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Dec 13

The X-Axis – 13 December 2009

Posted on Sunday, December 13, 2009 by Paul in x-axis

After everything I said last weekend about December being a quiet month, this is the heaviest week for new releases in quite a while.  Throw in a batch of X-minis (though curiously, none of the regular ongoing titles), and I’ve got an awful lot to cover here.  So…

The Anchor #3 – This is Phil Hester and Brian Churilla’s ongoing series for Boom! Studios.  We reviewed the first issue on the podcast a couple of months ago, and then I more or less forgot to order issue #2.  Oh well.  The premise, you might recall, is that there’s this immortal guy who holds off demon armies in hell, and simultaneously exists in the real world where he fights giant monsters.  That makes him an explicitly Christian superhero (the eponymous anchor is the St Clement’s Cross he wears on his belt), but it isn’t one of those toe-curling evangelical books.  It’s really only a Christian comic in the same sense that Thor is about worshipping Odin.  The story focusses on the “real world” version of the Anchor, and it’s the old standard plot where the army wants to figure out what makes this guy tick.  Naturally, they can’t get very far with him.  Churilla’s art seems to have drifted into slightly more cartoonish territory since issue #1, when he was doing something closer to Hester’s style, but it works very well.  Inventive and interesting, and so far it’s managing to make use of Christian mythology in a way which works whether you believe in it or not.

Anywhere #1 – A six-issue mini written by Tom Akel, who’s a producer at Comedy Central.  Arcana Press have priced the first issue at a dollar, so they evidently have faith in it.  It’s a comedy book about two undermotivated superheroes, Dust and Wormhole.  Back in the nineties they’d have been called slackers.  In practice, they do as little actually superheroing as they can get away with, and just wander aroud getting drunk instead.  All of which is fine as a starting point, but the problem with this first issue is that it’s pretty much totally plotless.  An actual mission emerges out of the blue two pages from the end, but the rest of the story is just a bit of a directionless meander.  To be fair, the characters acknowledge it (“We take it that you, the reader, are wondering where this is going, and so are we”), so it’s obviously a deliberate choice, but it’s really too formless and shapeless, at least for a first issue.  Some of it’s passably amusing, but as a whole, it doesn’t work.

Black Widow: Deadly Origin #2 – Looks like this is going to be one of those awkward stories where Paul Cornell tries to square all the different things that have been said about the Black Widow’s back story at different times by heavy use of the “brainwashing” explanation.  I’m not convinced about this.  Natasha has several perfectly viable and straightforward origin stories, but blending them all together like this results in somebody you can’t identify with at all, and who is literally less than the sum of her parts.  John Paul Leon’s art on the flashback sequences is wonderful, however.

Dark X-Men #2 – If you prefer, it’s issue #2 of a Nate Grey series, told from the perspective of Norman Osborn’s beleaguered X-Men – a mixture of pressganged villains and the genially disturbed.  I realise that a Dark X-Men series also starring the late and largely unlamented Nate Grey doesn’t sound like an especially attractive prospect, but it’s actually turning out to be quite a smart move.  If you don’t really want to read about Norman Osborn’s mock X-Men, well, here’s an actual legitimate X-character.  And since Nate was never very well-developed, he works better viewed from the perspective of other characters who are more rounded.  This is the second Paul Cornell comic of the week, and it’s the better one – it’s got the big ideas and sense of humour that worked in Captain Britain & MI-13

Daytripper #1 – A new Vertigo miniseries by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.  Apparently it’s going to be a series of individual stories about Bras de Oliva Domingos, a wannabe writer, each one showing an important day in his life.  The idea is presumably that the whole thing should add up into a really thorough portrait of the character.  It’s an unusual structure, and if they pull it off, this could be something very special.  By the way, since it’s a Vertigo book, it’s probably worth mentioning that there’s no surrealism or supernatural elements here; it’s a straight drama.  The first issue picks up with Bras working as an obituary writer, talking up people who have evidently had rather more satisfying lives than him.  Understated, and definitely a story to watch.

God Complex #1 – Michael Avon Oeming’s new project from Image.  It’s a world where the gods of Olympus secretly returned to Earth at around the time of the industrial revolution (not quite sure about the thematic link there, but okay), and there are superheroes wandering around LA who might or might not be connected with them.  Apollo gets bored with being a god and decides to go rogue.  It’s not wholly dissimilar to the current set-up in Incredible Hercules, which in many ways does it better.  Apollo himself is a fairly standard character, and the romantic interest is sketchy at best.  That said, something about the idea of hidden religions still existing alongside the real world (complete with underground worshippers) does kind of work.  It’s patchy, but it has its moments.

Murderer #1 – A “Pilot Season” one-shot from Robert Kirkman and… well, they’re crediting Marc Silvestri as co-creator of the character, but the actual story is drawn by one Nelson Blake II.  And it’s very much a pilot episode, as planned.  Jason is a telepath who hears other people’s voices in his head, which means that he can identify baddies.  (There’s actually a bit more to it than that, but explaining the rest would spoil the ending.)  Basically, it’s Dexter with telepathy, but I suppose that means it could be expanded into a series if need be.  To be honest, though, I think it’s the sort of concept that probably works better as a one-off story; this issue makes the point and makes it well enough, but it doesn’t feel like something with enough depth to support an ongoing title.

Nation X #1 – Yet another relocation for the X-Men means yet another anthology miniseries.  And as usual, it’s a mixed bag.  Simon Spurrier and Leonard Kirk’s “Ghost of Asteroid M” has a nice idea about Magneto finding a message that he once left for people who defeated him, but doesn’t work it up into a decent story.  James Asmus and Michael Allred’s “Road Trip” is a string of disconnected stuff, some quite good on their own, that doesn’t add up to anything in particular.  Chris Yost and Michele Bertiolernzi’s Iceman story actually does have a proper plot, not to mention a reasonable idea about Iceman having trouble adjusting to minor characters seeing him as some sort of elder statesman.  And Scott Snyder and David Lopez do a decent character piece with Colossus and Magik, who’ve had surprisingly little panel time together since she was brought back – I question why something like this hasn’t been done in one of the regular titles, but this story does it well enough.  So there’s some good work here, but probably not enough to make this of interest outside the audience of X-completists.

Necrosha: The Gathering – An anthology one-shot explaining how Selene recruited her henchmen for the current “Necrosha-X” crossover.  Which isn’t a great subject for an anthology, because it results in a lot of stories where characters mope for five pages, before Selene shows up.  Aside perhaps from the Wither story, which tries to bridge the gap from where the character was left at the tail end of New X-Men, there’s not much to any of these stories.  The book does have some unusual artwork in its favour.  Gabriel Hernandez Walta gets some interesting lo-fi visuals out of Blink’s piece (though the story itself seems to assume that everyone reading will remember plot details of the Phalanx Covenant storyline from the 1990s), and Leonardo Manco’s Senyaka sequence is beautiful stuff.  But that aside, it’s forgettable stuff.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 – With this issue, we get to Lloyd, the embodiment of over-earnest fanzine culture.  Which means that much of the issue is actually done in the style of a fanzine.  And appropriately enough, even the rest of the issue doesn’t actually take place at the club with everyone else; for Lloyd, the point of experiencing the evening is to analyse it afterwards.  In fact, much the same could be said about his attitude to music itself.  Not, of course, that there’s necessarily anything wrong with experiencing something for the sake of analysing it afterwards (heaven forfend); Lloyd’s problem is more that he’s seeing everything in a rather humourless way and at one remove, and he’s the classic teenage diarist who’s painfully unaware of how adolescent he actually is.  I’m not quite sure that fanzines are the right reference point here, though; surely these days the average Lloyd is online.  In particular, the fanzine aesthetic is retro, which Lloyd is very keen to stress he isn’t.  Then again, perhaps he’s ironically appropriating it – he’s the sort of person who’d think that was very clever.

S.W.O.R.D. #2 – Ah, Death’s Head.  And not just the later Death’s Head from the Marvel UK line, but the original Death’s Head who was the size of a Transformer.  Some of this is playing to the UK crowd, but hell, the original DH was always a great character and well worth dusting off.  Meanwhile, S.W.O.R.D. gets to work rounding up all the aliens on earth, which turns out to be a lot simpler than you’d apparently imagine.  Obviously some of this isn’t going to stick – plotlines from Dark Avengers aren’t going to be resolved in this title – but the book certainly isn’t afraid to go for the big scale.  I’m still not sold on the art, which looks a little rough around the edges for my tastes, but the book’s got some real energy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  And it’s funny.  All of which makes it fun reading.

The Unwritten #8 – We’re in the middle of the “Inside Man” storyline, with Tom Taylor stuck on remand in a French prison, and so Mike Carey pauses for an issue to step back and show us the same story we’ve already seen from the perspective of the governor.  Claude Chadron loves the Tommy Taylor books, and so do his kids… perhaps a little too much.  That leaves him with some very conflicted thoughts about the books, and plenty of opportunity to take them out on Tom himself; after all, if there’s one thing that’s clearly bad about the books, it’s Tom’s antics screwing with the minds of innocent kids.  I love this series; Carey and Gross are dealing with a really interesting and complex subject, the impact that a cultural phenomenon can have on people and the point where it becomes unhealthy, but they’re doing it with a very light touch.  It really shows both creators at their best.

Wolverine: Under the Boardwalk – Yet another random Wolverine one-shot.  Don’t ask me why they keep putting them out, perhaps there’s a huge market for this stuff somewhere in eastern Europe.  Anyway, this is a noir story, where Logan is called back to Atlantic City to revisit a minor altercation from 40 years before.  In the end, some things are explained but nothing much is resolved, and it all comes across as thoroughly inconsequential.  In its favour, it does have art by Tomm Coker, but that’s something of a mixed blessing – a character who’s supposed to be in her sixties looks about half that, and when Wolverine shows up in costume (for no particular reason), he looks hopelessly at odds with the rest of the story.  Not very good.

X-Men Forever #13 – Part 3 of “Black Magik”, and oh dear, it looks like Chris Claremont is returning to one of his pet themes again.  Yes, it’s good old mind control and corruption, and while this book has largely steered clear of them so far, that doesn’t make them any more welcome now that they’re here.  To be fair, this time round we do actually have a scene at the end which tries to suggest that people are choosing it willingly, so he might be going for a more interesting take on the subject than usual, but I’ve still seen him do this story so many times before that I don’t relish the prospect of sitting through it again.  Fortunately, this is a fortnightly title, and there are plenty of more promising subplots being juggled, so if this one doesn’t work… well, there’ll be another one along shortly.  Isn’t scheduling great?

Bring on the comments

  1. Jason Barnett says:

    Come on Paul, mind controlled people always think they prefer being mind controlled.

  2. “Not, of course, that there’s necessarily anything wrong with experiencing something for the sake of analysing it afterwards (heaven forfend).”
    I actually had to stop and think about this for a moment. And then I laughed.

  3. Death’s Head? The original? Crikey, that’s a bit unexpected.

  4. Well, less unexpected than if he hadn’t appeared in the cliff-hanger of #1, but yes. Gillen’s clearly trying to drum up an audience from the Marvel UK nostalgia crowd, which is by no means a bad thing, but it might not be a solid strategy to bank on (look at CB&MI13). Not that I’m going to complain about more exposure for Transformers-era Death’s Head.

  5. Thrills says:

    There’s a picture of the Beast smiling in the new issue of SWORD that cheered me up immensely. And a perfectly-written Death’s Head! A great comic for helping with my hangover.

  6. I think I’d just started posting on Usenet at nineteen…maybe a bit later (’bout the same time as you, Paul?) I don’t think I ever really did the fanzine thing, but there are a couple of sub-Adams comics I produced on the Amiga upstairs. May have written a few mental manifestos while sat on my bed, though.

    The backups were awesome, as well. I genuinely envy Adam Cadwell, above and beyond pretty much anyone else in the British small press (etc.), for his hard-won yet effortlessly attractive line. The so-and-so!

    (PS: I will deny having typed any of the above if pressed)

    Anyway, the backups were especially awesome, this issue. I was going on about Phonogram to a chap at the craft thing I was at yesterday (as well as Cadwell, actually, and Spidey, Johns, Morrison, The Boys, my comics, and a whole mess of stuff), and I wish I’d had the pub singer story – as much as 2.2, if not more – to show him. Even though it’s strictly from Kohl’s POV, the automythological underpinnings of the series are rarely as close to the surface as they are here OH GOD I TYPED THAT WITHA S ATRIGT FAE.

    (it’s not very Christmassy, though, is it? For a book set on Chrimbleve Eve?)

    Are all the stories in Daytripper going to be about this one chap, then? Interesting. It’s very Vertigo, isn’t it? Which is an awful backhanded thing to say. The design, and the colours and that. I’ll be back for more next month, though.

    I also read SWORD, yes, and caught up on Simone’s BIRDS OF PREY (Manhunter, Nicola Scott, and “I’m The Damn Batgirl,” which makes me angry every time I see it). Oh! I also read SPIRIT: FEMME FATALES (FEMMES FATALE?), which…the awful names…slightly interchangeable characters…I watched the fillum last week, you see, and I really wanted to understand where Frank Miller was coming from with all the horndoggery.

    He’s a bit too….letchy? Tarty? Proactive? in the film. I mean, I’m a flirty bastard, but this is some wacky little-brain shit, know what I’m saying?

    Batman: Gothic, next. Drew a couple of Batmans this weekend, having watched RETURN TO THE BATCAVE (Poundland be praised!). Some nice Klaus Janson art in those first pages.


  7. Taibak says:

    Incidentally, could someone explain what the big deal is with Death’s Head for us poor, deprived Yanks?

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t see Claremont’s use of mind control as a problem here, if only because he hasn’t used it yet in X-Men Forever. However, it does mean that he can’t use it again until, say, 2364.

  8. He’s a cool robot bounty hunt — er, “freelance peacekeeping agent” — who has fought the Autobots, hitchhiked the TARDIS, clobbered The Thing, been to the future and fought a horse.

    He’s like a Yoda for the Tank Girl generation.


  9. D. says:

    Death’s Head had a run in with the Doctor? Which incarnation? I really should look into the Doctor’s print appearances. Are they all based on the same incarnation, or do they update with every regeneration?

  10. Good question. The recent stuff has been Tennant-super, but there have been comics for all of ’em, I think – including yer man McGann. I read the Panini(?) Ecclestone collection, and it was good summer/travel comics.

    Death’s Head fought Sylvester McCoytor Who, who at the time had only been off our screens for eighteen months, if that. I only remember reading the last page of that adventure, which if I’m remembering rightly took place atop Four Freedom’s Plaza and involved a familiar bit of technology.


  11. D. says:

    I did a little Wiki-research. As near as I can tell, the comics started with the inimitable Tom Baker. Anyone read them? I’m contemplating buying the TPB collecting the earliest strips from Amazon. Apparently we’re looking at material from Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison, and others.

  12. dmcd says:

    My only experience with reading Death’s Head was a story where he first meets the Sylvester McCoy Doctor, in an ’80s UK collection called Bumper Comics (presumably reprinted from somewhere else?).

    In the story, the Tardis crashed into DH in space, and he was ready to kill the Doctor over it. In his efforts to get away, the Doctor first shrank DH down to human size and then transported him off to Earth.

  13. scott snyder says:

    Hey Paul and Al – just wanted to say thanks for the kind words regarding the Colossus story. S

  14. arseface says:

    See, Jonathan Maberry – that’s how you do it.

  15. Liam says:

    I missed out on the original Deathshead so Number 2 is the one I always think of. I’d like to see those Marvel UK titles reprinted. Particularly Warheads and Hell’s Angel/Dark Angel. All I have is my sporadic collection of Overkill issues (which had some really nice covers sometimes). Loved seeing all of those guys cameo in Captain Britain and MI13 recently.

    On the subject of WOLVERINE ONE-SHOTS, I’m a Wolvie fan but don’t want to get bogged down with all the Dakken/Romulus/Angel of Death/Dark Reign etc. nonsense in my Wolverine stories, so I always pick up the One-Shots for a bit of no strings Wolvie Action. (That sounded a lot worse than intended!)

  16. Taylor says:

    D. – The very first Doctor Who comic strips were printed in the mid 60s, starring the original William Hartnell incarnation. Some of this early material was reprinted by Marvel UK in the early 90s in a magazine called Doctor Who Classic Comics.

  17. Reboot says:

    Paul, just pointing out that you forgot to categorise this post as x-axis.

  18. Paul says:

    There are a few stories where Death’s Head meets the Doctor: DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE #135 (where the Doctor reduces him to human size), DEATH’S HEAD #8 (where the Doctor dumps in the Marvel Universe), and a couple of very obscure origin flashbacks from framing sequences in the INCOMPLETE DEATH’S HEAD reprint book, which credit the Doctor with taking him to the Transformers universe and enlarging him to their size in the first place.

  19. Taibak says:

    So… Death’s Head is popular just because he showed up in Transformers and Doctor Who? Not to be dense, but what am I missing here? Or is this like Irn Bru – one of those things I’m just not supposed to understand?

  20. You’re onto something, sure, but in his original incarnation, he was a kind of a cool rogue element. And like Yoda, like Homestar Runner, like Daffy Duck, he has a speech impediment to endear him to the reader.


  21. Lonnrot says:

    He was created by Simon Furman for his Transformers run(s?) the brits always rave about. Not that I’ve ever read them, but it was always my understanding that he was popular because he was a fine character and the stories were good. Of course there’s also an element of nostalgia, but supposedly it’s nostalgia for genuinely good stuff.

    (Actually I lie, since I do have one UK Transformer comic by Furman, but this was from a later period, contemporary with the Death’s Head 2 version for whom nostalgia is in much shorter supply.)

  22. Lonnrot says:

    My bad, I was wrong on two accounts. The comic I mentioned (Transformers Collected Comics 16 – Summer Special 1990) actually reprints older stories. (It’s also 36 pages in color, biggish format, for 85p. Hum.)

    And I also have two more Furman stories from the same period. Those are in Spanish, though.

  23. Well, I’m not reading any Marvel at the moment, and so I missed the cliffhanger to SWORD #1, so yeah, unexpected. 😉

    Matthew Craig has it right; DH was a bit of a rogue, rolling into the Transformers universe and kicking stuff over, a little bit Wolverine, a little bit Tank Girl, and yes, a little bit Daffy Duck. Frankly, he’s brilliant, and I’m glad to see the original back.

    On a boring continuity note, I’m not sure when this story occurs in DH’s history. He’s super-sized, so it’s before he meets the Seventh Doctor, but he’s in the Marvel Universe, so it must occur very soon after his (human-sized) body is stolen and resized just after his origin. So technically, this may be DH’s first chronological appearance…

  24. Thrills says:

    I reckon it’s an early chronological appearance by Death’s Head, also, due to the fact he didn’t seem at this point to be calling himself a ‘freelance peacekeeping agent’ yet.

    I like Death’s Head – he’s sort of cuddly.

  25. Mark Clapham says:

    I love Death’s Head. There’s something oddly endearing about him, even if he did kill Shockwave, my favourite Transformer, which I’m still bitter about twenty years later.

    Anyway, that Doctor Who strip where he gets shrunk was recently reprinted in the Doctor Who: Cold Day In Hell book that Panini just put out.

  26. Don_Wok says:

    Taibak, Death’s Head is fondly remembered by many of us brits for a number of reasons:

    first transformers UK was actually a very good sci fi space opera under furman and his collaborators filled with death and destruction despite and sometimes because of its remit (it being a toy licence and all).

    second: for many of us transformers was our gateway drug into marvel universe proper (it reprinted stuff like rocket racoon and iron man 2020).

    and finally Deaths Head is something we can look at completly seperatly from those bits of plastic that used to break so easily when you tried to transform them from a car to a robot and back again as a child, and thus we can have the nostalgia without (some of) the embasressment that comes from liking a comic about some toys you had when you were 8.

    He was also a cool character design and had wierd speach patterns which also helped

  27. Taibak says:

    Right… so it’s a combination of appearing in insanely popular titles and being the Harpo Marx of intergalactic bounty hunters? I can live with that.

    Now if someone would just explain the popularity of Killraven I’d be all set. 😉

    (I meant that last bit rhetorically, BTW.)

  28. Mike says:

    Who is this Jonathan Maberry you speak of? I’ve heard great things.

  29. I Grok Spock says:

    Are there any trades of classic Transformers UK stories? I’m probably the target audience for it. Over-30. Bit of an anglophile. Comics fan. Grew up w/Transformers.

    On the Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine comics front, I’ve read that Alan Moore has not given his blessing to any reprints (and fair play to him since he only wrote a few short stories that never featured The Doctor anyways) but they can be found in the original back issues of DWM and a few were printed as back-ups in the Marvel US Doctor Who comics.

  30. I think Titan did a line, back in the early years of this decade. Always meant to pick some up, but never did. Ebay?


  31. Aha: Fallen Angel. Starring a certain mechanoid, yes?

    IDW has or had a Best Of UK range.


  32. Reboot says:

    IDW apparently can’t reprint any issues involving Marvel-owned characters, of which Death’s Head is one of the two major examples (the other being Circuit Breaker, although there was one issue with Spider-Man and various other cameos), so their reprints are very spotty.

    The Titan TPBs, on the other hand, DID reprint the DH/etc issues.

  33. IDW have negotiated the use of Circuit Breaker, so they can reprint the later US issues that tie up the entire series, where Josie’s hanging around on the edges for ages. Shame they couldn’t have done that before they released four volumes of reprints, in which they give text summaries of the issues they couldn’t reprint.

    Probably best to get the Titan versions, if you can.

    Titan did a range of collections of the the UK material, at full size, but most of them out of print and ridiculously expensive now (such as Time Wars). IDW do a ‘Best of UK’ series of reprints, but as Reboot says, they’re denied access to some material because of Marvel characters (don’t know whether that’s be negotiated around either). The IDW ones are at normal US comic size, but are otherwise fine collections.

    Death’s Head’s encounter with the 7th Doctor, which shrank him down and left him on the Earth of Dragon’s Claws, is in the first volume of his solo stories, which has been printed by Panini, but, like DH, has been reduced in stature.

  34. In passing, Bobsy Mindless has done a post about one of the things which makes Brit-UK comics folk of a certain age love Death’s Head:

    Shockwave vs Death’s Head.

    It’s that final step after all the combat which does it.


  35. God, I still rue the day I walked away from the silver bootleg Shockwave I saw in the hardware store up the road. In my defence, I was ten, and I doubt my Granny would have lent me the tenner. Also, i seem to recall being concerned about the lead content of the paint.



  36. I had a green bootleg Shockers from Tandy. AND THEN PHILIP HINGERTY BROKE ITS LEG WHEN WE WERE PLAYING!



    *I really hope Phil isn’t dead, as I’ll feel terrible now.

  37. I broke the arm of my Megatron, and Hasbro sent me another one.




  38. Thrills says:

    My Metroplex snapped at the waist. My dad glued him back together, but his legs were the wrong way around. This put him at quite a disadvantage when it came to fighting Scorponok (although Lord Zarak, Scorponok’s wee heid-guy, had to make do with an unmoving glued-on arm).

    At least Death’s Head is SUPPOSED to have a removable hand.

  39. The original Matt says:

    Ahhh, Transformers… I never quite got the point…

  40. But…he’s a Walkman…that can beat up…a lorry…

    A lorry!


  41. Lonnrot says:

    “Some people don’t get the Transformers. It’s simple. They’re big robots. And they change into things. And they fight. This is beautiful and mad. If you do not get this, there is something missing in your soul.”

  42. Pounded! Muties! Alias, before it all went wrong!

    Oh, sweet nostalgia!


  43. […] his review of the last issue, Paul O’Brien makes a clear and repeat-worthy point about this series of […]

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