After receiving much exposure from Grant Morrison’s “Batman” run, the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder’s English counterparts get their own mini-series. Now, the thing you have to understand about their England is that it’s a place that never quite left what we Americans regard as comics’ “Silver Age.” You’ve got goofy heroes like Salt of the Earth and The Milkman mixing it up with the likes of villain such as the Death Dinosaur and Dark Druid (I’m also sure the alliteration is intentional), cornball plots like the Knight’s armor gaining sentience and attacking his owner, and the actual Richard III being resurrected and plotting to take over the country.
This could’ve been quite painful in other hands, but Paul Cornell is in the writer’s seat here and he actually makes it all somewhat endearing and actually funny. He also has the genius idea of after setting up the rules and style of the DC Universe’s England, to bring in the Joker to turn it all on its head. However, the enjoyment you’ll get out of this series depends on two things: whether or not you’re put off by extreme British-ness (no-really, Cornell includes welcome text pieces at the end of each chapter to explain all of the jokes), or have already read the man’s “Wisdom” mini-series for Marvel. I mention the latter because it actually does a better job of mixing super-hero action with British culture with far less in-jokes. This is still an entertaining series, with some highly appropriate art from Jimmy Broxton, but it’s still of a niche appeal.
Long time readers will know that I like Peter David’s “X-Factor” a great deal. In fact, the first six volumes of his current run are comics that I’d recommend to people who generally aren’t interested in the “X-Men” franchise. That hasn’t been the case for a while now, but David still knows how to write a fun comic in any circumstance. Even when you get the feeling that he’s been given the mandate to “write something involving Thor to tie-in with the upcoming movie.”
A tall, elegant lady with a body that was eighty percent legs and one-hundred percent trouble walks into X-Factor Investigations one day and asks Jamie Madrox to find a man and the trinket he stole from her. Not one to resist such an obviously noir femme fatale, Madrox and co. spring into action... only to find out that this lady is Hela, the Norse god of death (it’s not a spoiler, you can find this out on the back cover). She’s hired them to find Pip the Troll for her so he can fulfill his role as her jester due to the deal they struck. Not wanting to have the troll’s eternal torment on his conscience, Madrox takes his team out to Hela’s headquarters -- Las Vegas.
There’s a lot to like about this volume. Simple things like Monet’s cleverness at outwitting Baron Mordo in the opening chapter, and Layla’s clever timing with a pillow and sheet. You’ve also got the “why hasn’t anyone done this before” appeal of seeing Longshot use his luck powers to win big in Vegas. We also get to see some interesting developments in Rictor and Shatterstar’s relationship when a very pregnant Rhane Sinclaire (a.k.a. Wolfsbane) shows up in their apartment. Shatterstar then proceeds to give the reader a crash course in what NOT to say to an agitated, pregnant, shapeshifting mutant.
It’s a good thing that there are all of these other diversions, including a one-issue break where Rictor and Rhane go to get their baby checked out and David sets up some future subplots, because the main story isn’t that interesting by itself. I’ll admit that this kind of story is better suited for the title, as opposed to vol. 9’s “Inivisible Woman Has Vanished” which felt more like a “Fantastic Four” arc, but it’s still pretty straightforward. Madrox gets Pip captured by Hela. The team goes to Vegas. They fight zombie Vikings. Thor shows up. Then they bring the fight to Hela. The end. It really just serves as a hanger for all of the interesting bits I mentioned above. That’s not really a bad thing, but I’ll keep hoping for an “X-Factor” storyline to be as interesting as its characters.
The ending also suffers a bit from the feeling that David had to wrap things up quick. It’s almost as if he didn’t realize he was running out of pages while he was writing it. His method of resolution also manages the difficult feat of stretching the boundaries of believability... which is impressive for a story that involves zombie vikings. Without getting into specifics, it involves the use of Darwin’s powers in a way that while creative, should’ve killed him outright. Evolution doesn’t work quite this way, the last I checked. The volume ends on a note indicating that what happened to Darwin will have repercussions, so maybe we’ll get a better explanation then.
It pains me to give the standard, “if you liked the previous volumes, then you’ll like this” recommendation... but I’m going to have to cop out and do it here. I will say that after eleven volumes you’d think that diminishing returns would be setting in, but that’s not the case. “Happenings in Vegas” isn’t a true return to form, but it does represent an uptick in quality. I would’ve liked more, but this is good enough for now.
Stories where the future has gone to hell for mutants, or where changes to the past have made for a wretched present day are a recurring trend in the “X-Men” universe. You’ve got classics like “Days of Future Past” that started the whole trend, and the “Age of Apocalypse” which provided the franchise with one of its most memorable storylines in the 90’s. “Age of X” hews more closely to the former as writer Mike Carey gives us his take on what the world would be like if Charles Xavier wasn’t around to form the X-Men and provide a counterpoint to Magneto’s confrontational agenda. Though he tells a good story, it still feels like a pretty small-scale “event” by the time things are over.
So it turns out that without Professor X in the world, humans would’ve turned on mutants, Beast would’ve been beaten to death a peace rally, Phoenix would’ve destroyed Albany, and more such events eventually fanned the flames of intolerance to irreconcilable levels . After a last-ditch rescue by Magneto in New York, mutanity prepares to make its last stand against the human aggressors. Most of the group has resigned itself to dying here, but there are some troubling signs on the horizon. Stars that don’t look right. A camera that was snuck outside the fortress’ perimeter that took pictures of nothing. Identical dog tags collected as trophies. What does it all mean? That’s what Rogue, now known as “Legacy” aims to find out.
Putting her in the starring role here shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been reading “X-Men: Legacy” since Carey started writing it. However, he finds an interesting use for her powers as she is tasked with storing the memories of the mutants fallen in battle. Her status as a living archive causes a lot of the cast to treat her with kid gloves, so it’s not surprising that this leads to a minor act of defiance which gets the plot going.
Most of the fun of these stories is seeing what kinds of twists the writers can give to existing characters and we get some good ones here. In addition to Rogue’s new position, Cyclops winds up in the “Wolverine” role as his time as a death-row execution device excised nearly all of his compassion and left him with no leadership skills. Wolverine is a shadow of his former self after his attempt to dissolve the mutant “cure” wrecked his healing factor and leaves him tending a bar while the others fight on the frontlines. There are plenty of other changes, but these stand out the most due to their drastic natures.
While this story does seem to borrow a lot from “Age of Apocalypse” on the surface, it doesn’t play out in the same way. Carey was right to not try and re-tread the same material but his big twist feels more reductive than anything else. We eventually find out that the world is much smaller than it was initially made out to be and that the way to return things to “normal” is also pretty straightforward as well. To his credit, Carey does do a good job of setting up the mystery and building things to a climax. I was entertained, but this feels more like an amped-up arc of “Legacy” than any kind of X-event.
The other problem with the twist is that it also renders the “Age of X Universe” stories collected at the end rather pointless. The “Avengers” stories written by Si Spurrier are the main attraction as the team is still fronted by Captain America, but with more psychotic and homicidal versions of Iron Man, Hulk, and Spider-Woman backing him up. As they track down Magneto and his followers, we’re treated to some very familiar moral philosophizing about what the right thing to do in this situation is. Spurrier handles everything competently, but this is of little consequence in the end. The “Spider-Man” story by Jim McCann is similarly forgettable, but Chuck Kim’s “Dazzler” short is actually pretty decent thanks to its unexpected ending.
“Age of X” will be of primary interest to long-time “X-Men” fans who want to see what the latest “alternate history” scenario for the team is, and for those of us who have been following “Legacy.” The story ends in a way that shows things will be returning to normal for the main cast, certain background characters will be feeling its effect for some time to come. If the aim of this series was to give a new direction and purpose to “Legacy,” then I can say that it did that well.
No, it doesn’t redeem the series. In fact, this concluding volume is disappointing in a different way than its predecessors. Where the second and third volumes squandered the momentum from the first by proceeding at an abysmally slow pace and dwelling on plot points that should’ve been foregone conclusions, this concluding one actually picks up the pace. You do get a sense of urgency from Shinji, Kaworu, Asuka and Rei’s efforts to combat Gendo’s evil plot, and things build to about as well a constructed climax as you could expect.
The only problem is that I stopped caring about what was going to happen to these characters in the previous volume. There were some nice artistic moments, mostly coming from the always-pleasing and expressive character designs. I also liked the “dead-eyed” look they gave Asuka’s double compared to the real one. It’s a minor detail, but you take what you can get here. In the end, this was a deeply skippable series, unless you’re a hardcore Evangelion completist who has to have everything in connection with the series. To be honest, the only thing that could’ve saved this series in my opinion would be the revelation that this Gendo was secretly... a pimp!
“This is Gendo. Yeah. Plenty of wimmins. Sure, they do whatever you want. …Well, maybe not that."
Oh. So THAT’S what Robert Kirkman was talking about when he mentioned the “Carl Thing” that was going to be reprinted in this volume. He mentioned this at a con a few months back and (thankfully) didn’t go into it because the majority of the audience were trade-waiters like me. Anyway, the moment itself is truly shocking -- even by the series’ standards -- and something that will have lasting repercussions in coming volumes. If for no reason other than the fact that it’ll leave a mark.
As for the rest of the volume, it’s another worthy entry in the series with its surprising deaths and even more surprising character and relationship developments. Seeing the wife and son of the man Rick killed last volume move in with him was unexpected, as was how that arrangement eventually turns out. There’s also a nod to the “guts poncho” tactic from the TV series, and we get to see our heroes take the fight to the zombies. That last bit looks like it’ll be setting up the book’s direction for a while as Kirkman takes his cast on the offensive. Should be interesting to see.
When the post-”Blackest Night” initiative at DC was given the name “Brightest Day,” a buddy of mine remarked, “You know, now they’re going to do a crossover for every verse of the Green Lantern oath.” To which I replied, “SHHHHHHH! Don’t give them ideas!” Fortunately writers Geoff “Green Lantern” Johns, Tony “Green Lantern Corps.” Bedard, and Peter “Emerald Warriors” Tomasi haven’t gone down that route yet, and the next major crossover is called “War of the Green Lanterns.” But before we get to that, we’ve got a whole volume of setup to get through! Those of you disappointed by the “Green Lantern” film may be suitably diverted by all the action here, provided you’ve been following the ongoing saga of Hal Jordan and co.
Remember the white lantern that was revealed at the end of “Blackest Night?” It turns out that not only is it semi-sentient, it has a mission for Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris, and Sinestro. The various “entities” that embody the core values of the emotional spectrum are all on Earth and in danger of being rounded up by a mysterious force. Parallax is already under his control and Ion soon follows. This isn’t just a mission for the three of them as Atrocitus, Larfleeze, Saint Walker and the entire Indigo Tribe find themselves in the search for the entity of their respective spectrum. For a lot of them, that comes with no strings attached. For Hal Jordan, he has to go off the grid with not only the Corps., but also his fellow superheroes... and that creates problems.
What did I like about this volume? Lobo showing up to collect the bounty on Atrocitus and the five-way throwdown that ensues. Larfleeze setting up shop in Minnesota and discovering Santa Claus. Hector Hammond’s “greedy” makeover in his ongoing quest to have Hal Jordan’s life. The revelation that the Indigo Lanterns, with the newly recruited Black Hand, have compassion forced upon them by their rings (because if they’re all nice people now, what were they like before that). It was also interesting to observe the shouting match of ideas between Atrocitus and The Spectre, along with the ongoing realization that while the latter may be fueled by rage, he’s really a big softie underneath it all (kinda, sorta). The bits with Dex-starr as well, because I’m a cat person.
I also can’t forget the art from Doug Mahnke. As I’ve said before, this series allows him some great opportunities to cut loose with the various alien designs and over-the-top ring creations. Even if his work is looking a little rougher than usual (no less than three inkers contributed to any given chapter)
Everything else just felt like means to an end or the dutiful follow-through on dull plot points. Chief amongst these plot points are Hal and Carol’s efforts to define their relationship. It was interesting to see where Carol wound up in this volume, but there wasn’t any spark or energy to their verbal sparring. Same goes for the tired reasoning Hal gives Barry Allen as to why he doesn’t want to involve the rest of the Justice League in this. “It’s too dangerous for you! I can do this faster by working with individuals I barely trust!” He doesn’t say those exact words, but they’re pretty close. To be fair, something does happen to Barry that kinda justifies Hal’s fears, but it’s also something that we’ve seen a few times before. Diminishing returns have clearly set in on this particular “possession” trick. There’s also the matter of the final twist involving the individual behind the collection of the entities. Unless you’re well-versed in the “Green Lantern” mythos, it’ll fly right over your head. However, the infodump that comes in the final chapter does a decent enough job to explain why he’s a threat and set the stage for “War of the Green Lanterns.”
I’ll be reading that as this volume’s whole purpose was to get things into place for it. I can’t say I’m particularly excited about it as for everything that worked here, there was something that didn’t. Overall, “Brightest Day” trades on the goodwill I have for writer Geoff John’s work on “Green Lantern.” He has a large store of it, but let’s hope that this doesn’t become a regular thing. It’s not bottomless, you know.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Mavel will be cancelling “Uncanny X-Men” with issue #544 in November. It will be relaunched with a new #1 issue two weeks later along with another series “Wolverine and the X-Men” spinning out of the events of the upcoming “Schism” event. “Uncanny” will continue to be written by Kieron Gillen and “Wolverine/X-Men” will be by Jason Aaron, so I’m not too concerned about the quality of the books. Or even their reason for being, as Marvel has stated that one will follow Cyclops’ team as they plot mutanity’s future from Utopia, while Wolverine and co. head out into the world and try to re-integrate mutants into society.
Though it’s obvious that some thought has been given to the purpose of these titles, the way they’re being launched is utterly ridiculous. After DC’s plan to re-launch EVERYTHING with a new #1, and the diminishing returns of Marvel’s own relaunched #1’s, this is just depressing. “Uncanny” has been the company’s longest-running continuing series and pulling a stunt like this is nothing more than a shameless grab for attention and sales. Sure, sales will spike for the new #1, but as last year’s “X-Men” #1 showed, any kind of sales boost -- even for a new core X-title -- will be short lived.
It’s even more baffling when you consider that with this move, there will now be FIVE “core” X-books. You’ll have “Uncanny,” “Wolverine/X-Men,” “X-Men,” “X-Men: Legacy,” and “Astonishing X-Men.” Of these five, only three have a clear purpose with “X-Men” just around to tell straightforward superhero stories, and “Astonishing” now reduced to featuring a rotating cast of creators. (Regarding that title, I like Christos Gage and don’t have anything against Daniel Way, but they’re really a step down from a series meant to feature A-list talent like Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis.)
We don’t need more X-titles diluting the brand. The smart thing to do (at least in my raging fanboy mind) would’ve been to make “X-Men” the “Woverine/X-Men” title, thus giving it a purpose, and to just hype the hell out of issue #545. Maybe it wouldn’t have spiked the sales as much as a new #1 would’ve, but I imagine the overall sales would be much more consistent. Plus you would’ve had issue #550 coming up to spike sales again.
I also have this nagging feeling that with this re-launch, Marvel will finally be putting “Uncanny” trades in “premiere” editions first before the paperback editions. As I’ve said before, putting EVERYTHING in a hardcover edition dilutes the format, and it should only be saved for “event” stories like “Second Coming” and “Age of X” (which I picked up yesterday -- more on that later), or series that are truly special (like “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.”). If Gillen and Aaron’s work is as strong as I’ve come to expect from them, then maybe, MAYBE, I’ll consider picking up the collections in this format. Even so, it’s a sign that as the franchise’s creative future looks bright, the business end has its head up its ass.