Sunday, August 23, 2009

The X-Axis - 23 August 2009

I know I said I was going to do a full post on the first arc of X-Men Forever. And I will, honestly... it's in the queue. But I'm going on holiday in a week's time, so there's a lot of stuff to get done.

Which is as good a time as any to explain what's going to happen for the next while. Next weekend I'll be doing reviews and the podcast as normal. After that, I'll be off to spend a couple of weeks in New York and Philadelphia. So if you've any suggestions for what Susi and I should do there, post them in the comments thread. And that means three weeks between podcasts, though I might post from time to time while I'm away. (More likely, I'll set some posts to appear on delay... if I have time.)

And no, I will not be wandering the streets of Manhattan with a copy of the map from the mid-eighties Official Handbook trying to work out which flat belonged to Peter Parker. Although it's tempting.

In the meantime, let's run through this week's books...

Ex Machina #44 - Well, it's a key plot issue, that's for sure. We're clearly building towards the climax here, as Brian K Vaughan starts explaining all sorts of things that have been mysteries up until now, and in doing so, throws in a rather clever twist which I should probably have seen coming, but didn't. I've always liked the visual style of this book, which gives the superhero elements a rather homemade look, as if Mitchell was making his best effort to look the part, instead of being a proper hero. It pays off here, as one of the B-movie story elements turns out not to be quite as B-movie as it first appears, in a lovely piece of misdirection. A really good issue, and rewarding for those of us who've followed the story to this point.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #4 - It's such a shame they advertised this book as a Final Crisis tie-in, because it's no such thing, or at least only in the very loose sense that the plot involves a recent catastrophe. And I suspect the crossover billing is just putting people off. It's actually just a Super Young Team miniseries, about the group of Japanese celebrity superhumans who have all the trappings of a superhero team without actually going out and fighting evil. At all. Basically, it's another of Joe Casey's deconstructions of the superhero comic, which comes full circle as its characters try to escape all that and be proper superheroes after all. Heavily tongue in cheek, and generally pretty funny, but there's actually a good superhero comic in here too. Fundamentally, it manages to make the Super Young Team quite likeable, because they're not complete narcissists - they're just rather shallow and naive, but with the potential to improve. The book still seems to be having all sorts of trouble with the art, though - after missing issue #2 entirely, ChrisCross also skips half of this issue, though at least this time we get Eduardo Pansica, whose style isn't miles away.

GeNext United #4 - In order to escape the mystical baddie, GeNext use magic to scatter themselves around India and disguise themselves as ordinary Indians. There's actually some potential in that concept, if you want to do a story about the diversity of modern India - although come to think of it, even that concept is somewhat misplaced in GeNext, a series set in the near future. But it's the execution that leaves most to be desired. The whole thing is rushed through at insane pace. The survey of Indian diversity somehow manages to avoid mentioning religion at all (even though the villain is an Indian goddess!). And artist Jonboy Meyers just isn't ready for prime time. His characters look awfully similar when he doesn't have race to tell them apart, and there are some shocking pieces of storytelling in this issue. A character somehow drops a heavy bag on a leg which is nowhere near it. A dancer is already placed in the front line of her group before the director moves her there in the next panel. This is clumsy, and it really doesn't do the book any favours at all. But the concept is so heavily compressed, I doubt it would ever have worked.

Hellblazer #258 - Peter Milligan's doing something quite interesting with this storyline, giving John Constantine a relationship with somebody utterly normal. The thing about Constantine is that he lives in a sort of genre landscape which is labelled as the real world, but is actually just a collection of stock characters wandering around darkened alleys and so forth. So if you put Constantine in a room with normal people (and allow them to be something other than just foils for him to trick), then there's quite a fun little dynamic there. And one of the questions is whether Constantine is being utterly selfish by dragging this woman into his life, and trying to justify it to himself as some sort of love-fuelled altruism. I'm not sure it's technically a horror comic so much as a smart superhero comic without the spandex, but it works for me.

Jack of Fables #37 - After abandoning his own series for the duration of "The Great Fables Crossover", Jack returns... for a few pages, before the story moves on to his son. Jack Frost got to be a sort-of-hero at the end of that story, but now he's decided to be a proper hero, and get away from the unfortunate and embarrassing legacy of his parents. However, while he may have the basic decency, he doesn't have any other sort of clue. It looks like we're going to get Jack Jr and his new sidekick on the rise, while "our" Jack and his old sidekick, having completed their big story, start to go into decline. Might work, although Jack Jr's relentless sunniness is already starting to get a bit grating.

Wolverine: Weapon X #4 - Good solid stuff here. It's nothing fancy and nothing particularly clever; Wolverine fights baddies for a whole issue, and they're an evil corporation who want to create more Wolverines for use as military weapons. There's kind of a theme (corporations evil!), but no real pretence that writer Jason Aaron is doing anything more than gleefully putting the boot in, with clear self-awareness. It's a fun romp, well paced, with some inventive sequences, and good powerful artwork from Ron Garney. There's not that much to analyse here, but it's an enjoyable back to basics affair from creators who clearly understand what works about Wolverine, and know how to avoid all the usual junk that drags his stories down.

X-Factor #47 - Oh, so that's what Peter David was going for. I've got to say, the recap page for this issue sheds a ton of light on how the plot is meant to fit together. I'd have preferred to pick that up from the actual stories, but maybe I wasn't paying enough attention. I'll have to see how it works when I re-read the whole thing. Anyway, the problem I had with the last couple of issues was that the story never quite seemed to be coalescing into anything in particular. Now that the structure of the whole story has become clearer, that's not an issue any more. And there's some great Peter David moments in this story, both in the throwaway comedy moments, and as the plot continues to thicken yet further. And it's a generally strong effort from artist Valentine de Landro, though the penultimate page features perhaps the least flattering picture of M I've seen. Surely the script said "angry", not "hag"? For the most part, though, he gets the subtleties right. A good issue; I'm reassured that the series is still on track.

X-Men: Legacy #227 - The second half of a "Utopia" crossover arc, mainly devoted to Rogue, Gambit and Danger rescuing the thoroughly obscure character Trance from nasty Hammer soldiers. Rogue gets to fight the ersatz Ms Marvel from Dark Avengers, in a scene that surely should have had more potential. After all, they're both vaguely connected to Carol Danvers, even if Rogue's current arc is about putting all that stuff behind her and moving on. You'd have thought there was something to be done with that, but what we actually get is a fairly standard fight scene. It's perfectly okay, and I can see how this story sets up Rogue's future role as the protector of the trainees (which is apparently where Legacy is going next), but I can't shake the feeling that more could have been done with this story.

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