Sunday, August 09, 2009

The X-Axis - 9 August 2009

I'm still working my way through a backlog here - which includes a bunch of first issues from recent weeks that I'll hopefully get to, including Citizen Rex, Doom Patrol and Marvels Project. In the meantime, though, let's cover this week's X-books - neither of which really merits a full length review - and a few other books from the pile.

Absolution #1 - Christos Gage heads to Avatar for a six-issue superhero miniseries, with art by Roberto Viacava. Avatar have certainly come a long way from the days when their adverts were full of variant covers of unusually shaped women; nowadays, it's mostly Warren Ellis comics. But there still seems to be a sense of obligation in every Avatar story to crank up the violence to astronomical levels, as if to justify the company's market niche. This is, after all, a company whose copyright warning still routinely alerts readers that "All characters as depicted in this story are over the age of 18" - which isn't even true, by the way, unless some of the people in this issue's suburban barbecue scene are of extremely restricted growth.

Anyway, Gage takes as his starting point the frustration of cops who have to play by the rules when they know people are guilty, and then he applies that idea to a bunch of supeheroes who are basically the superpowered wing of the police. What you end up with is essentially Dexter with superheroes. The first issue is a bit cheerleading for my tastes - though there's nothing wrong with starting off the story that way, and to be fair, there's no doubt that Dusk is a seriously disturbed character. As Gage more or less acknowledges, it's a familiar concept which he's tried to freshen up by mixing in a different genre, but since the superheroes end up acting like glorified police officers, it doesn't entirely come off. It's relatively restrained by Avatar standards, mind you (which is to say, it's really no more violent than the typical issue of X-Force), but there are still some thoroughly gratuitous bits where you can't help feeling the book is trying to have it boh ways. "Look at this, isn't it horrible? Isn't it awful? You can't get this anywhere else, you know..." Basically an okay comic, with a few false notes that bring it down.

All-New Savage She-Hulk #4 - This book hasn't sold particularly well, but Marvel evidently like it, as the character is getting the back-up slot in the revived Incredible Hulk (which, despite the title, looks to be some sort of Hulk Family series - the lead strip is going to feature Skaar). Because low-selling miniseries don't get to wait for their artists, this issue has three pencillers and three inkers - but it looks solid enough, and it's still written by Fred Van Lente, a writer who can pull off the difficult task of simultaneously acknowledging the ridiculousness of the character's back story, and letting the occasional moments of drama work. Basically, though, this is the two She-Hulks fighting the Dark Avengers, plus a tie-up to resolve the main plot and keep Lyra around for future adventures - which results in her contributing nothing much to the resolution of her own mission, and makes me wonder whether it's a late decision. Still, more fun than it technically ought to be.

Blackest Night #1 - Now, I realise that this came out ages ago. After all, issue #2 comes out on Wednesday. But you'll recall that Diamond UK failed to ship the book to my store, and then the following week's consignment got lost in the post for the better part of a fortnight. Somebody asked in the comments thread why I didn't just go out and buy another one. To which the answer is: because then I'd end up with two copies, and I was never all that convinced about buying one. And now that I've read the first issue, it's another one to file under "DC Universe crossover in which I have not the faintest interest."

Which isn't to say that this is an impenetrable mess like the notorious DC Universe Zero. They've sorted that problem, at least. The premise is reasonably clear - somebody wearing black is raising deceased superheroes from the grave. I've no idea who or why, but it's only the first issue, and the story would presumably have got to that in due course. No, this is more of the Crisis on Infinite Earths problem, where you're presented with a barrage of characters and references to stuff that happened in the past, and it pretty much relies on an existing emotional investment in the characters for you to care about anything that happens. There's an awful lot of people standing around saying "Hey, remember when...?" Which, again, isn't a criticism as such; it's pretty much inevitable with this sort of story. But for the relative outsider like me, it's pretty much all "Hey, remember when...?" The plot boils down to something like 20 pages of memorial service, and then a bit of violence at the end (including a dreadful sequence with Hawkman and Hawkgirl, which misfires spectacularly and had me rolling with plainly unintended laughter), before the DC Zombies show up at the end for some fighting. Strip away the "Hey, remember when...?" and there's bugger all to it. Continuity's a tool, not a raison d'etre, and characters who bang on about their back story all the time evidently aren't doing enough interesting things in the here and now.

It's a pretty book. And I'm sure it'll go down very well with the core DC Universe constituency. After all, the company's last few efforts were downright irritating; this one merely doesn't hold my interest. They're heading in the right direction!

Captain Britain and MI-13 #15 - The final issue of yet another well-reviewed, low-selling series. Perhaps the problem with this book was that it didn't have an obvious marketing hook, beyond "hey, Wisdom got good reviews." It's just a very good, well plotted superhero book. Actually, that's not quite fair - the book does have a theme, which is Paul Cornell's take on Britishness. It's about having one foot rooted in tradition, but only one. The problem is that he's trying to sell that concept to a primarily foreign audience. Oh, and this issue also throws in some cameos by the likes of Digitek and Dark Angel, which is a bit self-indulgent, but it's the last issue, so go nuts, why don't you? It's a good, satisfying final issue - the storyline has evidently been allowed to run its course, and everything gets properly tied up. The book may not have lasted long, but at least it got a proper resolution.

Exiles #5 - The most recent renumbering failed to improve sales significantly, so Marvel are pulling the plug at issue #6. I know people will say that's too soon - and to some extent I agree, in the sense that if a publisher gains a reputation for axing books before they really get under way, it'll make the task of marketing a new launch even more difficult than it already is. But let's not forget that this is in fact the 123rd issue of Exiles. (Come to think of it, axing the book with issue #6 means that they can start the inevitable next relaunch with issue #125. Hmm.)

This is the second half of the robot-world storyline, and it's perfectly serviceable without ever quite being great. To be fair, I get the impression that the book is rushing through its subplots more than a little - they're going to tie up the dangling threads next month - so we get Hank suddenly announcing a revelation that probably should have been built up over more time, but obviously can't be. Jeff Parker was the right man for this book, he's chosen a good direction, and he's paired here with the very solid Casey Jones; but it was a mistake to try and relaunch the book immediately, instead of resting it for a while.

Incidentally, the cover is lousy: a generic action shot of Blink, drawn by somebody who has apparently never seen a textile in his life. Somebody buy this man some cloth.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 - This issue, it's the DJs - Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl. And we get them from one camera angle, in a six panel grid, for the better part of 16 pages. Now that's just showing off. Not the normal type of showing off that people do when they're not actually that good, but have learned to be flashy. The type of showing off you do when you're so good that you can get away with holding a single camera angle for the better part of sixteen pages, and actually be interesting within those limits. Even the dancers asking for requests don't make it into the panel. There's damned few comics out there that can get away with this sort of thing, and few enough that would even attempt it, and most of those would make it a tiresome theoretical exercise rather than just a great little character story about an egomaniac DJ who doesn't realise why he's funny. Why aren't there more comics like this?

Ultimatum: X-Men Requiem #1 - The cover has the colon between X-Men and Requiem, but I'm going with the version from the copyright warning, because if in doubt, ask a lawyer. I gave up on Ultimatum about halfway through, but the general consensus seems to be that it was one of the worst comics of the last decade, and from what I saw of it, I can well believe it. This is a one-shot serving as an epilogue to Ultimate X-Men, and you can't really blame creative team Aron Coleite and Ben Oliver for the hopeless set-up they've got to work with. I could point out that it's a wholly unsuitable and arbitrary finish for this series, and indeed all its stablemates, but you already know that. In this issue, the surviving X-Men have a funeral, there's a brief fight with some villains, then everyone goes home. It's just rubbish, but the attempt to attach any sort of genuine emotion to Ultimatum was doomed from the start. To be honest, this whole storyline has been so horrifically bad that I'm left kind of hoping that the relaunch bombs, lest somebody at Marvel gets the idea that they should be publishing more books like Ultimatum. I've actually pre-ordered the first issues of the relaunches, for podcast review purposes, but they're going to have to be pretty damned impressive to convince me that I want to continue supporting the imprint in any way shape or form after this fiasco.

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