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Jul 31

Exiles #1-5

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

It’s been a few years since the last run of Exiles, a book which is essentially What If…?‘s parade of alternate Marvel Universes crossed with Quantum Leap‘s uncontrolled dimension-hopping.  Time for another go around, this time with Saladin Ahmed and Javier Rodríguez.

And… does Exiles actually count as an X-book?  The original Exiles series was clearly an X-book, populated mostly by variants of X-Men characters.  Here, we’ve got Blink, a version of Wolverine, and that’s pretty much your lot, X-wise.  There’s still a prominent X in the logo, but I’m minded to treat this as a spin-off that’s gone its own way, like Deadpool.  (We miss you, Deadpool.  Send money.)  But hey, we’re here now.

Traditionally these multiverse stories tend to open with the Watcher on the moon, but he was killed off a few years back.  So now we get the Unseen, the cosmic doomed Nick Fury who’s chained to the spot on the moon.  In a sense, I suppose it makes more sense for Nick Fury to try to intervene to stop cosmic bad stuff, compared to the Watchers who were meant to be culturally dispassionate.  But very few writers have gone near the Unseen since Fury was banished to the moon back in Original Sin, which maybe tells you something.

Admittedly, you wouldn’t expect the Unseen to show up as often as the Watcher did.  The Watcher was forever being wheeled out simply to serve as a shorthand for “what you are reading is important, honest”.  The Unseen doesn’t have that status and doesn’t leave his spot on the moon.  So you can’t use him in that way.  But nobody seems to have found him especially inspiring for any other purpose either.  Frankly, he’s one of those rare bad ideas where I can’t even get a handle on what was meant to be interesting about it.  At best, he feels like an unduly elaborate back door in case the replacement movie-style Nick Fury didn’t take.

So when your story starts off with the Unseen… my heart sinks a little.

But anyway.  The Tallus, the dimension-jumping macguffin from Exiles of yore, is dumped at Unseen’s feet by a time-jumping Nick Fury, who promptly dies.  The Tallus then summons Blink to the Moon, and Unseen gives us the exposition dump: something called the Time Eater is destroying the multiverse, and Blink is particularly well suited to sort it all out, because she’s got the experience of jumping through dimensions, but isn’t as excessively cautious as most people in that camp.  There’s a vague suggestion, I guess, that beneath the surface there’s a hint of the old Nick Fury going for the comparatively reckless solution to the big problem.

From here, we get a couple of issues of gathering the team.  Which seems a bit excessive, considering there’s only five of them – there’s something a bit odd about the pacing here, where the book is packed with detail on a panel to panel level, but at the same time there’s a nagging feeling that not a great deal is really happening in the big picture.  The general idea here is that Blink meets up with her team members and has to flee with them just as the Time-Eater destroys their worlds, but since the Time-Eater is an event more than a character at this stage, this is less dramatic than you might think – we establish pretty early on that it’s potentially going to be possible to bring the worlds back.

First up is a hard-bitten post-apocalyptic version of Ms Marvel, which, yes, is playing against type with her, but kind of feels like the least interesting way you could do so.  Then we have a version of Iron Lad, the younger Kang; this one is more promising, since he’s a naive nerd version of the character whose ambitions have yet to get beyond taking revenge on the school bullies.  He has the armour because he picked it up in a version of the Young Avengers back story, and he’s bright, but he doesn’t have the familiar ego or sense of direction, and he’s obviously going to need some prompting to rise to the occasion.

With issue #2 we add a swashbuckling version of MCU Valkyrie, who plays not too far removed from Hercules.  And then there’s Wolvie, a tiny Wolverine from “Xavier’s Playtime Fun School for Gifted Youngsters”, who is busy recovering pies from Little Magneto.  The idea, naturally, is that this hopelessly naive pre-school version of Wolverine is baffled and horrified by most of what he sees when he gets out of his own odd little world.

And… yeah, I don’t really like Wolvie.  He doesn’t really feel or look to me much like anything from the pre-school genre that’s being referenced; characters this naive are pitched at the level of shows for the very, very young indeed, at the level where they’re barely functioning characters at all.  The Paw Patrol are significantly more worldly than this (really, they are).  And then, once you’ve done the gag, what do you do with him?  You can build to him standing up to the bad guy instead of hiding in a corner, but what then?  It’s a cute idea but the story doesn’t sell me on its longer term potential at all.

Team assembled, the Tallus gets broken at the end of issue #2 and we go on a little diversion through killer dinosaurs, an age-of-aquarius Atlantis, a Peggy Carter Captain America, and the Thing as Blackbeard from 60s Fantastic Four (they help him fight some slavers).  It’s an energetic bounce through different worlds, and the art adjusts to them very well while keeping a consistent tone, with some dense and creative layouts along the way – but at the same time, it feels a lot like busy work to keep the team occupied for two issues, given that Iron Lad figures out the rudiments of the solution in issue #2.  It’s showcasing the premise, I guess, but it feels very bitty too.

All this is leading to the big fight against the Time-Eater, who turns out to be another version of Kang.  This one has decided that ruling the multiverse isn’t enough, and he wants to personally replace the whole thing so that he can be the multiverse.  The big idea is that if they defeat Time-Eater then they can hit the cosmic reset button and restore the various worlds from back-up, but they won’t be able to go home because there’ll be a version of themselves already there.  Hence, Exiles.  That’s a nice enough twist, especially as it seems this version of the team will be based on Earth and have some stable base between adventures – something that was always a problem with the original format in the book’s early days.  The art on issue #5 is the high point of this arc, with some genuinely spectacular madness in the cosmic battle.  Well, except that Khan’s heroic sacrifice almost gets lost in the shuffle.  (On a first reading, I didn’t even realise until after the fight was over that she was meant to be dead.)

There’s a lot going on here – it’s packed with content, and it’s often visually inventive – but at the same time, there’s really not that much to the bigger picture.  And I’d certainly rather have this compared to another generic Marvel title, but it doesn’t connect make me particularly care about what’s going on.  With some regret, I find myself quite admiring Exiles without actually enjoying it all that much.

Bring on the comments

  1. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    My big issue with the Unseen here was that his narration was written as if he was trapped on the Moon for thousands of years. Since it’s only been a few years (if that, given Marvel time), this Nick Fury comes off as… a bit emo?

    Also the whole thing could have had about 3/4 of the words cut out and it still would have read as pretty overstuffed with text. But I find that to be the case with Quicksilver as well, so I guess it’s just how Ahmed writes.

    Oh, and also – he doesn’t have a grasp on Blink. She just reads as a completely different character. The scene where her first point of reference to an atomic bomb is the WWII real history stuff instead of Age of Apocalypse’s prominent use of nukes was especially weird.

  2. Thom H. says:

    How many versions of Kang are there now, anyway? Inventing new Kangs is the thing to do these days, I guess.

  3. Danny Sichel says:

    the whole point of Kang is that there’s always another version

  4. Moo says:

    @Danny

    Multiple versions of Kang didn’t start turning up until Stern introduced the Council of Cross-Time Kangs in 1988– twenty-four years after the character was introduced.

  5. Jerry Ray says:

    How does this multiverse-destroying jibe with the end of Secret Wars? I couldn’t muster enough interest to try to fully puzzle out Hickman’s flowchart-as-story, but didn’t it end with the Fantastic Four repopulating the multiverse with universes, or something?

    I could be completely off base, but as I was reading this, it seemed a little weird to have multiverse-destroying happening in a C-grade maybe-X-title after Hickman spent like 287 issues destroying and recreating it.

  6. Thom H. says:

    Hmm — it looks like Kang was also Rama-tut and the Scarlet Centurion back in the 60s. I had no idea! Thanks for the impetus to do some research, Danny!

  7. Taibak says:

    Thom: And Immortus.

  8. Moo says:

    He was Rama Tut twice in life. Giant-Size Avengers #2 is the best single issue of Avengers ever, by the way. Read it when I was a kid. It’s Busiek’s favourite as well.

  9. Luis Dantas says:

    Circa 1976 or so Steve Englehart once had Kang creating three alternate selves in order to distract three specific Avengers for a minute. That was shortly before revealing that Immortus is an alternate Kang, and years after the reveal that Rama-Tut is one as well.

  10. Si says:

    Wasn’t there just recently an Avengers story where they wiped out Kang entirely? Something about Vision being immortal and stealing baby Kang or something?

  11. mark coale says:

    There are so many alternate versions of characters running around these days, you hardly need a Marvel version of Sliders anymore.

    I used to love them as a kid. Now, like everything else, it mainly seems overdone and watered down.

  12. Col_Fury says:

    Ah, Nick Fury…

    Nick Fury was the character that made me realize that all the Marvel characters existed in the same universe, because this guy with an eyepatch kept appearing in various books. Then I found out he was around in WWII, and I liked Captain America already, so I got into the idea that these two guys started out in the same place but one slept through all the intervening years and the other lived through it, and now they’re in different places attitude-wise. ALSO, Fury’s just this regular guy hanging out with all the super heroes, knew stuff he wasn’t supposed to know (Thor’s really Don Blake, Spider-Man’s really Peter Parker, etc.) and he’s The Boss. I always liked that.

    When Ultimate Nick Fury came around all the WWII stuff was jettisoned, but that was OK with me because he was still The Boss, you know?

    I just can’t seem to get into Nick Fury Jr. because he doesn’t have the history Fury Sr. does, he doesn’t know all the secrets and he’s not The Boss. He’s basically just another SHIELD agent who happens to look like Ultimate Nick Fury. His recent book by Robinson and Aco was pretty neat-o, though. Basically a six-issue long love letter to Steranko. 🙂

    I liked that status quo they had for a bit there, where Fury Sr. was behind the scenes and Fury Jr. was doing the running around, but hey. Nothing lasts forever, right?

    Fury as the Unseen just makes me… bleh. He’s just a goon on the moon now. I’ll check out Exiles to see what they do with him, but I’m not getting my hopes up. It sounds like he’s a lot chattier here than he’s been in his handful of appearances elsewhere, so that’s a little odd.

  13. Omar Karindu says:

    Multiple versions of Kang didn’t start turning up until Stern introduced the Council of Cross-Time Kangs in 1988– twenty-four years after the character was introduced.

    That wasn’t Roger Stern — he’d been fired from the Avengers title by then.

    It was Walt Simonson.

  14. Dave Phelps says:

    Omar, the Cross-Time Kangs first showed up in Avengers #267, by Stern. IIRC, Stern wiped that group out in #269, but then Walt Simonson introduced his own version during his run.

  15. Moo says:

    @Dave Phelps

    Right, that’s the story I was thinking of. Thanks for the clarification. I mistakenly referenced Simonson’s cross-time iteration of the idea who weren’t even actual versions of Kang I don’t think.

  16. Omar Karindu says:

    I suppose I gave Stern a pass for quickly killing off the two other Kangs int hats tory and then consolidating Kang into one guy again. That one was basically a “Doombot” story that seemed like it was meant to write out some of Kang’s goofier appearances over the years and bring back a usable version of the character.

    I suppose someone will do the same thing with Apocalypse down the line, given how diminished he was by the time Remender started bringing in various heirs of Apocalypse…two of whom were tied into Kang as well, bringing this all full circle.

    It occurs to me that both Kang and Apocalypse have spent a long time gone: Kang didn’t appear for almost nine years after Engelhart killed him off, turning up again in the 1984 Secret Wars mini.

    The original-model Apocalypse has stayed pretty dead since he was killed off-panel for Remender’s stories, and his last actual appearance was, what, back in Milligan’s run something like twelve years ago.

  17. Brian says:

    We need an Exiles team consisting of Kang, Immortus, Scarlet Cenrurian, Rama-Tut, Iron Lad, and Victor Timely. Maybe for an Annual…

  18. Kelvin Green says:

    Busiek had a jolly good try at sorting out the Kang mess — Kang may also be both Doctor Doom and Nathaniel Richards, or maybe not — in Avengers Forever.

  19. yrzhe says:

    I’ve figured the idea behind the Unseen is, like Parallax in the ’90s, that saddling a character with an unworkable, difficult-to-untangle status quo is a more definitive way of shuffling them out of the way than killing them off, because everybody in comics always comes back from the dead. Especially Nick Fury, since he’s been doing “naw, that was a LMD of me that got killed” fakeouts since the Lee/Kirby issues.

  20. Col_Fury says:

    Yeah, those grey-at-the-temples guys have all the worst luck.

    But hey! Hal eventually came back, so there’s still hope for old Nick (probably when Sam Jackson’s contract runs out).

  21. Brian says:

    Fury’s sitting up on the Moon wondering why Feige couldn’t have hired George Clooney…

  22. Omar Karindu says:

    As with so many things, this is all Mark Millar’s fault.

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