Sunday, May 24, 2009

The X-Axis - 24 May 2009

With one thing and another, it looks like it's just going to be capsules this week. If time allows, I'll review the Umbrella Academy: Dallas miniseries, but we'll see.

Don't forget this week's edition of House to Astonish - download it here, visit the podcast website, or subscribe via iTunes.

And now, this week's books...

Ex Machina #42 - There's something a little simplistic in this "nature versus machines" set-up, but then I suspect that's partly the point. The villain buys into it wholeheartedly, Mitchell's not quite so sure. Besides, the villain's clearly insane. Still, the scenes with rats emerging to attack New Yorkers are very effective, particularly for a book which can sometimes feel a little detached in the way it deals with things. And the thriller subplot with the journalist is building nicely, even if the scenes of people talking about mystery boxes are a little heavy-handed. Seems a bit odd that they're publishing a New Year's Eve story in May - did the book drift off schedule at some point? - but it's a solid title.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1 - This is one of four "Final Crisis Aftermath" miniseries. From the look of it, they're not really Final Crisis crossovers, so much as "what X did next" stories featuring some of the characters from that series. Dance, by Joe Casey and ChrisCross, is about the Super Young Team, a Japanese group introduced in Final Crisis who aren't proper superheroes at all. They've got the costumes, and they've got the powers, but they're only really interested in dressing up and enjoying the attention. With names like Most Excellent Superbat and Shy Crazy Lolita Canary, they're intentionally hard to take seriously. But while they're shallow, they're not bad people, and their celebrity status is starting to give them pangs of conscience - shouldn't they be out there doing proper hero stuff, and not attending publicity events? If all this sounds a bit familiar, then yes, there's a hint of X-Statix in here, and more than a hint of Joe Casey's own recent run on Youngblood. But despite the inherently weird characters, it's actually played fairly straight, and it manages to make the Team genuinely likeable. Casey has been here before, but I'm happy to see him do it again.

The Great Unknown #2 - Duncan Rouleau's miniseries about an obnoxious failed inventor whose best ideas are inexplicably cropping up somewhere else first. I suspect I'm running ahead of the story here - Feld spends most of the issue trying to figure out what's going on, while I suspect I leaped to the right conclusion at the end of issue #1. But there's a great central idea here, a mysterious online company auctioning ideas stolen from inventors who deserved the credit. And besides, was our lazy and grating antihero really going to do anything with these ideas? You can't help suspecting that he'd have screwed it up somewhere along the line. Love the idea, love the art... pity the book could use a proofreader, one of those corners that shouldn't be cut. But it's worth bearing with that

Hellblazer #255 - The second half of Peter Milligan and Goran Sudzuka's two-parter "Regeneration". The first part set up a rather interesting idea about the disruption caused to communities relocated to make way for the Olympic Games, something that rather gets lost here. Instead, we get a fairly conventional twist-in-the-tale horror story about ghosts of plague victims, although it's also used to further the subplot with Constantine's latest love interest. I have a sneaking suspicion that Milligan came upon some pictures of the admittedly bizarre outfits worn by plague doctors and wrote a story around that, but that's no bad starting point. It's a perfectly fine story - it just stays in fairly safe territory for this book.

Jack of Fables #34 - This is just getting silly. But again, that seems to be the point, as Kevin Thorn starts obsessively re-writing reality for the sole purpose of aggravating Bigby as much as he possibly can. Of course, this begs the question of why Kevin can't just kill him directly (other than "Because there wouldn't be much of a story"), but the story has an answer to that. It's an odd one, this - with Jack off in the parent book, this issue has some of the cast of Fables mired in the deliberate insanity of Jack of Fables, and intentionally spends an issue stretching the suspension of disbelief to breaking point. Could have gone badly wrong, but on the whole they get away with it.

Killapalooza #1 - Adam Beechen and Trevor Hairsine with a miniseries about a rock band called the Clap who have superpowers and are also assassins on the side. In theory, not a bad concept as long as you go way over the top. In practice, a bit disappointing. The characters are largely indistinguishable from one another, the jokes about other bands are rather obvious, the art's a bit murky and indistinct. The fundamental problem, though, is that the premise is obviously too silly to take seriously, but the book never takes the headlong dive into demented absurdity that it needed in order to work.

Uncanny X-Men #510 - Oh dear, this isn't very good at all. It's a whole issue devoted to a fight scene between the X-Men and the Sisterhood, the upshot being (i) that the X-Men learn Psylocke's wandering around again, and (ii) the Sisterhood get hold of something, which is only identified on the last page. Did we really need a whole issue to cover this? Isn't this something that could have been covered in a few pages, setting us up for the return fight when the story reaches its climax? The problems here go beyond Greg Land's art, unfortunately. Matt Fraction has some interesting ideas in this series, but none of them feature in the Sisterhood storyline. Here, we just get a bunch of villains with no personalities fighting the X-Men for reasons which aren't very well focussed until right at the end. There's a really gratingly awful "it's so hot in here, why don't we take our clothes off" scene with the Stepford Cuckoos that could have been in a Chuck Austen issue. It's all a bit lousy. Obviously Greg Land's art doesn't help, with its lifeless characters and identikit women, but in fairness it doesn't feel like there was much here to start with. (Mind you, his cover is another matter. What the hell is going on with Emma's cleavage, and why is it a foot to the right of her chest?) Much as I want to like Fraction's X-Men stories, this arc is dying on its feet, I'm afraid.

The Unknown #1 - Mark Waid and Minck Oosterveer, doing a four-issue miniseries for Boom! Studios which I said I'd review last week. And didn't. Oh well. It's a detective story, anyway. Cat Allingham, "America's foremost detective", is one of those ultra-observant Sherlock Holmes characters. She also has angst. And a big guy as her Dr Watson. You know the drill. But I like the art, and by showing us her (evidently familiar) hallucinations without explaining them, the book gives us an unusual mystery to ponder. The actual case is downright weird ("the world's first quantum crime"), but there's something quite enjoyable about the way the Holmesian ultra-rationalist takes it in her stride - after all, by definition, such characters are always a step ahead. Not sure I'll pick up the rest of the story, but it does have something.

Wolverine: Weapon X #2 - In which Wolverine fights a bunch of private security guards with Wolverine upgrades, basically. Works a lot better than you'd expect, since Aaron and Garney's timing is impeccable, and there's some great use of colour with the glowing green claws on a page that's otherwise mostly blue. If I was going to be critical, I'd say that the story is a bit too cavalier about having people get clawed - it seems a bit too inconsequential. But that aside, it's a pleasant change to have a Wolverine book which is willing to go back to basics, avoid getting bogged down in back story, and show a sense of humour in the process. Thus far, the title is more than living up to my expectations.

Wolverine: Noir #2 - Well, it's certainly very dark. Regular readers know my issue with the Noir books by now: yes, they're done perfectly well, but what's the point of taking existing Marvel characters and shoehorning them into a different genre? I suppose you could see it as a long-term plan by Marvel to try and train their audience to accept other genres, and perhaps that's the strongest case to be made for the line. Anyway, this does pretty much what you'd expect. The art is striking and big on shadow, the writing is well paced but largely an exercise in rehashing familiar noir elements with characters on loan from Wolverine. If you put everything you knew about noir and Wolverine out of your mind, it would hold up reasonably well - but in practice, it's a patchwork of elements from other stories and the joins are so clearly visible that it's hard to take the result seriously.

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