Today, Patrick and Mikyzptlk are discussing A + X 1, originally released October 31st, 2012.
Patrick: We here at Retcon Punch haven’t made any decisions about Marvel NOW. The concept is so different from DC’s line-wide relaunch with the New 52, but the spirit is the same: “it’s okay, new readers, we’ll tell you where to start.” So it’d be downright hypocritical of us not to give some of these titles a fair shake. We appealed to our readers for suggestions on which series to cover (haven’t cast your vote? like voting twice? here’s a link to the poll!). Whatever ends up happening, we’d like to wait until there are a few issues in the bank before launching into the close readings – but then I picked up A + X. The format of A + X is simple: two unrelated stores, each featuring one X-men and one Avenger. Combining of both Avengers and X-men summons all kinds of insane continuity concerns, not least of which being the A vs. X series that ran this summer. But the Q&A section jammed into the title page works to alleviate those fears:
Q: So, where do these stories take place in each character’s continuity?
A: STOP THINKING SO MUCH! It fits in where it fits in! It’s enough to know that these stories ROCK! Now, GET READING.
A little bossier than I prefer my comics, but okay – let’s put that to the test. Without context, and with no deep knowledge of these character’s continuity, do these stories ROCK?
Captain America & Bucky + Cable in Fight for the Future
Patrick: We begin in 1943, as Captain America and Bucky receive instructions on their latest mission: stop Atticus Trask from burying a Nazi Robot in the ground. Seems straightforward enough, but when they arrive on the scene, they realize the Nazi Robot is enormous and guarded by plenty of smaller Nazi Robots. (We realize that the large Nazi Robot is actually a sentinel and Trask is from the 21st Century, but Instagram jokes go right over Cap’s head – that’s dramatic irony for you.) Time-traveling Mutant Cable appears and Trask activates his Nazi Sentinel – hilariously with a series of punch cards that identify present-day mutants as targets, including Cable. Our heroes work together to blow up the Nazi Sentinel’s head, burn the punch cards and apprehend Trask. His mission completed, Cable disappears… without giving away too much about the future.
Writer Dan Slott has a solid handle on what makes this sort of time travel wankery funny. I absolutely love the little anachronisms scattered throughout this story. Specifically, there’s a moment where Trask takes a picture of the Nazi Sentinel for the sole purpose of confusing people.
2010s’ technology emulating art from the 70s to document a robot in the 40s that was designed in the 90s (or 80s or whenever the sentinels started marching around). Hey, if you’re going to do time travel, you may as well have fun with it.
Also fun is matching the polar opposite personalities of Captain America and Cable. Cable is brash and loud, stupid but effective (he’s a Rob Liefeld creation, after all). But Cap is all about planning, strategy, compassion. There is one thing they both have in common, however: duty. They’re both soldiers with their own missions – one to defend America, and the other to preserve the timeline.
None of this is explored in great detail, as most of the pages are given over to some kinetic action sequences. Ron Garney’s art never veers into anything too ambitious, but some of the more dynamic action pieces are made so by the dramatic inking and coloring. I guess I should expect no less when three dudes are credited with inking just this one story (Danny Miki, Cam Smith and Mark Morales). I really like the action beat where Cap blocks a blast from the Nazi Sentinel’s whatever-laser-thing. The lighting and effects here are just great and make the whole sequence dance right off the page.
Look at that – the energy sparking around on Cap’s shield casts a red glow on his face and chest. Nice color work, Will Quintana.
Mostly though, I had fun with the first half of this issue. Mik, did you enjoy this breezy WWII adventure as much as I did?
Mikyzptlk: I did Patrick, and more than I thought I would actually. I didn’t think I’d be into this story simply because I’m really not a huge fan of either character. I find Cable interesting in that he’s a time traveler from “the” future but other than that he’s a big guy with guns. I’m not even sure what his mutant powers are. As for Captain America, while I don’t hate him by any means, I don’t exactly find him to be the most interesting character either. I followed Ed Brubaker’s run on the book for many years because I’m a fan of the writer more than I am of Cap. Brubaker really started to pique my interests when he decided to bring Bucky Barnes back to life during his incredible “Winter Soldier” run. I loved reading his take on Bucky, his transformation into the Winter Soldier and eventually into Captain America. Brubaker turned a once forgotten hero into a character worthy of being the subtitle of the next Captain America feature film. I mention that because, as in Brubaker’s run, Bucky is where this story really interests me.
Patrick, in your synopsis you mention that our heroes win the day in part by blowing up the Nazi Sentinels head. While all three heroes certainly have a part to play in accomplishing this goal, Bucky was the guy to actually do it. I love how Slott plays up the fact that, in a lot of ways, Cap is more of a colorful distraction while Bucky is the nuts and bolts guy. He’s the operative that love-to-hateable bad guys never see coming. Cap says it all in this issue, “It’s all a distraction, so that Bucky can get the REAL job done.” I enjoyed seeing that Slott clearly has a lot of respect for these characters and Bucky especially. This easily could have been Captain America + Cable as both characters are popular enough on their own. Had that been the case, I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much.
It’s clear that Slott is having a lot of fun with the time travel aspects of this story too. I found the end of this tale to be extremely satisfying as Slott showed off the cleverness of both Cap and Cable. Cap lets on that Cable unintentionally revealed the outcome of WWII on the basis that Cable is speaking English. Cable responds with a “Hmmm” and says that it’s time for him take off. Before leaving however, Cable bids a farewell to Cap and Bucky in German putting just enough doubt in our heroes heads as to keep the future a mystery to them. It’s a simple and fun ruse on the part of Cable and it helps to end the story on a light note as is the intent behind this series.
The Incredible Hulk + Wolverine
Mikyzptlk: Speaking of light notes, that’s exactly how the next story of this issue begins. Just take a look at the following and try not to laugh.
Yes, Wolverine, cake. Delicious cake. Delicious cake that may just belong to one Incredible Hulk. That’s Mr. Incredible Hulk to you. And if it wasn’t for an untimely interruption that I’ll get to in a second, I think this story would have been an epic and hilarious Hulk vs. Wolverine battle all because of that piece of cake. This half of the issue begins by reinforcing the fact that this title is intended to be light and fun. You don’t even have to worry about when these stories take place in the overall continuity. As the reader, all you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy. As a DC fan, primarily, I’m constantly hung up on continuity and often times it hinders my enjoyment of certain stories no matter how good they may be. This is especially true now as The New 52 has shaken up so much of DC’s continuity which is still in the process of being stitched back together. Personally, I find it to be something of a relief that A + X throws those concerns out completely and focuses on the stories at hand. I wouldn’t appreciate that across the board but I think that continuity free stories have a place in the Big 2. Incidentally, if you want to read some continuity-free fun over at DC, check out the (currently) digital only Batman: Li’l Gotham. I assure you, you won’t regret it.
Getting back to that untimely interruption I mentioned earlier, as the Hulk and Wolverine prepare to battle to the death for a delicious treat, a future version of the Hulk, known as Maestro, and a future version of Wolverine, known as…Wolverine appear in a flash of light. That’s right, the second part of this issue also involves travelers from the future. Maestro and Wolverine Beyond state that they are looking for the Hulk, but apparently not our Hulk. After a quick battle, the Hulk and Wolverine defeat their old counterparts but they are able to escape back to the future. I know, this is heavy. What’s heavier still is that when they return to their future, it’s revealed that Red Hulk is now the President of the United States and he’s sent Maestro and old man Logan to kill the younger version of…himself!
I really loved this. Hulk and Wolverine take center stage on the cover and their story proves them worthy of the spotlight. This tale begins with a laugh and ends with world-ending portents and it was extremely entertaining. Jeph Loeb does a terrific job of keeping the humor and the high stakes of the situation balanced. The artist of the piece, Dale Keown, also delivers in kind. Keown can illustrate the lighter, more humorous scenes just as well as the high action ones. The colorist, Frank D’armata, adds terrific depth to Keown’s pencils allowing them to really sell Loeb’s story.
Going back to that last panel, you may notice that it ends with “The End…For Now…” which tells me that this is only the beginning of the story and that it’s going to continue. But where? Is this the prologue for a story that will take place somewhere down the line for this series or perhaps one of the Avengers titles? For a book that tells us not to sweat the small stuff like continuity, I know I’d be upset to learn that I’d missed something as important as the beginning of a potentially epic story. I mean, we’ve got a POTUS Red Hulk from the future sending agents back in time to kill himself fearing that doing otherwise could doom the world to oblivion! Those are pretty high stakes for a book that is supposed to be willy-nilly fun. This isn’t a criticism of the story itself but of the format in which it’s presented. It just seems to me that this story would be better suited in one of the main Avengers titles. My concern is that I know I want to find out where this story goes but I don’t know where that story will take place. I hope it continues here but that isn’t made clear. That said, the humor featured here and, of course, the tag-team of Hulk + Wolverine certainly fit the premise of this title and makes for a great opening chapter. How did you feel about this tale Patrick? Do you share my concerns of where the next chapter of this story will be featured? And are you as interested as I am to learn more about why the future Red Hulk wants to reverse-Looper himself?
Patrick: Perhaps, I’m being naive, but I suspect the stories of A + X will build their own continuities, rather than kicking off or informing others. From my understanding, X-men in particular has a bad habit of convoluting its stories with frivilous time travel (I always giggle at the mention of “Future Pasts”). Since both of these stories dealt with time travel in such a silly, but fun, way that I hope this stays contained to this series. The question “why would the Future Red Hulk want to reverse-Looper himself?” is indicative of what’s happening here: it’s goofy fun. I mean, can you imagine something more fun that Hulk fighting himself?
You’ll notice that the Hulk + Wolverine portion of this story didn’t have its own title, suggesting perhaps that “Fight for the Future” is a title that could be applied universally here. It certainly seems like that could be the case as both stories involve characters from the future coming back to change (or unchange) the past.
Here’s the thing though: I don’t really care about about this fits into continuity. Maybe that’s partly the casual dismissal at the beginning of the book, or the cavalier attitude these characters seem to have toward time travel (Wolverine tries to work it out for a second, but then says “My head hurts” and stops puzzling over it), but I think it’s realy because I hunger for these digestible stories that reward me just for reading a dozen pages.
Also, when they’re first confronted by future versions of themselves, Wolverine says “Do you smell what I smell?” Hulk’s response? “Don’t care. SMASH.” Truly, those are words to live by.
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