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May 29

The X-Axis – 29 May 2011

Posted on Sunday, May 29, 2011 by Paul in x-axis

See, I’m on schedule!  I’m on schedule!

I’m going to hold over Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine for its own post, since having re-read the whole series, it turns out there’s quite a bit to be said about it.  That still leaves us with four other X-books, plus a few other titles I feel like throwing in there…

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #3 – We reviewed the first issue of Joe Casey’s bizarre stream-of-consciousness superhero book on the podcast and, uh, then I forgot to order issue #2.  Judging from the recap, what I missed was that some of the supervillains in the asylum survived when it was blown up, and now they’re out for revenge.  It’s not like anyone expects this to be a plot-heavy comic.  (Butcher Baker himself spends the entire issue driving a truck and fighting a crazy lady with electric powers.)

It was always obvious that this was going to be a ridiculous, OTT series; the question that issue #1 left me with was whether there was a wider satirical streak to it, or whether it was simply pure id.  The book is certainly Casey’s reaction to the current state of superhero comics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s actually about superhero comics.  From the look of it, Casey’s point really comes down to this: superheroes used to be cheap, vaguely disreputable, and outright crazy.  And over time, through a mixture of genre conventions and commercial expectation, they’ve got into a rut.

So this is Casey’s attempt to do the sort of thing that, in his mind, the superhero genre ought to be producing – tasteless, absurdist, detached from reality, and completely devoid of common sense.  If there’s a point to it, it’s to show up how narrow and conservative the rest of the genre is at the moment, and do something that breaks the rules for the sake of breaking them.  (As the solicitation copy acknowledges, even building the issue around a car chase qualifies for that; conventional wisdom says comics can’t do car chases, so writers tend to avoid them.  To which Casey would presumably say: comics can do car chases, they just need to try harder.)

And on that level, it works – it’s ridiculous, but it’s also got such a strong sense of its own identity that it gets by pretty much on that alone.  Does it work as a story?  Well, not really, but given its agenda, does it need to?  Perhaps it does, if it’s going to carry on for an extended run – but to be honest, this is the sort of sugar-rush comic that probably shouldn’t go for an extended run, because over time it can only fall into a routine of its own.  This book is all about style, and it’s got plenty of that.

Daken: Dark Wolverine #9.1 – Not, I swear, a deliberate juxtaposition.

This is a Point One issue, but it’s also the first issue by new writer Rob Williams.  Thus far, Daken’s series has been a bit frustrating.  There are some interesting ideas in the character.  Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu have set up a degree of mystery about whether Daken aspires to anything higher than building a power base, or whether he’s just a psychopath.  And, in a rather more heavy-handed way, they’ve also built a tension between Daken’s avowed desire to be his own man, and the way he obviously keeps returning to motifs associated with Wolverine, his father.  The problem is that having introduced these ideas, the book has been spinning its wheels for months, seemingly afraid to take them forward.  Instead we’ve had some rather ponderous stories in which Daken outwits everyone and becomes the new crimelord of Madripoor, but which don’t actually take his character anywhere interesting.

If nothing else, Williams seems determined to break out of that cycle.  His Point One story hammers the idea that Daken is still seen as merely a cheap knock-off of Wolverine, and pushes to the foreground Daken’s desire to be known for something that is clearly and unequivocally his own.  The plan, it seems, is to send him to Hollywood, if only because it’s the least Wolverine location imaginable.  But that’s the next arc; this issue is about Daken being prompted to go in that direction and, uh, filling half an issue by dropping by at Avengers Tower to say goodbye to Wolverine.

There aren’t really any new ideas here; the theme has been central to the character for a while.  But Williams does seem to be signalling that he’s planning to get Daken out of his rut by getting him away from Wolverine motifs and forcing him to do stories of his own.  That’s a plus, even if it seems like something a U-turn coming only a few months after the outgoing writers installed him in Madripoor.  Quite what the guest appearance by the Avengers contributes, other than killing half an issue before the plot proper starts, I’m less sure; it makes Daken seem weirdly insecure, but whether that’s intentional, I can’t say.

Art comes from Ron Garney, who should surely be getting better assignments from Marvel than doing fill-in work on the Wolverine D-title.  But he’s a solid pro – and in a book which has often seemed to take itself far too seriously, his meat-and-potatoes approach is a welcome change.

Ruse #3 – The sales on the CrossGen titles haven’t exactly been brilliant – both Ruse and Sigil slumped alarmingly with their second issues.  And while the jury’s still out on Sigil, where it’s far from clear what Carey is trying to do, it’s certainly a shame for Mark Waid’s revival of Ruse.  Shorn of the unwanted baggage of CrossGen continuity, this version is simply a well written mystery story with echoes of Sherlock Holmes in style, but distinguished by having such a different relationship between the two leads, which also allows Waid to work in more comedy.  This issue has fill-in art by Minck Oosterveer, which isn’t as polished as the earlier issues, but that’s fill-in deadlines for you.  At least he’s a sensible choice to work with Waid, having collaborated before on The Unknown.  It’s easy to see this making for a better film (or TV series) than most comics designed for the purpose.  Come to think of it, perhaps that’s why Marvel are dusting these properties off.

Uncanny X-Men #537 – Part 3 of the Breakworld arc is an action issue, but a nicely constructed one.  Kruun takes on Colossus (without his powers), and then Kitty has to race through Utopia trying to stay one step ahead of Kruun and alert somebody else to help her out.  Since she doesn’t have the containment suit, she can’t touch anything, and nobody can hear her.  But (because it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise) he’s got a magic knife that can hurt her.

Yes, you can pick holes in this.  Yes, Kruun is the sort of villain who makes life unnecessarily difficult for himself in order that he can prove his own superiority.  Yes, Kitty shouldn’t find it that hard to draw somebody’s attention on Utopia, considering that there are hundreds of people living there.  But it’s got the momentum that those points only really come to the fore afterwards.  The book is always stronger when it focusses on the characters who matter and ignore the hordes in the background.  It’s an issue that actually does something with the idea of Kitty being stuck in ghost form, other than treat it as a generic angst point or something to be bypassed using the containment suit.  And there’s a good final twist leading into the cliffhanger.  Lovely art from the Dodsons, solid issue.

Wolverine #9 – You’ve got to give it to Jason Aaron, he’s not afraid to be stupid.  The first three pages of this story are an assassination sequence so unapologetically ridiculous that they wouldn’t be out of place in Butcher Baker: new villain Lord Deathstrike proves why he’s the most awesome assassin in the world by standing on the opposite side of the planet from his target and shooting straight down.  It’s a scene that looks you in the eye and dares you to complain that it’s absurd.  And Aaron’s Wolverine is at its best when he’s able to work that kind of thing into the book without derailing it as a story.

So, Lord Deathstrike has been hired by the Red Right Hand to kill Mystique for betraying her.  She’s a harder target thanks to her inconsiderate habit of moving.  Wolverine’s also after her because she was involved with the Red Right Hand in the first place.  (Cue, oddly enough, a car chase…)  I’m not sure I buy Aaron’s take on Mystique, which is that she hates Wolverine but wanted to help him to honour his friendship with Kurt – that doesn’t really fit with the way she and Wolverine have been written in the past.  But I do like the idea that Wolverine’s so busy trying to get revenge that he completely misses the fact that she’s trying to warn him about the bad guys – or just dismisses it as a scam.  There’s certainly a risk that this sort of story will be too silly for some people’s tastes, but I think Aaron gets away with it.

X-Men Legacy #249 – From the cover, you might be expecting another issue devoted to Magneto’s time in the Holocaust.  Actually, the second half of the “Age of X” epilogue devotes about six pages to that flashback, and it’s not as overwrought as the cover might suggest.  No doubt looking for a fresh angle on material that risks overfamiliarity, Carey gives us the story of Nazi doctor August Hirt.  Hirt really existed and (other than the obvious point that his suicide wasn’t provoked by Magneto) the version of events in this story is basically accurate, though the photos of him online don’t look much like artist Rafa Sandoval’s Hitler-esque rendition.  The point, of course, is that Magneto is shaped by his own past, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that this gives him an excuse.

Carey’s already done decent work with Professor X in a post-leadership role, and it could be interesting to see what he does with Magneto.  For all that people say nothing ever changes in superhero comics, the effect of the last few years’ stories has been to oust both Xavier and Magneto from their traditional positions and cast them as men looking for a role in a world being run by the next generation.  While one response would be to just write them out, another is to see it as an opportunity to tell different stories with them, and if that’s where Carey wants to go, I’m good with that.

The rest of the issue focusses on Frenzy, who’s decided to try and recapture what she had in the Age of X reality by becoming an X-Man for real, and Legion, who has a plot device he’d like to share with us.  Of course, Legion has always been more of a plot device than a person.  It goes with the territory of being a high-concept gimmick character (multiple personalities, each with their own powers), and it can’t easily be changed overnight.  Since Legion’s sticking around in the regular cast, I can only assume Carey has longer term plans for him; at the very least, if he’s going to be the X-Men’s version of Crazy Jane from the Doom Patrol, Legion could do with some more multiple personalities with defined characters.

Anyhow, the point of these issues is to set up the cast for the book’s next phase, and it does that well.  I’m looking forward to seeing what Carey can do with these characters.

Bring on the comments

  1. Simon Jones who is blogless says:

    I think Daken’s real problem is that he’s an R rated character that’s forever going to be stuck in a sort of pg rated universe and thusly is forever going to be boring.

    When you’re whole thing is dark predatory sex and violence and you’re never really going to explore either, then what’s the point of you?

  2. Paul says:

    Daken’s series is actually rated “parental advisory” – it CAN deal with those topics, it’s just limited in how graphic it can be. And implication is often more effective anyway.

  3. Niall says:

    What size is Utopia? How many people live there? Given the number of Alpha and Omega level mutants living there, it really shouldn’t be so easy to threaten them. Legion, Hope, Magneto, Xavier, Ice-man, Psylocke and Danger would prove formidable if encountered alone. Soon, it seems Havok, Rachel Summers and Nate Grey will be back. Utopia is not the kind of place anybody should want to attack.

    In relation to Uncanny, Kitty goes to Emma and fails to contact her. Well, what about the cuckoos, Xavier or any of the other telepaths?

    Have you read the X-Men/X-Men first class crossover yet Paul? And if you haven’t picked up Secret Avengers, check it out. It’s got an “interesting” mutant story. Fine in itself, but weird in the wider scheme of things.

  4. Paul says:

    According to the Handbook that came out this week, Utopia has a population of “approximately 200” – around 90 of whom are named. They’re very vague about the actual size of the place, but just looking at the thing it can’t be more than a couple of square miles at the very most.

  5. Tom says:

    I was in love with the secret avengers story until the reveal about how it happened. I like the thought of DC being protected by it’s history.

    How a mutant that powerful avoided being seen till now much less serving in congress without a media scandal just seemed weak and a cop out.

  6. Vanja says:

    What about Uncanny X-Force, Paul?

  7. Vanja says:

    Sorry, I forgot that it came out two weeks ago, and you’ve already reviewed it.

  8. odessa steps magazine says:

    I loved that “shooting a magic bullet through the earth” bit in Wolverine. So amazingly kitschy and wonderful.

    and, a question about something that came out this week not covered in the reviews. I already asked Al about this but he hadn’t read it.

    In the new DR WHO comic (which I know may or may not be available technically in the UK), the Tardis crew are meant to be going to the 1966 World Cup and end up in medieval Britain having a footy showdown with the native population. and then it ends with them all celebrating at the Final in 1966.

    And all i could think was, “Is Amy really rooting for England?”

  9. Paul says:

    Good god, no. That’s a major error, unless the story gives some reason for it. The Scots don’t support the English football team. The national running joke is that we support two teams: Scotland, and whoever is playing England.

  10. Al says:

    I dunno, I think that if I were at the 1966 World Cup final, about to see England win, I’d probably be supporting them. I would tend to support them anyway in circumstances where there’s no harm to Scotland if they win.

    It also makes particular sense for Amy Pond, who grew up in England, raised by English relatives.

  11. moose n squirrel says:

    Amy Pond is a bowdlerized sort of Scot.

  12. Jonny K says:

    I support England in circumstances too, but I’m very much a bowlderized half-Scot.

    Celebrating, on the other hand, most Scottish people would do — it’s a decent party, and 1966 is one of the very, very few occasions where the English media’s tendency to go on about 1966 is half-justified.

  13. Jacob says:

    Maybe Amy is celebrating because she knows this leads into Scotland beating World Champions England at Wembley in 67 and getting their ‘unofficial world champions’ moniker.

    Where’s my no-prize?

  14. NostalgiaFromHome says:

    Can anyone tell me the email address for the mail column in Uncanny X-Men? I don’t have access to my comics right now and won’t for awhile yet.

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