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Oct 14

The X-Axis – 14 October 2012

Posted on Sunday, October 14, 2012 by Paul in x-axis

Crossover season is virtually over, and we’re now moving into the epilogue phase where the next stories are set up.  Once again, that results in Marvel swamping the market this week, so let’s get to it…

Age of Apocalypse #8 – Anyone care?  Really?  Oh, alright.

This isn’t a bad issue, to be honest.  Prophet and his crew have gone to Latveria in search of the notebooks of Reed Richards, which they hope might contain some clue to defeating Weapon X.  Unfortunately, the notebooks don’t exist any more, and Dr Doom has his own plans for how to keep the mutants at bay until he can make his own plan for saving the world.  That plan basically consists of trying to steal Weapon X’s power for himself on the logic that, hey, he’s bound to be an improvement, right?

Reasonably enough, the X-Terminated aren’t so sold on that idea, though it does raise a reasonably interesting point about the direction of the series.  What exactly are the title characters trying to achieve, considering that their side has so comprehensively lost the war?  In what possible future is it not going to be dominated by mutants, given their numbers?  They can maybe get rid of the particular people in charge, but any sort of pro-human agenda has become little more than academic.

That’s a fair enough angle to explore with these characters; one of this book’s problems is the apparent sheer futility of everything that’s going on, and at least David Lapham seems to be trying to meet that problem head-on.  Often, sweeping these problems under the carpet is far less effective than putting them front and centre and making them the centre of the story.  And while having the title characters outwit Dr Doom risks overplaying it, I think you need that sort of thing in order to give the reader any sense of hope that they might achieve something given the ridiculous odds that the series has set against them.

But I still feel there’s something missing in the characters – they’re a bit samey, and it’s rather hard to connect with any of them.  There’s something in terms of emotional connection that’s not working here, and that leaves it a story that has some interesting ideas but never quite hits home.

AvX: Consequences #1 – This truly is an epilogue to AvX, in that it’s charged with shoving various elements into their new positions, and establishing elements of the new status quo.  That sort of thing doesn’t always make for a great story, and the plot here is indeed rather bitty – very broadly, it’s that the Avengers are still hunting down the remaining members of the Extinction Team, and Wolverine is asked to try and get Cyclops to help, since it might at least help reduce tensions to get them off the streets.

Still, Kieron Gillen breaks it down into a collection of pretty strong scenes.  Granted, a couple of them feel like they’re straining to accommodate the ideas that they’re supposed to be setting up.  Wolverine shows up at Wakanda unannounced and is surprised to learn that he’s unwelcome.  A prison warder helpfully explains his new technology which is triggered by mutants using their powers – even though that has no apparent relevance to his prisoner, Cyclops, whose powers are always on.

But I do like the way the story writes Cyclops as a prisoner, stoically putting up with his martyrdom, but finding himself treated simply as a common prisoner rather than the epic figure he’d presumably like to think of himself as. Wolverine gives a rather good speech explaining why he doesn’t want to talk to Scott – which makes it work all the better when he does.  And it’s got art from Tom Raney, who’s always solid – though he struggles mightily with the movie-influenced redesign of Captain America’s costume, which looks frankly horrendous on paper.  A live-action costume needs to add detail to stop the thing looking like a glorified wetsuit, but when you try to copy all that detail back onto the printed page, you completely lose the simplicity of the design and make him look like he’s hired his costume from a Hallowe’en store.

First X-Men #3 – This actually isn’t too bad if you think of it as a self-contained retro team book; it’s when you try to relate it to any sort of X-Men continuity that it starts to feel terribly awkward.  It’s positioning Wolverine in a leadership role he didn’t grow into for years; it misses any recognisable version of Sabretooth by a mile.  But its internal logic isn’t so bad, and there’s a nice idea with the villain, Virus, who hasn’t got much sympathy for his fellow mutants because even they regard non-humanoid mutants as monsters.  Taken entirely on its own terms, it’s fair to middling, but it’s still not making a compelling case for its existence.

Uncanny Avengers #1 – Is this an X-book?  I guess it is.

Well, this is a gathering of the team issue, more or less – though Rick Remender also gets the plot under way, as the Red Skull unveils his plan to deal with the unwanted resurgence of mutants.  The high concept here is that Captain America has decided that, as a public relations exercise following Avengers vs X-Men, they need an Avengers squad with a bunch of X-Men on it, led by Havok, of all people.  In Cap’s mind, this is apparently going to do wonders for the image of mutants.

I can’t help thinking there’s a reason why Captain America is a superhero and not a PR consultant.  With this sort of logic, he’d probably be advising the BBC to commission a new series of Clunk Click for primetime.  But hell, it’s the premise, so let’s shrug our shoulders and accept it.

You might query how this can possibly be a long term concept for an ongoing series.  But the answer is that it doesn’t have to be – they can always relaunch it after a couple of years.  And it’s a good idea to use Havok in this role; while he himself was barely in Avengers vs X-Men, the character’s always been defined to some extent by his feeling of being overshadowed by his older brother Cyclops as a leader and hero.  Now that Cyclops has fallen spectacularly off his perch, Havok is in one sense free of that shadow, but in another just finds himself trying to live up to the example that Cyclops himself ultimately failed to realise.  That’s a good direction for the character, though you do wonder how he’s really going to be positioned as the team leader if this squad is truly going to have Captain America, Thor and Wolverine as regular characters.

The rest of the core cast would seem to comprise Rogue and the Scarlet Witch, who immediately get down to squabbling over the death of Charles Xavier.  This doesn’t really work for me.  It’s a take on Rogue that seems entirely at odd with anything that’s been done with her in X-Men Legacy over the last few years, and on top of that, she’s surely the last character who ought to be in a position to criticise a new arrival for a dubious past.  In fact, it’s pretty hard to think of an X-Men character less suited to the role she’s asked to play here.

The Red Skull is an interesting choice of villain, and I’m intrigued to see how Remender is going to reinvent him.  His initial plan certainly makes for a shocking cliffhanger – of the “no, really, did they just do that?” sort – but given the strength of his work on X-Factor, I’ll give Remender the benefit of the doubt that there’s more going on here than just shock tactics.  (Besides, it does kind of make sense, as well as verifying Xavier’s death about as thoroughly as you’re ever going to get it verified.)

The thing with the Red Skull is that he is literally a relic of another era.  He was created as a Nazi villain when Nazis were actually topical.  Later writers have tended to veer between treating him as just generically evil, or playing up the Nazi angle, which has been anachronistic for decades.  To make him work, you need to find a way of bringing him up to date, and I don’t think simply making him a neo-Nazi is the answer.  If Remender is going way over the top with the Skull’s scheme here, he is at least presenting him as a character who’s way over the line, and that’s something you don’t get so often with villains these days.

John Cassaday’s work generally hits the standards of prettiness you’d expect, even if some of it’s a little looser than his earlier art.  He makes rather fewer concessions than Raney to Cap’s movie costume (and all the better for it).  I’m decidedly less sold on his Havok redesign, which takes the basic elements of the Neal Adams costume and makes them less interesting.

Still, it’s a flawed but generally promising first issue.  If there are bits that don’t quite work, it does at least hit the ground running with those that do.

Wolverine #314 – Cullen Bunn and Paul Pelletier return, in a story that quite plainly picks up where they left off and politely ignores the mysterious waste of trees in the middle.  Wolverine still has permanent gaps in his memory, and Melita Garner is not best pleased that he no longer remembers her at all.  But instead of following up directly on that idea, Bunn gives us the ever-popular Woman From Wolverine’s Past enlisting him to help find “the Dreaming Maiden”, who they apparently encountered at some point in the past.  The resulting story features Wolverine and Vanessa discussing this old mission, which they apparently both remember perfectly, without ever really explaining it to the readers.

The exposition in this story is so sketchy that I initially thought it was a deliberate (and rather clever) inversion of Wolverine’s memory loss – this time, the characters know far more than the reader.  Actually, though, I have a sinking feeling that the exposition is just hopelessly lacking.  Elsa Bloodstone shows up as a guest star and the story doesn’t really bother explaining who she is either.  And it seems this Covenant bunch have turned up once before, in a story Bunn wrote for the Point One issue of the Captain America And… team-up book.  If anyone actually read Captain America and Namor #635.1, perhaps they can let me know whether the story makes any more sense with that knowledge; as it is, it’s kind of a string of things happening for reasons that aren’t really being explained to the reader. And I’m honestly not sure whether that’s deliberate.

Wolverine and the X-Men #18 – Back at the crossover, this issue takes place simultaneously with Avengers vs X-Men #12, but its main focus is on events at the school.  Idie is suddenly acting rather strangely thanks to a new (and naturally suspicious) church that she’s made contact with.  Broo investigates and basically finds out that it’s a scheme by the Hellfire Club.  And all this is intercut with another chance to enjoy AvX #12.

I’m not quite sure the intercutting works here.  It seems as though Aaron is trying to set up some kind of parallels between the big epic finale and the comparatively low-key stuff at the school, but I don’t think it comes off.  After all, it’s not like AvX #12 was designed with this in mind, nor does it make prominent use of any of this book’s cast.  But it does allow Aaron to play off the rebirth of mutants against a genuinely surprising ending.

Granted, it’s surprising in part because it would seem to result in a bunch of character-development subplots being cut off abruptly.  So abruptly, in fact, that I’m not sure I buy it, no matter how clear the art seems to be.  Then again, Idie’s sudden conversion to amorality – which doesn’t seem to be imputed to mind control as opposed to manipulation – also seems tremendously rushed, as if the series needed to get its plot to this point to coincide with the end of the crossover, and only belatedly remembered that it hadn’t done the build with Idie in earlier issues.  A slightly confusing and not entirely successful issue.

X-Men #37 – The end of Brian Wood’s run is a very strange anticlimax, and I can’t quite tell whether it’s a rush to clear decks before leaving the book, or a deliberate choice.  Wood says he was hired to write eight issues, so presumably it’s the latter, but it does make for a curious resolution.

Basically, Pixie talks to the one surviving proto-mutant; Storm decides to have all the proto-mutant DNA samples destroyed; and Colossus grumbles about Storm’s priorities.  And then the storyline just kind of ends, with everyone a bit unhappy and not a tremendous amount having been achieved.  It’s beautiful, of course, and some of it’s very nicely dialogued, but I really don’t get what Wood was going for here.

I suspect it all loops back to my old complaint that I don’t buy into the importance of the proto-mutant DNA in the first place.  There’s something of a suggestion in here that other characters are also querying whether it was worth going after in the first place, but that only works if you buy into the story’s implicit assumption that everyone will start off thinking that of course it must be important.  I never did; so the vague hints at a reversal fall flat, if that’s even what the story was going for.

Bring on the comments

  1. Jon Dubya says:

    Ok. I finally took a look at Uncanny Avengers #1. I shouldn’t have bothered, because the stench of hypocrisy and incompetence of the “AvsX” event still lingers on in this book to the point where it just about overpowers all other senses (Like someone who “funks up the bathrooms, so to speak. Yes it’s THAT bad.) Please stop putting Cyclops in the books, since it just reminds us what self-righteous idiots the other characters are.

    I’m also surprised many people who mentioned Rogue didn’t comment on this, but after reading the book, does anyone think that Wanda should turn the “W” in her code name to a “B”?

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