Thursday, December 8, 2011

X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain (comics)

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Dennis Calero
Collects: X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain #1-4

This is a sequel to the original X-Men Noir miniseries. If you're paying attention, you'll notice I never did a review for it, but rest assured I did read it. Here's my one sentence review: I damn near fell asleep during the first one only to be snapped awake by an ending I cold could not figure out. It was honestly so dull I couldn't think up anything to say about it. Bad sign.

This one doesn't really work either, but it's not really Van Lentes fault, in my opinion; bless him, he tries, he really does.

I think part of the problem here is that the concept just doesn't really work well. Obviously with most of these Noir miniseries they're toning down the superhero elements and superpowers are mostly missing. Some writers manage to work around it pretty easily, but it doesn't stick for all of them.

With this one, it's more of a fundamental clashing of the two concepts mixed in with the lack of powers. The X-Men have almost always been a stand-in for race relations, but without powers or general mutations, what made them stick out is now gone. Van Lente goes for a hail mary pass to salvage things, changing it from mutants to sociopaths, with people buying into the idea of crime being infectious like a disease caught from the criminals deemed sociopathic. It's a good effort but it doesn't really work; and since a lot of the elements of the story rely on buying into it, the rest of the house of cards ends up struggling to keep from toppling.

It does manage to feel like noir. I'll give it that. It's got the vast majority of the trappings and a few double crosses for good measure. Unfortunately, noir is not exactly the best fit for the X-Men and I'd say it's pretty clear at this point that editorial didn't really think this through, at least not past "give me a noir miniseries of all our top characters".

The story is alright, considering its inherent troubles. The X-Men that didn't take a bullets to the head at the end of the prior miniseries are out in Madripoor, looking for the gem of Cyrotakk for Cain Marko. Despite troubles, they get the job done. Only, oops, they're double crossed; considering they're broke, the obvious course of actions is to try and track down the double crosser and get to the bottom of everything.

Like I said, it's not a classic, but Van Lente makes it work the best he can. Everyone has fairly distinct personalities and the story flows well enough. He struggles to make it all interesting, but he's basically fighting against the tide here; the transition to noir has effectively robbed the X-Men of their hook and what's left isn't a great deal to go on. Still, he manages to craft a tale that doesn't necessarily go in the direction you'd expect, given the presence of a Cain Marko and a certain gem, so there's that.

The artwork is pretty nice. Bathed in shadows and fairly dynamic. The shadows obscure from time to time - there's a scene late in the book I had a hard time diciphering, thanks to so much shadow drenching Kitty Prydes head that I couldn't tell if she bit the guys nose or headbutted him or what - but other than that it works out.

The Score: 6 out of 10

This - and its predecessor - is a bust. It's not unreadable, but beyond "see your favorite X-Men drenched in shadow and betrayal" there isn't really much reason to bother. This one at least held my attention - unlike the original - but it's not something I can really recommend.

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: Noir Cyclops is an even bigger dick than Cyclops Classic. He essentially has a chip on his shoulder the size of gibralter and is more than willing to sling insults at the slightest provocation. Then, THEN, by the end, he's revealed to be the biggest douchebag in the cast for reasons I won't mention because of spoilers. It shows Van Lente gets Cyclops, at least; Cyke is, after all, just a massive tool these days.

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