So since Graeme just wrote about the preview of the upcoming X-Men book, I figured why not make it an informal X-week here at Wait,Whatistan!
You can read my thoughts on X-Men ’92 after the jump, or we can just let that book’s Creepily Sexualized Sinister Bald Lady ironically kinda summarize my thoughts. Whichever is fine with me!
So I wanted to like X-Men ’92, the Infinite Comics tie-in to Secret Wars, written by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers with art by Scott Koblish. I really did. I’ve read and enjoyed Sims’s online blogging and commentary for years, and seeing him write a Marvel comic is like seeing a local favorite band get a song into a particularly crucial episode of Gray’s Anatomy (or whatever the modern definition of success is for a band).
And, while I wasn’t a huge viewer of the animated series, ’92 was firmly in the era when I was still voraciously reading X-Men books.
Hell, I’ve sometimes even enjoyed the Infinite Comics format — the optimized-for-tablet comics format that takes advantage of the Guided View feature of online comics — at least when it’s really well incorporated into the story.
But this just never quite came together. There are good bits, and it’s evident that Bowers and Sims are having a ton of fun pastiching something they’ve clearly loved since childhood, but the successes are vastly outweighed by the more frustrating and disappointing elements. So, hey, let’s take a look at those.
- The book tries to do too much. This is an admirable reason for a let-down, but it’s a let-down nonetheless. In the span of 8 infinite issues (which translates, somehow, to four issues of print content, meaning that every print comic is actually two infinities long), this book attempts to: tie in to Secret Wars, act as a de facto sequel to the X-Men cartoon from 1992 (more on this in the next bullet), condense and cartoonify the subsequent two decades of X-Men continuity, give each of its characters an extended showcase, and tell a coherent, enjoyable story. I’d certainly rather have an over-ambitious comic than an under-ambitious one, but … this turns out to be what I think British people call “over-egging the bubble and squeak”.
- The book isn’t allowed to sell its central conceit. Look: this is X-Men ’92. It’s about the cartoon. The characters are the characters from the cartoon, visibly drawn according to the cartoon model sheets, featuring meta bureau of standards and practices jokes, using the cartoon’s catchphrases and quirks. Hell, the title’s construction is pretty clearly designed to mirror Batman ’66 (TV show) and Wonder Woman ’77 (also a TV show). But because of some rights issue that I’m too lazy to google — I’m guessing Fox owns the X-Men cartoon rights? — everyone involved has to pretend that this is somehow a tribute to the X-Men comics of 1992. This is all inside-baseball crap that shouldn’t affect the content of the book, but somehow it does.
- On the other hand, the book also overindulges that conceit. The book is at its weakest when it overtly tries to parody the cartoon. I’m thinking here of Storm’s dialogue (basically repeating “forces of nature” over and over again), and literally every single thing about Gambit. I’m largely indifferent to Gambit as a character, regardless of medium, but here he’s unquestionably written not as comic-Gambit or cartoon-Gambit, but as an overt parody of cartoon Gambit, which sits enormously awkwardly next to the more earnest story elements. In fact…
- The story seems to have trouble finding a tone. The book opens as a gleeful hey-it’s-the-1992-zone! light comedy, then very quickly shifts to be an exploration of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men ideas through the filter of the cartoon, which is still a brisk and enjoyable concept. And then the story inexplicably bogs down in several extended trapped-in-their-own-head scenes that try to use a very Claremontian approach to exploring the depths of the characters. The problem is that those characters have until this point been little more than karaoke versions of their cartoon selves, so swiping through umpty-dozen word balloons of internal exposition feels ludicrous. And then it tries to pull it altogether into a climax with real stakes and jeopardy, which is pretty much totally unearned. But while I was speaking of swiping….
- The Infinite Comics features aren’t nearly worth the trouble. I don’t use guided view, in general. I like to control my own reading pace around the page, and I only like to have to turn the page once every couple of minutes. So Infinite Comics have to really justify their own existence to be worth the number of swipes. The infinite features here feel like they’re mostly used as a sneaky way of forcing even more words into a single scene.
- Secret Wars ruins everything. If Sims and Bowers had just been allowed to write this comic as “Hey, let us tell the stories of what happened after the X-Men cartoon ended,” it might’ve been a bit stronger. But being forced to squash in all of the “this is a Barony on Battleworld” and “Doom is god” stuff just makes it feel even more divorced from its own origins and from real life. Which is sort of the real problem here:
- There’s no reason to care about anything in this comic. I’m not someone who needs his superhero comics to “count” as part of the overarching superhero universe narrative. I enjoy plenty of books that are out-of-continuity or out-of-universe or whatever. But this one … it’s just disconnected from everything. If it was continuing the cartoon’s story in its own little world, great! If it was doing a loving comedic parody of the cartoon, terrific! If it was one of literally dozens of books set on a patchwork world composed entirely of what-if scnarios … well, it would probably be awful and annoying, based on current experience, but at least it would be explicably part of something that people ostensibly are trying to care about. But by combining all of those things, what you wind up with is pastiched alternate reality versions of already-thin cartoon characters, which is just too many removes from anything to hold my interest.
Again, I write this without malice or joy. Sims and Bowers have proven themselves promising, funny writers elsewhere, and its clear this is a labor of love for them. Within each of the dissonant tones — parody, homage, alternate reality — they fit in at least one or two clever ideas, and some of their ’92-ified versions of later concepts outshine the originals. Koblish’s art manages to be discernibly and deliberately 1992-ish while still remaining clear, composed, and comprehensible (not concepts I associate with the art in the X-Men comics of that era). And he does a great job of making the newly added characters visually consistent with the established team from the cartoon. There’s a lot of effort being put into this book, probably much more than it deserves.
Ultimately, though, the book as a whole just never figures out what version of itself to settle into, no matter how many times you swipe to change the pictures.