Sunday, August 30, 2009

The X-Axis - 30 August 2009

Well, I was planning to write something about X-Men Forever before heading off, but it doesn't look like I'm going to get round to it. (Which is another way of saying: barring a last-minute cancellation of tonight's Book Festival show, it ain't happening.) With that in mind, I'll hold off on reviewing this week's X-Men Forever #6.

So, after this, I'll be away for two-and-a-bit weeks. In the meantime, don't forget to download the latest episode of House to Astonish, where we talk about the rumoured management changes at DC, digital comics, the November solicitations, and other stuff, and review 2000AD, Fantastic Four and King City. Download it here, or visit the podcast webpage, or subscribe via iTunes.

(Oh, and I'm told that, contrary to what we assumed when we recorded the show, the 2000AD strip "Kingdom" has actually been running for long enough to pre-date the current Cable series. Just so you know.)

And while I'm away, you should also keep up with Al's blog at

Now, then...

Batman & Robin #3 - This is the final part of the Mr Pyg storyline, which could probably have sustained another issue if they'd wanted. But there's nothing wrong with being concise, and this arc has worked very well, setting up the new Batman and Robin, and giving them an appropriately grotesque villain to fight. Frank Quitely's good at grotesque - he's good at everything, actually, but he certainly knows how to draw a maniac in a pig mask wielding household appliances. And Pyg is a well-pitched character; not a traditional spandex supervillain as such, but comfortably in the familiar Batman territory of lunatics with themed henchmen. It's what you want from a Batman comic.

Dark Avengers #8 - Part five of "Utopia", and by this point I'm really starting to wonder why on earth they're running this story as a crossover - besides the obvious point that it boosts sales. The Dark Avengers are in a whole three pages of this issue, squeezed out entirely by an X-Men-versus-Dark-X-Men story which doesn't seem to have a role for them. In fairness, Matt Fraction is telling a story here which does seem to have some significant ramifications for the X-Men - it looks like we're going to do the "man-made island in international waters" routine, so apparently the San Francisco base is being dropped already. Frankly, if this is where they were heading, it's a shame they got rid of Providence, the man-made island in international waters from Cable & Deadpool - but maybe they weren't planning that far ahead. So far, "Utopia" seems to be suffering from a problem that afflicts a lot of Matt Fraction's X-Men stories: it's a good idea in theory, but it's cluttered up with vast amounts of superfluous characters who are just distracting from the real story. Less is more!

Dark Wolverine #77 - I'm pleasantly surprised to say that so far, I've actually enjoyed this series quite a lot. Now, frankly, in part that's because this version of Daken seems to bear little or no resemblance to any that we've seen before. But until now, Daken has been stuck in the leaden Romulus storyline from Wolverine: Origins, and once you remove him from that context, some rather more interesting sides of his character emerge. In this book, Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu (primarily Liu, judging from the interviews) are writing Daken as a schemer whose main concern is to secure his position and to be in control of his own life. So his main concerns are to make sure he's hedging his bets against the fall of Osborn's empire, and to subtly ensure that everyone around him knows he's not under Osborn's thumb, even if that means unwisely needling his own colleagues. This version of Daken is actually quite interesting, and certainly a viable anti-hero. This three-parter, with Daken playing off the ersatz Avengers against the Fantastic Four, and outwitting everyone in the process, is unexpectedly good fun, and suggests that perhaps Daken actually does have some sort of future as a lead character - in fact, he might even work better in that role.

Dark X-Men: The Beginning #3 - The final issue of an anthology series about Norman Osborn recruiting the Dark X-Men. And like its two predecessors, this too is talk-tastic. Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk's Namor story at least breaks from the usual format, as it's Emma Frost rather than Norman Osborn who gets to do the questioning. But there's some interesting ideas about Namor's character, and at least they liven things up with the old "journey through the mental landscape" routine - sure, it's a cheap trick, but it does give the artist an excuse to draw interesting pictures. Jason Aaron and Jock do a rather nice intro story for Mystique, which says not a great deal about the character, but does it with suitably outrageous levels of bloodshed and firepower. And having run out of Dark X-Men, Simon Spurrier and Paul Davidson round things off with Norman making an unsuccessful attempt to recruit Aurora; this is the closest thing in the series to a proper story, though it runs into a common problem with split-personality characters, namely that they effectively cease to be characters at all. Still, even if this is a series for completists, there's certainly some entertainment to be had here.

Incredible Hulk #601 - Last month's Incredible Hulk #600 was effectively issue #12-and-a-half of Jeph Loeb's Hulk, so in effect this is the first issue of a new ongoing series. Basically, the new status quo is that Hulk gets the Red Hulk storyline (and it can keep it), while Greg Pak and Ariel Olivetti inherit Bruce Banner and Skaar from the Son of Hulk series. The high concept is that Bruce Banner, one of the cleverest men in the world, is in some ways even more dangerous now that he doesn't have to worry about turning into a musclebound thug at inconvenient intervals. And he's decided to try and do something to steer his son in the right direction. It's not bad at all, though Skaar's motivations are a bit obscure - he apparently hates the Hulk and is indifferent towards Banner, for reasons that were presumably explained in an earlier storyline, but aren't recapped here. Ariel Olivetti's art has the usual issues; his characters are nicely three-dimensional, but they don't always mesh neatly with the scanned-in backgrounds that he uses for outdoor sequences, and so sometimes the characters just look like they're standing in front of a backdrop. Generally fine, though.

King City #1 - We talked about this on the podcast; it's a story originally commissioned by Tokyopop, which is now being reprinted at Image over the course of twelve issues. Or, more accurately, they're reprinting the Tokyopop material for the first six issues, and then creator Brandon Graham is producing six more issues to complete the story. It's one of those books about a thief/spy type in a consumerist future city, and if you were looking purely at the plot, it'd be rather familiar. But there are some engaging quirky bits to liven things up, such as an inexplicably omnipotent cat (which, nonetheless, insists on acting like a normal cat). The real selling point, however, is the artwork, which makes incredibly effective use of negative space, unusual framings, and imaginative ways of implying action - plus crystal clear storytelling. It really is a class above most comics, and the book is worth picking up for that alone.

New Mutants #4 - The concluding part of the first arc, and I'll do a full review in due course (by which I mean, in several weeks time, but hey, maybe it'll be out in time for the collection). It's the end of the New Mutants' fight against Legion, and if you don't know who wins, you obviously haven't been reading this series for very long. Wells has a decent handle on all the characters, and makes imaginative use of Legion's gimmick that each of his split personalities has a different superpower. But on the other hand, it's still fundamentally ended up as a straight hero-versus-villain fight, and while Wells has some good ideas for the team dynamic, it's still not exactly clear what the premise of this series is supposed to be, beyond "reunite the cast of New Mutants". It's good as far as it goes, but it's missing a big central idea.

Wolverine: First Class #18 - Madrox shows up to visit, and Peter David takes the opportunity to do an all-ages version of some of the ideas he's been exploring with the character in X-Factor for a few years now. It's a good little story in its own right, but fans of X-Factor will probably want to pick it up too, to see David writing a younger version of the character and retroactively planting the seeds for some of his recent stories. Francis Portela's artwork is excellent, particularly when you consider that he's saddled with the gaudy green-and-yellow costume that Madrox used to wear in his early appearances - yes, it's striking, but it doesn't exactly blend in. I'm quite impressed by the way he manages to make it work.

Wolverine: Origins #39 - In which Daniel Way attempts to explain what the hell Jeph Loeb was banging on about in that Wolverine arc, and kind of sort of gets away with it. Basically, the idea is that Romulus wants to crown a successor, so he's getting his various pawns to fight one another to the death. And part of Way's explanation is that Wolverine was freed from Romulus' influence when Xavier wiped that part of his memory, so that restoring his memories after House of M actually restored Romulus' influence... hence random fight scenes written by Jeph Loeb. Alright, fine... but what's this successor going to be in charge of, if he's already killed all of Romulus' other pawns? A vaguely frustrating mixture of neat ideas and apparent logic holes, though it's worth noting that artist Scot Eaton is doing some excellent work on this story. Oh, and Romulus actually shows up at the end. He's basically an older vsion of Wolverine, although I have a sinking feeling he might be intended as the brother from Paul Jenkins' Wolverine: The End - and that's another story I was hoping never to have to think about again.

X-Force #18 - Well, you can never accuse X-Force of being subtle, and the closing pages of this issue are about as far removed from subtlety as it's possible to get. We're talking really absurd levels of gore here, although they're so absurd that, combined with some appropriately woozy camera angles from artists Mike Choi and Sonia Oback, the scene actually works on a vaguely surreal kind of level. The rest of the issue feels a bit like an obligatory wrap-up for the "exploding mutants" two-parter, but there's some promising material in the subplots, and somewhat against my better judgment, I rather liked this. The art has a lot to do with that, though - it's a rather more palatable series when Choi and Oback are aboard.

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