Sunday, December 07, 2008

The X-Axis - 7 December 2008

If you haven't listened to House to Astonish yet, then now is as good a time as any to do so. Here's the download, here's the web page, and it's on iTunes too. This week, we talk about Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1, Secret Invasion #8, and X-Men: Noir #1.

There's a review of Haunted Tank #1 already up (it's not great), and I'll be reviewing X-Infernus #1 tomorrow (it's not bad, actually). And now, let's go through the rest of this week's ridiculous deluge of X-books, plus a couple of other vaguely noteworthy titles...

Cable #9 - The X-Men keep interrogating Bishop, who turns out to have a plan after all, while in the future, Cable is sorely vexed by ants with guns. It has its moments; the politically correct murderous insects are a nice touch. But there's still no apparent reason why Bishop doesn't simply explain his motivations (particularly since he claims to be trying to do so), which lends an air of contrivance to the whole thing. And I'm lukewarm about Ariel Olivetti's art here; there's a certain charm to it, but there's also an odd tension between the hyperrealistic textures and the exaggerated figures, which gives some of his female characters, in particular, an awkward, rubbery quality that doesn't serve the story. Still, it's trying something different for an X-book, and it's got its own feel, which is always welcome.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 - Kurt Busiek's sequel to Marvels jumps back to the dawn of the Silver Age. We were going to talk about this on House to Astonish, but frankly, there's not much to say about it. It's got Jay Anacleto instead of Alex Ross, and while he does a respectable job, it's not going to turn heads in the same way. As for the story, Phil Sheldon is heading for a midlife crisis of general ennui when the superheroes come back and cheer him up again. It's fine as far as it goes, but so far it's not apparent what this is really adding to Marvels. Later issues apparently go into more modern history than the original series, and perhaps at that stage the point will become clearer, but for the moment this feels mainly as though it's treading old ground.

New Exiles #15 - Lots of running around on a world full of islands, defended by men in Iron Man suits and women with swords. Seems a poor deal for the ladies. Unfortunately, this is all becoming a bit confused, as Claremont starts wheeling out oddities such as counterparts of the Shi'ar Death Commandos (never especially interesting characters to start with) made up of counterparts of the X-Men. Confused yet? It's okay as far as it goes, but decidedly inward-looking and self-absorbed. Mind you, it's a book for Claremont fans, and it's being cancelled soon, so I suppose he might as well indulge himself in the final arc.

NYX: No Way Home #4 - Sales haven't been great on this series, which tends to confirm my theory that Marvel waited far, far too long to capitalise on any momentum. And it did have some, remember. X-23 was a very popular character for a while. This issue, the kids are on the run, there's a femme fatale type chasing after them, and Cecilia Reyes is back, having apparently escaped Weapon X somehow or other. We're in fairly familiar X-territory here, with mutants hiding from the unsympathetic authorities, and some of the art is starting to look a touch rough compared to earlier issues. But the characters are quite likeable, and it's a pleasant enough read.

Weapon X: First Class #2 - A re-telling of Barry Windsor-Smith's "Weapon X" story from Marvel Comics Presents. The framing device - Professor X helps Wolverine to explore his missing memories - certainly seems to contradict the "Original Sin" crossover that ended last week. I suppose there could be some clever explanation in the final issue, but I'm more inclined to think that the left hand just doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Anyway, the whole idea of doing "Weapon X" as an all-ages story seems insane, and the result is about what you'd expect: a fairly grim story tip-toeing its way through the letter of the rules on What You Can't Show while largely ignoring their spirit. It doesn't read like an all-ages book at all, and without that, what's the point? On the plus side, Mark Robinson is doing some very good art on this book, and deserves to get some higher profile assignments out of it; and there's a back-up strip with Deadpool recapping his origin, which adds no new material, but is done quite amusingly.

What If? House of M - Despite the title, this isn't really a House of M story at all. The premise is that, instead of wiping out mutant powers in House of M #8, the Scarlet Witch gets rid of everyone's powers. So most of the heroes and villains are wiped out... but hi-tech stuff still works, so the remaining guys get to appear in a story loosely based on a Red Skull arc from Captain America. It's never remotely clear why that should draw a line under the age of heroes, given that hi-tech villainy remains an issue, and that alien invasions ought to be a continuing problem. All rather scattershot and unsatisfying. There's also a back-up strip, the first part of a Runaways story where they end up being recruited as the Young Avengers (which is being serialised through all this year's What If? oneshots in an attempt to encourage you to buy them all). It's more promising than the lead story, but hardly worth picking up the book for on its own.

Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #2 - Gleefully silly nonsense with Wolverine fighting ridiculous martial arts guys in Chinatown. Four issues might be pushing it a bit, and it's got only the most tangential connection to the "Manifest Destiny" theme. But it's good for a laugh and, despite some issues with clarity in the fight sequences, Stephen Segovia's art is appropriately melodramatic. Superfluous, but unashamedly entertaining.

Wolverine & Power Pack #2 - The cover, with Energizer forcing everyone to play with her tea set, is a thing of beauty. The story has nothing to do with it, sadly: Power Pack visit the X-Men's school, and kind of want to enrol, but learn that on balance they're probably better off not being mutants. There are some great moments with a lovelorn Jack trailing around after Kitty Pryde, and while the story is straightforward all-ages material, the GuriHiru artwork makes it irresistible.

X-Men: Manifest Destiny #4 - A decidedly underwhelming package. The Iceman lead story simply isn't working, and is by far one of the weakest things Mike Carey's written for the X-books. And aside from that, we've got two generic short stories with Mercury and Nightcrawler. The Nightcrawler one is better, since at least it's got art from Takeshi Miyazawa, but neither is anyting to write home about.

X-Men: Noir #1 - We talked about this in the podcast, but the short version: it's a noir story with characters based loosely on the X-Men. There's a somewhat clever central idea: the X Men (no hyphen, mind) are a group of criminals trained by Professor Xavier, who thinks that the sociopath is the next step in human evolution. And there's a funny pulp sci-fi parody at the end. Judged purely as a noir story, it's actually not bad at all, and Dennis Calero's art has tons of atmosphere. But fundamentally, what's the point? It's a gimmicky parlour game, and the randomness of the premise only serves to drag it down.

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