Sunday, November 09, 2008

The X-Axis - 9 November 2008

Tons of X-books and new titles this week, most of them not especially important. And four Wolverine titles at once? Who scheduled that?

I'm planning to get back to Weapon X: First Class #1 and Sandman: Dream Hunters #1 in the next couple of days. And check out the first episode of House to Astonish, in the post below, for more on Ultimatum, Gigantic and Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes. But here's this week's round-up.

Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel #1 - Six-issue miniseries from Kevin Grevioux and Mat Broome about a 1960s superhero forced into retirement after the public find out he's black. Not a bad concept in theory, although it's awkwardly shoehorned into the Marvel Universe - it's one of those "If he's that important, wouldn't somebody have mentioned him by now?" problems. It's serviceably done, and Grevioux seems better off on a solo book (his New Warriors was plagued by characters fading into the background and going unnamed for issues at a time). But it doesn't seem to have a fresh angle on the subject, and it's a bit obvious. Still, I've read a lot worse than this.

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1 - Two stories, totalling sixteen pages, for an outrageous four dollar price tag. This was originally solicited as a 48-page book, so something's clearly gone horribly wrong. The material looks more like it was designed to appear as a back-up strip in Astonishing itself, where it would have worked reasonably well (though apparently Ellis planned it as a single issue with three stories - also viable). There's one by Alan Davis with the villain recounting a version of Astonishing #26 that we know didn't happen, and another with a quasi-Victorian X-Men on a parallel world. But they only make sense if you read them in conjunction with the core series, so publishing them as a mini is a weird decision at any price. At four dollars, it really is unforgivable price-gouging.

Cable #8 - Okay, I get the idea here. Bishop has decided that Cable's hiding in some weird future timeline that doesn't really count, so he's trying to destroy the world in order to box Cable in. And then, when he kills the kid, it'll all be cancelled out anyway. That kind of makes sense. But the series still suffers from the problem I talked about last month: sure, it's dramatically neat to keep Bishop's motivations a mystery, but there's no discernible reason why he isn't simply telling everyone - especially in scenes where he's actually trying to justify himself to the X-Men. Perhaps the mistake here was to write so much of the series from Bishop's perspective, where his failure to explain himself can't help but become increasingly clumsy. Still, there's something to this - flawed, but there's some potential in the underlying ideas.

Civil War: House of M #3 - Three issues in, it's increasingly clear that there really is no justification whatsoever for the Civil War tag on this book. It's simply the back story of Magneto in the House of M timeline. Creators Christos Gage and Andrea DiVito put all the pieces in the right order, and tell a coherent story, but it's difficult (if not impossible) to fathom what the point is supposed to be, other than to squeeze the last cents from these franchises. Filling in the backstory of an alternate reality that never existed in the first place? Why?

Gigantic #1 - Rick Remender and Eric Nguyen offer their take on giant monster movies. Remender likes the idea of the originals more than the sensibilities, and that's reflected in what we get here: Earth has been created by aliens for a TV show, and with the ratings flagging, it's time to dump a well-meaning giant robot in San Francisco. Great art from Nguyen (and unusually subtle colouring for something like this). I think it shows its hand a little too quickly on the "reality TV" idea - which is explained on page 1 - but on the whole, this is pretty good.

Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion #1 - Billy Tucci does Sergeant Rock, in a story which I believe is supposed to be loosely based on actual events. You wouldn't know; it reads like a fairly typical PG-rated war comic. Bit pretty, bit of token grit, and some tribute to the sufferings of actual soldiers. There's an attempt to present Rock and his supporting cast as personifying military traits, instead of just being exceptional soldiers. It's inoffensive and well-meaning, but light on plot and drama. Forgettable.

Ultimatum #1 - Marvel try to revive interest in the Ultimate Universe by having a major disaster hit it. As I said on the podcast, we've seen this before with flagging alternate universe imprints, and it's never worked yet. The art's okay - bit fiddly, but it does manage a sense of scale at some key point. Some of the dialogue is excruciating, though. ("Very verily"?) It's still better than most of Jeph Loeb's recent work - which is to say, it makes sense from one event to the next - but the whole thing feels a bit desperate. If this is the plan to reignite interest in the Ultimate Universe, then I think they've lost sight of what made it work in the first place: back-to-basics stories unfettered by the weight of continuity, with the creators given relatively free reign within that framework.

Wolverine and Power Pack #1 - Not really a new title so much as the latest arc in the ongoing Power Pack series, which bills every story as a separate miniseries. This is the out-of-continuity version where Power Pack are still cute little kids. The story is about what you'd expect: Wolverine and Power Pack team up to fight Sauron. It's fine, but no real surprises there. This book's real selling point is GuriHiru's art, which continues to hit precisely the right level of cuteness to make the book work. It's basically a very pretty kids' book, of limited interest to older X-Men fans, but it knows what it's about, and does it well.

Wolverine: Chop Shop - This month's unnecessary Wolverine one-shot is by Mike Benson and Roland Boschi, both completely unfamiliar names to me. It's based on the urban legend about people being drugged and having organs stolen. And that's quite a good starting point for a Wolverine story, since his powers let you go further with it than you could with most characters. But that promising idea ends up as a fairly standard noir story. Boschi is actually quite good, with a few striking page layouts and a engagingly rough, minimal style. Wouldn't mind seeing more of him. T he story, though, is average.

Wolverine: First Class #8 - The second half of a story with Wolverine and Kitty fighting, of all people, the Soviet Super-Soldiers. Now, I know Marvel time is a bit loose and all, but surely we're now at the point where the Soviet Union was gone by the time the FF showed up, let alone when Kitty joined the X-Men? That aside, it's fine and all, and a nice enough throwback to the eighties. But with such a deluge of Wolverine material on the market, it's hard to think of a reason why you'd recommend this one in particular - unless you have an especial yearning for that particular style.

X-Men: Manifest Destiny #3 - I picked this up and couldn't remember whether I'd actually read it, which is always a bad sign. The lead Iceman serial is all a bit confused, and isn't doing much for me. Young X-Men readers will want to note that the issue contains Graymalkin's origin story, which brings in a man-out-of-time element that hasn't been particularly noticeable in his appearances to date. It's a bit heavy-handed but I can see some possibilities. And there's a short Colossus story by Chris Yost and Humberto Ramos, which doesn't quite hit the emotional mark it was going for, but has its moments nonetheless.

X-Men and Spider-Man #1 - This is a four-issue mini with Spider-Man and the X-Men meeting at various points in their careers, but with a common storyline running through all those meetings. Basically, though, it's an excuse to mix up the X-Men and Spider-Man villains, which does give us something a little new. But the real draw is Mario Alberti's art, which is very impressive, blending the European style with the Marvel characters to surprisingly good effect. The story is okay, but the book looks absolutely wonderful, and is actually worth picking up for that reason alone.

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