Sunday, April 26, 2009

The X-Axis - 26 April 2009

It's Sunday! Check below for this week's podcast, and for those of you so inclined, there's also a preview for Backlash.

I'm planning full-length reviews for Wolverine: Noir #1 (which came out last week, but honest, I'll get to it), Detective Comics #853 (the second half of Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?") and X-Men: The Times & Life of Lucas Bishop. But first...

Astonishing X-Men #29 - Lord, this is slow. This issue, more thrilling exposition, as the mutants from the hidden city explain why they don't like Forge. I suspect it's been made more complicated by the need to cover a continuity glitch: the other X-Men books have been claiming that mutants lost their powers in every reality after M-Day, and since this whole story is about mutants from another reality, that leaves Ellis with some unwelcome and awkward explaining to do. (It doesn't fit with Exiles either, come to think of it. But then it's more important for the X-Men books to be consistent among themselves.) Conceptually, it's all fine as far as it goes, but the pace is sluggish. Simone Bianchi's art is a mixed blessing, too. The individual pictures are often beautiful, and there's a certain grace to the book, but the narrative flow is dubious. Just look at the first scene with Storm and Emma - this is supposed to be a fight scene joined in progress, but there's nothing to indicate action until panel three! And then, at the bottom of the page, there's a random picture of Emma's face, utterly disconnected from anything around it, and without dialogue. There's a lot to like about Bianchi's images, but they often seem haphazard and disconnected from the story - beauty for its own sake.

Fantastic Force #1 - We talk about this in the podcast, but suffice to say it isn't very good. Although it's not quite the atrocity that some reviewers have suggested (like Al), it's certainly mediocre. The book is a spin-off from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's Fantastic Four, and a storyline in which the entire population of a dying future came back in time and took over a duplicate Earth originally built as a back-up in case of ecological disaster. The Fantastic Force are their local superheroes. So: fine, you've got a duplicate Earth with a transplanted population. There's something in that. You could do stories about people fighting to control this new world, stories about people trying to set the agenda for a world given a second chance... there are parables to be done here. Instead, the story glosses over all that by playing the new Earth as paradise. It tries to focus on the Fantastic Force themselves, which is a mistake, since they're not very inspired characters, and writer Joe Ahearne doesn't bring much to them. As for the art, it tries for a Bryan Hitch feel and can't really bring it off - though to be fair, colourist Chris Sotomayor does some very good work which elevates the art to a degree. Originally intended as an ongoing series, this has been scaled back to a five-issue mini, and subsequently to only four issues, which suggests that Marvel are well aware that they have a dog on their hands. Take the hint. (However, I'll give them credit for effort on the extra material that's been used to pad out the book - instead of regular script pages, there's an extract from an earlier draft with annotations explaining why things changes. If we're going to have these features, that's the sort of thing I'd like to see.)

Hellblazer #254 - The plague and the Olympic Games. Not obvious ideas to connect, but Peter Milligan is having a go. There's an interesting attempt to argue that the Olympics aren't such a good thing - each new city embarks on a program of reconstruction which ends up displacing tons of people for the sake of a few weeks' television and a bunch of new civic buildings. It's a nice starting point for a story, but Goran Sudzuka's art doesn't have quite enough bite for this book. That's particularly apparent when a lacklustre piece of graffiti is solemnly presented to us as a masterpiece by "the new Banksy." Unfortunately, there's an aching gap between what the characters seem to be talking about, and what we can see.

Jack of Fables #33 - Jack is reunited with the cast of Fables proper, and they're about as delighted to see him as you'd expect. Meanwhile, the story gets on with establishing Kevin Thorn as a threat. From what we've seen so far, there's a risk of this guy becoming a cavalier omnipotent in the mould of the Beyonder. I suppose the idea is that Thorn doesn't care about people around him because he sees them as all just part of his fictional creation, but that would suggest he created everything, not just the Fables - in which case, um, isn't he God? Anyway, it's well paced and witty, which makes it as thoroughly readable as ever.

Skrull Kill Krew #1 - See the podcast for more on this. But in a nutshell, it's a seemingly pointless revival of a nineties miniseries which, despite the stellar creative team, was more of a curio than a lost classic. It's not offensive, it's entirely competent, but ultimately it's just there, and doesn't have the sort of hook that would make you go out of your way to read it.

Viking #1 - Again, see the podcast. But Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein's outsize album - priced at a remarkably generous $2.99 - is definitely worth your time. Instead of the usual raiding parties, these Vikings are a couple of Norse thugs preying on their own people, which is an underexplored angle. The art is the star attraction, though, giving the book a powerful and distinctive feel.

Wolverine: First Class #14 - This is the concluding half of a two-parter guest starring Elektra and Daredevil. I'd normally give it a full review, particularly since it's the first story by Peter David - but it's a busy week, and there's nothing unexpected to say about it. It's a straight-down-the-line superhero team-up story, by a writer who knows how these things work. Nothing innovative, but then it's not that kind of book. Ronan Cliquet's art is nicely dramatic, but aside from Elektra, all his women look alike (to the point where the letterer and colourist were evidently relying on clothing to tell them apart - when faced with head shots, they can't keep track of who's talking).

Wolverine: The Anniversary - Yet another Wolverine one-shot. The "anniversary" of the title is apparently something to do with the death of his beloved Mariko Yashida back in the nineties. But the main story, by writer William Harms and artist Jefte Palo, is actually a straightforward fill-in piece with Wolverine on a plane to Tokyo when a bunch of hijackers try their luck. From there, it's pretty much what you'd expect - but it's done well, and the stripped down art is quite striking. There's also a short back-up strip by Jonathan Maberry and Tomm Coker, in which Wolverine fights off a bunch of ninjas and then wonders, for no readily discernible reason, whether they might be ghosts. No, Logan, they're probably just ninjas again. It's Wednesday. Coker's art is lovely, but the story is a confused mess which seems to think it's making some sort of terribly profound point. Overall, though, this is one of the better Wolverine one-shots, thanks to good artwork throughout and a well-executed, if familiar, lead story.

Wolverine: Origins #35 - This is billed as a "Dark Reign" tie-in, but it's a bit of a red skies issue. As near as I can make out, the connection is that regular supporting character Daken is in this issue, and he's also in Dark Avengers. To be fair, though, the storyline's not finished yet, and the link might be stronger when you take it as a whole. Readers who were annoyed to see Daken beat the X-Men singlehandedly last month will no doubt be even more irritated to see him do it again in the opening pages of this issue, but hell, they're only the guest stars. More ludicrous is the idea that, instead of stealing the entire sword when he had the chance, Daken simply cuts a bit out of the blade. Um... how? What was he carrying on his person that enabled him to nick this supposedly indestructible item? I honestly don't get it. Still, there's a neat idea in here somewhere: like any father, Wolverine is trying to live vicariously through Daken, by redeeming him. And he doesn't want to know that this might not be possible. I quite like the basic story Way is trying to tell with these two characters (at least when they stop banging on about Romulus); it's the details that can grate a bit.

X-Force #14 - Part 3 of "Messiah War", and it's a lot of running around and fighting in the far future. Clayton Crain's art is downright murky, but the script is kept bouncy enough. Even though we're off in another dystopian future, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost have steered clear of hammering the angst. Instead, there's actually some genuine humour in here - I rather like the future Deadpool "helping" his old friend by wandering around shooting dead baddies to make sure they're not zombies. More fun than I'd have expected.

Here's the thing I don't understand about this story, though. The whole thing hinges on the idea that because Hope is the only mutant to be born since M-Day, she's the only hope for mutantkind. But... why? They don't know what her powers are, so they have no reason to think she'll be able to change things. She's just one more mutant. If she's a one-off, her birth changed nothing; if she's the first of many, then mutants are already saved. Unless she's actually going to do something, what's the point of rescuing her? Why is she supposed to be so important?

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