Tuesday, December 11, 2007

X-Men: Die by the Sword #5

When I read the summary of the previous issues, I knew almost immediately that this was going to be a bumpy ride. To the surprise of no one, writer Chris Claremont has managed to combine two teams of dull, discarded fringe X-Men into one mammoth, convoluted, excruciating crossover. Not only that, but he's managed to up the ante by surrounding them with a supporting cast that's possibly more difficult to comprehend than the heroes! When the focal characters in a book are so obscure that the writer has to resort to introducing them in detail before the opening credits, that's never a good sign.

This issue is all the proof you'll ever need that Claremont's days as a writer should have ended with the 1980s. Every piece of dialog is shouted. The ongoing narration boxes, which often number into the dozens on any given page, are trying so hard to make the story seem historically important that they actually manage to achieve the opposite effect. They keep citing this distant, supposedly epic battle between Captain Britain and a mindlessly destructive alien force as though it were the stuff of legend, when in truth it's the first time I've ever heard of it. It just doesn't work.

Yet, despite all of that rhetoric, the narration fails to clue new readers in on what exactly is happening. When Captain Britain is in trouble and his teammates seem ready to come to his aid, something somewhere crashes to the ground and suddenly the entire team is pointing to it as proof they can't possibly be of any help to their leader. What?! Was I supposed to understand what just happened? Evidently so, because no explanations are forthcoming.

On the artistic side, penciler Juan Santacruz does not fare much better. His work is well below average, often difficult to follow and without any touch of personality or creativity. His characters have no emotion, and they all have tiny, tiny hands. His style is painfully dull, which compliments the terrible storytelling to form some kind of unholy union of filth. He seems to have no interest in what's going on with the story (not that I can blame him for that), and that's fairly obvious from the unfinished feel of his contributions.

Years ago, when I was on a big Wolverine kick and Adam Kubert was the regular artist, every once in a while they'd change his credit from "penciler" to "breakdown artist." I'm sure there's a technical reason for the change, but whenever I saw that little shift in title, I knew it would be accompanied by a swift nosedive in quality. Santacruz's pencils in Die by the Sword are right on par with Kubert's "breakdowns" in those issues of Wolverine. It looks like he quickly sketched a very rough initial layout, forgot to correct the numerous flaws in perspective, sent it off to the inker and called it a day. If you're looking for a few upskirt illustrations of Blink, though, you'll get what you're after within the first three or four pages. That seems to be the one detail he went out of his way to complete.

This is a horrible, horrible book. Cover to cover, it's hideous — it's tough to look at, thanks to Juan Santacruz's ugly pencils, and Chris Claremont's storytelling certainly isn't easy to read. If there's one positive I can attribute to the series, which wraps up in this issue, it's that it doesn't busy anyone important to the core of Marvel's universe. It's a bad series featuring a cluster of bad characters in a bad situation. Skip this. Please, please skip this.

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

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