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Aug 11

Giant-Size X-Men: Fantomex #1

Posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

If you’re looking for a reason to buy Giant-Size X-Men: Fantomex #1, it’d be the art. The Giant-Size issues are much more of an art showcase than the regular issues, and this story gives Rob Reis plenty to play with. It’s got the insanity of the interior of the World, a hidden world developing in a time bubble, getting ever stranger as the series goes on. It’s got Fantomex interacting with characters from a range of different eras. It’s got ridiculous D-list superheroes to be designed and thrown away.

And much of it builds to a reprise of “Assault on Weapon Plus”, by Grant Morrison and Chris Bachalo. If you’re going to revisit a story defined by Chris Bachalo then you need a strong style of your own. Reis pulls all of that off very well. It looks absolutely lovely. The splash page near the end of Ultimaton, in his ridiculously unwieldy armour, hovering gently in the air in front of Fantomex – that’s beautiful.

As a story, though…

This is the first significant use of Fantomex in the Krakoan era. Rather than explain how he got here from his last known status quo (namely, his spirit was in the astral plane and his body was occupied by Charles Xavier), Jonathan Hickman chooses to focus on his past.

Grant Morrison’s original story had Fantomex enlist Cyclops and Wolverine in an attempt to get into Weapon Plus and deal with Ultimaton, the latest anti-mutant super-soldier. Ultimaton was presented as a confused, addled man in a ridiculous set of armour. As for Fantomex, it was strongly indicates that his claim to have a long history as a notorious thief was pure fabrication, since he’d only just escaped from the World himself – but at the same time he had enough of an outside life to suggest that there was more than that going on. The obvious solution would be that he’d been in and out of the World before.

This story gives Fantomex decades of additional back story, with him making repeated visits to speak to an ever-more-demented brother. So we start off with the Howling Commandos, move on to the Hellfire Club, then get the Morrison arc, and finally pick up with the present day. And… beyond a few hints, that’s kind of it for the plot.

It’s not immediately satisfying, and it does feel like we’re getting to the point where the X-books need to pay a few things off, rather than set even more plates spinning. Perhaps that’s just unfortunate timing. After all, “X of Swords” is just around the corner – and if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, it would have been here by now. But we can’t just keep putting ever more elaborate ideas on the table forever.

Then there’s the other question: is this really a particularly interesting direction for Fantomex? The original Morrison story certainly leaves room for it, but that doesn’t alter the fact that a lot of the strength of the original character lay in the idea that he was freshly minted and constructing a personality – or at least a persona – out of things that vaguely appealed to him. If he’s actually been out there for decades, then… well, it makes Fantomas more topical as a source of inspiration, sure, but mostly it undercuts that element of the character.

Admittedly, I don’t find Fantomex especially enthralling as a recurring character – and the World is a confusing mess than doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I get that in Hickman’s stories it has a useful parallel to the Children of the Vault, who in turn play directly into the “mutants vs technology” theme. So I can see why we’re going here. But the lunacy of the World only works up to a point if we’re supposed to buy that the people behind it have an actual goal in mind.

Neither Fantomex nor the World really has that strong a connection with the core themes of the X-books. That’s not a dealbreaker – Mojo doesn’t either, but he’s good for a change of pace. Fantomex, though… take him at face value and you’ve got a morally flexible thief with a bad French accent. And the X-books have got one of those already. I suppose that if you want to do something with him, it does make sense to built more on the World. At least it’s uniquely his, and it does link him to Hickman’s wider ideas of technologically-developed humans… but honestly, my eyes glaze over at World stories.

In the meantime, as a story this isn’t much more than some extended hinting. And in the bigger picture, this doesn’t seem like the time to be introducing yet more mysteries about minor characters.

Bring on the comments

  1. CJ says:

    (@Paul: fifth paragraph: “it was strongly indicated…”)

    I completely agree about the “plate-spinning” in this current run. As I mentioned before, it’s a waste that this issue completely ignored Fantomex’s prior state in the astral plane, and I have to agree with those who’ve been saying “Yeah, that’s par the course.”

    I get that every bit of minutiae need not be important, but in a spotlight issue, you’d think it’d come up.

  2. Abraham says:

    It implies Fantomex has had exactly one extremely vague agenda going on for decades, and . . . as far as we know, nothing else. And since Fantomex and Ultimaton seem to have worked things out by Uncanny Xforce, is this even an agenda worth coming back to?

  3. wwk5d says:

    “take him at face value and you’ve got a morally flexible thief with a bad French accent. And the X-books have got one of those already.”

    Oh, snap.

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