26 January 2003
For more links, cover art, archived reviews, and information on the
X-Axis mailing list, visit http://www.thexaxis.com
UNCANNY X-MEN #418 - "Dominant Species, part two"
by Chuck Austen and Kia Asamiya
WEAPON X #5 - "Monsters"
by Frank Tieri, Georges Jeanty and Dexter Vines
CROSSOVERS #1 - "Cross Currents, part one"
by Robert Rodi, Mauricet and Ernie Colon
by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker
SLEEPER #1 - "Out of the Cold"
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
There are worse things to be than consistently passable. Nonetheless,
it's not really something to aspire to, and UNCANNY X-MEN seems to be
stalling at that level. And this isn't one of its better efforts.
This is the second part of the Dominant Species storyline, but things
seem to be going a little off the rails. Last issue, Austen gave a
decent build-up to his villains. This issue, they beat the shit out of
the X-Men. They have a great character design from Kia Asamiya, but
when you get down to it, they're just a bunch of werewolves, and they
don't show much in the way of personality. All that build up goes to
waste, since now that we're getting to see the villains, it turns out
that they aren't really very interesting.
Austen's point seems to be that not all mutants will be the next step in
evolution; some mutations will be evolutionary successes, and others
won't. Thus, the assumption that mutants as a whole are the next
evolutionary step is misconceived. This is a perfectly reasonable plot,
but quite how it's illustrated by having the X-Men fight some
werewolves, I'm not very clear.
Over in the other half of the plot, Polaris pops round to visit the
comatose Alex Summers and set up the bizarre romantic triangle with
Annie Ghazikhanian. For those of you who haven't been following this
plot, Annie the nurse is in love with Alex, despite only having known
him as a coma patient. Polaris, meanwhile, has had a long and healthy
relationship with Alex in the past. In theory this isn't a bad idea for
a plot, but a crashing lack of subtlety and heavy melodrama sends it
Annie's obsession with a comatose man is, by any reasonable standards,
weird and creepy. Polaris' attitude, in contrast, is more or less
reasonable. But Annie's meant to be the sympathetic character here, so
she's played as a starcrossed love, while Polaris is a raving lunatic.
The whole scene is ridiculously over the top, and credibility goes
flying out the window. This storyline might have worked if everyone was
acting within the bounds of sanity, but it's degenerated alarmingly into
Asamiya's new costume for Polaris doesn't help much. There's a lot to
enjoy about his art - the layouts are generally pretty good, the action
sequences aren't bad. The character designs are patchy, though, and
Polaris is a particularly odd example. It may seem odd to criticise a
superhero comic for stupid clothes, but when Lorna turns up wearing what
appears to be a cast-off Hallowe'en witch costume, even someone with my
limited sense of style can only gawp and doubletake at Lorna's
shockingly poor taste. And of course, it hardly helps the subtlety of
This isn't such a terrible comic, but it's badly flawed, and seriously
lacking in subtlety. It doesn't deliver on the promise of the first
part of this storyline.
http://www.tron.co.jp (Kia Asamiya)
When it comes to subtlety, however, Uncanny X-Men is as a beautiful
feather drawn softly across the brow of a sleeping child when compared
to Weapon X.
This is a Very Special Episode of Weapon X, showing us what's going on
in those prison camps of the Director's, from the perspective of the
inmates. As normal, Tieri seems keen to bring in obscure expendable
characters to flesh out the background, so we get appearances by
Maggott, Cecilia Reyes, and even no-hopers like Wildside.
The set-up is that the Weapon X programme has been going around
interning mutants on trumped-up charges of terrorism. This has to be
read as another attack on the anti-terrorism paranoia and the erosion of
civil liberties. But the legitimacy of the metaphor is questionable.
For all that the present US government seems to have a total disregard
for human rights and civil liberties in the pursuit of the ridiculous
War on Iraq, nonetheless there's no real reason to think that they're
going to adopt a policy of internment based on corruptly fabricated
charges which they don't even believe in.
Presumably Tieri is making the "slippery slope" argument - that once you
allow due process and civil liberties to be eroded, the system becomes
open to abuse and exploitation by the genuinely corrupt. And that's a
perfectly valid point as far as it goes, but not one that really
requires an entire issue to make. As depicted in this issue, the
Director is essentially running a Nazi concentration camp, complete with
the genocidal extermination of minorities, and non-consensual
experimentation on them.
This stretches credibility to breaking point even in the current
climate. It also results in an issue of unremittingly obvious tugging
at the heartstrings. What, ultimately, is the point of an entire issue
in the non-existent concentration camps of Weapon X? The point, it
seems, is that concentration camps are a bad thing, and not much fun to
live in. Well, yes, and? Does this really come as a surprise to anyone
reading? For this sort of story to be genuinely affecting as opposed to
just cloying, it needs to have a degree of credibility in setting and
characterisation - see, for a very obvious example, Life is Beautiful.
When the set-up is as absurdly over-the-top as this, it doesn't really
It all comes down to credibility. Is it really believable that the
Director could be engaged in spurious arrests of hundreds of innocent
mutants without attracting the attention of somebody who would put a
stop to it? We're even shown that some of his staff have ethical qualms
about what they're doing, and are trying to help mutants escape. Have
they, perhaps, considered phoning the X-Men? They're in the book these
days. But no. The point here isn't that I want to see a crossover with
the X-Men - it's that, within the ground rules this series has
established for itself, I can't accept that an illegal, genocidal
concentration camp on this scale could be operated without attracting
outside attention, especially when it clearly isn't staffed solely by
Less is more, and this storyline might work if it wasn't so determined
to make the camps as bad as can possibly be imagined. But this is just
too much, and simply not plausible on its own terms.
Code 6 Comics is one of the new imprints being launched by CG
Entertainment, the people who brought you CrossGen. Quite what
distinguishes Code 6 books from the rest of the CrossGen line, besides
not being the CrossGen universe, I'm not entirely sure. According to the
press release, it's a "friendly home for creator-developed projects that
lack the funding for traditional self-publishing." Except it doesn't
seem to be creator-owned. Anyhow, here's THE CROSSOVERS #1, one of
their first offerings.
This is one of those high concept offerings that you can easily imagine
sounding great at the pitch stage. The four members of the Crossover
family all have secret lives, but in completely different genres. The
father is superhero Archetype, the mother battles vampires, the son's
been contacted by aliens, and the daughter has a portal to a
swords'n'sorcery fantasy universe in the basement. As the series
progresses, the barriers between the different genres break down and
It doesn't sound like a bad idea for a series, but it lies very flat on
the page. Writer Robert Rodi has taken a conscious decision to stress
the genre elements by making every character as archetypal as possible.
So we have a paranoid UFO obsessive called Perry Noia, a fantasy villain
called the Imperatrix Tyranna, and so forth. Rodi is so busy trying to
stress the genres that he's fallen into the obvious trap by making the
characters totally generic.
The problem is that the characters Rodi has created aren't archetypes,
they're stereotypes. They're not real characters at all, just a bunch
of genre conventions wandering around being deliberately generic in
order to play up the gimmick. To get away with that approach to the
concept, the series would have to be very funny indeed, but it isn't.
While it's played tongue in cheek, it's not exactly packed with jokes.
The series seems to want to be taken at least semi-seriously as a story.
And the characters aren't rounded enough for that to work.
Rodi was also responsible for the Vertigo book Codename: Knockout, which
I found equally uninspiring. I recall an introduction which he wrote to
that series, explaining that he'd had this great, original idea of doing
a lighthearted comedy spin on sixties spy movies. Since Codename:
Knockout came out some time after Austin Powers, this always struck me
as overestimating the originality of the premise. Much the same seems
to be happening here, as Rodi's approach seems to be that the
interaction of genres is inherently a novel and imaginative idea.
But it isn't. You can cross these genres and find plenty of past
examples. If you blend horror and sci-fi, you don't get an amusingly
novel awkward mess, you get Alien. Superhero plus alien invasion
paranoia equals ROM, among many others. Fantasy and gothic horror is
hardly a difficult pairing to match, and so forth. Crosspollination
read more »