Sunday, June 21, 2009

The X-Axis - 21 June 2009

I know, I know, there's still a backlog from last week. And I will, honestly, get around to Wolverine #73-74 and Uncanny X-Men #508-511. Joining the queue this week is X-Men: Legacy #225, a single-issue story which seems to round off the "Professor X revisits his past" direction by coming full circle again.

But in the meantime, you can always check out the latest episode of House to Astonish, where Al and I look over the latest news and solicitations, and review Captain America, X-Men Forever and Booster Gold (the first DC Universe book to introduce its new back-up strip, if you were wondering why we cared).

Download the episode here, or visit the podcast webpage, or subscribe via iTunes.

Next week, by the way, there's an absolutely insane quantity of X-books. Even ignoring Timestorm 2009/2099 X-Men (which everyone will) and Wolverine Magazine #2 (a reprint book), Marvel are dumping all of this on the market simultaneously: Astonishing X-Men #30, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia, Dark Wolverine #75, Uncanny X-Men #512, Wolverine: First Class #16, Wolverine Noir #3, Wolverine: Weapon X #3, X-Factor #45, X-Force #16 and X-Men Forever #2.

I really don't understand the logic behind this sort of scheduling. Yes, it drowns other publishers who are trying to ship in the same week - but surely, when you flood the market with this many X-books, you just end up cannibalising your own sales. What's the point?

Anyway. Out this week:

All-New Savage She-Hulk #3 - Very much a guilty pleasure sort of book - it's Lyra, the daughter of Thundra, fighting the Dark Avengers, for heaven's sake. But thanks mainly to writer Fred van Lente (with solid support from pencillers Peter Vale and Michael Ryan), it does work, partly by revelling in the sheer inanity of Thundra's - and by extension, the new She-Hulk's - origin story. If you don't know, Thundra is the heroine of an alternate future where men and women are at war. It wuzz lyke a metafawr, y'know? The unspoken joke is that the characters take it all deadly seriously, and the clever bit is that Lyra somehow still manages to be three dimensional enough for the story to work. Acknowledging the idiocy of Thundra's world and still making to switch gears long enough to get some drama out of it is actually quite impressive.

Cable #15 - The penultimate chapter of "Messiah War", which started strongly but seems to be degenerating into filler to justify its seven-issue length. Granted, a crossover is a de facto fortnightly comic, and it can afford to be more relaxed than a monthly in its pacing. But at this point we're just getting a lot of running around and fighting, and the story still hasn't really tried to explain why Hope is supposed to be so important. (If she was in the present day, I could buy her as being symbolically imporant and a political football. But I simply don't understand why we're supposed to assume that she's personally significant. For all we know, she could have the mutant power to levitate paperclips.) Ariel Olivetti is in very hit-and-miss form this month - there's a very good, dynamic sequence of Hope on the run, but also a lot of characters standing stiffly and floating in space. Not a great issue.

Captain Britain and MI-13 #14 - The Dracula storyline builds towards its conclusion, as Paul Cornell unveils a string of twists, and sets up for the big climax. If I'm being honest, I'm in two minds about this vampires-in-space concept - an army of vampires kind of misses the point of what vampires were originally about, and risks making them just another bunch of invading aliens. At the very least, it's a bit of a balancing act, and I'm not quite sure this manages to be the big, crazy idea it presumably wants to be. But it's a well-paced superhero book, tightly plotted, and has a lot going for it.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #2 - Oh, apparently we don't get ChrisCross drawing this miniseries after all. We get Andre Coelho and Eduardo Pansica splitting the pencils instead. And while they're perfectly acceptable, they're not up to the high standards of the first issue. Shame, that. Joe Casey's story remains promising, though, as the Super Young Team, who started out dressing up as superheroes to play the part, now belatedly have to figure out what their role actually involves in practice. Their problem seems to be that they're trying to express their individuality by copying other people and by trying to plug themselves into some pre-defined role, and the story is really about them trying to wrestle back control of the situation and make the team what they want it to be - once they figure out what that actually is. Decent reading, and it's a shame that the Final Crisis Aftermath banner will probably put off people who would otherwise enjoy it.

Hellblazer #256 - Peter Milligan goes old school, as John Constantine tries to hold on to his girlfriend using a love potion. That plot's been doing the rounds for centuries, but somehow earlier generations don't seem to have found it as creepy as today's readers do. Strangely, it's drifted from "harmless fairy tale plot element" to "overtones of rape" without the content really changing that much. Naturally, that's the tension that Milligan is keen to play up here. Phoebe's an unusual love interest for Constantine, too, as her defining characteristic is normalcy - and Vertigo characters tend to keep their real-world interactions to subcultures. You never know quite what you're going to get with Milligan writing a title; with Hellblazer, it's a fairly straight take on the character, but one that seems to work.

Jack of Fables #35 - In which Bigby takes on the anthropomorphic personifications of genre fiction and, presumably, condemns Earth-Fables to a few years of experimental writing. This is the penultimate chapter of "The Great Fables Crossover", and I like the audacity with which they're foreshadowing the finale: the embodiment of Deus Ex Machinas pops in from time to time during the crossover to assure us that he'll be there at the end. It's the sort of glorious illogic that really shouldn't work, and come to think of it, a case could be made that the oddity of the Literals undermines the "reality" of the Fables characters. Somehow, though, it seems to click. Oh, and Jack isn't in it at all.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #3 - This time, it's Emily Aster, the girl so determined to get away from her own previous persona that she literally sold that part of her personality for power. (Good choice of wording, by the way. Most stories would say she sold that part of her soul. But "soul" doesn't really mean anything, and when people hear it, they think of old stories. "Personality" is more meaningful, and forces people to stop and think about what you mean by it.) It's a story about people in denial about their past and trying to construct a new identity which seems self-contained, but turns out in the end to be defined by a reaction against what they were before. Emily thinks she's a different person now, and in some ways she's right, but not as many ways as she'd like to think. Great work from Jamie McKelvie, too - the body language is spot on, the final panel brilliant.

Wolverine: Origins #37 - Hmm. Halfway through reading this, I was primed to complain that if it was that easy to track down Romulus, somebody would have done it by now. But then it turns out that it isn't that easy to track down Romulus after all, so fair enough. Except then I find myself thinking, well then, how dumb is Wolverine to spend the whole issue believing in a misdirection plot that I never bought? Still, it's well paced, and the subplot scenes in the prison with Omega Red are well done. I'd be inclined to forgive it its flaws and say it's a basically decent issue. Certainly Scot Eaton continues to get better and better; he improved noticeably during his time on X-Men: Legacy, and he's still improving here. Really, my problem with this issue is that it's all about Wolverine hunting down Romulus, and for reasons you're surely all more than familiar with by now, I don't think Romulus is a remotely interesting idea.

X-Men Origins: Gambit - Mike Carey recaps Gambit's back story, as drawn largely from the Fabian Nicieza stories in his solo series. It's a straight retelling, but this material was scattered over tons of flashbacks before, and there's something to be said for simply bringing it all together. Rather than force it into a artificial plot, Carey simply plays on a few parallels between different stories to give it all a sense of shape. For the most part it kinds of works, and it speaks volumes that Carey gives the individual Marauders more personality in a single page than most of them achieved in their first decade in print. But I have serious doubts about the final two page sequence, in which Gambit rescues an unidentifed little girl with white hair from some people in very strange clothes. This is him meeting Storm, during the period when she'd been turned into a child, and then helping to rescue her from the Shadow King's Hounds. But quite how you're supposed to work that out if you don't know the story already, I have absolutely no idea. Thematically, I can see what Carey's going for - he's trying to tie that scene back to a Fabian Nicieza flashback where young Gambit rescued his future wife Bella Donna, and create a (slightly specious) impression of starting anew. But surely it'll be a baffling non sequitur ending to any reader who doesn't know the original context of the scene - in Uncanny X-Men #266, a comic from almost 20 years ago. A strange choice, and I doubt whether it's a successful one.

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