Posted by: Graeme McMillan on April 15, 2010
Spot the mistake in this sentence, which paraphrases my thought process in a recent reading of X-MEN: MESSIAH COMPLEX: “Hey, it’s a massive X-book crossover, just like back in the ’90s, but with writers I really like, like Ed Brubaker and Mike Carey! This’ll be like a trip down memory lane, but good!”
That’s right. It’s those last two words. If there’s one thing that Messiah CompleX taught me, it’s this: X-Men is the Peter Pan of comics, only replace “the boy that never grows up” with “the superhero comic that never seems to change whatsoever.”
It’s really kind of stunning to me, the way in which writers seem to have absolutely no impact on X-Men comics anymore. Brubaker and Carey (and, for that matter, Peter David, Chris Yost and Craig Kyle, who are the other writers in this collection) are strong writers who normally have individual voices, but there’s really no way you could tell that from reading this story; in a way, it’s almost a testament to each writer that the chapters written by different people all seem to have the same authorial voice, but the problem is really that said voice is this weird undead Fabian Nicieza thing, as opposed to the sum of its individual parts (Reading recent X-Men comics, it has to be said that there’s probably a case for Nicieza being the most influential writer for the franchise in the last twenty or so years – Definitely, the current crop of X-books hew closer to his writing in terms of dialogue and plot than Claremont).
Equally stunning is the fact that Messiah CompleX reads entirely like an X-book crossover from the 1990s, complete with “X”-based pun in the title (Remember The X-Cutioner’s Song? Those were the days…). Switch up the artists – or maybe just the coloring – and you could’ve traveled back 15 years and given it to an X-fan without their blinking. The themes, the atmosphere, the plot points all feel the same – Everyone hates mutants! But maybe there’s hope! But there’s a traitor in the X-Men’s midst! And time travel will be involved somewhere! And look at how much Gambit loves Rogue! – as does the cast (Complete with too many villains with convoluted, if not entirely unclear, motivation), and their relationships. For all the “NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME AGAIN” nature of stories of these scale, the problem is that everything stays the same. It’s as if Grant Morrison never happened.
And yet, if you ignore all of that – all of my disappointment in discovering that the X-Men today (well, three years ago) is pretty much identical to the X-Men of twenty years ago, and that creators I like can get lost in stories like this – and approach it on a level of simply, “does it work as a story,” then… It does? Kind of? There are dead ends, and unexplained characters and decisions throughout, but the whole thing has a momentum that carries you through nonetheless, no matter how false it is. As the first chapter in a trilogy, it works well as a set-up, especially if the writers wanted to screw with the readers’ expectations (In particular, Bishop is proven right at some point), and despite everything, makes me want to read on and find out what happens next… even though I already know that what happens next won’t be anything other than maintaining the status quo. A confused, slightly-self-loathing Okay, in that case.