Wednesday, October 31, 2007

X-Men: Messiah Complex (One Shot)

As the launchpad for this season’s big “Messiah Complex” crossover, which covers every November X-Title, this one-shot has a single, specific purpose: to set the table and stand back. The issue accomplishes just that - when Charles Xavier senses a new power in Cerebra, the first manifestation of a new mutant since Wanda Maximoff went loony, he’s quick to act. Xavier dispenses a team of heavy hitters to the scene and hopes for the best, but the situation they find is anything but friendly.

Writer Ed Brubaker’s contribution to the issue is serviceable throughout, although nothing about it really struck me as being particularly outstanding, either. I’m not sure if I’d blame Brubaker for that or a first chapter’s natural tendency to hold the big events back for later, but the problem is noticeable. For all of its flair and promises, this really is a very slow-moving, do-nothing of a story. Sure, a few mild revelations are doled out between the covers, but the majority of the issue simply follows a high profile group of X-Men as they chase a dangling plotline with minimal results. It’s a chase scene without a conclusion, a lot of standing around, huffing, puffing and needlessly flaunting mutant abilities without a confrontation.

Within the scope of the Marvel universe, the potential of the tale is there. It’s been a long time since House of M nearly eliminated the mutant population, so it’s nice to see the potential of some progress on that front, but I just don’t see anything here that’s going to keep me interested for the duration of a multi-issue storyline. Where the events surrounding Wanda’s breakdown were presented as a landmark event that concerned the entire world, Messiah Complex feels like it’s just another run of the mill X-Men story. These books may change out the cast of characters from time to time, but they keep spinning the same kind of yarn.

I used to count Marc Silvestri among my favorite artists, even through his later works, but I just can’t get behind what he’s bringing to the table in this issue. This is a guy who used to illustrate Wolverine effortlessly, month after month, during his lengthy run on Logan’s monthly series. Today, I can’t even recognize Silvestri’s take on that cornerstone character. Logan doesn’t look war worn or hard-edged, like he used to under the artist’s watch - he seems downright cherubic. Emma Frost comes off as vacant, expressionless and overly sexed-up throughout the issue, which is a difficult feat considering the general acceptance of her usual wardrobe. Without the constant presence of his tail, I don’t think I’d have even identified Nightcrawler. These are characters I think I know very well, having followed the X-Men books fairly regularly in the past, but they all seem distant and foreign to me in the modern Silvestri’s hands. His style has largely abandoned the rough, sketched personality it once embraced, in favor of a stiffer, stereotypically over-muscled approach.

It’s like he’s gone from being a trendsetter to an imposter. Where before, there wasn’t another artist on the planet quite like him, today’s Marc Silvestri feels like a weak David Finch impression. While he can still impress when he really puts his mind to it, as evidenced by the scene-setting landscapes within the issue’s slower moving pages, a few stylized action panels or the infrequent silhouettes he seems to throw in on a whim, I found the majority of his work here fairly lacking. The man’s lost a step or two, I’m sorry to report. While in the past I’d have to say that his worst was better than most artists’ best, today Silvestri’s worst is much more decidedly average.

That seems to be a theme for this issue: great creative minds coming together to underachieve in unison. When he’s on, Brubaker can write a gorgeously compelling, intelligent drama in 22 short pages. He’s kept me on the edge of my seat for over a year in Daredevil, held me at attention in Criminal... but something isn’t working here. The characters don’t relate with each other as members of a tight-knit family, like they used to. They’re just teammates, objects ordering one another around the battlefield. Brubaker is great when he’s spinning ten plates at the same time, dedicating just enough attention to each storyline as necessary. When he’s tasked with a single, straight-laced narrative, as he is here, much of the magic turns up missing.

Don’t be fooled by the inflated price and deceptively padded page count in this issue: in the end it’s just another X-crossover. Worse than that, it’s just a lead-in to another X-crossover, not even the real meat and potatoes. If you’re a hardcore X-Men fan, I’d say you should borrow this from a friend, just to make sure you aren’t missing anything before the real show gets off the ground. If you’re a casual visitor to the mutant books, flip through it in the store instead. It’s a lot of fluff with a few minor talking points sprinkled throughout.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.5

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