Saturday, December 24, 2005

Comics Review: December 24

X-Factor #1

"Decimation" continues to confound me. On the one hand, I'm not actually reading any core titles affected by it - with the possible exception of "Astonishing X-Men", but it's still unclear whether that book will have anything to do with the cesspool that was "House of M".

On the other hand, the miniseries emerging from "Decimation" actually seem to have some degree of quality: by all accounts, "Deadly Genesis", "Generation M" and "Son of M" exhibit a certain level of competence, if nothing else. And yet their premise is sourced in one of the most badly-written, poorly-structured and pathetically contrived Events in recent Marvel history. You disagree? Consider that Marvel doesn't even have a uniform idea of what depowering mutants means - in some books, deformed characters like Beak are given basic human features (ie: what they'd look like without mutation), while in "Generation M" the laws of physics kick in, killing mutants with misshapen bodies. Except, if they don't have the mutant gene, they shouldn't be misshapen anymore.

What's a girl to do?

Since I read in arcs anyway, there's still plenty of time to wait and see what develops on the miniseries front. Expectations are probably high given the writers involved, and Marvel certainly earns praise for keeping the various minis self-contained (ie: I highly doubt we'll get much more out of "Son of M" than a Quicksilver character piece - read it or don't, it won't make much difference).

The big question mark for me was Peter David's new "X-Factor" series. It's a continuation of the "Madrox" miniseries, which I really enjoyed, and that should've been enough... except it's also very strongly tied into "House of M", including discarded Bendis plot device Layla Miller - once promoted as the most important new character in the Marvel Universe (fortunately, Bendis' credibility had already been thoroughly ground to dust by this point, so I doubt anyone took his hype seriously to begin with). The core premise has been damaged by "Decimation", since Madrox and his friends are no longer investigating mutant-related mysteries - that's what gave the concept an added boost, the fact that the standard tropes of the detective story couldn't be applied to astral projection and shapeshifting.

PAD compensates for this by shifting gears, focusing more on the ensemble cast than their investigations. Madrox is fascinating as ever, Strong Guy and Wolfsbane continue from where they left off in the previous miniseries, and four new additions are brought in: Rictor, now powerless; M, who I'm not familiar with and also doesn't appear in this issue; Siryn, Banshee's daughter; and Layla Miller, who is only slightly less horrendous than she was in "House of M" - but then, if anyone can redeem this waste of ink, it's PAD.

The bulk of the issue is given over to a conversation between Rictor and a Madrox dupe. "Decimation" is put into a personal context here, with Rictor attempting suicide after losing his connection to the Earth. Granted, it's just "Lifedeath" with a different character, but I suppose that's about the best we can hope for under present circumstances. Fortunately, it's still a good read: there's some typical PAD humor to be found, but overall the tone is as dark and noirish as "Madrox" was.

One danger this series faces is the possibility of losing its distinct voice the longer it deals with "House of M" fallout. But that's a problem for another issue; as far as this one is concerned, it does its best to put a good spin on a bad idea, and succeeds.


What If 2005

So far, Tony Bedard's Civil War take on Captain America has been the only "What If" of December 2005 that was readable. The others were all pretty rancid, despite the talent involved (including Mike Carey and Greg Pak).

True to form, Marvel has mucked with the original formula without understanding why it worked all those years. The appeal of "What If", as opposed to DC's "Elseworlds", is the emphasis on causality: typically, the slightest detail would occur differently, leading to a chain reaction that, more often than not, turned the entire world on its head (sometimes literally so). It's fun watching a butterfly effect demolish the Marvel Universe, and the best stories kept its featured cast in-character... you really got the feeling these stories could have happened.

With this new batch, we're told all seven stories take place in the same world. A hacker living in the primary Marvel Universe (who goes by the handle "The Watcher", har har), has managed to access the Internet of a parallel dimension. Browsing through its various web sites, he discovers historical documents regarding a Russian Fantastic Four (that isn't any kind of Fantastic Four, really), a Wolverine who was also the Punisher, a Namor who grows up on land and still becomes a jackass, and so on.

The problem, of course, is that we have no sense of what this other world is like in the present: what we're getting is a series of historical events featuring reinterpretations of Marvel heroes, but there's no thematic relevance whatsoever. Does it matter that Wolverine was the Punisher in the 1920's? How has the survival of the USSR changed that other world? They're all just disjointed vignettes, and not particularly inventive in their reimaginations.

Save us from mediocrity, Uatu!


Girls #8

The plot thickens, as the outer world finally takes an interest in what's been happening in Pennystown. Meanwhile, the surviving townsfolk learn that the Girls have had intercourse again, which means they're about to multiply.

"Girls" is a difficult series to review, in the sense that it's really telling one 24-part story, as opposed to a series of segmented and sequential tales. It's also extremely consistent (probably for the same reason), so individual issues don't offer a lot to talk about.

So, one more reiteration of my general opinion here: though some characters tend to be interchangable due to the enormous cast, the ones who stand out are fleshed out nicely. Ethan comes off as particularly sympathetic in this issue. The central mystery is unraveling while providing quite a bit of suspense along the way.

A genuinely riveting read, but perhaps more suitable to the trade format.