In a month where Siryn became an Irish death goddess, Gambit went to Guatemala, Pixie chased down a nuclear bomb and Mike Allred and Doop popped in on Wolverine & The X-Men, what else has been going on in September? SO MUCH, YOU GUYS.
This is the last month before Marvel NOWWWW kicks in and we have to enjoy Avengers dominion, so let’s make the most of it, eh? We’ll start off with Astonishing X-Men, the ‘problem child’ of the X-Franchise. The book was originally created as a spotlight title for Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, far removed from any of the other titles. This was because everybody knew neither creator would be able to bring the book in on time – which proved to be true, by something like two years. After it ended, the sensible thing to do would have been to end the book and move on, but instead Marvel brought in Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi for another interminably delayed run, which shedded readers by the thousands. Following Ellis’ departure from, well, comics in general, the book was then passed to people like Daniel Way, Christos Gage, James Asmus and now Marjorie Liu. And arguably, only the Asmus issue had much claim of the “Astonishing” title, in that it wrapped up one of Whedon’s many lingering plot threads.
Nowadays the title serves to throw together a number of random X-Men – at the moment Gambit, Northstar, Karma, Iceman, Wolverine, Warbird, Cecelia Reyes and Beast. Marjorie Liu has been telling a long-term storyline here, but one that has been plagued by awful pacing problems and a central glaring hole: Northstar. The series used Northstar to get a bump in readers when they had him marry his almost long-term partner Kyle, but since the very start Northstar has been a black hole in the narrative, ruining every page he appears in. It might be that Liu simply struggles to write him, or that editorial have lost track of what his voice is meant to be. But in Astonishing, he comes off as annoying, vapid, vain and uncaring. He’s the one who’ll first start screaming at his teammates if something goes wrong and his character has quickly collapsed over the past 6 months. Which, considering this book is meant to be spotlighting him, is a massive failure from the creative team.
Mike Perkins hasn’t helped matters, being completely miscast here with. Colourist Jay David Ramos is also somewhat to blame for this, but the book has looked pretty dreadful since day one. I think it’s because the eyes are drawn to be tiny black holes on each character’s face, but everybody in this book looks indistinguishable from one another and hard to follow. The storytelling is somewhat out of sync and melodramatic, and the script doesn’t fit the style Perkins is going for here. Astonishing X-Men is running into a whole world of problems right now, and something needs to be done once this mega-arc finally lollops to an end.
Less problematic are my trifecta of fun X-Men books: X-Factor, X-Treme X-Men, and X-Men. This month X-Treme X-Men moved to its second arc, set in the Wild West. Which meant Dazzler got onstage at a saloon, Wolverine had a showdown with Sabretooth and Cyclops was the quick-shooting Sherriff in town. It’s massively good fun, with Greg Park clearly racing through each script with wild, inventive abandon. Paco Diaz proves to be a good fit for the arc as well, which surprised me – it didn’t seem like the sort of genre he’d play well in. Genre plays a strong part in X-Men as well, with Brian Wood teaming up with both Roland Boschi and David Lopez for a tight, consistent spy thriller with an interesting female cast and clever use of narrative. With only one more issue left before Wood leaves, we’ll have to hope that he’ll be back at some point in future – he’s gripped the characters tightly and told an unexpected story with them. We could use more of that.
X-Factor has also been on an unpredictable ride at the moment with the “Breaking Points” storyline ripping members out of the team and hurling them into unexpected places. This month we saw Polaris destroyed and reclaimed by Peter David as he tossed away the mental instability the character has suffered ever since she witness the genocide of Genosha during Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. We also saw Siryn leave the team in a really strange fashion as David started to draw the arc together. It’s been a much-needed blast of energy for the title, which had been trundling along slowly for far too long. With this arc David has finally brought the back up to the high drama and fun that it started with, all those years ago.
Now, I promised I’d write about David Lapham’s Age of Apocalypse series because it’s slipped under the radar somewhat. In much the same fashion as adjectiveless X-Men, this is a book, which has quickly taken a group of characters and forced them into a tight, cohesive narrative which surprises and grips. The premise of the book is that after Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force killed off most of the remaining Age of Apocalypse characters, we’ve returned to the two or three remaining ones (Jean Grey, Sabretooth, etc) as they try to kill off this version of Wolverine, who has been corrupted. With artists like Roberto De La Torre and Renato Arlem this has been a gritty, underground book which took a concept most saw as falling apart and turned it into something dynamic. Lapham’s dialogue cracks, with most of the cast getting something interesting to do here. It’s a strong book, and worth trying out – the only caveat being that it works best if you start from the beginning, and read it all in a row.
And finally, let’s move from cohesive titles to two that have jumped all over the place at random. The first is X-Men Legacy, which this month finally addressed the ugly Magneto/Rogue relationship dumped on the characters by departing Mike Carey over a year ago. This storyline has never worked, because it feels like a mismatch for both the characters. Magneto is a man who wants to seem dignified and stately, and anging out with a younger, kinda stupid woman like Rogue was very similar to Kitty Pryde’s continual mystifying interest in dating idiots like Colossus and Iceman. There’s no chemistry between Mags and Rogue, and she has suffered as a character because of it. We finally see them get split up after months and months of moping and complaining from Rogue in this book, and it feels as apathetic as the rest of the story has been.
The dialogue doesn’t really work and the story plays too heavily on a laboured comparison between a crash victim the pair are trying to save and the relationship itself. “We gotta tread carefully,” “you shift the wrong piece, and it all comes crashing down,” and so on. It seems more like a story written so Rogue can be single by the time she heads to the Avengers, rather than a story written to progress or develop either of the characters here. Christos Gage was handed a distinctly dodgy book to try and breathe life into once Carey left, and he sadly hasn’t managed to do that. One more issue till it gets revamped.
But where would my manners be if I ended on a downbeat note? Here’s
a swing for the better. For the past few months I’ve been unenthused by Jason Aaron’s run on Wolverine & The X-Men with the writer engaging “silly mode” for the book instead of his other mode, “Scalped mode.” For a book with such a huge presence this really needed to be marketed as a satellite title rather than one of the flagship books. Aaron has no interest in writing a book that pushes the X-Men into a new direction and builds them into something new – this is a sitcom at best and one, which struggles with tone on a page to page basis. However, and this is a big however because it concerns Peter Milligan and Mike Allred who are THE BEST CREATIVE TEAM TO EVER ENTER COMICS, Aaron won me back over this month. His Doop one-shot issue this month, with Allred on art, worked.
This was obviously mainly because Mike Allred physically cannot draw a bad comic, but also because Aaron realised when to push forward and when to hold back. There’s a lot of reliance in this issue on jokes and themes already established by Milligan, but just enough from Aaron that he puts a new shine on Doop. Doop can be overused in this book, but giving him a spotlight here, which ended rather sweetly was a solid move and showed that – when we don’t treat the book as important – Aaron’s series has a place in the world of the X-Men. A promising move forward.
So — that wraps up September! Coming October … the end of Avengers Vs X-Men …
See you afterwards!
BOOKS OF THE MONTH:
- X-Men #35, #36
- X-Factor #243, #244
- X-Treme X-Men #4
BOOKS TO AVOID:
- Wolverine in general
- Astonishing X-Men #54
NEW MUTANTS UPDATE:
- Seriously is this actually still going?