eXaminations: 2/22/12 Part 1

Hello there.  It’s been about a month since I ventured to pick up my new comics (sorry – traffic issues in my hometown) but I made the trip today and picked up what I had missed.  I had thought it wouldn’t be too bad, since it’s only been a month and I only peruse the X-books.  Unfortunately for my pocket book, Marvel has decided that its titles should be released at a ludicrous bi-monthly pace, so I basically have two issues of every book I buy, with this trend continuing for the foreseeable future.

What that means for you, dear reader, is that I have a lot to cover in this edition of eXaminations.  For order sake, I’m going to be splitting it up into two parts, with nine issues a piece.  For part one, we’ll be looking at:

  • Alpha Flight #8 (of 8) in which the limited series wraps up.
  • Astonishing X-Men #46 in which Cyclops meetsCountdown: Arena.
  • Generation Hope #16 in which the series gets to its penultimate issue.
  • New Mutants #37 & 38 in which Magma dates the devil and Cypher explores his death.
  • Uncanny X-Force #21 & 22 in which the team gets very British.
  • Uncanny X-Men #6 & 7 in which the team get talked down to a lot.

There are, of course, SPOILERS within.  Let’s begin.

Alpha Flight
There’s a sad thing about Alpha Flight, and no, it’s not that they’re Canadian.  Early in the 8-issue limited’s run, Marvel announced that the book had been picked up for an ongoing.  Then, a couple months later Marvel announced that they in fact would not be doing that.  So the wonderful little Alpha Flight series remained just a wonderful little Alpha Flight series.

Unfortunately, that means the series wraps looking as if it was intended to keep going.  The Taskmaster training bit was tossed in for little reason, Wolverine simply vanished at the end, and there’s a cliffhanger involving Vindicator and Guardian.  The book actually closes with comments from writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente and artist Dale Eaglesham about the series’ non-pick up.  It’s sad.

But the series did something good for the Marvel U – it reestablished the status quo for Alpha Flight.  Why Brian Bendis decided to kill them off in a couple panels of New Avengers, I’ll never know.  But it’s good to have some characters like the Alphans sitting around to tell fun stories involving mind control and losing a toe.  Eventually, someone else will pull them out for something – likely involving Wolverine – and there they’ll be.  Eight perfectly usable characters with a comedy twist based solely on their nationality.

Astonishing X-Men
During the build to Final Crisis, I was excited about the possibilities presented by Countdown: Arena in which numerous variations of certain heroes would compete against one another for something or other.  The end result was crap, but the premise was good.  Here in Astonishing, our Cyclops is tossed into a world in which great power is needed to keep the world from collapsing.  The high-energy beings from the world were used (and abused) in a large machine but left them with a bit of a case of death.  So to keep things going, the Professor X of the world has been yanking various X-Men characters from an infinite amount of parallel universes and here we are.

The plot is not exactly earth-shattering (see what I did there?) but in a book like Astonishing, it doesn’t have to be.  This is the place to tell fun little stories that don’t really fit into the ongoing story, and so an elseworlds Cyclops story can go well here.  And for what it is, the story’s been a lot of fun.  The child Nightcrawler is adorable and the image of the rebel mutants running around wearing Magneto helmets to block telepathy is neat.  Pretty much the most fun I’ve had with Astonishing in quite a while.

Generation Hope
Well, this book’s days are numbered and so incoming (and outgoing) writer James Asmus has to get all the pieces in place for the upcoming AvsX spectacular since Hope (and through her, the Phoenix Force) is going to be smack in the middle of everything.  But that’s not what this issue really gives the feeling of.  In fact, this issue doesn’t really give much of anything.  The Sebastian Shaw deal is blown off by Cyclops giving Hope the call on whether or not to keep the guy around (nevermind the entire history between them) and the Hope/Pixie/Velocidad triangle is solved with Pixie sticking with the jerk.

The main point here is Zero gathering people to deal with Hope since she has influence over the mutants she activates and that’s obviously a bad thing.  This leads up to the cliffhanger ending that will undoubtedly lead to a letdown finale since Hope is all over the place in the X-World and is obviously needed for the Big Event in April.

And that was the reason I kept hesitating on picking up Generation Hope to begin with.  Though she was the main character of the book, she kept showing up all over the other X-books and thus nothing that happened in her own title seemed to really matter.  Even the prospect of finding new mutants ended with the “five lights” so the book really hinged on these new characters.  While I like it fine, it just seemed like this title was missing something.  And should Hope not make it through AvX, what do you do with Transonic, Velocidad, Primal and Zero?  Probably the same thing you did with Prodigy and Surge after New X-Men ended.

And a couple nitpicks for this one.  There’s a scene in which Phoebe of the Stepford Cuckoos disagrees with her sisters about Hope which doesn’t seem to play consistent with their characters (Irma goes so far as to try to physically attack her sister) but since it’s meant to establish Hope’s influence on those beyond just the “lights”, I figure it’s intended.  The other is about Velocidad.  The key part of his character is that when he speeds himself up (or slows down everything else, depending on how you look at it) he keeps aging at real time and thus he’s aging at a faster rate than everyone else.  Yet he’s still being drawn to look like a very young teenager here, which doesn’t fit with what’s been happening to him in other issues.  I suppose I could also mention that Sebastian Shaw has gotten a buzz cut and now not even remotely looks like the character we’ve been familiar with since the early 80’s.

But oh well.  This book’s days are numbered anyway.

New Mutants
Since these two issues are a one-off and the start of a new storyline, I’ll touch them separately.  First is the pay-off to the promised date between Magma and Mephisto set up back in the Fear Itself crossover.  The story is a charming use of the classic “girl gets forced into the date then ends up liking the guy” but ultimately is hurt by the turning of Mephisto into a lovesick nerd.  The thought is that while the whole “being the devil” thing is all great he really misses out on actual love and has no idea what he’s doing when he’s into an actual social experience.  It’s cute and would work fine, but it just doesn’t with an established character like Mephisto.

It was also this issue that made me realize that Magma’s just not an interesting character.  She was brought into being as a naive character brought from an ancient civilization thrust into a new world she doesn’t quite understand.  Once her main villain Selene was out of the picture, she faded to the background and was the first member of the New Mutants booted from the book once Louise Simonson took over from Chris Claremont.  A questionable storyline changed her from an ancient Roman into a kidnapped Brit, and the character never really recovered.  There’s nothing really to her – she’s just there.  Perhaps the love triangle between her, Mephisto and Sunspot will do something more…but I’m not so sure.

The second issue gives Cypher some face time as he finally goes after some closure dealing with his death.  Death is a laughably temporary thing in comics but a story that’s often passed upon is having the revived character seek some kind of acceptance that they did indeed die.  Cypher feels the need for that but has no idea what he’s looking for, so he drags the team back to the island where he was killed during Fall of the Mutants.  Their arrival on the island was immediately marred by Cypher not remembering exactly where it was that he was killed.  After all, it was a remote island that the Mutants were busy fighting on.  It’s not like they made maps as they went.

But this issue also brings back one of the best-left-forgotten characters of the original series, Bird-Brain.  Bird-Brain was an animal construct that showed why the New Mutants shouldn’t try to find new mutants on their own.  I was going to comment that despite being “a good and true friend” as Dani puts it this issue, they never checked up on him after leaving him on the island with his fellow ani-mates…but then I realized that for the other 40 issues of New Mutants, the kids didn’t really have any free time and by the time the book ended, there was no way Cable would let them do anything…and by them, I mean Cannonball, who was the only member of that team left.  And then that made me realize that of the current team, only Dani and Cypher even knew Bird-Brain (the others were Cannonball, Magik and Wolfsbane) so you can understand the reluctance of the others to be on the island.

There are some good character moments, mainly between X-Man and Dani, who are constantly bickering with one another.  X-Man is something of a pompous jerk who thinks Cypher is simply loony and doesn’t want to waste the time on a wild goose chase.  Unfortunately, the issue also tosses in some more romantic tension as apparently Cypher has the hots for Dani, but apparently Dani is attracted to X-Man, despite already having a thing going with Cannonball, who is no longer in the book.  Toss that on with the stuff going on between Magma and Sunspot and all we need is Warlock to start digging his “Selfsoulfriend” and we’ve got ourselves a mutant soap opera.

But that’s okay.  I like this book a lot.

UncannyX-Force
We continue on through our jaunt down the hallowed memories of Captain Britain and Excalibur and I’ve got to say that you need to be a big fan of the original material to follow along with what’s going on here.  Hell, I’m a huge fan of the original Excalibur (well, at least the Claremont/Davis/Ellis stuff when it wasn’t time-killing filler) and I’m having trouble with this one.  Some of the stuff is very enjoyable – like seeing Meggan and Widget and Psylocke flying around in her Captain Britain outfit – but some of the other stuff is a bit much.  This is not a story that befits a team like X-Force and the trial of Fantomex seems little more than a reason to get the rest of them here.  And if the reality-warping Jamie Braddock is alive and well (which didn’t really get explained) why is there a problem at all?

But if you just lower your head and try not to think about it too much, there’s a lot to like.  Decapitated talking head Deadpool was fun, as was past-erased Fantomex.  You can tell that the AoA Nightcrawler is starting to get an understanding that he’s going to be expected to serve as some kind of replacement for the deceased one, as everyone keeps talking to him as such.

This is definitely not as good as what’s been going on in the book, but after the Dark Angel Saga, how could you possibly expect it to be?

Uncanny X-Men
And speaking of the Dark Angel Saga, we’re still dealing with its fallout over in Uncanny (try not to think about how Psylocke can be in both places).  As you might recall, the “extinction team” is exploring the Tabula Rasa place that was created on the ashes of a destroyed city by Archangel and his brethren.  It felt to me like someone was trying to do a Savage Land story without having to use all the Savage Land pieces, and to that I give the thumbs up.  The Savage Land sucks.

Last time Cyclops split the team up, so while the duos of Namor/Hope and Colossus/Magik get in place for the next parts of the story, the rest of the team come across two mighty beings created long ago, one of which is trying to destroy the place and the other which is not.  They are called the Monitor and Anti-Monitor the “Good Apex” and “Bad Apex” mainly because the good one is constantly belittling the X-Men for being an inferior species and talks down to them.  Which is hilarious.

Greg Land’s on art this go-round, and it’s not some of his best stuff.  When Land has time to work, his stuff is pretty good (despite what you may hear) but when he does on a monthly basis (or in Marvel’s case, bi-weekly) you can see some of the rush work.  There are more than a couple of examples of “porn faces” popping up in the story (why is Psylocke smiling on the cover of issue #6?) and some of the sequences come off as almost dull, but there’s nothing really terrible about it.

And Thus…
That’s it for part one.  Check back tomorrow for the other half of my books, including Wolverine & The X-Men, X-Factor, X-Men, X-Men Legacy and Whatever that Quentin Quire Mini Was Called.

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