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Jun 5

The X-Axis – 5 June 2011

Posted on Sunday, June 5, 2011 by Paul in x-axis

Welcome to a comics post that, I promise, will not have anything to say about the upcoming DC relaunch.  If you want some thoughts on that, just check the previous post for this week’s podcast, where we talk about it plenty.  Plus, reviews of Flashpoint: Secret Seven, Criminal and 50 Girls 50.

Six X-books this week, though one of them’s pretty much completist-only territory, as well as both of the summer event titles and the wrap-up of Jonathan Ross’s comic… so let’s get to work.

Astonishing X-Men #39 – With the series alternating back and forth between two different storylines, this issue returns to Daniel Way’s “Monstrous”.  And is any connection between the two stories apparent here?  No.  None whatsoever.  I’m used by now to the X-Men titles not referring to one another, but an X-Men title that doesn’t even refer to itself… that’s quite something.

Interestingly, even though the arc is now on a bimonthly schedule, artist Jason Pearson is already gone, with Nick Bradshaw taking his place.  Pearson’s interior art for this storyline has actually been quite good, but heaven only knows what he was thinking with this issue’s cover, a baffling scrawl which has thoughtfully been rendered in the darkest available colours to make sure nobody can see it properly.  Bradshaw drew this year’s Uncanny X-Men Annual –  the chapter of “Escape from the Negative Zone” that I actually liked – and I’m glad to see him getting some higher profile work here.  There’s a degree of distortion that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but he does good character work, and rather nice monsters in an Art Adams kind of way.

This is fundamentally a throwaway story about the X-Men fighting monsters controlled by an obscure villain, Mentallo, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  Daniel Way’s got the right idea here – keep it simple and have fun with it.  It’s a basic concept that allows for plenty of action, and for the human drama, there’s a subplot of whether Armor is here because it’s her duty as an X-Man, or just because she wants to get away from her family.  Keeping the cast to just four X-Men lets it remain nice and focussed (it’s remarkable how often the quality of X-Men stories improves when they don’t try to find roles for everyone).

There’s a bit in the middle with Cyclops and Wolverine that doesn’t really work – or make sense, frankly.  Cyclops takes Wolverine aside to discuss what Armor is up to.  Wolverine claims that Cyclops is actually talking about Jean Grey, and claims that that’s why Scott wanted to take them aside (i.e., to avoid Emma).  But Cyclops’ question makes more sense at face value, has nothing obviously to do with Jean, and clearly couldn’t be asked in front of Armor either… so Wolverine comes across as making a bizarre logical leap, and the overall impression is that there’s some idea in here that Way failed to get across properly.

Still, on the whole it’s a good enough X-Men story, helped by some strong art, an unaccustomed sense of focus, and a clever moment finding a cute use for Armor’s powers.

Fear Itself #3 – Yeah, this isn’t working for me.  Sure, Stuart Immonen’s art is great.  And there’s an okay Thor story at the centre.  But it only gets 5 pages of the issue; the rest is more Blitzkrieg USA stuff, with random heroes fighting random henchmen and nothing discernible at stake until they apparently kill someone at the end in an attempt to convince us that any of this matters.  Pretty, yes.  Remotely interesting as a story, no.

Flashpoint #2 – Now, this isn’t exactly Watchmen either, and personally I’d take Immonen’s art over Andy Kubert’s.  But it’s a better comic nonetheless.  Both Marvel and DC have arguably taken a story which properly belongs in one title – Thor for Marvel, Flash for DC – and artificially extended it to justify a line-wide crossover.  But the difference is that where Fear Itself has allowed that stuff to swamp the core story, Flashpoint more or less ignores it and leaves it for the tie-in minis to deal with.  Half of this book is about Steve Trevor and Deathstroke travelling to Europe and getting caught up in the war between Atlantis and the Amazons, which… well, isn’t that interesting in itself, but pushes the story along and does set up some questions about how Wonder Woman and Aquaman both ended up so out of character.  But the other half is Barry Allen trying to trying to convince Batman to help him out, and that’s very well done – including a cliffhanger which is both laugh-out-loud audacious, and sets up a real mystery of where the hell the book can possibly be going from here.

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #1 – We reviewed this on the podcast, but I’ll raise it again here, because it’s an example of just how peripheral some of these tie-in minis appear to be.  What does Secret Seven have to do with the plot of Flashpoint?  Well, pretty much nothing, so far – there’s a passing mention of the fact that Cyborg tried to recruit Shade to help him, and that’s about it.  On the other hand, there are other elements in here that might turn out to be significant; we’re told in terms that Shade exists in multiple realities at once, for example, which doesn’t seem to have any thematic importance, so presumably serves the plot.

Despite the title, this isn’t a team book at all; it’s a Shade the Changing Man miniseries, by Peter Milligan and (mostly) George Perez.  Milligan did some of his best work on Vertigo’s Shade the Changing Man, particularly in the first four years or so, but he’s also always embraced the subtitle by drastically reinventing his lead character as he goes along.  This version of Shade seems to be primarily based on the Steve Ditko original, but with elements from Milligan’s original Vertigo take hovering around the edges.  Perez turns out to be a great choice of artist, since the Ditko “madness” visuals are so wildly at odds with his usual style that they seem all the more anomalous and weird.  It’s arguably not so much a story as a Shade character piece, but with Milligan writing that’s usually no bad thing.

Turf #5 – The end of Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards’ miniseries, clocking in at a very respectable 35 pages, no ads (for $3.99, but still).  I remember that when issue #1 came out, I had some vague ideas that it might be trying to say something about prohibition – but yeah, ultimately those elements fade to the background and we get “everyone teams up to fight the real baddies”.  Oh, and a tongue-in-cheek set-up for a possible sequel.

I’m not sure quite what to make of this, looking back.  It’s very much a 70s throwback, both in terms of the density of the story, and the use of narration, which sometimes veers a little too far in the direction of outright pastiche.  On the other hand, it also feels like a book where everyone’s having fun, if only by doing a deliberately pulpy story.  The plot may end up being sheer melodrama, but at least some work has been put into constructing it so that the plot threads dovetail nicely, and Ross deserves credit for doing something more that has nothing whatsoever to do with his established TV persona.  It does turn out to be a rather slight story, and there’s potential in the early issues which isn’t fully realised, but it’s certainly more than just a celebrity vanity comic.

Uncanny X-Force #11 – Officially this is the first chapter of “The Dark Angel Saga”, though to all intents and purposes it really started with last issue’s prologue.  In order to save Warren, X-Force need a macguffin which can only be found in the Age of Apocalypse timeline, so they hook up with the Dark Beast to travel there.  Rick Remender isn’t really interested in the mechanics of how you get there either, so that’s treated as a matter of casual ease.  Needless to say, once we get to the said dystopia, it’s a Chase the Macguffin story, livened up by letting Wolverine and Psylocke meet the X-Men from this world.  (Deadpool and Fantomex get to meet them as well, but they don’t really care so much.)  Remender also remembers that Psylocke spent time with the AoA version of Sabretooth in Exiles, though whether the references to that are clear enough to make sense to new readers, I’m not sure.

As usual, despite its remit to be the dark and violent book, X-Force avoids falling into the trap of excessive murk and angst.  At bottom, Remender is just having fun here doing an alternate world and a chase story.  The art does veer a bit on the sombre side, and the colouring is a little too mired in the brown/grey murk that traditionally says “Take this seriously, now”, but on the whole it’s a decent issue.

Wolverine/Hercules: Myths, Monsters and Mutants #4 – This would be the completist-only book that I mentioned in the introduction.  Not because it’s particularly bad, but… well, it’s a Wolverine/Hercules team-up miniseries, set in past continuity, and acting as a sequel to a story Wolverine wasn’t even in.  The days when a loyal audience would pick up this sort of book anyway are long behind us.  Marvel seem to be moving away from this sort of project and towards simply running extra issues of the regular titles; in the short term that’s probably for the best, though it doesn’t really address the more fundamental questions connected with the overexpansion of the line.

To be fair to Frank Tieri, he’s certainly tried to give this story a bit of dramatic weight.  Unfortunately, he’s tried to do that by using it to tie up the long-forgotten subplot about Matsuo Tsurayaba being tormented by Wolverine each year.  And that plot was already tied up in last year’s Psylocke miniseries.  I know editors are less bothered about cross-title continuity than they used to be, but for heaven’s sake, is it that hard to avoid commissioning two different miniseries to resolve the same subplot?  Tieri’s resolution would actually have worked fine in isolation; I have a sneaking suspicion that the last page was tacked on to avoid creating a major continuity clash with Psylocke, but it’s a good scene anyway.

That aside, much of the series has been a perfectly acceptable team-up romp, and for the most part the same applies in this issue.  Unfortunately, the big finish is rather botched, first with a page of incomprehensible artwork that ruins a key moment, and then an anticlimactic ending with Pluto showing up to sort everything out.

X-23 #11 – More of Jubilee and X-23 in Paris, and as you’d imagine, Jubilee’s being used here to further explore the “nature vs nurture” theme which lies at the heart of this book.  Unfortunately, in another example of questionable inter-title editing, Marjorie Liu seems to think that Jubilee’s character arc as a vampire involves everyone on Utopia being shunning her, with her being in denial about her condition, until she finally left Utopia and got a sense of perspective.  That, of course, is pretty much the exact opposite of the character arc we saw in the Wolverine & Jubilee miniseries and the epilogue issue in X-Men itself – and even in this continuity-lite era, there’s really no excuse for getting that sort of thing wrong.

Anyway, X-23 has a death wish of sorts, X-23 goes shopping for normal girl clothes, everyone investigates villains doing something with the trigger scent from the previous arc… it’s a fairly typical issue, livened up by some interesting art from Sana Takeda.  I’m starting to get the feeling, though, that as with Marjorie Liu’s work on Daken, there’s a lot of navel-gazing from the lead character here, but no actual progression beneath it all.

X-Factor #220 – A Sin-Eater story?  That’s a concept that echoes back to the “Death of Jean DeWolff” story that Peter David wrote for Spider-Man in the 1980s, but here it seems to be a demon thingy that’s sent out to face Shatterstar and Wolfsbane.  Now, if ever there’s a character who ought to be worried about her fate in the afterlife, it’s Wolfsbane; devout puritanism used to be her defining character trait back in the day, and by any standards she’s deviated pretty severely from what she still claims to believe in.  There’s also some good stuff in this issue with the two leads – David’s really found a hook on Shatterstar by playing up his showman tendencies.  And he’s being entirely true to Rob Liefeld’s original conception of the character, merely doing it in a subtler and more humorous way.

That said, this is still one of those stories where a mystical character shows up to spell out a Theme for the slow members of the class, and while I’m glad to see it being foreshadowed as a longer-term direction to be explored with Rahne’s character, it’s also done in a rather heavy-handed way, at least by Peter David’s standards.

X-Men #12 – Part two of “First and Last”, the Evolutionaries storyline.  (Note to Marvel: you know how the first part of this storyline appeared in a special, rather than in issue #11?  Try mentioning that on the recap page.  You never know, you might actually sell some comics.)

So, the Evolutionaries have shown up on Utopia, and we cut back and forth between this encounter and what happened when the X-Men talked to them in the Silver Age.  The Evolutionaries, it seems, are obsessed with finding somebody to deal with claims to speak for the mutant race.  Professor X never fit that description, but in line with the last few years of stories, Cyclops does.  Unfortunately, as the Evolutionaries point out, Cyclops’ tenure as leader of the mutant race has pretty much been one catastrophe after another.  Perhaps he might like to consider his position.

I like the basic idea of this storyline.  Aside from being a nice way of showing up how much the X-Men have changed since the 1960s, it plays neatly off some core themes both of the series as a whole and the last few years of stories.  Unfortunately, at least in the present day sequences, it’s also falling prey to the same problem that plagued Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny – a veritable horde of characters resulting in a lack of focus.  I also question the wisdom of having the Eternals show up in a prehistoric flashback to explain the plot with no explanation of who they are or what they’re up to.  Unless the story’s going to get back to them in later chapters, that’s surely going to confuse the hell out of readers who don’t recognise the characters.

The story suffers a bit from sprawl, then, but at least there are strong concepts in here.

Bring on the comments

  1. Justin says:

    I think Feral and Rahne met in a Captain America story where Cap turns into a werewolf. They also might’ve met up during X-Cutioners song, I think X-Factor was playing prison guard to some of the X-Force kids in the danger room for a few issues. Otherwise I’m not really sure when they would’ve crossed paths. I wouldn’t say Feral was mishandled, I’d say she was just a kind of lousy character that served a purpose for those early X-Force stories. Her sister always had potential though.

  2. Reboot says:

    Re: Wolfsbane/Feral. Three words: “Rahne and Simpy”…

  3. errant says:

    Never really understood the point of writing Wolfsbane out of New Mutants only to introduce Feral. Surely, whatever they wanted to do with Feral (apparently nothing?) could have been done with Wolfsbane and her post-X-tinction Agenda status quo.

  4. lambnesio says:

    @Reboot- Ohhhh, man. I totally forgot that. Rahne’s World too. Those were so excellent.

    @bad johnny got out- Just wanted to mention that made me laugh.

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