Sunday, May 17, 2009

The X-Axis - 17 May 2009

To be honest, I haven't had time to read most of this week's books yet, so I'm not quite sure what I'll be giving full reviews. I might do Mark Waid and Minck Oosterveer's The Unknown #1 later in the week, and a look back at the second Umbrella Academy mini seems like it might be worthwhile. In the meantime, though here's the week's X-books, with some other stuff thrown in.

Fables #84 - Part 4 of "The Great Fables Crossover", a nine-part story running between Fables, its spin-off Jack of Fables and the created-for-the-purpose Literals miniseries. Since the main threat is the Literals, and they're from Jack's book, Fables itself seems a bit out-of-the-loop on this crossover. But strangely, that works to the story's advantage. Jack shows up at the Farm to bring the Fables up to date on the big threat, and naturally, nobody believes a word of it. Instead, what we really get is Jack being reunited with the cast of the parent book, and the usual chaos ensuing. You've got to admire the way this book can get away with a religious cult led by a talking badger. It's not exactly a deep story, but it's all good fun.

geNext: United #1 - Well, that's how Chris Claremont spells it, at any rate. This is a five-issue sequel to Claremont's geNext miniseries, about a group of teenagers who were the children of the X-Men in the timeline of Claremont's X-Men: The End story. Or something like that. It was all terribly complicated and none of it really mattered, as long as you understood that they were a next-generation X-Men team. The original series, with art by Patrick Scherberger, had likeable characters who showed some promise as the cast of a team book, but it didn't really provide a satisfying story. When I reviewed that book, I said that it read like it had been adapted into the opening arc of an ongoing series. Much the same could be said about this; it isn't the first issue of a freestanding mini, it's geNext #6, and it doesn't really feel like it's been specifically tailored as a jumping on point. Instead, it opens with an interminable discussion about whether the characters should become full-time superheroes, before a plot finally rears its head in the second half of the book. Jonboy Meyers, taking over on art, does well enough with what he's given, but it's incredibly talky. Some of the underlying ideas are good enough, and it's nice to see Claremont apparently bringing in an entirely new set of Indian characters instead of relying on his back catalogue. Still, it's rather sluggish reading, which doesn't seem terribly interested in being the first issue of a new story so much as an epilogue to the one before. I don't see it winning over many people outside Claremont's core readership.

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1 - I was in two minds when they announced this. It's the sort of blissfully silly idea that ought to be worth a story, but a whole miniseries...? Well, here it is (and X-Men completists will take note that Lockheed's in it). It turns out to be a surprisingly straight, light superhero book, which just runs with the absurdity rather than hitting you over the head with it. This is your basic gathering-the-team issue, but Guara's art is excellent, and it bounces along rather breezily. There's also a guest appearance by Colleen Coover, drawing an origin flashback for the new Frog Thor. The basic set-up, using the Infinity Gems, is so gloriously at odds with the characters that it comes off well. I'm still not altogether sure there's a whole miniseries in this joke, but it's a very likeable book.

The Unwritten #1 - There's a fair chance we'll be doing this on the podcast, but it's worth mentioning, since it's a new Vertigo series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, with the first issue priced at a very reasonable $1. See, that's how you do it. The series is about Tommy Taylor, whose father wrote a series of Harry Potter-style books starring a boy wizard of the same name before disappearing. Now Taylor lives a slightly unsatisfying life on the convention circuit, trying to get his own projects off the ground without much success. He's a man who's famous mainly for something he didn't really have any part in, which is an interesting starting point in itself. Of course, this being Vertigo, there's a fantasy angle on top of that. It's a very good start - Carey nearly overplays his hand by trying to convince us that the Tommy Taylor books were even bigger than Harry Potter, which I don't really buy (it's terribly hard to write a fictional pop culture phenomenonon on that scale and make it convincing), but the strong and intriguing premise comes across very effectively.

Wolverine #73 - Not to be confused with Wolverine #72, which isn't out yet, because it isn't finished yet. But that's part of the out-of-continuity "Old Man Logan" story, and so we're ploughing on with issue #73. Why are we doing that? Well, partly because the next arc will be a "Dark Reign" crossover tie-in, so it needs to come out on time. Partly because issues #73-74 would be returnable by stores if they were delayed, and we can't have that. And according to Marvel's official spin, there's a third reason: because issues #73-74 are really accessible issues released to tie in with the movie ("the perfect jumping on point for new readers the Wolverine film could help produce"). Well, it isn't.

These issues have an intriguing format: there are two fill-in stories, one by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert, and the other by Daniel Way and Tommy Lee Edwards. But rather than give them an issue each, they've been split in two. So issue #73 has the first half of both stories. Got that? Way and Edwards' story, to be fair, more or less fits the bill of being an accessible Wolverine story. It's one of those old-fashioned fill-ins where Wolverine meets up with some apparently close friends we've never heard of before and will never heard of again. This time, it's a feud between aging biker gangs. With none of the continuity baggage weighing him down, Way does a pretty good job here, and Edwards is on form too. It's quite decent.

The Aaron/Kubert story, on the other hand, is about as far from newbie-friendly as you could possibly get. Not because it's continuity-heavy, but because it's an extended, and very well executed, joke about Marvel's overuse of the character. Much of it is a montage of Wolverine racing around from series to series, team-up to team-up, in a blur of meaninglessness. There's a rather grinding gear change at the end when the story tries to suggest that this demented overwork is a sign of mental breakdown, and I'll reserve judgment until next issue on whether Aaron can pull that one off. The rest of the story, though, is virtuoso stuff, and laugh-out-loud funny - but only if you know the comics well enough to get the joke. A jumping-on point? I don't think so. Still, if you do know the comics - and you probably do - this is worth getting. An unexpected winner.

X-Factor #43 - And the plot thickens. Because that's what plots do in vaguely noir-inspired stories. They thicken. It's interesting that Peter David clearly still sees this as a somewhat noir title, when he's simultaneously doing stories about time travel to the far future. It's certainly a more broad-minded interpretation of the genre than the usual pastiches. Just to prove that this book has some long-term planning behind it, it finally pays off on a subplot about Madrox and Layla which was set up... must have been years ago, surely? What continually impresses me about this book, though, is Peter David's ability to get some mileage out of unpromising characters. He's making Darwin entertaining, after all. This issue, he brings back a character who, on the face of it, couldn't be less suitable for the series, save perhaps for a tenuous connection with an existing cast member. It seems to work. There are two pencillers on this issue, which would normally be a warning sign a mile high, but in fact the art keeps up a high standard. Good book.

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