3 Nov 2007

Cover to Cover: X-MEN: MESSIAH COMPLEX one-shot

Review by Matt C

It's not a particularly astute observation to make, since it's pretty much obvious to everyone, but I'll make it anyway: the X-Men ain't what they used to be.

I'm not just talking about the storytelling or characters either. You just need to look at recent sales figures to get the picture. There was a time when X-books dominated the monthly charts, most titles firmly entrenched in the Top 10 leaving very little opportunity for any other books to get a look in. Uncanny X-Men and X-Men sometimes get a peek in the Top 10 now and then, but usually seem to hang around just outside. The days when Uncanny X-Men held on to the No.1 spot on an almost monthly basis seem to be long gone.

I could write an entire article about reasons why this has happened: the impenetrable continuity, less than impressive creative teams, overkill etc etc. Maybe another time. All I know is that I really want to love the X-Men again, I want that buzz I used to get when reading an X-book. I still pick up Uncanny every month and I wonder if it's from some sort of misguided brand loyalty. Hell, I even got every issue of Chuck Austen's run. How many times have I told myself, "I'll give it one more chance", only to still be buying the book 6 months later?

Admitedly, Uncanny is a far stronger book than it has been in a long while. The way I see it, that's entirely down to Ed Brubaker taking over writing chores. But even then, this is by far the weakest book Brubaker's putting out, and I doubt you'd find many people disagreeing with me on that count. Some say that maybe Bru's not suited for team books with multiple characters but I say that's bullshit: check out the number of characters he's successfully playing with on Captain America. The man can handle teams!Still, I have been enjoying Uncanny recently, so I've been somewhat hopeful about the Messiah Complex, the first major crossover in a long while. With Bru writing the opening issue and Marc Silvestri back on the book that made him famous, surely the chances for success were pretty high?

Now I've finished reading chapter one of Messiah Complex I remain unconvinced.

It's certainly not bad but it's not something I feel I could recommend unreseverdly. What I've enjoyed about Bru's previous X-Men work is his choice of characters - he avoided the obvious, went with the unexpected, and it worked. Here he's understandably using the big guns, and while there are few nice character moments, overall a great deal of it came across as stuff I've seen many times before. Some of it's pretty brutal though and it looks like this crossover might have a fairly high body count. At the moment the casualties are a couple of c-list villains I barely know (and I realised how out of touch I am with X-Universe as a whole when I was surprised to see Gambit working for Mr. Sinister) but I guess there's a strong possibility we'll see a major character or two bite the bullet (after all, in his first foray into the X-Universe Bru infamously knocked off Banshee).

Silvesrti's art doesn't wow me the way it once did. I first got into the X-Men during the Claremont/Silvesrtri era and so his work helped define who the characters were for me. It's not bad by any means, but I think the inking's too heavy - I miss the light, sketchiness Dan Green's inks used to bring to Silvestri's pencils. There are still several effective panels but nothing really memorable.

I really, really want to like this book. I've been waiting a long time to get back into the X-Men they way I used to be, but while there's much to admire about this, as I've already said, I feel like I've seen it all too many times before. Marvel really needs to get the X-Men back to the top again, and maybe they gambled that this crossover was the thing to do it. I'll probably see it through to conclusion but I have my doubts that it'll be the huge success they were anticipating. 6/10


Unknown said...

You aren't alone in your confusion with the current state of the X-Men, as I have trouble working out who's who and I get 4 out of the god knows how many books. I get the feeling our old friend scheduling screwed this up as well, as this screws up the ever late Astonishing and jumps down the throat of X-Factor. Damn crossovers!

Matt Clark said...

I'm only going with Uncanny and Astonishing at the moment and Mesiah Complex hasn't tempted me to try any of the other books.