Posted on Sunday, July 17, 2011
by Paul in x-axis
Well, what an interesting week it’s been. The Murdochs must be praying for the news cycle to move on – where’s a good natural disaster when you need one?
Just in case you didn’t spot the housekeeping notice a couple of posts down, we’re recording the next podcast tomorrow evening, so it’ll be up soon enough. Oh, and as promised last week, I will get around to doing a separate piece on X-23 #12. Not that X-23 ever exactly tears up the comments thread, but the story did read a lot better the second time through, so… we’ll come back to it. Same deal with New Mutants #27, which is the last part of “Unfinished Business”.
It’s the start of Schism proper, following the all-important Prelude to Schism miniseries which has done so much to build goodwill from the fans. More on that below.
Oh, and there’s a couple of first issues from last week that I didn’t get around to reviewing. So we’ll cover them too in this busy, busy week.
All-Nighter #1 – This is a five-issue miniseries by David Hahn (the creator of Private Beach, not this guy), which apparently started life as a Minx commission before getting axed along with the rest of the imprint, and now winds up seeing the light of day at Image. I didn’t know it was a Minx book until I googled it, but it makes perfect sense; it’s about a vaguely directionless teenage girl who’s about to start art school but actually spends her time hanging around at an all-night diner and committing petty crimes. Which is very Minx indeed, isn’t it? Hahn describes it in interviews as “slacker noir”, which is a pretty good description. We might be doing this in more detail on the podcast (or we might not), but suffice to say it’s a good first issue. Even if the story wasn’t originally designed for this format – and the end of issue point does feel a bit arbitrary – there’s plenty of incident here and a strong introduction of a rounded lead. Hahn’s art here is much more angular than I’ve seen it in the past, but it’s a good look for the story, and it plays to his strengths with body language and expression. If you liked the Minx books, you’ll probably find this worth a look.
Daken: Dark Wolverine #11 – Daken continues his efforts to seize control of the Los Angeles underworld. Or that’s the theory. In reality, he’s more interested in these awesome drugs he’s found, which get him high even despite his healing factor. While Heat’s supposed to be highly addictive, it’s not simply a case of Daken getting hooked. The idea is more that he’s bored by how easy things are for him (you and me both, mate), and likes the drug as a novelty and a challenge – the challenge being to plough on with his notional goal of conquering the city, which he doesn’t actually care about that much, all while completely out of his skull. Meanwhile, there’s the obligatory tough local cop investigating him, though she too seems to be more excited by the challenge than actually bothered by anything Daken might be up to.
This is a new direction for a character who desperately needed one, and it’s also a more interesting direction than attempting to humanise him. Instead of trying to convince us that Daken’s got a decent side after all, Rob Williams is embracing wholesale the idea that he’s irredeemable. His approach is to dial back on Daken’s hypercompetence and ability to outwit everyone, by putting the character in a position where he could be undone by his own complacency and overreaching. The two artists are also used well, with Matteo Buffagni’s clear and straightforward work setting the general tone, and Riley Rossmo’s drug sequences going completely off the deep end in terms of lurid colours and general scrawl (but without ever becoming hard to follow). After many months of searching for a hook on the character, this is finally turning into an interesting comic.
Vengeance #1 – Joe Casey’s work for Marvel and DC is never going to reach the demented extremes of his creator-owned work, but it still tends to stand out as eccentric. Despite the title, this is essentially a Teen Brigade comic. Back in the Silver Age, the Teen Brigade were ham radio enthusiasts who used to help Rick Jones track down the Hulk. They’re an early version of the character type that was later reinvented as the plucky hacker, and I would guess it’s the “kids subverting things from behind the scenes” aspect that interests Casey.
Incidentally, this is also a de facto X-book, since the current Brigade includes the depowered Angel and Beak, as well as somebody at least claiming to be Stacy X. (She showed up as a completely depowered character in New Warriors – alongside Angel and Beak, so it’s unlikely Casey’s unaware of it – but she seems to be back to normal here.) Magneto shows up in a major role, and even Sugar Kane, a Britney Spears stand-in from Casey’s Uncanny run, is dusted off for a reprise. The cast of Last Defenders are in here too, as Casey seems to be carving out his own little cult niche of the Marvel Universe.
The main plot of the first issue sees the Brigade rescue a mysterious kid from a decommissioned bunker – from the look of him, a teenage version of Jim Starlin’s none-more-seventies In-Betweener – while the Brigade also fend off Magneto’s attempts to police the mutant population. Much of this is actually a backdrop to set up the mystery of who the lead characters are and what they’re up to, though. Casey’s Magneto is a half a mile out of character compared to the regular X-books, and I can’t quite figure out whether that’s a case of crossed wires or an intentional plot point. A lot of this clearly isn’t meant to make sense in the first issue; a one-page flashback to the Red Skull meeting Hitler has no discernible connection to anything else, for example. But presumably that’s going to become clear in time.
Stories like this stand and fall on whether the pay-off is worth it, and we won’t know that for a while – but Vengeance is certainly an offbeat and more than unusually ambitious superhero comic, and likely to be interesting if nothing else.
Witch Doctor #1 – Ah, high concepts. This is basically House meets Dr Strange meets The Exorcist – in other words, what if you had a guy whose job was to investigate demonic possession and Cthulhu-esque nastiness, but who approached it all in a rigorously scientific, obnoxiously confident way? After all, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to apply scientific method to these things – magic as a story device works precisely because there are rules which have to be discovered.
My main criticism would be that the influences (House in particular) are maybe a little too explicit, but it’s a fun idea, and nicely conveyed in the first issue. There are some great one-liners – “I’ve only seen one case this bad in the literature, and that was in the Bible!” – and inventive use of genre standards; and Lukas Ketner’s art does great demons as well as echoing a vaguely seventies horror feel that works for the book. I have a nagging feeling it might be a one-joke premise, but I’ll try the rest of the series and see how it goes.
Wolverine #12 – In which – you’ll never guess – Wolverine fights some more of the Mongrels, and we watch another flashback to the back story of a member of the Red Right Hand. This one isn’t the relative of a villain; he’s just a madman who blames Wolverine for something plainly outwith his control. While that makes for a nice descent-into-madness angle in the flashbacks, and good fodder for Jason Aaron’s black comedy, I have to say that I think we’ve got the point by now.
By making the members of the Red Right Hand so clearly deluded and wrong – when there must be so many people who genuinely were wronged by Wolverine – Aaron has missed the opportunity to give them nuance. But he must know that; it’s surely a deliberate choice. These guys are a maniac cult and Aaron doesn’t really want to compromise his B-movie vibe by giving us any reason to sympathise with them. If anything, the point of these flashbacks seems to be to erode whatever sympathy we might otherwise have had. I kind of get that, and I see how it fits with the tone of Aaron’s work… but I still think this arc is labouring the point.
X-Men: Schism #1 – And so at last we come to the big X-Men story of the summer, also by Jason Aaron. In fact, on one view, since this leads into an ongoing X-Men series also written by Aaron, it’s effectively the first issue of that book.
But first we must say a few more words about the much (and rightly) maligned Prelude to Schism, a book of which it can truly be said: if you only skip one X-Men series this year, for god’s sake make sure it’s this one. Even read with the assumption that it was heading somewhere, Prelude was a rather boring comic. Now, both Aaron and editor Nick Lowe have seen fit to confirm that the mysterious threat in Prelude is in fact nothing whatsoever to do with Schism, and apparently will not be resolved, either in Schism or anywhere else. It was, in other words, a “Prelude to Schism” solely and exclusively in the sense that that was its title. It’s a random selection of flashbacks making no point in particular, hung on a framing scene that turns out to connect to nothing at all.
Now, as a completist, I would have bought the thing anyway. And ironically, in some ways I’m quite relieved to know I need never think about it again. But readers who bought the thing in the understandable belief that it might be in some way connected to Schism have every right to feel aggrieved.
Lowe, at CBR, responds to the understandable questions as follows:
This is something that I’ve talked about in every interview about “Prelude” that we did. “Prelude” was a thematic precursor to “Schism.” It is not chapter one as far as the story goes. It was very important to us that the story of “Schism” start with #1, but there was a lot of ground to cover to frame the coming events of “Schism.” “Prelude” is about leadership in general and specifically Cyclops’ leadership. It was important to us to have something dealing with that in a small package so readers didn’t have to read the last four years of books to get it all.
This is an ill-advised response. For one thing, blaming the aggrieved customer is never a good idea, even when it’s true. For what it’s worth, I can’t find any interview where Nick Lowe is quoted saying any such thing. The closest I can find is a Tom Brevoort interview on CBR from February where, to give him credit, he did indeed say – some way into a lengthy column primarily dealing with Fear Itself – that:
Paul’s story functions as an overture to the event. It’s not connected so much on a plot level as it is on a thematic level. It sets the table for what’s to come from July to October, which is when the next X-Crisis will hit.
But even the sort of reader who ploughs through CBR articles looking for information about upcoming books – and even today, they’re not all hardcore internet fans, you know – might also have read an interview with Paul Jenkins in March (“X-Men: Prelude” sets the next major X-Men event in motion…” – not a quote from Jenkins, to be fair, but clearly the understanding given to the interviewer); or the promotional article on Marvel’s own website (“…sets the stage for the next major mutant event of the Marvel Universe”); or the solicitations (“Before Messiah Complex came Endangered Species. This is the prelude to the X-Men Event of 2011″).
Incidentally, in his CBR interview, Jenkins suggested that the nature of the impending threat was something he wasn’t allowed to talk about (“I can’t say right now what it is”) – which makes me wonder if it was actually meant to connect to the plot when he wrote it.
At any rate, Lowe’s implied suggestion that readers should somehow have figured out that the mysterious impending threat in Prelude to Schism had nothing to do with Schism, despite the title of the book and the way it was promoted, is little short of extraordinary.
Schism itself is a Jason Aaron story, with the shiny polish of Carlos Pacheco’s art. Cyclops and Wolverine go to an arms control conference where Cyclops tries to deliver an inspiring speech about decommissioning the Sentinels, and ends up in an argument with a thinly disguised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before Kid Omega shows up and everything goes to hell. Personally, I think bringing Kid Omega back was a mistake in the first place – it entirely misses the point of his death scene in New X-Men. I’ve seen some negative reaction to the character being used, but he was actually brought back into circulation a while back in Endsong, so that ship’s sailed. Since he’s around, there’s no harm in using him in this role – and, given the depleted set of characters since M-Day, few alternative characters who could have easily served the required role of mutant anarchist.
The other part of the story introduces a new villain – Kade Kilgore, a 12-year-old sociopath who murders his arms dealing father and seizes control of his company. It’s every bit as subtle as it sounds, and a very Jason Aaron concept. In a genre which all too often takes itself far too seriously, Aaron is refreshingly willing to introduce outright absurdity into his superhero comics, and Kade is a definite example of that. I suspect Aaron, like Grant Morrison, sees the more ridiculous side of superheroes as a positive strength to be embraced, and uses them in a way which is likely to be misconstrued as mockery.
But even Aaron only gets away with this stuff because he normally manages to strike a balance between craziness and character, and because he tends to be writing characters like Wolverine or Ghost Rider where his B-movie aesthetic fits well. Tonally, I’m not quite sure this works on the X-Men proper, especially in an “event” mini – the X-Men never actually had many oddball villains, aside from Arcade and Mojo, and my initial reaction is that Kade is jarringly out of place in a series like this. Maybe I’m wrong; perhaps an injection of lunacy is precisely what the X-Men need, and it’s certainly a good thing to see Aaron sticking to his own voice rather than toning down for the crossover. There’s something about the idea I like, if only its unrepentant implausibility – I’m just not convinced I like it here.