Saturday, November 05, 2011

Recent Marvel Trades I Waited For (Pt. 3): Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis

Regular readers will know that I was really excited about this particular miniseries, as it paired the reliably good writer of pretty smart superhero comics Warren Ellis with the amazingly talented (but rather infrequent) drawer of comics Kaare Andrews, and Marvel’s solicitations of the cover images included a cover in which Andrews rather radically redesigns the characters (in relation to one another, at least; they still look like “themselves,” just exaggeratedly so) and another which is one of my favorite superhero images of all time(Like the image of Arsenal clutching a dead cat from Rise of Arsenal, Emma Frost eating pancakes on top of a crawling Scott Summers is something that I don’t seem to ever stop finidng amusing) and others that include a baby vomiting down the cut-away cleavage-revealing part of Emma’s costume and the X-Men apparently about to fight a bunch of babies.

I was not disappointed by the series itself, although I should again note that my enjoyment of it likely had a lot to do with being able to read it in a single sitting and for free, rather than paying for $4 for 20 pages of it every month or four (The schedule was rather erratic, with some severe delays, if I'm remembering correctly).

I imagine it must have sucked reading it serially. Ellis and Andrews pace it a little like a slightly more staid than usual shonen manga, with a lot of splash pages, characters posed atop stacks of panels, breaking out of the borders, and hardly any pages containing more than three or four panels.

The individual issues must therefore have read blindingly quick. The second issue, for example, opens with a one-page splash featuring a close-up of Cyclops’ face, as he says something tough. That’s followed immediately by a two-page splash of Cyclops eye-beaming a bunch of soldiers (the image reveals Cyclops in the middle-distance from behind, while a bunch of silhouettes fall down like bowling pins and the background turns red), and that’s followed immediately by another two-page splash, this one featuring all six of the X-Men rushing at the viewer in various about-to-fight poses, and then that is followed immediately by a one-page splash of four of them engaging in fisticuffs with the nameless soldiers, Storm and Armor delivering curt fight-chatter quips.

All together, that’s almost a 1/4 of the issue devoted to just four panels, and each of those moments is diminished by the poor pacing; if everything is a splash, nothing seems worthy of a splash.

Andrews’ art is great, but he does nothing with those four panels that he couldn’t have done better if each page had four of it’s own panels.

I liked Ellis’ plot for this one better than his plot for Exogenetic, as there seems to be a bit more going on, and a lot more of it more interesting than the series of fights in that storyline. Additionally, all of the six leads in the ensemble—Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Armor, Beast and Storm—have something particular to do in the story and justify their presence in it (I mention this mainly as a contrast to Bendis’ Avengers arc that I wrote about earlier in this series of reviews, wherein the characters featured seemed to be there moreso because Bendis liked them then because they had anything to do with the story they were presumably starring in).

The mutant race remains on the ropes, on the brink of extinction after the weird-ass events of Houes of M, so the X-folks get pretty excited when they hear about a town in an African country where a bunch of mutant babies with strange and dangerous new powers have been born. Even though they can’t possibly be the same sort of homo superior mutants that make up the ranks of the X-gene mutants (as they are born with their powers, rather than developing them at puberty), they decide to check it out.

There they discover Joshua “Doctor Crocodile” N’Dingi, the leader of the country with the baby problem, who intends to execute all the babies. The source of their mutations is quite exotic, and one I’ve never seen in comics before (N’Dingi and origin story he tells may have occurred in previous Marvel mutant comics; I don’t know). Essentially it is a symptom of an act that brings about an even greater threat, and the X-Men have to thread the needle between various threats—one of which is potentially apocalyptic–in order to save the most people.

I was again quite impressed with both Ellis’ plotting and his dialogue and characterization. It was a smart, fun, funny, action-packed superhero comic, an a spefically X-Men one, in which the mutant heroes deal with the sorts of issues that are endemic to being mutant superheroes.

(And, once again, I was struck by how Ellis’ X-Men bear so much in common with Morrison’s, this time including shedding their superhero fight-suits in order to wear relief worker-like uniforms, so they look more like they are there to help and less like they are there to kick-ass. Well, everyone but Emma changes clothes; she gets to wear another version of her tight, white and revealing wardrobe of costumes, explaining, “Darling, if you were sleeping with the leader of the pack, you too could wear what you liked.”)

(Here’s a terrible scan of them disembarking, which also gets a two-page spread).As good as the writing is, however, what separates this from the pack (Actually, is “pack” even a big enough metaphor for X-Men comics in 2011? Should I have said “what separates this from the herd” instead….?) is Andrews’ incredible design work.

His Cyclops isn’t just tall, but built like an action star to boot. Storm is built like his female equivalent, only she’s even taller. Wolverine is short and squat. Emma tiny in comparison to her lover Cyclops, and even Wolvie, and she’s all curves and round shapes (not he forehead whenever she’s in profile). Armor is similarly small, and slim to the point of being gamine (Andrews draws her armor in extremely exaggerated fashion, so it looks like a red, glowing fetal mecha battle-suit). Beast is giant, and usually crouched so as to give him a sort of dome-like shape. Andrews has given Storm her mohawk back, presumably just because it looks cool, although her her hair remains long, somewhere between that of George Perez’s Starfire and that of Rapunzel’s; Emma also has head of hair that follows her like a comet trail.

Andrews’ art is colored by Frank D’Armata, just as Phil Jimenez’s was, and it bears many of the same weakness, including blurred backgrounds to simulate a movie camera focusing on the foreground, but D’Armata’s special effects are less oppressive here. He eschews attempts to blur characters to imply action, for example, perhaps because Andrews does so much with whipping hair and nearly horizontally positioning characters when they’re running or fighting that to blur them would be superfluous.

I suspect it has a lot to do with the lighter, brighter setting—most of the book takes place outside in bright, sunny daytime Africa—and Andrews’ characters taking up so much space and containing so many fewer lines than Jimenez’s more tightly-packed pages full of more realistic renderings. Just a guess though; maybe the editor was like, “Jesus man, tone it down next time, huh?” after seeing how “Exogenetic” turned out, or maybe he used up his allowance of special effects there.

Now let’s look at some of that awesome Andrews art, shall we?

Here's a panel from rather early in the first issue, in which the X-People hang out in the kitchen and discuss what Storm's husband The Black Panther told her about the mutant births, and whether or not it's X-Men business: Note how much Andrews is able to characterize the various characters and their roles in the ensemble by their postures in this panel. It's a pretty great scene and, though it's essentially an all-talk scene, it's really livened up by the nice touches like Beast perching like a gargoyle on the counter, or Armor and Emma's expressions.

There's another talky scene later in the same issue, wherein Wolverine and Emma talk about Africa on the jet plane ride over. Note the...well, you'll note immediately what's noteworthy about this page:I like how Andrews is able to not only design the panels around her boobs, but to do so with every single panel on the page, including the one where one of her breasts just sort of juts into a panel containing Wolverine's head.

I particularly like how Andrews is able to draw a page of repeated panels ogling Emma Frost, and to do so in such an extreme way that he seems to be simultaneously making fun of comic book artists ogling their female superheroine stars while engaging in it himself. And, of course, he gets away with it here because it's Emma Frost, who is often written as something of an outgoing, sensual, sexually-aggressive character constantly displaying herself (It's not just the costumes, of course; in this story she psychically gifts various medical personnel the ability to all speak the same language by making out with them. Later, when Scott asks her to do something with her psychic powers, he asks her to try doing it without licking anyone).

Finally, there's Armor's reaction to Emma presenting her breasts to Wolverine in that final panel.

The collection includes the script for the first issue, which allows us to consult it to see what Ellis specifically noted and what Andrews added to the scenes. This scene? The worlds are all Ellis, but everything else is all Andrews.

Here are a few images of Wolverine, who was dealt a bunch of mortal blows by the invincible enemies the X-Men must face in this story, but he doesn't die (obviously) due to his amazing healing factor. I love just how physically destroyed Andrews makes Wolverine look in these panels:In the top image he is literally holding his own spilled guts, while an enemy points a giant laser gun point blank at his head. In the bottom one, he's got big cartoon character-sized holes in him, as if someone took a hole-puncher to Daffy Duck or something. Only with, you know, more gore. How could he even use his right arm to stab someone's head (as he does in the inset panel) when his shoulder muscle is just plain...missing?

Oh, and before I end this fawning little "Kaare Andrews is awesome" gush, I suppose I should address the question of what on Earth happens in the issue containing this cover.Are you ready for this? Emma uses her powers to commandeer the brains of the enemy soldiers, Doctor Crocodile explains exactly what's up with the babies and how he gained the appearance that lead to his nickname, there's an argument over whether the babies should all be executed or not, and then an incredible threat appears.

And that's it. No pancakes. No playing horsey. Why does this image even exist?

Because Kaare Andrews is awesome. That is the only answer I can come up with.


Hey, wait a minute...

Wait, make that two minutes...


Andrew said...

Hdefined, you have got to be the most pathetic, attention-starved troll I have ever seen on the internet...and that's saying something!

Aki Alaraatikka said...

If Wolverine would ask a supergenius make him completely bullet,laser,everything-proof...we wouldn`t have to see these Grose panels...

Anyway, really awesome art. And weird.

Oh, and the story is probably good also. Maybe I should buy this too. When I get enough money.

Anonymous said...

Yup, Kaare is super great. Do you think the next Wolverine movie will have Jackman holding his guts?

Matthew Allison said...

How old is Armor? In that 2-page spread of them walking she appears to be in her early teens, yet at the breakfast table she looks maybe 4. Later on the plane she's shown as roughly an 8 year-old.

And why would Beast crouch on the cupboard like that? His filthy feet are up there and there is no way that is the least bit comfortable. People put food on that surface.