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Nov 7

The X-Axis – 7 November 2010

Posted on Sunday, November 7, 2010 by Paul in x-axis

It’s getting late, there’s a lot to review, let’s get down to it.  This week’s X-books include the first issues of Generation Hope and X-Men: To Serve and Protect, plus Wolverine #3 and, if you squint a bit, Namor #3.  But first…

Amazing Spider-Man #647 – This is a triple-sized anthology issue, wrapping up the “Brand New Day” period, and so the five dollar price tag is pretty reasonable.  Well, I say the “Brand New Day” period.  They actually stopped using that tag months ago, and there’s something a bit contrived about dusting it off now.  But this issue does mark the end of the thrice-monthly format and the team of writers, so there’s some legitimacy when it plays the “end of an era” card.  In plot terms, this is a mixture of epilogue and tying up of loose ends, with a couple of throwaway elements to set up future stories.  So we’ve got Vin Gonzales getting out of jail, Harry Osborn moving on, and Mary Jane showing up again to give her blessing to Carlie Cooper as the new love interest.  Which some people won’t much care for, and in a sense, the fact that the creators still feel the need to do it can be seen as a demonstration that the reboot failed to extricate Peter from his marriage effectively.

But while the purists may hate it, I kind of like Carlie, and to be honest, I’d rather read about her than yet another trudge round the Peter/MJ stuff, so it’s all fine by me.  Cycling the B-list supporting characters is one of the ways you can keep a long-running franchise fresh, after all.  Fred Van Lente and Max Fiumara’s lead story focusses on the Carlie, Vin and Norman subplots – which are the important bits – before everyone settles down to having a last fling with Spider-Man.  Actually, Zeb Wells’ contribution is a Harry/Vin short which seems to be setting up a future story direction (and quite effectively too), but Bob Gale comes back for a straightforward if implausible Spider-Man-vs-City Hall story, while Joe Kelly brings along his I Kill Giants collaborator JM Ken Niimura to say a heartfelt goodbye to his pet supporting character Norah Winter.  Marc Guggenheim and Graham Nolan’s Flash Thompson short is maybe a little too earnest for its own good but has a nice central idea and draws a line under another minor subplot.  Finally, Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente do a fun piece about a ridiculously minor background character from 101 issues ago, and editor Steven Wacker nobly devotes a fair chunk of the letters page to readers confirming that, yes, they still think the whole Brand New Day thing was a mistake.  Frankly, while I”m on Wacker’s side and I think the quality of stories has shot up under his control, it’s still a pleasant change to see a Marvel editor taking complaints head on and acting like a grown-up.  Overall, a pretty solid package, and a worthwhile ending to a phase of the title’s history which, overall, deserves to be judged a success.

Generation Hope #1 – Kieron Gillen and Salvador Espin launch the newest X-book – but while most ongoing titles seem to be more or less thrown out there, this one has been launched the old-fashioned way.  It’s had a storyline in Uncanny to springboard from; in Hope, it’s got a long-time supporting player graduating to a lead role at last; and as a book about the first new mutants to come along in years, it’s theoretically central to the overall direction of the line.  So aside from all the hype, Marvel have made a persuasive case for thinking that this is an important series because of the story content, and I’ll be interested to see whether it does any better than other recent spin-off titles as a result.

The “Five Lights” arc in Uncanny introduced four of the new mutants, and this issue picks up with the group arriving in Japan to complete the set.  Obviously that would be a bit too straightforward, and so Kenji Uedo turns out to be a bad guy.  Or, to be fair, possibly just driven mad by his powers emerging – we’ll have to see.  My main reservation about “Five Lights” was that (Teon aside) the characters got introduced as panicky screamy types, and their individual personalities didn’t come across very strongly.  As I’d hoped, Gillen sorts that out pretty quickly, giving each character a few pages to narrate so that they can be sketched out a little more fully.  Teon just gets a page, but it only takes a few fight/flight captions to get the point. Laurie’s the diligent middle class student yanked out of her comfort zone; Gabriel’s trying to stay upbeat even though he has a nasty feeling his powers come with a crippling downside; Idie is a bit like Rahne Sinclair in her early appearances; and Hope… well, Hope is busy growing into her messiah role and telling everyone what to do, so she’s the only main character who doesn’t get her own monologue, which surely isn’t coincidence.  (Even Kenji gets one, and he’s the bad guy.)

Hitherto, the big problem with Hope has been the gulf between her rather generic “plucky young girl” personality and her theoretically enormous importance to the plot.   Over the last few months, other writers seem to have  been trying to turn that to their advantage by playing up the idea that Hope  feels dwarfed by the expectations everyone has for her, and building around that.  Gillen seems to be taking a different tack here, with Hope as a soldier who’s just found her mission – an interesting idea, since it suggests she sees the rest of the group as something that gives her own life meaning, and might not be entirely open to any other interpretations.  I can’t say it reads quite like other versions of the character, but I can see potential there.

As a story, it’s a fairly straightforward “heroes investigate a thingy and it all goes wrong” affair, but that’s fine, because it’s being used as a backdrop to introduce the characters – and the characters seem interesting enough so far.  There are issues; some of the monologues feel like they’re reaching a bit to link in with the “light” theme, and I still can’t help feeling that none of the characters seem to be expressing even basic concern for poor Teon, who they surely ought to be treating as somebody in need of major psychiatric help.  And to be honest, I’m still a bit vague about what Laurie and Teon’s powers actually are.  Still, lots of interesting ideas here, and Salvador Espin’s artwork keeps up a pretty high standard (though his Wolverine seems a bit tentative to me).  A promising start.

Namor: the First Mutant #3 – Another “Curse of the Mutants” tie-in, though it’s more or less abandoned that story in favour of a more or less unrelated war between Atlanteans and underwater vampires.  Incidentally, the recap page could really have done with some proof-reading.  Not only does it mis-spell the name “Aqueos” twice, it has Namor sitting on a “thrown”.  Anyway, Namor leads his plucky band of warriors into the vampire city to perform the arbitrary ritual that will destroy them all.  You know the sort of thing.  There’s a flashback near the beginning of the issue drawn by a fill-in artist, Fernando Blanco, and I’m afraid it only serves to emphasise the leaden qualities of the rest of the book.  Blanco’s at least going for a sense of submersion and his pages remember to include some backgrounds; for much of the rest of the time, we’re back to puffy figures floating in space, sometimes swimming, sometimes just deciding to stand around for no reason.  The art is really a major problem for me with this book.  As for the story – it holds together adequately, but it often feels forced when random magical requirements are dictating the plot, and if you can’t figure out how Namor’s going to get around the “blood of a king” requirement, you’re really not trying very hard.

Scarlet #3 – In which Scarlet takes her “war on corruption” to the police… without much subtlety.  With this book, much depends on how far you take it at face value.  If you do, it has a lot of problems – a lead character with a bizarre crusade, who apparently has no friends of her own to turn to, and instead opts for her dead ex-boyfriend’s best mate.  The other interpretation, of course, is that Scarlet is insane and somewhere in the future the unreliable narrator card will be played in a big way.  I still tend to suspect it’s the latter and so I’m giving Bendis the benefit of the doubt that the things which don’t entirely make sense weren’t supposed to make sense.  Alex Maleev’s art is, for the most part, visually arresting stuff – though there are a couple of exterior scenes where the source material comes through awkwardly – pages 5 and 6 give the unfortunate impression of a 1980s photo-comic shoved through a Photoshop filter, but that’s a lapse.  An interesting book – and the plot does advance in a major way in this issue – but it’s still hard to be sure whether we’re reading a well thought out story or a train wreck in waiting.

Superboy #1 – I don’t really have much interest in Superboy, but I was curious to see what Jeff Lemire would do with the character, since he seemed an unlikely choice for any superhero book.  It turns out he’s perfectly at home; the book manages to strike a balance between driving the plot forward and holding on to a sense of laid-back space.  Okay, there’s a page with a really weird circular panel layout that doesn’t work at all, and even readers inured to Clark Kent’s glasses could be forgiven for wondering how “wearing a different T-shirt” can possibly constitute a secret identity, even for the ever-slow people of Smallville. But on the whole, it’s a well paced, enjoyable story.  I might give it another couple of issues.

Wolverine #3 – Wolverine is still in hell, and the Devil is still trying to break his spirit.  Meanwhile, on Earth, the demon possessing his body is causing more trouble, and his girlfriend has teamed up with Mystique, Hellstorm and the Ghost Rider to get him back.  It should go without saying that this is all terribly silly, but that’s been part of the appeal of Jason Aaron’s stories for the character – a willingness to push things to the point of ridiculousness while playing them dead straight, and an ability to somehow hold on to a core of genuine drama at the same time.  This is a story that sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, yet somehow Aaron is getting away with it.  The back-up strip – which is really a device to advance a subplot without cutting away from the main action – has some lovely art by Michael Gaydos, and sets up a nicely melodramatic villain behind it all.

X-Men: To Serve and Protect #1 – Another anthology title, this one led by a Rockslide & Anole serial by Chris Yost and Derec Donovan in which the odd couple decide to have a go at being proper superheroes and… well, wandering around San Francisco at night hoping to stumble upon muggers, basically.  It’s a simple idea, but there’s a nice chemistry between the two of them, and it’s good to see something being done with Rockslide, a hugely entertaining character who seems to have entered limbo when Young X-Men got axed.  The execution could be subtler, but hey, it’s Rockslide.  James Asmus and Jon Buran’s “Creature Comforts” is an 8-page short with Emma Frost taking on the Mandrill, which doesn’t really do a great deal for me.  I’ve never much cared for the Mandrill, a villain firmly in the “What were they thinking?” file, but if you play him dead straight I suppose he’s potentially somewhat creepy.  Asmus more or less treats him as a throwaway comedy villain (dubious, when you’re dealing with a character who’s basically a rapist) and seems to think he’s making some sort of point about body image, and, er, no.  Brian Reed and Pepe Larraz deliver a Cypher short which tries to follow Zeb Wells’ take on the character but strains the “everything is a language” idea a bit far for my tastes; there’s something in the idea that the city “speaks” through its traffic patterns and so forth, but this doesn’t really get to grips with that idea well enough to sell it.  Finally, Joshua Hale and James Harren offer an orgy of terribly French accents as Fantomex takes on Batroc the Leaper – cheerfully ridiculous, and it works.  Hit and miss, then, which is par for the course with these anthologies.

Bring on the comments

  1. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    I almost started to get really annoyed with the idea of yet another X-Men anthology book, but then a thought occured to me…

    The frustrating thing about the old X-Men Unlimited series was that they were mostly just a bunch of crap throw-away material that was relevant to absolutely nothing. All these new anthologies are basically the same thing, with the exception that each individual series kinda sorta has a tenuous theme (X-Men go their seperate ways / vampires / adventures in San Francisco / etc.). When i subsequently started thinking of these mini’s as the newest version of X-Men Unlimited, I actually found I enjoyed them a bit more.

    Yes, there’s still the pretty shakey good story to bad story ratio, but I don’t remember the old Unlimited series consisently offering anything as entertaining as the Rockslide/Anole team-up, or the Vampire Whale story, or the Fantomex vs. Batroc nonsense. Those are some pretty good stories, and I’m surprised to find that I’m actually glad I bought them. Hmm.

  2. Didn’t someone predict the other week that the last of the five lights would be a villain? Something about a DC crossover in which exactly the same thing happened?

  3. Ah yes, ZZZ last week:

    I have a horrible feeling that “Generation Hope” is shaping up to be too reminiscent of DC’s “New Guardians” plotline, in which a ridiculously powerful woman who was tied into the events of the company’s recent big event was tasked with watching over a group of people gathered from around the globe who had been given powers by said event making them “the next step in evolution.” If “Generation Hope” follows the same pattern, the final “Light” will be a villain.

    ZZZ wins!

  4. Dave O'Neill says:

    I ended up reading, then buying X-Men Serve and Protect, on the basis of the Rockslide/Anole story alone, which I thought was fantastic. Admittedly, I’ve become a sucker for Marvel’s goofy anthology books, but they are a great pairing, and the central idea is great.

  5. yeah! ho! wah! says:

    i found “the five lights” to be the worst thing fraction has written for uncanny so far, and his run hasnt exactly been a success. but generation hope is actually quite decent.

    yeah, the characters are mostly familiar – gabriel is strong guy, laurie is husk, idie is wolfsbane, and teon is wild child – but there is still plenty of time to flesh those guys out.

    i think teons powers are supposed to be those vague “enhanced senses, reflexes, strength, speed” powers, like warpath or wolfsbane. only, he also has the mind of an animal. im not sure about lauries powers, i think so far weve only seen her fly.

    hope reads a little like the recent interpretation of cyclops to me – which makes sense, since she was raised by the man who was raised by cyclops. her turning on rogue surprised me, it gives her some edge. i like it.

    love the art.

  6. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    Fraction’s “Five Lights” has been far from his best work, but I still argue that most of his run seems a lot worse than it actually is because of the piss-poor artwork from Land and now Portacio.

    It’s amazing how much more satisfying some of the individual chapters have been when drawn by Terry Dodson.

  7. clay says:

    I’m really going to miss the Spidy Brain Trust. Slott is great, of course, but I think the combination of different writers really upped everyone’s game. Hopefully Waid, van Lente, Wells, etc. can do some side projects or miniseries.

    Also, they had some incredible art in the BND era. Even the weakest story (OMIT) had top notch art. I’m going to miss that, too. Thank goodness they’re keeping Marcos Martin. (I’ve never been sold on Humberto Ramos.)

    Also, and this may sound silly, but I’m disappointed that Wacker won’t continue with the letter column. I always found them fun to read. All in all, an excellent era of Spider-Man, with month-to-month consistency not seen since… I guess when JMS first came on ASM, and Paul Jenkins was on PP:SM.

    Speaking of Fred van Lente, Taskmaster is all kinds of awesome.

  8. Jeff says:

    I thought that Spider-Man issue was really successful as a wrap up and I agree with Paul about Carlie as a new love interest. I think she will be fine. Fiumura’s artwork on the main story was really great, too.

    Excited for Big Time, too. It will be interesting to have Spider-Man being successful as the status quo. I don’t think we’ve seen that before and I think it sounds like an interesting idea. Plus Dan Slott was born to write Spidey.

  9. Ken B. says:

    Steve Wacker may be nice in the letters pages, but when it comes to the way he acts on message boards like at CBR, he comes off as bad as Brevoort does half the time. Strawmen galore.

    And this is the third time in the past 3 months they have had MJ tell Peter that she isn’t the one for him and directing her at Carlie, it just reeks of the creative teams thinking “this will mean they HAVE to like her!”

  10. Michael says:

    No we don’t.

  11. Michael says:

    Snark aside, the constant attempts to “legitimize” Carlie Cooper are a bad move, creatively. They imply a lack of faith in the character. I say, let her stand or fail on her own merits, instead of trying to coddle the audience with continuity sops.

  12. Mike says:

    What on god’s earth was Gale’s ham-fisted anti-union tale in Spider-Man supposed to be about? I’ve supported the guy through some pretty weak Spidey stories because of some leftover BttF goodwill, but that was too much to stomach.

  13. Chris says:

    What is Hope’s power anyway? It’s kinda of felt like “we need to make her all powerful to suggest the Phoenix, but then she’s just 16 so let’s tone it down.” Would love to see a straight out description on her.

    Paul, you originally said that BND would be a success sales wise if the thrice monthly release schedule numbers stayed above what Amazing, Web and Peter Parker (?) before this experiment began. Any final analysis on the numbers?

  14. “Snark aside, the constant attempts to “legitimize” Carlie Cooper are a bad move, creatively. They imply a lack of faith in the character.”

    Indeed. It’s the whole showing-versus-telling argument. They need to stop having other characters tell us how great she is and actually show us through dialogue.

  15. […] McElhatton, Read About Comics. Paul O’Brien, The X-Axis. Jesse Schedeen, […]

  16. Aaron Thall says:

    From what I see, Hope is just Synch with breasts, hair, and a lighter complexion.

  17. Jack says:

    Well, the spidey brain trust won’t be missed. In fact, for me, the only thing this whole BND fiasco has accomplished is to make me stop caring about the character. It’s not about the wedding, the stories were just… too simple. In the worst way possible, lacking nuance or atmosphere. It’s just “let’s throw these new characters at the readers without any thought whatsoever and see what sticks”.

    Ultimate Spidey’s the one for me now, it seems.

  18. I’d like to second a general praise for some of the excellent art that’s come out of the Brain Trust era. My first exposure to Chris Bachalo, for example, was the very tail end of his art work of his Generation X run. In comparison to that especially, his art in the New York Blizzard and “Shed” arcs has been amazing.

  19. Wow, I’d hadn’t realised that they’d done 101 issues in the Brain Trust era. It only seems like yesterday that it was starting up.
    Have they actually said why they’re dropping down to a Slott fortnightly book from thrice-monthly with various creators? I can see why they’d reduce the number of issues a month, but not why they’re ditching the Brain Trust in favour of one writer. I like Slott, but I also really quite liked the work of Waid, Wells and Kelly.
    And I echo the sentiments above about Humberto Ramos. I wish they’d picked someone else to round out the new art team.

  20. Tim O'Neil says:

    I’ve always thought that Rockslide would make great stunt casting for an Avengers book, since he’s one of the few X-characters who seem genuinely excited in being a capitol-S “Super Hero” and not just another soldier in Cyclops mutant army.

  21. lambnesio says:

    I like the point Maxwell’s Hammer made about the recent X-Men anthologies as more successful versions of X-Men Unlimited, and I definitely do think the quality has been relatively high. I remember not being disappointed by any single issue of the Nation X anthology, which was kind of cool. And I definitely like seeing some of the X-kids getting the spotlight wherever that happens. Anole and Rockslide are both great characters.

    As for Hope, we have seen a “straight description” or two of her powers, most recently in the back of Generation Hope. She’s able to stabilize new mutants’ powers, and she “can do anything any mutant can do, but to the nth degree.” She’s manifested the Phoenix raptor, but we haven’t seen more than that.

    And I’m going to go ahead and agree that Humberto Ramos is never really the right choice.

  22. Shadowkurt says:

    Hope’s powers (shown so far) fall into two categories:

    A) She can mimic the powers of any other mutants in the vicinity, which is actually quite similar to what Calvin Rankin does. She does not seem to be able to switch it on and off willingly.

    B) If any other mutant’s powers are going out of control, a touch by Hope cancels the side-effects and lets him/her regain control (first used on Rogue when a baby, later on the Lights). This also creates a kind of a presence of Hope in their minds (Rogue knew when she returned, Teon considers her his master etc.). Again, Hope seems to do it by instinct.

    C) Her connection to the Phoenix is still unrevealed and part of her mystery, but it may just have been a case of power A, meaning the Phoenix was within reach of her mimicking range. We’ll know sometime…

  23. lambnesio says:

    Actually, I don’t think she does need to be in range at all. According to the Hope bio at the back of Generation Hope #1, as well as the comment Prodigy made about her during Messiah Complex, it looks like she’s able to use any living mutant’s power.

    As for the Phoenix force, it fled from the Stepford Cuckoos, Rachel Grey and that one sword the moment her powers activated, so it seems safe to assume that she is possessing it.

  24. Argus says:

    Regarding Hope, I bet they haven’t planned out where it will go yet. Which worries me. Also, mimicking or fixing others powers seems a bit too generic, or deus ex machina at times to me. They need to build her up in some way, then kill her off, as really there’s nowhere else for her to go. Or else she’ll flounder around for years, kind of like Cable has done.

    Also, by the by,

    “No comic cracked the 100,000-copy mark in the direct market in October, with the top title, Marvel’s Uncanny X-Force #1, selling an estimated 96,500 copies”


  25. yeah! ho! wah! says:

    about hope and her powers: power mimicry isnt exactly exciting (mimic, rogue, synch), but when it first manifested during 2nd coming, i thought it was nice in a symbolic way, since hope is supposed to be the key to the survival of the entire mutant race. but they need to power her down if they want to make her workable as a character.

    and im pleasantly surprised that the scene with rogue and baby hope at the end of messiah complex actually makes sense now. i had assumend it was just a lazy deus ex machina. wether it was planned ahead or not, its nice if things work out that way.

  26. Suzene says:

    I think one reason the anthology books may be somewhat better received than the old Unlimited series is that Unlimited was generally seen as superfluous — who cared if there was another story about Storm or Beast out when they were getting face-time in the regular book? Since Utopia/Nation X, though, the book has been something of a crowded, plot-driven mess, and the only place where certain characters are going to get any development at all are in these short stories.

  27. lambnesio says:

    “Regarding Hope, I bet they haven’t planned out where it will go yet. Which worries me.”

    Yikes. I hope not. I know the X-books have seen a ton of that- House of M, Onslaught, Mr. Sinister, Apocalypse… But as far as Hope goes, I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence of poor planning.

    “and im pleasantly surprised that the scene with rogue and baby hope at the end of messiah complex actually makes sense now. i had assumend it was just a lazy deus ex machina. wether it was planned ahead or not, its nice if things work out that way.”

    I agree completely- it hadn’t occurred to me. It also makes me wonder whether Rogue’s relationship with Hope was affected by that in a way she doesn’t realize.

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