i wanted to believe so bad!

June 3, 2008 at 3:22 am (Comic Books)

I am so frustrated right now! I just reread Milligan and Allred’s X-Force/Statix run, all soaked in pubescent nostalgia, and it is so crappy!!! The stellar first thirteen issues reposition the mutant as both a celebrity and social activist, rarely explored territory for Marvel, and wraps all these substantial themes around a heartbreaking group of characters.

 

 

Then, when the book changes titles, Allred offers his wonderful art, as always, assisted by great fill-in artists and inkers able to maintain his visual style. Milligan offers us incondite squabblings on what the book itself is supposed to mean when any character based or thematic heft has been removed. So many issues suffer from psychosomatic plotlines- Venus Dee Milo (whose beauty is only conveyed by everyone’s abject appreciation of her- every Allred chick has the same physical qualities, even Dead Girl) cures her own instability by unearthing childhood trauma while fighting a beast that unearths childhood trauma, Vivisector regains his powers after realizing the hatred he stored for his father doesn’t match his feelings for him now, and Billy Bob regains his powers only after he recognizes his homosexuality. The one issue earlier exhuming Freud’s outmoded ideas (The Cooke illustrated special issue where Edie regains her powers) was the worst of the bunch, besides Fegredo’s single issue with such conflicting art styles, but maintained momentum by furthering the romance between Guy and Edie, and this is besides the battle Venus has with miniaturized Ant-Man: he battles subconscious, microscopic manifestations of herself around the left ventricle- more on that later.

 

And then there’s the treatment of its characters: Myles Alfred’s two part story-arc “The Cure” has his lover, Brandon, breaking up with Myles because he cured his mutant powers, and we see Myles admitting, us knowing that Brandonsees more in Myles than his mutation, that he was only wanting the fame dates with Vivisector brought him. And then, at the end of the issue, the same sensitive guy comes up to ask Vivisector back out, and we are instantly told that his latest filmed endeavors have flopped- Milligan doesn’t even trust his own characterization anymore.

 

As flippantly ridiculous, when Billy Bob goes back home because his powers have stopped working (it is so psychosomatic), he greets his family in front of a trailer house, when in the second issue we see that his background as white trash is media hype: they are actually wealthy suburbanites, but apparently Milligan didn’t read past his press release for this one, and has Billy bob buy his a parents a house because they need one.

 

If I was just trying to sell you the poor quality of this comic, I would stop my presentation here, but it is just so distressingly bad. Let’s move on to the sorest spot of the X-Statix run: Vivisector.

 

He only gets duped by Hawkeye’s good looks and the promise of a “team-up” invoking dreadful homoerotic euphemisms- they will “spend much time together,” they will be “partners” and this facile fantasy tricks the scholar of American literature, jaded at every opportunity. This may be the actions of an inexperienced teen, but Vivisector is coming from a relationship with a television and movie star. Milligan even throws El Guapo’s attractiveness in a single panel that explodes into a fight (admittedly, these fights are common, but they have always sprung from actually tangible emotions before). And Phat’s death has Myles declare passionately that maybe he did love him, “desperately, crazily,” which is then tied up in the space of a couple panels.

 

There is more than Milligan’s rude treatment of Vivisector. He has seemed to stop caring about the subtleties of Guy’s ambiguities (does he care about the team or himself more?) by switching his behavior every issue. He’s the one to both ask if X-Statix means anything more than empty fame and kill Henrietta to maintain that empty fame, and then decide that they need her to be more than emptily famous.

 

Admittedly, the battle between Guy and Tony Stark when both are forced to shed their costumes so as to not offend the nudist religion is hilarious, and what this comic should be, and admittedly Milligan has a great villain in the code, and culls real suspense and terror from Captain America and Henrietta’s dark sides, but all the actual battles, one of the strong points of X-Force when they aren’t diluted with narration, disappoint. The penultimate issue has the Avengers and X-Statix stand to face each other, decide they should join together, and even then the bogeyman gets scared away by their combined might and the issue ends. One of the other fights is another psychosomatic powerhouse where a miniaturized Ant-Man invades Venus’ body and must contend with subconscious avatars of herself, which leaves the battle decided with a coin flip.

 

And then the ending- ugh! All the characters die in a mission self-consciously reflecting the first issue’s cataclysm, and Milligan tries to make it a meaningful reinforcement of the run’s themes, life’s meaningless and combat and all that, but it just isn’t, because it’s just death with occasional narration: Venus dies off stage trying to save Guy and Tike before they stand up and run into bullets, Dead Girl is shown as amazingly dying and disintegrating with no explanation, and Vivisector, he doesn’t even get a death. The issue ends attempting to put all of this into context by showing the team right before they teleport to the location, but by then the familiarity and tears are gone and only rage remains: they all die senselessly because Venus wanted more money (Guy didn’t want to go, Dead Girl felt sick, and Tike was too afraid to warn them of Dead Girl’s unexplained fatigue. Oh, and Vivisector did something, maybe), and her final words that we read involve her excitement about the financial prospects of going topless for Hugh Hefner*.

 

*Her last two sexual scenes are: quiveringly rejecting Guy because she’s not ready to give him her flower, and finally mustering up the courage. She may kill, but she does not go topless, and not for money which she already has.

 

And this is so much more terrible because the last issue had such a great ending with Edie’s death. Milligan played with reader expectations by setting the book as a sarcastic, uncaring machine, but then has a spike jab through Edie at the turn of the page: the prophecy actually was fulfilled, after each member thought they cheated death. Coach was a great villain for the series, too, just slimy enough to work as a businessman and just sinister enough to be an actual villain. Allred’s art throughout the entire run was stellar, and even the fill-ins were good (Dragotta nailed the characters- I can see why he was called back for the Dead Girl mini-series, and Pope was not as bad as Fegredo. We also got more sequential Philip Bond, which is never, ever bad), but besides this we have our heroes exhausted from an off stage fight running into bullets and prepared to sacrifice their innocence by going topless: Such Terrible, Terrible Comics!!! Thanks for reading. I assure you, I could dredge more skeletons and salvage more craftsmanship but that’s enough words on bad comics.

 

On another note, X-Statix Presents Dead Girl is a quite enjoyable romp through Marvel miscellany with unfortunate fading in its coloring but strong storytelling from both the script and artist- I heavily recommend that one, along with the first thirteen issues (X-Force #116-128), X-Statix #10, 24, and the Doop/Wolverine mini-series.

 

And all this when Martian Manhunter dies on a headline in Final Crisis #1 as a cliffhanger. I have more faith in Morrison than what I had in Milligan (and the rest of the comic promises a galactic battle- something I haven’t properly seen recently), but still does my blood boil for fictional characters right now: such sanguine vapor exiting my pores…

 

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