Welcome, dear readers, to X-Men: Bland Design, the weekly multi-part recap column that strives to answer the question: “What if Ed Piskor had no art skills, a juvenile sense of humor, and less classic material to work with?”
Things have changed in the X-Men comics (and superhero comics in general) since the glory days recapped in Piskor’s magnum opus. Gone are all of the thought bubbles, most of the narration boxes, most of the references to past issues, and perhaps most importantly, any trace of the idea that any comic could be some reader’s first. Casting aside many of the properties that set comics apart as a medium, the modern superhero-industrial complex has instead chosen to treat comics as glorified storyboards, decompressed and written for the trade.
But for X-Men fans, it doesn’t matter. We’ll obsessively buy and read all of these X-Men comics until the day we die, no matter how bad they get! And if we’re going to do that anyway, we might as well document the experience for you, our dear readers, brothers and sisters and non-binary siblings in suffering.
This week there are five regular-priced X-Books on the stands, which will cost you 20 bucks to buy, and, thanks to the aforementioned decompression, roughly 10 minutes to read: X-Men Red #2, X-Men Gold #23, Venom #163 (a crossover with X-Men Blue), Iceman #11 (the final issue), and Rogue & Gambit #3. We kick things off this week with…
X-MEN RED #2
TOM TAYLOR (W) • MAHMUD ASRAR (A)
Cover by Travis Charest
HEADSHOT VARIANT COVER BY TRAVIS CHAREST
NEW MUTANTS VARIANT COVER BY DAN MORA
The hate machine Part 2
• JEAN GREY and her team must infiltrate a top-secret compound in order to save a mutant they’ve never met.
• They’ll have to avoid guards armed with guns, protestors armed with hate and sentinels armed with…well, slightly larger and more dangerous guns than the guards.
• All in a day’s work for the newest X-Men team.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
The comic opens with Trinary, who we know from pre-release advertising will be the new mutant member of the team, being held prisoner by some kind of government facility in India (which we know because the dialog is translated from Hindi). Trinary did something that pissed off the government, and according to her captor, Lakshay Singh, her own father turned her in. He tunes in an image of Jean Grey killing an ambassador on live TV, though we know from last issue that this ambassador was under the psychic control of Cassandra Nova. Oh no! Things aren’t looking too good for mutants right now. Trinary says she has plans to escape and will take her revenge on Singh.
Next, we’re treated to some cable news panels, with pundits discussing the Jean Grey incident and reports of violence at mutant protests. News scrolls across the bottom of the screen reference other current events with a mutant twist, like health insurance, school shootings, and immigration. It’s a little on the nose and an oft-used cliche, but we’ll have to wait and see what develops from this.
In Wakanda, Jean Grey, Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler), and Laura Kinney (All-New Wolverine) are taking asylum from the world that hates and fears them. Jean apologizes for making things worse when she was actually trying to make things better for mutants by giving them a voice in world politics. Meanwhile, Gabby (Honey Badger) is enjoying some swimming at a nearby waterfall, while Wakandan mutant Nezhno Abidemi (Gentle) meditates. Jean explains that Nezhno is as strong as the Hulk, but when he uses his powers, it causes him pain. Past stories have suggested that the use of his powers will likely one day kill him.
The X-Men are called to some kind of communications center where Jean is given a message from Trinary, who describes her powers and herself as a “technopath,” which is like a psychic for computers. Trinary used her powers in a cyber attack to redistribute wealth to women in order to erase India’s gender pay gap, which Gabby thinks is pretty cool. She wants Jean to rescue her.
Jean, Lauray, Gabby, and Kurt head off to India and locate Lakshay Singh. Jean uses her powers to get him to walk down a secluded alley, where she then feeds him a telepathic scene to make him believe he’s at a Starbucks while she reads his mind. She loads the X-Men into the back of a van and have Singh drive them to the facility where Trinary is being held. Jean sets up a mind-link with the others, and Gabby asks her not to pry, possibly hinting that she is trying to figure out her sexual identity. Using information gleaned from Singh, Jean leads the X-Men through an infiltration.
The team rescues Trinary, but outside, anti-mutant protestors are getting restless. Jean telepathically puts most of the crowd to sleep, but a few remain and point a gun at her. Are they under the control of Cassandra Nova? The gun fires. The X-Men inside lose touch with Jean. They rush outside to find that Jean is okay. She just had to break contact to concentrate on the threat at hand. However, she also stopped paying attention to Singh, who calls for some kind of sentinel attack on his phone before Laura slices it with her claws (and also slices his fingers off). The X-Men get ready to make their escape, but…
At the back of the book, we’re treated to some supplementary material about the costume and character design, with commentary by Mahmud Asrar and Tom Taylor. After that, it’s one of Marvel’s “Where is Wolverine” segments that have been happening at the back of various books, leading up to Wolverine’s role in the Infinity Countdown super-mega-crossover event and his own Hunt for Wolverine event. Back in the city, as the sentinel the X-Men were about to fight rises in the distance, anti-mutant protestors are running scared in the streets. One of them falls, only to be picked up by Wolverine. The kid spouts some anti-mutant bigotry to Wolverine and advises he get out of here. Wolverine says he has better things to do anyway, like make guest appearances in more books to tease his comeback. Overall a completely useless segment which would have been cool if we actually missed Wolverine, which we might have done if Marvel didn’t immediately thrust like fifteen Wolverine replacements into the spotlight right after he died, including one who is just a future version of the actual Wolverine.
X-Men Red continues to show promise, treading old ground for nostalgia but with a modern twist. Like most comics today, modern decompression techniques detract from its potential, but what are you gonna do? Pretty much every X-Book on the stands would be improved if Marvel were to just have Chris Claremont take the finished pages exactly as is and just add in narration boxes and thought bubbles to every page. If we were in charge of the upcoming X-relaunch, that’s definitely what we’d do. But we’re not, so nothing left do but look at the next comic…