Monday, September 29, 2008

X-Men Legacy #216

"Walkthrough", part 2
Writer: Mike Carey
Penciller: Phil Briones
Inker: Scott Hanna
Letterer: Cory Petit
Colourists: Brian Reber and Raul Trevino
Editor: Nick Lowe

X-Men: Legacy generally seems more concerned about past continuity than present. But every book has to pay a visit to San Francisco sooner or later, and so Mike Carey takes the opportunity to bring Professor Xavier back together with Cyclops for some sort of reconciliation. In practice, what we get is Emma Frost dragging Xavier through more of his memories, notionally in order to establish that he isn't under outside control.

That's just a plot device, however. Really, Mike Carey is more interested in taking Xavier and confronting head on all those awkward little bits of continuity that readers generally try to sweep under the carpet, from the recent retcon of X-Men: Deadly Genesis, all the way back to the clumsy Silver Age origin story of the Beast (which ends with Xavier wiping everyone's memories for the hell of it). Carey even throws in a new one of his own, by explaining why the Professor never made any headway in curing Rogue: he always knew there was no cure, and only held out the promise in the hope of enticing her to reform.

Many others could be cited, some of them the result of botched stories where gaping plot holes left Xavier as an unintentional bastard. Readers have generally tended to ignore these stories, and if anything, that pick-and-choose approach to continuity is more fashionable than ever these days. But Carey is taking a different approach, arguing for all of these scenes as evidence of a dark side of Xavier's character which has continually been swept aside because he - and by extension, we the audience - have always been in denial about it, and chosen to ignore it.

It's not a wholly convincing argument. Some of these stories, as I say, are plainly the result of shoddy writing, and were never intended to paint Xavier in this light. Emma also makes a curious case that Xavier's character flaw is immaturity arising from the fact that he's never been confronted with the consequences of his errors - but surely he has, repeatedly. You don't necessarily need to agree with Emma's interpretation, of course, but I suspect we're meant to.

Still, for the long-time X-Men reader, this is interesting stuff. Carey manages to walk the tightrope of exploring a series of oddball Professor X scenes, while seeming to write him in character throughout. The main limitation, in fact, is that this isn't really a story at all; it's more a dissertation about the interpretation of Professor X's character, with an extensive citation of authority. If that's the sort of thing that appeals to you, though, you'll find this compelling.

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This must surely be the most overused track in British reality TV. It's been in the standard repertoire for a couple of years now, but I've just seen it used to soundtrack stirring recap packages in two different channels in two days.

To be fair, at least our reality TV shows have got a bit of taste. The song is "Hoppipolla", a 2005 single by Sigur Ros (and a minor hit in the UK, despite being sung mostly in Icelandic). But the final two minutes are rapidly becoming an editing shorthand for the way people feel when they make round three of The X-Factor. Stop it, please.

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Angel: Revelations #5

"Senior Year"

Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Adam Pollina
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colourist: Matt Hollingsworth
Editor: Warren Simons

Adam Pollina draws awesome wings. I mean, whatever else you say about the Angel: Revelations miniseries, the wings are awesome. I remember when Pollina first showed up on the X-books back in the nineties, as an artist who started off distorting his figures seemingly at random, and evolved into one who was clearly doing it for effect - if not always successfully. By this point in his career, Pollina's distended figures have a grace and power which pretty much carries this book on its own.

Which is fortunate, because writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa finds himself wrestling with a challenging remit. This is a re-telling of the Angel's origin story. It's under the Marvel Knights imprint, which I take to mean that it isn't in continuity. It's certainly not the same story we've seen before. But whether it's off to the side somewhere, or a low-key retcon, it's only loosely inspired by the original late-sixties back-up strip.

You can't blame Aguirre-Sacasa for that. The "Origins of the X-Men" back-up strips are an albatross around the necks of the characters involved. They're clumsy, uninspired attempts to fill in the back stories of characters who were doing just fine without them. They're almost never referred to, which indicates what a poor job they did - but, in days when people were more concerned with continuity, they also acted as a roadblock to writers trying to give the characters better back stories.

Angel's story has the peculiarity of starting off in a private boarding school and then suddenly lurching off halfway through to become a story of a rookie superhero in New York. It truly is a mess. Aguirre-Sacasa has chosen to work loosely with the school plot, which saw Warren concealing his mutant powers from an increasingly hostile school, and then dressing up as an angel to protect his identity while rescuing classmates from a dormitory fire.

The core problem with the "Origins" back-ups is that they don't work as origin stories. They don't feel like defining events in the lives of the characters, or stories which bring out key themes in the characters. They're just... stuff that happened. Aguirre-Sacasa tries to address that by introducing a religious theme, which is natural enough - he's the Angel, after all - but runs into the problem that Warren's character isn't really about religion. The visual has always been treated as a mildly amusing coincidence. This is a bit of a waste - and Ultimate X-Men made sure to capitalise on the idea properly when they introduced their verson of the Angel - but it's a bit late to redefine the character now and make him all about religion.

So the story doesn't really work, I think. We've got an all-purpose religious bigot villain (and, in earlier issues, an abusive priest) representing Christianity at its most straightforwardly unappealing. Set against that, we have Warren standing up and being heroic, and a bunch of squabbling supporting characters who are shoehorned into reconciling in the final act. The treatment of religion feels superficial and one-sided, and the character arcs are unpersuasive.

But those visuals. Adam Pollina is the perfect artist for Angel, giving him outrageously outsized wings that somehow feel right. It's not a great story, but the pictures are strong enough to make the book work despite itself.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The X-Axis: 29 September 2008

I've mostly been too busy to post for the last few days, but let's see if we can't get back on track. I'm still planning to write about Burma Chronicles, and since it's become rather topical, I'm also planning to get to Janes In Love. Um, once I've read it. Also coming up this week, the final issue of Angel: Revelations, and X-Men: Legacy #216.

Meanwhile, here's a round-up of this week's other X-books, and a couple of other things I've read so far.

Back to Brooklyn #1 - This is a five-issue crime mini co-written by Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti. Mob boss Bob Saetta inexplicably turns himself in to the police, learns that his wife and kid are in trouble, and strikes a frankly implausible deal with two ambitious cops who give him the weekend to sort it out. This outrageous plot contrivance out of the way - and the story labours mightily to convince us that it's plausible - we're into fairly standard crime/noir territory. Artist Mihailo Vukelic seems a solid storyteller, but the school-of-Vertigo monotone colouring and intermittently stiff figures leave the page feeling a bit lifeless. Otherwise... well, it's okay, but it's not one of Ennis' best.

Black Panther #41 - Boy, they false-advertised the hell out of this one, didn't they? The cover - showing two Skrulls as Storm and the Black Panther - does actually have something to do with the story inside. But the house ads, which used the same art with the caption "Were they ever king and queen?", was blatantly advertising a story that isn't even teased in this issue. To be honest, since they haven't even solicited any further issues of the book, I've no idea why it even got a house ad in the first place. But false advertising is stupid, guys. It trains people to ignore your adverts. You don't want that.

Anyway, if you did pick up the book, at least you got a very good story by Jason Aaron and Jefte Palo, which distils Reginald Hudlin's idea that anyone who invades Wakanda gets screwed, and cleverly plugs the Skrulls into that theme. It's an odd way of ending the series, if that's what they're doing, but as a story in its own right, it's excellent.

Ultimate Fantastic Four / Ultimate X-Men Annual #1 - This is the concluding half of a two-part team-up; the first half was published under the title Ultimate X-Men / Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1. The cover is an ungainly pile-up of competing logos, and the content isn't much better. Loosely based on "Days of Futures Past", this is just a confusing mess, and doesn't offer enough promise to make me slog through it another time in the hopes of deciphering the plot. I've read the first half, and I read the recap page, and I still couldn't make head nor tail of it. In fairness to writers Aron Coleite and Joe Pokaski, they seen to have been lumbered with the unenviable task of making Ultimatum sound terribly important without actually giving away anything about what it involves. But the result is still a trainwreck.

Wolverine: First Class #7 - Guest starring the Soviet Super-Soldiers. Are they still in continuity? Really? I know you could see this as a nitpicking point, but when you've got characters talking about "commies" in this day and age, it really throws me. I mean, the Soviet Union dissolved seventeen years ago. If Kitty's old enough to have met Soviet agents while in the X-Men, then she must be in her thirties. And that can't be right. So it seems to me that by 2008, the Red Menace characters really do belong firmly in the dustbin of continuity, next to the World War II career of Reed Richards, and the Vietnam service of Flash Thompson. That aside, it's another solid and inventive exercise in basic superheroics from the ever-reliable Fred Van Lente, with artist Steven Cumming providing a decent rendition of Marvel's eighties house style.

Wolverine: Origins #28 - This is the first part of "Original Sin", a crossover with X-Men: Legacy. The idea is simple enough. Wolverine has finally captured his long-lost son Daken, and is taking him to Professor X for deprogramming. Of course, this being Wolverine: Origins, that's just a framing sequence for more flashbacks, and much of the issue is duly taken up with Mike Deodato re-enacting Wolverine's debut appearance, when he fought the Hulk and the Wendigo. Apparently we're getting the retcon version of why Wolverine joined the X-Men in the first place, but that's a story which could work plausibly enough in both titles. Nothing much really happens here, but the pacing is tighter than usual and Deodato is on good form. It's a pretty decent issue, in fact.

X-Force #7 - Well, hey now, this is a step in the right direction. This is a downtime issue, beginning a second arc with the Vanisher providing an unlikely opponent. That suggests we're getting less of a bloodbath this time around, and more emphasis on the characters. There are moments of humour on display, and while Mike Choi and Sonia Oback's art is probably a little too pretty for this book, at least it doesn't have the sombre pretensions of earlier issues. This is the first issue that really feels like the creators have actually made the book they thought they were making. It still won't be to everyone's taste - and we have to put up with yet another "I haven't changed, I'm not an imposter" speech by Cyclops, of the sort that wouldn't be necessary if his new badass direction had convinced anyone in the first place - but it's a big step up.

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Friday, September 26, 2008


Is this a serious candidacy, or some sort of Ricky Gervais-style performance art?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Greatest Hits #1

Busy week, but let's get this one done before another wave of books arrives...

"Come Together"

Writer: David Tischman
Artist: Glenn Fabry
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colourists: The Hories
Editor: Shelly Bond

David Tischman used to be a regular collaborator of Howard Chaykin. But X-Men fans will probably remember him best from his brief run on Cable, in the days when Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada were putting out all sorts of oddball titles.

With Greatest Hits, he teams with Glenn Fabry to produce a superhero book, of sorts, for Vertigo. This is a six-issue miniseries about the Mates, a group of English superheroes blatantly intended as a riff on the Beatles. The series seems to follow them through their career, with the framing device of filmmaker Nick Mansfield - apparently one of their offspring - making a documentary. Most of the issue, though, is given over to flashbacks chronicling their early career, complete with costume changes from early black suits through to what seem to be vaguely Sergeant Pepperish affairs.

Earlier in the week, I complained that Young X-Men didn't really seem to know what it was about. I should be pleased, then, that Greatest Hits knows exactly what it's about. It's about the Beatles as superheroes, a concept that it hammers home repeatedly.

The thing is, though, it's the sort of book that leaves me thinking: okay, the Beatles as superheroes. Yes? And? Are we just doing a "superheroes as celebrities" schtick here? Because that's been done better by X-Statix and, frankly, by several incarnations of Youngblood. Or are we supposed to be basking in a warm glow of nostalgia and going "Ah yes, the Beatles. Weren't they awesome?"

I suspect the problem here is that I'm supposed to react to the Beatles as legendary figures, as lynchpins of my pop culture mental landscape. And, um, I don't. Never have.

It's not that I don't appreciate the Beatles. Their songs are dulled by massive overexposure, but it doesn't take much reflection to figure out why the Beatles mattered. They hit an unprecedented level of fame in the days when the ground rules of celebrity weren't so clearly established; they laid down a new paradigm for what a pop group could aspire to be. All this, I appreciate.

But still, for heaven's sake, the Beatles split up some five years before I was born. They are a story for my parents' generation. (Actually, dad never listened to music, and mum seemed to prefer Leonard Cohen. But you know what I mean.) Of course, none of this means you can't interest me in a story about the Beatles, but you can't just assume that I'm going to care about them.

And that's what's missing here: any apparent attempt to explain WHY we should be interested in a Beatles-themed superhero team. That's not to say Tischman is writing a hagiography; the characters are flawed, the team squabble. Nick is only making his documentary out of grudging career necessity, and doesn't want to glorify the team. But the story never really engages with the question at the front of my mind: so what?

Ultimately, what we get is a bunch of semi-cryptic Beatles references, interspersed with some rather crass comedy. It clearly means something to Tischman, so perhaps it's going over my head somewhere. But, as they used to say, it says nothing to me about my life.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

The X-Axis: 22 September 2008

Hopefully, time permitting, I'll be getting to Vertigo's Greatest Hits #1 and Guy DeLisle's Burma Chronicles over the next few days. But let's round up some other stuff from last week.

Age of the Sentry #1 - It's a pastiche of Silver Age Superman stories. Perfectly fine if you like that sort of thing - and you certainly get the sense that the creators love having the opportunity to work in this style. But although it's well done, the routine is pretty familiar by this point. Actually, it occurs to me that there's probably a big chunk of the audience these days for whom the Silver Age is basically just a shared in-joke that they experience solely through the medium of pastiche. Odd, that.

All-Star Superman #12 - As good as everyone says, really. Now, I've never really been a fan of Superman. But with this title, Grant Morrison has produced a persuasive manifesto for how a Superman story should work, and made a compelling case for why - in small doses, at least - he's a great character. This is Superman as the archetypal hero, and template for everyone else.

Uncanny X-Men #502 - Um. This isn't really working, is it? It's fine in theory, and the ideas ought to work, but somehow it's just a bit lifeless on the page. It's tempting to blame the art, and god knows Greg Land's soulless Grazia-meets-Penthouse nonsense does the book no favours - not least because of his continuing overuse of manic grinning which makes all the characters seem weirdly inhuman. You almost wonder whether he's actually ever met another human being, or simply read about them in a book somewhere. But it's not just the art; between them, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have written some excellent comics for Marvel lately, and this just doesn't seem to be clicking like the others.

X-Factor #35 - With the crossovers behind us, we're back to the regular stories, as the real Longshot shows up, and Darwin joins the cast. Peter David's writing is good as ever, but I'm really not sure about Larry Stroman's art these days. It doesn't have the crispness of earlier years, and his Longshot is way off. I really enjoyed Stroman's work in 1991, and yes, perhaps, as Greg Burgas has suggested, the problem is in the inking style. But the end result doesn't look too pretty.

X-Men: First Class #16 - This is the final issue of the ongoing series, with a one-shot and a 2009 mini to follow. (Not so much cancelled as winding down, then.) Iceman walks out on the team and forms a shortlived duo with the Human Torch based on mutual immaturity. It's a fun little story which sees the series go out on a high, and Patrick Scherberger continues to impress me with his teenagers.

Young X-Men #6

All right, then, let's do this properly...

"San Francisco"
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Artist: Ben Oliver
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Colourist: Jose Villarrubia
Editor: Nick Lowe

After five issues of messing about with Donald Pierce, Young X-Men finally makes it to San Francisco and finally gets around to establishing what the series is about. And you won't be surprised to learn that it's about the junior X-Men team.

The idea of the X-Men having a junior team dates back to the launch of New Mutants in 1983, but the last few years have seen Marvel tinkering frantically with the format. When Generation X finally petered out, they replaced it with the boarding school soap of New Mutants, which was quickly relaunched as New X-Men, which in turn was rapidly repackaged as a handwringing slaughterfest, and which has now been replaced by Young X-Men.

But the odd thing is that for all this endless repackaging, nobody really seems to have much of a clue of what this book is about. It's telling that the first five issues serve no real purpose other than as a random device to bring the cast together and giving the X-Men a lacklustre excuse to say "Hmm, we should have a junior team after all." And we're back where we were before, with the minor difference that this time the team will get to go on missions from time to time. But after M-Day, the New X-Men had already been officially repositioned from students to X-Men in training. We're talking minor, fiddly little changes.

Looking back over the last few years of false starts and misguided revamps, it's hard to avoid feeling that Marvel have no real idea of why they're running a comic about the junior X-Men team. It's just something they do, either because they've done it for years, or because it's an established variation on the theme that helps pad out the line, or a bit of both. True, Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir seemed to have a direction in mind, but they never got the chance to pursue it. For the most part, though, reading this book just gives me the sinking feeling that the thought process behind it started with "What shall we do with the junior team?", when it should have started with "Why do we have a junior team?"

It's not that Young X-Men is badly done. Marc Guggenheim and Ben Oliver tell their story quite efficiently, and dutifully set up subplots for some of the individual characters. The execution is fine. But it lacks a raison d'etre. I really don't see what we've achieved by shuffling the cast yet again, relaunching the book yet again, and ending up with a book that isn't much different from the one we had before, only with less interesting characters. Seriously, we wrote out Hellion and Mercury for this?

The book is adequate and inoffensive if you judge it in isolation, but in the context of the line, it's hard not to see it as a severe case of imprint bloat.

Young X-Men #6

Hmm... I know I said this was a drunken ramble (having been effectively locked in the City Cafe for much of the day while some sort of bomb scare went on outside), but it really was a drunken ramble, wasn't it? I'll do it again properly tonight, I think.

Friday, September 19, 2008

No Heroics

It's been a good twenty years since ITV was making decent, or even watchable, sitcoms on a regular basis. The very phrase "ITV sitcom" has a dispiriting chill.

Which, come to think of it, might be unfair on the current administration. After all, they did put Johnny Vegas in a primetime show, Benidorm which I haven't seen, but it picked up a few award nominations. They commissioned Moving Wallpaper, which was hugely flawed, but at least ambitious. But there's twenty years of dismal crap to atone for, and I still expect ITV comedy to be dire.

And if I have low expectations from an ITV sitcom, you can only imagine what I'm expecting from a sitcom on ITV2, a station whose original output rarely aims any higher than Celebrity Wrestling on Ice Extra. Adopt the brace position. Make sure you have plenty of water and a bucket on hand.

So No Heroics is... surprising. It's a black-ish comedy about superheroes. It looks like it belongs on Channel 4, or at least E4. It's the least ITV show imaginable. And it's been getting slightly surprised positive reviews from the likes of the Guardian and Warren Ellis.

The high concept is that it's London with superheroes. But rather prosaic superheroes. The show is loosely based around the Fortress, a pub for off-duty superheroes (which means that the cast spend most of the show out of costume). And the main characters are a bunch of low-rent superheroes at the bottom of the pecking order; there's a Superman analogue wandering around, but he's there to be obnoxiously smug and loathsome about his success.

Here's the YouTube trailer, which gives you an idea of what we're talking about.

Now... it has a weakness for the obvious gag, and whoever put that trailer together is particularly keen on the more obvious gags. He apparently wasn't so keen on stuff like the bouncer at the bar, whose sole superpower is the ability to summon monkeys. ("How long does it take for the monkeys to arrive?" "Um, about two and a half hours.") Or stuff like Electroclash allowing the civilians to get shot because they're annoying her.

In fact, it's pretty good, all told. It could be better; it could stand to lose the bits that are blatantly trying to reach out to the Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps audience. But it works. It's certainly a damn sight better than the BBC's earlier effort My Hero, of which the less said the better. (As I recall, it made Out of this World look like a work of genius.) (Or perhaps not.)

Oh, and one other surprising feature: it has James Lance playing a different character. James Lance has played essentially the same character in exactly the same way in everything he's appeared in for about a decade now. The only exception was series two of The Book Group, where the script called on him to play the nervous, modest twin brother of his regular character, and the results weren't great. This time, however, he's somehow been cast as an alcoholic Spanish superhero, and even James Lance has to shift his performance for that...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Number 1s of 2008: 14 September

Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" managed five weeks at the top, further confirming the wisdom of my decision to leave the country for a fortnight. And her replacement...

Well, here's one I wouldn't have expected. Kings of Leon, "Sex on Fire" (14 September to date). No embeddable version of this one, so you'll just have to click the link and watch it at YouTube.

(Okay, there are plenty of embeddable versions posted by other people - but I might as well give you a link that's likely to remain valid.)

The Kings of Leon are a Tennessee band who've been rather more successful in the UK than in the US. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they've never made the top 100 in their home country. To European indie kids, however, they're the acceptable face of southern rock. This is the lead single from their fourth album; the previous three were all big sellers in the UK.

Even so, it's a surprise number one. Until now, their biggest hit was last year's "Fans", but that only made number 13 (and which, strangely, doesn't seem to have a video). In terms of hanging around the video channels for years, their other big hit would be "Molly's Chambers" (number 23 in 2003). Basically, they have a respectable track record of mid-table success.

But apparently there's a lot of interest in this new album, and a toning down of the southern stuff in favour of a dash of stadium rock seems to have helped. I'm not altogether sold on it, but at least it's not Katy Perry.

It's also not Cliff Richard. Back in the 1950s, Cliff Richard was one of the UK's toned-down early rock'n'roll acts. He's had a number one in every decade since - the most memorable being "Living Doll" in the fifties, "The Young Ones" in the sixties, "We Don't Talk Anymore" in the seventies, "Mistletoe and Wine" in the eighties, and "The Millennium Prayer" in the nineties. Memorable isn't the same as good, of course, but it's still an impressive record. At the age of 67, "Thank You For A Lifetime" was pretty much his last shot at racking up one more number one from his very loyal middle aged fanbase before calling it a day; it reached number 3. I was going to embed it, but with the best will in the world, it's absolutely rotten - see for yourself if you want, though.


Shipping 17 September...

This week's X-books: "Manifest Destiny" continues in Uncanny X-Men #502 and Young X-Men #6; with the crossovers out of the way, X-Factor #35 can settle down to the actual story; and X-Men: First Class #16 features Iceman and the Human Torch.

Not an especially busy week, then - although we do finally get to find out what Young X-Men is really going to be about, after five issues of procrastination.

Other reviewing possibilities would be Jeff Parker's Silver Age pastiche Age of the Sentry #1; DC's dodgy-sounding rock-the-vote book DC Universe: Decisions #1; and Greatest Hits #1, a Vertigo miniseries about a sort of superhero equivalent of the Beatles.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

X-Men: Magneto - Testament #1

"Testament", part 1 of 5
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Letterer: Natalie Lanphear
Editor: Warren Simons

I approach a new Greg Pak story with some trepidation. On the one hand, he's a very talented writer. He's often delievered unexpectedly good stories based on seemingly unpromising material. But his CV suggests an unfortunate willingness to take hopeless causes under his wing. So for every good series he's done, there's an X-Men: Phoenix - Warsong staining his bibliography. Yes, Incredible Hercules is very good; but Pak is also the man who brought you Marvel Nemesis: The Imperfects.
Testament is the origin of Magneto, and thankfully, it shows every sign of being one of Pak's more personal projects. It's a Marvel Knights book, but one that's apparently intended to be firmly in continuity - a closing editorial insists that any inconsistencies with earlier stories are purely the result of Pak having to choose between clashing flashbacks. And since it's the origin of Magneto, that means we're in late 1930s Germany, heading for the Holocaust.
Now, the Holocaust is a delicate subject for superhero comics. Obviously, its insertion into Magneto's back story was a masterstroke; it fits perfectly with the X-Men's themes. But for the most part, it's merely been a sombre background note. The more directly you approach the subject, the more awkward the juxtaposition of superheroes and genocide becomes. Such stories are unlikely to cause any offence - they're unfailingly reverential - but they do risk inadvertant dark absurdity.
Pak's approach is to de-emphasise any fantastic elements, and focus on bleak realism. We get Magneto as a teenager, living with his family, and being bullied at school. Not just by the pupils, mind you - by the school. And in keeping with this approach, the traditional "Magnus" name is discarded. Magneto's real name, apparently, is Max Eisenhardt. I'll be interested to see if that one sticks. It took long enough to stop writers calling him "Erik."
The other difficulty with writing about the Holocaust is... well, we all know where it's heading. A happy ending is cheating, but the obvious alternative is a one-way descent into horror. In Magneto's case, however, he's got to escape; presumably this is another reason why he's being outfitted with a full-scale family supporting cast, to get killed in his place. Even then, you can hardly do a final issue where Magneto thwarts the Nazis with his superpowers.
The normal rules of light and shade don't work with this subject. Pak neatly touches on that, by giving Magneto's grandfather a speech about standing up to tyranny and not hiding away. In most stories, this would be the inspirational moment. Here, it's hollow, and deliberately so, because we all know that getting the hell out of the way is the only thing to do. (Pak might even be trying to set this up as a further explanation for Magneto's disdain for heroics - he's seen where it got people.)
Artist Carmine Di Giandomenico is taking the "banality of evil" route, with understated, downtrodden characters. And it works, with Max as a child helpless in the face of history. He's allowed enough moments of hope and triumph to stop the story becoming unreadably depressing, and Di Giandomenico sells them beautifully. And, of course, at the same time, we all know none of these moments can really come to anything.
My one reservation about this series is that I can't quite figure out how you bring it to a satisfying conclusion without either departing from established history (which the creators insist they won't do), or veering into uncomfortable triteness. Of course, just because I can't figure it out, doesn't mean that Pak can't - and this first issue is excellent.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

GeNext #5

"Call Us GeNext!"

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Patrick Scherberger
Inker: Norman Lee
Colourist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Editor: Mark Paniccia

This is the final part of the Chris Claremont miniseries with the enormously convoluted premise. It was originally announced as a comic set in a world where the Marvel Universe had advanced in real time since 1963, so that a new team of second-generation X-Men were in training. Then Claremont connected it to his X-Men: The End miniseries for good measure.

All of which makes it seem a lot more complicated than it is. At the end of the day, it's an out-of-continuity series about a bunch of second-generation X-Men who make up the latest team of trainees. And apparently Marvel are more than satisfied with its performance, because the final page promises a GeNext II series by Claremont and Jonboy Meyers.

I have mixed feelings about this series. I quite like the premise - or at least, the characters. I can see a team book about these five being quite engaging. And I like Patrick Scherberger's art, which is somewhat in the vein of Humberto Ramos without pushing the distortion quite so far. So far, it's got all the qualities for a fun little book.

Unfortunately, it's also got a rather confused (and confusing) story. It starts off well enough, with one of the group running away and the rest of the team going after her. They find her with a bunch of very obscure nineties villains whom she claims are her family. All fine so far. And then, for some reason, the plot swerves off in another direction and drags in Shadow-X, the X-Men's evil counterparts from another dimension. (They were in New Excalibur. They weren't very interesting.)

The climax of the series turns out to be a bunch of villains showing up to try and capture No-Name, for no particular reason other than that she's really powerful, and the heroes fighting her. Oh, and that fight happens in Genosha, again for no apparent reason other than to allow Claremont to use Wicked, a largely forgotten character from his Genosha Excalibur run.

So, despite having all the ingredients for success, GeNext somehow contrives to meander off into a rather unsatisfying quagmire. It reads somewhat like a miniseries which has been belatedly adapted into the opening arc of an ongoing title. But even by that standard, it would be lacking some closure.

Still, I have some hope for this property. I can't help feeling there's enough promise in these characters that there should be some decent stories to tell with them; and despite my misgivings about the first miniseries, I'm actually quite glad that Claremont's being allowed to run with it a little further.

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Deadpool #1

"One of Us", part 1

Writer: Daniel Way
Penciller: Paco Medina
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Editor: Axel Alonso

You realise, of course, that I only bought this out of a misguided sense of responsibility. And before somebody asks, no, I don't regard it as an X-book, and no, I probably won't be writing about it again.

This is the Daniel Way Deadpool relaunch, and from what I can see, it's actually been getting some fairly positive reviews. That's nice. This isn't going to be one of them. But let's be fair: it's not bad. It's basically the same approach that Way took when he used Deadpool in Wolverine: Origins; Deadpool has multiple narrator voices in his head, which squabble with one another, and he has absurd hallucinations in mid-scene.

That storyline was drawn by Steve Dillon, and didn't really work; outright insanity isn't his thing. This time, we've got Paco Medina, who actually makes it work a little better. There are some cute comedy visuals in here, and yes, some of them did raise a smile. Medina's bright, vaguely cartoonish art seems better able to accommodate this stuff.

No, there's only one real problem with this issue, but it's a big one: there's really nothing to it. The story is thin to the point of gossamer. The Skrulls attack. Deadpool fights them for a bit. On the last page, he offers to switch sides. That's it. That's literally the whole thing. And come to think of it, Way's even managed to get a plot hole into that: if I'm following this right, Deadpool's plan was to hang around at a baseball stadium dressed as a mascot, and hope some Skrulls attacked it. Um... they've got a whole planet to choose from, haven't they?

So, sure, it's got some mildly amusing bits. And I wouldn't put it much higher than that. But there's nothing else to it - nothing. It's just Deadpool fighting some Skrulls for 22 pages. And can I just say, if there's one thing I'm bored to tears with, it's heroes randomly fighting Skrulls? I'm sick of it. Make it stop. Not that I blame Marvel for launching Deadpool as part of their big summer event - hey, if it works, make the most of it. But six months into the crossover, six godforsaken months, is there really anyone out there still thinking "Oh good, another story where some random heroes fight some random Skrulls"? This late in the day, you need a bit more to grab me.

But even if the Skrulls hadn't been hopelessly overexposed, this would still be a content-free non-story. It's not horrible - the comic timing's quite good, there are a few amusing moments - but it doesn't have the inventiveness to get by on comedy value alone.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Civil War: House of M #1


Writer: Christos N Gage
Artist: Andrea DiVito
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Colourist: Laura Villari
Editor: Bill Rosemann

Yes, the title really is Civil War: House of M. Sometimes I wonder whether the editors at Marvel are playing a secret game of "what's the silliest title we can get commissioned?"

Despite the title, and the logo, this actually has nothing to do with the 2006 Civil War crossover. It's the story of how Magneto rose to power in the House of M world of 2005. Now, the continuity status of all this stuff is a bit vague. As I recall, the idea of House of M was that the Scarlet Witch had altered reality, creating a world with mutants ruling, and Magneto in charge. But it was a central plot point that everyone still had buried memories of the real world. So apparently Wanda didn't actually alter history, she just gave everyone shared false memories. And that means this story is a flashback to events that didn't actually happen, but that everyone in House of M remembered happening. If you get my meaning.

Utterly confusing, isn't it? But apparently the House of M trade paperbacks have done unusually well, which is why Marvel have wheeled out a couple of series like this, long after the fact. And, to be fair, the story of Magneto's rise to power was a fairly major omission from the mythos. If you're going to do "untold tales of the House of M", this is a good candidate.

Writer Christos Gage has opted to cover Magneto's story right from the very beginning. Aside from explaining the back story to new readers, this seems to be intended to set up his three estranged children, who will have to be reunited with him later in the story. As a curious side-effect, this issue contains the first attempt to explain where Lorna Dane came from (because, yes, apparently we're still running with the idea that she's Magneto's daughter). How much of this holds for the mainstream Marvel Universe is anyone's guess, but it does give the book some claim to continuity significance.

That much is original; but roughly the first third of the issue is simply a straight rehash of Magneto's already-familiar origin story. Racing through Magneto's history at high speed, it's a rushed affair, which feels a bit like reading a recap. After covering the conception and loss of four separate children, Gage moves on to introduce Apocalypse, set Magneto up as a rebellious henchman, have him take over the organisation, fend off the Sentinels and declare war on mankind, all in 22 pages. Now, I'm all in favour of packing in the plot, but this is really too quick. The tensions between Magneto and his allies don't have time to build in anything more than a sketchy manner, and he comes across as recklessly impulsive rather than honestly principled. (In fairness, I suspect that's intentional to some extent, but the pacing makes it overshoot the mark.)

Andrea DiVito is, as ever, a solid house-style artist. He tells a clearer story than most, and he's good with emotion, but doesn't quite have the scale for the really big set-pieces. In fairness, though, the pacing of the story doesn't allow much leeway to go over the top with those moments.

Overall, it's a decent enough story, but doesn't offer anything particularly unexpected. Hopefully the pace will ease up a bit over the following four issues, and give things a little more time to breathe.

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The X-Axis: 14 September 2008

Having taken a couple of weeks off, and returned to an absolute mountain of titles, I'm more convinced than ever that it's time to scale things back. Quite bluntly, ploughing through all this stuff every weekend is just a bit of a chore these days. So, for the moment, I'm just going to run reviews as part of this blog, spread over the course of the week. We'll still cover all the major X-books, although I think it's fair to say that the days of trying to squeeze a full-length review out of every single issue of X-Men: First Class and every who-the-hell-cares Wolverine one-shot are behind us.

The website will remain in place as an archive; I'll mess about with the front page when I get a chance and turn it into something more suitable.

I also have some other things in the pipeline, but more on those in the coming weeks.

There are way too many comics out there to even think about trying to catch up on the stuff that came out while I was away, but there's plenty to write about from this week's batch, what with the final issue of GeNext and the first issues of Deadpool, Civil War: House of M and Magneto: Testament. We'll be looking at those over the coming days.

Also coming out from the X-office this week alone...

King-Size Cable Spectacular #1. Quite what makes this a Spectacular, as opposed to an Annual, I'm not entirely sure. But it's an issue of Cable told from Bishop's perspective, as he continues chasing Cable through time. It's marginally important to the plot (because Bishop figures out that Cable can only travel into the future), but mainly it's just more of Bishop being self-righteous in the pursuit of baby-killing. Although we still haven't had any explanation for why Bishop wants to kill the kid, he's certainly being played as passionately well-meaning, which results in an odd dynamic: instead of an implacable pursuer, he comes across as more of a beleaguered underdog, and I'm not altogether sure that's what they were going for. Art comes from Ken Lashley, who used to draw Excalibur years ago, and wasn't very good. He's improved a lot, although the pages are rather over-busy with detail, sometimes at the expense of clarity.

New Exiles #11. We're back to the story of Madame Hydra, Slaymaster and their cronies travelling through various worlds, picking up new recruits and killing off the local Psylocke. The story blithely assures us that this will continue until our Psylocke kills Slaymaster, more because of thematic necessity than any discernible plot reason. (Why can't somebody else kill him? Why can't they just lock him up?) Bounces along quite nicely, though, and there's attractive clean art from Paco Diaz Luque.

NYX: No Way Home #2. It's better than the original series. Kalman Andrasofszky's art doesn't have the grace of Josh Middleton's, but it's perfectly up to standard, and Marjorie Liu has yanked Quesada's haphazardly designed characters into a far more coherent story than they had before, discarding some of the silly self-conscious street-ness. It's also a bit blander than the original title, which for all its flaws was at least trying to go out on a limb. But it works reasonably well.

Secret Invasion: X-Men #2. Well, there's the X-Men, right, and there's these aliens, and they fight. The subplot with Nightcrawler and his Skrull Bible is quite intriguing, and Mike Carey's doing his best to liven up the whole affair with little details - the Stepford Cuckoos' dialogue is spot on, for one thing. But at the end of the day it's an extended fight scene, and four issues seems excessive.

Ultimate X-Men / Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1. This is the first half of a two-part mini, although the second issue is called Ultimate Fantastic Four / Ultimate X-Men Annual #1. They did this once before a couple of years back. It was a stupid idea then, and it's a stupid idea now. Surely the idea of labelling your product is to help people find what they're looking for, not to confuse them beyond salvation? Anyway, it's a loosely adapted Ultimate Days of Future Past, with Franklin Richards in the Phoenix role. For the most part this is a passable version of the theme, but it's been jazzed up with gimmicks at the expense of the story. For example, all the Sentinels look like Wolverine, presumably because somebody thought it was cool and nobody figured out that giant robots work better as the symbols of a faceless dystopia. A bit confused, but acceptable. By the way, I'll probably be giving these sort of books a full review.

Wolverine: Saudade. This is a story by Jean-David Morvan and Philippe Bouchet which Panini commissioned for the French market at the tail end of the Grant Morrison era. Presumably Marvel's hook-up with Soleil has led to them dusting it off for the US market. It's one of those stories where Wolverine goes to a photogenic location (Brazil) to find a local mutant (which he does), and rescues him from local bad guys. It's slight stuff, the creators haven't quite nailed the character, and the whole thing seems to have been designed for a slightly larger format (resulting in some crushed lettering). But the art's excellent, and the book's certainly got something, if only a different tone.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

And we're back.

Ah, Europe. Susi and I have spent the last two weeks swanning around Krakow, Vienna and Budapest. More about that later. I haven't gone through the X-Axis feedback yet, either, so more on that during the weekend.

I did set my Sky+ box to record Unforgiven, but it crashed while I was away. I gather it wasn't a brilliant show.

Hotels in central Europe get German MTV. This is "Alles Neu" by Peter Fox. Good, isn't it?

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Unforgiven 2008

(Written before I left, and autoposted by Blogger. Which means it's a week out of date and could be entirely wrong by the time you read this.)

Unforgiven is usually one of the lesser PPVs, but this time the WWE have come up with a new concept: the Championship Scramble Match. Roughly half the show will be given over to these oddities, and one of the other matches is the next stage in a major feud. So the WWE is putting in more of an effort than usual.

The rules of a Championship Scramble Match keep changing, but at the time of writing, they are as follows. It's a five-way match, with the champion defending against four challengers. There's a 20-minute time limit. Two guys, chosen at "random", start the match. The other three enter in five minute intervals, in "random" order. Anyone who scores a pin or submission on anyone else becomes the "interim champion". Whoever has the title at the end of the twenty minutes is the "official champion." (Or, if you prefer, "the last guy to score a pin before time expires wins the match.")

It's all a bit convoluted, and the fact that they've kept changing the rules hasn't helped. On Raw, commentator Michael Cole even began his explanation of the rules with "It's really very simple..." - a phrase which has become a running joke in wrestling circles, because it invariably signifies that the commentator is about to explain something ridiculously complicated.

Now, in fairness, the Championship Scramble can't compare to the heights of incoherent silliness scaled by rival promotion TNA's annual King of the Mountain match (a six-man reverse ladder match, with convoluted stipulations about eligibility and penalty boxes). But it's still a bit cumbersome, let's be honest.

1. Raw Championship Scramble: C.M. Punk v. Batista v. JBL v. Rey Mysterio v. Kane. Basically, C.M. Punk versus all the main eventers at once. Punk is still the World Heavyweight Champion, and still doing the underdog gimmick. In fairness, at least he got a decisive win over JBL on the last PPV. But because they need to round up four challengers for this concept (and Jericho and Michaels are otherwise engaged - see below), he's back again.

Mysterio is a last-minute substitution for John Cena, who's out with an injury. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons. Cena was feuding with Batista, who is now left without a storyline for this match. Kane, meanwhile, has just turned heel with a convoluted and deeply silly story in which he claims to have beaten and tortured Mysterio. Mysterio, in turn, hasn't been seen on TV in several weeks, because he's been rehabbing an injury. (He appeared in a very brief match when he was drafted to Raw, to remind people of the switch, but that was it.) His sudden and, at time of writing, unexplained appearance in this match doesn't make a great deal of sense for the Kane story, besides which he's being brought back from rehab ahead of schedule - never a good sign.

Now, they're doing three of these matches on this show, and since it's obviously a concept they're very proud of, I expect to see title changes - permanent title changes - in at least one of them. But it seems too early to take the belt off Punk. I suspect that, in keeping with the WWE's wonky understanding of an underdog gimmick, he retains the belt - either by spending the whole match darting in to break up pinfalls, or by stealing a pin in the closing seconds. Kane and JBL aren't winning in a million years, and Mysterio's only just back from injury. Batista is a possibility, but doesn't make much storyline sense. So... Punk, unless they're really keen to stress the importance of Championship Scramble matches by having a title change for the hell of it.

2. Smackdown Championship Scramble match: Triple H v. Jeff Hardy v. Montel Vontavious Porter v. Shelton Benjamin v. Brian Kendrick. Very strange. Triple H is the defending champion here, but the storyline has been set up to have him defending against four midcard wrestlers, all of whom more or less fluked their way into winning the title shots. Jeff Hardy has been around for years and is knocking on the door of the main event - frankly, his first title match should be a bigger deal than this. MVP is a newer heel, but also ready to be elevated to main event status. Benjamin is the current US champion, an athletic wrestler with charisma problems, and he's here to make up the numbers.

Brian Kendrick is a thoroughly unexpected inclusion. He spent the last couple of years in a babyface tag team with Paul London, and their main role of late was to get ignored on Raw. With the last draft, the team were split up, and Kendrick has been repackaged on Smackdown as an arrogant heel, "The" Brian Kendrick, complete with hefty bodyguard. It's supposed to echo the early days of Shawn Michaels and Brian Pillman.

Kendrick is very strangely cast as a heel. He's a small guy and a literal babyface. In his last solo run, he was an underdog babyface with library ska music. He's only just taken up this new gimmick, and it seems far too early to have him challenging for a midcard belt, let alone the WWE Title. I mean, he's a great wrestler, best of luck to him. But he needs more momentum.

Triple H is always the favourite in any of his matches, and the grim prospect exists that he's just going to trash some rising stars for twenty minutes. But I wouldn't be totally shocked to see a title change here; it can be easily done to protect Triple H, since he doesn't have to get pinned. MVP as surprise WWE Champion isn't a completely ridiculous suggestion. If Kendrick wins, I'll be absolutely stunned, but his very inclusion in the match is bizarre enough to make it a long-shot possibility.

3. ECW Championship Scramble: Mark Henry v. Matt Hardy v. Mike Mizanin v. Finlay v. Chavo Guerrero. Henry is still the champion, and you can bet he won't be entering first. (The champions were going to enter first at one point, but that rule mysteriously changed a day or so before they announced that ECW was doing the match.) I expect to see a title change here, if only because the ECW title doesn't really matter, and they'll want at least one. The choice of opponents is uninspiring, but it's as good as ECW gets. I can't see Miz or Finlay as champion, and Chavo's already been done; so Matt's probably winning here.

4. No-DQ: Shawn Michaels v. Chris Jericho. The latest stage in a slow-paced feud between these two guys, which has at least succeeded in turning Jericho heel in the face of significant resistance from the crowd. This is an old-school storyline in which Jericho, as heel, torments Shawn and then blames everyone else for making him do it. They're teasing Shawn's retirement, which is a plausible threat at this stage in his career, and worth putting in the audience's mind as something that's on the horizon. The latest step in this feud was a segment at Summerslam where Shawn came out to announce his retirement and Jericho interrupted, leading to sequence where Jericho was supposed to take a swing at Shawn and accidentally deck his wife. Given that she ended up with a fat lip, she's either particularly keen to get this storyline over, or Jericho misjudged a tad. Worked, though. (In an interesting clue as to the WWE's current feelings on these things, they were pretty clear that Jericho's character did not intend to hit Rebecca. The heel aspect was showing no remorse.)

This should be an excellent match, and it's got the strongest storyline on the show. I'm looking forward to it. Given that it's Shawn's comeback from a feigned retirement angle, I'd guess that he wins.

5. World Tag Team Titles: Ted DiBiase & Cody Rhodes v. Cryme Tyme. Oh look, an undercard match. DiBiase and Rhodes are the current tag team champions, doing an "arrogant rookie" gimmick. Their reign was interrupted for a week so that Cena and Batista could briefly hold the belts, but otherwise they've been floating around the undercard doing not a great deal. They're quite good in the role, though. Cryme Tyme are the current lead babyface tag team on Raw, and get the match almost by default. They're two loveable criminals from Brooklyn more notable for their comedy skits than their wrestling. I'd expect the heels to retain here.

And that's all they've announced at the time of writing, so...

Worth buying? Hmm. The Jericho/Michaels match is likely to be excellent, and if you're into that sort of thing, there's probably going to be at least one title change. On the other hand, there's a fair chance that this Championship Scramble thing could be a train wreck, and three of them in one show seems like overkill. Fortunately for me, this show is apparently running on Sky Sports 1 rather than as a PPV, so I can just record it to watch when I get back...