Sunday, July 05, 2009

The X-Axis - 5 July 2009

Okay, then. Two weeks of stuff to get through, one of which saw an enormous quantity of X-books dumped on the market, with the other seeing a ton of first issues. So some of these might be on the concise side, but it'll get up back up to speed.

I'll come back to the "Ghost Boxes" storyline from Astonishing X-Men, and the "Messiah Complex" crossover arc from Cable and X-Force, both of which finished in the week before last, since they really merit more attention than this. And later tonight, on this week's House to Astonish, Al and I are planning to look at the first issues of JLA: Cry for Justice, Greek Street and Existence 2.0.

But let's take a deep breath and get into the backlog.

Astonishing Tales #6 - The final issue of this low-selling anthology title, from the look of it - which is to say, they don't seem to have formally announced a cancellation, but they haven't solicited any more issues, and that's usually a bit of a giveaway. There's not much here to change any opinions you might have formed before. The Wolverine/Punisher story is lightweight fluff, but it does have quite interesting art, and I like the colouring a lot. Jonathan Hickman's Mojoworld serial with Cannonball and Sunspot is utterly absurd (and, with this chapter, depends on you knowing that Sunspot was a huge fan of Magnum back when he was first introduced in 1983, a character point that has understandably been allowed to fall by the wayside in the intervening years), but it's genuinely funny. The rest is competent but forgettable - an Iron Man 2020 story which seems to be trying to set up the character as an Ellis-style futurist for subsequent stories, and good luck with that one, and a Sabra short which kind of circles the topic of Israeli conscription without ever quite managing to say anything about it. To support an anthology title in this day and age would take much stronger material than this, but then Astonishing Tales was primarily a means of reprinting material originally commissioned for the website.

Batman and Robin #2 - Now this is a good comic. That opening page is a lovely piece of art, and Morrison is doing a great job here with the basic idea of Dick Grayson taking over as the new Batman. Even if they don't know who's in the costume, everyone who met Batman regularly can immediately tell it's a different guy, and his new Robin is just an infuriating brat. So there's a nice little angle about whether Dick can ever meaningfully be the new Batman, as opposed to just a Batman impersonator, which ties back to the old theme of "was Bruce Wayne pretending to be Batman, or was he pretending to be Bruce Wayne?" Alongside that, there's a wonderfully bizarre fight scene with some circus freaks, and more genuinely creepy stuff at the end with the Pig. Better than the first issue, I think.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #26 - Either I've missed an issue somewhere, or worse, I've stopped caring enough to remember what happened in the previous issue. And I have a sinking feeling it might be the latter. Vampires have insinuated themselves into the mainstream, and the Slayers are on the run from a world that no longer has much time for them. Basically this is a whole issue of people running away and regrouping, with an admittedly cute ending that I'm sure would work much better if I could actually identify the character in the final panel from the art alone. (You can work it out, but I don't think it was intended that you should have to.) Perfectly alright, but not really grabbing me for some reason.

Cable #16 - Well, "Messiah War" sure didn't advance matters a lot, did it? Cable's still on the run with Hope, they're still fleeing further and further into the future because his time machine won't go back, they're still being chased by Bishop, and even Stryfe is still hovering around on the fringes. If the recap page is anything to go by - and so often, it isn't - Hope is supposed to have been deeply affected by meeting X-Force, because they're from her own time period, and "for the first time in her life, she feels like she's found some friends whom she doesn't want to leave behind." Quite why Hope would have any particular attachment to a time period she doesn't remember, let alone care about X-Force more than the people she lived with for five years earlier in the series, I don't really understand, but then, reading the story, I'm not quite sure that's how writer Duane Swierczynski was trying to sell the idea in the first place. What actually happens in this issue is that Hope gets separated from Cable during a time jump and lands two years early, meaning that she's going to have to make her own way and grow up a bit more before being reunited with him. There's some quite nice intercutting between the two of them, and some very good art from veteran Paul Gulacy. It's actually quite a decent issue, but undercut somewhat by the nagging awareness that "Messiah War" ended up heading nowhere, so why should this one be any different?

Captain America: Reborn #1 - Which is effectively an issue of Captain America with "#1" on the cover, but hey, that's what it takes to shift units these days. It seems we're doing the "lost in the timestream" angle, as Steve Rogers relives scenes from his past - which feels like a bit of a cop-out after he got shot in the chest and buried. This is decent enough, but it doesn't have the emotional weight of issue #600, and really, the return of Steve Rogers is the single least interesting aspect of Brubaker's story, so far as I'm concerned. Bryan Hitch seems awkwardly cast on this book - inker Butch Guice and colourist Paul Mounts seems to be trying their damnedest to maintain the tone of the regular Captain America series, resulting in what feels like a stylistic tug-of-war between Hitch's polished faces and something darker and looser that comes through at times. Not sure it really works.

Chew #2 - Thanks to his power to pick up psychic impressions from eating stuff, Tony Chu settles into his new job at the FDA, "the most powerful law enforcement agency on the face of the planet." As with the first issue, there's plenty of dark absurdity and a dash of gross-out comedy, but all while keeping a grounding in reality - a tricky balance to pull off. The basic set-up of Chu and his obnoxious boss is familiar stuff, but it's the comic timing and the details in the art that make it fly. As I said last month, I'm not quite sure where you go with this in the long run, but so far the high concept is working nicely. Oh, and it's interesting to note that, even though this is officially part of a five issue storyline, the first two issues have both been largely self-contained. You'd almost think the creators wanted the book to be accessible to new readers. How unfashionable.

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia - The first part of the Uncanny X-Men/Dark Avengers crossover, all of which is being written by Matt Fraction, and which should certainly help raise Uncanny's profile. The Humanity Now! Coalition (is the exclamation mark compulsory? Because if it isn't, I'm going to stop using it, if you don't mind) marches on San Francisco with a million people, which rather comes out of nowhere, given that the storyline has only had a couple of mentions in Uncanny to build it up. Actually, this makes a bit more sense when you get to part two, but it comes across very strangely here. And then you get a riot with the humans versus the mutants, and Cyclops singularly failing to calm everyone down. All this provides an opportunity for Norman Osborn to declare that HAMMER need to move in and take control, and there's your plot. If you can buy that premise, the rest is fine, but my problem here is that - repeat after me - there's only supposed to be 300 or so mutants in total, and even though Fraction has clearly been searching through the darkest recesses of The 198 Files to find obscure ones, I just don't buy this storyline with a grand total of 300 rioters (minus the ones who are trying to control the situation, minus the ones who aren't in San Francisco at all). Add another one to the increasingly long list of theoretically decent story ideas, strangled in the crib by M-Day. You can't do this stuff with 300 mutants. It just doesn't work. I'll keep saying it until it stops being true: if the X-office have no ideas for what to do with the post-Decimation set-up, and it sure looks like they don't, then they should be reversing it ASAP and at least provide a set-up that works for the stories they apparently do want to tell, about mutants as a minority population in San Francisco.

Dark Wolverine #75 - In other words, a Daken solo title. The actual Wolverine isn't in this story at all, but with the recent launch of Wolverine: Weapon X, I rather suspect that this is the soft launch of an ongoing Daken series, which will get a more sensible name once Dark Reign is out of the way. (No doubt with a shiny new #1.) In this issue - you'll never guess - Daken is impersonating Wolverine, charming the ladies, and scheming against his fellow villains. I've been skipping most of the Dark Reign tie-ins, but something tells me there's a lot of variations on this storyline being told right now. To be fair, it's well paced, and I like Giuseppe Camuncoli's art, which almost manages to make Daken's dodgy mohawk work. Curiously, even though this is co-written by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu, Daken doesn't act much like he did in Way's previous stories - he's more flippant than before, for one thing. Granted, it probably helps that he doesn't have to interact with Wolverine here, and he gets an interior monologue to explain himself, but the dialogue doesn't read much like Way at all. As for the story, there's really not much to it other than "Daken winds up his fellow Dark Avengers" - which is done quite well, but where's it heading?

Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth #1 - Because you apparently are perceived to have demanded it, it's a second ongoing Deadpool series. This one is written by Victor Gischler with art by Bong Dazo. (Google says his real name is Angelo Dazo, but you've got to love somebody who changes his name to Bong.) AIM hire our demented antihero to retrieve an item from the Savage Land, and so he goes there and discovers... something that looks like it was intended to be a twist at one point, except they've been giving it away in house ads for weeks. It's the head of the Deadpool from Marvel Zombies. This is a straight Deadpool story in more or less the same style as Daniel Way's work on the main title, and there's no obvious sign of this book bringing a different angle to the character. It's basically an action comedy. But the comedy works - lots of good dialogue, and Dazo pulls off the visual gags effectively - which is really the bottom line here. It's entertaining.

Exiles #4 - The Exiles arrive on another world and have to liberate it from the robots who've already wiped out the human race. Um... that's basically it, really. Entirely solid, not sure what to say about it that we haven't covered in previous months, and it's a busy week so let's move on.

Gotham City Sirens #1 - A team book for female Batman villains, with Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. The cover is faintly embarrassing, but the interior art by Guillem March is more acceptable (albeit also a bit more wonky). The idea is that Catwoman's not on top form at the moment, and ends up, somewhat against her better judgment, having to hook up with the two crazy girls. Paul Dini writes a pretty strong first issue here, setting up the characters well for those of us who don't read the Batman titles, and pitching his throwaway first-issue villain about right. Rather better than I was expecting, and actually quite enjoyable.

Marvel Divas #1 - This book drew an awful lot of flack for that admittedly godawful J Scott Campbell cover. The title is also somewhat mystifying, since of the four main characters, only the Black Cat could remotely be classed as a "diva" by my understanding of the term. Either Marvel need a dictionary or I do. In fact, they were being a lot more accurate when they billed Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and Tonci Zonjic's comic as Sex and the City with female superheroes (albeit C-list ones, which is kind of the point). The interior art is excellent, in fact, and the opposite of the cover in almost every conceivable way. As for the story... well, they talk about men for 20 pages and then an Issue of the Week plot is unveiled, which is a bit underwhelming. If only there was a stronger story I'd say this was a good comic; as it is, I'd still say it's worth a look on the strength of the art. And in fairness to Marvel, I suppose I can understand their logic in trying to attract attention to the book, but the problem is, they've done so by appealing to lowest common denominator - and in so doing, they've pretty much sent the message that the book would be of no interest at all to those people who might actually want to read 20 pages of Monica Rambeau and Patsy Walker discussing their romantic difficulties. I think that cover will alienate at least as many readers at it attracts - but to be fair, the book was always something of a niche proposition.

Uncanny X-Men #512 - The Beast's "Science Team" go back to 1906 to get blood samples from the parents of America's first mutant. This is in a different league to the preceding "Sisterhood" storyline, and it's hard to believe that both stories are by the same writer, Matt Fraction. Which isn't to say that this is perfect; it starts piling on the cute moments a bit too blatantly by the end, eventually reaching for one of the ultimate time travel cliches. But it's got a focus and enthusiasm that just didn't seem to be there before, perhaps because Fraction is getting an opportunity to write about some of his pet themes, and pay homage to Tesla. He also gets to work with Yanick Paquette on this story, who is rather better suited to draw Fraction's ideas. Best issue in quite a while.

Uncanny X-Men #513 - And then we have this, which is the second part of "Utopia", the crossover with Dark Avengers. It's perfectly fine, it has characters politicking nicely for control of Norman Osborn's new "X-Men" team, and it has the Dodsons on art (actually, with rather less of the cheesecake than usual). It's also unbelievably camp, with Emma wearing black to signify that she's one of the baddies in case anyone hadn't picked up on it yet. I'm in two minds about this; there's a lot of amusing bits, but it also sees Fraction hauling out a cast of thousands yet again, something which has contributed to a lack of focus in many of his stories. He's mentioned in interviews needing a flowchart to keep track of the characters, and one can't help thinking that if the writer's having that much trouble, what chance do we have? I wonder whether this is going to turn out to be another Matt Fraction story in need of streamlining. But it is quite fun if you're prepared to run with the idea.

Wolverine: First Class #16 - Guest starring Siryn and Dazzler, written by Peter David, and with art from the Gurihiru duo. And who wouldn't want a Wolverine series drawn by Gurihiru? They could call it Adorable Wolverine. I love their work, and they're actually very well suited for this book, which, despite the title, is really a Kitty Pryde series. It's a straight Kitty Pryde story for younger readers where she feels jealous of Siryn and Learns An Important Lesson, but it's Peter David and Gurihiru, for heaven's sake, of course it's good.

Wolverine: Noir #3 - In which this version of Logan explains his origin story, and Mariko turns out to be the Japanese equivalent of a flapper. Um... yeah, it's alright, but you know the drill by now: I just don't get why someone thinks the world needs noir versions of superhero characters.

Wolverine: Weapon X #3 - "The Adamantium Men", part 3 of 5. Wolverine runs rings round the twelve members of Strikeforce X for an issue, more or less. The reason why this book works is that Jason Aaron and Ron Garney can take a fairly basic concept for what happens in this chapter, and then make it work with the little details that allow the individual Strikeforce X members to have a bit of personality. That's what makes the difference between an enjoyable issue, and Wolverine beating up randoms for 20 pages. There's a slightly jarring bit toward the end where Aaron starts defending the credibility of his plot in the post-Bush world, which doesn't really work, but he pulls it back pretty quickly with the henchmen from Blackguard's human resources department (who summon back-up by radioing in an "HR Emergency!"). It's what you want in a Wolverine story.

X-Factor #45 - Somebody reminded me the other week that I hadn't actually reviewed X-Factor fully in ages. But then, the story just never seems to come to a natural break point. This issue, in the far future, Madrox meets up with what's left of Dr Doom, while back in the present, some of the team fight a mind-controlled Shatterstar, and the rest of the team aren't even in the book. The future sections are probably the most successful - there's something very likeable about a senile Dr Doom in chronic denial about his reduced circumstances - but it's another solid issue all round.

X-Men Forever #2 - Better than the first issue, I'd say. Claremont teases the death of Wolverine - which he could actually do in this series if he wanted to, since it's out of continuity. Of course, having set up a romantic triangle subplot in issue #1, he's hardly going to end it like that - but it's a good point in the series to remind readers that in theory, at least, this book can tell the sort of stories that would have been ruled out by inter-title continuity even if Claremont had stuck around. And it's got the requisite "How do they get out of that?" factor too. Oh, then Sabretooth shows up for a fight. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it flows quite nicely, the story is definitely stronger than the first issue, and there's a definite retro charm to it.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,