Posted on Sunday, January 1, 2017
by Paul in x-axis
You’re probably expecting me to tell you that the All-New X-Men Annual is eminently skippable. And I am, but not without some regret.
“Idie Goes On A Date” is a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin story by Sina Grace and Cory Smith. Grace has done things like the slice-of-life memoir Self-Obsessed, which came out through Image in 2015, so he’s an interesting choice for an X-Men annual. What we actually get, as it turns out, is a story where Idie is hanging around at a mall reflecting on how hard it is to escape being an X-Man and just be normal, when she stumbles upon a nice boy and they wind up going on a date. The nice boy, as it turns out, is a mutant who’s suffering from M-Pox, and there’s a passing fight with some generic bigots, and then Idie puts him in touch with Storm and packs him off to X-Haven for treatment. And that’s pretty much the plot. It’s a vehicle for Idie to reflect on how she’d like to live more like a normal teenager, get a taste of it, and reflect on the fact that it’s really not an option.
And this is a stock concept for the X-Men – I wish I was normal, but my fate is otherwise and I must embrace it. That doesn’t make it a bad idea. Quite the opposite, writers keep coming back to the stock concepts for good reason. But it does mean that you need to bring something extra if it’s going to stand out, at least for people like me who’ve seen it many a time before. And there are some nice touches in here. There are points of detail that feel a little bit off the beaten track for an X-Men story, like having them go to a silent movie which neither of them finds especially promising because it’s all that Ronnie can afford the tickets for, and having them enjoy it anyway. Smith’s art gives the characters the sort of natural feel that a story like this needs.
But there are also problems. The dialogue often rings true, but there are lapses where it feels too on the nose, particularly when Idie is spelling out the moral near the end. Ronnie is a bit too uncomplicatedly nice for my tastes; there’s really not much to him as a character. And if you’re going to do a story about Idie wanting to live like a normal American teenager, it feels like her cultural background ought to come into it. After all, she’s not American, and this is not the teenage life she would have had back home. Yes, there’s some stuff in here about her not getting pop culture references, but it feels to me like if you’re going to do this story with Idie, it needs that dimension about what her ideas of a normal life really are. True, the ongoing series has heavily downplayed that side of Idie, but that’s one of the things I don’t like about it. At the same time, though, this story is operating in very similar territory to the main book’s subplot about Idie trying to help Bobby learn to flirt – in that, she’s (unconvincingly) pressed into service as the character who can chill out and party and who can help show Bobby the way. It’s entirely at odds with their roles here.
So it’s a smoothly executed story with some nice points of detail, but it’s also a slight affair.
The back-up, “The Last Of Us, The Last Of X”, is a Dani Moonstar story which presumably wound up here for want of anywhere better to put it. This has a more unusual hook: although Dani never got her mutant powers back, she’s still a Valkyrie and she’s helping to track down M-Pox sufferers using her visions of death. For reasons which aren’t entirely clear, given that she’s been a Valkyrie since the 80s, she’s now suffering constant panic attacks while waiting for the next vision. (The story claims that it’s something to do with M-Pox, but it’s not obvious how that’s meant to work, since her visions were never specific to mutants.)
At any rate, the basic idea is that Dani is still a professional who’s capable of working through her fears, and she tracks down and brings in Lady Mastermind, who is in a bad way and is not coping with her own fear anywhere near as well. There’s an interesting contrast drawn between Dani, who regards herself as putting up a front of competence, and Regan, who really is putting up an illusion of strength and power. It doesn’t exactly stick the landing – it feels like it loses confidence that readers will get the point, and Dani is given a rather heavy handed and purple speech, the general thrust being that we need to accept fear as an inevitable part of life and learn to live with it instead of fighting it. Then, in the epilogue page, Magik gets to spell out the metaphor once again.
It would have been better just to let the story make the point; it was doing just fine without having two separate characters explain the moral. And Lady Mastermind, as somebody who literally presents an illusory face to the world, is a good choice for that sort of story. There’s a decent idea in here; it just needed to have more confidence that it could get the idea across without providing such an obvious crib sheet.