Sunday, June 08, 2014

Review: X-Men: No More Humans

Writer Mike Carey and artist Salvador Larroca's X-Men: No More Humans, the next in a new line of Marvel original graphic novels and, as the back cover exclaims, "the first X-Men OGN since the classic X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills," certainly has the heft, scope, scale and cast to earn the designation of novel.

The opening conflict involves the very, very sudden—like, Rapture sudden—disappearance of every single human being on the planet, leaving behind only the world's relatively tiny mutant population. And as big a deal as the extinction of humanity might seem, the problems the X-Men face only get bigger from there. As for the cast, the villain of the piece is a relatively new one—Raze, the possible future son of Mystique and Wolverine, introduced in "Battle of the Atom"—and the heroes are, well, everybody. Cyclops' team and students from Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine's team and student from Amazing X-Men and Wolverine and The X-Men, the ladies from the pages of X-Men, a few characters from what I think is the new X-Factor, the time-traveling original X-Men in their newer, dumber costumes, Magneto and his kids.
Now most of these characters don't have a whole heck of a lot to do, and Carey actually emphasizes that when we see, say, Gambit literally getting a seat at the table during a big meeting of the X-Men leadership, only to get one whole line, or Magneto emphasizing that the threat is so big that he and his children have set aside their differences to work together, and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver never even get one line. For the most part, the ensemble, primary cast consists of the leaders of various X-Men factions or points-of-view, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Magneto, and Beast, who has to serve both as a constant source of explanation of what's going on and as the scientific Maguyver to move the plot along whenever necessary.

To Carey's credit, though, despite the extremely short page count of only 128-pages, he does shine the spotlight around pretty quickly, brightly and sharply, with newer and minor characters like Tempus and Triage getting their moments, Northstar having a panel to shine, and many of the various X-Men at least being used in utilitarian ways, thanks to their powers. Like "Battle of the Atom" was, this offers a pretty nice snapshot of where the X-Men line of comics and all of its many characters are at the moment. (End notes explaining who the heck all these mutants are might have been more useful than the 14 pages of back-matter including ads, creator bios and process stuff; I could only identify about 50% of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that appear in this, and was completely baffled by a character named "Jason," who was apparently meant to be both very important and someone as well-known to me as, say, Dead Jean Grey).

The only real, non-nitpicky* problem with the book, and its existence as a graphic novel that's both part of the same line that produced Avengers: Endless Wartime and is being sold as a successor to God Loves, Man Kills, is that it reads so very much like an X-Men crossover, like a shorter, more tightly-plotted and less repetitive version of "Battle of the Atom." It's not really about anything, other than X-Men continuity, and because of its format can't even be a big deal in that narrow, less-ambitious sense. Because it's a standalone original graphic novel not written by Brian Michael Bendis (who is currently writing the two flagship X-Men books), one goes in knowing nothing too significant can really happen, something that Carey himself rather explicitly writes right into the script, as when Magneto sarcastically asks which of the many teams of warring X-Men want to be the X-Men today, or during the last two pages, when Storm and Wolverine decide not to fight Magneto and/or Cyclops, with Wolverine telling Cyke "Back off and pretend this never happened," and, in the book's last lines Beast sadly saying (and Carey cynically writing?), "Then we all go back to our corners, don't we? And wait for the next round."

Between that and the opening scene in which Raze infiltrates a high-tech super-science laboratory and effects a human rapture, the X-Men team on the cover investigates the problem, seeking out the one human being left on Earth, while portals from alternate dimensions start admitting mutant refugees from other Earths, seeking sanctuary on our own now all-mutant world, and Raze raises an army of alternate world evil mutants, which includes the "real" Mystique and, eventually, Magneto. The Brotherhood fights the X-Men, and The Phoenix (from an alternate dimension) shows up, escalating the stakes exponentially, but also providing a rather literal deus ex machina, a way to hit a cosmic reset button that undoes pretty much anything of note or consequence that might have occurred during the entirety of the book, which at least justifies its existence by having its pages bubbling over with colorful superheroes with colorful powers and a big, exciting plot.

Sure, it's shallow and ultimately pointless, but it's an entertaining X-Men comic, and let's not allow it to lead us into some form of existential crisis: I had fun reading it, it was competently enough made that I spent almost no time considering the craft instead of the surface pleasures of the story and art and I think it functions fairly perfectly as a bonus helping of what the X-Men line is currently offering.

In fact, as I was reading this, I rather thought of it as the modern-day, trade-only reader's equivalent of an annual. Like, I only read X-Men comics in trade, and, if the trade paperback collections are the equivalent of single, serial published issues, than this is the equivalent of an annual—and extra, bonus issue with a big, splashy story that doesn't interfere with the ongoing storylines of the other books.


I haven't said much about Larroca, because there's not much to say about his artwork. It is perfectly fine. Not the best in the X-Men line at the moment, but not the worst either. I was pleasantly surprised by how solid his work, here colored by Justin Ponsor and others, was compared to where I last saw a lot of Larroca, Matt Fraction's run on Invincible Iron Man. I was not a fan of Larroca's photo-referenced, computer trick filled artwork on that series, so much so that I dropped the monthly (which I was buying at one point) because I couldn't stand looking at the artwork, although I eventually caught up on the series in (library-borrowed) trade.

This doesn't even look like the art of that guy, which I guess means Larroca has improved drastically, or he was intentionally working in a rather specific style on Invincible Iron Man, purposefully trying to make it look like that (perhaps to make it more "movie"-like, or to accentuate the "realism" of the series, or something; maybe X-Men being more over-the-top superhero fantasy meant he felt he didn't need to worry so much whether his SUVs looked exactly like photographs of SUVs.)

I thought he did a rather poor job of distinguishing the two Jean Greys, who look to be the exact same age, despite the fact that one is a teenager and the other a grown woman (in one panel, teen Jean is actually bigger than adult Jean), but otherwise, this was the best work from Larroca that I can remember seeing.

As for visuals, what's actually most striking is the costume design, as there is a lot of it in here (In all honesty, it would be easier for me to point out X-people not in this book—Jubilee, Bishop, Cable, Colossus, Puck—than to say who is in it, there are so many goddam X-Men here). Obviously Larroca wasn't responsible for...any of it (at least, I don't think so), and instead he must just draw it all.


I really hate Raze's design, especially if he's going to turn out to be something more than a one-off character from a possible alternate future, as he was in "Battle of the Atom." He is basically just Mystique and Wolverine completely, perfectly blended, so he looks like Wolvie with more volume in his red hair, wearing a white jacket (his mom wears white) with no shirt underneath, showing plenty of blue skin. He wears white pants and boots, with a loin cloth identitcal to his mother's tucked into a belt like his mom's. Who borrows their mom's clothes? Who wears a loin cloth with pants?
I hate the All-New X-Men's new costumes, which look horrible. Rather than being straight out of the 1960s, they are now straight out of the late 1980s, and consist mostly of simple spandex body suits, but with weird arrangements of patterns around them. Jean Grey and Angel have Jim Lee turtle neck collars (And Warren has brown hair now...?), while Teen Beast's costume consists of a weird neck brace thingee that should make it impossible for him to turn his head.

If they are on Cyclops' team, I would expect them to be wearing all-black, and for Jean and X-23 at least to be wearing thigh-high leggings/boots with tiny spandex panties, and for most of the fronts of their shirts missing. That seems to be the uniform, based on Magik and Emma (and Tempus has the leggings, but is otherwise better covered).

I don't understand why Kitty's still wearing her costume from the Xavier-then-Jean Grey school, if she's switched sides.

I like Magneto's all-black look, but man, Quicksilver looks pretty idiotic. I don't think I've ever really liked a Quicksilver design, but this one seems to be his worst ever.

Although an alternate universe version of him shows up with a pretty neat one. It's red, which only furthers comparisons to The Flash, but also matches the outfits of his sister and (sometimes) his father.

I didn't really understand why the students from both schools had identical uniforms on.

Hey, what's this?
Smoking? In a Marvel comic?

I thought that was verboten?

Actually, I don't see any smoke. Maybe its an e-cigarette that he hasn't fired up yet. Maybe he's vaping...?

I have no idea who that guy is, by the way, but I like his costume.


One of the mutant refugees from an alternate universe is, apparently, Frieza:

*I did find myself wondering about the rest of the Marvel Universe. There was really no need to address this, and Carey doesn't, but the copy on the back of the book mentions that The Avengers and The Fantastic Four are missing, which begs the question of what they're up to, and then you start wondering why Dr. Strange didn't magic his way out of their predicament, or why Reed Richards couldn't figure out a way to return them all to earth, especially if he had science bros like Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Hank Pym with him. And why is Thor missing? Does he count as human? And what about all the aliens on Earth? (Kubark didn't get raptured). What about the Inhumans? What about the animals?


Eric Lee said...

Sounds good. I need a good X-Men crossover after the very disappointing "Battle of the Atom".

Michael Hoskin said...

Wow, Raze is even more embarrassing than Logan's last love child. I believe that Mystique could be his mother, but are we sure his father wasn't David Bowie?

Anonymous said...

Isn't the anonymous smoker Mastermind? Rather, Mastermind's projected suave self-image.

Bram said...

Larroca showed some range in Iron Man -- in a flashback, IIRC -- that led me to believe that his very computer-y style there was a conscious choice. Plus, it made it possible for him to do every (?) issue, and you can't fault his storytelling skills.