a story like this, since she’s one of those mega-villains who’s managed to avoid coming back frequently enough to undercut her prestige by losing all the time, but I’m not sure the book is actually going to do anything damaging with her; the story objective, from the look of it, is to alter history so that she never shows up in the first place. Not a must-read book, but a perfectly entertaining one.
Mystery Men #1 – A five-issue mini by David Liss and Patrick Zircher about pulp-era heroes in the Marvel Universe. In other words, since Marvel don’t own any, they’re going to invent some. Considering that DC’s recent pulp books didn’t exactly set the world alight, one suspects that this more somebody’s pet project than a bid for huge sales. (Though I can only assume that Marvel were just trying to drum up publicity when they solicited issue #1 with the “CLASSIFIED” tag normally reserved for books that link to major events – on the face of it, there’s nothing here to explain why they delayed the full solicitation.)
It’s not a team book, at least not yet. The main character is a gentleman thief called the Operative, who seems to consider that since it’s the Depression, there’s nothing wrong with stealing from the rich. The book is rather more vague about whether his social conscience extends to giving to the poor. There’s also a vigilante wandering around called the Revenant, who seems to have actual super powers and, further deviating from the pulp template, isn’t white. Sensibly enough, Liss seems to want to take the pulp influences, cross them with the Marvel Universe elements, and chuck in the sort of characters who were excluded from actual pulp stories because of the standards of the time, thus hopefully ending up with something that’s more than just a homage.
While stories set in the past with no established characters have never been easy to sell, this is very readable stuff, with Patrick Zircher’s art doing a good job of blending the various genre influences together. Of course, pulp heroes were the forerunners of superheroes, so it’s not like there’s a massive tone clash, but the superhero and magical elements don’t seem out of place in what’s primarily a sort of crime book. All in all, a pleasant surprise.
Wolverine #10 – Wolverine finally gets around to going after the Red Right Hand, who’ve been the villains behind the whole story to date. And naturally, they’re just trying to lure him into an ambush. So… what we get in this story is Wolverine taking on one of their quirky henchmen, Cannonfoot, intercut with the back story of the Red Right Hand’s unnamed leader.
The basic idea is that a young(er) Wolverine killed his dad, whom he idolised (even though the flashback makes it pretty clear that he was actually a bastard). He’s dedicated his life to revenge on Wolverine but, being just one guy, he’s never made it above being one of those random people who attacks from time to time and gets forgotten about. So now he’s built an organisation of other similarly anonymous people, and they’ve got weight of numbers on their side.
Okay: here’s two reasons why this doesn’t work. Firstly, it doesn’t really tell us anything that wasn’t obvious from earlier issues. All we get here is more detail, and the father is such a one-dimensional moustache-twirling cartoon villain that it hardly qualifies as fleshing out the character. Secondly, the idea of the Red Right Hand seems to be all the little people ganging up to take on Wolverine. That’s fine in theory, but it doesn’t seem to find any reflection in their actual plans, which boil down to “hire some mercenaries and stand well back”, as far as I can see. Why couldn’t he have done this on his own? What does he gain by roping in other ineffectual individuals? Perhaps Aaron’s coming to it, but we’re ten issues in and really should have covered it by now.
There are tone problems too; the fight between Wolverine and Cannonfoot is written as a Lobo-style cartoon, but Renato Guedes draws it more or less straight. I’m not sure he’s a good match for Aaron generally; he just doesn’t seem to adapt well to the flights of sporadic nonsense that pop up in Aaron’s scripts from time to time.
There’s an idea in here somewhere – I like the concept of the ordinary folk trying to get revenge on Wolverine for screwing up their lives – but it just isn’t coming through.
X-Men Legacy #250 – The first part of “Lost Legions”, which might be a new direction for the title, or might just be a case of killing time for six months until everything gets relaunched with “Schism”. Who can say? Anyway, Xavier’s makeshift team are hunting down Legion’s escaped personalities. The one we get in this issue, Time-Shift, seems to be more of a power gimmick than a defined personality. But that’s fine, since he’s really just a backdrop for Mike Carey to set up his new team. Styx is clearly being set up as the major villain of the bunch, and I assume we’re building up to face him in a few months time. The cast gel nicely, there’s some good use of Legion as a proper character for a change, and clever use of the time-slip gimmick. There’s also a back-up strip dealing with the Rachel Summers subplot, told almost entirely in reverse sequence. It’s basically Carey jazzing up an infodump, but nothing wrong with that. Finally, there’s a reprint of New Mutants #27, apparently chosen because it’s “Professor X’s first encounter with Legion”. While this is true, it’s also the middle chapter of a storyline which isn’t even available on Marvel’s digital service. (Corporate synergy? What corporate synergy?) I’ve read the whole thing before, but quite what Marvel expect most readers to do with it, other than coo at Bill Sienkiewicz’s art, I have no idea.