Saturday, July 05, 2014

Review: Marvel Knights: X-Men—Haunted

I'm rather curious how the new incarnation of Marvel's "Marvel Knights" imprint sell in terms of serially-published single issues. I've read the trade collections of two of the miniseries so far, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man—Fight Night and this X-Men book, and in both cases they seem like they would have been interminably dull read in 20-page chunks once a month for five months. There's much more of a plot to this X-Men story then there was to the Spider-Man story, which was essentially just Spider-Man running a gauntlet of all of his enemies and wondering what was going on until the end of the last issue, when the main villains told him what was going on, but Haunted similarly works an all is not what it seems angle, and, like any of the "Marvel Knights" comics, is at least implied to be continuity-free, or at least continuity-light (This one slots in fine with the rest of the X-Men comics line, but, as a standalone miniseries on a special imprint, obviously isn't an "important" book).

In short, these books seem harder to pay attention to than all the regular ongoing series featuring the same characters, and to not offer a lot of incentive for readers to pay attention to them, so the miniseries format seems to serve them poorly, or at least more poorly then they would be served if Marvel just published them as original graphic novels, which is another new thing Marvel's been trying (i.e. Avengers: Endless Wartime, X-Men: No More Humans, Spider-Man: Family Business).

I thought Haunted, written and drawn by Brahm Revel and colored by Cris Peter, read quite well as a graphic novel, but, having read it in this format, I can't imagine I would have made it very far into a five-issue run had I attempted to read it serially. And that's despite liking it quite a bit, particularly Revel's artwork.

The story is extraordinarily simple, and even old-fashioned, reading like an X-Men story that could have been published at almost any point in the last...when was Rogue introduced? Over 30 years ago...?

The X-Men (Wolverine's team) are clued in to a new, emerging young mutant in a lot of trouble, via an unusual way: psychic Rachel Grey gets a vision of a mutant child being gunned down while she's asleep one night. After checking with the other Jean Grey School faculty and Cerebra, they detect two more new mutants in rural West Virginia. They decide to dispatch a squad to find and save these mutants, hopefully before Cyclops' team can beat them there (See? It's in continuity).

I'm pretty sure Jason Aaron had established Angel as the Jean Grey School's official "recruiter," whose job it was to do this very thing, but Revel sends Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and Rogue to WV instead, with only Rogue wearing her uniform/costume, presumably because those are his three favorite X-Men (he certainly draws the hell out of those three) and, in fact, after the first few pages set at the school, those are the only X-Men who appear in this book (save a few kinda sorta cameos near the climax).

Our trio of X-Men find themselves in a very strange, very precarious predicament when they reach the town: There's a sheriff running guns and drugs, serving as the middle man between a biker gang and a isolationist cult in the mountains. Someone is kidnapping runaway mutant teenagers, and doing terrible things to them. And the two mutants the X-Men are there to save don't want their help, and are, in fact, extremely powerful mutants capable of causing all sorts of trouble, enough trouble to even endanger formidable super-mutants like Wolverine and Rogue.

One is a mind-controller, whose powers only work under certain conditions, and the other is able to summon memories and make them real and tangible. Both abilities wreak a fair amount of havoc and, in the case of the latter, presents all kinds of trouble once the X-Men enter the picture, given all the supervillains and giant killer robots that exist in their memories. This, incidentally, gives Revel carte blanche to draw pretty much anything he wants from X-Men history, at least for a few panels, and makes for a pretty neat premise for a talented writer/artist to build a story around.

That story is interestingly all (morally) gray, with no blacks and whites, befitting the faux-relevant milieu of the X-Men, and the angsty adolescent worldviews of the new mutants. There are certainly quibbles to be had with Revel's story, nits to pick at, really—why, for example, do these three X-Men decide to drive to West Virginia rather than fly one of their super-planes there, when time is of the essence, or why Cyclops doesn't show up at any point if his team is devoted to beating Wolverine's to all new mutants, or, most curious, why, when Wolvie, Kitty and Rogue realize they are badly outnumbered and one of them actually says aloud that they "need an army," they don't call the literal army of mutant superhero warriors that they work with (Instead, they summon up memories of Professor X, Nightcrawler, Colossus and others to fight alongside them).

Overall though, it's a pretty compelling read, and the new characters serve as the true protagonists, while the X-Men are more or less our point-of-view characters, meant to get us into the other characters' heads (Wolverine and Rogue, for what it's worth, spend a majority of the book fighting one another, manipulated by the new mutants).

I thought it made for a pretty good graphic novel, and a nice introduction to Revel's work, but it didn't really convince me of the need for a Marvel Knights imprint releasing miniseries, not when the OGN program is available as an alternative.

1 comment:

Bram said...

A fan of Revel's as well, despite him not knowing how to spell his first name.

First issue of this didn't grab me, and I didn't continue. All the new Marvel Knights floppies have sold poorly at the shop. They seem to manage to appeal to neither the fans of the regular comics nor the fans of the creators.