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Jan 12

Hellions #1-6

Posted on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

by Zeb Wells, Stephen Segovia, Carmen Carnero & David Curiel

Continuing my reviews catch-up, we come to the opening six issues of Hellions. Very loosely, this might be seen as the replacement title for Fallen Angels, the one generally accepted dud from the first wave of Krakoan X-books. It picks up Psylocke and Mr Sinister, and in the last couple of issues, the plot links have become rather more explicit. Clearly this is the new home for the storyline that was set up in Fallen Angels, not just for two of its characters.

But it’s a very different sort of title. Fallen Angels was a ponderous affair with more than a dash of sixth form poetry to it. Hellions is a gleeful antisocial mess, in which Psylocke attempts to corral a team of mostly unmanageable eccentrics and supervillains into some sort of viable team, running missions on behalf of the utterly untrustworthy Mr Sinister. Sinister needs some sort of deniability in order to maintain his position on Krakoa, but that’s about all in terms of how far they can trust him.

Where Fallen Angels was full of moody glumness under neon, Hellions opts to go bright, bold and more traditionally superheroic in many ways. It’s clearly the right call. A book about this sort of team, played completely straight in a dark and gritty fashion, would be a terrible grind. Hellions thrives when it strikes the balance between the brightness and craziness of its stories, and the darkness of some of its characters – and when it leaves space for a bit of character work and some more interesting ideas in the middle.

It’s the character moments that really elevate the book; Zeb Wells has already been good at that sort of material. Ostensibly, if issue #1 is to be believed, this is a book about a team of mutants with inherently antisocial powers, who have to be offered some sort of role on Krakoa. But that doesn’t really stand up to much scrutiny, and you suspect it’s not meant to. Only Empath really has powers that you could call antisocial, and even he’s no more inherently problematic than any other psychic.

Nor is the team as outright evil as you might expect. It wouldn’t have been difficult to fill this book with sociopaths and sadists; there have been enough of them over the years. Instead, we have Psylocke and Havok as the reasonable ones, Wild Child as a loyal guard dog, and Greycrow (formerly Scalphunter of the Marauders) as the trustworthy professional. Nanny and Orphan-Maker are deluded serial killers, but even they were traditionally motivated by a distorted belief that they were helping the children they “rescued”. Only Empath could really be regarded as evil; his complete lack of ethics in manipulating other people for his own amusement is sociopathic. But by the standards of X-Men villains, he’s a nuisance-level character.

Many of these characters have been underused for years. Greycrow has previously been hinted to have a more sympathetic side, but he gets the most effective retooling here. He’s clearly not the nicest guy in the world – he was involved in the Morlock Massacre after all – but he is a devoted team player, genuinely loyal to anyone else who is also loyal to the team. Nanny and Orphan-Maker are adorable characters who haven’t been used properly since the 1980s, and whose back story was never fully explained. I love the decision to go with absurdist characters like this instead of the more obvious choices; and at the same time, there’s a nagging sense that Nanny will be more than she seems. She’s not intimidated in the slightest by Sinister, despite the massive disparity in their positions on the pecking order – and there’s a sense that maybe she’s right.

Empath is less rounded, but then that’s the premise. The running joke of killing him off in every mission works partly as a riff on Krakoan resurrection, but also because a little of Empath goes a long way. Getting him out of the way once he’s served his purpose in a story is no bad thing. Wild Child interests me the least, probably because he’s not really a character. But then that’s practically the point of him. There’s not much to identify with, but it would defeat the concept if there were.

Wells has the modern, flamboyant take on Sinister down perfectly, as well – as do the artists, who lean heavily into how over the top he is. Obviously, this take on Sinister, which became standard after the Kieron Gillen run, isn’t for everyone. But I like it; if anything, it’s true to the original concept behind Mister Sinister’s creation. He is an absurd character with a silly name and an excessively elaborate costume. He was meant to be. Of course, he’s since been saddled with a more conventional back story that makes those features seem a little odd – but I’d rather have those aspects come to the fore than play him as a straight evil scientist (which is basically how Fallen Angels did it).

The book is weaker when it succumbs to the temptation to go dark. I’m not wild about the extended conversation between Havok and Maddy in issues #3-4. I really don’t like the mouth-slicing sequence, not just because it’s grimdark, but because it unbalances the tone. The idea of the Maddy arc is strong, and points at the awkward questions about resurrection that other books generally gloss over. But considering the plot is basically an extended fight, it could maybe have been compressed down from three issues to two.

I’m counting the two “X of Swords” tie-ins in this review as well – not because Hellions is central to the crossover, but because it isn’t. Unlike most of the participating titles, Hellions retains its identity in its two tie-in issues, and – despite being labelled as two middle chapters of “X of Swords” – actually provides a two-part Hellions story instead.

That’s not to say that the tie-in banner is unmerited; far from it. The two issues are legitimate tie-ins, but not really part of the main story. They involve the Hellions going on a wild goose chase for Sinister in the margins of the story. Unusually, this is a case of a story that’s actually improved by being bannered as a crossover; if it had been bannered as a wider tie-in, it would have been obvious from the outset that the Hellions’ mission wasn’t going anywhere. The story is all the more effective for looking like a crucial part of the series, only for the Hellions to wind up getting battered into oblivion without ever actually crossing paths with the main plot. (That said – what was Sinister’s plan for the mission until he was forced to go on it himself? Was he going to get Psylocke to betray the team?)

There are a few niggles here, but only because those are the points that stand out as missteps. When it gets the balance right – which is most of the time – Hellions is a great read that makes good use of underexplored characters.

Bring on the comments

  1. Thom H. says:

    Wells has a tendency to lean into horror even when it’s a little too much for the story. Or at least he did in his New Mutants run and in the Maddy story mentioned. Dude really likes demons, too.

  2. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Wasn’t it Wells who had the Lizard eat his own son?

    Anyway, I’m not that bothered by the grimdarkish leanings of Hellions – I was more put off by X-Force’s early issues than anything here.

    I only hope there will be a decent payoff for Havok and his… Other half? Dark persona? Whatever it is.

    Occam’s razor would point to it being the AXIS aftertaste, still, but, well, AXIS sucked and I’d rather it wouldn’t get brought up again…

  3. DFH says:

    Well, there’s been evil Havok from AXIS and evil Havok from Mutant X / Austen’s run. I’d rather deal with AXIS fallout than Mutant X.

  4. Adam says:

    Spot-on review. Yeah, this is my favorite book in the line.

  5. Evilgus says:

    To me this book epitomises the line about ‘no bad characters, only bad creators’. I certainly wouldn’t have given this ragtag group a second look beforehand – now it’s one I look forward to.

    If there’s one good result from HOXPOX, it’s some very unusual teams and a change to shine a light on more obscure x-characters. I have similar hopes for SWORD.

  6. Jeff says:

    I’m pretty sure Sinister pissed off Magneto on purpose to change his vote. He always intended to be “forced” into going.

  7. Stuart says:

    “Wild Child interests me the least, probably because he’s not really a character. But then that’s practically the point of him. There’s not much to identify with, but it would defeat the concept if there were.”

    Yes, he seems mostly here to fill out Psylocke’s character a bit: as Wild Child’s alpha, she proves herself brutal enough to fit on the team, compassionate enough to have an inner conflict about being there, and strong and complex enough to be the main character of the book.

    Wild Child has had a little bit more nuance to his character in the past (back in Alpha Flight) but that seems largely thrown out post-Age of Apocalypse when that alternate reality version proved more popular / left more of a lasting impression with readers. Then again, he served essentially the same purpose there for Sabretooth that he does here for Psylocke (in that case showing Sabretooth’s compassionate as a contrast to his 616 counterpart).

    I’ll be interested to see if he remains in this secondary role or ends up with any of his own development as a result of his post-Otherworld resurrection.

  8. Kenny Norman says:

    I honestly didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. Especially given how random the cast is. But this reminds me of Peter David’s 2005 X-Factor in that the characters tend to have surprisingly interesting chemistry with each other!

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