Monday, June 02, 2014

Review: All-New X-Men/Indestructible Hulk/Superior Spider-Man: The Arms of The Octopus

No, seriously, that's the title of this particular graphic novel: All-New X-Men/Indestructible Hulk/Superior Spider-Man: The Arms of The Octopus. Marvel left all of the participating characters' adjectives attached to their names, and included all of their names before the subtitle. You might think it would make more sense to just call this thing Arms of The Octopus, as it's not like there are any other All-New X-Men/Indestructible Hulk/Superior Spider-Man trades out there that they would need to distinguish this from, but you, my friend, are not involved in Marvel's trade program. Nor will you ever be, because you are a rational human being, and not a pack of rabid wolves with a ouija board, magic eight ball and dart board.

The reason the title is so unwieldy is that it is attempting to reflect the three books the "Arms of The Octopus" storyline originally ran through, All-New X-Men Special #1, Indestructible Hulk Special #1 and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special #1. They may seem like three completely unrelated titles from completely different corners of the Marvel Universe, and that's because they are, but Marvel's done similar big stories in seemingly unconnected books in the recent past. Previously, they would connect three annuals with a single story; here they went with "specials," perhaps because "annual" implies something that happens on a yearly basis, and that would mean they wouldn't be able to use a #1 should they do it again the following year.

The story is written by Mike Costa, a writer who had done quite a bit of work on IDW's various licensed comics (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, G.I. Joe), and does a fine job of finding a way to connect these three rather disparate books and characters into a story that seems completely organic and logical. And while the fact that the story occurs in specials rather than the main books, and is written by a different writer than the writers handling the monthlies starring these characters (Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Waid and Dan Slott, respectively*), means that nothing too terribly important or meaningful to their overarching stories can occur, Costa does a pretty great job of making the stories feel somewhat important...if not advancing the various plots to any great degree, at least reinforcing some of the themes and conflicts from their home books.

The story is also pretty funny, I thought. It's a serious story played straight, but the way the characters interact with one another is quite amusing. Costa gets similar mileage out of the time-lost teenage X-Men from the 1960s in the 21st century that Bendis does, particularly Beast and Iceman, and their interactions with the "Superior" Spider-Man (Who, remember, is actually Otto "Doctor Octopus" Ocatvius's mind in Peter Parker's body) is great, as this Spider-Man is dour, arrogant, easily frustrated and given to supervillain-style speeches and outbursts.

The plot is this. The four original X-Men who haven't quit the Jean Grey School like Angel has—that is, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast and Iceman—journey to New York City to spend the time being teenagers. Beast meets an attractive grad student who is studying time travel related science under a professor of Beast's (from the past), and he goes back to her lab to meet his former teacher, Dr. Jude.

Suddenly, they're attacked by Doctor Octopus...a young, dumpy-looking Dr. Octopus in green spandex and with a bowl-cut haircut. This can't possibly be Doctor Octopus, as no one knows better than Spider-Man, who shows up to boss the teen heroes around and punch out what may be himself from the past.

They try to figure out what's going on with the Silver Age Dock Ock's sudden appearance, but can't study him too closely, as he's giving off incredible amounts of gamma radiation—a possible side-effect of time travel? Naturally, Spidey calls in the world's foremost expert on gamma radiation, Dr. Bruce Banner. While all the doctors are trying to puzzle things out, The (also dead) Abomination shows up and starts wreaking havoc, at which point it's assumed that somehow the X-Men's presence in the present is messing with the time stream, and they decide they have to check on their time machine before any more villains come through.

And then there's a bit of a twist, which Costa telegraphs just so. It's a neat twist; nothing mind-blowing, but enough to keep the story interesting, enough to keep it from being too predictable. Each chapter is narrated by a different brilliant scientist/superhero: Hank "Beast" McCoy, Bruce Banner then Octavius. And each is drawn by a different artist, all of whom are quite good, and all of whom are close enough in style that the changes aren't jarring...particularly the first two, who are extremely compatible. They are, in order of appearance, Kris Anka, Jacob Wyatt and Michael Dialynas. As I said, they are all good, but I think I like them in that particular order as well, with Anka being my favorite of the three and Dialynas my least favorite.

Despite the goofy title, it's actually a satisfyingly sizable, super-fun superhero comic, and one I'd recommend. Perhaps especially if you can borrow it from a library, as Marvel's charging $15 for the 120-page adventure.

Of course, it's not the only story in All-New X-Men/Indestrucible Hulk/Superior Spider-Man: The Arms of The Octopus. Included for no reason I can imagine other than that they needed to jack up the page count above 120 pages if they wanted to charge $15 for the trade, they've included weird-ass Wolverine one-shot Wolverine: In The Flesh #1 (which X-Men x-pert and fine writer Paul O'Brien reviewed quite well when it was originally released), a long-in-the-works Wolverine comic written by a celebrity chef I've never heard of, in which Wolverine teams up with said celebrity chef. I didn't read it yet, but I may before I return the trade to the library. It's such a weird place to find it though, as the only real connection to the story that it follows is the extremely tenuous excuse that, perhaps, Wolverine is an X-Men, and there are some X-Men in the preceding story. But with all the other places a Wolverine one-shot could be collected—like, say, a trade collecting any of the many comics in which Wolverine is prominently featured, perhaps a collection of one of the three ongoings with Wolverine in the title, perhaps Savage Wolverine, which is a continuity-lite, anything-goes anthology series featuring Wolverine comics by different creators.

But no, they just stuck it in the back of this trade because...they had some extra pages to fill, I guess?

1 comment:

Jer said...

I enjoyed this one-shot quite a lot - or at least the "Arms of the Octopus" three-parter in it. When you say that Costa got "more mileage out of the time-lost teenage X-Men" than Bendis you are not kidding - this book convinced me to give Bendis's All-New X-Men another read through because I'd checked the first few volumes out of the library and found them pointless. After checking out a few issues on Marvel's Unlimited app Bendis still isn't making good use of them IMO.

The Wolverine story is ... completely forgettable I guess because I know I read it and I can't even for the life of me begin to remember what was in it. I remember it was stupid, but I can't remember why now.