Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Astonishing X-Men 25

I'm tempted to simply call this CSI: X-Men - though maybe this is only the first 2o minutes of the pilot episode. But something about this book escapes an easy encapsulation. Or maybe it just seems that way because I want to like it. Because I like Ellis and I like Bianchi, but I don't particularly like (or, I suppose, dislike) what they're doing here.

For his part, Warren Ellis admits that there's a certain element of self-indulgence to this project, and that he's planning to have fun with it. Fair enough - I don't particularly like my super heroes to be bland and too, too serious. It's also clear that the only other writers he really cares to converse with are Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon. There's a rather unsubtle moment where Ellis becomes the third in that line to feature a discussion of costumes and social coding - it's also, unfortunately, the least convincing of the bunch. Compare, if you will:
Morrison (New X-Men 114)
Beast: "I was never sure why you had us dress up like superheroes anyway, Professor."
Cyclops: "The Professor thought people would understand the X-Men if we looked like something they understood."

Whedon (Astonishing X-Men 1)
Cyclops: "We need to get in to the world. Saving lives, helping with disaster relief...we need to present ourselves as a team like any other. Avengers, Fantastic Four-- They don't get chased through the streets with torches."
Wolverine: "Here come the tights."
Cyclops: "Sorry, Logan. Super heroes wear costumes."

Ellis (Astonishing X-Men 25)

"We're all things to all people, Ororo. Today, we're consulting to the police, and there's no police officer in the world who's happy when he or she sees a super hero costume. Costuem says vigilante, and, these days, costume can also either say government flunkie or illegal combatant, which is one step away from being a flying terrorist. So when we do something like this, we dress in a way they understand, and we jump past all the crap that comes with a costume right now."
There's a sort of law of diminishing returns in effect here - with each iteration of the costume speech, the explanation grows longer and the meta-level becomes shallower. Sure, Ellis throws in that "we're all things to all people" as a way of bridging the "we're not super heroes/we are super heroes" divide of Morrison and Whedon - speeches that are clearly aimed at the reader - but the Morrison/Whedon disagreement was a largely superficial one in the first place. Their 'disagreement' was over how the X-Men should perform their role in public, and so already a tacit acknowledgment that the characters can mean 'all things to all people'.

A note on the visuals - While I like to look at Bianchi's art, I also have a number of reservations: the coloring is too muddy, the layouts are sometimes too crowded, but mostly his storytelling is confusing. He avoids conventional establishing shots and transitions in time and space, which means that I'm often playing catch-up when the location has changed and it wasn't made obvious - as examples, take the image of the murder victim on the second page (it's totally unclear how or where it's fitting - or, really, why we're seeing it) or the transition from the crime scene to the room where they're reviewing the evidence (how much time has passed? where exactly are they, anyway?). But maybe this is something that I'll get used to.


James said...

The idea that police hate costumes is good and logical, but as you say, the explanation is too long and awkward. But the worst part of this scene, was that instead of the conclusion being " let's go in our civvies", it was " don your custom-made Street Clothes Alpha, and become Crime-Scene Super-Street Urban Guerilla Squad X!"

I mean, really. My eyes.

neilshyminsky said...

Indeed. Ellis' could've gone the far more subtle and clever route by having their "costumes" turn out to be, in fact, perfectly normal and undistinguished clothes. Ellis doesn't seem to like doing subtle, though - that worked on, say, Nextwave. Not so much on this one.

James said...

Hey, speaking of Astonishing X-Men and costumes, how'd you think that "X-Men's unsuccessful attempts at being superheroes" thing turned out? I remember we spoke a bit about the cover to Giant-Size, which turned out to be misleading re: X-Men & Avengers save the day. I wanna say Whedon was still thinking about it at the end there, what with Kitty doing as self-sacrificing and epic a save-the-world move as you can get, but the whole thing being left (presumably) unexplained to the world at large.