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Nov 9

Fantomex Max #1-2

Posted on Saturday, November 9, 2013 by Paul in x-axis

Fantomex Max is a four-issue miniseries, so normally I would wait for the end of the run before reviewing it.  But I won’t be buying the other two issues, so we might as well cover it now.

Hmm.  I’ve kind of spoiled the ending, haven’t I?

In theory, Fantomex Max isn’t a bad idea.  Wolverine Max has turned out alright – and yes, I’ll get around to reviewing vol 2 at some point, honestly.  But basically, that book has correctly identified the opportunities offered by an out-of-continuity, adults-only take on Wolverine.  You can jettison all the convoluted continuity, get to the core of what makes the character work, and avoid having to tiptoe around things that have a place in a comic about a violent man with knives prone to short bursts of shocking violence.

Andrew Hope’s take on Fantomex starts off with the right idea.  Detach him from the complications of the X-books and even his back story with the World, and just make him a loveable-yet-punchable master thief who runs rings around the authorities.  In other words, make him more like Fantomas, the character Grant Morrison was referencing in the first place.  Fantomex isn’t a particularly violent character – if he has to resort to extreme violence, something’s gone horribly wrong with his plans.  But he is an inveterate womaniser, so I can see the logic behind playing his Max title as some sort of high camp action comic slash sex comedy.

I wouldn’t mind reading that comic.  It could be fun.  I suspect Andrew Hope thinks he’s already written it.  Artist Shawn Crystal and colourist Lee Loughridge certainly deliver work that suggests they’re going for that sort of archly-amused tone, with pronounced dot colouring that screams “self-conscious pop art reference”.  But fine – their art, on the script that Hope seems to have been aiming for, would have been a good match.

So where does it all go so horribly wrong?

The first issue opens by setting up the love-hate relationship between Fantomex and Rhona Flemyng (yes, with a Y), the long-suffering, loyal government agent whose job is to track him down.  Fantomex outwits her on yet another heist and makes his usual getaway.  Flemyng’s bosses finally lose patience with her and bring in a new elite team of agents – Stuart Stirling, Alexandra Macready and Richard Gaunt, collectively known (for some reason) as Grover Lane.  Flemyng is busted down to being their sidekick.  Learning of this, Fantomex takes pity on her and sends her a message offering her a date.  She hands it right over to Grover Lane, who promptly turn out to be rogue agents who kill everyone in sight  and set out on their own little mission, using Flemying as a hostage to lure Fantomex in.  Oh, and somewhere along there, Macready turns out to be an aggressive lesbian who makes heavy-handed advances on Flemyng.  Because that’s what happens in Max books.  There’s also some gratuitously graphic violence, for no very obvious reason.

This isn’t a desperately great issue, but at least it’s got a story, it’s got nice art, and it’s got a voice.  It’s not funny, and it sure thinks it’s being funny at some points, but there you go.

Issue #2 sees Fantomex setting out to retrieve the macguffin that drives the plot – the master key for a massively powerful weapon, which is what Grover Lane are trying to seize control of.  This involves him going deep underwater to try and recover the key from a citadel in the Marianas Trench which is decorated with brightly coloured cartoon fish.  That side of the plot goes much as you would expect.  Meanwhile, Grover Lane explain the plot to Flemyng, and try to torture a minor character to learn how to operate the massively powerful weapon.  Flemyng, being the hero, stops that, at which point they turn her over to Macready, who rapes her.

No, seriously.  That happens.

By this point, I’m left with the clear impression that Hope has no clue what he’s doing here.  The most charitable interpretation you can put on this scene is an utter lack of understanding of tone.  There are more than a few writers out there who are overly willing to resort to rape as a plot point, because it’s a very cheap and obvious way of getting heat on a villain (which is a bad reason) and because murder is too much of a genre convention to generate a visceral response from readers (a slightly better reason, but still requiring extremely careful handling).  But when Mark Millar does something like this, at least it feels of a piece with the rest of the story – if only because of an all-pervading misanthropic nihilism.  Hope has written a story that’s basically a fluffy action comedy with some incongruous moments of violence and swearing, and then casually chucks in a lesbian rape as if that were a perfectly normal cliffhanger for such a story.  Perhaps he was going for a grinding gear change to wrong foot the readers and undercut the established tone, but there’s really nothing on the page to suggest that, since he set up Macready as a predatory homosexual in the previous issue, and the story then returns to Fantomex fighting a giant squid for a couple of pages.

This is offensively bad, in every possible sense of those words.  It’s offensive because the story sure gives the impression that the writer and editor (Jordan White, if you’re wondering) think lesbian rape has a place in a fluffy action comedy – which makes them look like misogynists and homophobes.  Now, in this context, it’s only fair to note that shortly after the first issue came out, Hope did say on Twitter that “The rampant sexism and misogyny readers are seeing in Fantomex MAX is a character-driven plot point, don’t fret.”  You can certainly read much of Fantomex (and EVA’s) dialogue in that way, but I don’t really see how it can apply here.

Even if you ignore the dimension of offence entirely, it still doesn’t work, because it’s so wildly out of tone with the rest of the story.  It’s glaringly, embarrassingly, excruciatingly out of place in a comic that otherwise sets itself up as a rollercoaster romp.  Not that it’s actually funny, mind – it’s pretty unamusing – but it does at least establish a very clear tone for itself.  Which it then gets horrendously wrong. 

This is the Max imprint at its worst – comics that start with the R-rating and work back from there, resulting in “controversial” material that doesn’t serve a story, doesn’t serve anything beyond justifying the R-rating (which, by the way, doesn’t even do anything to drive sales).  Whether Young was aiming for this reaction or has simply horrendously misjudged his execution, I’m emphatically clear about one thing: wild horses wouldn’t get me to read the rest of this series.


Bring on the comments

  1. Paul F says:

    Is the Deadpool MAX series worth reading? I’ve liked Lapham and Baker’s stuff in the past.

  2. quizlacey says:

    Deadpool MAX is a pretty crazy ride. Not all of the issues work, but overall I think it’s worth a read.

  3. Tim O'Neil says:

    DEADPOOL MAX is the fire that burns in the heart of the world.

  4. ZZZ says:

    I honestly don’t think Macready did rape Flemyng. She certainly tried, and we’re probably supposed to think she did, but the scene ends with Macready pinning Flemyng to the floor while Flemyng reaches for something off panel, then cuts to a scream echoing down a hallway. I’ll be very surprised if the next issue doesn’t reveal that Flemyng stabbed Macready with something before she could actually accomplish her intention.

    I’m not saying that makes it a good idea for inclusion in a comic book or that anyone should give the book a pass on its tastelessness because it was “only” attempted rape, but I will speculate that in Hope’s mind that puts it the same ballpark as a Bluto/Olive Oyl or Pepe LePew/black-cat-with-a-white-stripe-on-its-back scene (or at least the adults-only version of one) as far as qualifying as acceptable content for a comedy. Like Benny Hill with violence (and lesbians instead of old men).

    (To be clear: I’m not saying it’s okay, just speculating as to the “what were they thinking?” aspect of the scene.)

  5. Joseph says:

    Yea, I won’t be reading the final two issues, either. The bottom of the Marianas Trench didn’t strike me as very original, either.

    I did, however, enjoy “Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe” far more than I was expecting too. But I think I was surprised to encounter a contemporary NY I actually recognized, superficial and wreaking of NY Times “Brooklyn” coverage that it is. Anyone else?

  6. Hellsau says:

    “Like Benny Hill with violence (and lesbians instead of old men).”

    Wait, is THAT what Benny Hill was about?

  7. Zoomy says:

    At first glance, I read the title of this post as “Fantastic Max”, as in the cartoon about a space baby. I hope nobody bought the comic expecting something completely different…

  8. Don_Wok says:

    Wow glad I decided to drop it after the first issue. Has there been a max title worth reading that wasn’t a: starring the punisher or b: written by Garth ennis?

  9. joseph says:

    Son, I think the Hood by BKV must be one of the best Max titles.

  10. Nick MB says:

    I did like Alias.

  11. Paul says:

    The Max imprint has a reasonable strike rate of good comics – Alias, Hood, Punisher Max, Wolverine Max.

  12. Si says:

    Joseph: I bought Longshot with a bit of a groan, because I knew full well I was buying it purely out of nostalgia. It was the Marvel Universe banner that did it. But yeah, it’s actually really good! And not at all nostalgia-porn. It’s its own, standalone thing.

    I didn’t read any of X-Factor.

  13. Wire says:

    “Has there been a max title worth reading that wasn’t a: starring the punisher or b: written by Garth Ennis?”

    Wisdom was pretty great. There was hardly any reason for it to be a Max title – excise a few bits of bad language and some off-panel oral sex and there’d be nothing R-rated about it. It ended up leading to the equally great Captain Britain and MI-13 series, which was not a Max title.

  14. Don_Wok says:

    @joseph Ah yes the Hood was rather good

  15. Max says:

    Apache Skies was a good MAX title. Being a western it flew under a lot of people’s radars.

  16. G-Funk says:

    I was not at all impressed bu the first issue, and the second issue was truly dreadful, for the reasons Paul outlines above.

    Did want to add my voice to those who enjoyed Longshot (particularly the nods to creators and the Tony/Reed stuff) – with both that and Kurt’s return in Amazing #1, it was nice to have some actual fun back in the X-Books.

  17. joseph says:

    Si, totally nailed an aspect of the character that could be further explored. Such a simple lynch pin (good luck must serve pure intentions) but so effective. Looking forward to the rest. Might even read Dr McNinja.

    I’d forgotten Wisdom was a Max title.

  18. Zeta says:

    There was no “lesbian rape” in Fantomex #2. The scream will turn out to be Macready’s scream, not Flemyng’s.

  19. caleb says:

    Aw, that’s unfortunate. I liked the idea of being able to read a Fantomex comic without having to also read an X-Men comic…

    Whether there’s actual rape or a thwarted attempted rape, I think all of the points in the review still stand.

    I really like the image of the last sentence; I picture horses running around with copies of Fantomex Max #3 clenched between their teeth…

  20. Tom Healey says:

    That sounds awful, is this the first X-Book you’ve dropped Paul?

  21. Paul says:

    Well, I stopped reading Ultimate X-Men after Ultimatum, but I don’t really count that as an X-book. Not sure this really counts either, mind you.

  22. Jon Dubya says:

    Is the MAX in the title shorthand for “Cinemax”? Geez! Who’d have though that the recent Uncanny X-Force romance would have competition for worst Fantomex storyline.

    Assuming that the plot description is accurate, there are three big problems that immediately stand out.

    1) This brings back painful memories of “Spider-Man: The Evil that Men Do” which also signals a rather abrupt and painful tonal shift via rape. Not a good sign.

    2) For a story that’s suppose to star and focus on Fantomex and make him the big draw, this one…kinda doesn’t. Which makes the possible rape seem even more gratuitous.

    3) This books seems unnecessary. The “ideal” Fantomex story Paul mentioned was already being done in “Gambit” (Irony!) And his “smutty capers” were already being told in Uncanny X-Force (admittedly rather poorly, but still…)

  23. Tom Healey says:

    Oh yeah Ultimate X-Men, every once in a while I remember it exists ànd it feels like I’ve just seen a Blockbuster.

  24. Andrew Bee says:

    Just because I have a head full of weird shit…
    Back in the 60s, ITC produced and action/adventure show called The Champions. Cast included Stuart Damon as Craig Stirling, Alexandra Bastedo as Sharon Macready and William Gaunt as Richard Barrett.
    I guess I’m not the only the only one with a fondness for those old shows judging from the names of those Grover Lane characters 🙂

  25. Andrew Bee says:

    Not the first time this has happened by the way, Jason Wyngarde (marvel’s Mastermind) gets his name from the character Jason King (same production house, starred in Department S and Jason King) and the actor who played him: Peter Wyngarde ! John Byrne’s depiction of Jason during the X-Men’s Dark Phoenix Saga was referenced from the actual perfomer too 🙂

  26. reality bites says:

    Here’s the problem with you dismissing the entire series because of one scene: You’ve completely missed the point of the entire book. In fact… EVERY review I’ve read has missed the point. This isn’t 1968… The modern reader is too far removed from the Holocaust to truly understand what real evil is. In Uncanny Avengers The Red Skull insinuates he’s going to rape the Scarlett Witch… in fact he probably DOES rape the Scarlett Witch. Only it happens “off-camera”… which makes sense in the PG non-Max marvel world.

    The entire crux of Infinity rests on Thanos’ “off-camera” rape of an Inhuman woman. But this time the entire plot falls apart… In the case of the Red Skull… of course he rapes the Scarlett Witch… he’s by far the most evil villain down to his core on earth. To him it’s a casual thing he does in passing. And he lets her live because he still needs her.

    Thanos is just as easily the most evil being in the whole Marvel universe. And there is absolutely no chance he would’ve let the woman live. So that story is implausible.

    Which brings us back to this one…

    This team of villains (formally heroes if you had bothered to read the next issue) have been corrupted and are evil. Not the genocidal evil of the Red Skull… or the inter-galactic omnipotent evil of Thanos. Just regular old, common, earth evil. If gaunt ripping people apart didn’t bother you… then it should’ve. If MacCready raping Flynn bothered you… then it was supposed to.

    Because that’s exactly what would happen with a similar group of villains in real life. It’s supposed to be disturbing. It’s supposed to jar you out of the popcorn comic mode that you’re used to. This isn’t Shocker and Electro putting a little scare into somebody… these are REALLY bad people who torture, rape, and slaughter… not to get what they want (they could get that without doing any of the above), but simply because they enjoy doing it.

    They are completely twisted. And before you get stuck in the fun and games of it all, you should probably know that what their leader does in the very next issue… is right up there with the Red Skull’s former boss…

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