Sunday, November 01, 2009

The X-Axis - 1 November 2009

Right, then... I am honestly, definitely, genuinely going to catch up on reviewing some recently-completed storylines. There's a pile of them building up next to my desk, "The Adamantium Men" from Wolverine: Weapon X #1-5, "Romulus" from Wolverine: Origins #37-40 and the GeNext United miniseries being particularly overdue.

But first, let's round up this week's books. By the way, my copy of the X-Necrosha one-shot got delayed, so I'll review it next week. However, since Marvel saw fit to ship seven other X-books this week, I think I'll survive. (Marvel claim they try not to ship everything in a single week. Check the January 2010 solicits: week three features both Hulk and Incredible Hulk, both Uncanny X-Men and X-Men: Legacy, both Wolverine: Origins and Wolverine: Weapon X, and both Dark Avengers and Mighty Avengers. And you might have thought that Web of Spider-Man would ship in the one week of the month when Amazing Spider-Man doesn't... but you'd be wrong. If this is Marvel trying, I dread to think what would happen if they started phoning it in.)

Dark Avengers: Ares #1 - Intriguingly, this isn't a Dark Reign tie-in. Given that Marvel generally seem prepared to slap the logo on anything with a Norman Osborn cameo, this is remarkable restraint. Kieron Gillen and Manuel Garcia are responsible for this miniseries. It's a simple idea: Ares is the god of war, Norman Osborn asks him to train up some H.A.M.M.E.R. soldiers, and so Ares gets to play drill instructor. And since Ares is only marginally saner than Lobo, that's clearly a recipe for disaster. This first issue is mainly black comedy with the bemused soldiers trying to make sense of their maniac commander, with the plot rearing its head on the last two pages. And since it's only a three-issue miniseries, you might think that's leaving it a bit late. But the plot's secondary, really. The joke is Ares as drill instructor; the point is about the moulding of soldiers, and there's plenty of material about that. It's brazenly over the top, but so it should be - it's an Ares comic. Fun reading.

Dark Reign: The List - Wolverine #1 - The Dark Reign: The List one-shots are mildly bemusing. They were hyped as something important to the plot of "Dark Reign", but in practice they seem to be just filler stories, albeit by the writers of the characters in question. This one-shot, from Wolverine: Weapon X writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic, is barely even a Wolverine story. Norman Osborn, in full-blown raving maniac mode, decides to try and capture the World - the place from Grant Morrison's New X-Men run where later versions of the Weapon X Project were based. Marvel Boy, Wolverine and Fantomex head off to stop them. And then Wolverine gets mind-controlled almost immediately, so really, he's hardly in the issue.

Now, here's the odd thing. Aaron's Morrisonesque high concept is that Wolverine and the other inhabitants of the World have been brainwashed by a sort of artificial religion - "a virus that attacks the faith reserves." As such, it only works on people with existing religious beliefs, which is why the cynical atheists Fantomex and Marvel Boy are unaffected. The oddity here is that Aaron evidently sees Wolverine as being religious, even though he's claimed otherwise before. And in fact, the issue is rounded out with a reprint of "A Good Man", a back-up strip from Wolverine #175 which was Aaron's first published work. He won some sort of contest, as I recall. That story likewise hinges on the idea of Wolverine as religious, which makes it a smart pairing for the lead strip, but also results in two stories which, for my money, rather miss the point of the character. (To be honest, I have a sneaking suspicion that Aaron doesn't really understand the concept of idealism without religion.)

Still, all this is basically window dressing for a comic where sarcastic people run around fighting cyborg zombies, so let's not get too worked up about its shaky psychology. It's passably enjoyable, but it's hardly essential reading; Aaron's done better action romps elsewhere, and he's written a better Wolverine story this week.

Gotham City Sirens #5 - Well... hmm. The basic idea here is to pit Harley Quinn and co against a version of the Silver Age Joker, from back when he was goofy and ridiculous and essentially harmless. Which kind of makes sense, because Harley fits better with that version of the Joker. Except of course the Joker's been a cold-blooded psychopath for years, and so to square that circle, Paul Dini ends up reviving... a character from Batman #186 (November 1966). I mean, we're talking about a seriously obscure reveal here. And I'm not altogether sure it works, because part of the problem is that Dini still wants this version of the Joker to be a genuine threat rather than a cornball throwback, so he's trying to have his cake and eat it. I can see why the wider interests of consistency might rule it out, but I actually preferred the approach of previous issues, that the Joker was simply acting that way because Harley was involved.

Jack of Fables #39 - In which Jack Frost continues to become a proper hero, and our Jack continues to become even less of one. And... you know, it's a plot-advancing chapter in the middle of a four-parter, and beyond that there isn't a great deal to say about it. The basic idea of Jack Frost becoming a traditional fairy tale hero pretty much dictates that the story has to be somewhat predictable, which might be the problem with this issue. As a storyline, it really depends on whether they've got a clever idea to draw together the two seemingly unrelated plot strands in the concluding part next month.

Marvel Divas #4 - "Who cares what we're called?" someone asks in the final panel. Defensive much? And the reality is that somebody should have cared what they were called, because Marvel Divas isn't just a bad name for a miniseries, it's an embarrassingly, cringe-inducingly terribly name for a miniseries. The actual content has been much better than you'd expect. That's not to say that it's a lost classic which has slipped under the radar, but artist Tonci Zonic has done great work throughout. Okay, Daimon Hellstrom's acting a million miles out of character for the benefit of the plot, but I'm prepared to let that one slide. And yes, the cancer stuff was a bit disease-of-the-week. But it's had some good moments, the art is strong, the story is acceptable, and the whole thing comes in on the right side of average. Fans of the characters will probably have enjoyed this one.

New Mutants #6 - It's a Necrosha-X tie-in, which means that a dead hero rises from the grave as a mind-controlled zombie and fights... hold on, haven't I seen this somewhere before? Blackest Something? Anyway, the New Mutants don't have that many dead characters to revive, so naturally it's Cypher. And Cypher's been dead for... what, twenty years now? Seriously, if there's that many readers still out there who care about Cypher being brought back from the dead, it's probably time to close the shutters and move into a different line of work. Fortunately, Zeb Wells is smart enough not to peril his story on 80s nostalgia. Instead, most of the issue is devoted to Cypher stalking the New Mutants as they have their big reunion with Professor X, the idea being that the super-powered Cypher can interpret everything, and so offers a running translation on the subtext of everything people say and do. And that's a neat gimmick, well executed. I can't say I'm particularly grabbed by Blackest X as a concept - if there's any mileage in "heroes fight mind-controlled dead friends", DC already expended it. But this issue does manae to do something clever and worthwhile with Cypher's powers, which is about enough to justify the story.

Wolverine: First Class #20 - Talking of pointless nostalgia, this issue guest stars Captain Marvel. It's a two-parter with Skrulls, and while the first half was good, this issue just gets distracted by a guest star who we're obviously meant to think is pretty cool. And it never really persuades me of that. It comes across as a story where we're all meant to go "Ooh, Captain Marvel" - but if this is an all-ages comic then it should hardly be counting on familiarity with a character whose heyday was in the mid-seventies. Decidedly underwhelming.

Wolverine: Weapon X #6 - The book begins its second arc, and weirdness abounds. Logan's in a mental institution, being treated for his delusions that he's a superhero. Now, obviously, we all know that the Marvel Universe won't turn out to be a hallucination. That's not the point. The trick with a story like this is to make it as weird as possible, and generally maximise the WTF element. Jason Aaron and Yanick Paquette pull that off - the institution is done in a way that's so obviously bogus that it only serves to heighten the creepiness, almost as though the characters are wandering around a half-finished set. I do wonder whether four issues is a bit long for a storyline like this, but we'll see how it goes.

X-Factor #50 - Only Marvel would try to get away with publishing two anniversary issues in a row. Yes, this is issue #50, and the next one is issue #200. I know it doesn't really matter, but if you're going to use it as a marketing tool, don't draw attention to the fact that it's all bullshit! Conceal it at all costs! Anyway, this is the long-awaited conclusion of a complicated time-travel storyline that's been going without a break since issue #40. Like a lot of people, I rather lost patience with this arc a while ago, but I'll settle down and re-read the whole thing to see if it works any better as a collection. As for this final issue, I'm mainly just relieved that it's over, but there is a clever twist to explain Layla's "knows stuff" schtick. The series seems to have completely forgotten that her original original mutant power was to advance the plot of House of M, but hey, I wouldn't be reminding people about that either, if I was them.

X-Force #20 - The final part of "Not Forgotten", and again, I'll review the arc once I've re-read the whole thing. Basically, it's another issue of X-23 solving problems with ultraviolence. But then that's her thing. I do wonder whether it's time to advance her character arc and humanise her a little bit more, but then again the idea that X-23's been programmed to kill and has no real-world life experience is what makes her distinctive. Tone it down too much and she becomes Wolverine Lass, something that she presently manages to avoid. (Come to think of it, why doesn't X-23 figure into the plot of Wolverine: Origins? Not that I want her to, but logically, she should, shouldn't she?) The action is endearingly over the top, and it works in large part because Mike Choi and Sonia Oback's art manages to prettify it so much - though it's unfortunate that they make X-23, Morales and Kimura look so similar.

X-Men Forever #10 - What on earth...? This is the funeral of Wolverine, who apparently really is dead in Chris Claremont's alternate reality series. And so a bunch of heroes show up to tell us what a great bloke he was. Much as you'd expect, really. What's puzzling is that Claremont seems to be straying even further from the original premise of the series. Officially, the idea is that Claremont is picking up his original run on Uncanny X-Men from where he left off in 1991. So he's ignoring revelations that appeared after 1991, which is fair enough. And he's doing things like killing Wolverine which would never have been allowed in 1991, which is arguably against the spirit of the series, but still kind of acceptable. But now it turns out that this world doesn't have a Cable, and that a whole bunch of New Mutants stories apparently didn't happen either. Oh, and Warren isn't blue. At which point, not only are we contradicting stories that came out before Claremont left the series, we're contradicting stories that were acknowledged in the pages of Uncanny X-Men. This is all very weird, and it appears to be deliberately confusing - the closing scene contains no intrinsic drama whatsoever, but serves as a cliffhanger by foregrounding what otherwise seems to be a ginormous continuity error. We seem to be on a tipping point where the book either becomes horribly self-indulgent, or turns into a bizarre metatextual game, both of which bear little resemblance to the supposed concept of the book. Curiouser and curiouser... and yet I can't help wondering where on earth Claremont could be going with this. So he's still got my attention.

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