Sunday, February 08, 2009

The X-Axis - 8 February 2009

The January dead period is evidently over, as this week sees a deluge both of X-books and of new titles. X-Men: Magneto - Testament is reviewed below, and time permitting, over the next week I might get around to writing about the first issues of Bang! Tango, Soul Kiss and The Mighty.

But also this week...

Agents of Atlas #1 - The first issue of an ongoing series, and if nothing else, it goes to show that Marvel aren't all about the bottom line. It's also a Dark Reign tie-in, but hey, they're not suicidal. Since the Agents miniseries finished up with the obscure 1950s heroes inheriting a worldwide criminal empire, they fit quite neatly into Dark Reign, and get down to work on the important business of double-crossing everyone in sight. As before, it's a very enjoyable title which manages the trick of embracing the inherent goofiness of these elderly characters while still taking them seriously and using them in a modern story. Fun.

Astonishing Tales #1 - Oh, Marvel Comics Presents is back. Ho-hum. The lead story is a Wolverine/Punisher serial which looks to have an entirely off-the-peg plot, but does feature some impressive artwork from Kenneth Rocafort, who has a nice little trick of scattering miniature panels around to convey confusion without actually obscuring the action. There's also a story with Mojo hiring Sunspot and Cannonball to beat the Writer's Strike, which comes too late to be topical. And there's a couple of Iron Man stories as well. Actually, everything here is basically okay, but it's still inessential, and the format of eight-page monthly instalments seems terribly ill-advised.

Bad Dog #1 - This is an Image book from Joe Kelly and Diego Greco about two misfit bounty hunters, one of whom is apparently meant to be a werewolf (though if you ask me, he looks more like a bear). All vaguely scabrous and earthy and mildly outrageous, but there doesn't seem to be much else to it. Mildly amusing if you like that sort of thing, but it's in one and ear and out the other for me.

Black Panther #1 - If you're wondering who the new Black Panther is - the one who, to judge by the promotional art in the house ads, has horrifically ill-proportioned thighs and a breast growing out of her shoulder - well, keep wondering, because this issue doesn't answer that question at all. T'Challa gets zapped, and there's some talk of arranging a replacement... but most of the story is just him going about his usual business in flashback, and chatting about Dark Reign with Namor the Sub-Mariner. This book is unusual in that it's usually better when tying in to Marvel's events (it seems to neutralise writer Reginald Hudlin's more irritating tendencies), and this is about what you'd expect from Hudlin writing a crossover story. As for artist Ken Lashley, the interior work is a damn sight better than the promo stuff, so heaven knows what they were thinking. But as we've come to expect, although Marvel solicited this as a 40 page book, it's not - it's a regular length story padded out with pin-ups and six pages of preview art.

Cable #11 - Looks like this is building to the climax next month when Cable finally finds that all-important time travel component and makes it back to the present day. But in the meantime, we get a whole issue of Cable and Hope wandering around a desert. Every bit as thrilling as you'd imagine. Half the issue features fill-in art from Phonogram's Jamie McKelvie, who does as well as you could expect with a singularly uneventful script. Still, though, can we just get this over with and move on?

Dead Irons #1 - A supernatural western with emo tendencies. I mean, listen to this: "Pain. It's the only thing in this world you can count on. We're born in pain. Suffer with it every day on this land. And die in it." And that's just the first line! It doesn't get much better, I'm afraid - lots of portentous muttering in low light. Actually, Jason Shawn Alexander's art is pretty atmospheric, but the story seems thoroughly missable.

Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1 - A Steve Pugh cyberpunk(ish) comic based on a story idea by Warren Ellis. In the near(ish) future, ghosts have started to manifest through the electromagnetic fields created by all our constant telecommunications chatter, and our heroine must sort them all out. It's a neat little idea, updating the ghost story into a literal ghost in the machine, and Pugh's painted artwork is often beautiful, with a European influence. On the other hand, it's the sort of book where the lead character is a sassy cop called - and I'm not making this up - Detective Exorcist Alice Hotwire, a name which is dramatically more camp than the rest of the story seems to intend. Looks gorgeous, though, and rather entertaining.

I Am Legion #1 - This is an old Humanoids book being reprinted by DDP, but it has the advantage of featuring art by John Cassaday. I have a vague feeling I've read this before, but it's not bad at all. Supernatural conspiracies in London and Romania during World War II, with Cassaday's ultra-realistic style well matched to a relatively low key story. The translation seems a little wonky when it comes to UK-specific references (high schools? in 1942?), but all told, it's a pretty engaging opening chapter for a mystery story.

Secret Warriors #1 - Marvel have devoted a lot of time to building up these characters, to no discernible effect - they show up in crossovers, and then they disappear into the crowd. Ho-hum. But this book is mainly written by Jonathan Hickman, a rather interesting indie creator, who's been matched with a strong storyteller in Stefano Caselli. And what do you know, the characters finally develop personalities and the series starts to feel like a promising team book. Again, I'm not quite sure what you do with this book once Nick Fury makes his inevitable return to running SHIELD (and the title really is lousy), but it's a much stronger debut than I was expecting.

Wolverine & Power Pack #4 - Wrapping up the co-star series, Power Pack go to Japan so that Alex can appear on Ninja Warrior, and Wolverine... um, wanders through in the middle pages so that he can deliver a homily, and then leave again. A bit contrived, to put it mildly. The main story is good fun, though, and GuriHiru's art on this series is a joy.

X-Men: First Class - Finals #1 - Apparently we've now jumped forward to somewhere around about the end of X-Men: The Hidden Years, with the X-Men in individual costumes, and getting menaced by robots based on extremely dodgy villains from the sixties. This does feel a little like the series has abandoned any pretence of trying to appeal to kids, and is focussing on entertaining its adult readers with a final arc filled with references to the likes of Jack O'Diamonds, but by that standard it does fine.

X-Men Noir #3 - Oh, I get it. It's a metafiction thing where the Golden Age Angel represents the upcoming age of superhero comics that will displace pulp noir. Not quite sure why that story requires the noir characters to be cast from superheroes as well, mind you. And you can certainly question whether the Golden Age of superhero comics was in any sense an evolutionary step forward from the noir period... but then, maybe that's the point. Still, at least Van Lente seems to have something in mind for this series beyond mere gimmickry, which answers my main concern about it. We'll just have to see whether he can tie it all together in some way.

X-Men: The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop #1 - It's a Bishop origin miniseries, because heaven knows his back story wasn't complicated enough to start with. Larry Stroman's on better form here than he was with his recent X-Factor issues, and I rather like his renditions of how the young Bishop visualises the X-Men. Other than that... look, it's another Bishop origin miniseries, and I don't see why we need one.

X-Men vs. Hulk - An original Chris Claremont story, illustrated by Jheremy Raapack, in which Wolverine gets Colossus to fight the Hulk, through means never entirely explained, in the name of some test or other. It's the sort of thing that would have made a perfectly passable fill-in issue back in the day. Your four dollars also gets you a reprint of 1970's X-Men #66, an utterly insignificant issue which happens to have the Hulk in it. (The solicitations, incidentally, listed Scott Clark as the artist and "a classic Claremont tale" as the reprint, neither of which is accurate.)

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