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Aug 29

The X-Axis – 29 August 2010

Posted on Sunday, August 29, 2010 by Paul in x-axis

Since I skipped last week’s column due to, well, not having any time to write it, there’s a bit of a backlog to get through.  So I’m going to focus on the X-books and chuck in a couple of other books that seem worth a mention.

No X-Axis for the next two weeks either, because I’m off on holiday.  I’ll probably do some sort of midweek round-up when I get back.  In the meantime, don’t forget that there’s a new episode of the podcast, waiting for you just one post down.

And now, the reviews!

Amazing Spider-Man Presents: American Son #4 – The final issue of the miniseries.  These Spider-Man tie-in minis haven’t been doing especially well for Marvel, no doubt in part because they’re so clearly positioned as the “optional extras” for a book that’s already shipping three times a month.  (Even if you might be up for buying yet another Spider-Man book each month, Marvel have pretty much erected a neon sign telling you that you needn’t bother.)

In fact, objectively speaking, this ought to be a reasonably significant story, since it does fairly substantial things with both Harry Osborn and, of all people, Gabriel Stacy.  Not that anyone was really crying out to see more of Gabriel Stacy, the fast-grown twin son of Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy, from the largely-best-forgotten “Sins Past” story.  And admittedly, writer Brian Reed is playing him here as a sort of generic maniac.  But in some ways it does work, because he’s using the character to play off Harry’s own relationship with his supervillain father; Gabriel shows up primarily to serve as a foil for Harry, a lunatic laying claim to the family tradition that Harry doesn’t particularly want, and in that role he works quite well.  There’s some quite good art from Phillipe Briones, as well, reminiscent of Ron Garney – well, until the fill-in pencillers show up on the last few pages, but at least they left it to the epilogue.

The problem remains that Gabriel isn’t a particularly intriguing character in his own right, but Harry is, and there’s enough in here to get a good story out of them.

Astonishing X-Men #35 – The final issue of the Warren Ellis/Phil Jimenez storyline, and presumably the final issue of the series, since they certainly haven’t solicited anything else.  In this issue, the X-Men fight their way to confront the baddie, who turns out to be an embittered mutant who doesn’t have powers so much as a degenerative disease.  He hates the X-Men because they’re too pretty.  And, um, that’s it.  Yes, I know it’s a deliberate anticlimax, the point being that the crazed maniac villain probably doesn’t have a very good reason, but if you’re going to do that ending, it’s maybe better to go for fewer than six issues of build-up.

Battlefields #9 – Garth Ennis’s war story series completes the three-part “Motherland”, a sequel to his earlier “Night Witches” story about Soviet women fighter pilots in World War II.  Ennis never seems quite as comfortable writing female characters.  But there’s some good stuff in here with Anna settling into a mentor role, and dark comedy with the bunch of useless rookies who are clearly being packed off as cannon fodder in the USSR’s ever-popular “throw bodies at the Germans until they run out of ammunition” strategy.  The ending’s maybe a bit too bleak to be truly satisfying, but then I suspect that’s partly the idea.

Curse of the Mutants: Blade – The first of two “Curse of the Mutants” tie-in one-shots this week.  This is a prologue story by Duane Swierczynski and Tim Green, explaining why Blade shows up in San Francisco to help out the X-Men.  It doesn’t seem to contain anything particularly important to the crossover, but there are a couple of neat character moments with Blade’s makeshift group of vampire hunters, all of whom are clearly somewhere between eccentric and nuts, the idea presumably being that everyone in their line of work is a bit odd.  The art is… a bit inconsistent, shall we say.  There are  some very good designs for the new characters, and some well executed sequences, but overall it’s a bit wobbly, the level of detail varies wildly, and some of the body language is all over the place.

Curse of the Mutants: Storm & Gambit – This, on the other hand, turns out to be absolutely essential to the plot.  It’s the issue where the X-Men go after Dracula’s body.  Or rather, just Storm and Gambit, because they’re trying stealth rather than force.  Ultimately it’s a functional story where the two thief characters go on a heist and hook up with the renegade vampire Janus, but writer Chuck Kim has a decent grasp of the characters, and gets some good moments out of the play between the authority figure Storm and the chaotic Gambit.  (He’s also the sort of writer who’s clearly spent some time thinking of the possible plot holes and chucking in lines of dialogue to seal them off, which I appreciate, though I realise some people may not put so much weight on that.)  Art is by Chris Bachalo, who handles the two leads well, albeit that some of the fight scenes have the legibility problems that often affects his work when he’s handling action.

Dark Wolverine #90 – The final issue (before the reboot) sees Daken wandering around San Francisco, apparently tailing Wolverine’s girlfriend (the journalist from Jason Aaron’s series) before deciding not to bother doing anything about it.  Not a story so much as a soliloquy in which Daken assures us that he’s no longer interested in Wolverine and wants to escape from his father’s shadow by going his own way.  Much depends on whether you think we’re meant to take Daken’s soliloquy at face value.  On one view, it’s thunderously pretentious stuff, even down to the obligatory tarot-reading scene, something that even Vertigo seem to have retreated from due to overuse.  On the other, you could read the story from the standpoint that this is how Daken sees himself, and the style reflects his own sense of self-importance.  I’m honestly not quite sure which the writers were going for, though I suspect a bit of both.  Either way, though, it’s not really a story, nor does it seem to offer any particularly compelling insight into the character’s psyche.

Ex Machina #50 – Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris’ series about a superhero turned politician reaches its conclusion, in downbeat and rather self-referential fashion.  I’m going to have to go back and re-read the whole series when I get a chance, but the final issue seems mostly concerned with the idea that Mitch Hundred has come round to an “ends justify the means” philosophy – apparently sincerely convinced that he can best help people by getting into power, and ultimately willing to make that his top priority.  Some of the big shocks at the end teeter on the verge of being silly, but I think Vaughan just about gets away with them.  Still, I’ll be interested to look back over the series and see how well it reads in the light of where the character ends up.

Namor: The First Mutant #1 – Debut issue of a new ongoing series which they’re rather optimistically claiming is an X-book.  Sure it is.  Quite why we’re having another go at relaunching this character, I’m not altogether sure.  If anyone involved has a big idea for the new series, it’s certainly not to be found in this issue, which is a dreary and uninspiring plod through some crossover plot mechanics.  Technically it’s significant to the wider story – it involves Namor retrieving the head of Dracula – but believe me when I say that’s pretty much it.  Ariel Olivetti’s art has the occasional nice panel of sealife, but all too often gives up on the backgrounds entirely, failing to get across even the idea of a ruined Atlantis.  The cast are lifeless and two dimensional, and there’s really nothing to it beyond some people chasing after a macguffin – there’s no sense of it being about anything else.  Truly lousy.

New Mutants #16 – The title characters don’t appear in this story, which is actually the origin of the demonic marines from the previous issue.  As it turns out, writer Zeb Wells has decided to tie up the long-forgotten dangling X-Factor subplot of what happened to the other babies who were used alongside Nate Summers in the magic ritual to open a portal to Limbo during the Inferno crossover.  Yes, in 1989.  Yes, it has been a long time since anyone mentioned that story, hasn’t it?  Fortunately, Wells knows better than to just pick up a 21-year-old plot; instead he uses it as a springboard for a new concept, with the US military using the hapless kids to open their own portal to Limbo and setting up a beachhead there.  As you can imagine, things don’t go entirely as hoped for.  It’s a clever little concept, with soldiers going on patrol in demon country and so forth – a nice, tongue-in-cheek piece of genre blending.  And thankfully, you don’t need to remember the original stories to get the point.

Shadowland: Power Man #1 – Fred Van Lante and Mahmud Asrar use the Shadowland crossover as a backdrop to launch their new version of Power Man.  And if you’re wondering why we need a new version of Power Man when the old one is still around… well, Luke Cage is one of those characters who’s drifted a long way from his roots.  Which leaves the way clear for another low-budget hero to take on the private-eye/superhero mantle that Luke left behind.  In some ways, this guy is basically Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass but with some actual powers to back it up.  A good debut issue, which manages to justify this guy’s use of the name, sell me on the idea that there’s a good series in it, and set him up as a likeable character in his own right.  A very solid debut.

Uncanny X-Men #527 – This came out last week, but it’s still never a great sign when I reach a book in the review pile and my first thought is “What happened in that one again?”  This is part two of “The Five Lights”, introducing another new mutant – Gabriel Cohuelho, who looks to be some sort of speedster.  It has to be said that we’re two issues into this introduction, two characters down, and Fraction hasn’t really been doing a great deal to establish them as strong personalities yet, which seems a missed opportunity.  (Something similar happened when the case of Generation X were introduced, come to think of it, though I vaguely recall that being something to do with the intro issues being written before a final decision had been taken about the kids’ personalities.)  The stronger material is in the various subplot scenes with Emma, Scott and Namor, where the characters seem more strongly defined.  Whilce Portacio’s art will no doubt continue to provoke a divided reaction; it does lean a little too heavily towards angular scratchiness for my taste, but I certainly prefer it to the overly polished work we get from Greg Land.

Wolverine: Weapon X #16 – An epilogue to “Second Coming”, as Wolverine goes on a final mission in memory of the late Nightcrawler: deliver a piano to the top of a mountain.  It’s actually more of an attempt to do something about religion.  Now, I vaguely recall Jason Aaron writing stories in the past where he tried to write Wolverine as Christian.  This time round, he seems to have accepted the party line that Wolverine is a non-believer (we’ll turn a blind eye to the fact that he’s actually been to the afterlife, because if you start thinking about these things too closely, the whole Marvel Universe falls apart – it’s one of these areas that calls for a dash of artistic licence and a huge dollop of goodwill).  Perhaps inevitably, it’s Kurt’s message that has to come out on top, in a way that I don’t find altogether persuasive.  But an issue of Wolverine hauling a piano up a mountain is a lovely idea.

X-Factor #208 – Soap opera abounds, as Rahne, Rictor, Shatterstar, Layla and M all squabble among themselves, while the team’s supposed mission of recovering a trinket from Pip the Troll pretty much gets relegated to a subplot.  And when I say soap opera, it really is full-blown, melodramatic soap opera, and decidedly over the top – but hey, that’s what the X-books traditionally do well, and Peter David knows how to make it entertaining.  A fun issue – and next time, we get Longshot in Las Vegas, a scene which surely can’t fail.

X-Men Forever 2 #6 – Speaking of shameless melodrama, the opening pages of this issue are so over the top they’re practically orbiting Mars.  But that’s part of the charm of Chris Claremont’s throwback X-Men book.  This issue, the Marauders launch yet another attempt to kidnap little Nathan – which is something that happened all the time back in the 80s.  The cute twist this time is that, thanks to the miracle of cloning, they’ve got a Sabretooth on their team too.  Something of a guilty pleasure but living up to the billing of a book that recaptures the Claremont era.

X-Men Legacy #239 – And finally… mistaking a runaway superhuman delinquent for a possible mutant, Rogue invites her back to Paras’ family home, where all sorts of disasters ensue.  And then the Children of the Vault show up for a fight.  But that’s next issue.  This issue, it’s more soap, and very nicely done – Mike Carey knows how to define a character quickly, and Clay Mann’s art has enough in the way of acting to back it up, as well as being entirely pleasant to look at in its own right.  I really do like the way Carey’s taking obscure background characters (like Paras and Alani) and making a virtue out of the fact that nobody else has really fleshed them out; they’re recognisable, but they’re also blank slates with which he can tell his own stories.

Bring on the comments

  1. yeah! ho! wah! says:

    thanks for the reviews! well miss you while youre gone!

    i really enjoyed “storm & gambit”. the writing is nice, but i think the art by bachalo is spectacular. its the most fun and energetic work ive seem by him in a very long time. i didnt think there were any problems with his storytelling, either.

    compare that to “namor”, which basically has exactly the same plot, yet sucks on every level. olivetti draws pretty characters, but thats the only thing this has going for it.

    x-factor, x-men legacy: soap opera done right!

    uncanny: i cant believe you prefere you prefere portacio over land! lands work is pretty bad, but at least the storytelling is clear, and there are moments of beauty between the manic grins and absurd poses. portacios work i find extremely ugly through and through, and rather hard to read. what the hell is supposed to be going on in that scene with psylocke and cecilia reyes?

  2. Michael says:

    Actually, there were only four issues of build-up to Astonishing 35. It’s just that they came out over the span of about a year, so it seems like more.

  3. Omar Karindu says:

    Fraction’s having the same problem in Iron Man right now, where he’s taken a lot of time to introduce three new engineering colleagues for Tony Stark, none of whom has a personality trait to call their own. It’s a rather atypical problem for him based on his prior work, which tended to get across a lot about the characters in a hypercompressed fashion.

  4. Lambnesio says:

    Yeah, I agree with that. I’m definitely not a Greg Land fan, but his work has gotten better of late, and Portacio’s work is really, really awful. And I definitely miss the Dodsons.

  5. Andrew J. says:

    I’m convinced that someone in the editorial hates Matt Fraction’s Uncanny as much as I do and is deliberately assigning him bad artists to kill the sales. Terry Dodson is just the exception and was only there to keep Greg Land enough time to find more photoreferences. Sadly, Land will be returning on the next arc in November.

  6. maxwell's hammer says:

    It really is the art in Uncanny that sinks it month to month. My level of interested and enjoyment has been decidedly different on every single issue that Terry Dodson drew. It can’t be a coincidence. It really is depressing, because I really want to be enjoying Uncanny a lot more than I currently am.

  7. Jack says:

    Gambit & Storm was amazing. Really. The drawings, the dialogue – it made me want to buy a monthly Gambit & Storm team-up, even. It was fun, well written and with perfect characterization for the main characters – crossover tie-ins don’t get much better than this. I wish Gambit starts appearing in Legacy again soon, because this made me want to read more about him.

    Legacy was slighty less awesome, but awesome enough. Badass Rogue and Magneto, a very interesting new character (Luz) and the first time I’ve ever cared about Paras. With enough development, I feel Paras could fill some of the roles Nightcrawler had on the X-Men – that is, if they ever let the New X-Men kids amount to something more than part of the background.

  8. chief says:

    I’m not a big fan of Greg Land, but I’ll take him over Portacio any day. This past issue was somehow even uglier then the previous one. The figures in shadow really stand out like a sore thumb. I mean seriously, it’s 2010. Do people out there still like this kind of artwork? Marvel even somehwat-sort of hyped this up like Whilce Portacio returning to Uncanny is a big deal.

    There are many talented artists out there who can keep a decent schedule. I personally would like to see Leonard Kirk on Uncanny. The guy has been producing very solid superhero work on several titles, but hasn’t had a real push on a high profile book. I think he would be a nice fit.

    Get rid of the rotating artists too. I hate when a book shifts styles so drastically so often, it makes it hard for a title to gain any momentum or identity. There’s been a lot of criticism towards the writing in Uncanny, some fair, some not, but for me the problem has been the artwork.

  9. Completely off topic – unless one longs for those days when Chris Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men took place in … Spain! 🙂

    Just wanted to say: Have a nice holiday! (It was Spain, wasn’t it?) Absolutely magnificent country – and the temperature should be more human this time of year than in high summer.

    Obviously none of us are jealous, we’d much rather be a home with our comic collexions 🙂

  10. RonG says:

    As always, it’s a treat reading your X-Axis reviews 🙂

    I did wonder, however – did you do a 2009 yeear in review?

  11. yeah! ho! wah! says:

    chief says: “Get rid of the rotating artists too. I hate when a book shifts styles so drastically so often, it makes it hard for a title to gain any momentum or identity.”

    i actually think rotating artists would be the best way to handle a monthly comic. but they should choose artists who have somewhat similar styles, eg chris bachalo & skottie young, terry dodson & paco medina, mike choi & salvador larroca. and they should let one artists draw an entire arc, instead of switching randomly, or from issue to issue, or even within one issue. (to be fair, they mostly get that right.)

  12. Arco says:

    Jason Aaron overall writes a great Logan, but these religious issues he’s trying to force on the character are really starting to bug me. That earlier story was so ridiculous even Aaron seems to admit it (by writing this, which completely counters it) but now he’s retro-actively messing up Logan and Kurt’s friendship!

    What I always loved about it was how the christian and the atheist completely accepted each other without judgement or without trying to convince each other. Now though, Aaron has tried to retcon it into Kurt trying to convert Logan all these years!

    And then he makes Logan hoist a piano up a mountain which turns out to be for no reason at all, Logan sees the sun throught the clouds and that proves Kurt was right? WTF? Seriously?

  13. Baines says:

    @Andrew J.:

    I think it is much worse than someone at Marvel intentionally trying to sink Uncanny with bad artists. I think it is someone at Marvel who actually thinks the Uncanny artists are great.

    Land, for example, does have his defenders and followers. I’ve read comments by those who don’t look particularly closely at the art, and instead praise his magazine photo-style quality. They see Land’s art as a plus to Uncanny, raising it above regular comic art.

  14. Jason Powell says:

    “This issue, the Marauders launch yet another attempt to kidnap little Nathan – which is something that happened all the time back in the 80s. ”

    I could’ve sworn it only happened once. And they succeeded!

  15. Arthur P says:

    I could’ve sworn it only happened once. And they succeeded!

    Nate was kidnapped a few more times than that? Not by the Marauders, but he was swiped by Madelyne and/or her demons, and I think there may have been a few other times as well in Louise Simonson’s X-Factor. Didn’t those London Trolls take him?

    Then there’s Apocolypse and his “Riders of the Storm” in X-Factor’s Endgame storyline, although I think that was actually in the 90s, not the 80s.

    And I really must shill for Jason’s guest blog on Remarkable. Jason wrote reviews for every single issue of Claremont’s Uncanny run (including X-Men 1-3 and assorted mini-series) and did a wonderful job. Today should actually be the last post.

    Jason’s posts fill in the gap left by Paul, who indexed and/or reviewed just about every X-Men issue except Claremont’s run!

  16. Hey, did you ever notice how All-Star Clark Kent looks like Stephen Fry?

    (Disclaimer: insomnia)


  17. Chief says:

    @ Arthur P:

    Thank you very much for that link. I wish it was a little more organized, but I’ve got some great reading to look forward to nonetheless. I’ve been dying for Paul to index Claremont’s run. But this will definitely suffice for now.

  18. Arthur P says:


    I don’t think Paul will ever get around to doing Claremont’s run. He seems to barely have enough time for the current issues! (That’s not a dig at Paul — he’s soldiered through some of the worst crap in comics. I have to admit though, his reviews for Astonishing X-Men # 3 (first series), Austen’s Holy War Uncanny issues (w/ the exploding communion wafers) and Loeb’s Wolverine issues are some of my favorite reviews ever.)

    @Paul: will we ever see those old X-Axis reviews again?

  19. AaronForever says:

    thanks for the link to the Claremont era reviews!

  20. Martin Smith says:

    Paul should do a book of his X-Axis reviews (or a collection of the best ones). Would probably be cheaper in the long term than keeping the dead site archived.

  21. The original Matt says:

    I’d buy it.

    X-axis. The collected works of Paul O’Brien – Trudging the some of the most highly regarded, and some of the worst comics in history 1966-2010.

    Only if he does the Claremont run and AoA, though.

    Still, money maker for ya, Paul!!

  22. Tom Clakrke says:

    I’d demand the review of Captain America where he became not so much scathing as borderline violent.
    The one where Cap says “My people never knew”, and Paul’s rage flows like fine molasses over every line.

  23. The original Matt says:

    Ahhhhh, is that the one with the middle eastern terrorist who attacks Middletown, USA and claims “I am …. I am hate!”??

  24. lambnesio says:

    Yes! That review was amazing! Also, the later issues of Mutant X, especially the last one, had some unbelievably funny reviews.

    “With enough development, I feel Paras could fill some of the roles Nightcrawler had on the X-Men – that is, if they ever let the New X-Men kids amount to something more than part of the background.”

    I don’t think it’s a particularly common opinion in these parts, but I’m actually crazy about a lot of these characters, and I think they have a ton of potential- especially Anole, Pixie, Elixir, X-23, Graymalkin, Bling!, Hellion, Rockslide and Armor, most of whom turn up often enough but are rarely lead characters. I also really like that the X-Men franchise features more gay characters than pretty much any other in comics, a few of whom are the younger X-Men (Northstar, Karma, Anole, Graymalkin, Bling!, Shatterstar, Rictor).

    “There are many talented artists out there who can keep a decent schedule. I personally would like to see Leonard Kirk on Uncanny. The guy has been producing very solid superhero work on several titles, but hasn’t had a real push on a high profile book. I think he would be a nice fit.”

    I agree completely. His work on the last few issues of New Mutants has been wonderful. It makes so sense for that book to have him while the parent book;s stuck with pretty much the worst artist Marvel’s got on a flagship.

  25. Pickman says:

    Which issue of Captain America was this?

  26. Pickman says:

    I think I found the one:

    O’Brien shows typical restraint when grading it. He could write a review that said “this comic burned down my house and molested my dog” and still give it a D or better underneath.

  27. lambnesio says:

    Aaaaaactually, D- was always Paul’s absolute lowest score, so he actually ranked that one as low as he could.

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