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Dec 11

The X-Axis … uh, whenever

Posted on Saturday, December 11, 2010 by Paul in x-axis

As I mentioned in the post below, we’re horribly off schedule here at House to Astonish.  And to make matters worse, there’s no new comics this week, because apparently Diamond UK can’t deliver in snow.  (Normally at this point I’d complain about the ineptitude of Diamond UK.  But to be honest, since the M8 was closed for two days this week and the Transport Minister has just resigned over it, I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt for a change.)

Fortunately, I still haven’t got around to reviewing last week’s books – which include the first issues of Wolverine: The Best There Is and Heroes for Hire, plus the second issue of Generation Hope – so I’m going to write about those instead.  Still remember what happened in them?  No?  Well, rack your brains now…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8 #39 – I’ve complained from time to time about the shortcomings of Marvel’s recap pages (which are often considerable, though it varies).  So it’s only fair to point out that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the most useless recaps in Christendom.  Now, granted, not many people are going to be picking up this issue – “Last Gleaming”, part four – as their jumping on point.  The series is building to its climax.  But even then, while the creators may think about this stuff on a full time basis, chances are that even the regular reader probably hasn’t thought about the book for at least three weeks, and the story itself isn’t going to screw up the collected edition by explaining the plot, and so that’s why we need recap pages.

Here is the recap from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8 #39:

“Temperatures run high when Buffy and Angel reunite to fight all matter [sic] of evil things.  Enter Spike – vampire with a soul, former lover, latest prophecy keeper.  Needless to say, things get complicated.  In order to save humanity from crumbling in on itself, Buffy must elicit the help of those closest to her and take the fight home.”

Now, I’ve read the whole series and I don’t know what that means.  I don’t have a clue what they think a new reader’s supposed to make of it, or what actual function the “recap” serves at all, other than to fill a blank space on the inside front cover.  Call me tragically old fashioned if you will, but it seems to me that as a bare minimum the recap needs to explain (i) what the threat is, in concrete terms, (ii) why the threat has arisen, (iii) the nature of the macguffin which was introduced last issue and (iv) the key dilemma, which is whether to destroy said macguffin or not, the possible consequences being central to the plot.  No?  Am I being unreasonable here?

So anyway.  This is an enormous fight in which people hit each other while alluding to motivations which I suspect were more fully explained in earlier issues, and frankly it’s an almighty mess.  Until we get to the bit where people are actually fighting over said macguffin, and Buffy makes the big decision, and we get a few pages of the immediate consequences – and that works pretty well.  Now, obviously it’s a feint, since they’ve already announced Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9, which presumably isn’t going to consist entirely of Buffy doing completely ordinary things.  But it’s a nice climactic moment – just a shame the build is too chaotic to generate as much momentum as they were going for.

Generation Hope #2 – We-e-e-elll… it’s a second issue of everyone fighting Kenji, and it looks like it’s heading into a third issue of everyone fighting Kenji, and yeah.  The positive: Kenji’s fabulously pretentious art/emo dialogue is pretty funny.  There are some lovely little moments with Gabriel, and a cute little exchange with Tenon.  And the art is gorgeous; while Salvador Espin still seems a little uncomfortable with Wolverine, he’s doing a lovely job with Kenji’s weird tumour/mechanism character design, and pulling that off rather nicely.  Visually, the “Hope makes an eye” sequence is impressively handled.

But the downside… it’s essentially an extended fight scene more than a story.  And it’s one that mainly features Hope and Kenji with three of the X-Men as guest stars.  The other four main characters pretty much get relegated to the sidelines, aside from a few pages in the middle, and for my money, that’s a miscalculation – certainly in the opening issues when the characters are still being established.  I don’t really understand why the X-Men are in this book at all, to be honest.  Traditionally, this is the point where you’d do “oh no, the X-Men can’t make it / have all been beaten up, now it’s down to the rookies to save the day.”  Or something along those lines, anyway.  A bit of a cliche, of course, but at least it gets the regular cast into the foreground.  This issue relegates them to the sidelines, which feels like a bit of a waste; presumably they’re going to have a bigger role next month, but I can’t help feeling it would have been a lot more effective if we’d got to that point in issue #2.

Heroes for Hire #1 – It’s trademark renewal time, as an old name already applied to three essentially unrelated series is dusted off for a fourth one!  This time it’s Misty Knight acting a despatcher for a loose assembly of characters most of whom had roles in the Shadowland satellite minis.  Iron Fist, Ghost Rider and Punisher may be front and centre on the cover, but the issue actually features Falcon, Black Widow, Moon Knight and Elektra.  It’s basically Birds of Prey crossed with Secret Defenders and featuring Marvel’s more or less street-level characters.

It’s written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, fresh from a well-received few years of running Marvel’s cosmic books, and changing tack when it comes to the setting.  They certainly hit the ground running with a string of action set pieces all of which contribute to a weird drug-conspiracy story joined in progress.  So far, so decent; there’s not much in the way of character development, but each character has their own voice, and it’s not exactly a reflective sort of book.  Still, it’s looking like a fairly straightforward action book with above average art, up until the closing cliffhanger.  I won’t give it away, since it’s a genuinely out-of-left-field twist, not least because it’s something you wouldn’t normally expect in Marvel’s street-level titles.  (And I suspect it probably works even if you don’t know anything about the character involved.)  That’s enough to put it over the top and persuade me that I want to come back and see where this is heading.

Shadowland #5 – As I’ve said before, expanding the “Daredevil gets corrupted by the Hand” storyline into a crossover event, and bringing in hordes of guest stars, seemed to me to dilute the central story.  Elektra belongs here, as do long-time supporting characters White Tiger and Black Tarantula, but I’m not convinced that the fight scene with Ghost Rider does any favours for a story that ultimately wants to be about Matt Murdock making a personal choice.  This seems to be Andy Diggle taking the title’s direction from the last few years to its logical, scorched-earth conclusion and tearing everything down in order to start over literally from scratch.  That’s understandable; boxed into a corner, the book has resorted to setting about the walls with a sledgehammer.  Still, I think it would have worked better as a smaller and more personal story.  And while I can understand the commercial pressures, I think it’s a mistake to get Matt Murdock straight back into circulation; I’d rather have seen a few months of the supporting cast dealing with the fallout before reintroducing Matt into the mix.  There’s a good story in here somewhere, but overall, expanding it into an event has had a distorting effect which wasn’t for the best.

Sweet Tooth #16 – By the standards of Sweet Tooth, an all-action issue as Jepperd leads his bunch of religious lunatics in an assault on the compound.  But it’s Jeff Lemire’s artwork that really stands out here, with some truly memorable page layouts – a splash page close-up of Jepperd with panels obscuring his face is striking stuff, and nicely inverted when the “cut-outs” from the panels are superimposed onto the next page.  The originality of Sweet Tooth arguably lies more in the execution than in the post-apocalyptic story, but the book’s strangely dream-like and fragile quality makes the end product hugely impressive.

Taskmaster #4 – Final issue of the mini, and while the cover says it features the Secret Avengers, that’s a bit of an overstatement.  All for the best, of course, because the main event here is the big storyline about Taskmaster’s identity.  I’m fairly sure this whole series (casting Taskmaster as an amnesiac, basically) amounts to a massive retcon, and the premise may be difficult for writers to work with in future, but for the purposes of this four-issue series it’s an immensely strong hook.  Fred van Lante’s story manages to have it both ways by combining outright absurdity with powerful sentimentality, without any grinding gear shifts.  Jefte Palo’s artwork is beautiful, and there’s some great use of the form by using superimposed panels to get across the idea of Taskmaster mimicking other people’s fighting styles – something which has been set up throughout the series and allows this issue’s climax to be played without dialogue.  These people know what they’re doing.  Probably the best superhero mini I’ve read this year, actually.

Wolverine: The Best There Is #1 – I’ve written before over at the Beat – and apparently the October sales column is going up on Monday, by the way – about how badly things went wrong when they last tried relaunching the Wolverine books.  Wolverine was turned into Dark Wolverine, and the readers drifted away; Wolverine himself was spun off into the new title Wolverine: Weapon X, and the readers didn’t follow.  Huge cock-up.  Utter disaster.  So it’s understandable that they’re rebooting again to try and reverse the damage.

What’s much more questionable is the decision to expand the line at the same time.  Technically, X-23 is the new book here – Wolverine: The Best There Is is the replacement for Daniel Way’s Wolverine: Origins series.  But when you’ve got a fragile franchise in need of repair, expanding seems like folly.  This whole title has the distinct whiff of existing purely as a desperate attempt to meet revenue targets.

None of which is necessarily fatal.  After all, Thor: The Mighty Avenger was similarly conceived in a spirit of insane overexpansion.  It was good.

Wolverine: The Best There Is is not.  Which is a bit surprising, actually, because on paper the creative team seem like a reasonable choice.  Charlie Huston’s a decent writer, and his crime/pulp background seems like a match for the character.  Juan Jose Ryp’s been doing work at Avatar for years, and is overdue his shot at the big time.  The overload of detail can detract from his scenes, and there’s something a little bit clumsy about his Wolverine, but his establishing shots are probably the best thing in this issue.  And years at Avatar certainly establish that he’s big on drawing violence.

But, as a first issue, this need to do two things.  It needs to say what makes this Wolverine title different (whatever else you say about Wolverine: Origins, at least it had an answer to that question).  And it needs to get a decent story underway.  It doesn’t manage either.  If there’s an angle here, it’s the ultra-violent Wolverine title; but it’s not, really, just a bit more bloody than normal.  Oh, and swearing – which is asterisked out.  An array of obscure villains with healing powers suggests that we’re heading for loads of gross-out healing stunts over the next few issues, and if that’s the idea, I can’t help wondering why they’re not doing it with Deadpool.  If anything, it feels like a pitch that started life as Wolverine Max and got watered down.

As for the story… it’s just a mess.  The first eight pages are spent on a vignette about anti-mutant lunatics kidnapping Wolverine and putting him in a cage-fighting match against the Griz (the villain from the first arc of Slingers, believe it or not) – none of which seems to have anything to do with the rest of the issue.  As near as I can make out, it’s there to be the equivalent of the James Bond pre-credit sequence, or the bit in a 1983 Spider-Man comic where he demonstrates his powers by beating up some muggers in an alley.  Except it goes on for a third of the book.  Which might be okay if it were inventive, but it’s just a cliche.

So, having got out of that, Wolverine hitches a ride home, and apparently by sheer coincidence gets picked up by a woman who’ll later turn out to be connected to the story’s villain.  She invites him to a party.  Then we get a scene with Vic Slaughter (he’s a 1990s Morbius villain) recovering a guy with healing powers from a pool of quicksand, and an off-panel boss – that would be the villain – testing some sort of infection power on him.  Quite why his face is kept off panel, I have no idea, because it’s then revealed offhandedly three pages later, and it’s nobody you’ve heard of.  So.  Wolverine goes to this party, the bad guy touches him, he goes mad, there’s an utterly impenetrable sequence where everyone’s suddenly fighting for no reason, and then Wolverine staggers out into an alley, apparently to try and stab himself in the stomach with his own claws (and my heart goes out to Ryp, trying to make such a silly pose look dramatic).

It’s absolutely all over the place, and while it’s conceivable the plot might fall into line in later chapters, as a first issue it’s a bit of a car crash.  More troubling is that the book has no real sense of identity beyond hamfisted attempts to feel edgy.  It’s relying too much on the edgy violence card that was so tiresome in X-Force, while at the same time being a book that bleeps out the word “ass”.  The creators can do better than this – Huston’s Moon Knight, while far from subtle, was in a different league altogether – and it’s always possible the book will find its feet, but there’s little in this first issue to recommend.

Bring on the comments

  1. Joe S. Walker says:

    That Buffy recap is incredibly badly-written. By “temperatures” do they mean “tempers”? And you wouldn’t have thought she’d have much trouble eliciting the help of those closest to her.

  2. Baines says:

    As the review at Comics Should Be Good says, the whole point of the Taskmaster retcon appears to be to give an in-book reason for his constant flip-flopping he does between good and evil in every appearance. Considering how inconsistently he has been written at times, if you actually want to bring the whole issue out into the light in order to explain it, you are pretty much left with something like this series’ scorched earth approach to the character.

    And while the series is good, I am a bit saddened overall, because it does pretty much destroy what meaningful things you can do about Taskmaster’s character in the future. If only Marvel could actually handle a real shades-of-gray character, rather than having to either make him a good guy who sometimes does bad things or a noble bad guy. Taskmaster was a mercenary. Good guys and bad buys both hired him because he was good at what he did. But it only takes one writer to screw that up, and Marvel has had so many writers writing Taskmaster appearances over the years, each with their own version of the character and often without regard to previous versions.

    Although, honestly the odds of this series affecting Taskmaster in the future might be pretty low. After all, why would the writers at Marvel pay any more attention to this miniseries than they did any other Taskmaster appearances? How many potential Taskmaster writers even know (or will know) of this series existence, much less its revelations? And it isn’t like the editors at Marvel are going to suddenly start caring about continuity, checking new stories against past or even current history. Heck, Marvel has writers that contradict themselves.

  3. Chris McFeely says:

    Well said on Taskmaster! Absolutely mini of the year.

  4. yeah! ho! wah! says:

    the presence of the x-men in generation hope makes a lot of sense from an in-story perspective, but its still very strange that the lights barely get any space in their own book.

    i was thinking just lately about how generation hope so far has a lot of similarities with early generation x. teen mutants fight ridiculously grotesque, undermotivated villain; likable characters, fantastic art, glacial plot.

  5. David Aspmo says:

    I don’t see why the Buffy ending needs to be a feint. Even though characters like Willow will have lost their purely magic-based powers, Buffy’s slayer powers, the vampires, and other demons and such that are already present on Earth will remain. That seems like enough supernatural activity for the series to me.

    Actually, I rather hope it means that season 9 will scale back the epic don’t-have-to-worry-about-an-effects-budget spectacles that made season 8 feel so far removed from the television show. And maybe that’ll mean they can spend the time to set up the plot properly and get some substantive character work in there, as well.

  6. Suzene says:

    I’m a bit worried about Generation Hope, honestly. A lot of the chatter seems to point toward the readers not being quite sold on the necessity of another junior X-team, particularly not a junior X-team made up of characters who seem to be unlikable, bland, and/or redundant. (To be fair, I think of lot of that is coming from how Fraction intro’d the new kids, but Gillen really needed to correct for that from page one, and he doesn’t seem to be.)We’ve already had Hope’s importance highlighted, Wolverine’s a star in four books (and looks like he’s going to be starring in issue #4 of this book), and Cyclops appears in darn near X-Book already — as the review said, the rest of the class really needed more development instead of being kept in the background behind better-established characters. This is an X-Book, so I doubt it’s going to get the unceremonious six-issues-in canning that S.W.O.R.D and Hawkeye and Mockingbird did, but it’s still going to need to work harder at convincing an audience already grumbling about over-crowded books why they should be warming up to the new guys.

  7. Mike says:

    While I’ve actually enjoyed Daredevil the last few years, he seems to be the hero that has a repeating trajectory – back to basics, rebuild supporting cast, rebuild villains, bring back Kingpin and / or Ninjas, have world slowly begin to spiral out of control, disaster, tear everything down – and back to basics (repeat process). It seems as if ultimately, the only thing anyone knows to do with him is start over from scratch.

    A glance at Generation Hope just reinforced my feeling that it wasn’t a title I needed to get started on.

    Buffy – I had such hopes for this series. And I’ll certainly give Season 9 a try, but what started as a fond continuation of a TV series I rather loved, has devolved in a mess of super heroics that for some reason, I really don’t get. Had this been the TV series, I fear I would have had to actually give the show up, because an hour of this malarkey would be more than I could take.

  8. odessa steps magazine says:

    As I have said elsewhere, the Buffy comic seems to be nothing more than officially sanctioned fan fiction.

    In hindsight, the one arc I’d want to read again is the Faith/Giles one by BKV.

    I enjoyed H4H, especially Misty Knight as some kind of 1970s late night DJ crossed with Barb Gordon.

  9. As entertaining as the comic is, I don’t understand why anyone thought Taskmaster needed an origin story.

  10. deworde says:

    @thekelvingreen
    I suspect what they actually thought was “Since the Initiative, Taskmaster’s become a lot more interesting/likeable/well known. Let’s give him a mini to capitalise on this”

    The fact that it’s an origin story probably grew out of the fact that it’s a good Taskmaster story. Without the whole sentimental, “lost past” stuff, it basically becomes a Deadpool-In-Fancy-Dress story, which it’s close to being ANYWAY.

  11. deworde says:

    Al, wasn’t *VIC SLAUGHTER* one of the Official Handbook guys?

  12. Justin says:

    Mike said:
    ‘While I’ve actually enjoyed Daredevil the last few years, he seems to be the hero that has a repeating trajectory – back to basics, rebuild supporting cast, rebuild villains, bring back Kingpin and / or Ninjas, have world slowly begin to spiral out of control, disaster, tear everything down – and back to basics (repeat process). It seems as if ultimately, the only thing anyone knows to do with him is start over from scratch.’

    Yeah, I totally 100% agree. As much as I loved the Bendis/Brubaker stuff and have stuck with the series since then, Shadowland seems like a terrific jumping-off point. How many times can you read the same exact story. I’d almost feel better if they just kept the Matt stuff static and used the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ setting as a backdrop for the type of noir/crime stories Bendis was telling early on. At this point I’d rather read a Dakota North ongoing than more of this Matt’s got his shit together…just kidding stuff that has been going on for the past few years. To be fair, I never read this book before the Bendis issues, I do get the vibe that this cycle has been going on for decades. Oh well.

  13. Jay Fundling says:

    After Reading Generation Hope #2 I wished I had skipped it and just picked up #3. We end up at almost the same place at the end of #2 as #1 so I don’t see the point.

  14. Michael R says:

    @Justin

    The cycle of Matt’s life crashing down and then starting from scratch is more or less what every long time writer since Frank Miller’s definitive take on Daredevil thirty years ago has been trying to recreate in one manner or another, with very varying results.

    IMO, Ann Nocenti’s pilgrimage through America that ends with DD literally going to Hell and back was the only one that even close to being on the same level as Miller’s run. And as it so happens, Andy Diggle’s Daredevil: Reborn mini seems to be trying copy Nocenti’s story down to the last letter. Well, apart from the goes to Hell part. I hope.

  15. Was that the story where DD is looking for one of the Inhumans’ lost children and ends up facing off against Mephisto — who does not take the opportunity to rewrite DD’s past, strangely enough — with the Silver Surfer and Blackheart thrown in for good measure? All drawn by JRJR?

    Mental stuff.

  16. Paul C says:

    Shadowland started off pretty well but ultimately became a disappointment. It had all the failings of Marvel’s previous ‘event’ stories – large gaps in logic; characters randomly popping up halfway through; needing to read the peripheral minis/one-shots to get the full picture; the ending not so much an ending but a set-up for the next arc.

    I had a thumb through Heroes For Hire and it looked pretty fun. But I’ll be picking it up in trade format as I’ve no clue how long it is going to survive.

    On the other hand, I have very little desire to read about Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, to the point that I am on the fence of dropping the “Daredevil” book.

    (And from reviews/Wiki, Black Panther apparently used up all of Wakanda’s vibranium supply to defeat Dr. Doom in Doomwar, yet he is now off to New York. Knowing Marvel it is probably a left-hand/right-hand thing, but it makes T’Challa look a bit of a dick for crippling his home country, then running off to play superhero. And I shouldn’t even ask where his wife Storm will be in all this.)

    Totally agreed about Taskmaster, it was excellent.

  17. Valhallahan says:

    The Taskmaster mini was great. The Hellblazer one that just finished was pretty good too. Loving Sweet Tooth.

  18. lambnesio says:

    I actually thought Bendis and Maleev’s Daredevil was an amazing comic. But I also never read any Daredevil before that. In any case though, I got pretty bored with Brubaker’s Daredevil and stopped reading it some time before it ended. To be honest, I don’t really know why Brubaker is so successful. He does genre stories very, very competently, but they’re generally pretty soulless and unoriginal. I enjoy them mostly, but I’m never excited about his books.

    I’m also really not dying to read Black Panther: Man of Fear though. Unless it’s so ridiculous it’s fun to read, I don’t see any reason why I’d pick it up.

  19. Jerry Ray says:

    I thought _Generation Hope_ was pretty dire all around, actually. Didn’t like the art, the writing didn’t leave much of an impression, and I don’t care about the characters (and couldn’t name a single one of them after 2 issues plus). X-book or no, I can’t really see why we need that book.

    Speaking of which, I expect that _Heroes for Hire_ is pretty good based on some preview pages I read, and the recent track record of Abnett & Lanning, but I desperately need to buy fewer comics, and if Marvel won’t oblige by trimming the line to a reasonable size, I’ll just have to start trimming my purchases instead.

    Being, like Paul, an X-completist (sick habit, yes, but it does go back to 1980, so I got on board during good times), I bought the new Wolverine book. That’s exactly the sort of book that Marvel needs to put out less of – third tier books starring overexposed characters in unpleasant plots with no redeeming value.

    The _Taskmaster_ series (one I almost left on the shelf in order to trim my purchases) turned out to be quite good. And it was FUN, and not all dark and hard-boiled from start to finish.

  20. Brad says:

    Generation Hope is suffering from the same problem as Secret Warriors – Marvel seems to have forgotten that when building a series around a cast of new characters, it helps to actually give those characters character. It’s not enough to just introduce a bunch of people, give them names & vaguely defined powers and then say “Here you go, audience. It’s your job to care about these ciphers now.”

    It seems odd that in these days of stretching stories that at one time would have been single issues out over a period of months that the writers have simultaneously lost the ability to give characters personality, but it certainly seems to have happened.

    Heck, even though the launch of Generation X had its problems, there are still Blink fans 16 years later that have never gotten over her (now retconned away) death. If any member of Generation Hope (including Hope herself) were to drop dead in the next month or so, I can’t imagine anyone still being bummed out about it 16 years from now. That seems to be a colossal failure on the part of the writers involved, but it doesn’t seem to be an isolated case these days.

  21. Master Mahan says:

    Wolverine: The Best There Is felt like some sort of Frankenstein monster. On one hand, you have the gritty, Garth Ennis-lite stuff, with the torture, cannibalism, flying heads, and jokes about Wolverine shitting himself. On the other hand, you have a farce about Wolverine using his powers to cut hair while bitching about Simon Cowell. The comic can’t even agree on whether ass has be censored @$$ or ###.

    On the other hand, you have Taskmaster, which manages to be both silly and moving at the same time. The final battle turned out to be very affecting, and that was against Redshirt, leader of MILF. One works, the other just doesn’t.

  22. odessasteps says:

    I think the best take on Daredevil in recent years was Karl Kesel’s brief run on the title.

    DD = bugs bunny
    Spidey = daffy duck

  23. VersasoVantare says:

    That Buffy recap sounds a lot more like a TV Guide’s summary of what happens in an episode, which is often intentionally vague, rather than a comprehensive explanation of what’s gone before to help readers understand what’s going on.

  24. Sol says:

    Brad has it exactly right, IMO. I guess there must be writers and books somewhere that get it right, but the majority of comics I’ve read in the last 5-10 years are drastically slower in pace than early 80s books but also shallower.

    As much as I’ve loved Joss Whedon as a TV creator, and liked the ideas of his comics I’ve read, I think he really does not have it as comics writer. Too many times I find myself wondering just what the hell is going on, because key details that are obvious on-screen don’t come through on the page in the same way.

  25. The original Matt says:

    Re: The new characters thing. If you want to introduce a bunch of new characters, you’ve got to give them PLENTY of time with the established ones. Grant Morrison’s special class come to mind. I actually cared about what they were up to. They factored into the plot, too. Not just “here’s some editorially mandated new characters. Now…. CARE!!!”

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