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Nov 19

Multiple Man

Posted on Monday, November 19, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Matthew Rosenberg and Andy MacDonald’s Multiple Man miniseries sounds like a bit of a sideshow.  It’s Madrox, after all, a character who’s only ever been important in the context of X-Factor, which was cancelled years ago.  But Rosenberg is also writing Astonishing X-Men, and the new Uncanny X-Men, in which Madrox turns out to have a big role.  So maybe this will turn out to be a bigger deal than you’d think.

Plus, Rosenberg’s recent New Mutants series didn’t convince me on the first read through, but turned out to be much more interesting on a re-read.  And – cards on the table – I really didn’t care for this at all on the first read.  It’s a time travel paradox story with a whole bunch of Madroxes going round in circles, some of whom have gone on to become versions of other Marvel characters.  And it seemed to have remarkably little interest in Madrox himself, except inasmuch as his powers lent themselves to making the plot even harder to follow.  It was a grind, frankly.

So, sitting down to review it, I wondered if it would play better on a second reading.  And, well, it’s easier to follow when you have the whole thing fresh in your mind.  There’s that.  But it’s not good.

This isn’t the fault of the art, which is fine.  It has a ton of crowd scenes and identikit characters to deal with, and does about as well as you could expect in terms of keeping the characters distinct yet identical through (mostly) costume design.  The Madrox-as-other-heroes gimmick doesn’t do a great deal for me, but visually it’s rendered pretty well.  An older Layla Miller works; the joke of Forge surviving into the future as a floating head attached to a cyborg body isn’t funny, but visually it’s sold well.

The story is just a headache, though.  It’s the sort of book which has dialogue like “I just want to send some dupes into the future, farther into the future, to create versions of themselves to go into the past, not this past but the real past, and save me so I can come forward to this past and create those future dupes… in a little bit.”  And yes, of course, the joke is that the plot is circuitous and hard to follow, but that gag wears thing quickly, and there’s five issues of this.

So let’s bit the bullet and attempt to explain the plot.  To be honest, I’ve read it twice now and either it doesn’t make sense, or I still don’t understand it – but let’s try.

Jamie Madrox was meant to have been killed by the Terrigen Mists, but a surviving dupe, in poor health, turns up in an air-sealed lab.  He needs Beast to whip up a cure that’ll stabilise him.  But before Beast actually does that, Madrox steals a time travel device from Bishop and vanishes – and then two future Madroxes show up, one trying to make sure Beast creates the cure, the other trying to stop him.  The latter is our protagonist; the former, as far as as I can figure out, is just there to complicate the plot further.  Then a bunch more Madroxes show up, all of whom look like other Marvel heroes, and whisk Protagonist Madrox 15 years into the future, where it turns out that the surviving Madrox – cured by Beast – has spawned an army of dupes and taken over the world.

Except… hold on, the original dupe travelled into the future for no discernible reason (other than to get him out of the way) before Beast actually cured him, and I don’t really understand how any of that works.

So Protagonist Madrox and the Hero Madroxes hook up with the resistance, which has an idea that since each dupe represents a different side of Madrox’s personality, they should try to recruit the nice dupes.  They already have the dupes who will eventually become the Hero Madroxes and travel back in time… except, hold on, the plot seems to be that the Hero Madroxes brought Protagonist Madrox to this time so that he would make the dupes who become the Hero Madroxes… and they’re already there.  Which is especially odd since there’s no particular reason for them to already be there.  Nothing else in the plot requires it.  It’s just glitchy.

Protagonist Madrox does indeed send those dupes on their way through time on a wild goose chase which will eventually lead to them becoming the Hero Madroxes, and then gets captured by the authorities, and confronted by the Emperor Madrox.  Emperor Madrox kills him, which is admittedly a bravura twist that you can only get away with in this sort of story.  But a little bit later Emperor Madrox figures out that he is Protagonist Madrox – or was – and suddenly seems to regret what he’s become.  So he travels back in time to issue #1 to stop Beast making that cure, which is where Protagonist Madrox came in.

Once again, the Hero Madroxes show up, but this time they don’t feed straight into the same time loop because apparently time travel doesn’t work that way.  (Why?  It’s not the second time they’ve done this.  It’s the same time, viewed from a different perspective.)  This somewhat randomly leads to a big fight against the future Madrox army, now led by the Emperor’s former aide, who is also a Madrox.  Since the survival of all dupes is apparently tied to the survival of the Prime Madrox, Protagonist Madrox uses Beast’s cure to make himself the Prime Madrox and then commits suicide so that all the other dupes instantly die.

Except… hold on, wasn’t the whole plot of this series triggered by the survival of a dupe who wasn’t killed by… and a stray dupe shows up at the end anyway, presumably to go on and appear in Uncanny X-Men… and… oh, I give up.


The fact that a plot doesn’t make sense isn’t necessarily a disaster, especially in a lunatic time travel story.  You can get away with it, if the plot isn’t really the important bit.  The trouble here is that the plot is the important bit.  It’s not a backdrop to some other through-line that holds it all together.  Boiled down to essentials, the story here is that a surviving Madrox duplicate spawns an entire fascist dictatorship, then decides it was a mistake, and kills himself to put an end to it all.  There’s no great character moment that explains either of those turns.  This reads simply as a story which is terribly pleased with its Heath Robinson plot and thinks you will be too.

I’ve generally enjoyed Rosenberg’s stories for the X-books so far, but this is just confusing and pointless.

Bring on the comments

  1. Mikey says:

    I wanted to like this more than I did – the art is great! – but mostly I found it hard to follow.

    I have a big dumb question: Is “our” Jamie Madrox still dead from the Terrigen Mist? I couldn’t tell if any of these dupes were supposed to be the character I spent years reading in X-Factor? Where is Layla?

    It’s probably my biggest problem with what’s more of a feature than a bug in Marvel’s X-books: I can’t seem to care about the *multiple* versions of alt-universe or future/past characters they are constantly throwing at us. I’m SO HAPPY that the Original Five X-Teens are finally going away.

    I mean, I know that Multiple Man’s entire gimmick is that he can multiply, but I need an anchor to all the craziness.

  2. Col_Fury says:

    The surviving Madrox in #5 looks (to me) to replace “our” Madrox. He gets Beast’s serum that will make him the new Prime Madrox, and mentions that he’s going to find Layla Miller (so that he’s aware of what “our” Madrox has been up to, in theory, to explain how he can/will know about things if any other writer ever uses him… I would imagine). So yeah, he’s still dead from the Terrigen Mists but we effectively get him back, if not technically.

    I agree that this was too complex/complicated for its own good, but there were some bits that I liked.

    The Madrox that was locked away was locked away because he had Jamie’s fascist personality. Prime Madrox didn’t like that, so he duped that part out of himself and locked him away. Of course, that’s the Madrox that survived the Terrigen Mists *because* he was locked away. Then, this Madrox eventually takes over the world in 15 years… but then kill his future self and decides that fascism has no good end (for him personally) and tries to go back in time to stop himself from surviving in the first place; when this doesn’t work he ends up killing his “present” self which ends up killing everyone. Fascism has no good end (for everyone as well as himself), fascist Jamie finally realizes. However, the plot’s a little too complicated for that to come through clearly.

    Another happy bit for me was the “hero” dupes were sent to various possible futures (Old Man Logan world where the dupe becomes a Hulk, 2099 world where the dupe becomes a Deadpool, etc.) and of course they all die because they become something besides Madrox. The dupe that survives goes to the Marvel Illustrated Swimsuit Special world where everyone’s on the beach playing volleyball and getting drunk. He just takes a vacation and finds himself. Madrox survives by being Madrox. 🙂

    But yeah, I think the plot got tripped up a bit by its own complexity. Did just-woken-up Madrox travel to the future to find out if he survives? Is that why he did it in the first place? I’m still a little confused by that.

  3. Joseph S. says:

    This was silly, and, at times,enjoyable. I wanted to like it. But in general I have to agree. The purpose of the series seemed to be simply to get Madrox back in play. His death was obviously never going to stick, and destroyed the earned ending PAD gave him and Layla. This over-complicated time-travel plot had nothing to do with getting Madrox on the board again, though it may still have some pay off for UXM. But like New Mutants, it’s bad form to leave us waiting for something that will appear somewhere, sometime, who knows where or when.

    These kinds of wacky plots can work when they are intentionally nonsensical. Like Shatterstar and Longshot’s long hinted at relationship. This story is just a pile of nonsense.

    I don’t know if Lemire is to blame or Marts or what, but they went out of their way in Death of X to decalre Madrox dead. Past resurrections have already convuluted the chatacter enough, but honestly, the idea of a Madrox Prime makes no sense. He splits in two. They’re the same. PAD got some mileage out of different character traits and divergent aspects of Madrox’s personality, and Rosenberg plays it for laughs here, but it destroys the character, particularly when the Madrox we knew and love is apparently erased. Why destroy his relationship with Layla? Just leave them alone and let another dupe come in and fill whatever role they need Madrox for in UXM.

  4. Luis Dantas says:

    I get the feeling that it is no coincidence that this plot description reminds me so much of that recent New Mutants limited series by the same writer.

    I haven’t really heard of Rosenberg before, but it is becoming apparent that at this point he likes convoluted plots of complex inner conflict and sudden allegiance shifts.

    A situation that, it would seem,develops fairly naturally into whole storylines that stop without much warning at cliffhangers. Rosenberg does not seem to particularly picture resolutions as such in his typical plots of this time. Which may well be an ideal perspective for a X-books writer, come to think of it. It is not like editorial wants the plots to actually resolve any decade soon, after all.

    If we are bound to have constant whiplash from presumably meaningul developments that are nonetheless reversed almost as an afterthought whenever some other proposal remembers that those characters exist, we might as well run with it and make that roller coaster a feature of the editorial line as opposed to a shortcoming.

    I still would rather have, say, Madrox have his happiness with Layla, or Hope Summers’ announcement that Cable is due for retirement actually mean something. But apparently that is not to be except as headcanon which can only be preserved if I avoid reading much of current and future stories. I personally think that it discourages readers to stick around for more than a few years, but I guess that no one is paying me to conceive a long term editorial vision.

    Instead, in the foreseeable future continuity for the X-Books (or Marvel more generally) is apparently shaped as a shell ranging to about five to ten years into the past and the future. The further apart from the present we go, the more fuzzy the actual details become, and the more likely to be quietly ignored, misrepresented and reshaped they are.

    Or perhaps not too quietly. This very site has after all recently reviewed a series that, as I understand it, has as its reason for being declaring how exactly the continuity of past decades was retconned into something that resembles the actual published stories while explicitly departing from it.

    I increasingly feel that if continuity is to remain a thing in Marvel (and in DC), both publishers would do well to consider establishing clearer boundaries to its range and clean the slate every ten years or so. Failure to do so will only succeed in forcing readers to emotionally disconnect from the increasingly obvious and distractive patches and open contradictions. And there is only so much willingness to pay actual money to follow the developing, ever-renewing saga of the Continuity Battle Royale. Characters and Plots ought to be more central to the appeal.

  5. Paul says:

    I think it’s probably right that Emperor Madrox starts the series locked away because Original Madrox knew he was evil, but that still leaves all sorts of problems. Aside from the whole question of how he survived the death of Original Madrox (the impossibility of which is the central plot device of the finale), there’s still no adequate explanation of how any version of the core Madrox personality gets there, or why such a character would suddenly switch back. Peter David did some good stories with the idea that Madrox’s basic personality would develop over the years in different ways so that the dupes’ experiences would make them different people over time. But this story pretty much reduces Madrox to a blank slate that does whatever the plot requires – at best, the idea is that if you generate enough dupes then you’ll eventually get a global dictator on the infinite monkeys principle – and that’s profoundly uninteresting on a character level.

  6. Col_Fury says:

    Re: Paul
    OR, At best, if you generate enough dupes then you’ll eventually get a good/evil neutral character. “Swimsuit Illustrated” world Madrox didn’t go through everything Emperor Madrox did and he ended up saying “Hey, I’m going to look up Layla, she sounds interesting.” Whereas Emperor Madrox’s lieutenant was full-on fascist, who also didn’t live thru everything Swimsuit Illustrated Madrox didn’t. But he’s a dupe of a dupe, so maybe he isn’t fully “there” (the Michael Keaton “Multiplicity” theory).

    Yes, Madrox is basically reduced to pre-Peter David staus quo here, but with the caveat that he’s going to learn about the Peter David status quo and *maybe* decide “that’s the way to go.” Maybe. (yes, that’s a glass-half-full way of looking at things, I know)

    Re: Luis Dantas
    eh. Have you read Rosenberg’s PUNISHER? That left things on a pretty definitive basis. Or his SECRET WARRIORS? Same thing. Neither of which tackled “convoluted plots of complex inner conflict and sudden allegiance shifts.” (having said that, both of these (Punisher & Secret Warriors) involve flashbacks and irregular *timeflow,* but only MULTIPLE MAN involves time-travel)

  7. Mo Walker says:

    I read each issue of this mini multiple times , just to make sure I did not miss something.

    IMO, if felt as if Rosenberg was doing some sort of commentary on X-Men time travel/dystopian futures in addition to putting Madrox back in play. This mini-series certainly made me laugh but was not memorable. I do not have a problem with a comic/series asking me to dig deep in order to understand the plot, but the pay-off has to worth it.

    Also, I would love to see Andy MacDonald doing some additional work in the X-Office. He seems to be well suited for comedic comics.

  8. sagatwarrior says:

    I somewhat enjoyed this miniseries, although it got very headscratchingly complicated, as it seemed even the writer couldn’t keep up with the various Madroxes running around. Madrox is a somewhat likable character, whose X-Factor Investigations series ran quite a couple years, defining multiple X-characters that had been withering on the vine for years. I’m glad they reverse his death from “Death of X” , which came across as being cheap, considering he had already “died” many decades ago.

  9. Col_Fury says:

    That’s a good point about a duplicate surviving the original’s death. How did bunker-Jamie survive?

    MAYBE, bunker-Jamie was the original (!?). [theory] He duped out all of the good personality traits and was left with the bad ones, so he locked himself away in a bunker. All the dupes were killed by the Terrigen Mists but the original survived. [/theory]

    So why did Swimsuit Illustrated Jamie survive? He was a dupe, wasn’t he? MAYBE… [theory] When Madrox made his six dupes he disguised himself as one of them and told another one to act like him. Then, still-original Madrox takes a vacation in Swimsuit world. [/theory]

    So wait. How could Emperor Madrox kill his near-future self and not die? Well, that wasn’t a duplicate, but rather a divergent time traveler, that’s why. 🙂

  10. Si says:

    Madrox would seem to be technically immortal at this point, between dupes sometimes surviving, time travel and interdimensional travel, there will always be a new one to start it all over again. Even more than all the other superheroes, I mean.

    So I envisage a world where something goes wrong and Madrox can’t reabsorb his dupes, and makes new ones with every jostle, and every dupe can make dupes. The growth is exponential, and even though efforts are made to eradicate him, he just keeps regrowing. Soon there’s more Madroxes than all other humans combined. The world’s food supply is exhausted. Cannibalism is the only answer. Of course Madrox would rather eat another person rather than himself. Soon, there’s only Madroxes. A seething planet of Madroxes living on other Madroxes. They’ll all eventually die of old age, but by then they will have filled the oceans and valleys with mountains of dead Madrox.


  11. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Well, if we consider Peter David’s X-Factor as character-defining (and we really must, even if some parts of it are ignored), then consider Messiah Complex.

    Madrox creates two dupes to send into two possible futures to scout them out and gather information. At the point of creation both are visibly dupes with just some facets of Jaime’s personality. One being the “I do what must needs be done” dupe (who goes into a bad future and much later comes back as the villain Cortex). And the other, the “I’m just a guy with a job to do”, no-nonsense dupe who goes to what turns out to be Bishop’s future.

    Except Layla hitches a ride with the second dupe and when they disappear, Madrox Prime falls into a coma. And while it’s never said out loud, the very clear indication is that who accompanies Layla in the future is not the dupe anymore, but Madrox Prime. Firstly, he doesn’t act like the dupe did at the time of creation. Secondly, X-Factor’s letterer made sure to give each dupe a very slightly different font – which can be seen when the dupes are created. But in the future, Jaime has his regular font.

    Thirdly there’s the M-tattoo stuff, though that’s maybe not as clearly related to personality and just general ‘Madrox, how does he work’ stuff.

    In short, while it wasn’t laid out in the dialogues, in Peter David’s run Madrox could switch his personality between the dupes. As far as I know it only happens this one time, but it definitely did.

    And since in David’s run a dying dupe’s memories and experiences transferred to the Prime, that makes Madrox super-immortal. For retcon purposes, not only can he switch the Prime personality to another dupe (eg. to save himself from danger), but even if he dies, the Prime personality would (could? should?) transfer automatically to another dupe.

    As long as there is another dupe, which, sure, Death of X went to great pains to say ‘no, there isn’t, that’s all there is, this is Jaime Prime’. Which was in itself stupid, awkward and… well, stupid again, considering that the Muir Island facility has been in ruins for years and Jaime has not worked there for years even before it was wrecked.

    For retcon purposes, there is always another dupe.

    And yeah, the best way to bring Madrox back would still be to reveal that he’s still on the farm with Layla and the probably already born kid and everything else was dupes. Dupes all the way down.

  12. Michael says:

    As glad as I am that Madrox isn’t dead, after the frankly awful and unworthy way they killed him in Death of X… I also feel as though this series wasn’t the way. Or to quote Hawkeye, “Not like this. Not like this!”

    I mean, did we really need 5 issues of time travel hijinks which involved weird Madrox mash-ups with other characters, and whose ending punchline was literally thousands of dead Madrox bodies on the X-lawn? I’d say… no. Especially not when this still ends in a reset which pushes Madrox back to before he met Layla–basically wiping out all of Peter David’s development (and not incidentally wiping out everything that made the character -interesting- and -popular- over the past few decades…)

    What’s worse is that all of this set things up for Madrox to be weirdly used in Uncanny X-Men, where he’s again pulling tricks that were never part of his shtick before… (I assume he’s being manipulated or possessed somehow by someone else. Nate Grey? Legion?)

    This feels like a case of someone wanting to give fans a character that they’ve heard is popular, without understanding why the fans like the character in the first place. Or maybe the writer is working off what -they- liked about the character which predates any and all development over x-period of time.

    (Which, sadly, is a natural state of superhero comic books in general. Hence the reason why Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, always hit the reset button sooner or later. But the beauty of Madrox is that he was a C-Lister at best for many years. A guest star. Hardly anyone gave a flying fart about him until PAD used him in X-Factor (oh yeah, and the Fallen Angels miniseries. But that’s pretty damned obscure even for your dedicated X-fans.) Madrox could change and grow because he was so ill-defined and obscure. He could earn that happily ever after with Layla and move to the farm.

    Except they killed him off. And Rosenberg brought him back and grafted -this- story onto him. And the sooner we all pretend it never happened, the better. Maybe we can still hold out hope for the PAD Madrox (PADrox?) to be alive and -really- hiding under the radar, under a solemn vow to never get involved in another crossover again.

  13. YLu says:

    “Except… hold on, the original dupe travelled into the future for no discernible reason (other than to get him out of the way) before Beast actually cured him, and I don’t really understand how any of that works.”

    He traveled to the future because by the time Beast finished the cure he’d already be dead. So his solution was to travel to the future when the cure would already be done. Which also answers, presumably, how he got cured.

  14. Paul says:

    Okay, that does make sense. Not at all clear on the page, but I think you’re right, that must have been the idea.

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