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Feb 21

The X-Axis – 20 February 2010

Posted on Sunday, February 21, 2010 by Paul in x-axis

Welcome to another Sunday evening round-up of the week’s comics.  Of course, the big news in comics this week is apparently that DC has given some people new job descriptions, but we’ll leave that for the podcast.  Just two X-books this week – Uncanny X-Men and the final issue of the Psylocke miniseries.  Why, it’s almost within reason.  Don’t worry, though, because it’ll be back to normal next week, with a thoroughly excessive quantity.  Meanwhile…

Battlefields: Happy Valley #3 – The concluding part of Garth Ennis and PJ Holden’s story about an Australian air crew in World War II.  The basic plot is pretty obvious – the crew are on their last mission before completing their tour of duty, except for the new, idealistic, wide-eyed pilot, and you can probably figure out from that where this is heading.  The big set piece, unfortunately, isn’t conveyed as clearly as it might have been, and the plot is fairly predictable.  But Ennis raises his game with the coda, where any sense of heroism is undercut as the story ends up going unrecognised by an impersonal wartime bureaucracy.

Black Widow: Deadly Origin #4 – Paul Cornell wraps up this rather ornate miniseries.  The title might lead you to expect a re-telling of the Black Widow’s back story – which would make sense, since Marvel will presumably want some sort of introduction to the character on the shelves in time for the upcoming Iron Man movie.  But rather than explaining her history, Cornell seems moe interested in deconstructing the various scattered interpretations of the character over the decades, and seems to take a working knowledge of her background for granted.  The common thread ends up being a rather hazy idea about Natasha escaping the shadow of her occasional supporting character Ivan, and a claim that her recent actions have been driven by a common theme of, um, doing good.   It’s all terribly confused and convoluted, and Ivan’s actions seem terribly contrived.  More to the point, it never really manages to get across a coherent vision of the character, which seems to have been the aim.  This seems to be more a case of overambition, with the story struggling to digest and present a horde of scattered continuity references, but it never comes together.

Chase Variant One Shot (Is All I Need)  – Rich Johnston writes a one-shot for Image, with various artists contributing.  The high concept is that Chase Variant thinks she’s a genetically engineered assassin who was different from the rest of the batch.  In fact, she’s a character in a trading card game, which is why her life consists of seemingly random fighting.  So the “story” is accompanied by the card-playing running along the bottom of every page.   It’s a clever conceit, but it’s a single joke which, by its nature, resists being turned into a story – the very plotlessness and defiance of narrative logic being sort of the point.  These three stories seem to have started life as contributions to an anthology, and they’d probably have worked better in that format, where the concept wouldn’t have had to carry a whole issue on its own.  It’s weirdly amusing, though.

Dark Avengers #14 – Okay, seriously, in what sense is this a Siege tie-in?  It’s a flashback story taking place before Siege, in which the Sentry goes nuts again and Norman Osborn has to talk him down.  And it’s well enough written, but how is this any more of a Siege tie-in than any other Sentry story published in the last two years?  Victoria Hand gets a nice scene at the beginning, Moonstone gets a truly dreadful one later on, and overall it’s okay if you don’t mind the pop psychology of Sentry stories… but so far, there’s no discernible link between any of this and the crossover which it claims to be part of.

Devil #1 – Manga creator Torajiro Kishi does an original four-issue miniseries for Dark Horse, intended for the American format.  It’s basically a vampire story, although it’s the modern version where there’s a disease going round which turns people into “bloodsucking superhumans.”  Takimoto is a police officer who goes around killing the resulting “devils”, while Migiwa is the liberal one who wants to treat it as a public health issue.  From the look of it, she will be learning an important lesson about life: some vampires just need shooting.    The art’s great, and the glowing white “devils” are a lovely visual.  The story is quite familiar, though, and the mismatched partners are distinctly off-the-peg.  It also chews up pages on action sequences, but the art’s good enough that I can let that slide.  Interesting, and it certainly looks good, yet the story doesn’t really hook me.

Joe the Barbarian #2 – Okay, then.  Joe is having a diabetes-related hallucination, and the idea is that he sees himself on some sort of fantasy quest while trying to get downstairs.  The way that the story throws in moments of lucidity gives the whole thing a nicely trippy quality.  The star of the show, once again, is Sean Murphy’s art, which builds a beautiful fantasy world from a mixture of common genre tropes and incongruous elements from Joe’s room.  It’s basically the idea of presenting an everyday challenge as an epic quest, quite literally so.  The concept isn’t entirely original, but the execution is brilliant.

Psylocke #4 – Chris Yost clearly understood the need to refocus and redefine Psylocke, a character who’s become hopelessly confused over the years, and so I was hoping that this miniseries would achieve some much-needed remedial work.  In the end, the series never quite gets that far.  Picking up on a long-forgotten Wolverine subplot from the last decade, Psylocke finds out that the guy she’s trying to kill is actually being kept alive so that Wolverine can torment him.  So she ends up killing Matsu’o in order to release him, rather than to take revenge on him.  And that’s fine – she achieves what she set out to do, but in a way that theoretically gives her some closure and symbolically puts that chapter of her life behind her.  The thing is, having done so, she doesn’t seem to be moving on to anywhere in particular, and that’s the missing element that stops it from quite completing the job.  That said, it does set the character on the right track, and if Uncanny chooses to pick up on this material, it may prove to have done her good.  As for the art, it’s decidedly patchy – sometimes it’s fine, if a bit nineties, but sometimes everything’s over-rendered to the point of ugliness, and many of the action sequences are just plain confusing.

Uncanny X-Men #521 – Magneto goes up a hill to meditate, while some of the X-Men team up with Fantomex to beat up baddies.  Oh, and it looks like Kitty Pryde is coming back.  Greg Land’s artwork has certainly been made more palatable by toning down the overly polished and airbrushed feel and making it a bit rougher around the edges.  The problem here lies with the villains.  Their schtick seems to be that they want to copy mutant powers and make them available to everyone.  This idea of democratising superpowers is a reasonably interesting one.  Fraction did something vaguely similar in the opening issues of Invincible Iron Man, and here he’s basically recasting Grant Morrison’s cultish U-Men as a supervillain team.  But they’re a supervillain team without much in the way of personality or presence – the leaders a rather bland smartass, and the rest are pretty much a blank.  There’s a decent idea here, and I’m all for Fraction doing more stories along this theme, but these guys just need a bit more charisma.

Bring on the comments

  1. Is Fraction re-establishing Magneto as Xorn? I haven’t read an issue of UNCANNY X-MEN in a year, but the cover seems to echo Xorn’s signature pose.

  2. SC says:

    No, he’s just concentrating on using his powers.

    This month’s issue was surprisingly good, despite Land; I wasn’t expecting to ever see Sublime mentioned again.

    “Incredible Herc”‘s finale, though, was definitely the best issue of the week. The climactic pages were just wrenching.

  3. Cheeris says:

    “Joe is having an epilepsy-related hallucination”

    Diabetes-related surely?

    Pedantry aside, ‘Joe The Barbarian’ is shaping up to be a pretty good series by the look of it.

  4. Thomas says:

    It seems to me that Siege is setting up a finale in which everyone, new, dark, whatever, teams up to stop the Sentry — his brutality (no spoilers) in issue #2 being the tipping point. If I’m right, that justifies the Dark Avengers issues setting up that conclusion as a crossover tie-in.

  5. Paul says:

    @Cheeris: You’re right, of course, it’s diabetes. I’ve changed that.

    @Thomas: I can see something like that happening, but still, by that standard you could call any Sentry issue of DARK AVENGERS a SIEGE tie-in.

  6. moose n squirrel says:

    And even if that were a plausible explanation, it wouldn’t excuse the all-Hood plotline running in New Avengers that’s been billed as a Siege crossover, too.

    The prospect of Kitty Pryde’s return leaves me reeling with boredom.

  7. Niall says:

    The DA Sentry storyline will probably explain just why old style Sentry is entirely absent from the Siege storyline. I’m guessing Bob completely loses dominance by the end of the storyline.

    The NA Hood storyline probably won’t directly tie-in except in the sense that the storyline with the Hood’s gang needs to end before the new Heroic age can begin. Siege is the means to end Dark Reign, so it’s only in that sense that the storyline seems to be ending.

    Unless of course, we just need to see how the Hood’s new powers work so that if he ends up augmenting Thor’s powers in a showdown with the Sentry, it doesn’t seem like so much of a deus-ex machina.

    Uncanny is interesting. The art has improved, but I’m not sold on Fraction’s approach. Clearly, he has chosen to turn his back on the, by this stage, traditional arc structure. He’s writing one large storyline and if the book were a weekly, it’d be reading really well. But it’s far from being a weekly, so the pacing isn’t working.

    I’m actually looking forward to the upcoming X-men crossover. If the books are coming out one week after the other, Fraction’s flawed structural choice might actually become a plus.

  8. maxwell's hammer says:

    Its so easy to blame Fraction for a lot of UXM’s problems, but I’m amazed at how much more I enjoy each issue when Greg Land isn’t ‘drawing’ it. I don’t think X-Men readers give enough credit to the way a good artist can bring a script to life in ways outside of what the script in itself calls for. Greg Land doesn’t bring ANYTHING to life! Yes, the villains are cyphers with no personalities, but I’m curious if they would have read any better if Terry Dodson had been drawing them all this time?

  9. Valhallahan says:

    “The prospect of Kitty Pryde’s return leaves me reeling with boredom.”


  10. Jerry Ray says:

    My initial reaction to seeing Kitty at the end of Uncanny was happiness. I still have a soft spot for Kitty, who joined the X-Men at the end of my first issue (#138, when I was about 10 years old). I developed quite the crush on her in the next few years, and never quite got over it even though I’m 39 now.

    I recognize that in the last 2+ decades, writers at best had no idea what to do with her, and at worst kind of screwed up the character, but I still like the idea of having her around more than not having her around. Hope springs eternal that one day Kitty and the X-Men will return to their 80s glory days, even though the last 20+ years of stories tell me it will never happen.

  11. ZZZ says:

    I have a nasty feeling that the Siege tie-in claims are a symptom of the “writing for the trade” mentality, and that they’re slapping the banner on every issue of a storyline that will eventually tie in to the big event, even if the early issues don’t really have anything to do with it. If that’s the case, I can see the logic, even from a non-marketing standpoint: If only the fifth and sixth issues of a six-issue arc are actually Siege-related, the theoretical completist buying all the Siege tie-ins might have trouble following just those two issues without the preceding four that no one told them they might like to be familiar with. And in the unlikely event the final issues of the arc are collected into some Siege trade paperback, they’ll presumably include the entire arc.

    On the other hand, it really bothers me when we get what looks like yet more evidence that the publishers either have entirely given up on the idea of each issue being an idividual entity (if they are labelling entire arcs as tie ins regardless of the content of each issue) or consider essentially tricking the readers into buying books acceptible (if the arc doesn’t ultimately tie in and they’re labelling everything with Osborn or the Sentry in it as a Siege tie-in).

    By the way: couldn’t agree more with Paul’s take on the villains in Uncanny – in the middle of the fight scene it struck me that I couldn’t remember any of their names, what the big bald guy and blonde woman’s powers were (if they’re anything beyond super strength), or even how many of them there were (I kepy forgetting the big bald guy was there).

    And I feel the same way about Nightcrawler as Jerry Ray feels about Shadowcat: I keep hoping he’ll return to his old charming swashbuckler with a religious side self instead of the self-doubting wet blanket who can’t speak two sentences without mentioning religion that’s rapidly approaching the point where it’s the characterization he’s had for more than half the character’s existence.

  12. Andrew says:

    Sadly, this issue of Uncanny was the best of a terrible run, if only because Fraction linked his pathetic villains to a much better storyline. Kitty’s return, which I had hoped to be happy for, struck me as lame. It’s too soon to leave an emotional resonance for Whedon’s story, especially with Magneto doing it as a way to one-up Cyclops. And why would Magneto struggle to walk up the hill when he can pull a bullet from the far reaches of space with a little concentration. Completely inconsistent.

  13. Lambnesio says:

    I have to say, although I agree that Fraction’s Uncanny is flawed, I still enjoy it almost every month. Fraction’s giving the property direction and he’s doing something interesting and new with the characters. Which would the be the first time since Morrison and the second time since Claremont. And that’s something I appreciate, since I am foolishly attached to these characters.

    (I’m not including satellite titles in that, since I think X-Factor is great, and also really enjoyed Cable/Deadpool.)

    (And okay, I really enjoyed Mike Carey’s X-Men too.)

  14. Niall says:

    Andrew, I think the point of Mags stumbling up the hill is that he was conserving his power for the job at hand. He could have flew up if he wanted of course.

    Also, I think the point of bringing Pryde back was not to get one up on Cyclops, but rather to gain his and the other X-Men’s trust.

    I actually kind of like this idea.

  15. Paul says:

    I do have some trouble with the idea of Magneto turning the Magic Space Bullet around. If Magneto’s finding it that hard to take down a couple of Predator X’s, as per the previous issues of this storyline, it does seem staggering that he can singlehandedly pull off something that has eluded the combined efforts of the X-Men and SWORD. (Besides which, why isn’t Kitty dead from starvation?)

  16. Nostalgia says:

    I thought I remembered that Kitty used to not be able to breathe while phasing either? Maybe I made that one up.

  17. Jerry Ray says:

    From what I recall (and I’m sure this is a point that has varied from writer to writer over the years), she can’t breathe while she’s phased INTO something. So she used to take a deep breath before phasing into the ground, for instance.

    How she’s not dead from starvation or suffocation or anything else you’d face while spending however many weeks/months alone in a giant hunk of metal in interstellar space is a fair question. Let’s call it “magic.”

    But yeah, it does seem to stretch credibility that Magneto could find and grab the Giant Space Bullet somewhere out in space and influence its course, even when he was at the height of his powers.

  18. lambnesio says:

    If I remember this correctly, Kitty and the bullet ha become fused or something. I feel like that’s a situation that allows plenty of leeway, especially since we obviously knew Kitty was going to survive this and return one day.

  19. Niall says:

    I guess you could make an argument that what Magneto isn’t so much about the use of force, but the subtle, sophisticated use of what power he has.

    But yeah, it seems like the kind of power level variation that you come over in comics often.

    On that note, has anybody seen the recent Justice League DVD? The level of variation there is something ridiculous. Batman can take a punch from Superwoman, who can go toe to toe with Superman. Every character’s power level just seems to synch with that of the preson they’re fighting at the time.

    All of that said, the last 1/3 of that movie are very impressive.

  20. Mike S. says:

    I’m all for bringing characters back from the dead, so long as it makes sense and works dramatically. Bucky’s return has been pretty decent, for example, whereas Mockingbird’s is totally arbitrary and without any meaning whatsoever.

    That said, how recent was that bit of Colossus coming to terms with Kitty’s disappearance through sculpture (was it the first Nation X issue?)? 3 months ago? It seems a bit soon, if you want this to have any weight, though I suppose I should wait and see.

  21. Valhallahan says:

    I’ve said it on the comments here before, but as a kid who’s main X Men reading period was the 90s, Jubilee was always Wolvie’s side kick not Kitty. Kitty just popped up occasionally, said something snarky and got too much respect from the rest of the cast (but not in a cool way). Thus I’ve never taken to the character.

    On the writing for the trade subject, people should try Jonah Hex if they haven’t already, almost every story (Appart from 6 Gun War and a few others) are done in one with great artists and interesting tales. I love it!

    I might be alone in saying this, but it’s a shame to see Matsuo die, I always liked the idea that Wolvie was still coming back every year to chop a little bit more off the wife-poisoning bastard.

  22. Mammalian Verisimilitude says:

    Mike S> I’m all for bringing characters back from the dead, so long as it makes sense and works dramatically

    Well, technically Shadowcat’s wasn’t even presented as being killed off – she was just “Put On A Bus”.

    How exactly she’s meant to have survived being stuck in a big chunk of metal flying through space with no oxygen or food is another matter, but still…

  23. moose n squirrel says:

    Kitty Pryde isn’t even last year’s Mary Sue; she’s a-couple-decades-ago’s Mary Sue.

  24. Dimitri says:

    I realize I’m in the minority among comics fans, but I’m not much for keeping characters dead for the sake of keeping them dead. Are all the resurrections realistic? Of course not, but then neither are flying people in tights shooting lasers from their eyes.

    For me, the upside of bringing characters back is you can tell stories with them again, and if they’re good characters, as I think Kitty can be, that only help matters in the long run.

    The downside is it runs the risk of deflating the original story that killed the character, stripping it of its dramatic relevance. Now, seeing as I found Kitty’s “death” in Astonishing completely arbitrary — unnecessary for those who were already enjoying Whedon’s big space opera, and unearned for those of us wondering what any of it had to do with the X-Men — I don’t see any drawback to bringing the character back.

  25. moose n squirrel says:

    Uncanny X-Men is not exactly wanting for extra characters these days. Nor is it desperately in need of characters whose sole purpose is to stand around reminding readers of older, more-beloved storylines while striking poses and making snotty remarks.

  26. --D. says:

    I’ve said this before, so I’ll keep it brief: Like Jerry Ray, Kitty Pryde was my first crush. I started reading comics in the late ’80’s and my first issues were the Classic X-Men reprints of the Dark Phoenix saga. I didn’t realize how completely she had become my favorite character until years later when I picked up the Whedon-Cassaday run on AXM in TPB. I didn’t read much of Excalibur, and I didn’t read any comics between 1995 and 2005. When I think of Kitty Pryde, it’s UXM 139 to 212, and then AXM 1-25. I also appreciated her role in X-Men: The End.

    She’s the closes thing the X-Men have to a real person who wants to live in the real world; she’s not a superhero who wants to be a superhero; she’s a superhero who wants to be a senator, a social worker, or a teacher. I like that about her, and I can relate to her because of it.

    I’m glad she’s back, and I hope more good stories can be done with her.

  27. I don’t mind Marvel bringing characters back from the dead but they’ve overused the device and so the drama of killing a character is watered down.

    P.S. Except when Mark Millar cheaply killed off the NW’s in SI. That annoyed me.

  28. Valhallahan says:

    I thought Wasp’s death in Secret Invasion was pretty cheap, I have no problem with that being overturned.

  29. Jerry Ray says:

    It seems like the deaths of characters in the current era are more often than not cheap and stupid, lacking the emotional impact of, say, Gwen Stacey’s death, or Phoenix’s death (the first time), or Uncle Ben’s death, or even Vindicator’s death in early issues of Alpha Flight.

    Just offhand, Bendis is responsible for Wasp (totally pointless and confusing) and Hawkeye (stupid and pointless), among others. Was there any particular impact from those deaths, or story reason why they happened?

  30. --D. says:

    Best comic book deaths ever?

    (1) Phoenix
    (2) Illanya Rasputin
    (3) I’m irrationally partial to Magneto’s death in X-Men #3. I was pissed when they brought him back.

  31. moose n squirrel says:

    Some deaths seem wrong to undo because they just make too much sense within the context of the arc for that character. For so many characters, it seems that resurrection is gratuitous, and that the revived have nothing to do once they’re back because their most compelling stories have all been told. (Hell, you don’t even need an actual death for this – I still think the Kingpin’s most natural character arc in Daredevil runs from Miller’s arc through Nocenti up to Daredevil #300 with the collapse of his criminal empire, and ends there; nothing since then has ever said anything new about the Kingpin.)

    Dozens of characters have these kind of potential “sunset moments” which would be kind of perfect if the characters were just left alone after that, but misplaced affection for those very stories keeps them coming back. Jean Grey was around for decades after her death, and never became anything more than she was before she died: Cyclops’s girlfriend who died and did the Phoenix thing. And while I’ve always thought Illyana’s actual death (and the Legacy virus storyline in general) was generally stupid, her reversion to childhood at the end of Inferno made perfect sense for her character; there’s little to do now that Magik’s back other than hit the same old tired “corruption versus innocence” beats.

    (This has little to do with Kitty Pryde’s death in particular, which I thought was silly and narratively gratuitous; I just think Kitty Pryde is just the kind of consistently grating character who should be “put on a bus,” as the Mammal puts it.)

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