Saturday, January 19, 2008

X-Men: Messiah CompleX

I’ve been reading the current X-Men crossover, Messiah Complex, as it’s been along, and, one chapter from the end, I think it’s safe to say that it’s been pretty underwhelming. With only 22 pages to wrap up, I don’t think they’re going to be able to salvage this thing. I went into the book really liking Mike Carey’s X-Men and Peter David’s X-Factor, but the crossover format has sucked momentum from those books, and slowed everything to a monotonous crawl.

That’s not to say stuff doesn’t happen. There’s a ton of fight scenes, and a lot of nominal progress, but there’s no real substance here. The setup was, the X-Men try to get the mutant baby, and we haven’t really moved beyond that. That’s fine as a MacGuffin, but you’ve got to have something deeper at the heart of your story. My guess is the writers deliberately wanted to avoid the convolution of previous X-overs, to focus on one goal. That’s cool, but I think it ignores what made previous X-overs work.

The first two X-Men crossovers weren’t really crossovers per se. The Mutant Massacre took an inciting event, the slaughter of the morlocks, and used it as a jumping off point for a story about the various X-teams of the era. It’s an amazing story, one of the best of the ‘grim and gritty’ 80s superhero stories. It works fine if you read just one piece of the crossover, but reading the whole thing you get some nice bonus connections. Fall of the Mutants isn’t really a crossover, the next big event was Inferno, an unbelievably convoluted, excessive, bizarre story, but one with a purpose. Reading Inferno, you feel like they’re struggling to fit all the material into the story. It’s the culmination of 150 issues of plot development, ten years of stories, all leading up to this one story.

It’s got a lot of flaws, but it’s got an undeniable energy. It’s that energy that makes X-Tinction Agenda work, in spite of the plot flaws. No one could break those X-overs down into linear story, but reading them is an experience. You’re immersed in this reality, this mythos and even if you don’t know what’s going on, it’s still a lot of fun. That’s what missing from Messiah Complex, the crazy insanity of the X-universe, the soap opera excess that Claremont was known for. There’s no emotional stakes in the crossover, no subplots of doomed love and broken relationships, just a relentless focus on this one kid, and we don’t even know who it is. I think that reveal should have happened already, if only to make clear what the stakes are.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. There’s a lot of scenes that work on their own, but as a whole, it’s frustratingly single minded. Both this and House of M are such conservative, boring crossovers. There’s no moments that make you say “Wow,” it’s all about playing out what you’d pretty much expect to happen. DC’s Infinite Crisis may be exceedingly difficult to follow, but it’s got moments that just leave you in total awe. As a story, it fails, as an experience, it succeeds. I’d rather read a crazy work like Infinite Crisis, a work that taps into years of mythology and spectacle than something like Messiah Complex, a work that’s competent, but boring.

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