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Nov 21

The X-Axis – 21 November 2010

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

We’ve got tons of content on the blog this weekend.  The double-length episode 50 of House to Astonish will probably go up more or less while I’m writing this, and check further down the blog for another music post and for a preview of tonight’s Survivor Series show.

Oh, and I’ve finally got around this week to listening to the Tom vs Aquaman podcast, which is basically recaps of Aquaman stories from the Silver Age.  And it’s awesome, so I take this opportunity to endorse it for your relatively-bitesize listening pleasure.

This week’s X-books include Daken, X-23, X-Factor and adjective-free X-Men, and there’s also a bunch of debut issues and an anniversary.  So…

Batman Incorporated #1 – Check the podcast for more discussion of this.  But this is the launch issue of Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s new ongoing Batman title, with a very odd and potentially interesting concept.  As I understand it, Bruce Wayne is back from the dead, and he’s decided that he wants to expand the Batman brand.  So he’s going to have, well, franchised Batmen all over the world.  On one level, it’s a neat device to keep Dick Grayson in the Batman role, as the franchised Batman of Gotham.  It’s also a seemingly ludicrous idea which, on further reflection is still ludicrous but potentially interesting.  Batman is a substantial real-world brand, and the whole “dress as a bat to intimidate criminals” thing means that even in story, Bruce Wayne conceived the identity as a branding exercise.  Of course, spawning hundreds of Batmen could dilute the brand, but you can cover that in the story.  So it’s a weird idea but one that could work.

This first issue, though, doesn’t really do anything much with that concept.  It starts off with Batman (well, Batman Prime) and Catwoman heading to Japan to try and recruit local vigilante Mr Unknown as the local Batman.  But when they show up, Mr Unknown is already dead at the hands of local villain Lord Death Man – an awesomely garbled name, lifted from a genuine Batman licensed manga, as I understand it – and so they’ve got to fight him instead.  Looks like Unknown’s sidekick is going to end up as the Japanese Batman – if only because there are no other candidates around – but that’s not really the focus of this first issue.

It’s a perfectly solid springboard for a Batman story, and if you can live with the cheesecake, Paquette’s a good artist.  He does a great job with Lord Death Man and his henchmen, who are if anything slightly creepier for their costumes having a subtly homemade feel to them.  It just doesn’t really do anything with the “Batman Incorporated” concept, which is really used as little more than a plot device springboard to get the hero to Japan.    It doesn’t even really explain why Batman’s started this franchising programme – the book clearly assumes that you’ve been reading other Batman titles, which is a real alarm bell about how self-contained this book is likely to be.  Anyway, a superior Batman story, but not one that really gets into the potential of the premise.

Daken: Dark Wolverine #3 / X-23 #3 – I’ll take these two together, because they really have nothing much in common.  And that’s telling in itself, because these issues are both notionally part of the “Wolverine Goes To Hell” crossover.

You can see what Marvel were thinking.  Relaunch the Wolverine titles, run a major storyline in Wolverine itself, and get Daken and X-23 to link in for their first storylines.  In theory this sounds as if it ought to help the satellite books.  But the problem is that the writers – Marjorie Liu solo on X-23 and working with Daniel Way on Daken – really want to kickstart their own stories and set the tone for their own books.  And those stories don’t actually have anything to do with “Wolverine Goes To Hell”.  So we’ve ended up with a couple of  three-part stories both of which end up with a fairly sensible springboard for future plots, but get there in a tortuously roundabout way via a crossover they don’t actually want to be part of.

Daken turns out to have something promising in mind.  Inspired by Romulus, Daken wants to drop off the map and set himself up as a manipulative behind-the-scenes figure.  There could be something in that.  It’s particularly nice to see the book hark back to its first storyline from the Dark Reign period, which was easily the strongest to date.  But the story it really wants to tell is simply about Daken faking his own death.  Working in the Red Right Hand and a demonic Wolverine impostor is just clutter in the greater scheme of things, and does little to help the book.  The other problem is that the book retains its tendency towards sixth-form pretentiousness.  I mean, just look at the recap page.  “Daken aligns with Mystique, taking the mutant out to dinner while enjoying a blossoming relationship based on their shared moral ambiguity and mutual desire to watch the world burn.”  Thuddingly clumsy use of “the mutant” instead of “her” aside, shouldn’t alarm bells be ringing when your plot recap includes gunk like that?

X-23, meanwhile, is trying to do a story where Laura is reassured that she does have a “true” personality in there beneath all the brainwashing she went through; she thinks the X-Men have predetermined ideas about her role that won’t give her space to develop; and so she’s striking out on her own on a voyage-of-discovery road trip.  All of that is perfectly sound as a direction for the series – and it’s worth noting that X-23 doesn’t share the pseudy tendencies of its sister title.  But again, trying to link it to an unrelated crossover just confuses matters.  This didn’t need a story about X-23 being taken to a dreamworld version of hell – there’s something to be done with X-23 learning from the example of Wolverine as a similar character, but this plot doesn’t really allow for that either.  And I could really live without spirit guides and symbolic points of light, something which takes X-23’s internal struggles far too literally.

And yet…  Neither of these stories really worked, but both of them also seem to be taking their respective series in the right direction.  Leaving aside Daken‘s tendency to lapse into pretentiousness, the theme here seems to be opening arcs with the right idea struggling to incorporate plot elements that are really just a distraction.  But then at the end of the day they both managed to convince me they could be going somewhere worthwhile, which is perhaps the bottom line.

Osborn #1 – This is a five-issue miniseries about Norman Osborn in jail, and to judge from the “Big Time” logo in the corner of the cover, I guess they’re folding him back into the Spider-Man cast now that the “Dark Reign” thing is behind us.  The issue also seems to pick up on the “goblin cult” subplot from Amazing.  But in tone, it’s very different from what you might expect; instead of getting bogged down in continuity, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s story focuses more on the politicians wondering what the hell they’re going to do with this guy, and on the eccentric-to-demented inmates of the top secret prison where he’s being held.  It’s a bit Vertigo, actually, and in a good way.  It also makes a pretty fair case for why they wouldn’t just stick Osborn on trial for treason – they’re worried he’d get acquitted on the grounds of insanity, which actually makes some sense.  Osborn himself isn’t the major character, so much as the focus of attention for the rest of the cast – though the story does a good job of selling the idea that Osborn still thinks he was in the right.  There’s a back-up strip by Warren Ellis and Jamie McKelvie, which looks like it’s going to be a series of interviews with the other prison inmates, all of whom are newly created characters.  To be honest, I was half expecting this to be a schedule-filling effort wringing the last drops from “Dark Reign”, but this has got a story to tell and a pretty strong voice of its own.  Much better than I was expecting, and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it.

Spider-Girl #1 – See the podcast for loads on this.  The summary version: in this latest revamp of Arana, Paul Tobin has wisely jettisoned all the mystical material from the original concept, and taken the simpler approach that Anya is a low-powered, street-level rookie hero on the very lowest foothills of the Marvel Universe.  While the big guns are taking on global threats, she’s trying to stop the looters.  And so forth.  Keeping the idea that Anya’s father approves of her career, the book rather bizarrely shoehorns in the previously unmentioned idea that he’s a close friend of the Fantastic Four – really quite odd if you’ve read their earlier stories, but then very few people have, I suppose.  This first issue is more an exercise in introducing the cast and setting up the rookie-underdog theme, and doesn’t really get the plot underway.  But it sets a nice tone for all that, and it’s thankfully light on ties to notional parent title Amazing Spider-Man.  (By which I mean: it doesn’t seem to have any at all.)  Clayton Henry’s art steers clear of cheesecake altogether and gets the tone nicely.  There’s a back-up strip drawn by Dean Haspiel, with Anya visiting the Fantastic Four when she was about eight – really quite cute.  All told, it’s got very little to do with any previous incarnation of this character, but in most cases the changes are clearly for the best.  Light on plot, bit of a quick read, but likeable.

Thunderbolts #150 – The anniversary issue guest stars the original Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, so that the Thunderbolts can take on the Avengers in a botched jailbreak attempt.  Kind of an odd story; trying to break out entirely doesn’t really seem to fit Juggernaut’s character from the last few years, and while it’s easier to believe from Ghost, a lot of the characters in this story seem to be switching attitude instantaneously, in a way that doesn’t quite ring true for me.  I like the general idea of this story, it’s just the details that seem a bit off.  But the bit with the frog is wonderful (I’ll avoid spoilers), and there’s something strangely appealing about Kev Walker’s blocky art.  There’s also a reprint of the whole first issue – which was double sized, so there’s a chunk of your five dollars right there, but if you haven’t read it in a while, it’s a nice reminder of one of Kurt Busiek’s more effective swerve endings.

X-Factor #211 – Back to the Las Vegas storyline.  It’s mostly an action issue with the group fighting, well, zombie vikings in Las Vegas.  There’s a subplot bit with Hela and Pip, but yeah, mostly fighting.  Thor shows up at the end, and naturally the dialogue’s good – it’s Peter David, after all – but given that this storyline is already three months in, it seems like it should have made a bit more progress this issue.  What’s there is fine but the pacing could stand to pick up.

X-Men #5 – And finally for this week, “Curse of the Mutants” continues.  In this issue: fighting!  It’s mutants versus an army of vampires, and, uh, yeah, it’s the issue where the mutants face an army of vampires.  But fair enough, we’ve spent four issues building this up, and this issue does get the big fight out of the way so that next issue can deal with Xarus.  The pacing’s fine so far as that goes.  The fight itself – well, there are a couple of good ideas in there.  There’s a lovely throwaway scene with Iceman which is perhaps my favourite panel of the week, and a good use of the X-Men’s overextended cast by having Cyclops put together a team comprised entirely of the ones who can’t be bitten.  On the other hand, the fight itself doesn’t really hang together for me – it kind of depends on you buying into the idea that the vampire attack falls apart simply because they lose Wolverine, and with an entire army on each side, it’s hard to believe that he makes that much difference.  Especially since the Atlanteans have to fight off the undersea contingent too.  Easily demoralised, these vampires.  Still, there are a couple of really good moments in here, and while the overall story is fluff, it’s still quite readable.

(Edited to correct the title of Batman Incorporated…)

Bring on the comments

  1. Jonny says:

    Psst, Paul, its not batman confidential 1 😉

    Good to see Osborn and Batman get positives from you, I get my comics in a monthly bundle so I’m really looking forward to those two come end of month.

  2. Steve says:

    Um, shouldn’t that be Batman Incorporated, not Batman Confidential?

  3. Suzene says:

    I agree with the fight scene in X-Men #5; a vampire army trying to invade Utopia should be in for a massive stomping with or without Wolverine, and it was a bit of an anti-climax. I’d have liked to have seen more of the X-Men actually functioning as a formidable army with inventive use of powers and tactics rather than it more or less coming down to who’s holding Logan’s leash.

  4. yeah! ho! wah! says:

    i had exactly the same thoughts about both x-factor and x-men.

    x-factor is always a breezy read – and shatterstar is quickly becoming my favourite character, him hitting on thor was priceless – but the story is starting to run out of steam.

    i also liked the unbitable team and holy iceman, but much more could have been done with the fight. its almost like x-men gets the details right (and has consistently good art), but no ideas; meanwhile, uncanny has the right ideas but gets the details wrong (and frequently has terrible art)

  5. Lord Death Man is the Japanese version of Death Man, who appeared in the US Batman comics first, back in the 60’s. He got some recent attention as a result of the Bat-Manga artbook/reprint thingie which came out a couple of years ago. I’m a little surprised that Morrison went for the least obscure version of the character.

  6. Mike says:

    Completely bored with the current arc in X-Factor, but tuning in for the subplots. One thing that bothers me though is the art – we seem to switch artists each month, or every other month. The book feels like it’s literally drawn by whomever doesn’t have work that month in Marvel’s training school and can get it out on time. Sadly, it goes from okay to decent to pretty good – what I can’t understand is why, when we get pretty good (as we did three or four months ago), the guy never comes back.

  7. JD says:

    It kinda bugged me in X-Men #5 how Armor was only armoured-up in one panel of the whole fight, which looks really stupid. A shame, because I liked the ideas of the non-biteable squad and Iceman’s special preparations.

  8. Ken B. says:

    The thing about the new X-Men series is that, having read #1, then skipping out until #5 (which I was inclined to buy because of the novelty of Iceman and Cyclops team in the online preview), I felt like I missed nothing between the issues. The issue was rather good if a bit underwhelming in the actual fight, but that’s never a good sign when you can skip #2-4 and not worry about it, almost an odd connection to the idea that any story should be easily accessible, especially in this day and age of issues being labeled as part ____ of the overall arc.

  9. ZZZ says:

    To be fair, it’s not that nothing happend in X-Men 2-4, it’s that nothing happened that you can’t figure out from seeing the end result.

    If memory serves, issue 1 has Xarus outlining his plot, Dracula dead, and Jubilee getting splattered with stuff that makes her vampire-inclined. Issue 5 has vampire Jubilee as Xarus’s henchgirl, vampire Wolverine, Blade on the X-Men’s side, and Dracula back to being undead rather than just plain dead.

    Any reasonably intelligent person can connect the dots – Jubilee and Wolverine become vampires, Blade shows up, Dracula comes back – but the same can be of the first and last parts of most series. You can easily see what happened; if you don’t necessarily know how it happened, you can at least take it on faith that it did (for example, if you didn’t see the issue where Cyclops sent Wolverine out to find Jubilee, you wouldn’t know that the trump card he plays to get Wolverine back was heavily (perhaps too heavily) foreshadowed, but you don’t need to know that to accept that Cyclops can do what he does).

  10. yeah! ho! wah! says:

    i get your point, zzz, but i have to side with ken on this one. nothing happens in x-men. the plot is very simple, there is barely a concept beyond ‘vampires!’, and there are no subplots or mysteries. there isnt even that much fighting and running around going on. its actually kind of amazing how they manage to fill the pages.

  11. John G says:

    I’m glad that X-Men #5 re-affirmed Wolverine’s status as god-king of the Marvel Universe. Started to get worried there for a while.

  12. Blair says:

    It would be in Marvel’s interest to be a bit more honest about the contents of their books in their solicitations. If I had any faith that Osborn and Spider-Girl actually would have featured backups that made them 30 pages of story I would have purchased them. However, it seems like quite often between the solicitation and the release Marvel pull the backups so I passed on both books. That’s at least ten issues that Marvel could have sold if they had a more honest reputation.

  13. Curious where Morrison is taking the superheroes-as-brands idea. In a sense, it’s pivcing up on one of his concepts from NEW X-MEN (the X-Corporation), and Morrison also name-checks Joe Casey’s WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 in interviews. So it’s something he’s been thinking about for a while.

  14. Paul – Al,

    Thanks for 2 years of absolutely high quality comment. Your podcast is something I look forward to, probably more than anything else I can listen to on the internet. Yeah, you may blush now 🙂

    P.S. Is there a multiple cover version of # 50 as well? Like, say, 5 covers for the same podcast?

    Nah, who’d be silly enough to do that!! 🙂

  15. Mo Walker says:

    Paul, you are right about Batman Inc. #1 not being self-contained. I did not realize that until after I read your review. This is partly due to Batman: The Return coming out the same week. It would have been nice to get a footnote or something.

  16. Niall says:

    The Bat-books have had ridiculous scheduling. Spoilers galore.

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