A+X #4

"A+X" #4 features another pair of stories that team an Avenger up with an X-Man, paying little mind to the fact that practically speaking, that covers about 95% of the Marvel Universe. Considering the series can't get its solicits straight, we should reveal up front that its contents are split between Kaare Andrews (teaming up Spider-Man and the Beast) and Jason Latour and David Lopez (teaming up Quentin Quire and Captain America).

By now it's clear that "A+X" is really just an anthology title, and that means it lives and dies on its monthly quality. Luckily, it's been more hit than miss, and this issue maintains the reasonably high standards already set by previous instalments.

Kaare Andrews' piece is easily the star -- a dense, madcap story that tears through the material as if defying its 10-page mandate. Andrews' artwork is characteristically polymorphic, bold and energetic one moment, tight and structured the next. As a writer, he's got a sense for comedy which befits its more upbeat stars, and the punchlines are delivered with impeccable timing. It's powerfully individualistic, and successful for it.

It's also rare in that it feels perfect for the format. Stretched out for an entire issue, this story would almost certainly get away from readers. Instead, because it's kept brief, you don't have time to get exhausted. It vies with Chris Bachalo's Rogue/Black Widow piece from issue 2 as the best the series has yet offered.

The second piece, by Latour and Lopez, is more conventional in the telling, but less conventional in the pairing. Quentin Quire and Captain America are the embodiment of two archetypes -- the anti-authoritarian anarchist teen and the authoritarian patriot war hero -- and they turn out to have great chemistry as a result. The idea it explores is a strong one, asking what patriotism means to Quire's generation and whether the two can even hope to find common ground, but one that's probably too big to be solved in 10 pages.

Much like Quire's appearance in "W&TX: Alpha and Omega", this short shows that his respect can be earned in a way that doesn't betray the character, and further justifies the decision to bring him out of comics limbo. Lopez and Latour execute the story well, but for all its charms, it can't help but feel like the back-up to Andrews' more bombastic lead.

If anything really lets the book down, it's the price. The fight against $3.99 comics is long over, but material this slight can't help but feel expensive. Its "inessential" nature means it's easy to drop from any pull list, and costly enough to make it hard to dip into. A shame, because it's consistently one of the most fun comics Marvel releases in any given month. If you want to watch Marvel creators truly cut loose, this is easily the best place to do it.

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