Uncanny X-Men #520 (Marvel; Fraction, Land, Leisten, Ponsor)
As an old-school X-fan and a big Matt Fraction fan in general, I’m usually inclined to cut Uncanny a lot of slack. Dr. Nemesis and Madison Jeffries amuse me greatly, there’s a lot of love for Pixie, and watching Scott try to micromanage Erik, Charles, and Namor is always a good time. I know, I know, it’s an X-Men nostalgia trip, it can’t move the plot forward in any substantial way until Generation Lost gets underway and Hope comes back from the future… I know. It’s a book with fundamental editorial-scheduling-vs.-creator-initiative issues, and I still pick it up every month and enjoy it.
Unfortunately, this issue has problems that go beyond mandated wheel-spinning. Fraction’s juggling pretty much every mutant in the Marvel Universe these days, and the cast is straining my ability to keep track of what’s going on. #520 is no exception; I had to look up the first appearances of Verre and Burst, only to find out that they debuted a mere five issues ago in the same book. In the intervening time, I’ve already managed to lose track of who they are, what they do, and what their plot motivation is. Fraction seems to work best with a tight, close-knit cast– like his core Iron Man setup with Tony, Maria, Natasha, and Pepper– and the Nation-X concept doesn’t seem to showcase his strengths. The overall numbing effect of a never-ending firehose of mutants means I’m starting to tune out the C-list plot arcs, a decision I’m sure will come back to haunt me.
On the other hand, Magneto and Namor keep the A-plot running along nicely– they’ve come to Utopia to promote their own agendas, and if those ends don’t mesh with Scott’s plans, so much the better. Fraction obviously loves him some Namor, and I do too– the King of Atlantis is unfailingly arrogant, snidely funny, convinced of his own superiority over Scott, Erik, and anyone else in his way. For his part, Magneto is slickly disingenuous, solving problems behind Scott’s back and then returning to apologize in a way that makes his “I’m not trying to undermine you, Scott” sound like “All mutantkind’s going to be eating out of my purple-gloved hand in six months, Scott, suck it up.” This plot, at least, is worth following.
Unfortunately, Greg Land’s art is… Greg Land’s art, which other critics have panned all over the Internet. This issue, though, was the first one where I couldn’t ignore the bad design choices, weird perspectives, and stiff linework. I actually passed the book off to Chad at one point and turned to page 15, which is a particularly baffling splash page of Wolverine:
What is that “WA” over his head? It appears to be attached to a sign (I think there’s an Aiwa sign behind that Canon sign in real life), which is all well and good, but it’s so poorly integrated into the shot that it almost passes as a sound effect. “WA!” says Wolverine, vaulting the perilous taxicab! Chad perused the image and made his own “WA” face, which I managed to capture with my phone’s camera:
Mysterious “WA” aside, there’s also a side angle on Namor where his ear appears to be attached to his head by a stalk, and a few other pictures of Logan where his mask might have been added long after the page was drawn, lending it a creepy opacity and a weird pointiness. Magneto, being a guy who habitually wears a giant bucket, is on-model more often than not, which is a relief.
Oh, and there’s one panel where we’re told instead of shown that “the X-Men are kind of the coolest thing going.” Compare and contrast with Grant Morrison’s entire run building up the idea that mutants are actually tastemakers and trendsetters. Not Fraction’s best work, and certainly not Land’s.
Spider-Man: 1602 #4 of 5 (Marvel; Parker, Rosanas, Charalampidis, Bowland)
1602 proper was a tough book to like. Great art and Neil Gaiman dialogue aside, the story lapsed into incoherence by the last chapter. However, now that Gaiman’s created the universe, creators like Jeff Parker can bake us some rowdy faux-Colonial adventuring apple pie, and I’m all about pie.
Parker’s delivered the drama all along in this series– 1602 Norman Osborn has been completely, unrepentantly big-E Evil, instead of falling prey to the sort of bipolar incompetence of his 616 counterpart. He’s murdered, he’s attempted to frame Peter Parquagh for it, and he’s even given plague blankets to the natives, just in case the first two action items on his agenda weren’t evil enough. Victor Octavius is flat-out insane and keeping a captive science team comprised of the two Hanks– McCoy and Pym– in his basement to work out a cure for his condition. Peter, meanwhile, has been sent to England from the Colonies to secure Osborn’s conviction on murder charges and see him to the grave, romance Marion Jane Watsonne, and stop Octavius.
It’s largely tense stuff, taking some of the brighter edge off Peter’s usual happy-go-lucky demeanor, and that approach continues in this issue, with a few familiar Spider-Man villains getting the full 1602 treatment. Given that the tech base is much less developed than that of the 616 Marvel Universe, Parker makes Osborn and Octavius into freaks of nature rather than technological terrors. The ongoing plight of Henri Pym and his wife Janette continues, although I’m starting to lose hope that Janette will ever escape from her confinement and kick some ass.
Rosanas does solid work on the art, and, really, if you like Spider-Man but can’t keep up with the 616 continuity, you’ll get just as much out of Spider-Man 1602 with much less of a reading burden.