Sunday, September 09, 2012

Review: X-Club

The X-Men franchise may be unique in super-comics in that there are just so goddam many X-Men characters—about 200, the last time Marvel took a head count, right?—that series and stories need not be structured around particular teams or settings, status quos or mission statements, but can rather just pick up a handful of characters almost at random and hang a story on them.

The 2012 miniseries X-Club, the trade collection of which rather remarkably doesn’t include the prefix X-Men: in the title, is just such a story. It’s written by underrated super-writer Simon Spurrier and drawn with sharp, expressive art by Paul Davidson, and features a few members of the X-Men’s so-called “Science Team,” an invention of Uncanny X-Men writer Matt Fraction’s.

These are various scientist characters originally gathered by Dr. Hank “The Beast” McCoy to try and undo former Marvel Editior-in-Chief Joe Quesada’s “M-Day” directive; in-story, they were put together to try and figure out a way to re-populate the world with mutants after the reality-warping powers of one mutant somehow de-mutated most mutants (Look, I don’t get the science of the thing; I don’t think anyone does, really).

Anyway, these are Dr. Nemesis, a Golden Age Marvel character recently repurposed as an arrogant, snarky super-genius who talks a bit like an all-ages Spider Jerusalem; Dr. Kavita Rao, the doctor who created a mutant “cure” in the pages of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men; Danger, the sentient Danger Room that menaced the X-Men during Whedon’s just-mentioned run; and Madison Jeffries, and Madison Jeffries, an old Alpha Flight character with the ability to reshape inorganic matter and to communicate “technopathically” with computers and robots and stuff.

The miniseries isn’t focused on that goal, but on the quartet of X-Men affiliated super-scientists gifting the world with a technological marvel as a sort of goodwill, see-we-do-more-than-just-collateral-damage-so-quite-fearing-and-hating-us-gesture: The Stringstar, “This proud planet’s first viable space elevator,” which reaches from a space station in orbit down to a rig in the sea (and, come to think of it, looks a bit like a large version of that tube that the Satellite of Love guys used to use to send things back and forth to Deep 13 with during that one season of Mystery Science Theater 3000).

Things naturally go a bit haywire, when an Atlantean protestor starts mutating and explodes, and local sea-life develop mutant abilities, as illustrated in this awesome panel:
And then Danger starts acting villainous again, Jeffries gets in a lot of trouble, some sort of psychic octopus attaches itself to Nemesis’ head, revealing his actual thoughts out loud constantly, often deflating his posturing dialogue
And Spurrier does this weird bit where he keeps checking in for a page or two per issue with various events in Marvel android history, eventually revealing a connection to the conflict of the series which is…well, it’s pretty complicated, and I don’t want to spoil it, nor spend the time it would take to reduce it into something easily communicable in a few sentences.

Suffice it to say the plot is big and crazy in a way that would (or at least should) satisfy fans of Fraction’s particular style of big and crazy, and it’s communicated with a great deal of character-driven humor emanating from the various personalities and their conflicts, and the set-ups like that psychic squid thingee.

While the four X-Clubbers (that’s not what they call them is it? I’m just guessing) are the stars, the rest of the X-Men play supporting roles and offer cameos, and are quite effectively used.

This is apparently taking place after the “schism” between Cyclops and Wolverine and their respective factions of X-people (if you weren’t paying attention/caring, Cyclops and his gang are on a mutant isolationist island called Utopia and are intent on the survival of their race at all costs, while Wolverine and his gang have reopened Xavier’s School for Gifted Blah Blah Blah under a different name). Spurrier has Cyclops worried about branding, to the point where he keeps referring to his team as “The real X-Men” and insisting of adding “of Utopia” at the end of each mention of the X-Men.

Somewhat unusually, at least from my experience with this franchise of characters, the book ended up being very fun, very funny, highly imaginative and easily accessible. It’s not often I set down an X-Men comic book and think to myself, “Wow, I’m really glad I read that X-Men comic book,” but this was one such occasion.

4 comments:

Rev'd '76 said...

I think you just sold me on an X-book with those starfish panels!

KentL said...

The starfish/Nemesis scenes are definitely worth it. I enjoyed the series quite a bit (and, like Caleb, I don't really follow the X-Men titles). I'll be looking out for more Spurrier stuff.

My only disappointment was in the art, and even then it was only a page or two here or there that I thought looked a bit sloppy. What was odd was that a couple of them had their pencils included in the back of the trade and they looked great. So something must have happened between pencil and finished image. I would guess hurried inking.

Michael Hoskin said...

Dr. Nemesis isn't a Marvel character - he was published by Ace, but fell into the public domain. If Marvel hadn't snapped him up, I suppose Alex Ross would have.

Rev'd '76 said...

@KentL:

If you like Si, track down GUTSVILLE. Image published it. There are only three issues, to my knowledge... for some reason the series got derailed, which is a shame; given the recent success of SAGA, PROPHET et al. it'd be right at home in their lineup today.

It packs loads of 2000AD-tier insanity. A puritan society in the belly of a leviathan, the occasional Russian sub falling from the squicky red vault of heaven... and that's leaving out the NoSunMan, a sort of monstrous sock puppet for the repressive puritan elders.