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Alternate Cover - 27th September 2006

Alternate Cover

After almost a month's worth of slim pickings, Civil War #4 finally hits the comic shelves, meaning that next week the floodgates open up and I've got 13 comics on the slate. Will I be able to review them all? Will I fuck. Take pleasure in this week's reviews of Civl War #4, Wolverine #46 and Astonishing X-Men #17 because I get the feeling that 7 days from now it's all going to look a little rushed...

Civil War #4

Civil War #4

Publisher Marvel • Writer Mark Millar • Artist Steve McNiven

Delayed for an entire month, and taking most of Marvel's publishing line with it, all eyes were on this issue when it finally hit the shops. With a hell of a cliffhanger beginning to fade even in the eyes of the most devoted fan, it was going to take something pretty special to keep upping the pressure on a series that's already had Spider-Man reveal his identity to the world.

And, well, special is right. Though it's not so much special in the sense that it's of rare value, more that it's special in a remedial way. The big death we've all been anticipating for the best part of the Summer? Why, it's everyone's favourite nobody, (formerly Black) Goliath. Okay, admittedly, the character had started to grow (dear god, no pun intended) on me as a result of his appearances in Civil War, but that just makes his death seem like a total waste. Plucked from obscurity, and now consigned forever to be a footnote just as he was on the brink of becoming something big (I'll stop now, I swear.) - the man who killed our third-or-fourth-favourite size-changing hero? Why, a clone of Thor, of course.

Yeah, you read that right. Clone. CLONE. I know, I know, it's been 10 years since the Spider-titles were royally screwed up by that pesky Clone Saga, but part of me feels like shaking a finger at Marvel and saying that they should know better. Admittedly, this clone is less of a cheap excuse to overhaul a character and more of a super-powered version of an atomic bomb, being dropped onto the battlefield to start some serious shit, and, unfortunately for Goliath, lacking any human restraint, so we're hardly in the same situation. But if the word Clone doesn't upset you on some level, well... you're not a true Marvel fan.

Cap's anti-registration team does suffer some serious hits as a result of this battle. Some people quit his side, feeling that they've already lost. Others, however, make the switch from Pro to Anti-reg, the most telegraphed and believable examples being the Storm siblings, Johnny and Sue of the Fantastic Four. In a brilliantly written scene, Sue effectively leaves Reed and the team, and Johnny goes with her. It's been a while since we've seen this kind of schism in the F4, and that's perhaps the most interesting result of this issue. Or rather, it would be if not for the final page involving the reveal of a new team of Thunderbolts. As a big T-Bolts fan, all I can say is: "Bring it on!".

For all its flaws, there's a lot to love about this. It does shoulder a massive responsibility quite well, and McNiven's artwork is the best it's ever been, more than justifying the publishing delay so that he could complete it himself. Millar's manages to blend grandiose action and character pathos in a way comparable to his work on the Ultimates. It's a top quality creative team, and even the larger plot beats seem slightly out of step, it's hard to deny that superhero comics rarely get this good.

Wolverine #46

Wolverine #46

Publisher Marvel • Writer Mark Guggenheim • Artist Humberto Ramos

While the parent series shows you what the Civil War is doing to the Marvel Universe, Wolverine is continuing his investigation into just what started the whole thing in the first place. In a pseudo-political manner not a million miles away from reality, it seems to be that Damage Control, a clean-up and construction crew specialising in superhero-related smash-ups, have been jacking up the power level of Super-Villains in the hope that they can make a tidy profit from the aftermath.

Following the previous couple of issue's shaky Atlantis-based adventures, I'm pleased to find ourselves back on dry land and back chasing the root of the issue. You know the drill by now, of course. Classic Wolverine action with an instantly recognisable version of the character as written by Guggenheim. It's fun to read, the action is great, and the overarching plot is going places. Ramos' art is, if you happen to like it, on top form.

While the easiest crticism of the comic would be that in going for the action-heavy, traditional take on the character, it's not standing out in any particular way. Could do better, I might say if this were a school report. It's the best the solo title has been in years, but to be honest, it's not at the top of my reading pile. Purely a matter of personal taste, though. What's less down to taste is expecting us to believe that the cliffhanger of Wolverine about to be decapitated by an adamantium blade might actually end with Wolverine's death. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but, well, we just saw the character regenerate after having his entire nervous sytem, organs and musculature incinerated (I gather they're going to explain that soon...) How will this be enough to stop him? A minor fanboyish gripe with an otherwise enjoyable issue.

Astonishing X-Men #17

Astonishing X-Men #17

Publisher Marvel • Writer Joss Whedon • Artist John Cassaday

It seems like as soon as the publishing pace kicks up a notch - AXM is, as of this issue, back on a monthly regime - the story pace follows. Whether it's actually getting quicker, or because I can actually remember what happened in the previous issue, I can't say, but suddenly it seems like plot developments are coming thick and fast.

The mystery of a duplicate Emma Frost begins to take shape (I'm going for the old "Enemy Within" split into good and evil sides resolution as my guess) while the return of Cassandra Nova also gets some air time. I'm concerned, really, that the resolution to all this is going to contradict certain elements of Morrison's run entirely, and that's something Whedon has been quite good about up until now, so maybe I'm just being paranoid. There's a Wolverine moment that snaps him back to reality so close to parody and yet so perfect that's going to turn up as one of comics' greatest eventually - not that Whedon hasn't already written a few of those as it is.

Cassaday's art is, as ever, on fine form. It almost gets hard to write about it because he is nothing short of a brilliant artist and storyteller, though particular praise should go into his rendering of the opening sequence, a delusional Kitty Pryde cradling a slime-covered alien blob as if it were her child, as being especially and accurately gross.

Scenes with Ord and Danger and the lingering hint of the glacial pace that ruined the start of this arc are all that prevent this comic from reaching top marks. Whedon continues to deliver a modern yet traditional take on the X-Men.

Flick-Through Reviews

X-Factor #11 - David/Villarrubia
Last issue sure a particularly excellent clsoing scene as Guido, aka Strong Guy, seemingly betrayed X-Factor and murdered their charge. All was not as it seems, however, and his betrayal last issue was discovered and resolved surprisingly quickly and competently. Mind control, they discovered. How refreshing to see a team of heroes who are actually competant about dealing with this sort of thing for a change. The multple plot threads of X-Factor all vie for top billing, but the totally unexpected appearance of someone who appears to be Merlin at the end of the issue really deserves to be the focus of the next issue. Compelling stuff.

Civil War: X-Men #3 - Hine/Paquette
A comic so boring I read it twice and I still can barely remember it. Perhaps the bulk of my vitriol is aimed at whoever thought it was a good idea to lump this surprisingly transparent continuation of Sentinel Squad O*N*E and X-Men: The 198 under the Civil War banner. I feel cheated, not least because the tension in the book is totally unengaging. When Bishop exclaims that "We're about to lose half the remaining mutants on Earth" I geniuinely can't bring myself to care, because, well, who'd miss these guys if they were gone? Certainly not the readership. Paquette handles the art, and while he's improved since his days drawing the Gambit ongoing back when I read that, he's still not entirely my thing.

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