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Jan 17

The X-Axis – 17 January 2010

Posted on Sunday, January 17, 2010 by Paul in x-axis

Look below, loyal readers, for this week’s podcast, and also for Al’s appeal to save S.W.O.R.D..  Well, Al’s appeal for you to help somebody else’s appeal to save S.W.O.R.D..  Good book.

Anyway, I may have some unread books still in my pile, but it’s Sunday night and time to run through the books I have read…

Amazing Spider-Man #617 – We talked about this on the podcast.  It’s a self-contained issue written by Joe Kelly, focussing on the Rhino.  It’s also part of this “Gauntlet” storyline, although so far that’s really just a slow build in the background.  The basic idea is that there’s a new cyborg Rhino around, and for some reason he wants to fight the original Rhino to earn the name.  But the original Rhino has retired and just wants to be left in peace.  It’s flawed – the new Rhino is a sketchy character whose motivations might politely be described as arbitary – but nonetheless it works, because Kelly has a great take on the original Rhino as a peaceful retired villain who just wants to be left alone.  Good art by Max Fiumara, and there’s also a nice back-up strip fleshing out the Rhino’s reformation.

Black Widow: Deadly Origin #3 – This may be a Paul Cornell miniseries, but it’s very much one for the continuity freaks.  To be fair, he’s trying to sort out Natasha’s convoluted continuity by drawing all the disparate strands together into a single coherent interpretation of the character, and that’s fair enough in theory.  But it makes for a rather haphazard story, and the central nanotech plot device is terribly implausible.  I’m not wild about Tom Raney’s art on this issue either, though the flashback scenes by John Paul Leon are great.  I have to wonder whether there’s much point in doing this sort of story in modern Marvel.  Ten to twenty years ago, if they’d done a series like this, it would at least have redefined the character in a way that would have been applied by other writers going forward.  In 2010, I work on the assumption that most stories will just be ignored by the next writer, which makes continuity unscrambling a thankless task at best.  Besides, I’m frankly not that interested in the minutiae of the Black Widow’s back story; wouldn’t it have been quicker just to sweep most of it under the carpet, rather than sift through it on the page?

Dark X-Men #3 – This week’s other, much better Paul Cornell book.  Despite the name, this is basically a Nate Grey miniseries, and it’s turning out to be surprisingly good.  Like every other Marvel hero these days, Nate fights the Dark Avengers, and amazingly, it turns out to be quite entertaining.  Meanwhile, Norman Osborn’s reluctant ersatz X-Men try to figure out whether they can really be bothered getting involved.  Unlike the overly fussy Black Widow story, this is just a high-energy romp taking advantage of the characters’ over-the-top nature.  And there’s great work on the art by Leonrard Kirk, who goes for the big, bold approach that something like this requires.

Nation X #2 – Another anthology of short stories with peripheral X-Men characters.  Theoretically the linking theme is meant to be the X-Men’s relocation to the island “nation” of Utopia, but actually, only one of the stories is really interested in that – a Jubilee story by C B Cebulski, Jim McCann, Mike Choi and Sonia Oback, which gets some decent material out of the depowered mutant watching from the shore and feeling isolated.  John Barber and David Lopez do a fun piece with Martha Johanssen, of all people – yes, the brain in the jar – which could have been set anywhere, but bounces along nicely.  Tim Fish’s Northstar story is a visit from his boyfriend, but it’s really just the old “we live in different worlds” schtick – done well enough, but nothing new.  And Becky Cloonan turns in a Gambit short which is surprisingly keen to tie in to the character’s current continuity.  It’s really the familiar idea of Gambit brooding over whether he deserves to be with the X-Men, but hey, he’s Gambit, and that’s what he does.  An above average issue, and if Marvel are going to keep churning out these X-Men anthologies, it’s good to see that at least they’re being used as a vehicle to include stories with more of an indie sensibility.

Psylocke #3 – This is another of those “re-stating the character” minis.  And to be fair, Psylocke probably needs one.  She’s become hopelessly confused over the years, and to his credit, Chris Yost is trying to cut through the morass of continuity to focus on what defines her now.  Actually, this series is doing a lot of the right things in theory.  It’s zeroed in on a relatively simple villain from her back story in Matsu’o Tsurayaba, the crimelord who was involved in screwing up her identity in the first place.  And it’s got a story which is actually about Psylocke’s character: she goes after him for revenge because she’s looking for closure, she ends up playing the hero and protecting him from somebody else, and she wonders why she’s doing all this.  All fundamentally sound, albeit that the plot’s a bit contrived.  The big problem so far is that Psylocke herself is a character badly damaged by years of chronic misuse, and thus far she remains rather hard to get a grip on.  It’s tough to identify with her.  Mind you, her ill-defined character is precisely what Yost is writing about, so perhaps everything will fall into place with next month’s concluding chapter.  The other problem is the art, which is way too busy and confused.  In fairness, it’s got a lot of energy, but it doesn’t read very well.

S.W.O.R.D. #3 – Henry Gyrich has seized control of the organisation, Abigail Brand is on her way out, and it’s up to the Beast to sort things out.  And dare I say it, there are plot problems here – if Beast’s a guest of Abigail, and Abigail’s out of power, why is he being allowed to wander around unsupervised?  But leaving that aside, it’s another good issue.  Unit gives us his origin story, which is interesting; Death’s Head is in it again; and the art is growing on me, though Hank still looks like a donkey.  Unfortunately, the series looks like it may not be long for this world.

Uncanny X-Men: First Class #7 – The conclusion of the “Knights of Hykon” storyline, and by this point I’m really confused about who the audience are meant to be.  The Knights themselves are a good solid story for new readers – credible bad guys, with a decent motivation, and they get beaten in a reasonably clever way.  But then there’s also an attempt to tie the whole thing into the Phoenix storyline, and I’d have thought that if you were aiming for new readers, you’d want to steer well clear of that whole quagmire.  The basic idea is that the Knights are peripherally responsible for the sun flares in Phoenix’s origin story, and so they’re indirectly to blame for Jean becoming Phoenix.  Scott blames them for messing up his beloved; Jean is a bit put out that he thinks about it that way.  Now, this isn’t a bad idea in theory.  But First Class is a continuity-implant series set somewhere among the late-70s Uncanny X-Men stories.  And this doesn’t feel like the sort of story you can do as a continuity implant, because the tensions in question were eventually dealt with properly in Uncanny itself, so First Class is setting up a storyline that it logically can’t finish.  I’m a bit confused about that.  Still, leaving that aside, this is a basic but enjoyable piece of traditional superheroics.

Unwritten #9 – The concluding part of “Inside Man”, as everything in the jail builds to the obligatory climax.  In some ways Unwritten is the sort of book that’s most interesting when it’s dealing slowly with its ideas rather than doing the big plot resolutions, but it also knows better than to become a purely cerebral and theoretical exercise in metafiction.  This is a good read, and Carey’s done a good job making the pay-off unexpected.  Tommy Taylor is a fairly transparent Harry Potter stand-in; the story plays off the tension of taking the elements of his mythos and putting them in a plot for which they’re wholly unsuited.  But Unwritten makes that tension dramatic rather than merely gimmicky, and that’s what makes it a superior comic.

X-Men Forever #15 – This issue, we catch up with Storm, who you might recall turned out to be a baddie a few months ago.  Since we last saw her, she’s usurped the throne of Wakanda.  X-Men Forever is theoretically meant to be the stories that Chris Claremont would have told if he hadn’t left the X-Men in 1991, but I seriously doubt that he’d have taken the character in this direction.  For all that Marvel protested otherwise, the short-lived childhood romance between Storm and the Black Panther was an obscure footnote in X-Men history until a couple of years back when Marvel decided to retroactively declare them lifelong lovers, but it’s a central element of this story.  Still, the quality of the stories is more important than whether the book strictly adheres to its gimmick, and Claremont is back on form here after the rather shaky “Black Magik” arc, while Tom Grummett’s artwork is excellent throughout.

X-Men Origins: Cyclops – One of those odd stories that’s kind of following continuity and kind of isn’t.  So we’ve got the bit where Scott and Alex parachute from the burning plane, but not the bit where he uses his powers to break their fall.  We’ve got a framing scene lifted from an early issue of X-Men (the one where Xavier shows Cerebro to Scott for the first time), but a complete dumping of Mr Sinister and the Living Diamond.  And we’ve got a re-write of Scott’s first meeting with Magneto, designed to let him confront Magneto alone.  The object of all this seems to be to strip out irrelevant junk from Scott’s history, and retroactively position him as the future leader who’ll take his own line rather than meekly following Xavier.  If you don’t mind the total disregard for established continuity – and to be honest, many of the changes are for the better, at least if you have Scott’s current role in mind – it’s actually not bad, and Jesse Delperdang’s art is good, clear, strong work.  But readers who know Scott’s background already are unlikely to find anything particularly revelatory here.

Bring on the comments

  1. Thom Kimota says:

    Angry Midwest: I love Byrne’s run on Alpha Flight, so I second your recommendation. Good stuff. I don’t remember the twins both being in love with the same guy, though. Are you talking about Walter/Sasquatch? When was that revealed?

  2. I remember that. It was…after Sasquatch died…it might have been that issue that begins with the splash-page butt shot of Heather in the Guardian outfit (what? I was 13). The Alpha Flight headquatrters turns against them? Aurora gets smacked in the head with those pole things?

    Might have been yellow-suit-short-hair Aurora.


  3. Omar Karindu says:

    Northstar’s FLQ membership is still infinitely better-handled than Gerry Conway’s bizarre mid-1980s Quebecois supervillains in Firestorm, the best-known of whom is Plastique. (There was also a Le Flambeau, and Plastique’s real name was given as Betti Sans Souci.)

  4. Suzene says:

    Byrne hinted around at Northstar’s feelings for Sasquatch a bit — most notably when the team was trying to resurrect Sasquatch around the end of Byrne’s run, and Northstar got hauled along because they needed someone who loved him (Aurora) and someone who hated him (her brother). Northstar tried protesting that he didn’t hate Sasquatch, but got cut off. After the ritual failed, Northstar was shown with a pained expression. When Mantlo came on after Byrne, he made Northstar’s feelings for Sasquatch more explicit (like most of his other “hints” about Northstar’s sexuality, it was about as subtle as a brick to the head).

    Still, I always thought that it was interesting that the twins had the same taste in men. 😉

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