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Aug 20

The X-Axis – w/c 14 August 2023

Posted on Sunday, August 20, 2023 by Paul in x-axis

This is the most absurdly busy week we’ve had in ages. And alarmingly, this isn’t due to slippage – this is how it was solicited. That’s not a good thing, and hopefully it won’t be repeated any time soon.

Anyway, I’ve done annotations for four of these books already, so we’ll run through things quickly.

X-MEN UNLIMITED INFINITY COMIC #100. By Steve Foxe, Stephanie Williams, Noemi Vettori, Pete Pantazis & Travis Lanham. There’s also a thing called X-Men: Hellfire Gala Last Rites Infinity Comic #1 added to X-Men Unlimited this week, but that’s just an Infinite Comics edition of the trailer strips with X-Men election candidates, so we’ll pass that by. This is an anniversary issue, and rather than launch a major storyline, it’s more of a farewell to the Krakoan era. Prodigy learns that resurrected mutants need more than just the bare facts of what’s happened in their absence, and so starts collating some more emotional memories that can help people to understand better. It’s a perfectly solid idea, decently executed in a montage sequence, and a nice alternative to the more obvious way of doing an anniversary issue.

X-MEN: RED #14. (Annotations here.) We skip forward a few months to join the Arakki civil war in mid flow. And for the most part this is scene-setting for what that looks like. It’s the points of detail that elevate it above that, and Sunspot’s recap of Hellfire Gala works as an emotional sequence even if you’ve already read the original. I’m still not especially interested in Genesis, but I’m not entirely sure the story is either – she’s very much an off panel figurehead for the enemy forces, and a foil for the people we are interested in. X-Men: Red is somewhat detached from the rest of “Fall of X”, but since that means it’s continuing to pursue its own story, that’s not a bad thing.

DARK X-MEN #1. (Annotations here.) Outside the confines of X-Men itself, “Fall of X” is a lot less bleak than you might have expected it to be. Dark X-Men is about the mutants who are still on Earth because they were hanging out at the Limbo Embassy in New York. There’s a nice angle in here about Madelyne Pryor finally getting her chance to be the only Jean Grey, leading a team of “X-Men” that more or less maps to Jean, M, Nightcrawler, Cyclops and… well, okay, yes, Zero doesn’t quite fit the pattern. Forge, at a push, maybe? But Limbo is comically absurd rather than grim, and even that darkness is leavened by including a handful of actual refugee X-Men like Gambit, and Gimmick as the wide-eyed rookie. It’s surprisingly good fun and seriously overperformed my expectations for it.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #1. (Annotations here.) Technically an Avengers book, but seriously, come on now. It’s a five-issue mini by the writer of X-Men that exists solely to tie into an X-Men story. And while traditionally Uncanny Avengers is an Avengers/X-Men mash-up book, this is basically Captain America and Quicksilver (who might as well be a mutant) plus a bunch of X-characters, some of whom qualify as Avengers thanks to previous volumes of Uncanny Avengers. This is the book that winds up with the Captain Krakoa plot, and while we’re still deep into the territory of outright fascism on American streets, it’s less of a grind than X-Men was. I still find this storyline rather heavy handed in Duggan’s version, though. He’s playing it a bit too straight to get away with something quite so extreme. And after reading the whole issue, I’m not really clear what Captain America is actually doing about any of this in public, which feels like something I ought to know.

ALPHA FLIGHT #1. (Annotations here.) The trope of a subverted Canadian government is overused in Alpha Flight stories – which feels especially weird given that it’s Canada, for god’s sake – but that point aside, this is another pleasant surprise. Guardian has enough of a background with Orchis to make it just about plausible that he’d lead a core Alpha Flight team who stuck around to make sure someone was doing the actual superhero work in Canada, at least until we get to the twist and establish that for once, Alpha Flight are actually a step ahead of the bad guys. Ed Brisson’s previous work on the X-books was generally good, and this is another solid bit of storytelling. Going with a bright superhero art style is probably a good move too – it fits the misdirection of Alpha Flight as a seemingly oblivious hero team, but they’re also just characters who work best with a classic look.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – DOOMSDAY #2. By Marc Guggenheim, Manuel García, Cam Smith, Yen Nitro & Clayton Cowls. Scheduling this series alongside “Fall of X” may not have been the best move, since it’s a miniseries expanding on how the “Days of Future Past” timeline came about – well, one version of it, anyway. Which means it’s doing “slow slide into fascism” at the same time that the regular X-books are doing “rapid slide into fascism”. It’s not exactly counter-programming, is it? It does what it does perfectly competently, and probably a little more believably than the regular titles because it has things play out over a few years – but it’s also bound by some familiar story beats from established continuity. At this point, it feels like a well executed expansion of the story, which gives the characters more room to breathe – but if the end point is just everyone in a camp, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be a satisfying mini.

MARVEL’S VOICES: X-MEN #1. Well, this is a new direction for the Marvel’s Voices anthologies – and we’re getting Marvel’s Voices: Avengers after this, which, um, okay. Not much has really changed in terms of the content, though, except that there are some more established names in here, with Al Ewing and Greg Pak both contributing stories. Marvel’s anthologies have always been patchy and the Voices books are no exception – writers who are unfamiliar with the short-form format often struggle to do something satisfying in that space, and wind up with a half-formed vignette or a glorified lecture. Others, of course, get it right. Deep breath…

  • “The Stolen Night” by Raphael Fraccon, Carolina Munhóz, Jethro Morales & Michael Wiggun is how not to do it, I’m afraid. Gambit wants to steal back the bike from his first date with Rogue so they can play out that date the way it would have gone if they hadn’t been attacked by bad guys. But… if that’s your idea, then it should be a story about the date, not just a macguffin tagged on to a five page fight scene.
  • “Team-Building Terrors!” by Sarah Kuhn, Jorge Corona & Jim Campbell. Emma and Jean go on a team-building exercise in the early days of Krakoa and deal with weirdness at a carnival. This is a story, but not a desperately good one, and it doesn’t do much of anything with the particular relationship that Jean and Emma have. Instead, it gestures in the direction of both women wondering what it would have been like to have normal lives and then does some random stuff.
  • “The Man With No Shame” by Al Ewing, Gustaffo Vargas & Manuel Puppo is pretty good, on the other hand. It starts off with Kobak telling Iceman that Arakko didn’t need a Pride event because nobody cared about such things, only to bring out Solem, of all people, to narrate some of his back story and argue that it’s a bit more complicated than that. This is a proper six page story, and an interesting take on Solem to boot, since it expands his emotional range a bit while remaining true to the core concept.
  • “Cryo-Therapy” by Jay Jurden, Wilton Santos, Oren Junior & Andrew Dalhouse is… Iceman and Storm sparring for six pages. It’s got nice art, but there’s really not much to it at all, and in no way can it get away with going for an emotional beat in the closing panels.
  • “Hollywood Ending” by Greg Pak, Daniel Bayliss & Marcelo Costa dusts off Jubilee’s aunt from her short lived Robert Kirkman solo series, which is a surprise. It seems to be under the impression that Lady Deathstrike was a hero at some point, and I’m really struggling to think what that is. Anyway, it’s another slightly half-formed six-pager and it feels rushed.
  • “Evil Mutants” by Jay Edidin, Nina Vakueva & KJ Díaz. Mystique and Destiny circa 1980 continuity discuss their inability to live openly. It’s not exactly a story so much as a vignette of the two characters spelling something out (and, I think, going for the status quo of actual 1980 rather than Whenever That Period Happens To Be Now). But it sells the strength of feeling well and makes it work.
  • “Through the Years” by Jan Bazaldua, Maarcelo Costa & Neeraj Menon is four pages of Professor X looking at his scrapbook and it’s not much more than that.

So that’s… two stories out of seven that I’d say were worth going out of your way to read when it shows up on Unlimited, I’m afraid? Maybe releasing this in a week when there weren’t five other X-books plus the Infinity Comics would have caught me in a more generous mood, but on any view this is very skippable.

LOVE UNLIMITED INFINITY COMIC #63. By Preeti Chhibber, Carola Borelli, Carlos Lopez & Ariana Maher. And finally, Rogue and Gambit are still doing their heist against an aristocrat. This is a bit middle chapter-y, but it’s perfectly good fun, and the idea of Rogue randomly absorbing someone’s accent for a few minutes is quite endearing.

Bring on the comments

  1. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Lady Deathstrike’s brush with… let’s charitably call it heroism… came in Wolverines and Weapon X(-Force), I guess? That second book was by Pak IIRC.

  2. Chris V says:

    Additionally, X-Men Annual 2000, written by Claremont, had Lady Deathstrike teaming up with the X-Men and ended with the idea that Lady Deathstrike could find redemption.

  3. No surprise that the writer that cut his teeth on 2000AD is the only one that can make a five page story work.

  4. Thom H. says:

    Bold choice in the Days of Future Past mini to recreate the assault on the X-mansion originally drawn by Sienkiewicz. It doesn’t compare favorably and makes me wish they had staged it differently.

  5. Mike Loughlin says:

    While I liked the Ewing story, I agree that the Marvel Voices special was sub-par. It’s weird, most of the content of this issue and the most recent DC Pride read like they’re aimed at a younger audience, but expect the reader to know who all the characters and concepts are with no explanation. I get the impetus behind their publication, but the target audience is unclear.

  6. Josie says:

    I don’t blame people for buying anthologies – I love a good anthology when it’s affordable/on sale, or when it’s something of a dependable quality, like Image’s old Flight volumes.

    But I do wish people would stop supporting Marvel and DC publishing so many anthologies, because they always feel like filler inventory material with an average of one story by well-known creators commissioned to sell the entire issue.

    I really wish there was a better format. Like instead of $10 for 80 pages of filler, put out a 200-page OGN anthology (with good binding) for $20.

  7. ylU says:

    I haven’t really chewed this idea over, so I’m not too committed to it, but I think it could be argued that most superhero characters just aren’t especially suited for shorter stories.

    I recall Tom Brevoort once saying something along those lines specifically about the Fantastic Four and not the genre as a whole, as explanation for why he doesn’t do the typical main-story-plus-backups format in Fantastic Four anniversary issues.

  8. Mark Coale says:

    The good thing about something like Dark Horse Presents is that it seemed like there was one core story, be it concrete or sin city, and then some new/experimental straps, so it didn’t feel like a total waste of money/time.

  9. nrh says:

    The classic Marvel anthologies were always distinguished more by their art than the writing, a great place to find early work by idiosyncratic young artists. Which, for any number of reasons, doesn’t seem like something you’re going to get from contemporary Marvel.

  10. Chris V says:

    If by “classic” you mean the late 1950s-early 1960s anthologies…they were just pure fun. There was nothing wrong with the writing. They were fun sci-fi or horror short stories, most of which were often derivative of other contemporary genre contributions like The Twilight Zone.

    As far as American anthology comics, the best example was Negative Burn, published by Caliber Comics.

  11. Mike Loughlin says:

    I like anthologies, generally, but they work best as new talent showcases, artist showcases, a place to publish stories that might not work in a monthly series, or all of the above. Marvel Voices: X-Men might have worked as a new talent showcase, but the material wasn’t there. I’ve read other Marvel Voices issues that were much better. I don’t buy all of them, but new Al Ewing and a chance to see Jay Edditin write another character piece made this one a must-buy. Those two writers didn’t disappoint, at least.

    I’ve had better luck with the Black & White [and Color] comics Marvel & DC have put out because they’re artist-focused. I can look through them just for the visuals. The art on this comic didn’t do much for me.

  12. The Other Michael says:

    Honestly, I was buying a lot of the Marvel and DC voices/pride/heritage anthologies just to show support for the material, because there are enough wangdoodles out there whining about “wokeness” that I felt it helpful to encourage more diversity and LGBTQ representation…

    But something like this feels a lot less… focused? It was a lot harder to tell what the underlying theme for this issue was beyond “X-Men” so I’m thinking it’s time to be more discriminating about which ones I shell out $10 for. I was just underwhelmed by this. I’m not such an X-Men completionist that I necessarily need stuff like this for the collection.

  13. Chris V says:

    It seems to me that Marvel ran out of new voices to showcase from Asian, Latinx, and Native American creators, so they decided to change the format. They released a Black Panther-themed anthology for Black History Month featuring African-American or Black creators. There was another Pride volumn this year. Since then, the format has changed to simply publish character specific anthologies instead of the original remit to showcase diversity in comics. Whether Marvel will return to Black and LGBTQ+ specials after this, I’m unsure.
    I certainly have zero interest in purchasing more overpriced comics featuring Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, etc. featured in subpar short stories.

  14. Loz says:

    I don’t follow Alpha Flight continuity too closely but wasn’t there some weird story a few years back about Heather Hudson being kept in some sort of brainwashy VR prison because she was super dangerous now? Or did I dream it?

  15. Miyamoris says:

    @Loz, I saw someone mention the same thing at Scans Daily and now I’m intensely confused.

  16. Thomas Williams says:

    I don’t know if the discussion has been brought up anywhere else, but the only version of this year’s gala that can be read on Unlimited is refitting the comic into the infinite format…and it’s terrible. I redeemed codes, and this is the version I got digital and abandoned reading for the physical comic.

  17. Josie says:

    “I think it could be argued that most superhero characters just aren’t especially suited for shorter stories.”

    I don’t understand this at all. I’ve read plenty of short-form superhero stories that worked perfectly well. The issue with anthologies isn’t the genre; it’s the nature of anthologies to feature more filler/crap than genuinely inspired material.

  18. Josie says:

    “I’ve had better luck with the Black & White [and Color] comics Marvel & DC have put out because they’re artist-focused. I can look through them just for the visuals.”

    That’s actually a really good example. I didn’t enjoy the amount of content we got in their single issues, but the collections? Even if an individual story was bland, there was usually an interesting artistic approach that made it worthwhile.

  19. Josie says:

    “I was buying a lot of the Marvel and DC voices/pride/heritage anthologies just to show support for the material, because there are enough wangdoodles out there whining about “wokeness” that I felt it helpful to encourage more diversity and LGBTQ representation”

    This is frustrating, and I get where you’re coming from. On one hand, supporting such efforts is a middle finger at the bigots. On the other hand, supporting a middling creative effort just because of the message it sends . . . kind of ends up sending a mixed message?

  20. Mike Loughlin says:

    “On one hand, supporting such efforts is a middle finger at the bigots. On the other hand, supporting a middling creative effort just because of the message it sends . . . kind of ends up sending a mixed message?”

    I haven’t bought every Voices or Pride special, and feel a little bad about it. I’d rather send the message that I’ll buy material by newer creators than not send the message that I support non-white/cis/hetero creators. $7-$10 is a lot to spend on (mostly) untested talent, even if it’s for a good cause (not to suggest Marvel & DC donate money from the sales of these anthologies to any charity or political organization, just that I think publishing them is important). I’ll buy them if I can swing the money that week. The only one I outright refused to buy was one of the Marvel Pride specials that was half reprints. Just put out the original material in a smaller format!

    That said, I still think the target audience should be established at the outset. If the audience is supposed to be young adults/teens, pitch the material in that direction. The Jean & Emma story works better for that group. If it’s for Wednesday Warriors, have the material be more mature, a la the Mystique/Destiny vignette. If the target audience is new/lapsed readers, take 2 panels to explain who the characters are and their general set-up. These books could find a larger audience if Marvel & DC honed the approach.

  21. Salomé H. says:

    Likewise unimpressed with the Marvel Voices issue, and quite confused as to its actual premise. If it was fully focussed on queer and/or POC characters, that would at least be *a* angle (if a very broad one). But Emma and Jean basking in how utterly extraordinary are… I mean, why?

    I quite liked the Solem story, though it would be nice for it not to begin do abruptly. The twist on the character’s backstory is pretty compelling.

    And I especially enjoyed the ending. Given how smarmy and jocky Bobby seems to be most of the time, to see the two characters hook up that explicitly? Sweet, bordering on hot.

  22. Salomé H. says:

    Oh, two other points, briefly:

    1) I think the Classic X-Men strips show you can do a lot with a short story format. if you know how to work the limits of the format. The story detailing Jean’s first interaction with the Phoenix is kind of a stunner – especially visually speaking. The set in those was generally amazing…

    2) I’ve not read more than a couple of stories from the X-Men: Unlimited series – but it does feel like a wasted opportunity not to have one in the Krakoa era.

    There’s so, so much we were told rather than shown, and so many loose ends that could really do with some TLC – I’d take that over any anthology gimimick.

    Stacy X at the nursery? What happens – or doesn’t – to the Crucible? How random characters are finding their way I’m Krakoa, especially Morlock survivors – thinking of Marrows, here…?

    I mean, come on!

  23. ylU says:

    “If it was fully focussed on queer and/or POC characters, that would at least be *a* angle (if a very broad one). But Emma and Jean basking in how utterly extraordinary are… I mean, why?”

    Marvel’s Voices is as much about diversity behind the scenes as on the page. The Jean/Emma story was by an Asian-American writer and Venezuelan artist. I mean, it would be nice if the stories could be about diversity both on *and* off the page. But at the same time I get why you don’t want to tell the these creators, “Yes, we want you do a story for us but *only* if it’s about minorities like yourself. You want to write Jean and Emma instead? Too bad.”

  24. Josie says:

    “you don’t want to tell the these creators, “Yes, we want you do a story for us but *only* if it’s about minorities like yourself.”

    If the anthology has a specific theme or purpose, of course you can outline this direction. That’s what editors do.

  25. Karl_H says:

    I’d love to see an anthology about peripheral characters in the X-universe, just showing what they’ve been up to, highlighting some aspect of the bigger story. The main problem would be getting later writers to pay attention to what’s established in an anthology…

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