Sunday, July 12, 2009

The X-Axis - 12 July 2009

I have a pile of comics sitting by my desk, comprising the "Ghost Boxes" arc from Astonishing X-Men, the "Messiah War" crossover from X-Force and Cable, and the entirety of "The Great Fables Crossover". At least two of those are a couple of weeks overdue for a proper review. and one of them I'm hopefully going to get done tonight.

So, since none of this week's releases really merited a full review anyway, let's just run through the capsules.

Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1 - Two of this week's books are satellite tie-ins to the "Utopia" crossover between Uncanny X-Men and Dark Avengers. This is the first, a three-issue miniseries where Norman Osborn chats with each of his new recruits in turn.

There are three strips here, but frankly it'd be stretching a point to call any of them stories. In the first, Norman Osborn chats with Namor the Sub-Mariner about why he agreed to join the team. It's by Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk, so the art is just fine and the dialogue hits the mark, but it's still basically 11 pages of dialogue, much of which seems to be referring to a story I don't recognise at all, possibly from Dark Avengers. There's actually a half-decent idea in here for the character - Namor has never previously made a big deal about being a mutant, but now that his own people have more or less been wiped out, is he latching on to these guys as a surrogate community to save?

Next up is a Mimic piece, which doesn't really work at all. The basic idea is that the Mimic has started taking the meds and got his mood swings under control (an ever-popular device for settling down a character whose personality changes with the weather), but what we actually get is an extended flashback to the highlights of the Mimic's career, in such scattershot terms that it won't mean much to anyone who doesn't already know the character's history. Superfluous at best.

Finally, Shane McCarty and Ibraim Roberson give us Osborn recruiting the Dark Beast. This one probably works the best, since even though it's another conversation piece, there's a bit of plot to go with it, and the conversation does something with one of the key ideas of Dark Reign, namely that Osborn honestly sees himself as someone who's doing the right things, even if that means stuff the public doesn't need to know about. (He's Dick Cheney, in other words.) The Dark Beast gets to play a twisted sort of conscience, since at least he's more honest about why he's getting involved: a nicer place to live. There's some potential in this duo.

All told, it's an acceptable book for completists, but nothing you need to go out of your way to see. Certainly it gives the impression of being created to milk the crossover rather than because anyone had any particularly powerful ideas about stories they wanted to tell.

Genext United #3 - Usual drill, so far as the writing is concerned. It's fairly average Claremont; there are a couple of half-decent ideas, but it's nothing particularly compelling, and oh god, here comes the mind control again. Still, his hardcore fanbase will like it. Actually, what mainly sticks in my mind about this issue is Jonboy Meyers' art. There are plenty of good points - there's a nice, spiky energy to his action sequences - but some of the fundamentals really need a bit of work. He's not good at expressions in quieter scenes, and some of the transitions between panels are very odd indeed. Take a look at page 4 of the story, if you've got a copy to hand, and see if you can figure out where the characters are standing relative to one another, and how they'd have to move between panels in order for this scene to work. No, really, try. The simplest solution is that the entire GeNext team cross the room off-panel somewhere between panels 1 and 4, but since they leave Sophia behind, it's terribly confusing. And then gawp in amazement at the final panel of the next page, where everyone teleports around the room. This is pretty basic stuff, and though in fairness it's generally clear enough what's happening, it still undermines the suspension of disbelief when the characters seem to have no consistent relationship to one another in space. It's really the sort of thing that artists should have knocked out of them before getting pro work for major publishers. Meyers does have plenty of ability, so it's odd that he does things like this.

North 40 #1 - Might do this on the podcast next week, but let's mention it in passing. It's a horror series from WildStorm, by Aaron Williams and Fiona Staples. Ancient magic tome is opened in small American town, surreal and horrible events ensue. It is, in fact, pretty creepy, mainly because it pulls off the tricky balancing act of having a basically normal world with truly bizarre and unpleasant elements thrown in - the art, in particular, pulls this off impressively. My problem with it so far is that it lacks strongly defined characters, so I don't really care all that much about the people this is happening to. But it's certainly got something.

Uncanny X-Men: First Class #1 - There's always one comic that I pick up to review and find myself thinking, "Oh yeah... what happened in that again?" And this week, it's the first issue of Uncanny X-Men: First Class, which so far seems to be not much more than a miniseries set some time shortly after X-Men #100 or so. Nightcrawler is upset about not being able to fit into the normal world, and so he jumps at the chance to visit Attilan, the home of the Inhumans, where everyone looks weird. And, of course, then he finds out that Attilan's not so great either. It's perfectly okay, but where Jeff Parker's X-Men: First Class generally felt like an updated Silver Age X-Men for younger viewers, this just feels like a slightly old-fashioned fill-in story.

Unwritten #3 - Tom Taylor continues to investigate his past, while a bunch of horror writers from assorted sub-genres show up to discuss Frankenstein. Cue a squabble between a thinly disguised version of the writers of Saw, and a character who doesn't seem to be a million miles from Laurell K Hamilton. Now, there's nothing particularly enlightening here about the nature of horror, though the run-down of sub-genres on page 2 is a great scene, but from the way this issue is going, it certainly looks as though Carey is starting to develop Unwritten into a wider discussion about the structure of stories, with genre plot elements (or, perhaps more accurately, plot elements from other genres) starting to invade the "real" world. All very interesting.

Wednesday Comics #1 - We'll be talking about the first two issues of DC's new weekly project on the podcast, so I'll leave the details till then. For now... a page is a very short space, and it's a format that few creators are used to working in. Actually, given the fold-out format, each strip really gets four pages a week, but only Ben Caldwell's unusual take on the origin of Wonder Woman goes that way. Realistically, the stories are going to take a little while to get going, and with hindsight, it's perhaps unfortunate that DC didn't include a couple of comedy strips to provide more instant gratification in the early weeks. A lot of the artwork is excellent, and it's an interesting experiment in format, but as somebody who's interested largely in story and character, let's just say I'm reserving judgment for now. This issue strikes me as more of a technique showcase than a piece of storytelling - I kind of respect the book but I'm not sure whether it actually does anything for me.

X-Men Forever #3 - You know, somewhat to my surprise, I'm actually quite liking this. Chris Claremont writing a "continuation" to his original X-Men run could have been rather depressing, but there's a genuine sense of enthusiasm about this book, and more focus than we've seen in some of his recent work. It's unfortunate that issue #1 was a bit plotless, since the subsequent stories have been tighter. Granted, a 1991 Claremont X-Men comic would have been nothing like this, but without having to accommodate other people's takes on the characters, he really does seem to be enjoying himself, and that comes across on the page.

X-Men: Legacy #226 - This week's second "Utopia" satellite book brings Rogue, Gambit and Danger back to San Francisco to help out with the riots. It's a two-parter and I rather suspect it's here mainly to try and give Legacy a much-needed sales boost, which they'll presumably use to try and springboard the next year's stories based around Rogue. This issue, people run around San Francisco and fight, and some very obscure mutants make cameo appearances. It's all quite well done, and the riot is actually a lot more real here than it was in the main crossover (where Fraction tended to assert it as a fact of the plot, rather than making it viscerally convincing), but whether it's actually about anything, other than reminding readers that Legacy exists, I'm not sure. Dustin Weaver's art is a little inconsistent around the edges, but generally solid.

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