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Aug 7

The X-Axis – 7 August 2011

Posted on Sunday, August 7, 2011 by Paul in x-axis

No podcast this week, but regular listeners will surely want to check out our special bonus video thing, one post down.  Thanks again to the Thumbcast for actually making the video.

But now, this week’s comics.  It’s a week relatively light on X-books, and big on interesting new releases – I’m sure we’ll come back to one or two of these on next week’s podcast.  (Any suggestions, stick them in the comments thread.)

Fear Itself: Wolverine #2 – In a week full of interesting new releases, this is perhaps not going to be the top of anyone’s discussion list (except for mine, because it’s alphabetically first).  But it’s a perfectly fine little miniseries, and if they’d spliced it into Wolverine proper as three extra issues, I don’t think anyone would be complaining.

In keeping with Marvel’s usual crossover strategy, this book is entirely peripheral to the events of the main story.  That’s just a background which the book uses as a springboard for its own story.  I have no problem with that; at least this way we get a load of self-contained stories, even if they’re all built around a common theme, and many writers are able to work in the crossover elements as a villain-of-the-week without having to drag the series off course.

The plot in this series is that a bunch of little-known mercenaries have hijacked a spare Helicarrier and are flying it to New York.  The first issue suggested that the crossover elements were purely red-skies, but it now looks like it’s not so simple; the hijackers are led by a deranged cultist, though they might not necessarily have realised that when they committed to this course of action.

As a straightforward superhero action comic, this is actually pretty good.  Seth Peck’s script gives the various bad guys a bit of personality, the slow reveal of the real plan works, and Roland Boschi’s art is good dynamic stuff, which benefits from its rough edges.  On the other hand, the fill-in pages by Robbi Rodriguez don’t mesh with the rest of the book, and Melita’s subplot doesn’t really work – the story can’t seem to make up its mind whether she’s racing across town to get information to Wolverine, or pausing on every street corner to Get The Story because she’s a tough-as-nails journosaint.   But on the whole, it’s a good book.  I’d be happy to see more from these guys.

Flashpoint #4 – Well, hmm.  I think I see what Geoff Johns is going for here.  We all know it’s an alternate reality that doesn’t really count, and the Flash starts off the series feeling the same way.  But as the story goes on, he finds himself unable to turn his back on the horrible things going on around him, while the local version of Batman becomes the one who’s predominantly obsessed with rewriting history to put things back the way they were.  There’s something there, in a meta way, but I’m not altogether sure it translates.  It’s the penultimate issue and the actual villain only shows up on the very last page; the main focus of this story is actually on introducing Element Woman and the six kids who comprise the local version of Captain Marvel.  (Not very effectively, either, since the letterer and editor can’t seem to keep track of which one is which.)  At this stage, I get the feeling that the need to work in guest stars is stopping the story from fully taking shape.

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #3 – I’m not really feeling this one either.  George Perez is of course far too busy working on the September relaunch to draw this, so we get fill-in art from Fernando Blanco and Scott Koblish – which is perfectly acceptable, but not George Perez.  More fundamentally, this story about the Secret Seven self-destructing doesn’t really work as a self-contained plot.  The basic idea is that the Enchantress is a traitor and she’s manipulating Shade’s powers so as to trick everyone into killing one another (except for Abra Kadabra, who just walked out).  But since the Secret Seven were never shown to be a particularly significant, or effective, or even ever-functional-in-the-first-place group, there’s no real sense of tragedy in them falling apart – and I honestly have no idea what the subplot about Abra going public had to do with anything, unless it shows up somewhere else in the crossover.  Conceivably this could be setting up something for Justice League Dark – even as foreshadowing for the idea that anyone who follows Shade in the new book is probably going to wind up dead – but as a story in its own right, it’s not very satisfying.

Hero Comics 2011 – This year’s Hero Initiative benefit book has a couple of brief contributions from the creators of Chew and Elephantmen, as well as three single-page strips selling the importance of the Hero Initiative (for those who don’t know, it’s a charity that supports the health and welfare of comic creators who’ve fallen on hard times).  The main draw, though, is “My Last Landlady”, a nine-page strip which reunites the original Sandman creative team of Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg.  It’s such a focal point that a further nine pages are given over to a behind-the-scenes piece by Sam Kieth which adapts the creators’ e-mail exchanges into comic form.

The result is two very unusual comics.  “My Last Landlady” is a story, but in the form of a piece of blank verse, which Kieth and Dringenberg have illustrated with impressionist painted panels that range from fairly literal to virtually abstract.  And it works rather well; a literal rendition would have resulted in an EC story with odd captions, but this plays up the reflective and claustrophobic side of the poem.  It’s also the sort of story that’s likely to appeal to fans of Gaiman’s Sandman work.  Kieth’s back-up strip consists of cartoon representations of the creators with their e-mails recycled for dialogue; much of the e-mail content is very interesting, though I’m not altogether sure how much it gains from being illustrated.  At any rate, anyone who picks up the book on the strength of that Gaiman/Kieth/Dringenberg reunion won’t be disappointed.

Mystic #1 – The CrossGen imprint hasn’t done brilliantly for Marvel in the direct market, but perhaps they figure these books from other genres will fare better elsewhere.  While Ruse was a more or less straight continuation of the original book, and Sigil chucked everything out of the window, G Willow Wilson and David Lopez’s revival of Mystic seems to be taking a halfway position (as far as I can judge from the original’s Wikipedia entry).  The sisters Genevieve and Giselle are now indentured orphans secretly studying magic from their mistress’s books, with Genevieve the incurable optimist who dreams of becoming an apprentice sorcerer, and Giselle more of a streetwise cynic.  If you know the set-up of the original book, you can probably figure out where this is going.

And it’s excellent, in a very Disney-friendly way.  The art is beautiful, the characters are great, the fairy-tale set-up is perfect, and the jokes are funny.  It’s one of those stories where the elements are largely familiar, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re classics, and they’re being done with energy and warmth.  You should buy this.  I honestly didn’t think Marvel had it in them to produce this sort of book and get it right.  I’m very happy to be proved wrong.

Punisher #1 – At the other end of the spectrum entirely, Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto are the new creative team on the Marvel Universe’s version of the Punisher.  You can argue about whether the modern practice of renumbering for every new creative team is silly or not, but to be fair, there’s something to be said for drawing a firm line between two very different interpretations of the same character.  The previous creators were doing Franken-Castle, after all.

As might be expected, Greg Rucka takes Marvel’s 1970s revenge killer back to his home genre territory.  That poses another question: why do we need a Marvel Universe version of the Punisher when the traditional version has been done very successfully, without the unwelcome fantasy and sci-fi elements, in the Max imprint?  What does this character actually gain from being in the Marvel Universe?

Well, not a great deal, to be honest, since nothing about this story turns on any Marvel Universe elements.  But being in a separate continuity does have the advantage of leaving Rucka free to take a completely different approach to the character.  Comics Alliance have a very interesting interview with Rucka about his take on the character (which suggests that he might be moving beyond this approach in the medium term). But for the purposes of this issue, it looks like we’re back to the Punisher as the implacable one-note force of nature, with other characters orbiting around him and providing the point-of-view.  The Punisher doesn’t talk, he’s seen largely in shadow, and even his trademark skull logo is now a blurred, ghostly image.

That makes sense, since the Punisher himself is an obsessive character who can’t be changed very much before he ceases to be the Punisher.  The way to get variation into a Punisher series is to bring in new characters and new situations for him to interact with, and so this story introduces Detectives Bolt and Clemons, one of whom is the Punisher’s unwilling contact inside the force.  (How that came about is explained in a well told back-up story.)  The plot centres on the mystery over what the Punisher is currently investigation/slaughtering, but the real heart of the story is in re-establishing the idea of the Punisher as an icon first and a character second, while building up the detectives as the characters we can actually identify with.  It is, of course, ultimately a Punisher comic, and you probably know by now whether you’re in the market for that, but assuming you are, this is a good one.

Rachel Rising #1 – Terry Moore’s only just wrapped up Echo, and now he starts on another medium-run series.  The high concept this time starts with the title character waking up in a shallow grave with no memory of how she got there (beyond some flashes of memory that pretty clearly indicate she’s been murdered), and setting out to investigate what happened to her.  Whether she’s undead or simply incapable of dying is something we’ll presumably have to wait and find out.

It’s being described in some articles as a horror book, though it’s worth stressing that that’s more in terms of tone and concept; there’s nothing remotely explicit in this first issue.  What do you get is a set-up of the premise, a nice introduction to the lead and a sketching in of her supporting cast, and a great exercise in setting the tone.  The book hits a level of understated oddity so that when a sumo wrestler inexplicably shows up near the end, it doesn’t seem out of place, nor like it’s trying too hard.

The silent nine-page opening sequence is virtuoso stuff and a great example of why it’s sometimes worth taking the time to do these important scenes at length – for those like Terry Moore who’ve got the skill to pull it off, the impact in terms of tone in incalculable.

Severed #1 – Boy, this is the busiest week for new releases in ages.  Severed is a creator-owned book by writers Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, and artist Attila Futaki.  This too is horror, and this too is more interested in the slow build than in any overblown gore – though admittedly the book seems to be more obviously headed that way, compared to Rachel Rising, and it certainly seems a more conventional example of the genre.

The story is set in 1916 as teenage Jack Garron runs away from home in the naive hope of joining his absent father on the road.  Interestingly, there’s also a framing sequence in the 1950s which guarantees Jack’s survival – an unusual tack for a horror story, though I guess we all know the protagonist’s going to make it to the end.  While Jack botches his first attempts at life on the road, the rest of the issue follows an orphan being picked up for his apprenticeship with a creepy guy ostensibly from General Electric.

It’s not always subtle (I’m not sure about openly calling the bad guy “the Nightmare” in the narration), but it’s actually pretty good on hitting a generally unsettling tone.  Buildings always seem to be on their own in wide open spaces, even when they’re in towns; panels are framed from angles that would normally imply the perspective of somebody watching from a distance.  And the art’s pretty much beautiful from top to bottom.

Wolverine #13 – Fans of the last three issues will be thrilled by this opportunity to enjoy it for a fourth time.  Yes, once again it’s “reminiscences of a member of the Red Right Hand while Wolverine fights a loser henchman.”

Now, in all fairness, Jason Aaron is obviously setting up a pattern here with a view to hinting at something ominous around the corner – which should come next month.  And the flashback story this issue is based on a fun concept, based on the faceless ninjas that Wolverine’s killed over the years.  (For supposedly elite fighters, ninjas sure do seem to be lousy when they appear in this comic.)  That’s a nice idea, and so is the premise of the Hand deliberately replenishing their ranks with future generations of hand-reared ninja.  And Aaron continues to make it clear that while the Mongrels are Z-list villains, that’s because they’re just a distraction.

Nonetheless, this is the fourth straight issue of essentially the same thing, and unless the next issue has some incredible pay-off that really needed this rhythm to be established at such length, I think that’s too much.

X-23 #13 – Something of a change of pace, as X-23 arrives in Manhattan and gets to team up with the FF.  She also drops in on Cecilia Reyes and makes noises about hunting for the cast of NYX, so presumably they’ll be showing up against at some point in order that X-23 can see how far she’s come since she last met them.  But mainly, this story is about her looking for Alex Cimini, the kid she decided not to kill back when she worked for the Facility.  Now he’s all grown up and running incomprehensible physics experiments in New York, and we all know that never goes well.

X-23 doesn’t seem to belong in a comic with the FF, but that’s presumably the point.  Up to this point, the series has placed her with other characters from the X-books and taken her on a world tour.  Now she’s being placed alongside the most conventional superheroes the Marvel Universe has to offer, in its most conventional location, and the series is presumably asking how well she actually fits in the superhero genre.  This could be an interesting way of bringing out another side of the character, or it could be a mess.  Too early to call, I think.  I’m not particularly interested in the notional plot, which involves a giant mystical sign in the sky, but the art’s good, and it actually does make a pleasant change to let X-23 just try and be a straightforward hero.

X-Factor #223 – I’ve said before that this storyline, with feral-themed mystic creatures congregating for the birth of Rahne’s child, doesn’t really grab me.  No real change here.  It’s building to a climax, and there’s an unexpected new character added to the mix at the end, but it’s still basically an issue of everyone being chased around by interchangeable mythological baddies, with a guest star who doesn’t interest me either.  The subplots with Pip and Guido are more promising, though, and I’m sure the book will get back in its stride once this arc is out of the way.

Bring on the comments

  1. Dave O'Neill says:

    I will bet all the change in my pocket the big revelation is the next issue of Wolverine is that the mysterious leader of Wolverine’s enemies is Melita The Girlfriend.

  2. Paul says:

    How would that work, then?

  3. kelvingreen says:

    I never warmed to Mystic in its original incarnation — it was perfectly competent, but very, very boring — and the CrossGen reboot in general has been a bit of a muddle, so I’m really surprised to see you rate the new Mystic so highly. I’d like to hear more discussion of it in the podcast, since you’re taking requests.

  4. Kid Nixon says:

    I must say, while I found certain portions of the Punisher book a bit hard to follow. I get the effect they’re going for with the black out section, but I had to read it a few times before I fully understood what was going on. Also was lost as to what was happening in the opening scene. Again, stylistically, going for the silent treatment of the scene made sense, but it also meant multiple reads through the book before I fully understood what I was supposed to. Not exactly a huge disappointment, but not on the same tier as the recent Daredevil relaunch, which I thought was a near perfect first issue.

  5. Michael M. Jones says:

    I’m convinced that the whole Wolverine thing is just a way to wind him up enough that he’ll presumably berserker the hell out of the Red Right Hand, killing them all and thus damning him all to Hell as part of the secret leader’s secret evil plan.

    I really hope there’s a better twist than “we did all this so you’d kill us.”

  6. Alex says:

    You didnt review it here, but i hope snarked will get some discussion on the podcast next week.

  7. Ken B. says:

    I think Severed did the right thing by letting us know up front the main character survives (without a few scars), because that let’s us know that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. This flips the whole idea that everything you read was essentially for nothing when the protagonist dies at the end.

  8. Mime Paradox says:

    The feeling I’m getting with this Crossgen revival is that Marvel and Disney are trying to re-establish the line with an eye towards the teen girl/Young Adult market–the various changes they’ve made towards the books make a certain amount of sense when seen in that light, particularly when you consider that all three books so far focus on female protagonists (Ruse is much more about Emma than it is about Simon), which is pretty much unprecedented unless you’re actually focusing on women as an audience.

    Regarding Mystic itself, I was very surprised at how excellent the first issue turned out to be. The friendship between the two protagonists, in particular, is very well done, in a way that makes the last page cliffhanger very effective, despite its predictability, and makes me hope for a happy ending and fear a sad one. All in all, it probably deserves to do really well in the bookstore circuit.

  9. Andy says:

    Behind the door at the end of Wolverine #13 is Romulus’s evil(er) twin Remus. The promised pain is another 50 issues of “Wolverine: Origins.”

  10. Tim says:

    The number of ninjas is always inversely proportional to their effectiveness

  11. Ben Clarkson says:

    So I’, 99% sure the reveal for the next issue is that the Red Right Hand has tricked Wolverine into killing his bastard kids- the Mongrels.

  12. bad johnny got out says:


    That was so pulpy, Fredric Wertham is spinning in his grave.

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