Monday, December 22, 2008

The X-Axis - 21 December 2008

It's the week before Christmas, and all through the market, nobody was releasing any comics of particular importance. Check out episode 4 of House to Astonish to hear Al and me discuss Hellblazer #250 and X-Men: Kingbreaker #1 (as well as Phonogram #1 from last week). And over the next couple of days, we'll come back to X-Men: Legacy #219 (a one-off Juggernaut story) and... boy, it's really a dead week. I've got a couple of unread graphic novels and digests in my pile - might get back to you about a couple of them.

But first...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8 #20 - Twenty? How long is this season? Anyway, this is an interlude between story arcs, in which Jeph Loeb shows up to tell us what his aborted Buffy animated series would have been like. Kind of. It's actually an extended dream scene (illustrated by the people who would have animated the series) with Buffy reminiscing about the happy days of Season 1, the moral being that things weren't so different. Obviously, if the series had happened, it wouldn't have been like this, but the dream format fits better as a break in the action for Season 8. And it's one of the better things I've read from Jeph Loeb recently - it's tight, it's punchy, and yes, granted, it hits all the obvious elements of Season 1 Buffy. Unquestionably a book for Buffy fans (it won't make a great deal of sense otherwise), but all rather enjoyable for them.

Dark Reign: New Nation - In which we have the privilege of paying four dollars to read trailers for upcoming series. Taking them in turn: the promotion of Secret Warriors baffles me, with the characters getting only a marginal role in Secret Invasion when they should have been central. However, the ongoing series is co-written by Jonathan Hickman, whose indie work has always been interesting, and it's interesting that the trailer focusses entirely on Nick Fury rather than the who-cares supporting cast. Actually not bad, though the colouring is lamentable (it's like looking at the world through urine sunglasses).

The Agents of Atlas trailer is pretty decent, and sets up a potentially neat idea where the good guys are running a supposed international criminal empire (per their recent miniseries) and the bad guys are running the government (per Dark Reign). The crossover might well help this book, by focussing the idea they were going to do anyway.

War Machine gives us a Greg Pak and Leonardo Manco story where he indirectly kills an evil capitalist. It's a bit generic, and although it repositions Jim Rhodes as a more violent hero, it does so in a generically mid-nineties kind of way. Not that it's bad - it's perfectly okay - but it's not especially inspiring.

The Skrull Kill Krew story, by Adam Felber and Paulo Siqueira, is a gunman killing some cows while some comedy hicks look on. This series was always going to be a tough sell for me: I'm bored to tears of the Skrulls, and the last thing I want to read is another series with more Skrulls. But even allowing for that, this is pretty weak. I don't understand why they're bringing these guys back - surely nobody really thinks the original series was a lost classic?

Finally, New Avengers: The Reunion is the Hawkeye/Mockingbird mini by Jim McCann and David Lopez (or at least, they're the ones doing this series). And this has some promise - I quite like the idea of the recently returned Mockingbird not trusting anything around her, and the art is rather impressive. Mind you, I have a slightly irrational affection for Mockingbird based solely on the fact that late-eighties West Coast Avengers was one of the first US books I started reading regularly, and I can't help wondering how many of today's readers really care about a relatively obscure heroine who's been dead for twenty years. But I quite liked this. I'm kind of looking forward to this series.

Ex Machina #40 - A one-off story in which Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris meet their creations, as comic book creators pitching to make the official Mitchell Hundred comic. It's the sort of thing that could easily become gimmicky - let's be honest, it is gimmicky - but they pull it off, and the final page made me laugh more than anything else this week. Which is why I'm taking the time to plug it, to be honest.

God-Size Thor #1 - Seriously? God-Size Thor? We're really calling it that? Oh, whatever. This is another Matt Fraction one-shot, but set in present-day cotinuity and unconnected to his earlier stories. And boy, Fraction writes a great Thor. It's basically a homage to Walt Simonson's Thor #362, dutifully reprinted in the back, where Skurge the Executioner sacrifices himself for Asgard. Now, somebody's messing about with his memory - literally. The shifting artists are slightly jarring (much as I like Mike Allred, he seems miscast here), but it's a strong story and proves that Fraction should without question be next in line to take over the regular Thor series. And since we're regularly complaining about the price of Marvel's comics, let's note that your four dollars gets you a 38-page lead story and a 22-page reprint, with only three pages of adverts. Worth buying.

New Exiles #16 - Oh dear, this is really going off the rails. We've got a lead story with a confused idea about Kitty Pryde merging bodies with Mystiq, for reasons which aren't terribly apparent. There's a naked Rogue for thoroughly contrived reasons. And the back-up strip has Sage's evil Diana Fox persona suddenly deciding to be a hero for no readily obvious reason. At various times, New Exiles has shown some of the best and worst of Chris Claremont's current writing - and there are still flashes of genuinely good work - but this is not his strongest effort. The series ends with issue #18 (with hindsight, something that was clearly signalled by calling the arc "Away We Go"), and Claremont seems to be indulging himself in this final story, not necessarily with the best results.

Uncanny X-Men #505 - Colossus meets a bad guy from his past, the Beast recruits another D-list character for his research team, and Emma Frost finally figures out that Scott is up to something behind her back. Oh, and X-23 shows up. There's an awful lot going on here, which makes it hard to figure out whether it's about anything in particular, but most of it works, and Fraction's earned enough goodwill for me to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's be honest: I really want Matt Fraction's X-Men to be good, as good as his work on other books, but so far it's been hit or miss. This is mostly hit, and that's encouraging enough.

X-Factor #38 - A late but strong contender for year's most ludicrously inconsistent art, this issue gives us four pages of Larry Stroman (including an establishing shot so awful you have to wonder if he's doing it for a bet), followed by a completely different issue by Nelson. It's... inconsistent. The action scenes are sub-par house style, but the talky bits aren't bad, and have a hint of Darick Robertson to them. Still, it's a very odd thing to see in a single issue. The story struggles to get past it, and villain Manu seems to be little more than a generic evil businessman. But there are some good sequences with Rictor and Theresa that redeem the book.

X-Men: Kingbreaker #1 - The next act of the story that began in the X-Men: Emperor Vulcan miniseries, now with the added burden of doubling as a set-up for the spring 2009 War of Kings crossover. It's a bit mixed. The characters are quite well written, and between this and the previous series, Christopher Yost has made Vulcan into a workable villain. On the other hand, the plot's a bit weak, to put it mildly. Still, fans of the Starjammers (or, perhaps more to the point, Havok) should probably enjoy this - it's nothing great, or especially ambitious, but it succeeds well enough at being a reasonably diverting Shi'ar story.

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