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Mar 13

The X-Axis – 13 March 2011

Posted on Sunday, March 13, 2011 by Paul in x-axis

Well…  the plan was to record the podcast tonight and do the reviews tomorrow.  But Al’s car has broken down and he’s somewhere on an English verge waiting for a tow truck.  So instead: reviews.  Though to be honest, there’s not much out this week – a couple of X-books (X-23 and X-Men: Legacy), plus a couple of new launches, but let’s run through them anyway.

Justice League: Generation Lost #21 – Apparently this series has been tying in to Brightest Day somehow or other, but I’ve been reading it quite happily without following the sister book at all, or even being particularly conscious that there are crossover elements to it.  And it’s been a good read; it’s an old-school team book reuniting some of the cast of Justice League International, with a couple of successors such as Blue Beetle subbing for the originals.  It’s got a nice strong central concept: Max Lord has made everyone else forget about him aside from this Justice League D-team, and they’ve got to defeat him themselves because, again thanks to Max’s influence, nobody else believes anything they say.  That’s a solid premise for a 24-issue series.  The fortnightly schedule helps the pacing enormously as well; it’s a relatively rare case of a comic which actually seems to have been created with serialisation in mind, instead of being a graphic novel divided into equal chapters as a grudging concession to economic reality.  Last issue, Max killed the new Blue Beetle; this is basically a downtime issue of everyone else mourning.  It’s pretty obvious where it’s going as soon as Booster laments that they haven’t been able to get Beetle out of his armour, but it’s also a case where being predictable is fine; it’s heading somewhere you want it to go, the inevitable moment is satisfying without needing to be surprising, and it doesn’t invalidate the conversation scenes that preceded it.  Okay, there’s a hopelessly melodramatic bit with Ice and Captain Atom that doesn’t really work.  But basically it’s the “darkest just before the dawn” beat, nicely executed, in a story that needed to go there.  It’s a good series.

PunisherMax #11 – This is the concluding chapter of “Bullseye”, a storyline which started somewhere back in the Mesozoic.  PunisherMax has suffered horrendously from delays, with an eight month gap between parts four and five of the arc.  Given that the pacing wasn’t exactly breakneck to start with, it goes without saying that a lot of impetus was lost.

But put that aside, and Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon are doing good work here.  The Max imprint’s Punisher series inevitably exists in the shadow of Garth Ennis’ lengthy run on the character, and other takes on the character have tended to lean heavily on the violence.  While this is certainly a very violent issue, working hard to justify that “Explicit content” tag on the front, Jason Aaron’s also bringing something else to the book; after spending his first arc reinventing the Kingpin for the Max world, he’s now spent done the same with Bullseye.  Since Bullseye’s “expert marksman” schtick strains credibility to breaking point even within the bounds of the Marvel Universe, it wouldn’t be at all at home in the Max series.  So Aaron’s gone in a different direction, playing Bullseye as an insane hitman who might be some sort of twisted genius… or might just be a dangerous lunatic with a gun.   He’s spent the whole arc trying to “understand” the Punisher, and – in amongst an issue of cheerfully over the top violence – that pays off rather effectively, particularly in the last few pages, which are wonderfully paced.  I’m not sold on the pacing in this series, which would have been a touch relaxed even if the issues had come out on time, but that aside, Aaron and Dillon are doing some very entertaining, if darkly absurd, work on the book.

Sigil #1 – The first book from Marvel’s relaunch of the CrossGen concepts – interestingly, packaged with a prominent CrossGen logo, while Marvel’s name is relegated to the bottom of the cover.  These aren’t continuations of the original series, but reboots of the concepts.  That seems a smart move, in part because it allows Marvel to reverse some of the errors made by the original line.  That line was conceived in the belief that, to compete with Marvel and DC, you needed a shared universe.  So, even though the individual titles were from completely unrelated genres, they were awkwardly shoehorned into an overarching concept where each series had to feature somebody with a sigil logo.  For some books, this made passable sense; for others, it was a glaring bolt-on that just served as a distraction.

Apparently Marvel are going to do it differently.  They’re just going to strip out the shared universe stuff, or at least downplay it, and focus more on the individual concepts straight.  So Ruse, which used to be set on a quasi-Victorian world, will now be set in Victorian England.  And so forth.  Nonetheless, the first book out of the gate is the relaunch of CrossGen’s anchor title Sigil, with a strong creative team in Mike Carey and Leonard Kirk.   The set-up here is that high school student Samantha Rey has a birthmark resembling the CrossGen logo, and she’s started having visions of people from other eras who seem to know who she is and keep telling her that she’s important.

This bears pretty much no relationship whatsoever to the original Sigil book, which was a sci-fi title set in the far future, starring lead (male) character Sam Rey.  Nonetheless, I have some suspicion that I’d get more out of this if I knew more about the original CrossGen books.  It does reference El Cazador, of all things, which was CrossGen’s pirate book.  Knowing Carey, I expect there’s some link, even if only thematic, between this book and what came before it. But without that context, it’s basically an issue of set-up.  Nicely drawn, and it does the job of establishing Samantha’s character and setting the tone, but it doesn’t really get the story properly under way, and the basic concept is a little too familiar to grab me in its own right.  I have enough faith in Carey to see where he’s going with this, but without that trust, I’m not sure I’d be sticking around for a second issue.

Venom #1 – While technically Rick Remender and Tony Moore are relaunching a concept that’s been around since the eighties, they’re really working with a different character.  As already established in Amazing Spider-Man, the new Venom is longtime supporting character Flash Thompson, and the US government is outfitting him with the Venom symbiote to go on black ops missions.  Since everyone knows the Venom symbiote is incredibly dangerous, he’ll only be allowed to go on a limited number of missions, and there’s a killswitch in case he gets out of control.  So nothing could possibly go wrong there.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the general long-term direction of the title, but that’s fine.  The focus in the first issue is simply on the new Venom carrying out a mission to capture an arms dealer in one of those all purpose former Soviet republics that are so plentiful in the Marvel Universe, and other than a brief sequence of the Venom persona trying to take control, it’s more or less Flash getting to do things properly.  As it should be – you’ve got to establish the status quo before you can mess about with it.  So Flash is after said mad scientist, but so is a rival maniac and his agent, who I take to be a new Jack O’Lantern.  He’s new to me, at any rate.

The setting is pretty much beside the point; it’s Flash versus maniac versus other maniac against the background of a civil war.  But to be honest, the setting doesn’t do the book any favours.  The book as a whole has nice touches of black humour, and Jack O’Lantern is clearly played partly for warped comedy, but the war backdrop misfires.  It’s too one-dimensional and generic to let us care about the bystanders Flash is rescuing; yet at the same time, it makes the whole thing rather bleak and saps the energy out of it.  It’s also one of those books which seems to mistake poor lighting for dramatic weight.  The two central characters – Flash and Jack – work well, and I like the general concept of the book a lot.  Nonetheless, the bottom line is that I’m more sold on the series in theory than in practice.

X-23 #7 – The Wolverine spin-off books have some funny ideas about what makes a story arc.  Daken‘s official second arc, “Empire, Act Two”, opens with an unrelated visit to the Fantastic Four and concludes with the first part of a crossover.  And now X-23 brings us an issue that has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the previous three, yet solemnly bears the title “Songs of the Orphan Child, part 4.”  It’s confusing, to say the least.

This is not part four of a storyline; it’s a transitional issue in which X-23 and Gambit are shipped to Madripoor so that they’re in place for next month’s crossover with Daken.  And unfortunately, coming off a strong storyline which managed to rehabilitate a shaky villain, this is a clunker.  Our heroes get a lift to Madripoor on a boat.  Then they sneak ashore and, uh, stumble upon some pirates, and there’s a fight, and that’s basically it.  Marjorie Liu clearly isn’t that interested in the bad guys so much as in X-23’s reaction to them, and that’s fine up to a point.  But we have to care somewhat about the situation if we’re going to care how she reacts.  There’s some good, kinetic work in the fight scenes by artist Sana Takeda, but otherwise this is a dud.

X-Men: Legacy #246 – Part 3 of “Age of X”, and I think I’m starting to see where New Mutants fits into this storyline.  In part, it’s because most of the New Mutants appear in the group of mutants chasing after Rogue, but it’s also because this is a well-disguised Legion story, and Legion is a New Mutants character.

The “Age of X” setting is supposed to be an alternate reality where all the mutants are holed up in a single fortress and every day they fight off the anti-mutant bad guys.  Carey clearly wants to write about how the characters have been changed by their different backgrounds.  He equally clearly couldn’t care less about the anti-mutant attackers, and the story is dropping none-too-subtle hints that something isn’t quite right about this set-up.  When Magneto says that “Every day is the same struggle, repeated with minor variations”, that might well be literally true.  When Mike Carey writes generic villains, it’s probably a safe bet that they’re generic for a reason.

The obvious speculation is that the world’s been transformed in some way, but my current guess is that Carey is actually doing a re-run of the very first Legion story, from the first run of New Mutants, where the heroes were sucked into Legion’s fractured mind, and ended up taking sides in a civil war between his various personalities.  I suspect what’s going on here is that everyone on Utopia has been hauled into Legion’s mind, which is why characters are there who couldn’t logically exist in a world without Professor X (like Danger), and why all the other characters are mere placeholders (except for Moira MacTaggert, but she seems to be Legion’s spokesman instead of a true character).  And the fortress is how some or all of these characters see Utopia.

Or it could be something else entirely.  Carey’s set up a good puzzle here, but he’s also telling a decent story alongside it, with Rogue on the run and characters taking sides depending on how much they trust the people in charge, or, in one case, how strongly they feel about Rogue herself.   I’m glad Marvel got behind this storyline with some promotion, because it’s delivering.

Bring on the comments

  1. mchan says:

    I’m glad that your reading of “Age of X” really gets to the heart of the matter. As happy as I am that Marvel’s promoting it, “Age of Apocalypse” it’s not. It’s less a title-wide event and more a one-book storyline that feels magnified because it’s an alternate reality.

    That being said, I agree that it’s a good read, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all resolves itself.

    That being said, another “Legion does something that results in an alternate reality” story? Poor kid can’t seem to get a break.

  2. Mike says:

    I’m actually enjoying “Age of X”, which is surprising because I was all set not to. Nick Lowe, X-Men group editor, seems to be in love with a period of the X-Men that I found to be all sound and fury signaling nothing. Lots of cross overs, lots of action that should have been leading to something but inevitably led to more cross overs. And he’s brought that sensibility back to the books – at least to me. There’s lots of stuff looking like movement, but I’m bored by it all.

    And yet, this story actually has my attention and I’m enjoying the mystery. And it doesn’t hurt that Clay Mann’s work is starting to grow on me. I used to see his stuff as a very stiff version of Olivier Coipel’s work – and to some degree, it still is. But with this arc, he seems to be loosening up and is starting to come into his own.

    I’m excited to see where this is all going – and for the X-books the last few years, that is saying something.

  3. David Goldfarb says:

    The tie-in between “Justice League: Generation Lost” and “Brightest Day” is that Max Lord was one of the twelve characters who came back from the dead at the end of “Blackest Night”. (Perhaps you remember Wonder Woman killing him a while back.)

  4. Charles Knight says:

    I was listening to Dan Slot on Word balloon and he was talking about how the saddest thing for a writer to be doing is simply an imitation of another writer – that’s what Arron is doing on Punisher Max (having Dillon drawing it doesn’t help).

    It’s ok work but it’s like having some knock-off of Coke – ok but not the real thing.

  5. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    @David Goldfarb: There’s a little more to the tie-in than that, since Max’s plan is based on the “mission” the white light gave him, said missions being a major plot point of Brightest Day.

    But while that makes GenLost a useful read for people following Brightest Day, it isn’t required knowledge for following GenLost.

  6. Paul C says:

    I continue to be pleasantly surprised at just how much I am enjoying Generation Lost. I don’t know an awful lot about DC continuity or their multi-verses, which seems to bog down most stories, but that hasn’t really come into play with this series. The art is generally very solid as well, and it has a real nice bunch of core characters.

    Any particular reason why PunisherMax got held up so long? Aaron doesn’t seem to be a slow writer and Dillon is one of the few guys who could probably pump out an average of more than one book a month.

  7. Ken B. says:

    Age of X has been really good so far, much better than I thought because I’m sick and tired of anti-mutant hysteria and this seemed like it would be much more about that then things being wrong due to Legion (which makes that Age of X Universe story with the Avengers all the more pointless).

  8. RM says:

    @Ken B: This is why the Avengers tie-in confuses me as well – the only way I see it working is if it’s one of the Fortress residents telling a story about the Avengers – fake memories like the stories in Age of X Alpha would have to be. The framing sequence made those work within the theory.
    Or, the more likely answer, it’s just typical event hype – an event needs tie-in miniseries/oneshots to be taken seriously!
    Or maybe it’s a bait and switch by Carey – he has said in interviews nobody will see the ending coming, and surely he would guess that by now everyone would be suspecting the ‘all in Legion’s mind’ solution.

  9. Chris says:

    I really thought that Age of X was invading the New Mutants issues because Zeb Wells just finished up his run and the next writer wasn’t ready yet. Otherwise I’d bet they’d use up six issue of X-Men Legacy.

  10. Ralf Haring says:

    Just listened to the podcast where you also discussed Sigil. None of the supporting cast map to anything in the old CrossGen book as far as I can tell, either name-wise or thematically. The only thing that is even remotely similar is that Sam Rey’s function in the old Sigil book was going to be as the kind of linchpin that pulled all the other sigil people together during the big crossover (whenever it was going to happen). So the girl Sam Rey visiting other worlds in this new series kind of fits. Of course El Cazador was one of CrossGen’s very late launches that didn’t even have the token sigil presence that books like Ruse did…

    One thing that’s kind of disappointing about the two new miniseries is the bland art. The old CrossGen books were an incredibly fertile launchpad for some wonderful new artists as well as ones who hadn’t had a chance to shine until then – Jim Cheung, Paul Pelletier, Steve McNiven, Karl Moline, Steve Epting, Butch Guice, Jeff Johnson, etc.

  11. to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

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