Another week where I purposely ignore Saga! What devilry is this? Surely answers must be forthcoming.
This week I’ll be reviewing X-Men #40, Hoax Hunters #6, and Archer and Armstrong #6.
X-Men #40 sees Seth Peth continuing to give us filler stories while we wait for Brian Wood to relaunch the series in a few months. Peck’s first story was a team-up between Domino and Daredevil which was entertaining, bouncy fun, with lots of great jokes. This arc sees him build a team for a story which is decidedly less enjoyable, and proves Joe Quesada.. right.
Quesada didn’t want new mutants showing up anymore, because it was a convenient way for writers to introduce new characetrs without having to put any thought into them. (Well, really he didn’t want new mutants showing up anymore because he wanted the Avengers to be the new flagship franchise for Marvel, but let’s pretend the official reasoning is also correct). Avengers Vs X-Men ended with mutants being a probability once more, with writers now able to introduce new mutants whenever they want. And so far, Quesada’s fears have been realised. None of the mutants introduced to the Marvel Universe have yet proven to deliver an interesting story or personality for readers, with generic storytelling racing back into vogue.
This issue sees a team including Chamber, Pixie and Storm go to rescue a newly-activated mutant, who is trapped in a gun battle with the police. And it could not be any more simplistic and dull, you guys. There isn’t a single story beat here which is unexpected or intriguing, with the new mutant himself proving to be a singularly bland creation, devoid of any particular personality. It’s impossible to empathise with him or care less, because the story he’s involved in has been seen hundreds of times before, better every time. Peck is a great, funny writer, but this is clearly a story being written on autopilot for two months.
Jefte Palo is responsible for the art here, which is quirky but also nothing like the character models we’re used to. Iceman is bulky, Angel is stocky and puffed up, while Pixie’s ears are gigantic (actually, I am quite fond of that quirk). His designs for the new mutant isn’t very comprehensible, and his fight scenes are also rather difficult to piece together. X-Men #40 is a stuttering end to a series which… well, was pretty consistently a stutter of a comic anyway. Brian Wood’s eight or so issues in the middle just about redeem the run as a whole, but this has been a fairly awful series for the majority of the run.
Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley’s Image series Hoax Hunters continues to build a small corner for itself this month, sending the team off in a new direction and adding some new wrinkles to their little universe. This is a fun series, with a simple central concept which the creative team have managed to keep fresh. The idea is that a TV crew goes around America, visiting famous sites where monsters have apparently been ‘seen’ by people. They then prove these to be hoaxes. However! The twist is that all the monsters actually exist, and the TV crew have been hired by the Government to cover them up. The team disposes of the monster, then makes a documentary telling people that the creature never existed in the first place.
The book allows Moreci and Seeley to tell monster stories whilst simultaneously making fun of themselves, and their main characters, and the book lights up whenever the central characters are in focus. Issue #6 builds up some ongoing plots for several of them, adding bits and pieces to their world and developing the book as a voice of its own. This could very easily be a predictable, simple series, but instead the work on character is so smartly woven into the ongoing storyline that the book stands out from other similarly themed stories. The stories are simple, but the subplots give readers something to hang onto from issue-to-issue, and distracts from the ‘monster of the week’ format.
The book is helped out by the artwork of Axel Medellin, which flourishes during the monster sequences. He seems to be particularly inspired by the work of Mike Mignola, as his monsters look like something which crawled out of Hellboy. He livens up the conversational sequences nicely, changing panel shots without sacrificing the flow of the scene. Charo Solis is invaluable in this respect, with the colours adding to each page and building on the panels to create a decent sense of mood. The monster sequences are dark and involving, whilst the middle sequence (set in a comic book convention) is appropriately muted and anaemic.
There are some problems with the book – most notably the ending here, which isn’t telegraphed at all. The last page is opposite a pin-up page, which means readers won’t realise they’ve hit the cliffhanger until after they turn past it. There are then several pages of backup stories which seem to have little relevance to the main book, and are a distraction from the story. I’d much prefer to see more of the Hoax Hunters storyline than the poorly drawn backup pages we get here.
Brilliant art is the order of the day for Archer and Armstrong #6, which sees the brilliant Emanuela Lupacchino in charge. You know how the Dodsons draw characters in a way which should make them stand out, but instead makes them seem bland? Lupacchino is able to have the characters pop on the page without sacrificing personality or expression. Every character in this book breaks out from the background and possesses every panel they appear in. This is in part due to inker Guillermo Ortego (a long time collaborator with Lupacchino), whose work here is fantastic in setting each characetr apart and making them look important.
Matt Milla’s colours are also an essential part of the book, taking the work of the artist and pushing them into a realistic yet bright world. The settings and bright, but the characters shine just that bit brighter.
Which brings us to what this book actually is. Writer Fred Van Lente’s book sees the two heroes of the title attempt to keep the world in order, but by doing so frequently see the world fall into absolute chaos. They’re currently attempting to track down a person with the power to keep the planet safe (having accidentally led to the death of the previous one), whilst avoiding Archer’s younger brother, who is trying to kill them. It plays out like a caper comedy, although the two leads don’t actually show up in this issue until the end, allowing Van Lente to sketch out a new character and bring her crashing into their world.
Anyone familiar with Van Lente’s writing knows that he excels in character comedy, where the humour comes from his ability to develop a character so well that the reader comes to expect how they’ll react to any circumstance. Rather than this being a hindrance to the humour, the fact that readers know how Armstrong and Archer will react to a situation actually provides structure to the gags, so the comedy can be delivered in half the time. And so, Van Lente then has time to throw in an extra joke later. It cuts down on exposition and gives the book a smoother flow as a narrative, which means the characters can get more done within the page count than in, say, X-Men #40. Issue #6 was my first issue with the series, and yet I could jump on immediately, grew to know the characters very quickly, and then could enjoy the humour without feeling left out of in-jokes or references they made.
It’s a masterclass in how to tell a story, in every respect. Not a panel is wasted. Each aspect – the writing, art, inks, colours and letters (never forget the lettering!) are all excellent, but build on each other rather than compete in order to tell an terrifically entertaining romp which veers unpredictably around the memorable characters. Well worth reading.