RSS Feed
Sep 4

The X-Axis – 4 September 2011

Posted on Sunday, September 4, 2011 by Paul in x-axis

It’s a podcast weekend, so don’t forget to check out the show just one post down from here.  Strangely enough, there’s a lot of stuff about the DC relaunch, but we’re also reviewing Angel and Faith and Secret Avengers.

And for once, it’s a very quiet week for the X-books – one regular title, one oddball obscurity – which means we’ve got time to talk about the other stuff.

Angel & Faith #1 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 was, shall we say, not an unmitigated success.  By getting carried away with the lack of practical restrictions in comics, it lost sight of what made the original TV show work, and turned into a very strange cosmic superhero title – to such a degree that the final issue ended up carrying an editorial from Joss Whedon acknowledging that he’d taken a bit of a wrong turn and pledging a back to basics approach in Season 9.

(And as I said on the podcast, I think publishers really do underestimate the value of acknowledging when something hasn’t worked.  It’s a very good way of rebuilding audience trust – and sometimes, after a really misconceived book like Ultimatum, that’s what you need to do.)

Season 9 doesn’t actually start for another couple of weeks, but the spin-off title Angel and Faith begins here – or rather, the latest incarnation of the Angel title that was previously published by IDW, if you prefer.  This book can’t ignore Season 8, where Angel turned out to be the cosmic villain, but it acknowledges that while reverting to a more familiar style.  With Giles dead (and Angel having killed him), Angel and Faith are trying to sort out some of his outstanding business.  That’s basically the set-up.  Bring on the monster of the week and some broader storylines in which Faith gets to grips with just how questionable some of Angel’s recent decisions have been.

The potential downside here is that the book could swing too far in the other direction and become too faithful to the TV shows, but I think the pairing of Angel and Faith as co-leads is novel enough to strike the right balance.  Christos Gage is one of the most consistent writers in mainstream comics, and he’s got the characters right while still pacing this as a comic.  Rebekah Isaacs’ art generally manages to combine faithful likenesses with expressiveness (though Al does have a point that her David Boreanaz isn’t quite as reliable).  A decent book, and a promising further sign that Whedon has the right idea for Season 9.

Flashpoint #5 – I wonder whether it was such a bright idea for DC to ship Flashpoint and Justice League as their only two books for this week.  After all, in theory you’ve got all these new readers coming into the stores to try out the relaunch.  That’s the idea, anyway.  And you’re selling them… two books.  One is Justice League, of which more in a moment.  And the other is Flashpoint, which is the final issue of a five-issue miniseries that exists primarily to justify the new DCU as a continuation of the old one.

The big reveal here is that the Flash caused the disruption to continuity by going back in time to avert his mother’s death, which is a nice idea in theory.  On the other hand, it’s less than clear how that connects to the broader changes in the world – beyond a handwaving, butterfly-effect level, which is hardly dramatically satisfying – and after all his careful scheming to get to this point, the Reverse-Flash ends up playing an almost peripheral role in the story.  He seems to be here simply because somebody needs to explain the plot.  The closing scene with Flash and Batman is a nice sequence, though, and at least the book remembers to tell a story as a springboard for the reboot.

Still, it’s a serviceable comic rather than a great one, and a very strange one to be pushing out there alongside Justice League.  If those new readers are coming to the stores, why would they be interested in this?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to have some other issue #1s on the shelves in the hope that it increases the chances of them finding one they like?  Flashpoint doesn’t exist for new readers, it exists to validate to the new DCU to current readers – and I don’t quite follow DC’s thinking in the way they’re promoting it.

Gambit: From the Marvel Vault – If you’ve managed to avoid them until now, the “Vault” one-shots basically consist of unpublished stories which have been lying at the back of a drawer for literally years.  Apparently a bunch of them were turned up during Marvel’s last office move, and somebody figured that since they already existed, why not publish them?

This one presumably started life as an inventory issue of Gambit.  Oddly, it’s drawn by George Tuska, an artist who had been around since the Golden Age and who was pretty much semi-retired by the time Gambit was even created.  The original plot has been lost – Scott Lobdell is credited as writer, but he’s simply producing a script based on what the story must presumably have been.  Tuska died two years ago, so he can’t help.  And that original story, for some strange reason, featured a pre-superhero Gambit teaming up with the Champions to fight MODOK.

It has to be said that the storytelling is very strong, and nobody would have had too much trouble figuring out the basic shape of this story, even without the aid of the plot.  There’s an object everyone’s chasing after; MODOK and Gambit must be separately trying to steal it, while the Champions are trying to protect it; and the ending has Gambit charging up the object in order to beat MODOK with it.  Which isn’t exactly Shakespeare, but at least it involves Gambit choosing to do the right thing, in a way that makes use of his powers – so there’s something to work with here.  And that’s pretty much what Lobdell writes, though he can’t resist introducing a joke subplot about AIM soldiers thinking obsequious thoughts to impress their telepathic leader, which surely wasn’t in the original.

God knows when this was commissioned – Gambit didn’t even get an ongoing series until 1999, by which time Tuska was 83.  It’s hardly a lost classic and it must have looked very dated even at the time.  And the closing panels suggest that Tuska may not have completely understood that Gambit’s charged objects are meant to blow up when they hit something (otherwise, he’s made a very odd storytelling decision not to show the explosion).  From a purely commercial standpoint, I can well understand why this has been languishing in a cupboard for a decade.  But still, it’s nice to see a story where pretty much all the beats make sense even without a script.

Justice League #1 – We discussed this on the podcast and I’m not going to repeat what we said there.  Suffice to say that the art’s very nice, and I don’t have the same hang-ups about the costume tweaking that some people do.  There’s a decent effort being made to introduce characters to new readers.  If you assume that the re-introduction of well-established concepts counts as plot, there’s actually more plot going on than you might expect.  And I quite like the idea that early Batman doesn’t get the automatic respect because nobody actually knows who he is yet.

But… there’s not enough of it.  It’s the opening pages of a graphic novel, not a satisfying story in its own right.  Either they needed to make it denser, or they needed to make it longer, but it’s not quite right in this format.  It’s 24 pages long, it doesn’t even get around to featuring Wonder Woman, Flash or Aquaman let alone having the actual League in it…  I’m not saying it needed to be a self-contained story, but it did need to be a satisfying chapter, and it’s not.  It’s just not very well paced for the serial.  And that’s a problem, because if DC are serious about attracting new readers, they can’t count on people coming back for the next few issues.  They needed to grab them here.  I don’t think they’ve done it.

Uncanny X-Force #14 – Hold on, isn’t it just last week that I reviewed issue #13?  Yes… yes, it is.  Huh.  Strange scheduling there.

This is part 4 of “The Dark Angel Saga”, and it explains what Warren was up to while the rest of X-Force were off in the Age of Apocalypse timeline.  And it’s good.  For one thing, we’ve got Jerome Opena on art again; his art has always been a highlight of this book, since he’s got a unique design sense and an unexpected delicacy to his work, even while he’s doing nice clear action scenes.

But we’ve also got the introduction of Evil Warren, and Rick Remender writes him perfectly.  In the Age of Apocalypse timeline, we had Wolverine as the new Apocalypse, solemnly convinced that the maniac was right all along.  This is meant to be a similar transformation, but the clever bit is that Warren is also a kinder, gentler, more serene Apocalypse.  Instead of becoming a typical ranting supervillain, he’s nice to the underlings, and kind to children.  After all, he’s bringing in Utopia.  Opena’s art catches this idea perfectly; he nails the body language, and I love the way he has Warren’s wings casually trailing after him like a cape.  He’s all the more effective as a villain for being so infuriatingly nice about it.

Vescell #1 – Well, somebody had to be crazy enough to launch a new book against DC.  Vescell is an (apparently ongoing) series by Enrique Carrion and John Upchurch, published through Image.  And it’s pretty dreadful.

It’s basically a sci-fi book.  The Vescell Corporation transfers people’s minds from one body to another.  Apparently this is tremendously lucrative, though you might have thought the market would be limited.  Mauricio Barrino is the Corporation’s top agent, since apparently a lot of people who need Vescell’s services are “in high risk situations” (well, I suppose you’d have to be desperate).  But wait – there’s also an entirely separate supernatural plot about something called “the Banerealm” crossing over with Earth.  Mauricio’s lover is stuck in the Banerealm for some reason or other (but can be conjured up as a spirit), and he’s also got a sidekick who’s a fairy.

There are some reasonable concepts in there.  But the book also has flat characters, a tiresome obsession with sex, a lot of painfully unfunny comedy, occasional sidelines into pretentious crucifixion metaphors, clunky dialogue, laughable dialogue, and a casual and tenuous relationship with punctuation.  At the very least, this book needs a proofreader – who on earth allows “Besides you’re a fairy don’t u want to see a Disney movie?” to see print?  Yes, there’s a glimmer of potential in the premise, but the execution is wildly inept.  Frankly, it’s the worst thing I’ve read this year.

God knows what Image were thinking when this one was pitched.  Evidently not googling the word “Vescell”, which would have turned up the fact that the name is taken.

Bring on the comments

  1. The original Matt says:

    Price and content factor in very heavily. I’ve ditched the serials and gone back to trades because some weeks I could spend $50 and not read a single complete story. It actually felt more like I was reading 10 novels at once, alternating chapters.

    Worse, is alot of these titles contained the same characters, so when I would get the latest New Avengers, it was really bloody hard to remember where these guys were at in this book, because in that other book they were over there doing something else, and that story was mid way through as well.

    For that money, I may as well buy a trade once a fortnight and at least get to sit down and read an entire story.

    I imagine this would turn new readers off within the first 3 months. Especially because, I’ll use New Avengers as an example here, the trades are numbered. But in between trades other events happened. Civil War, House of M, Secret Invasion etc… and those events had other trades tie into them. It can be EXTREMELY daunting trying to work out which books to read next. I tried getting a few people into it and they just spent most of their time confused as hell and giving up half way through.

  2. Hazanko says:

    “Worse, is alot of these titles contained the same characters, so when I would get the latest New Avengers, it was really bloody hard to remember where these guys were at in this book, because in that other book they were over there doing something else, and that story was mid way through as well.”

    For that reason, for the last couple years I’ve given up trying to read X-Men comics as I buy them. Now I wait for an arc to finish so I can read it in one go. Too many characters pop up in all the books, it gets dizzying after a while. Not having any idea what order these events happen in feels confusing too.

  3. The original Matt says:

    That’s why I’ve gone back to trades. Saves the hassle of buying single issues every week. Trades are easier to store, too.

Leave a Reply