Sunday, October 25, 2009

The X-Axis - 25 October 2009

It's been a couple of weeks since I've written one of these, so we've got something of a backlog to get through. And of course, as always, don't forget to check out the podcast for more talk about Anchor, Sugar Shock and Azrael.

I'll come back, I think, to Chew #5, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #6 and GeNext United #5 once I've had a chance to re-read the whole storylines. But for now...

Anchor #1 - This is a new ongoing series from Boom Studios by Phil Hester and Brian Churilla. Hester has written some interesting off-kilter high-concept fantasy comics in the past, such as The Coffin. This is a more straightforward action set-up, but it's still a pretty weird central idea. There's this big guy, right, and he exists both on Earth and in Hell. In Hell, he's singlehandedly holding off armies of demons who are trying to escape; on Earth, he's a confused guy who feels obliged to fight giant Kirby-esque monsters. It's the sort of idea that could easily be a mess, but actually, it works pretty well - it's got the sense of mythological scale that allows it to get away with such an odd premise.

Azrael #1 - DC have just reshuffled the Batman books again, and so they've dug up this concept for another shot. This isn't the original Azrael - it's a guy called Michael who's picked up the identity somewhere along the line. But writer Fabian Nicieza is sticking with the theme of cults and zealots. Basically, the idea is that the comic cuts back and forth between the present day (where Azrael's a fairly normal vigilante on the fringes of the Batman family) and six months time (where he appears to have gone stark raving mad). A nice enough idea. Granted, Michael's not a hugely interesting character in the present day sequences, and the first issue is an "abusive Catholic priest" story, territory which has surely been stripmined by now. And Ramon Bachs' art doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the action scenes. But nonetheless, there's something interesting in here.

Beasts of Burden #2 - Ah, this is good stuff. Pets fighting mystical evil is an okay concept, but it's all in the execution. Jill Thompson's art brings out the characters without anthropomorphising them too much, while Evan Dorkin's script manages to balance the suburban setting with a lingering sense of threat. This series could easily have been gimmicky or cutesy - or gone the other way and tried too hard to be "serious" - but it's a beautifully judged piece of work.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #1 - Now there's a title. It's a very tongue-in-cheek action/conspiracy story, starting from the intentionally ludicrous premise of an attempt to create government super-agents out of people with multiple personality disorders. Because they've got three personalities, you see, so that's three times as many useful skills they could have. Did it work? No, of course it didn't. But there's still a deranged cowboy/ninja/viking out there as a result. I love the idea, but I'm a bit more lukewarm about the actual comic. The plot's a bit opaque, and at times it feels like it's trying too hard to be clever. The biggest problem, though, is that the lead character has three personalities all of which seem to be essentially the same in different hats, which feels like a waste of the idea.

Dark Wolverine #79 - Boy, this feels like filler. "How many months of Dark Reign left to go? Six? Yeesh... uh, Daken has a fight with some minor villains?" I was more or less behind this series with the first arc, but it's losing me now. One problem is that the plot depends on you accepting that Norman Osborn can't allow his Dark Avengers to be seen beating up villains in public because of the PR consequences. But I don't really see what his problem is. Again, if "Dark Reign" is supposed to be an ersatz Cheney-verse, Osborn wouldn't be concealing the abuse of prisoners, he'd be trumpeting it as a tough-on-crime virtue. It's not as if Daken's even done anything particularly groteque. And when the whole "Dark Reign" set-up requires us to accept that Norman can hold a position of public trust despite a well-documented history of villainy and madness, you can't turn round and expect me to believe he's losing sleep over something like this. It just doesn't work. Oh, and there's a cringingly adolescent bit with a creepy store manager hiding cameras in women's changing rooms, which is just eye-rollingly terrible.

Deadpool #900 - Well, it's an anthology of Deadpool stories. Or rather, half of it's an anthology of Deadpool stories, and the other half is a reprint of Deadpool Team-Up #1, a James Felder/Pete Woods one-shot from years ago which wasn't especially memorable in the first place. A little Deadpool goes a long way, and to be honest, seven consecutive Deadpool short stories is a bit much. Fred van Lente and Dalibor Talajic do a good story with evil mimes, while Mike Benson and Damion Scott turn in a visually interesting conversation piece between Deadpool and a psychiatrist. On the other hand, the Joe Kelly/Rob Liefeld thing is like having sugar injected into your eyes. And Kyle Baker turns in some thoroughly odd-looking art for the last story, which I'm not at all sure works. It's like the comic book equivalent of a low-budget Adult Swim clip-art animation. Mainly, though, it's not that the individual stories are bad, just that it's hard to take this much Deadpool in one go.

Liberty Comics #2 - This year's fundraiser anthology for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is of course a very good cause. Themed anthologies tend to be hit and miss, and to be honest, this is more miss than hit. There's a lot of creators taking a few pages to inform us that free speech is good, which... well, we knew that, right? I mean, yes, you like free speech and you don't like censorship, and that's awesome, but a lot of the contributions are rather clodhoppingly literal and not especially insightful. Mike Allred does a passably amusing short, and there's a Painkiller Jane strip which gets the theme in quite well. Jason Aaron's opening strip isn't exactly subtle, but it's quite funny. But then there's also stuff like an overearnest, preachy Channel Zero four-pager, of which the less said the better. All in a good cause, but frankly not a great comic.

Sugar Shock #1 - This is the print edition of Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon's online comic, which originally appeared on Myspace Dark Horse Presents. It's actually only 24 pages long - the rest of the issue is filled out with sketch art - but at $3.50, that's still not bad value these days. We talk about this more on the podcast, but if you haven't seen it, the title pretty much tells you what to expect. It's a freewheelingly mental strip which cheerfully digresses all over the place, as an insane rock band (one of whom is a robot, and one of whom insists that she's not a Viking) go off into space to fight weirdness. It's a gag strip rather than a proper story, but Whedon is a good gag writer, with some great non sequitur cutaways. And thanks to Moon, it looks fantastic.

Uncanny X-Men #516 - In which Magneto shows up on Utopia, Xavier protests that the arch-villain can't be trusted, and everyone ignores him. Meanwhile, working through his short list of available remaining villains, Matt Fraction ends up using Scalphunter and a bunch of Predator Xs on a plane, which doesn't seem like that much of a threat to an entire island of X-Men, but okay. This isn't bad, actually. I like the idea of Xavier being sidelined while everyone else is cheerfully inviting Magneto in for coffee. And Greg Land's art is actually less irritating than normal this issue - partly because it looks a little less Photoshopped than normal, partly because there aren't many women in this issue.

Uncanny X-Men: First Class #4 - Storm and Phoenix hook up with the Daughters of the Dragon to fight Nightshade, of all people. I've never much cared for this mid-seventies villain in her leather bikini, and First Class stories are usually at their weakest when the writers seem to be indulging personal nostalgia. Nightshade's plan, it turns out, is to steal a mind-reading machine so that she can give kung fu skills to her robots. Um... yes, maybe if this had actually come out 35 years ago. But reading it in 2009, it just seems to date the creative team.

Unwritten #6 - This looks to be the start of the second arc, as Tom Taylor finds himself in jail awaiting trial for the murder of all those genre writers who got killed in issue #4. Unwritten is easily my favourite Vertigo book right now. It's got a strong, intriguing central idea. And it's turning out to be more than just a gimmick about a character escaped from fiction - it's a vehicle to do stories about genre, and the rules of fiction, and the way a story is experienced by its audience. All of which I find rather fascinating. But it's also got a strong plot as well, and I love to see Mike Carey stretching himself like this.

Wolverine: Origins #41 - Guest starring Skaar, Son of Hulk. Which isn't gratuitous at all, you see, because this series is about Wolverine and his son Daken, so they're going to contrast that with Bruce Banner and his son Skaar... No, I don't really care either. Frankly, even the plot recap on page 1 is enough to make your head bleed. And then we get one of those stories where Wolverine knows Romulus can second-guess his every move, so decides to beat him by taking random advice from a bloke in a bar... Nice art, though, I'll give it that, but the plot has now strayed so far from any sort of logic or common sense that I can't even be bothered being irritated with it any more.

X-Men Forever #9 - Well, my copy has a printing error that makes two pages largely unreadable, which is unfortunate. But mainly, this is the story of Ziggy Trask, the latest member of the Trask family, who's spent her life trying to redeem the family name by building some Sentinels that actually work. Silly woman, hasn't she read Essential X-Men? The Sentinels never work. Actually, there is something interesting about the character - Claremont works hard to present her as somebody basically normal who's grown up seeing the X-Men as the baddies and who isn't evil so much as obsessed with the family business. Also this issue: we get to find out who one of those people in the shadows is! (It's nobody we knew.)

X-Men Legacy #228 - This is part two of "Devil at the Crossroads", the Emplate story that began in this year's Annual. Emplate has kidnapped Bling, because although she's terribly obscure, she also happens to have very handy powers. So this is a story where Bling is held prisoner in a weird interdimensional haunted house by a guy wearing a gas mask, and Rogue has to go after her. Artist Daniel Acuna makes this one work; his self-coloured art has a weirdly oversaturated feel to it that doesn't always click, but turns out to be perfectly at home doing stories about a mad pervert in an interdimensional house. This version of Emplate isn't a mastermind so much as a weirdo, but then creepiness was always his strongest feature, so why not push it to the limit?

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