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Jul 6

Age of X-Man: X-Tremists

Posted on Saturday, July 6, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

Leah Williams and Georges Jeanty’s X-Tremists takes on one of the trickier tasks of the Age of X-Man crossover: writing a bunch of characters as a secret police force who mindwipe, and ultimately disappear, inconvenient people – people who won’t get on board with Nate’s relationship-free, individualist culture.  While the public don’t know about all the mind wiping, or at least know about it only as a rumour, they do know about Department X itself, as a relatively low level outfit policing antisocial behaviour.  From the standpoint of the Age of X-Man public, they’re the vice squad.  (Rather unfortunately, their slogan “Semper Vigilo” – “Always Watching” – is also the motto of Police Scotland.)

But they’re a bit more awful than that, which raises awkward questions for the characters.  After all, sure, they’re under outside influence.  But so is everyone else, and plenty of them are breaking free.  Most of those that aren’t are simply living “normal” lives in Nate’s society.  The Department X members are actively enforcing Nate’s pseudotopia.

The characters Nate has selected for this role – and other series do indicate that Nate has made conscious choices in where people wind up – are Psylocke, Jubilee, Northstar, Iceman, Blob, and somebody called “Moneta” who’s obviously patterned on M, but whose exact identity and nature are a bit obscure.  That could be a plot point for the Omega issue.  In the meantime, given that Moneta is far and away the most enthusiastic enforcer of Nate’s rules, and that she’s said to be a new recruit, the implication seems to be that she’s loosely modelled on the real Monet, and intended to nudge the rest of the squad back into line.

As for her teammates… well, Psylocke has the actual mind-wiping powers and a history of moral flexibility.  The presence of both Iceman and Northstar in the puritan squad might imply that Nate has some sort of additional hang-ups at play.  Jubilee is a seemingly random choice, except that it allows the story to do a motherhood parallel playing on the absent Shogo..  And Blob is one of the handful of actual villains that Nate had to draw on – though ironically this version of Blob turns out to be rather nicer than usual.  He’s hardly heroic – he’s in Department X, after all – but he does come across as diligent and well-meaning.  Given some actual trust and responsibility, and treated with general respect by everyone else, his bullying side seems to vanish.  It’d be nice to see this followed up instead of being forgotten.

Now, beyond that, some choices in this series work rather better than others.  The first issue loses a lot of time on a running joke about baking terminology that doesn’t work, but the generally small-scale and domestic air of the series works quite well.  Why would these guys see themselves as the bad guys?  They’re driving around town in a Volkswagen camper van.  Georges Jeanty can be an inconsistent artist – there are some clumsy panels from time to time here, and I’m really not sure about his Iceman or Jubilee – but he certainly does bring the sense of low-key banality which the story needs (and to be clear, that’s a compliment).  His Blob is great, and he really does draw a wonderfully innocuous camper van.

Issue #1 sees the team capture a rogue mutant who has managed to get pregnant, something which is obviously doubly awful, since nobody knows quite what to do about that from a healthcare standpoint.  The mere existence of Nezumi raises some odd questions, since she’s not a pre-existing character, so presumably she must have been created by Nate.  In fact, Department X seem to be keeping themselves busy at least in part by dealing with the misbehaviour of Nate’s own figurants.  Perhaps the idea is that Nate is self-sabotaging on some level; again, maybe Omega will tell us.  This series largely ignores the problem and treats Nezumi as a proper character with a life of her own.  More to the point is that, Moneta aside, the team  seem to be trying to deal with her in a vaguely ethical way – or at least in a way that they can convince themselves is vaguely ethical.

As the series goes on, Blob and Psylocke drift together – a seemingly bizarre pairing that works better than you might expect, since it seems to be driven mainly by both responding to the possibility of connecting with someone in Nate’s emotionally incomplete world.  It’s played completely straight and largely succeeds.  Well, except for the bit with Betsy crawling over a table towards Blob, which is a bit over the top given the general tone.  Meanwhile, most of the team seem happy keeping their role as banal as possible, and perhaps dialling it back around the edges.  Except for Moneta, who is mistreating the prisoner.  Nezumi’s main role here is to confront Jubilee, Bobby and Jean-Paul with what it is that they’re actually doing.

All this remains, by X-Men standards, a remarkably low-key plot; aside from this sort of gentle character development, not a huge amount really happens in issues #2-3.  Things start to build to a climax when we establish that Moneta is trying to prove herself (or maybe get the team back on mission) by showing that there really is a rebel force, while Bobby and Jean-Paul do in fact seem to be playing along with the day jobs.  And then… out of nowhere everyone just gets their memories back and there’s a bit of a riot.  The trouble is that that this feels weirdly contrived.  Jubilee has something concrete to prompt it, but Bobby and Jean-Paul seem to remember either because it’s time for the final act, or perhaps because something random is going on in another book to cause it.  Either way, it reads as if four issues of gentle and quite diverting build get suddenly overtaken by events, instead of coming to a natural crisis.

X-Tremists seems to want to tell a story about its characters finding love, or at least relationships, in a society that doesn’t want them to do so – which is a fairly obvious extension of the usual mutant metaphor, but no worse an idea for that.  In a sense it does deliver on that story, but winds up feeling like a random plot swerve was needed to jump from that to a climax, because the book as a whole lacks an overarching plot to hold it together.  That’s a shame, but there’s a lot to like in the moments along the way.

Bring on the comments

  1. Evilgus says:

    I found this series frustrating (like all of Age of X-Man!).

    The idea with Psylocke and her body issues I actually thought was quite neat. It explains why Betsy never adequately questioned her transformation into the Asian body, and is traumatised by the return to get Caucasian form. However, the delivery was hugely overwrought and very un-Betsy in tone. It did make me wonder how autobiographical it was by the author… Nice idea, odd execution.

    I also enjoyed the Betsy/Blob pairing. It was very different…!

    But the rest was very unengaging. What did Northstar, Iceman and Jubilee actually do? There was plenty of hay to be made out of the gay characters experiencing an enforced ‘closeting’ but it largely ducked that – maybe too uncomfortable a topic?

    And I thought Moneta might be M but her design (younger girl) and powers (weird tentacles) were so different. It’s an odd choice of name otherwise, and just ends up being confusing.

  2. SanityOrMadness says:

    Yeah, I’m convinced that whoever named Moneta wasn’t thinking about the existence of M at all.

    And the end of #4 just completely fails, because Jubilee’s suddenly a manic pixie who remembers everything. Sure, we ultimately see the scene where she remembers at the start of #5, but it’s an example of how agressively focusing each issue around one character can cause problems with the story structure. We *needed* to see Jubilee remember *before* she starts going around telling Northstar his husband’s name.

  3. Matt C. says:

    I don’t think Moneta is supposed to be based off M/Monet at all. Just a new character since (as we now know) she ends up dead. “Moneta” is a Roman goddess of memory which fits her power set.

    I found this series to be one of extremes… at one point great, at another point awful. I liked the character beats (the Psylocke/Blob relationship, Northstar’s inner dialogue, etc) but the overall story and setting was dreadful. Part of it, I feel, is that the story/character beats Williams wanted to hit on were a square peg in the round hole of a story about secret police.

    Just lots of weird decisions. For one, apparently these six guys – in a van – are the entirety of the secret police, since we never see anyone else in Department X and we even see them working overseas in London. They’re clearly not good at their jobs, seeing how they (don’t) handle Nezumi and apparently can’t do anything without Blob to handle paperwork. The whole thing would’ve worked a lot better if they were a satellite office instead of THE secret police. And this is all without even touching upon the weird pacing of the story itself, with the memories of everyone coming back for… reasons?

    Also, the plot here doesn’t align well with Marvelous X-Men and the Apocalypse/X-Tracts titles. I’m not sure where you can fit in Dept X confronting Colossus with what we see happen here.

  4. Col_Fury says:

    I thought Betsy was the reason everyone started remembering? There’s a scene in issue 5 where she reveals she wasn’t actually erasing people’s memories but putting them into storage (or whatever), and then she released all of those people’s memories. There was a map of the country showing where everyone was remembering, if I recall correctly.

    I read this before Marvelous X-Men, and was confused by Jubilee just stumbling across Moneta’s corpse. Then I read Marvelous and was like, “Oh, maybe I should have read this one first.”

    Overall I liked this one, but the last two issues have some odd pacing. You really need to have read Marvelous to know what’s going on here.

  5. Paul says:

    Psylocke says that she’s restoring the memories of people she mindwiped – in other words, the memories she removed WITHIN the Age of X-Man world. But that doesn’t seem to explain people regaining their memories of the real world, because she isn’t the one who removed those. I suppose the idea might be some hybrid situation where her in-AoX mindwipes were preventing people from regaining their memories of the real world but if that’s the idea then the mechanics are thoroughly obscure to me.

  6. Col_Fury says:

    Ah, yes. She wouldn’t have altered everyone’s memories before; X-Man would have done that. Odd timing that everyone else suddenly starts remembering when she does that, though. Everyone suddenly starts remembering over in Prisoner X, also. Hmn.

    Maybe Omega will explain things?

  7. Suzene says:

    Yeah, Moneta’s got nothing to do with Monet. Williams said she’s a creation of Nadler and Thompson’s that got put in her book to try an tie the minis together a little. I wasn’t a fan of the character or the execution of her plot – if her entire purpose was to die to show that Poccy isn’t a good guy, then she should have been in Marvelous X-Men or Apocolypse and the X-Tracts. Nadler and Thompson trying to span that plot over two books just wound up making the timeline look hinky.

    I didn’t find the Dept X team getting their memories back to be abrupt. Across the AoXM minis, it seems to be a constant that the X-Men are separated from the ones they have the strongest emotional connections to because even Nate’s brain-whammies can’t keep memories suppressed indefinitely (See also: Kitty and Colossus over in X-Tracts and Marvelous), but even circumstances very similar to those emotional connections have the potential to to trigger memories on some level (like Laura being reminded of Gabby over in Marvelous.

    Jubilee’s strongest emotional tether is to Shogo. She’s the first one to really start to understand what was taken from her because of the jolt of being exposed to Nezumi’s newborn.

    Jean-Paul is already aloof, subversive, and haunted – most likely because his strongest emotional tie is of a romantic nature, and his job frequently exposes him to intimacy. Even so, he doesn’t just remember – Jubilee has to give him the words to solidify the knowledge that’s just beyond his reach.

    Bobby, I’ll grant, is harder to peg. I do think it was a misstep that we didn’t get much of Bobby’s inner thoughts in his POV issue, so why Jubilee and JP are able to reach him isn’t that clear. But they do seem to be the ones he’s closest to in this reality, so that was likely why they were able to nudge him over.

    So far as I could tell, Rictor and Fred don’t get their memories back at all, and I’m honestly not sure about Betsy, though I don’t think she did. She had subversive tendencies already; I think the chaos was just an excuse to stop hiding them.

  8. Evilgus says:

    That’s actually a good word to peg Psylocke’s characterisation generally: subversive.

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