Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Comics Review: November 29

1602: New World

I think this miniseries was doomed from the start. It's a sequel to Neil Gaiman's "1602", which may have been a quaint little story but was hardly a peak moment for the creator of "Sandman". Even so, if the original is remembered fondly at all it's likely because of Gaiman's narrative and descriptive skills - something "New World" writer Greg Pak tries to emulate, without much success.

To be fair, it's not that Pak is a subpar writer - he's more than proven himself with "Warlock" and "Phoenix: Endsong". But in attempting to continue the story of 1602, Pak makes all the wrong choices.

For example, Pak chooses to focus on Roanoke as the setting for the story... and in doing so, he discards Gaiman's entire cast, limiting himself to bit players Peter Parquagh and David Banner. Oh, and Virginia Dare's in there too. Pak adds Norman Osborn and Iron Man to the mix, but nothing really emerges from it.

And that's the fatal flaw of this miniseries: it's not offensively bad, just terminally dull. There's virtually no attempt to step outside either Marvel Universe standards or what Gaiman established in the original story: Hulk's got a split personality, Peter's working for an anal-retentive publisher (proving that J. Jonah Jameson is an obnoxious twit no matter what universe you're in). The situation in England (King James' persecution of the Witchbreed) is left mostly untouched. We don't know where the 1602 X-Men, Thor or Fantastic Four have gone. No sign of Inquisitor Magneto and his minions. Still no explanation as to why dinosaurs are running around the New World. It's just five issues spent accomplishing very little on the level of plot, and using characterization that's mostly derivative of the original versions.

It's funny, because Pak is one of those writers Marvel is trying to boost these days, yet the only assignments that come his way (or Sean McKeever's, for that matter) are miniseries that, on a purely conceptual level, are utterly condemned from the word "go" ("Mega Morphs", anyone?).


Ultimate X-Men: Magnetic North (61-65)

On the other side of the spectrum, this was the story I was simultaneously waiting for and dreading. It's the conclusion of Brian Vaughan's excellent run on "Ultimate X-Men", drawing together a lot of plotlines from previous arcs (even extending into the Bendis and Millar runs). At the same time, odds are it'll all go downhill from here - we've got a Kirkman run coming up, followed by Bryan Singer.

Anyway, "Magnetic North" features the return of Magneto - unlike the mainstream counterpart, "Ultimate X-Men" actually managed to do away with this particular X-Men staple for quite some time. He was brought down at the end of Millar's run (early 30's) and was kept out of the spotlight until now. Impressive feat considering he can't stay gone for six months in the main MU.

So Magneto's back, still imprisoned at the Triskelion (home base of the Ultimates). Meanwhile, we're reintroduced to Emma Frost and her Hellions, and this is one of Vaughan's greatest strengths as an Ultimate writer - he knows exactly how to play on his readers' expectations. After all, we're well aware of who these characters are (or should be), and even if we're trying to keep an open mind, there's something surprising about the idea of Longshot as a mutant supremacist, or a group of Hellions who bear more similarities to Claremont's New Mutants than you'd think.

Vaughan manages to accomplish a lot in his last storyline: one X-Man leaves the team, another is critically injured, a third gets a boyfriend, a fourth returns from hiatus. A new villain is introduced, and two old ones get a change in their status quo. Plus several battles between the Ultimates, the Hellions, the X-Men and the remnants of the Brotherhood. Excellent characterization all around, especially of Magneto.

All in all, Vaughan goes out with a bang. "Ultimate X-Men" probably won't be as good as this for a very long time. If you're looking for a jumping-off, this is probably it.