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May 13

X-Men vol 5 – “Burning Earth”

Posted on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 by Paul in x-axis

If you have four issues to fill before Secret Wars, plainly you could do a lot worse than call upon the services of G Willow Wilson, who’s been delivering on Ms. Marvel.  In fact, anyone looking for a Marvel Universe title to try could do a lot worse than Ms. Marvel.

As it turns out, though, G Willow Wilson can also do a lot worse than Ms. Marvel.  “Burning Earth” is not especially bad, but it’s safe to say that this is one to be filed in the Minor Works section of her bibliography.

The story opens with a giant sinkhole opening up at the Burning Tree Festival and a giant storm appearing overhead.  Gambit, who just happens to be at the show, calls in the X-Men to help.  (Yes, yes, he’s still a member of X Factor, but this is a problem that seems at least well suited for Storm, so fair enough.)  This brings Storm, Rachel, Monet and Psylocke running to help, and winds up with all of them being stuck underground.  Meanwhile, Jubilee investigates why Krakoa is feeling sick.  And eventually, it turns out that the problems at Burning Tree are due to a Krakoa-like creature who was accidentally created by an experimental weapon.  The plot duly explained, the X-Men despatch the marauding thingie.

All of this is fine so far as it goes.  The plot aspects of the X-Men trapped underground are well enough handled, with enough variation to avoid it just being endless wading through tunnels.  There’s a welcome effort to give all four main characters (Jubilee is pretty much relegated to exposition lass) some opportunity to showcase themselves.  Wilson wrestles gamely with the challenge of finding some sort of difference between the three telepaths that the existing cast saddles her with – and finds more potential in there than most writers have.  Roland Boschi’s art is generally okay, and every so often raises itself to produce a starkly effective page layout.

But Wilson’s handle on some of the characters feels shaky.  Her Monet in particular is hard to recognise from prior takes.  That’s not to say it’s a bad character; on the contrary, it’s a convincingly rounded character, headstrong and not a great team player.  But it simply doesn’t feel like Monet; the speech patterns are way off, the interaction with the other characters is too casual, the distance isn’t there.  It may well be a take that could bed in and be accepted over time, but not in four issues.  Storm is more convincing, but it’s still odd to see a sequence that presents her as the woman of action and Rachel as the cautious peacemaker who wants to solve all their problems by talking – a virtual reversal of their positions in their feud over the team leadership that was a major subplot in this title under Brian Wood.

And “Burning Earth” feels like a story that can’t quite figure out what it’s supposed to be about, as it hops between underdeveloped elements and occasionally chucks in a beat that seems to come from a different story entirely.  The story is structured with each of the four main characters taking turns to narrate an issue, but there doesn’t seem to be any discernible point to doing so (and any element of character study hits problems when the characters themselves feel off model).

There’s no very clear reason for Gambit to be here at all; his plot function is pretty much limited to picking up the phone.  The entire subplot with the X-Men’s Krakoa being sick goes pretty much nowhere, aside from prompting Jubilee to do some investigatory exposition.  Nor does it make much sense – Krakoa is sick because several thousand miles away another creature also created in the same way has… woken up…?  Jubilee’s trip to visit the Inhumans seems to serve no purpose beyond stalling her for another chapter, as they tell her nothing that advances the plot and (as Medusa quite reasonably points out) there was never any good reason to think they would know anything anyway.

The story tries to suggest that the monster is the result of a Kree experiment, only to reveal that it’s actually the product of a human experiment using captured Kree technology.  This is the old “ah, but you see, we humans are the real monsters” story, which is a pulp sci-fi classic and for good reasons.  But it doesn’t work here; the Kree theory is as good as anything else, Jubilee follows it up but doesn’t particularly push it, and there’s no particular reason for anyone to be learning the lesson of humility that this story traditionally turns on.  Equally, when the final issue suddenly brings out the “do we have the right” argument over whether to destroy the marauding earth creature, it doesn’t seem to relate to anything else that’s going on in the story; it’s just a familiar trope being pressed into service to raise the stakes in the finale.

 

Given the standard of work Wilson has done elsewhere, this has to be rated a disappointment.  We’ve certainly seen a lot worse – it hangs together, the personalities are well drawn even if they’re not always right.  And it probably suffers from the expectations that go with a writer with a good track record.  It’s average, perhaps a bit above that.  But I was hoping for more.

Bring on the comments

  1. mchan says:

    What infuriated me about this storyline was that it made explicitly clear that there is nothing that can be done with Vampire Jubilee. In the end Jubilee seems to be the worst casualty of M-day and the subsequent attempts to bring her back into service. And that’s coming from a book where the team is never fully fleshed out beyond its (necessary and more often than not productive) gimmick. Jubilee actually says that she’s more or less useless in this book.

    I mean, global Secret Wars reset button and all, but I think part of the problem with having too many X-books is that, aside from Uncanny and Wolverine and the, they really illustrate how thin the status quo of the franchise has gotten, and how much the sudden turns and twists involved in writing towards the event have dispensed with an interest in trying to do something with characters. When there are too many X-teams and not enough that is different to do, the faults are always most apparent in characters whose aspects are fundamentally tied to events that have long past.

  2. Chris says:

    Jubilee should have been retired.

    The character was created to be a kid sidekick

  3. jpw says:

    I agree 100% with the second paragraph of mchan’s comment. I feel like the characters get lost in the constant eventiness. PAD and Carey were the only ones in recent memory who didn’t suffer from that.

    I would like the status quo of Cyclops in Uncanny (minus the ANX crew) if it were written by anyone else.

  4. Ryan says:

    Any chance we’ll get a Spider-Man and the X-Men writeup? That series ended up being really good.

  5. Paul says:

    @Ryan: Yes. Probably at the weekend.

  6. I hope post-Battleworld that whatever non-core X-books are left get assigned regular writers. Wilson did well enough with what she had to work with, but with just four issues, a book’s kind of like a miniseries with different numbering.

  7. Dazzler says:

    I’m surprised you’re being so charitable to peripheral series like this and Amazing.

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