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Mar 21

The X-Axis: 21 March 2010

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

Let’s start with the bad news.  We’re due for another podcast next weekend, and I do believe we plugged it at the end of the last show.  But, um, I’m actually not in town that weekend, so it’s going to be a bit later than that.  Probably the weekend after.  Hopefully.  We’ll let you know.

With that out of the way, let’s talk reviews!  A scattering of X-books this week, plus a few other interesting releases…

Amazing Spider-Man #625 – We’re back to Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara, picking up their Rhino storyline.  With most books, this would have been a straightforward two-parter.  And effectively, it still is a two-parter.  But the nature of the story means that it actually benefits from having something unrelated in the middle, to space it out.  The new Rhino remains a cipher (though that’s kind of the point), and the heart of this is the previous Rhino stubbornly trying not to get drawn into a pointless fight over the name.  Yes, the pay-off is kind of hokey, but it’s well executed.  And Fiumara’s art is great stuff; the Spider-Man books have some of the best art in superhero comics right now.

American Vampire #1 – We might well be talking about this on the next podcast, but for now, some initial thoughts.  This is the new Vertigo series by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque which has managed to get Stephen King to co-write the first few issues.  Basically there’s a lead story by the regular team (setting up the origin of one of the lead characters) and a back-up strip by King (a few decades earlier, and setting up the other).  The high concept here is that a couple of Americans are turned into vampires near the start of the 20th century and become the first distinctively American vampires.  As opposed, presumably, to vampires following in the traditions of the old country.  It could be a B-movie story, or it could be a somewhat warped take on America’s developing sense of uniqueness and relationship with its cultural heritage(s).  For the moment, wisely, it seems mainly concerned about setting up the two leads, and it does that very well.  The lead story doesn’t quite convince me as the mid-1920s, but I like the characters.  And the art is strong, with Albuquerque shifting easily between two entirely different settings.  It’s not really horror, at this stage, but there’s something interesting about it.

Battlefields #4 – Unusually, instead of going for three miniseries (and thus three issue #1s), Dynamite have chosen to publish this run of Garth Ennis war stories as a nine-issue miniseries, even though the three stories are unrelated.  So, this is the first part of “The Firefly and his Majesty”, a sequel to the “Tankies” story from the first run.  For my money, “Tankies” was the weakest of the previous three (though it was up against extremely stiff competition), a bit heavy on the comedy and a bit light on the drama.  But this time the balance seems to have been struck better.  The issue does a great job with the apparent pointlessness of people continuing to fight in early 1945, when everyone knows the Germans can’t win; naturally, the machine just keeps grinding on, and in the short term at least, the Germans still have better tanks…  I wasn’t especially looking forward to a second “Tankies” arc, but this is more interesting than I’d expected.

Joe the Barbarian #3 – By this point we’ve got the idea: Joe is dying, he needs to get to his insulin, and he’s hallucinating the whole experience of getting downstairs as an epic fantasy quest.  It’s so simple, but it’s brilliantly done.  Morrison gives the whole thing a woozy feel that never loses sight of the fact that it’s a hallucination, but also makes it abundantly clear that if the story doesn’t play out properly then Bad Things Will Happen.  And Sean Murphy’s art gives Joe’s world a sense of reality even though we all know it’s in his mind.  As with some other Morrison stories, there’s almost a sense here that just because the characters are plainly fictitious that doesn’t mean they aren’t real – after all, if Joe is hallucinating them, then in some sense they exist…

Nation X #4 – The last X-Men anthology of the current batch.  Peter Milligan and Mike Allred reunite for a Doop story, loosely based on the idea that everyone is potentially the snake who’ll destroy Utopia.  It’s a bit lightweight but it’s quite good fun.  Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Harvey Tolibao’s story with Emma Frost and the Stepford Cuckoos is a bit wonky; the girls are tormenting the other kids out of boredom, and Emma tries to put them back on track.  Everyone’s a little bit out of character, and the Cuckoos seem to be such dreadful teachers (are they really teaching a class of teenagers the alphabet?) that the ending falls flat.  Ivan Brandon and Rael Lyra’s “Ice Cream Alamo” is a throwaway piece with some of the background kids trying to raid the fridge at night – there’s not much more to it than that, but it’s pretty good fun.  Finally, Joe Caramagna and Niko Henrichon give us Namor bitching to Ororo about how the whole project is doomed; it’s really a conversation rather than a story, but at least it’s got beautiful artwork, and probably the best establishing shot of the island that I’ve seen.

Siege #3 – In this issue: fighting!  Now that we’ve got past the initial awkwardness of “sorry, why is Norman doing this again?”, the story is actually starting to get a bit of momentum.  It does feel like it’s building to a climax, even if only because everyone’s calling in their favours, and everyone’s converging on the same place.  That doesn’t quite get round the problem that the siege of Asgard itself appears to have been selected more or less at random to provide that climax – the bits of this story that work could have been bolted on to basically any story where Osborn overreaches himself.  But it does have the long-awaited scenes where the good guys get their act together and finally get the upper hand, and Olivier Coipel’s art is good, bright, energetic stuff.

Wolverine: Origins #45 – That’s the explanation for why we’ve spent a storyline messing around with obscure Defenders villain Ruby Thursday?  Really? I mean… yes, to be fair, Daniel Way did spend some time setting up the idea that Wolverine’s trying to think outside the box in order to confuse Romulus and throw him off the scent.  So the basic idea that it’s a red herring… fine.  But the story overreaches itself by suddenly hauling in a dangling subplot about the Answer, a character who I don’t think has even been mentioned before in this series, and who doesn’t get a proper introduction.  If you’re wondering where on earth the Answer’s relationship with Ruby Thursday was established, well, it comes from the 2006 one-shot I ♥ Marvel: Outlaw Love.  Besides which, spending several issues just to declare that it’s all a tactical swerve – one with no particular dramatic ramifications other than to wrongfoot the baddie – seems excessive.  There’s a good idea in here somewhere, but it needs refining.

X-23 #1 – One of many “Women of Marvel” one-shots which are coming out over the course of 2010, as part of Marvel’s rather vague celebration of its female intellectual property.  Come to think of it, if you really want to do stories with gender as a linking theme, X-23’s not a bad choice of character, since she’s supposed to be literally a female version of Wolverine.  But in fact, Marjorie Liu takes the story as an opportunity to reunite X-23 with the cast of NYX.  That’s fair enough – it’s the book where X-23 first appeared in comics, and Liu wrote it.  In its favour, the issue also has some excellent artwork, with some incredibly striking “astral plane” scenes.  And Liu does understand the character of X-23, particularly the central idea that she’s been manipulated to such an extent that she’s never sure how much of what she thinks is programming and how much is truly her, something which she plays as an exaggerated nature/nurture metaphor.  The downside is that the plot is all over the place.  A set-up about ex-mutants being targetted never really goes anywhere; the Gamesmaster is used in an interesting way but isn’t very clearly explained; and for some reason, nobody thinks of asking the NYX cast whether they might care to come to Utopia and get a good night’s sleep.  So it’s flawed, but there are definitely plenty of positives here.

X-Factor Forever #1 – Louise Simonson picks up X-Factor where she left off in 1991, which more or less means progressing with the subplots in progress, and going back to Apocalypse as the arch-enemy.  The first issue seems largely concerned with setting up the status quo, but that’s logical enough, even if some of the infodump exposition stands out like a sore thumb.  To give Marvel credit, they’ve learned from their mistakes with X-Men Forever, and so this issue also includes an introduction by Louise Simonson explaining the idea, and a back-up feature recapping the series.  Like Chris Claremont, Simonson doesn’t seem too concerned about doing stories that she would have written in 1991; instead, her editorial suggests that she’s taking the opportunity to do a story that follows her take on Apocalypse through to its logical conclusion, freed from the need to worry about any wider continuity issues.  In practice, the first issue is still largely introduction, but it bounces along at a fair speed, and I’m quite looking forward to seeing where this is going.  Dan Panosian is an intriguing choice of artist – most of his Marvel work has been as an inker, but he’s actually got a very distinctive style, spiky and angular, and willing to let characters like Archangel look ugly.  At the same time, there are some wonderful backgrounds, and his Apocalypse clearly harks back to Walt Simonson’s definitive take.  It’s not always pretty, but it’s certainly interesting to look at, helped by nicely subdued colouring from Jim Charlampidis.  It won’t be to all tastes, but I like the way this book looks.

X-Men Legacy #234 – Sandwiched between two crossovers, a story where Rogue gets telepathy for an issue and has trouble with it.  This is one of the best issues in quite a while, freed as it is from any wider agenda beyond doing an interesting story with the lead character.  Mike Carey’s created an unusual format here – effectively this is a Rogue solo title, but instead of using it to tell stories of Rogue’s solo adventures, it’s an X-Men book done from Rogue’s perspective.  As for the art, Yanick Paquette may have unfortunate tendencies towards out-of-place cheesecake, but he does know his body language, and he actually does a very good Rogue.  The current direction on this series is probably the best use of the character in years.

I ♥ Marvel

Bring on the comments

  1. Lambnesio says:

    I still think there’s a small possibility that Maria Hill will take that spot back (although I agree that it looks like Nick, especially in light of the Heroic Age). I’d kind of like to see it. And she is currently helping the president. And unlike Osborn, Stark or Fury, she hasn’t been publicly disgraced.

  2. Mammalian Verisimilitude says:

    Didn’t the end of “Who Will Wield The Shield” basically have Obama pegging Steve Rogers for head of SHIELD? [If so, bet they use Cap’s shield as the new emblem]

    *razzim-frazzim pagination*
    > ZZZ > “There was a point in the 80s when there were something like four seperate X-teams, and each had their own long-range group teleporter”
    Justin > When was this? The only long range teleporters I can recall from the 80s were Lila Cheney & Gateway and they weren’t exactly team members.

    The X-Men and New Mutants were Gateway and Magik, I suppose, while X-Factor had their sentient Ship who could teleport people around. And I suppose he means Widget for Excalibur, since Nightcrawler’s hardly “long-range”, although Widget didn’t teleport the team on request – usually quite the opposite, if anything.

    Lambnesio> There was also Magik, and Gateway was always sitting outside the X-Men’s base, but those situations actually didn’t have any overlap (since Fall of the Mutants was the end of Magik’s membership and also the point where the X-Men moved to the outback).

    Wasn’t Magik around until Inferno?

  3. Valhallahan says:

    I keep thinking people are typing “Brixton” instead of “Broxton” which is making Siege way more awesome in my mind.

    Also that makes sense about The Secret Warriors, I guess I just don’t care for ’em so it stood out.

  4. Lambnesio says:

    “Wasn’t Magik around until Inferno?”

    Oh, yes, definitely. I confused crossovers.

  5. Isn’t Ares’ son Chet a Secret Warrior? Might need him some revenge.

    (Googles “Secret Warriors”)

    (Rolls eyes)


  6. Lambnesio says:

    Secret Warriors may not be very good, but Marvel’s putting out a lot worse. X-Force, the current Thunderbolts book, Cable… Secret Warriors is at least a pretty good idea.

  7. Jerry Ray says:

    The Secret Warriors book, IMHO, isn’t bad. I don’t know or care about the Secret Warriors characters, but the Fury/Shield/Hydra stuff is interesting.

  8. ZZZ says:

    “When was this? The only long range teleporters I can recall from the 80s were Lila Cheney & Gateway and they weren’t exactly team members.”

    I didn’t mean the teams had members who were teleporters, just that they all had access to long range group teleporters.

    I was specifically thinking of Gateway for the X-Men, X-Factor’s ship, either Majik for the New Mutants or Cable’s bodyslide technology for X-Force and Widget for Excalibur’s.

    It was an observation I made at the time (I remember remarking on it to a friend) and I can’t remember whether Cable or Majik was operating at the time. Also, depending on when I made the observation, Widget may have been a stretch – he eventually got a body and became an actual character – but even if the team couldn’t rely on him, the writers could use him to get the team anywhere they wanted them to be (and if memory serves, the promotional material for the book showed the team dropping out of a Widget portal and referred to him as a team member; it was pretty obvious that he was supposed to be the group transport (like the Cross-Time Caper was supposed to be 9 issues long) but Claremont either changed his mind or was thinking very long term).

  9. Justin says:

    Ohhh, gotcha. I was looking at it as in story, but if you go off of what the writers had available to them to move the characters around then I totally agree.

  10. moose n squirrel says:

    The Green Goblin is an Avengers villain?

    I don’t like it any more than you do, but yes he is, at this point. Norman Osborn has been re-cast, for better or worse, as a Marvel Universe-wide villain, and the Marvel Universe’s flagship superhero team – the team that the company’s last several big tentpole events have all revolved around – is the Avengers.

  11. Omar Karindu says:

    Though oddly, few of the Dark Avengers seem to have directly interacted much with the Bendis-era Avengers outside of Siege: the New Avengers have had a single direct skirmish with them in The List and its aftermath, Daken’s been bothering Logan since before Dark Reign began, and Spider-Man fought them alone in “American Son” and encountered Venom in a Venom miniseries tie-in. Ms. Marvel got the most mileage out of the Dark Avengers in this regard.

    But strangely, neither the story to date nor Siege have made much of the idea that the proper heroes might want to fight their usurpers. Hawkeye’s not getting a duel with Bullseye, Stature stops Venom rather than Spider-Man in Siege #3, and Norman’s battles with Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Cap have been extremely brief and anticlimactic affairs. Siege #3 does give us (more) dueling Ms. Marvels, and Thor vs. Sentry, but then Bullseye and Karla sneak off.

    Norman’s clashes with the other Avengers have largely been through agents like the Hood’s gang; he took on Iron Man at the very tai-end of an arc in Fraction’s book, of course. But as “Avengers villains” they’ve had little in
    the way of battles with the Avengers, and since the Dark Avengers will case to exist after Siege, they’re not going on to be established Avengers villains.

    Norman Osborn, Venom, and Bullseye troubling the Avengers for a year and then going back to their solo antagonists (or possibly dying) doesn’t make them Avengers villains in the way Kang, Ultron, the Grim Reaper, et al. are Avengers villains. The Dar Avengers’ claim is more that, like the interchangeable (And note who’s kicking off the Heroic Age-era Avengers teams according to solicitations and interviews.)

  12. Omar Karindu says:

    …like the interchangeable Masters of Evil memberships, they’re solo foes of some of the team’s members. And in Bullseye’s case not even that. (Bullseye seems to me the least likely to stay around the Avengers books, since Daredevil set him up for something with its The List one-shot and the continuing use of Lady Bullseye in the ongoing title.)

    Sorry for the interruption, the cat stepped on the keyboard.

  13. It worked so well for The Kingpin and DareDevil, though, didn’t it?

    I mean, we all act differently around different people, right? Different aspects of our personality are thrown into focus by the environments we find oursleves in. So a guy like Doctor Octopus, who is a manipulative, paranoid sort of Dark Peter Parker figure in the Spider-Man comics, when transferred to the Iron Man frame of reference, becomes a kind of Iron Man Done Right But Gone Wrong, in that (before Extremis at least), he represents an ultimate, literal marriage of man to machine.

    Someone like Wolverine, maybe, who is an animalistic yet ultimately noble figure in the X-Men’s frame of reference, becomes a threatening, emasculating or supermasculine figure in the Spider-Man titles – one whose profligate approach to evisceropsy slaps a bit fat tonker in the face of Spider-Man’s restraint and respect for life. The Human Torch is a little brother at home; at Midtown High, he’s a peer at worst, someone to look up to at best.

    It all works both ways, of course. You can learn all sorts of new things about the characters by allowing them to interact in that way. And while that sounds like an argument FOR the shared universe – and a hideous step backwards for my usual position on the subject – it is, IN FACT, an argument for the most Puritan restraint. I mean, you COULD get a good story out of Shang-Chi meeting Logan, sure. And you COULD get a good story out of Captain Britain meeting The Scorpion (real, not recent). But treating the IP library like a giant key party just invites trouble.

    *eyes dart from side to side*


  14. Omar Karindu says:

    Problem is, Bendis’s approach to the whole thing amounted to everyone but Norman and Sentry standing around and having their one line of dialogue per arc. (Ares got a few more lines than the other sidekicks, granted.)

    And we didn’t learn much about Norman we didn’t already know. He’s a psychotic who can keep it together well enough to look respectable in public, and Bendis simply brought his “buying his own hype” aspect over from Ellis’s Thunderbolts. The Sentry’s the same super-addict he was in the pitch Paul Jenkins worked out with Rick Veitch long before he was even a Marvel character. Ares is the same guy he was after Oeming reinvented him.

    I’ve got no problem exploiting the shared universe when it makes sense or lets you do something special for a book’s characters. And the Avengers is basically a book that exists solely to play off of the shared universe. But by keeping the various Dark and, er, Lite Avengers rosters well apart until Siege, Bendis tossed what’s surely half the appeal of dragging a bunch of non-Avengers villains into an Avengers book.

    It doesn’t help much that you’d be hard-pressed explaining what the hell any of the Dark Avengers other than Norman and Sentry actually did for fourteen months’ worth of comics, but then, Bendis doesn’t seem to know what the word “ensemble” means.

  15. moose n squirrel says:

    I don’t dispute at all that the execution of Dark Reign was fantastically stupid and anticlimactic, from front to back. The picking of the Green Goblin to be the Marvel Universe’s main bad guy for a year and a half was hilariously random; the Cabal was all set-up and no payoff, over a year of some of the best Marvel villains staring distractedly around a board room in search of a Powerpoint presentation; Osborn’s “secret weapon” was exactly what everybody assumed it was from the moment it was mentioned; the Siege of Asgard pops up as a completely random event foisted upon the characters because fuck, the story’s run out of time; everything the Sentry does is a half-assed deus ex machina. This is a story that could have been written by picking random sentences out of a hat, and for all I know it was.

    The only defense I’ll make of it – and it’s such a limited defense it might not even count as such – is that, having established the Avengers as more or less the de facto protagonists of this storyline, it’s understandable to want to have the Avengers be the ones who take down the villains at the end. Even if those villains are a Spider-man villain who should’ve stayed dead in 1973 and a Superman knockoff created for a gimmick miniseries a decade ago.

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