Sunday, June 07, 2009

The X-Axis - 7 June 2009

For the latecomers among you, don't forget to check out this week's episode of House to Astonish, where Al and I review Batman & Robin, Chew and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century - 1910. Download it here, or visit the podcast webpage, or subscribe via iTunes.

There aren't many obvious candidates for full length reviews this week, but I'll come back to Exiles #3, a book which is simultaneously the end of a two-parter and midway through something longer.

Also out this week...

Astonishing Tales #5 - The problem with these anthology titles is that at only eight pages a month, the stories take forever to get anywhere. So we're still on the Wolverine/Punisher and Mojoworld arcs that have been going since the start, and not much has changed. The first one is a plot-lite action story with some pleasingly striking art from Top Cow's studios (and clearer to read than its initially chaotic appearance might suggest); the other is doing the familiar jokes with Mojoworld as an analogue for the comics industry, but they're certainly funny. The Iron Man 2020 story remains acceptable, and the rest of the issue is taken up with an eight page Frank Tieri/Marco Turini short introducing Shiver, a new western/horror hybrid character who's set up in extremely vague terms in a story that doesn't really work - but in fairness, he would at least be something different for Marvel.

Batman & Robin #1 - See the podcast for more on this. Dick Grayson is the new Batman, and Batman's evil son Damian is now Robin. Grant Morrison is going for something much more straightforward and direct here; it's basically a straight Batman story. The twist, I suppose, is that you have different characters as Batman and Robin. But it's not played as an impersonation, so much as the two fitting into new roles. Frank Quitely's art is beautiful as ever, and I love the slightly retro, timeless look of his Gotham, complete with modernised 20s-style cars. All that said, though, most of the issue is simply a very well done Batman story; but the closing scene, introducing a new villain, is genuinely creepy enough to elevate the book beyond that.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires - This is a one-shot, but it's also part of the Season 8 series. Presumably, that halfway-house status is because, although the story plays off the Season 8 theme of vampires entering the mainstream, it doesn't feature any of the regular characters. It's a freestanding horror story which takes place against that backdrop, with a bored smalltown kid falling in with the local vampires - and so readers with no interest whatsoever in Buffy might still find this of interest. Particularly as the creative team is Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos, and what they've produced is more of an indie horror book than anything in the franchise's usual style. Surprisingly good stuff - I nearly skipped this spin-off, but I'm glad I didn't.

Captain Britain & MI13 Annual #1 - It's a Meggan story, recapping her background and explaining what she's been up to since we last saw her getting trapped in hell. It also comes with a Greg Land cover from the "photoshop head A onto body B" sub-genre, but he's done worse. It's a shame the regular title is getting axed imminently, as this issue sees Cornell setting out his stall to explain his approach to the character. Evidently he was going to go all the way back to her early appearances, play up the idea that she's an empath who's influenced by everyone and everything around her, and use that to explore some themes about identity and autonomy. Cornell's approach to her relationship with Brian had plenty of story potential, and hopefully he'll get to follow it up in some way in the remaining space.

Chew #1 - See the podcast, again. This is an ongoing series by John Layman and Rob Guillory for Image, about a detective who learns about things by eating them. And if you're wondering how many cases you can build around that theme, well, he lives in a not-too-distant future where, thanks to bird flu, chicken has been banned. So we're getting prohibition-era stories... with chicken. It sounds ridiculous, and when you stop to think about it, it is ridiculous. But the book manages to strike the right balance so that, against the odds, it all fits together. Guillory's art is really excellent; anyone who can get an effective double-page spread out of a man eating soup is clearly on to something.

New Mutants #2 - That's a wonderful cover, isn't it? Most Marvel and DC covers are incredibly samey. Perhaps that's one (minor) reason why so few people pick up stories in mid-stream any more - nobody bothers making covers that are designed to make people think "Wow, I want to buy that." There's way too much generic pin-up art, which is dull, dull, dull - or at least, does nothing to suggest that the interior is anything other than generic. So it's nice to see a book which actually does look different from everything around it.

Anyway, this is a Legion story. And to some extent, it seems to be a retread of the original plot - David wants to get his mind back together, and his multiple personalities want to resist it - albeit without the rather heavyhanded political message of the original. It's not quite as strong as the first issue, partly because it now seems that the New Mutants have just stumbled by coincidence upon one of their old enemies, but it's still a very solid superhero book, and Diogenes Neves' art is impressive.

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3 - It's the final part of the second arc. Which, to be honest, hasn't sold wonderfully. But hopefully that won't deter them from completing the trilogy, as Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart's elaborate and absurd metaphors make this one of the most distinctive books DC are producing right now. Yes, alright, the basic underlying message is a fairly standard theme of pop culture and consensus dulling people's individuality - but it's all doggedly pursued to a dementedly ridiculous conclusion. It's the combination of sheer nonsense and a curiously unshakeable internal logic that makes it work.

Ultimate Spider-Man #133 - The series ends with a silent issue in which supporting characters have fights. Why is it silent? Well, my first instinct was to say that it was to give the book the impression of actually having some content. But to be fair, I suppose it does provide an air of mourning that wouldn't be present if Bendis had just done a straight Ultimatum crossover. Nonetheless, it's still just an Ultimatum crossover, and hardly seems a satisfying way to end the series. It's a shame that the (understandably) perceived need to reboot the Ultimate line as a whole has ended up bringing down Ultimate Spider-Man along with it, a book that was perfectly fine as it was.

Ultimatum #4 - Crap. Plotless fighting for the vast bulk of an issue, and a strong contender for the stupidest scene of the year, as Magneto gets his arm cut off with a metal sword. A sword that he then proceeds to control with his powers in the very next panel, just to hammer home what an idiotic scene it is. At this point, of course, I'm past finding Jeph Loeb's work irritating or even insulting, though I'd be well within my rights to feel either. No, by this point the fact that Loeb, and indeed Marvel, evidently think this will do is... just sad, really. It's pathetic in every sense of the word. This is going to save the Ultimate imprint? Do me a favour.

Wolverine: Revolver - Good god that's a terrible cover. It's like a Spitting Image puppet gone terribly wrong. That said, though, this is one of the better Wolverine one-shots in quite a while. Most of it is a single scene, a Russian roulette sequence which is a strong concept, well executed. It peters out a bit towards the end, admittedly. It's one of those stories where the writer had an excellent idea for the first act and tacked on the necessary extra bits to turn it into a story. But that first act is very good - and, relieved of the need to draw Wolverine in costume, artist Das Pastoras does a much better job on the inside pages.

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