Sunday, January 25, 2009

The X-Axis - 25 January 2009

There's something of a backlog building up here, not least because a bunch of X-books this week call for a proper review. So... below, you'll find a review of Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler's Mysterious the Unfathomable #1 as well as the obligatory Royal Rumble preview.

Over the next few days, we'll look at Uncanny X-Men Annual #2, Wolverine: Origins #31-32 and the X-Men: Manifest Destiny miniseries. And I'll also finally get around to saying something about Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon. Well, that's the goal, anyway. We'll see how it turns out.

Also out this week...

Astonishing X-Men #28 - In which the X-Men wander around a hidden city in China, fight a few imaginatively-designed baddies, and learn essentially one fact to advance the plot, in the closing pages. It's all very relaxed, this book. And it's very pretty, but as for the story, there's not much to get your teeth into. Not that it's excessively "decompressed" - a fair amount happens, it just seems like fairly inconsequential stuff, for the most part. And much as Simone Bianchi's art is lovely to gaze at, he's not so good at drawing you into the action - all those elaborate, convoluted page layouts serve mainly to remind me that I'm reading a comic, rather than to enhance the drama. It's trying a bit too hard, I think.

Dark Avengers #1 - We'll talk about this in more detail on the podcast next week. But it's actually not bad. Now in charge of the Initiative, Norman Osborn unveils his new official Avengers team: a couple of maniacs from the previous line-up, and a bunch of Thunderbolts who he's passing off as established heroes. That includes Daken, parachuted into the mainstream Marvel Universe as the government's new official Wolverine. It's all terribly silly. I have no idea how this is supposed to lead to any sort of ongoing series beyond the "Dark Reign" storyline, which is meant to be over by the autumn. And while it would be going too far to say the story was riddled with plot holes, it certainly begs all sorts of questions. (For example, if Norman's passing off these guys as the real superheroes, how does he justify his team including the unregistered Spider-Man, wearing a different outfit?) But despite all that, it's an entertaining piece of fluff, with Ares providing some genuinely amusing comic relief. And I like the whole black-is-white idea of a fake Avengers team made up of bad guys wearing their costumes. Much better than I was expecting.

Dr Doom & the Masters of Evil #1 - A curio from Marvel's all-ages division: an ongoing series starring Dr Doom and the Sinister Six. I presume it's out of continuity; it certainly doesn't seem to be set in anything approaching the present day. Anyhow, Paul Tobin writes a rather likeable bunch of squabbling villains, wisely positioning them as the underdogs in the face of A-list heroes and villains (except for Doom, obviously, but he's not really the star). Some of it doesn't quite work - giving Mysterio the power to disguise his teammates with illusions allows for some nice comedy sequences, but it leaves the Chameleon with no role at all. A fun book, though.

Hellblazer #251 - Peter Milligan takes over as regular writer, with Giuseppe Camuncoli on art. It's one of those high concept stories that Milligan likes, with John Constantine suddenly developing some rather nasty scabs in apparent sympathy for a twelve-year-old industrial dispute. There's also an attempt to re-establish a supporting cast - something I think Hellblazer generally benefits from - and some pleasingly unfussy art. It's nothing revelatory, but it's promising.

New Exiles #17 - The penultimate issue before yet another relaunch. And it's a mess, really. The Scalphunter/Psylocke storyline gets an awkward inconclusive ending (though I suppose he might get back to it next month), there's a clumsy sequence with Rogue fighting the Shi'ar (largely the fault of some unimpressive art), and a back-up strip which still seems to think it can somehow get away with just declaring Diana Fox to be a hero after two years of writing her as anything but. Awful, I'm afraid.

Weapon X: First Class #3 - What were they thinking? Taking Barry Windsor-Smith's "Weapon X" story - which consists mainly of Wolverine being tortured repeatedly and going nuts - and re-telling it for the all-ages market is a very strange idea, and the resulting comic is as confused in tone as you'd expect. Mark Robinson's artwork is quite striking, to be fair, but writer Marc Sumerak ends up producing something that's toned down from the original, but still clearly doesn't belong in the "First Class" books. The back-up strip, revealing that a young Gambit was in the building at the time, is just inexplicable.

X-Factor #39 - The recap page includes a note by Peter David asking people not to reveal the plot online. Good luck with that one. Actually, I'll play along rather than give away the ending, but I've got no problem with people posting plot recaps on message boards. With the price of comics these days, it's practically a public service. More curious is a "recap" section covering material that wasn't in the previous story but could plainly have been handled in a few panels of flashback - how that's going to work in the collected edition, I've no idea. Still, David is right about one thing - this does have a great ending, the sort of twist that I didn't see coming at all but makes absolute sense the moment you see it. Very good.

X-Men: Kingbreaker #2 - It's the second issue of a Starjammers miniseries. It's passable. I can barely remember anything else about it. Um... yeah, the idea is that Vulcan is overstepping the mark with his flights of dictatorial fancy, and even the likes of Deathbird are starting to get a bit worried about him. Competent, as I say, but unless you're a particular fan of the characters involved, I can't imagine why it would grab you.

X-Men: Legacy #220 - At long last, the series catches up on Rogue in Australia, as she returns to their old ghost town headquarters to reflect on things. From the look of it, Carey is planning to resolve the long-forgotten subplot about where all that hi-tech equipment came from, something that was a big mystery twenty years ago but has barely been mentioned since. As usual, Carey tells a good story, and gives long-time fans plenty to enjoy. He's also cut back on the flashbacks in a big way, which might be for the best - a lot of them were allusions to old stories that wouldn't mean a great deal to newer readers. Still, it remains a book which is very heavily dependent on the X-Men's past continuity as a springboard for its stories - after all, that's the idea - and I suspect that can't help but limit its appeal.

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