Sunday, January 04, 2009

The X-Axis - 4 January 2009

Lots of X-books this week, and a couple of new launches. Check out House to Astonish episode 5 to hear Al and me discuss Incognito, War Machine and JLA - download here, or visit the podcast webpage, or subscribe via iTunes.

I've already reviewed X-Force below, and the Young X-Men review will be up tomorrow. And that leaves...

Incognito #1 - Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' other Icon series is a sort of mirror image of their first collaboration, Sleeper. Instead of an undercover agent trapped in a criminal underworld, we have a supervillain on the witness protection programme, turning to vigilantism as a way of getting back in control and escaping his life. But Zack is about as unsympathetic a character as you can get, which makes this perhaps less instant than the creators' other work: there's not many people here to like. Still, it's a strong start from one of the best teams around, and I'm convinced to give it a chance to prove itself.

Justice League of America #28 - This is part of an arc designed to bring back the Milestone characters, specifically the Shadow Cabinet. In practice, it's basically a big fight between them and the JLA. The problem here, I think, is that the story doesn't do enough to explain the concept of the characters, and what makes them different or unique. Donner and Blitzen come across well as a likeable double-act, and Icon has his moments, but otherwise they feel like just another superhero group, which surely wasn't the idea. Of course, fans of the characters will probably be delighted to see them back in circulation (and if you've listened to the podcast, you'll know Al disagrees with me on this one).

New Exiles Annual #1 - #1 and only, in fact. With the book rattling towards cancellation, Chris Claremont uses this issue to tie up the subplot about Proteus occupying Morph's body. For a while now, we've had an confusing fudge where Morph is possessed by Proteus, but Proteus has been hypnotised to think he's Morph. (So he acts like Morph, but technically, he isn't.) This issue uses a generic "visit world, fight baddies" story as a backdrop to change that, so that we've now got Proteus and Morph's minds sharing a body, and trying to co-operate. It's simpler, I suppose, but I'm not altogether sure it works: Proteus' rehabilitation seems too simple and a bit trite. And for that matter, the plot mechanics of the whole story seem entirely arbitrary. Might be a step in the right direction for the character, but we'll have to see what Claremont does with him in the closing issues of the series.

Ultimate X-Men #99 - The penultimate issue of the series, and the team are barely in it. Instead, it's Rogue and a bunch of supporting characters running around fighting low-level bad guys. This is a bemusing way to end the book, seemingly disconnected from what's come before, and only peripherally related to Ultimatum itself. To be fair to writer Aron Coleite, at least he's not doing an obvious closing arc. But quite why we're getting this story instead, I have no idea, and some of the fill-in art pages seem decidedly rushed. Cancellation is the right call for a book which feels old and tired, although this being Marvel, I suspect it'll be back with a new name in a matter of months.

War Machine #1 - An unimpressive nineties-retro mess, as mad cyborg Jim Rhodes heads to the developing world to kill bad guys with his many, many guns. Greg Pak and Leonardo Manco are a strong creative team on paper, but Pak can be hit or miss, and this is definitely in the "miss" column. It's self-consciously grim and gritty, and takes itself all too seriously. Manco's art is very good, and he does make the armour look impressive, but it's not enough to carry a flimsy story.

Wolverine #70 - Continuing the "Old Man Logan" arc, Wolverine takes an issue of flashback to explain why he retired. It's one of those "all the villains ganged up and killed the heroes" things, with Wolverine being tricked into doing terrible things. I'm not altogether sure I believe in Logan reacting like that, as opposed to going nuts and setting out for revenge. But Millar and McNiven do the scene as well as it could be done, and on balance I think they pull it off. But this being Mark Millar, I can't shake the sense that I'm reading a string of Cool Stuff in a row, rather than a satisfying story; I don't really believe in this future as anything more than a collection of post-apocalyptic stock elements crossed with a flick through the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, and that's the stumbling block here.

Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #3 - More harmless silliness as Wolverine tries to make friends with the ridiculous martial arts types of Chinatown in order to take on the Black Dragon. You couldn't accuse this book of taking itself too seriously. Purists might object to Wolverine being cast in the "novice who must come of age" role, but I do like elements such as the "proper" martial artists' contempt for Marvel's infamously useless ninjas. Enjoyable stuff, and much better than we've come to expect from a Wolverine mini.

X-Men: Magneto - Testament #4 - We've reached Auschwitz, and, well, you know what to expect from a story set in Auschwitz. As I've said before, although this miniseries is notionally telling Magneto's origin story, that's ultimately peripheral - it's primarily an attempt to remind readers of the horror of the Holocaust. The lead character is said to be the future Magneto, but nothing turns on that. And a good thing too, because he'd be glaringly out of place in a story as sombre as this. So far, this series is going pretty well, but the big test comes next month when it has to pull off some sort of ending without seeming trite.

X-Men: Worlds Apart #3 - Storm continues to fight the Shadow King, and quite honestly, I dont understand why we're meant to care. This seems to be nothing more than a schedule-filler between volumes of Black Panther, designed to keep Storm in circulation to some extent. But the Shadow King is such a generic bad guy that there's not much to be done with him. At this stage the series seems to be just trotting through the usual mind-control schtick from his stories. One for completists.

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