Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why Aren't You Reading X-Factor?

X-Factor 22: "The Isolationist, Part 2: Natural Order" (PAD & Raimondi).

Almost everyone who reads comics has that one book that they read and love and don't understand why everyone doesn't read it and love it.

X-Factor is that book for me.

There's nothing universe-changing about X-Factor; PAD has carved out a nice little corner of the Marvel Universe to play in and he pretty much keeps to himself while still managing to touch intelligently on the issues surrounding the MU. There's a constant feeling in the book that PAD actually thinks about what's happening n the MU beyond a plot point. Reading X-Factor is reading the work of a writer who asks, "What does it mean when there's only 198 mutants left? What impact does the Civil War have on mutants? What does being able to make duplicates of oneself really do to the original?"

Whenever I ask people why they don't read the book I often get comments from non-X fans like, "I don't read the X-books. They're too confusing and there's too many crossovers and the newer characters all suck." X-fans will tell me, "It's not really an X-book."

Here's why I like X-Factor:

1) The most consistently good writing of PAD's career.

2) Clear, straightforward art from Pablo Raimondi.

3) Interesting angles on stories. In the current arc the idea of asking for mutants to be protected under the Endangered Species Act is being tossed around, and a side-plot focuses on two Disney-esque teen singers who sing racist anti-mutant songs to packed houses. Whatever angle PAD chooses, it's usually smart and interesting as opposed to being LOUD and UNIVERSE ALTERING.

4) The cast. Under PAD's direction, Jamie Madrox has become one of the more interesting characters on the company's roster. Surrounding Madrox is a group of solid characters: Siryn, Monet, Rahne Sinclair, Rictor, Strong Guy, and Layla Miller that compliment each other well. PAD has smartly teamed-up Theresa and M and they play the good cop/bad cop routine very effectively.

Overall, X-Factor is just a very strong book and month-in, month-out one of the most enjoyable reads out there.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Flash 231: The Flashy Four

The Flash 231: "The Wild Wests, Part One: Growing Up Fast" (Waid & Acuna).

Tragedy, thy name is Flash.

Of all the things I was expecting or hoping to get out of the new Waid run on Flash, a sense of despondency was not one of them, yet as I read through Flash 231 I was filled with a sense of dread. Or rather, I was full of the characters' sense of dread for their own circumstances, which drag the whole book down a notch and point us right back towards the dregs that was the pre-Guggenheim Bart Allen-as-Flash era.

Flash 231 is an OK book, and Wally and Linda's kids are fun, Impulse-like characters, but the story itself is a drag and that alone makes Flash 231 one of the most disappointing comics of the year, so far.

Wally and Linda have a pair of twins who have these crazy powers and they've aged rapidly and it all makes Linda miserable and puts Wally on Good Husband Alert. You can see that he's walking on egg shells around his wife and while he's trying to do the right thing by her, and Linda's trying to the right thing by him, and they're both trying to do the right thing for their kids ... I get the sense neither Wally nor Linda are in a happy place right now.

If the focus remains with the kids (Jai and Iris), this might not be so bad. There were several times in the issue when it felt reminiscent of the gone-too-soon Leave it to Chance series by James Robinson and Paul Smith where the kid ends up feeling left out by the grown-ups (chiefly, her dad) and their grown-up business and has her own adventures. In such a story one of the keys is that the adults are so wrapped up in their own business that they forget to keep a tight eye on the kids; that happens here, but instead of leading to a kid-driven adventure, it simply allows the kids to hear some vague, worrisome foreshadowing about why they need to become superheroes.

The overall focus of the book is split between the kids and the parents, however, and that, combined with the very unexpected high-comic book-sci-fi feel ends up making Flash feel very reminiscent of Waid's Fantastic Four run. That's not a bad thing, necessarily. It might be fun to watch people who can't hang in an FF plot try to muddle their way through. Certainly some of Linda's frustration stems from her inability to expertly know the machines they need to keep her children healthy.

The end result, however, is that we've got two uber-concerned parents and two hyperactive kids working their way through a lukewarm Fantastic Four plot. (Remember when Franklin was artificially aged? Remember how much that sucked? Flash's take isn't that bad.) I'm going to stick around at least to the end of the first arc, but I hope the mood of the book (and the art, too, for that matter) lightens up considerably. When a sense of the tragic pervades a book like Flash, there's a real danger of drama turning to melodrama simply because of the family dynamic.

I don't think Waid has turned into Robin Williams (the funny guy who wanted to be taken seriously who's now forgotten how to be funny), but after the demise of Bart Allen I was hoping for something fresh and fun. Waid's given us a fresh take on the title, but the story is still a drag.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

New Avengers 33: We've Got Bad Guys!

New Avengers 33: "Trust, Part Two" (Bendis & Yu).

Holed up in Chicago after last issue's plane crash, the Avengers continue to be wracked with issues of trust and doubt. Bendis has made a wise decision in pitting Cage and Spider-Man as the main antagonists of this arc, with Wolverine increasingly playing the voice of reason caught between them.

In an arc that is about trusting the people you ally yourselves with, Cage's demanding leadership grates extremely well against Spidey's humor. With the exception of Luke and Danny, there's not a lot of history between the members of the New Avengers. I have no idea what speed Marvel Time is working on right now (it can't still be 7 years since Reed & Co. went up in the rocket, can it?), but Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, and Clint Barton have been aware of each other since very nearly the beginning, and Cage, Danny, Jessica Drew (who's not around this issue at all, which is a letdown after how last issue ended), and Logan have been on the radar for around 75% of Marvel Time. (If we assume - always dangerous, I know - that Marvel Time has compressed itself roughly equally over our decades.) Logan is the oldest member of the team given his backstory, (even if he didn't "arrive" onto the radar until our 1970s), so it's fitting that he's playing the Voice of Reason.

It might have been more effective to put Maya Lopez, the most recent addition to the Marvel Universe on the roster, at the front of this story to get a fresh perspective on the Avengers. Sometimes we forget out here in the real world that our perceptions of characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine are very different from the perceptions others have of them inside the MU. Bendis is keeping us wide, however, and that stylistic choice keeps us as off-balance as anyone in the text. It's not a bad choice, of course, but it puts a greater emphasis on momentum. Reading about a character who's confused and not gaining any momentum is one thing, having the reader not feel that momentum is another. The theory being that it's better to read about someone who's frustrated as opposed to being frustrated as a reader.

Detective fiction (which is what Bendis always seems to be writing in his Avengers work) works on the principle that there's a mystery to be solved. Bendis' best work is his detective work, but in Avengers the expectation from the audience isn't just the need to have a mystery solved, but the need to have some action to go along with it. (Note - I'm perfectly okay with stories that are all-talking as I am with stories that are all-action, but if you're going to tease action, like with a Skrull invasion, for instance, than you need to deliver on it.) If there's a weakness to Bendis' New Avengers run, it's that the action scenes have left something to be desired. The most recent ninja throwdown is a good example. It's fun to watch that level of carnage, but Yu's art doesn't help as he's much better drawing fewer characters instead of crowded panels. His action sequences are often hard to follow and a team battling countless ninjas just makes it worse.

Bendis turns his attention to villains in NA 33, as the Owl attempts to sell a captured Deathlok to a consortium of villains that includes Madame Masque, Crimson Cowl, Dr. Jonas Harrow, and the Wizard. A visitor arrives, tells the Owl he's doing this without permission and Cowl takes the Owl out as a "cautionary tale." We know from the solicits that this is part of the Hood's takeover of the super-villain community, but it'd be nice to hear it in the text. It wouldn't hurt anything if we'd heard the name. Sometimes Bendis wants to drag these little mysteries out too far, which hurts the reveal from being as effective as it could be. Make us wait on the big mysteries but solve these little ones sooner.

Yu's villain sequence is much more effective than previous fighting sequences, but he takes extra room and has fewer characters to deal with than usual in this book.

NA 33 is a satisfying read on its won, but frustrating given the lack of follow-through on Jessica Drew and more of the Avengers challenging each other as possible Skrulls. The issue is a rare case of a single-issue reading better as it is than it will in the TPB.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Atomic Alert: Alex Ross Returns to Marvel

Marvel has announced that Alex Ross is coming back to the company for a 12-issue 2008 maxi-series entitled Invaders/Avengers that will see the World War II Invaders tossed forward in time into the Marvel present.

An Alex Ross project is always reason enough to get excited, but the promise of this being an in-continuity story gives it a bit something more to look forward to, as Ross and partner Jim Krueger usually operate outside of continuity.

It's interesting that two of Marvel's big summer announcements (Invaders/Avengers and JMS & Chris Weston's The Twelve) mine the company's deep past. DC has historically been the better company at doing this, so it's cool to see Marvel following suit. One can only hope this bodes well for a future Agents of Atlas project.