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May 19

X-Men: No More Humans

Posted on Monday, May 19, 2014 by Paul in x-axis

Marvel’s new line of graphic novels is an odd beast.  After all, everything gets collected in trade paperback format anyway.  So what makes a graphic novel different from a trade paperback collection of a four or five issue arc?

At one time, the answer would have been that a graphic novel was liberated from the requirements of monthly serialisation.  Collections of single issues from the 1980s or even 1990s read like collections of single issues, dutifully pausing near around page 3 or 4 of every story to recap the plot for new readers.  But writing for the trade has become so commonplace, and the traditional aspects of serial storytelling have become so unfashionable, that the differences have largely been eroded.

The graphic novel is nonetheless seen as a prestige format, even if that’s more symbolic than due to any actual difference of content.  Hence we have here an outsize hardback by Mike Carey and Salvador Larroca which is nothing if not keen to generate a sense of occasion.

The high concept is pretty much self-explanatory: all the humans in the world suddenly disappear, leaving only the mutants.  The X-Men must sort it all out.  So we have a massive premise straight out of the Silver Age; we have the two X-Men factions teaming up for the first time in ages; we have a rare story that tries to get all of the X-Men involved, even the likes of Triage and Tempus; and just in case you weren’t feeling enough sense of occasion, an alternate reality Phoenix turns up at the end to hit the cosmic reset button.

It’s a story that’s working damned hard to appear important, even though it faces the difficulty of being a firmly in-continuity story (Nightcrawler’s there, young Cyclops isn’t, Magneto’s split from Scott’s team) that can’t actually do very much to advance the stories of individual X-Men.  That’s hardly fatal; God Loves Man Kills had so little plot impact that it was about twenty years before it was even established to be in continuity.  But people were still talking about it as a classic twenty years later because it was a really strong self-contained story that got to the core of what the X-Men were about, particularly in Chris Claremont’s interpretation.

It’s hard to imagine “No More Humans” having that sort of impact.  The idea of what the mutants do when the humans disappear sounds like it ought to be a really solid X-Men premise, and it’s certainly a good strong springboard.  But the story ends up juggling a large cast and dealing with the plot mechanics of putting the world to rights, more than it really gets to grips with the idea of what a human-free world might be like.  There’s a neat development of the premise by suggesting that the largely-vacant Earth will become a refugee camp for mutants from other dimensions, but the story never gets to grips with anyone trying to build a new society in the ashes, or obvious questions such as “what do we do with all those empty cities”, “who’s going to grow the food” and “what are we going to do all day now there’s nothing on television”?  Given that the story was always obviously heading for the cosmic reset button – which is no criticism in itself – I’d rather have seen it chase the “no more humans” premise a little further down the line, instead of spending quite so much time on baddie-hunting.

None of which is to deny that it’s a solid piece of work; Carey knows how to put a story together, Larroca has always been an impressive superhero artist, and his art reads well on this scale.  But it wouldn’t have seemed particularly out of place as five issues of Amazing X-Men.  There’s one page which sticks out as seeing Carey stretch his wings a bit – a montage of Phoenix reading everyone’s minds and the thoughts appearing as stream of consciousness sentence fragments rather than the more conventional thought balloon contents.  For the most part, though, it’s a strong X-Men story but not one that can quite live up to the sense of occasion that it’s trying to generate.

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is the choice of villain – Raze, from the future Brotherhood who were introduced in “Battle of the Atom”.  Oddly, instead of appearing here alongside his cohorts, he’s used as a freestanding villain who suddenly goes up the scale to “massively genocidal” – even if plot necessity precludes him actually being able to wipe out the human race.  If one thing from this story does stick in people’s minds, it’ll be the re-branding of Raze as an A-list villain, something that it sells remarkably well.  His role here could easily have been generic but Carey gets over the idea that this guy isn’t so much anti-human, as psychopathically indifferent to everything and everyone outside his tribe.  He kind of works here, and the X-Men are overdue to refresh the list of A-list villains (something that’s largely absent from the core books).

This would have been – is, in fact – a good five issue arc.  The format may work against it, raising expectations of something more than that; and the book’s attempts to live up to those expectations don’t always help it either.  Did the final act really need a Phoenix?  But leave the format out of consideration and it’s a fun story that offers the rather gentler fan service of simply bringing all the X-Men together to take on a great big baddie.  It’s been surprisingly long since we did that.

Bring on the comments

  1. Leo says:

    Well, honestly it felt like eating a whole cake. Or watching the movie Serenity after the Firefly tv series. It was on a great scale, crossover worthy story that was quite well executed. the story held up, the characters had unique voices and were true to themselves and the action was great.

    Sure there were issues but it seems to me that they only existed because we are more used to decompressed storytelling too much. We never see what hapens in the rest of the world, we don’t see life in the camps too much, but these would belong to spinoffs if it were a crossover or in filler parts of the story if it were part of a 12 issue storyline.

    I would have liked if the Phoenix appeared a little earlier rather than when needed to serve as a deus ex machina but it seems to me she was intended as a plot twist and her contribution to the story made sense because of the setup itself.

    Honestly, i can’t really think of any plotholes in this, certainly nothing that pulled me out of experiencing the story. The art was amazing as well, but that’s harly a surprise from Larocca. The only problem with this OGN is that it is set in the current continuity so it might be harder for someone who isn’t aware of the current status qwo to get completelly immerced with the story. I don’t know how it will read a few years from now, but right now it’s like a flower among the weeds and i would recommend it to everyone who loves a good superhero story

  2. Living Tribunal says:

    Have we become so used to filler and morbid decompression as the default that we complain, instead of rejoice, when the story is laid out on a straight and narrow path? Do we really need to keep seeing our protagonists chatting and drinking coffee for 5 pages before anything of substance is presented for our reading enjoyment?

  3. The original Matt says:

    This sounds enjoyable. Was it available digitally and I didn’t notice? Or is it hard copy only?

  4. Niall says:

    I really enjoyed this book.

    That said, Beast’s attitude makes no sense in the context of New Avengers.

  5. JG says:

    It doesn’t really make sense in the context of this story either.

  6. Leo says:

    “The original Matt says:
    May 20, 2014 at 4:38 AM
    This sounds enjoyable. Was it available digitally and I didn’t notice? Or is it hard copy only?”

    Yes, it’s available on comixology for €21.49 , I don’t know the price on other currencies

  7. JG says:

    If you use Kindle it’s only $17.35 for some reason.

  8. joseph says:

    I found the use of Raze a bit strange, especially reading All New the following week, in which the Brotherhood coming out if hiding and attacking Scott’s group is a major plot point. We’ve also got the ‘mutant homeworld’ angle currently being explored by Remender in UA. Like No More Humans, Remender’s story is about the heroes undoing the world, not really exploring so much the world or its significance. In both stories the setting is rather insignificant to the story (what’s the setting equivalent to a MacGuffen?)

    I did enjoy having Mike Carey back on an x-book. For the first X-Men OGN since God Loves, Man Kills it does come as somewhat of a dissapointment. Carey’s Tommy Tailor OGN was a brilliant example of how to do a self contained story that adds to the larger narrative, though of course without all the confusing plot twists of a line with multiple writers.

  9. M. Carver says:

    I was really disappointed by this and found it to be somewhat of a waste of $20.

    The first problem I had was that it seemed a bit too similar to the current plotline in Uncanny Avengers, where the Earth is destroyed and all the mutants end up raptured to a new world. As Paul wanted to see more of the “world without humans”, I think a story set on Planet X, instead of Earth, would’ve also been more interesting.

    The use of Raze felt really out-of-character (especially with how he’s still being currently used in All-New X-Men as a grunt, not a leader, and its unclear if “No More Humans” occurs before or after the current storyline there). And the use of the Phoenix just felt horribly cliche and far too deus ex machina.

  10. Cory says:

    A little decompression would have done this story some good if for no other reason than to explore what was at stake. A few scenes in the first half of exploring an empty world, musing on what was lost vs. what was gained, some dissent in both camps, some failed attempts to find the humans, etc. would have gone a long way. The Phoenix was a fine inclusion until it was used as a reset button. Something else more ” earned” would have been better suited to such a grand problem. Ultimately left wondering what the point was if the main idea wasn’t explored? I love Carey, but I give it a C+.

  11. Niall says:

    Using the Phoenix would have been fine, if they’d planted some seeds earlier in the book. As it stood, I thought it was a little bit gimmicky. The final act was as much a Phoenix story as anything else.

    As for the idea of Raze as a major character, well it makes more sense if certain rumours about his parents turn out to be true.

    And seriously, the antagonism towards Scott just comes across as ridiculous. Cop on X-characters!

  12. Timothy says:

    What about all the extra-terrestrials? We saw that Broo and Kid Gladiator were “left behind” with the mutants, shouldn’t the earth have a bunch of Skrulls and Alien refugees running around trying to claim territory?

  13. Joseph says:

    And another thing: what’s with Mags having hair again? The whole “Charles is dead so I’m bald now too” is still a part of the character, so it seems a little sloppy.

  14. The original Matt says:

    Raze is the offspring of Wolverine and Mystique, right? That’s what I took away from battle of the atom.

  15. Nu-D. says:

    @Timothy — now that would have been a good story.

  16. Lawrence says:

    I thought it was great. It was basically an old-fashion summer crossover with ONLY the interesting bits.

    Although, it really did make me realize how much I’m over the whole “Schism” dynamic. Can all the X-teams just kiss and make up? Seeing Storm, Cyclops, and Wolverine on the same team again was great. Heck, this was probably the first time Teen Jean acted like “the” Jean Grey.

  17. Niall says:

    Matt – there are other possibilities that have been raised in previews.

  18. Random thoughts:
    Niall’s right; considering some of the choices that Beast has made as a member of the Illuminati, getting on his high horse is kind of annoying. I don’t mind a character being hypocritical, as long as someone acknowledges it at some point.

    BTW–does the book establish what happened to the rest of Earth’s nonhuman population? If Kid Gladiator wasn’t picked up, then I imagine there’s still ragtag groups of Inhumans, aliens, and robots wandering around.

    To be honest, my favorite part of the comic was when Zombie Sale decides Beast’s not the boss of him. It’s a real “we belong dead” kind of moment.

  19. Loren says:

    “[O]r obvious questions such as “what do we do with all those empty cities”, “who’s going to grow the food” and “what are we going to do all day now there’s nothing on television”?”

    Food should be a significant concern, but it’s neither immediate nor very problematic. With most of the world’s population gone, there’s plenty of food sitting on shelves and in warehouses. Enough to cover the time necessary to make more food.

    Pharmaceuticals are a bigger problem, since they’re harder to make, but again there should be an extant supply. I’m guessing the crisis in this story doesn’t last long enough for this to become a problem. The same goes for gasoline and other fuels; hard to continue to produce, but enough to live on temporarily.

    No, the bigger, immediate problems would be with basic, first-world utilities. Who’s left to run the power grid to provide electricity and light? Who’s running the water and sewage plants, so that there’s still clean water to use and drink? And with no phone or cable companies, or even post office, how do they communicate at a distance?

  20. Si says:

    Who’s monitoring the nuclear power plants …

  21. Suzene says:

    The thing I felt was missing from this story was any reaction at all from X-Men who have human families. Iceman’s conflicted relationship with his parents, Northstar’s new husband, Paige’s mother and depowered/non-mutant siblings…those were all opportunities to remind the reader that there are personal stakes involved for the X-Men if all the humans disappear. Leave that out and you have, as said, just a puzzle with a reset button at the end.

  22. zodberg says:

    It’s likely no coincidence that this came out within a week of the Days of Future Past film, featuring nothing but the popular main X-Men characters and showing what their current M.O. is. While it’s always nice to see Carey writing X-Men characters the way I feel they’re supposed to be. The adventure was so painfully self-contained that I feel like it’s wasted on somebody like I, who is already familar with the X-Men.

  23. Joseph says:

    No one else cares about Magneto suddenly having hair again?

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