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Jul 7

Major X

Posted on Sunday, July 7, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

There’s a temptation to bring out special standards where Rob Liefeld is concerned.  After all, on any conventional basis, he makes awful, incoherent comics.  And yet, and yet…  Liefeld was a star in the nineties, and clearly he was doing something that connected.  His style was one of the dominant features of the period, grudgingly imitated by all manner of artists who wanted to keep getting work.  His stories were incoherent in a way that suggested not so much laziness as naive, stream-of-conscious enthusiasm.  Some of his actual concepts, like Youngblood, turn out to be entirely viable when handled by more conventional talents.  And in a couple of years  he had a hand in creating Cable, Domino, Shatterstar and Deadpool, which is a pretty good track record.

Major X, his latest six-issue mini, fits well into this tradition.  It bounces around with tremendous enthusiasm and no great coherence.  Plot threads are introduced and never paid off (in a way that you’d get away with if these were the first six issues of an ongoing).  Little about it makes sense.  But Liefeld comes across as genuinely enthusiastic about it.  It doesn’t feel phoned in.  It feels mad.

In a good way?  No.  Not in a good way.  It’s awful.  But at least it’s idiosyncratically awful.  And some Liefeld concepts turned out to work when other people communicated them more effectively.  Might this be one?

To find that out, we’re going to have to unpack the plot.  Let’s note, though, that not only does Liefeld plot this story and pencil the first and last issues, he also scripts the whole thing.  The dialogue ranges from tersely serviceable to did-anyone-edit-this.  (“Crushing your resistance is an honor for we who serve the royal family.”  “Is that what they’re paying you for?  To intimidate me with threats?”  “Shooting fish in a barrel requires more difficulty than picking the rest of you off.”)  Though I’ll admit to liking “The major said I could fire the guns!  ALL THE GUNS!!!”

Major X, a gun-toting paramilitary, and his companion M’Koy, who may or may not be the Beast – it’s never explained – have travelled back in time looking for the X-Men, but arrive at the Mansion in time to stumble upon an early incarnation of X-Force instead.  We’re off to a good start here already, because this seems to place the story in the closing pages of New Mutants #100, at which point the Mansion is meant to have  been levelled by an explosion.  But never mind, because there’s a fight, after which Major X asks X-Force for help in saving his world.  So apparently Major X is the sort of asshole who attacks on sight even when he recognises people and wants their help.

What Major X is trying to protect is a world he calls – brace yourself, now – the X-Istence.  And this is where we get a somewhat interesting idea: the X-Istence is an artificial world inhabited by a bunch of mutants who fled Earth in the future, led by a high-powered mutant called – again, brace yourself – the X-Ential.  The X-Ential seems to be some sort of Moses figure, who’s led the mutants, plus a bunch of Atlanteans, to safety in their new homeland.  But this world is created and sustained by the X-Ential, who is powerful, but not that powerful – so it’s a bit wonky, and the mutants are happy but the Atlanteans’ bit is below par.  As for Major X, he’s basically a driven patriot who wants to preserve his mutant refuge dimension.

You might be thinking that this is more the X-Ential’s story than Major X… and you’d be right.  The high concept here is the X-Istence itself, and Major X is just a guy who runs around shooting things and getting agitated about it.  He also has a motorcycle.  It’s called the Motherbike.

Anyhow, the big crisis is that the X-Ential is missing and the X-Istence is collapsing.  So Major X has come back in time to change history and save his world.  And then Wolverine shows up for no reason.  And then a guy called Dreadpool shows up – not a typo – who wears a Deadpool costume and seems to be a serious-and-gritty impostor.  Dreadpool is apparently working for the people who caused the collapse of the X-Istence, and has been sent to stop Major X from stopping it.  More fighting happens.  Deadpool shows up for no apparent reason.  And at the end of the issue Major X unmasks as Cable’s son.

Yes, this is all just issue #1.

Let’s see if we can pick up the pace.  Brent Peeples pencils issue #2, and doesn’t particularly try to emulate Liefeld’s style, making for a more conventionally readable issue, though also quite a bland one.  We get a lot of flashbacks to the wars that led to the X-Istence, and an introduction to Nomar and Lora, the aggrieved leaders of the X-Istence Atlanteans.  Back at the X-Force plotline (wrongly captioned as “the here and now”), Cable agrees to help Major X, and they go off to fight Surf, a trio of Atlantean mutants who Liefeld created for an Atlantis Attacks annual.  Major X doesn’t speak until page ten of this issue, and has something like eight lines of dialogue.

Issue #3 is drawn by Whilce Portacio, whose scratchiness serves the material pretty well.  While the heroes regroup, Surf return to the Atlantean throne room where for some reason Nomar and Lora are in charge.  Apparently they’ve come back to the present day to stop Major X and avert… something?  Stopping Atlanteans from going to the X-Istence in the first place?  Stopping Major X from stopping what they did to destroy the X-Istence?  Why are they running present-day Atlantis anyway?  Meanwhile, Major X and M’Koy move on to fight the Watchtower, who you might conceivably remember from a Wolverine story that Liefeld did in 2000.  The recap page seems to assume this is the present-day version of the X-Ential, but the actual dialogue suggests it’s the one Major X knows – though how he ended up with the Watchtower in the first place, I have no idea.

Peeples is back for issues #4 and #5, which open with a decent enough flashback to the Atlanteans complaining about their living conditions in the X-Istence, and Major X shouting them down for insufficient patriotism.  There’s a glimmer in there of an interesting if rather unsympathetic character.  Back at the regular plot, the future Atlanteans betray the Watchtower and try to wander off with the X-Ential, but Major X and M’Koy escape with him to Genosha, where the dying X-Ential merges with some girl called Aura who he apparently knows, making her the new X-Ential.

Then Liefeld returns for issue #6, which opens with a painfully extended monologue by Deadpool before we get a big fight between (on the one hand) Major X, M’Koy, the new X-Ential, a future Cable and Deadpool against (on the other) the mad Atlanteans, their sea serpent, and Dreadpool.  Dreadpool gets unmasked but we don’t find out who he is.  And at the end, the new X-Ential announces that she’s taking the captured baddies “to a tribunal that will seek to determine whether your actions were influenced by the environment that you claim compromised you”, then leaves without restoring the X-Istence at all.  Um…

So it’s a godawful mess, plainly.  There’s something of interest in the concept, even if the Major is largely marginalised in his own book: he’s over-committed to his newly-minted nation and dismisses every criticism as disrespectful, while the Atlanteans seem to interpret every failure of the X-Istence as a sign that they’ve been screwed.  But going forward we’re left with a character who’s apparently resigned to being unable to restore his home, and whose main motivation going forward is to change history so that it won’t be needed in the first place.  And that makes him a standard-issue change-the-past-to-save-the-future character.  It’s hard to see him taking off.

Still, if you were in the market for a Rob Liefeld miniseries in the first place, I guess this is probably what you were looking for: ropey on levels of basic competence, but indisputably enthusiastic.

Bring on the comments

  1. Mr Flavell says:

    “Ropey on levels of basic competence, but indisputably enthusiastic”

    That has to be one of the most wonderful lines I’ve ever read in any review of anything. It is the sort of thing I can imagine Mark Kermode saying about some of the films he has to review or Jonathan Wilson saying about his beloved Sunderland.

    Just wonderful.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Stan Etienne says:

    I’m so looking forward to Liefield’s next character, the X-Istentialist.

    He comes from the future to determine his own development through the power of having a big gun.

    And pouches.Lots of pouches.

  3. Moo says:

    “Shooting fish in a barrel requires more difficulty…”

    ^Reading this made me imagine Liefeld’s editors being found in their homes dead with Major X scripts open in front of them and wearing the same expressions on their faces as Samara’s victims in “The Ring”.

  4. Taibak says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

    Rob Liefeld is the Ed Wood of comics. Completely incompetent, but learning his craft might kill whatever spark he has.

  5. Voord 99 says:

    It really was a surprise to me, when I read Liefeld’s X-Force along with Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, how positive I came out feeling about it.

    I mean, I didn’t *like* it. It wasn’t enjoyable for me personally to read. But it felt healthy for the line (in a way that nothing else around that time felt) for someone to come in and say “[Expletive deleted] it! Let’s do something cool!”

    It’s like I was saying about Morrison not writing as if from a position of inferiority to Claremont. Liefeld obviously didn’t bring anything like as much to back that up as Morrison did. But he’s not joyless and awful in the way that Lobdell proved to be, or writing efficiently to a misguided brief in the way that Nicieza did. (In his X-work: New Warriors, where he wasn’t writing to a brief, was fabulous.)

    I think the alternate universe in which Liefeld moved over to Uncanny X-Men for, say, a year and reshaped it along Liefeldian lines for a bit would have produced terrible comics, certainly from my perspective, but might also have sent things in an overall more positive direction when somebody picked things up from where he left off.

  6. Si says:

    What does “X-Esential” even mean? Should it be “X-Estential”?

    I’d introduce a character called X-Ylophone, a badass mutant from the future who has a row of nusical teeth and a drumstick for a tongue. He has a gun called Glock-enspiel. Or possibly Glock-xspiel.

  7. Thom H. says:

    “The major said I could fire the guns! ALL THE GUNS!!!”

    I have no problem imagining this line in a Warren Ellis comic.

  8. Karl_H says:

    I eventually decided that X-Ential = “Essential”.

    Stay tuned for my X-say about my new female superteam, X-trogen.

  9. Paul says:

    It’s “X-Ential”, not “X-Esential”, though for some reason that’s incredibly hard to type consistently so some of them slipped through. I’ve fixed that (and a few other typos).

  10. Ben says:

    With the absolute hatred I feel towards Uncanny X-Men right now, reading the first issue of this poorly written poorly drawn tripe ended up being kind of whimsical.

    Like Axe Cop.

  11. Jpw says:

    Paul has definitely softened toward Liefeld over time. I remember reviews like Cable #75 and the early 2000s X-Force mini.

  12. Joseph says:

    Honestly… I downloaded the first two issues for free and couldn’t get through them. I didn’t even bother finishing the series, hard to believe anyone is willingly shelling out money for this mess.

  13. Voord 99 says:

    (Tried to post this a minute ago, lost my Internet connection, hope a duplicate post will not emerge from the dark ether.)

    Jpw: Paul has definitely softened toward Liefeld over time. I remember reviews like Cable #75 and the early 2000s X-Force mini.

    That wouldn’t be the worst theme for an episode of the podcast: Paul O’Brien goes back and rereads three stories that were the object of some of his most scathing reviews, and discusses whether and why his opinion of them has become more tolerant, with Al Kennedy asking him probing but exploratory questions in a sort of Melvyn Bragg mode.

  14. Taibak says:

    So, something from Liefeld, something from Chuck Austen’s X-Men run, and something from Howard Mackie’s Mutant X?

  15. Joe S. Walker says:

    A Frank Tieri book? The issue that inspired the “What shite through yonder window breaks” review?

  16. Moo says:

    @Joe S – Actually, that was a Chuck Austen review (Uncanny X-Men #439).

  17. deworde says:

    “He also has a motorcycle. It’s called the Motherbike.”

    And I’m done.

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