Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

09 September 2011

X-Men: Onslaught: The Complete Epic, v. 3

Collects: X-Men #55, Uncanny X-Men #336, Cable #35, X-Force #58, X-Man #19, Incredible Hulk #445, Iron Man #332, Avengers #402, Thor #502, Wolverine #105 (1996)

Released: August 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 248 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785128250

What is this?: The penultimate volume of the Onslaught story, a “Mutants Gone Wild” cautionary tale.

The culprits: Too many to name, not enough to blame

Completism is a hell of a drug.

It’s one nearly every comic-book fan has felt the pull of. There are steps, gradations, but they’re all rationalizations and symptoms that don’t lead to an understanding of why completism has such a firm hold on our souls. It’s common to all sorts of collecting, and when you cross collecting with serial literature … well, like I said: a hell of a drug, although not without its highs.

We live in a Golden Age for completists, a time when we can go out and buy trade paperbacks of storylines that would be too Godawful or tedious to collect issue by issue but are relatively painless to swallow in one gulp — as long as we hold our noses. For us Gen Xers, it’s truly wonderful, with Marvel releasing compilations of ‘90s stories that seemed too horrible to contemplate at the beginning of the decade; the House of Ideas has released the hell out of the Clone Saga and has kept the Onslaught “Saga” in print, so all that remains is for someone at Marvel to find the unmitigated gall (or suffer the crushing brain damage) to complete the trifecta of crap by releasing a collection of The Crossing.

X-Men: Onslaught: The Complete Epic, v. 3 cover*ahem* Anyway. X-Men: Onslaught: The Complete Epic, Book 3, is indisputably part of the Onslaught crossover, which is indisputably an X-Men story. Well, you could dispute that, since it did end v. 1 of Fantastic Four, Avengers, Thor, and Iron Man (the last issues of the latter three are collected here), but the number of ancillary X-titles is convincing. What is disputable is whether anyone should buy it.

Despite the reputation of the Onslaught crossover, I’m not saying this book is bad. No, far from it; there’s nothing of the offensive stench of, say, Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic, v. 1, or Captain America & the Falcon, v. 1: Two Americas. The skill involved in the individual issues is even better than Gambit Classic, although admittedly that’s setting the bar low.

Still, I’d advise reading any of those books before Onslaught, v. 3. Why? Because they are interesting in their awfulness. Nothing happens in the 248 pages of Onslaught, v. 3. Well, nothing happens except Onslaught loses Professor X as a prisoner and gains X-Man, which is more of a rearrangement of Scrabble tiles than a plot development. Oh, and Teen Tony Iron Man makes very ‘90s headpieces out of vibranium. But that’s really it, unless you like crowd control, attacks that achieve nothing but also lose nothing, illusory telepathic landscapes, and mutant mutant angst angst. And I suppose if you like catchphrases, Onslaught screams, “Behold my mighty hand!” several times, but as a catchphrase that ranks just below “Around the survivors a perimeter create.”

The blame for this doughnut hole of a collection has to be placed on the editors — four different editors, according to the title page: Mark Gruenwald (Iron Man and Avengers), Bobbie Chase (Hulk and Thor), Mark Powers (Cable), and Jaye Gardner (X-Man). Interestingly, Bob Harras — Marvel’s editor in chief and chief X-titles editor at the time — is listed in the credits of the remaining titles’ individual issues, but he isn’t credited on the title page. Which is a shame, because the buck has to stop with him, as both a book editor and editor in chief … I mean, who else can you blame for this an entire collection devoted to marking time, waiting for something or other — Iron Man and his party hats, I guess.

But much as I’m loathe to do it, maybe Gruenwald has to share some of the blame. While he has Terry Kavanagh and Joe Bennett actually contributing to the plot in Iron Man, Mark Waid and Mike Deodato are filling space in Avengers #402 — the last issue of Avengers, v. 1 — with a pointless fight. It’s bad enough the Avengers are going to bite it in an X-Men one-shot (fifteen-year-old spoilers!), but there’s nothing here that hints at the momentousness of the plot or the title’s history. This was when renumbering meant something! Marvel was licensing the Avenger titles to non-Marvel creators! There had to be a better way for the title to go out.

To be fair, Bill Messner-Loebs and Deodato do better with Thor. It’s cute they think there’s a purpose to continuing their subplots, like the Enchantress’s amnesia and captivity and Odin’s loss of his divinity and mind, and insisting Red Norvell is important. But there’s a sense of the title’s history included in the final issue. Thor runs into Jane Foster, Don Blake’s first love, and he remembers his history and an early adventure with his foster brother; the frogs from Thor’s days as the Frog of Thunder stop by. Messner-Loebs even has Hela, in a truly ridiculous Asgardian outfit, offer to make Thor her king if he wishes to avoid his death the following day. It gives the issue import and a sense of doom as it rolls into the inevitable, and I appreciate that. I think it could have been done better, by laying on the prophecy and references to Ragnarok, but the effort is there, and it’s more than we see in the other two dying Avengers titles.

I’m not going to single out any other individual writing or art, except to say that I have always disliked Angel Medina’s overly cartoony and grotesque work on Hulk There’s just too little to say about these issues; they fit together, I can see the skill there, but they’re not saying anything. Instead, I’m going to make two points that probably would be better in a footnote:

  • First, it would be a rarity to see all those high issue numbers in a trade paperback collecting comics from the last decade. Sure, Marvel’s big on reinstalling the old numbering, but Marvel switches to new #1s so often it’s uncommon to have many comics with their original numbering at the same time.
  • Secondly, there is some confusion on the Internet as to what is collected in Onslaught, v. 3. The Amazon listing includes Punisher (v. God knows what) #11, (Peter Parker:) Spider-Man #72, Fantastic Four #416, and Green Goblin #12; it leaves out the issues of X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Cable, X-Force, and Thor. Even the impressive Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators has it wrong; it makes the same mistake as the Amazon listing plus it adds Amazing Spider-Man #415.
In any event: This is one boring book. The plot goes nowhere. Art from Joe Madureira, Andy Kubert, and Deodato is not going to change that at all. I think you’d be better off jumping from the awful Onslaught, v. 1, to v. 4. You’re not going to miss anything important. But that’s not why people buy this book — they buy it because the drug that is completism has them in its claws.

In this case, though, completism is very much like a sleeping pill.

Rating: Zzz … (You can read that as either I was too bored by this book to rate it or that I graded it Triple-Z. Either one is fine by me.)

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Anonymous Ralf Haring said...

I saw your reviews of books 1 and 3 with the notes that the content listings were wrong most places on the web. Do you know the actual contents of books 2 and 4 as well?

2:20 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

Wow! Ralf Haring!

I have the contents for Book 4: Fantastic Four #416, X-Men #56-7, Onslaught: Marvel Universe, Cable #36, Uncanny X-Men #337, Onslaught Epilogue, and X-Men: Road to Onslaught. Two pages from Iron Man v. 2 #6 are also included (mostly to show readers Onslaught's mighty hand).

I don't have Book 2, proabably because most of the included issues are non-X books.

2:31 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

(Addendum to previous comment): Non core X-books.

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Ralf Haring said...

Thanks! I am updating so that the real info will at least be in a few more places on the web!

11:47 AM  

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