Greg Pak and Stephen Segovia's X-Treme X-Men # 1 is such a lamentably poor comic-book that it's not even possible to laugh at it. Even that gloom-easing, contempt-expressing pleasure is short-circuited by the sheer weight of dubious storytelling that's on display here.
Of course, that will make me sound like a stereotypically vile net-critic spieling out the evidence of my own inadequacy. So perhaps I might offer just a few examples of the kind of problems which make it tough to see why editor Jeanine Schaeffer didn't ask all concerned to just down tools and reconsider their efforts prior to deadline day.
Here Pak has loaded up a tiny panel with a 60 word summary of Dazzler's private life, career and world-view. That in itself is an obvious example of a collapse of craftsmanship, but such over-crowding can prove necessary in moments of crisis. Sometimes essential information needs to be elbowed in to save a script, and it's not unknown that an artist's choices can result in pertinent material being regrettably absent from the page. Yet nothing - not a word - of this text is relevant to the story being told in this issue. It isn't even tangentially relevant to a tale which, as we'll see, suffers from a considerable number of plot-holes which could have done with a similarly excessive degree of exposition. Yet where the story's crying out for exposition, it's absent, whereas here, the panel's crammed with irrelevancies. Worse yet, Pak has just taken four slack pages to set up a nascent romance between Dazzler and a fellow musician. To waste that much space in a comic where there's so much that's ill-explained is a dubious business in itself. If X-Treme X-Men #1 really did require such a mass of backstory, then why wasn't it seeded across the preceding pages?
Wherever he can, it seems, Stephen Segovia is determined to use the whole-row horizontal panel. It really doesn't matter what the subject of the frame is, because Segovia appears convinced that the horizontal panel is the default and virtuous way of telling a story. To take but one of many examples, the scan above shows how Segovia chose to present even a scene of Blaire and Ito buying an ice-cream in such a narrow and elongated form. The claustrophobia imposed by Segovia's choice immediately undercuts any suggestion of romance in the situation, because the reader's struggling to make out what's going on at the same time as the frame's transmitting a sense of constraint rather than good-humour and possibility. But then, Segovia is capable of placing a tourist's entirely irrelevant and distracting shin, ankle and trainer at the eye's entrance point to the panel, meaning that the frame begins with an event that's entirely meaningless. To have Allison and Ito playing second-fiddle to a shin is surely something which the quality control folks at Marvel should have been keeping an eye out for. As a result of all these choices, the entire right half of the panel is utterly redundant and entirely uninteresting. There's simply nothing going on there which informs the plot, unless the bonnet of a ice-cream van and the simple, characterless perspective exercise which dominates the panel's last third are of some secret importance where a later issue is concerned.
We can also find another prime example of Pak's throw-the-reader-out-of-the-story exposition in this panel, where the writer has Dazzler's walking partner declare; "I don't know about all that. I'm just Johnny Ito, simple country session musucian ...". To read is to cringe. Yes, of course Johnny Ito, simple country musician, said that, because that's a convincing representation of how people talk, isn't it?
Typically, the fact that Ito's a bass player, a country stylist, or indeed a musician, is again meaningless in terms of the issue.
It should be said that Segovia is admittedly stronger on scenes which involve lots and lots of super-people in generic fantasy environments. The above frame is undeniably very effectively done, following as it does the rule of thirds to give us a sequence of (a) Xavier speaking, (b) his colleagues responding, and (c) Howlett examining a dead alien's tentacle. (*1) It's a shame that Howlett's actions don't lead to anything which is shown in the subsequent panel. How odd that this frame functions to set up the one that follows, while nothing of what's been foreshadowed actually occurs there.
*1: It's a scene with one of the book's two great lines in it too. Pak smartly establishes Waggoner as a sweet lil'kid by having him express his delight that the Xavier-head didn't just save everyone on a threatened Earth, but their cats too. Along with a single panel's worth of bitching directed by Frost at Dazzler, it's the issue's only redeeming feature.
|I'd swear that the pose given to Wolverine surrogate here is very familiar. Does anyone have any idea of what it might be a homage to?|
The above is the reader's first exposure to the "cross-dimensional X-Men" in action in the comic. As yet another horizontal panel, it does at least have the virtue of a touch more height. Yet the rule of thirds has been misapplied, unless the sight of a passive, largely unmoved Kurt Waggoner's profile is of some importance. (It isn't, and the placement of the character there does nothing to either help the scene make more sense or raise the level of jeopardy in the panel.) The shot is supposed to show the mutants facing an alt-earth-destroying danger. Yet Segovia has chosen to focus on his generically-posed victims and heroes rather than clearly establishing the peril of the situation in terms of the crisis itself. As a result, the characters appear to be running from nothing much at all, unless the reader squints and tries to make out what might be occurring there. It's a profoundly confusing start to the story which is further undermined by the placing of the text in front of the single collapsing building in the composition. Here writer, artist, letterer and editor all combine to obscure the meaning of events.
Here we've Sergovia on the more secure ground of a punch-up in a make-it-up-as-you-go-along setting, and yet it's notable how askew his priorities are. While Dazzler is being dragged through a "portal" by a fearsome monster, the newly arrived X-Treme X-Men are shown pausing for Emmeline Frost to pick up and pull on her coat. Not only that, but there's time for wisecracks and disdain too, which again, as is common in this book, entirely punctures the tension in the scene. It's actually quite possible to forget that Dazzler's there at all, because she's portrayed as a relatively irrelevant matter crushed up in the top right-hand third of the page. How weak and slow, the reader's forced to wonder, is this monster's not-so-deadly pull? Instead of directing us towards the drama of the scene, Sergovia points us instead towards Frost's lusciously athlete body, which is obviously of central and yet mysterious importance to the narrative at this point.
|Note the key absence of .... another portal in the frame!|
It's a page which makes it hard not to wonder whether Sergovia was working from a full-script or not. Because either he was, and he managed to ignor the sense of what he'd been presented with, or Pak has scripted the scene in a way that would inevitably confound the reader. "Aw, man. Another portal?", he has Dazzler declare, although there's no second portal in sight. Indeed, there's no mention of such a thing anywhere else in the book. Both Howlett and his comrades and the tentacles arrived through the same phenomena, and both leave through the same one too. Perhaps Dazzler's referring to a "portal" or two that she's encountered in previous tales, although, in the absence of context or even a footnote, all that's created here is the opposite to clarity. A sequence which should be taut with tension is quite undermined by confusing dialogue and fatuous storytelling.
|Five alt-Earths and a scene in the time-stream too; this is a book which doesn't pause for breath or sense.|
Problems with pacing bedevil this book. The already-mentioned uselessly elongated courtship scene takes up almost a sixth of a comic which badly needs that space to make sense in. The cramming in of the destruction of one earth, the saving of its population, the attack on Utopia, Dazzler joining up, and the arrival on an apparently god-filled alternative Earth would probably defeat anyone's attempts to portray in a satisfying way. But Pak and Sergovia keep straying in irrelevancy and space-consuming money-shots, and the result is a comic which reads like an scrapbook summary of four or five different issues.
How is it that Pak's script has managed to reach the presses in such a sloppy and baffling fashion? The comic's full of moments where the experience of reading is derailed by an obvious problem with events on the page. How has Cyclops come to suspect that the X-Treme X-Men are in trouble when he clearly can't communicate with them? Why does Dazzler throw her lot in with bodyless Professor X's team when she herself presents a damn good argument for doubting the information she's being given. Just five panels before she apparently commits to the assassination of "ten different Xaviers", she's shown declaring that "X-Men don't kill". The explanation for why she changes her mind is, staggeringly, entirely missing beyond the suggestion that Dazzler will go off and slaughter folks out of a loyalty to anyone claiming to be X-Men. Why would she do this, when she's just received news that life on each of these super-people's Earth's is different to that of her own? What does the fact that they've all joined a version of the X-Men on different worlds mean under those circumstances?
But then, how has this floating mutant head managed to deduce not only the existence of his evil counterparts, but the universe-saving need for their murder too? This is, after all, a character who Pak not only has speaking pretentious waffle, but absolute nonsense. " ... I believe in infinity", Pak has him announce, which, in a multiverse, is as sensible a comment as one of us declaring that we accept the existence of space-time. That's not a mark of a smart man, or even a useful narrator; it's either the sign of either an idiot or a bullshiter who can't tell the difference between belief and knowledge. When the supposedly smartest person in the room is made to speak like a pretentious sixth-former after his first two inhalations of ground banana peel, it's always going to be hard to take the narrative seriously.
X-Treme X-men is a shoddy comic book which makes the Rob Liefeld's recent efforts for DC look entirely professional by comparison. (It's a comic which certainly doesn't make the Liefeld work seem any dumber either.) How is it possible that Marvel has produced a book by a writer as gifted and capable as Greg Pak that's as inept as this? Once again, the reader who's spent their money is left wondering just who it is in the corporate chain that's supposed to be paying attention to the quality rather than the hype of the product. If editor Jeanine Schaeffer isn't responsible for making sure that the comic which bears her name at the very least makes sense, then who is? Is it Nick Lowe, who's listed as "group editor", or Axel Alonso, who's "editor-in-chief", or Joe Quesada, who is after all "chief creative officer", or even Alan Fine, who's apparently an "executive producer", whatever that may mean.
Seriously. Where does the buck stop? Who is ultimately responsible for the problems in the storytelling in X-treme X-Men #1, and who is going to ensure that these problems - if they're credited to exist - are unlikely to occur again? For if we're not supposed to consider such things as important, then where does that leave the publisher's responsibility towards the folks who buy their books?
Because this kind of glossy and yet fundamentally bumbling comic is all too typical of a great deal of today's comics, and the problem doesn't seem to be going away.
I removed the following on the kind advice of Malin Ryden - thanks
"But perhaps the most outstanding and perplexing example of not making sense in what is, after all, just a single 20-page book, occurs in the scene begun with the above page. Pak's script seems to intend for us to grasp by the second panel that we're looking at some kind of aniamatronic Dazzler, though why it should be placed in the streets of San Francisco isn't explained in Segovia's art. Perhaps we were supposed to be shown a Marvel-Earth branch of Madame Tussaud or the likes, or perhaps there's a series of these wonders scattered along the pavements of the city. Whatever, it shouldn't be left to the reader to try to make sense of the situation. Indeed, given that lifelike statues of super-heroes are no more and no less human-looking than the folks staring at them in a comicbook panel, this page actually gives the impression that it's the real Dazzler that we're looking at. Segovia's art certainly gives the impression that the retro-disco star has taken, for whatever reason, to performing to small crowds of tourists and locals alike. Any slight doubt in such a reading can only be cancelled out by the page's fourth panel, where we're shown the figure's eyes for the first time and presented with the fact that her arm appears to have lifted her microphone to her lips in the space between the second and fourth frames. Unless Marvel expects us to be perpetually asking ourselves whether we're looking at aniamatronics or "real" superheroes, this is an entirely confusing page. Pak's smart scene-opening moment of doubt has become a scene-undermining problem."