Sunday, November 08, 2009

The X-Axis - 8 November 2009

We have a new podcast this weekend, so see the post immediately below for the comments thread. (You can download the show here.)

Meanwhile, with one thing and another, I still haven't read all of this week's comics... but let's race through the X-books and some of the other releases.

Astonishing X-Men #32 - Last issue, most of the story was devoted to the X-Men rescuing an aircraft in distress. This issue, we get seventeen straight pages of the X-Men fighting a Sentinel. A Sentinel made of meat, admittedly, but a Sentinel nonetheless. This is a throwback to the sort of thing Ellis used to write for Authority - very light on plot, very big on extended action sequences.

There is a plot, but it turns out to involve dead mutants being dug up and reanimated to use as weapons against the X-Men. No doubt there are readers who have been enjoying this premise in Blackest Night and X-Necrosha, and who will be thrilled to learn that they can now read a third concurrent story based on the same idea. In fairness, running into Blackest Night is sheer bad luck. But X-Necrosha is a crossover being published by the same editorial office. Don't they talk to one another? Didn't any alarm bells ring?

Of course, the plot is just a framework on which to hang the lengthy fight scenes, so it boils down to how excited you are about the prospect of a seventeen page fight scene. But it's really nothing to write home about on that level either. The climax is a mystifying sequence which hammers home the fact that Hank's aircraft has no weapons systems, only for him to unleash a barrage of what certainly look to be missiles on the next page. The art is certainly very good, if a bit busy. That aside, it's difficult to get worked up about this.

Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1 - Paul Cornell writes a miniseries retelling the Black Widow's origin. As it turns out, the story is actually set in the present day, but with flashbacks aplenty to fulfil the remit. Tom Raney draws the "present" scenes, with John Paul Leon handling the past - a massive style shift, but one that works fairly well, since at least it keeps the timeframes distinct. Unfortunately, the flashback scenes seem to assume that readers are largely familiar with the material already. For example, there's no attempt to explain how the young Natasha knows Logan, so apparently Cornell thinks all his readers are familiar with Uncanny X-Men #268, a story that came out 19 years ago. Moreover, the flashbacks are terribly staccato and rushed - the likes of Logan, the Winter Soldier and even Stalin show up out of nowhere and move on within panels. It all comes across as a bit unreal and disconnected, I'm afraid.

Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love #1 - A Fables spin-off miniseries, based on the idea established in the main series that Cinderella is secretly working for the Fabletown authorities as a glamorous Bond-style spy. This is by Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus, neither of whom is associated with the Fables franchise, but they're working hard to match the tone of the regular title. The story is actually the better part of a year out of synch with the other books, and I'm not sure the world really needed a third Fables book telling fairly similar stories to the main title. But it's an enjoyable read, and McManus is always an excellent storyteller.

The Great Ten #1 - Ten-issue miniseries, natch, featuring the Chinese state superhero team from 52. Seems odd to dust them off several years down the line, but okay. This first issue is effectively a solo story about Accomplished Perfect Physician - as he says, "not [a name] I would've come up with, but there it is." The basic idea is that some of the group are loyal soldiers of the state, but others, like the Physician, are trying to be more or less legitimate superheroes within the Chinese system. Why put them on the team at all? Well, because at least that way you can keep an eye on them. Bedard's setting himself a tough challenge if he's going to have an ongoing invasion story and focus on a different member every issue - but there's nothing wrong with ambition, and he gets off to a good start here. The pro-government members are handled fairly well; we're not invited to agree with them or even to think there's much moral ambiguity in it, but at least they're allowed to be sincere believers with a plausible viewpoint. Shawn McManus' art is good, strong stuff, and there's some potentially interesting material about Communist China's relationship with its national past. Good start.

Psylocke #1 - Well, that's a subtle cover, isn't it? I'll give David Finch this, though. The cover may be T&A, but at least it's reasonably well-composed T&A. Lots of nice parallel lines. Much better than the utter mess surrounding X-Necrosha #1. Anyway, this is a Psylocke miniseries, and she's going after nineties villain Matsu'o Tsurayaba again. From the look of it, the series seems to be a reconstruction job on a badly damaged character - Chris Yost's script more or less openly acknowledges that Psylocke's become rather directionless and has lost touch with her roots, and evidently the story is going to set out to reconnect her in some way or other. This is work that needs done, if Psylocke is going to be used at all - though frankly, she's such damaged goods at this point that I wonder if she's worth the effort that will be involved in rehabilitating her to dramatic viability. Inevitably, Yost's got a tough job ahead of him making this an interesting story in its own right, and it's all a bit angsty. But it does at least seem to understand what needs to be done with this character - she needs to be redefined clearly so that she can move forward. So that's a good start. The art's a bit fussy - lots of gratuitously curved panels that don't really add anything - but it serves the purpose fine.

Strange Tales #3 - This anthology of indie creators doing Marvel superheroes has been decidedly uneven, and this issue is no exception. The big selling point of the series was the serialisation of Peter Bagge's long-shelved "Incorrigible Hulk." Splitting it into three parts wasn't a particularly smart move (the story was originally conceived as a one-shot, so episode three now opens with a "Minutes later..." caption), and to be honest, it's not a lost classic, but it did work; the Hulk turns out to be somewhat at home among Bagge's characters. The rest of this issue's contributions are a mixed bunch. There's a lot of brief gag strips, some of which take the characters more seriously than others, but most of which are actually funny. In the lead slot, Stan Sakai reimagines the Hulk as a samurai; Jonathan Jay Lee gives us the Punisher as a martial artist and lapsed Confucian. There are a couple of other relatively straight stories which feel like they might have made a decent fill-in issue if they were expanded a bit. But at the other end of the spectrum, Corey Lewis' Longshot strip is all over the place. And Chris Chua's four pages are completely off the deep end - they're barely even comics in the normal sense, so much as a riot of colour and tiny panels leading in weird directions around the page. Technically he fulfils the remit of using Marvel characters, but it's really beside the point. It's not a story in any way, shape or form, but there's something unique and bizarre about it that can't help but hold the eye.

Stumptown #1 - Greg Rucka's new creator-owned series at Oni, with artist Matthew Southworth. We talked about this on the podcast, but suffice to say that it's a detective story set in Portland. While it's not exactly redefining the genre, Rucka has always excelled at this sort of thing, and this series sees him doing what he does best. Southwarth does excellent work here - apparently they've gone to great lengths to get the locations right, but for those of us who don't know Portland, it's more important that the art is reminiscent of the likes of Michael Gaydos and Sean Phillips, good company to be in.

X-Men Origins: Iceman - These origin recap one-shots don't sell a great deal, but I suppose they're providing material for a future collection. And I can see the logic: these are essential bits of continuity, and they might as well be available in a modern style for contemporary readers. In this issue, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Phil Noto re-tell Iceman's origin story, which originally appeared in a back-up strip in 1968 or so. It's a faithful rendition, with all that that entails. In other words, the art's great, the pacing's vastly improved, and the whole thing is given a bit of context. But it's still the same story at the end of the day, so the creators are a bit hamstrung in what they have to work with. Bluntly, the source material is mediocre, and there's only so much that can be done to jazz it up. Still, they've made the best of it, and it does look wonderful.

X-Men vs Agents of Atlas #2 - The second half of a two-part miniseries, as part of Marvel's ongoing crusade to raise the profile of Jeff Parker's much-loved but little-bought Agents of Atlas team. While this has its moments, I'm afraid it does end up falling into the usual tropes of crossover territory - misunderstanding, fight, reconciliation, and so forth. The back-up strip, a lead-in to the Agents' back-up strip in Hercules, is a much stronger piece. Not that this is a bad issue; it's just a bit formulaic, and doesn't really capture the strengths of the regular series.

X-Necrosha #1 - This one-shot, leading into the crossover of the same name, came out last week, but I've only just read it. In fact, "X-Necrosha" is more like an X-Force storyline which is spilling over into X-Men: Legacy and New Mutants - one book gets the core story, the others are just taking the opportunity to have some undead villains show up. It's unfortunate that the story ends up appearing alongside DC's uncomfortably similar Blackest Night, but in fairness to X-Force writers Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, they've been building up this storyline for quite some time. And you can see why: X-Force are supposed to be the violent, take-no-prisoners, black-ops version of the X-Men, but there's a desperate shortage of expendable mutant villains right now, so anything that generates short-term cannon fodder is helpful. There are three stories in this one-shot; the lead strip is by Kyle and Yost with art from Clayton Crain, and it's pretty forgettable. I'm still not impressed by Crain's murky artwork - his cover for this issue is an ugly mess - and the story seems to be following a rather obvious path. Fair play, though, for (literally) digging up some thoroughly obscure people: if you're wondering, Mortis is Dazzler's half-sister, and Berserker was a one-off character from an early issue of X-Factor. Zeb Wells and Ibram Roberson's Cypher story is fine, but the idea is done better in the New Mutants story that it leads into. Finally, Mike Carey and Laurence Campbell take a different tack on things, more or less ignoring the "under the control of Selene" bit so that they can play with the ghost of Destiny - and that's a story I've got some interest in.

Labels: , ,