Today, Michael and Drew are discussing A + X 5, originally released March 6th, 2013.
Michael: Superhero comics tend to take themselves very seriously. They have to. Crime, justice, the duality of man — these are big themes that require sober moments. This might have something to do with the marketability and general popularity of dark graphic novels that differ starkly from older stories that have some ingrained silliness. These short team-ups are a perfect palate cleanser — especially since as of late, I’ve been reading comics that bite off more than they can chew, philosophically. A+X #5 gives us an unabashedly ridiculous story followed by an ostensibly serious story packed with lame jokes. While I enjoyed the first attempt with Iron Fist + Droop, the second with Loki + Mr. Sinister missed the enjoyability boat on both the comedic and dramatic front.
Iron Fist + Doop
Michael: Droop and Iron man bust into the mobby back room of a pizza place to recover a small golden orb containing a big orange monster — all due apologies and retractions if this creature is so important that not using his name is upsetting. Iron Fist accidentally swallows the orb. When one of the henchman throw a grenade at Iron Fist, Droop swallows IF and the grenade, sending them both into Droop’s surrealist stomach. Inside Droop, IF finds a big Russian bear wearing Ving Rhames glasses, then sees Nikolai Gogol, which somehow “explains” the bear and the monkey that rides him. These panels reinforces the issues’s absurdity — almost parodying heady dream sequences or other-worldly visits. I love that bear.
With the pizza parlor on fire, Droop thinks fast (slow, average, who’s Droop?) and hides in his stolen magic satchel inside a pizza box and allows a dopey delivery boy to smuggle him and IF back to the Avengers Tower. Droop spews up IF and IF spews the orb. Iron Fist complains about the lack of exterior lighting around the tower, a nice excuse to light a match, which ignites Droops pickle-burps, in turn ENRAGING and awakening the giant orange monster inside the tiny orb. After the monster calms down, everyone’s happy. Except Iron Fist — so whiny, sarcastic, and pouty — Although to be fair I think he’s trying to be funny in a 90’s Chandler kind of way.
This story is so fucking goofy it’s hard to analyze seriously. So why bother? I thought the tone was perfect for a silly one-off and for the most part, I thought writer Kathryn Immonen made interesting choices even if they weren’t down-right funny. When Droop regurgitates IF, he vomits up a bunch of Russian nesting dolls as well. Is that a joke? Probably not, but it’s thematic and clever and rather perfect for this issue. So, Drew — where do you land on this little Droop/IF outing? I’m generally reticent to say that any of these team-ups miss the point, because I might be the one missing it.
Drew: Oh, I love the idea of parsing the “point” of this story. This title in general takes a particular glee in thwarting the kind of Important Meaning we’re always talking about around here, placing an emphasis on frivolous fun. Its best stories demonstrate that the two are not mutually exclusive, but they all make a strong case for kicking back and not thinking so damn hard.
In that way, the pairing of Doop and Iron Fist is brilliant. Mostly, I’m enamored with how their second-stringer status frees them up to be extra goofy — I thought the cartoonish takes on Beast and Spider-Man in #4 stuck out against the long(er) histories I have with those characters. That emphasis on irreverence is present in every detail of the story, from the over-the-top naming of IF’s fighting styles (like “The Mary Lou Retton” or “The Pileated Woodpecker”) to the absurd achronology of the story’s telling.
Doop a particularly apt choice, since so much of the humor here is from IF reacting to DoopSpeak. It’s a simple gag — one Han and Chewie fans know well — but is made more complex by the fact that you actually can understand what he’s saying. DoopSpeak is a simple cypher, which means the meaning can be found if you’re willing to put in the time do go over everything, but it kind of begs the question of “why?” The enjoyment here comes from IF’s non sequitur reactions, and the context cues give us the gist of what Doop is saying, that is to say, scrutiny may adversely affect your enjoyment of this issue. That’s not a sentiment I’m always amenable to, but this story is to fun to quibble with. Immonen and artist David Lafuente put a finer point on the frivolity with their glib summary of the issue:
Monster. Ball. Iron Fist. Doop. Shaman’s Bag. Pizza Box. Comic. Your brain. There’s nothing more to say, so Immonen and Lafuente kiss off with a cute signature. It is what it is, get it?
Loki + Mister Sinister
Drew: The second half of the issue finds Mister Sinister attempting to steal a lock of Loki’s hair from Doctor Doom’s castle. Actually, “attempting” isn’t the right word — he succeeds brilliantly, but his plan is complicated when Loki himself arrives to reclaim his hair. Loki raises a fuss, which draws the attention of Doom’s minions, which requires one of those titular team-ups to escape. Once on safer ground, Sinister insists on keeping the sample, which Loki obliges, but only because he is confident a man with such faith in order could never clone a god of chaos.
It’s well enough told, but lacks either the emotional immediacy or the goofy sense of humor that has made the most successful installments so much fun. The biggest problem may be that we don’t fully understand Loki’s motivation until the very end of the issue. With his very last words, Loki reveals that he could have been cloned had the sample stayed with Doom, which would have been decidedly terrible for mankind. Of course, the apocalyptic stakes — or even Loki’s personal investment — isn’t clear during the action of the issue, which robs it of everything but it’s sense of whiz-bang coolness.
To Joe Bennett’s credit, his pencils add a lot of whiz-bang coolness to this issue. We may not understand exactly what Loki’s involvement is, but the art makes up for a great deal, imparting a pressing sense of immediacy to the action. Mark Morales and Jim Charalampidis turn in expressive work on inks and colors, respectively, giving this segment a polished, moody look.
Michael, there’s a lot to like here, but the writing left me a little cold. Who’s missing the point here?
Michael: Not us! You mentioned Loki’s unclear motivation as unsatisfying and I agree. The charm of Droop and IF was their full submission to silliness. Instead, Loki and Mister Sinister are both cagey and remain so throughout their rainy, unfunny encounter. The interesting, bold choices I so admired in Droop/IF are missing from this story. As you mentioned, Drew, the issue attempts to supplant drama and comedy with whiz-bang coolness. This kind of momentum will get you through a few pages if you’re lucky. Hopefully those pages will include cyclops’ cloned eye-bullets — the closest this issue gets to whimsey — and NOT Loki making Facebook jokes. Note the two “used eyes” discarded from the chamber.
There were two paths for this issue — remove the fun-governor and allow the story to get playful OR raise the stakes — neither were taken. The real conflict of the issue didn’t really hit me until I read your synopsis, Drew: Loki tries to stop Mister Sinister from getting his DNA, but then decides Sinister is so boring that he couldn’t possibly do anything cool/dangerous with it. Problem solved. As short as this tale was, I found myself hoping their would be cut-away panels illustrating something other than a rainy conversation — I wonder what’s going on with Droop and Iron Fist right about now…
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