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Nov 14

The X-Axis – 14 November 2010

Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2010 by Paul in x-axis

If you’re here for the podcast, then just a reminder that we’re skipping a week, and episode 50 will be up next weekend.  (We did tell you on the last episode, but it was right at the end…)

It’s a very quiet week for the X-titles – just the two Forever titles – which is fortunate, to be honest, because I’ve not had time to read that many of this week’s books.  But here are a few things I have read…

Amazing Spider-Man #648 – The lead-off issue for the new direction, which they’re billing as “Big Time.”  Dan Slott’s been one of the writers on the book for years, but now that he’s the sole writer, he seems to be treating this as the start of an entirely new run.  It’s a slight overstatement to say that this reads like a first issue – but only in the sense that it stops short of recapping Spider-Man’s origin and spelling out who J Jonah Jameson is.  Against the background of kicking off a new Dr Octopus storyline, Slott takes us on a tour of Spider-Man’s supporting cast to remind us of what they’re currently up to, nudges a couple of characters like Marla Jameson into new roles for his new period, and sets up Peter Parker with a job that he’s actually suited for – a think tank role where he isn’t expected to work regular hours.  And that seems to be the high concept; Peter finally gets a status quo where he doesn’t have to worry about the same thing that writers have been using as fallback drama for the last thirty years.  In some ways a smart move, since all this “how can I pay the rent” stuff no longer works if readers are going to ask the obvious question “Have you considered borrowing some money from the Avengers?”  On the other hand, I vaguely recall that they tried something similar at the start of the ill-fated John Byrne run and aborted it within six months, but hopefully Slott has a clearer idea of where he’s going with it.

I slightly question the decision to go with Dr Octopus again, considering that he was the main villain in the last arc as well.  But at least that’s acknowledged in the story, and Slott does a neat job of re-establishing him as an effective mastermind.  It’s a very well-constructed story, cramming in tons of character introductions without appearing rushed, and it’s nice to see something using the extra space in a double-sized issue to deliver acres of story content.  Art comes from Humberto Ramos, and I’ve always had mixed feelings about him.  He’s certainly good with space and knows how to make all his characters look distinct, which is particularly important if Slott’s going to have this many people running around in the cast.  But there’s also an occasional awkwardness to his work; he doesn’t always have the grace you’d want in a Spider-Man artist.  Mind you, cover aside, he does much better here than I was expecting, and there are moments like Carlie answering the door or the establishing shot at Horizon Labs that he nails perfectly.  Looks like the standards are going to remain pretty high on this book, then.  Oh, and there’s also a Spider-Girl back-up strip trailing her upcoming series.  Her gimmick: she uses Twitter.  You know, that didn’t entirely work when Joe Casey did it in Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance, and something tells me it’s going to wear pretty thin if they hammer it this heavily in the actual series…

Ant-Man & Wasp #1 – First of a three-issue miniseries teaming up Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man, now the Wasp) with Eric O’Grady (the current Ant-Man created by Robert Kirkman and currently appearing in Secret Avengers).  Two characters who don’t really have much to do with one another, despite sharing the same identity, so this could easily have come across as forced.  In fact, though, it’s pretty good stuff.  Tim Seeley of Hack/Slash writes and draws, and puts together a surprisingly successful story.  It’s clearly heavily influenced by Kirkman’s Irredeemable Ant-Man series, and to some extent it picks up on plot threads from that book, such as O’Grady’s vague friendship with the Black Fox.  Seeley clearly subscribes to the original vision of this Ant-Man as somebody who’s basically just out for himself, but occasionally summons up a bit of moral courage when there really isn’t any other option that he can convince himself to live with.  Aside from a perfectly solid storyline with AIM trying to steal a macguffin, the semi-ghost of Bill Foster and a villain with loose ties to Sleepwalker, the book also gets decent mileage from Eric trying to get some respect from the cast of Avengers Academy (and failing), and sets up a promising odd-couple relationship between the two leads based on the idea that Hank can grudgingly identify with Eric as a serial failure who gets no respect but who’s at least trying to improve himself.  Oh, and like Amazing, there’s an awful lot of content in these pages.  Pacing is picking up again, it seems.  Significantly better than I thought it was going to be, and I’ll definitely be buying the rest of the series.

Knight & Squire #2 – Having spent the first issue introducing the general idea of the DCU’s pastiche British Isles, Paul Cornell spends this issue introducing the title characters themselves – one of whom lives in a castle, and one of whom lives in a nice detached house in the suburbs.  Obviously, with the series a lot depends on how much you’re willing to run with the central joke of Cornell writing a version of Britain that would have fitted in with Silver Age DC and that plays up to all sorts of ridiculous stereotypes – this is a place where people read Total Castle magazine, “incorporating Practical Fortress“.  And this month’s villains: evil right-wing Morris dancers who want to turn back the clock and make Britain pure again.  It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and good fun, so the closing panels – which seem to be trying to make some sort of point about the hidden depths of British culture – strike a bit of a false note.  Yes, that is kind of the point that Cornell was getting at, but spelling it out so explicitly in only the second issue feels wrong to me.  That aside, though, I enjoyed it a lot.

New Mutants Forever #4 – If you’re wondering what the Art Adams cover has to do with the story – well, absolutely nothing whatsoever.  It’s the penultimate issue of this miniseries, and at this point, I’ve got to say it’s not working for me.  Nova Roma was never a particularly successful concept the first time round, and while it made some sense to revisit it since it was a genuine dangling plot, Claremont isn’t really addressing the outstanding storylines.  Instead, we’re getting a downright silly story with the Red Skull, who wasn’t a New Mutants villain, and whose role in this series could politely be described as one-dimensional.  And it see Claremont retreading once again his pet themes of mind control and body modification, both of which he’s beaten into the ground by this point.  Even the script features some extraordinary clunkers.  (“Of course, should you indulge them, there will of course be consequences.”)  There’s a somewhat interesting idea about Selene being a genuine hero to the people of Nova Roma, but since the story never really reconciles it with her behaviour elsewhere, it doesn’t ring true.  Artists Al Rio and Bob McLeod actually do a decent Warlock, something that many artists struggle with, but they understandably struggle when asked to draw emoting skulls for half the book- Cypher’s big sad eyes look ridiculous when they should be plaintive, but it’s hard to see how these scenes were ever going to work.

X-Men Forever 2 #11 – We’re heading into the closing stretch, perhaps a little earlier than planned, and so Claremont goes back to the Ghost Panther subplot that was set up a little while ago.  We’re apparently supposed to assume that this is T’Challa alive after all, but since he’s never seen out of costume, it seems a safe bet that some sort of twist is coming at the end.  (Could be Logan, I guess, which would tie things up neatly.)  Dodgy codename aside, Perfect Storm makes quite a good villain as a dementedly unreasonable monarch who’s still convinced she’s the real Storm, and there’s a nicely done briefing/exposition sequence which plays to Claremont’s strengths.  Art’s on form as well, actually.  Of course, it’s terribly melodramatic, but by its nature, this is a book which can get away with that in the name of period authenticity.  The results can be hit or miss, but when Claremont focusses on the plotlines which have some genuine mystery to them – he’s spent over a year now quietly building up the subplot about which Storm is real, just like in the good old days – it works.

Bring on the comments

  1. Dave O'Neill says:

    I knew you’d bring up John Byrne and Howard Mackie sending Peter to work in the factor, and I got the same vibe as well. Slott is a huge Byrne fan, so maybe that’s part of it.

  2. Simon Jones says:

    Big Time kind of addressed something that always bugged me when you have Spider Man in a group.

    While Spider Man kind of fills the space of the ‘junior’ member of the team as a concept, it doesn’t really work in the context of the character. Given that roughly a third of the marvel universe consists of guys who want to kill him and given he’s meant to have been doing it since he was 16, it doesn’t end up making much sense.

  3. moose n squirrel says:

    I await the launch, ten years from now, of X-Men Forever Forever, the comic that answers the question, “How would Chris Claremont have continued writing X-Men Forever?”

  4. Jeff says:

    I loved Amazing 648. Couldn’t ask for much more in a Spider-Man issue.

    I don’t mind them revisiting ideas from the Mackie/Byrne run, since most people consider that a complete failure and the ideas were only half realized anyway. It seems like something that could be a lot of fun if utilized properly.

  5. Paul says:

    Oh, absolutely. It was a perfectly sensible set-up that never got off the ground. And they’ve written themselves into a corner as far as making Peter a journalist or photographer is concerned, so by all means let’s go somewhere else.

  6. Michael Aronson says:

    “I await the launch, ten years from now, of X-Men Forever Forever, the comic that answers the question, “How would Chris Claremont have continued writing X-Men Forever?””

    That’s just stupid.

    It will be called X-Men Forever And Ever. =D

  7. Ken B. says:

    one thing I wonder if Slott will address with Big Time is why Parker can be trusted to work in this high tech think tank if his last job had him being publicly outed and fired by the Mayor for doctoring a photo and lacking proper integrity.

    I mean, how can you trust his algorithms about developing some kind of super laser when he changed photos to fit his agenda?

    This might be swept under the rug, like Norah and Peter’s roommate seemingly have been, along with Frontline.

    And again, Marvel need to just stop with the little Peter/MJ twists of the knife they keep doing. MJ and Peter possibly living together? Hahahaha that’s so funny that will teach those marriage supporters!

  8. Andrew says:

    No no, surely given the popularity of sms messaging that it will be called X-men 4eva.

    Ah Peter Parker and the Kirbytech factory.

  9. Michael says:

    I always figured that when Byrne and Mackie gave Peter a steady job, they did so with the intention of yanking it away from him; their whole thing seemed to be about giving Peter a nice life for a little bit, then sending him straight to the gutter.

    If Slott intends this as the status quo going forward, then he might be able to get something out of it.

  10. ZZZ says:

    How about “X-Men Forever After”?

    @Ken B.
    I agree that, realistically, the whole photographic fraud thing should be a pretty big albatross around Peter’s neck, but I can see them not wanting to call back to it too often. It always rang a little false to me that he’d do that in the first place (Spider-Man always struck me as more of a “Character is what you do when no one’s looking” type than a “the ends justify the means” type). But I could see making a case for Peter’s new employer looking the other way on it by suggesting that half the people working in the think tank are former hackers or people who got thrown out of MIT for scamming casinos or playing outrageous high-tech pranks, so that a little photoshopping for a good cause isn’t seen as a big deal.

  11. Despite my initial excitement about X-Men Forever, personally I feel that if this is the best Claremont can do with absolutely no editorial constrains, continuity- and characterwise, then it just doesn’t excite me enough after all. His dialogue and pet themes especially feel terribly constructed at times, despite some good moments (“hit and miss” as Paul rightly describes it). I am not sad to see the series go and Claremont moving on to some new projects, perhaps something that will fit his current writing style and interests better.

    But I’ll always be grateful for all the really good X-stuff he has made and he did give it a good try with XMF.

    It just wasn’t enough for me to keep wanting to pay for it 🙂

    Never Say Forever Again 🙂

  12. Peter Adriaenssens says:

    Peter literally ended up in the gutter in that Mackie/Byrne run. And MJ was dead. Ah, comics 🙂

    Peter got into trouble about doctoring photos before, with Robbie Robertson, way back in Gerry Conway’s Spectacular run. And there too he thought he was doing a good thing (although it was much more looking out for himself than in this case).

    Ramos had a run on Spidey already with Paul Jenkins and he is often too exaggerated for his own good. If he could tone it down back to Impulse levels, it’d be just fine for Spider-Man.

    The best thing about the book is the classic 80s villain Slott’s dusting off. Why oh why did it take forever to bring him back? This guy hasn’t been properly used since before that Byrne/Mackie run! So yay Marvel for utilizing someone who’s a genuine threat to Spidey.

    Here’s to the thanksgiving issue where “kinda-sorta-step-siblings” Jonah and Peter have to share a turkey (maybe they can be handcuffed to it, haha, if they want some classic imagery 🙂

  13. Ken Kneisel says:

    Adam Warren and Warren Ellis have also used the Twitter bit before, with Galacta and Hisako respectively. The former going so far as to actually set up a real Twitter account. @Gali_girl

  14. lambnesio says:

    It’s not really playing a role in the series, but @AmadeusCho and @TheChaosKing are both twitter accounts belonging to characters in Chaos War. And they’re printing some of their tweets in the backs of the books.

  15. moose n squirrel says:

    I’m actually not thrilled at all with Slott pushing the “Peter Parker, Boy Genius” angle. I realize that aspect of the character dated back to the early Lee/Ditko issues, but c’mon – back in the sixties you couldn’t throw a stick in a Marvel book without hitting some scientific genius building a spaceship or a neutron bomb out of spare parts in his garage, and it certainly hasn’t been a consistent trait of the character. Why should it define him now?

    Sticking Spider-man in a think tank and having him invent super-gadgets for a living does two things that seriously fuck with the character: first, it removes his everyman status by explicitly casting him as a technical genius, and second, it removes his underdog status by giving him a cushy, high-paying job. It’s the “moving into Avengers Tower” problem all over again.

    It’s true that every possible decent story with Spider-man as a photographer has probably been exhausted, but that’s probably because every possible decent story with the character of Spider-man has been exhausted. This is a character who’s been around for half a century now; like Batman, Superman, and the rest of them, there’s not much more to do than recycle old material at this point.

  16. Cory says:

    I don’t think they necessarily needed to recycle old plots to keep Peter as an everyman or an underdog. In fact, I think his gig as a substitute/part-time/full-time science teacher back in his old high school was a perfect fit and natural advancement for the character. Sure, it’s hard for Pete to have a 9 to 5 (or maybe it’s 7 to 3) job with the crazy way of the world, but I think plenty of stories could allow for it. We’ll just say super-villains are late risers. 😉

  17. While Spider Man kind of fills the space of the ‘junior’ member of the team as a concept, it doesn’t really work in the context of the character. Given that roughly a third of the marvel universe consists of guys who want to kill him and given he’s meant to have been doing it since he was 16, it doesn’t end up making much sense.

    This is because Bendis writes him as if he’s the Ultimate incarnation, and always has done, so the Spider-Man we see in the Avengers is, for all intents and purposes, sixteen.

    I think his gig as a substitute/part-time/full-time science teacher back in his old high school was a perfect fit and natural advancement for the character.

    Agreed. Taking him back to his roots without going as far as, for example, parachuting in a character with no previous association with Spider-Man in order to push the cosmic reset button. Or something.


    The teaching position was one of the best things they did with the character, and it’s a shame we didn’t see more of it.

  18. Hang on, the antagonist in one of their big event stories has a Twitter account? Is this reflected in the story at all? Because having the Chaos King strutting about, plotting the downfall of the Marvel Universe while at the same time Tweeting from his Android is all kinds of nextwave-brilliant.

  19. Baines says:

    Blogging about his crimes didn’t pay off for Dr. Horrible.

  20. Peter as a teacher is a nice idea in theory until you realise there’s absolutely no way he can really justify to his employers bunking off at all hours to be Spider-Man and turning up with bruises and injuries every other week.

  21. Paul says:

    Agreed, it strains credibility too far. Really, if you’re going to go with the old-fashioned dual identity, the character needs a job which at least seems flexible if you squint enough. Which is why so many characters with dual identities are either self-employed or independently wealthy.

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