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Oct 17


Posted on Sunday, October 17, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

X-CORP #1-5
by Tini Howard, Alberto Foche, Valentine De Landro & Sunny Gho

Well. They can’t all be winners.

And look, that’s a more serious point than it sounds. X-Corp is not a well received book. Not among the commenters here, not more broadly, so far as I can tell. The consensus seems to be that it ranks with Fallen Angels as one of the Krakoa era’s few outright duds. Like that book, it ends after a single arc which was blatantly designed as a gathering-of-the-cast. Maybe it’s heading for a reboot in 2022, but the sales estimates for August at Comichron have it as the lowest-selling X-book by quite some margin.

But they can’t all be winners. They shouldn’t all be winners. If you’re taking risks to any degree then by definition some of them are going to go badly. And I can absolutely see why this got commissioned. In theory, it sounds promising. It probably looked great as a pitch.

A key part of the Krakoan premise is the inversion of power thanks to the mutants’ drugs. Sure, this requires us to believe that a public who can’t even be persuaded to get vaccinated against Covid will be absolutely on board for mystery drugs whose safety testing regime consists of a napkin signed “Trust me – Magneto”, but that’s the schtick. It’s still a premise that means the mutants’ unaccustomed upper hand is based on economic power, and (in part) on what they can do with mutant powers when they actually have the chance to do it right. It’s also an economic power that rests very narrowly on one product, so you can see why they’d want to diversify it given the chance.

Technically we already have an X-book about Krakoa’s trading operations, but it’s Marauders, which is a pirate-themed romp for which the actual trading is just a macguffin. X-Corp, at least potentially, is the book where you do the interaction of Krakoan products with humanity. The tension between the product and public trust. The disruption of mutant creations on mainstream society. And what’s more, it’s a place where you can write about business and multinationals and trade and all that important stuff… which, yes, sure, isn’t especially visual and doesn’t naturally lend itself to the superhero genre (though Iron Man does it from time to time). But if your premise is that Krakoa does things differently, and here’s another aspect of life where they can show a different way of thinking and challenge preconceptions and all that… it could work, right?

That’s the book which the cover seems to promise. It’s also a book which already exists: Wildcats 3.0, the corporate-era version that did stories about batteries that never ran out of power. Small products with big implications. It’s a flawed book in many ways, but it delivers on the idea far more than X-Corp.

In practice, there turn out to be a whole slew of problems with X-Corp. A big and central one is that it never gets to grip with, well, business or companies or all that. At no point does X-Corp feel like a corporation, or seem to be engaged in anything recognisable as business. It’s just some sort of techno-research monolith staffed by notional non-combatants which has a whole bunch of corporate jargon attached to it because something something business. Calling your core cast a board of directors doesn’t make it so. Having the only human corporation be an evil pharmaceuticals rival that hires literal mercenary soldiers is straw man stuff. The sudden appearance of a flying island in Brazil, in the Marvel Universe, is not going to be interpreted by anyone as a “corporate launch” no matter how much the plot desperately tries to wrangle it into corporate imagery.

The book can’t make up its mind whether the mutants have the upper hand through their superior power and technology, so that the hapless humans are beating impotently with their tiny fists, or whether Kol’s outfit poses some sort of actual threat, which is, after all, kind of essential in order for the plot to work. One thing that’s spectacularly lacking in X-Corp is any sense of stakes. You’d think the stakes here would be the need to preserve Krakoa’s pharmaceutical monopoly – on which national security depends – or at least to get some of the nation’s eggs into another basket. But instead we’re meandering around with broadband infrastructure, and launches that go disastrously, yet seem to be viewed as a massive success anyway.

Who owns X-Corp? Is it a nationalised industry? Is it the personal wealth of Professor X? What is X-Corp actually trying to achieve in the bigger picture? If it’s involved in making the drugs, how does it fit in with Hellfire Trading over in Marauders? None of this is especially clear, nor does it really feel like it’s been given much thought.

So we have a comic that doesn’t deliver on what seems to be its core promise. But the problems go beyond that. There’s a desperate lack of interesting and likeable characters here. Most of the core cast are just cyphers – you’d think that X-Corp ought to be a book where Trinary’s anti-capitalist views would give her plenty to do, but no, she fades into the background quickly. Selene and Mastermind are… there. Madrox is kind of rebooted to a new riff on the potential of his powers, but he does get the book’s strongest issue by far – issue #3, in which he’s using his duplicates to feign work/life balance and keep his wife happy.

The core of the book is meant to be the relationship between Warren and Monet, with Warren playing the cautious, establishment figure who wants to behave like a sensible business, and Monet as a bull in a china shop who wants to… well, what does she want, exactly? Is she just trying to throw mutant weight around as a show of power? Or her own weight? Does she just hate most of the people she’s dealing with and want to wind them up for the hell of it? Without there being any particularly concrete point to the way she acts, she just comes across as awful.

Now, again, let’s be fair. This is obviously designed as an opening arc, and the natural direction of a book like this is that Monet’s overconfidence and arrogance comes a cropper in the end, while Warren moves towards appreciating the value of a bit more spontaneity. Some of Monet’s more eye-rolling speeches about the glorious innovations of mutant culture should probably be seen in that light as well – after all, a key plot point of issue #2 is that an ideologically-driven failure to secure the base against fellow mutants is an absolutely terrible idea in the real world. Monet was an arrogant, unlikeable character in the early issues of Generation X, and this could be seen as a back-to-basics approach… if it weren’t for the general sense that we’re meant to like her.

At any rate, there’s an awful lot of “we, the mutants, are leaving human ideas behind us and doing things differently”, which is easily the single least convincing feature of the Krakoan era – not the bit where  the mutants themselves believe it, since they’ve got a lot invested in building a nation, but the bit where we’re suppose to think that a group of characters who have always been written as basically human in attitude aren’t just more powerful, but somehow equipped with a degree of philosophical insight that they have never, ever demonstrated. (More of that when I get to Way of X, though.)

Here, a lot of that angle comes in the form of characters loudly proclaiming their superiority over Fenris, which is… again, straw man stuff. Fenris are bad. Why are Fenris bad? Because they’re neo-Nazis. Well, disapproving of neo-Nazis is a pretty low bar for a new society, isn’t it? If the mutants are reinventing the wheel, they ought to have opinions a lot more controversial than that. And when you start having Selene, of all people, claim moral superiority over Fenris – that’s the same Selene who’s just come from a long run as a Captain America villain where she was allied with the Red Skull, mind you – it doesn’t convince in the slightest.

A lot of this could well have worked itself out over time – it could well be intended as the characters’ starting point. What it means in these five issues, though, is that the book is built around an obnoxious Monet who talks over, and overshadows, everyone else. There is nobody in this book you’d want to spend time with. They’re all either boring or annoying.

These problems are compounded by, bluntly, more basic failures of craft. Alberto Foche’s art is generally adequate, but it’s bland and smiley, and doesn’t really sell personality. Valentino De Landro’s fill-in art in issue #3 is miles better, looking more real, more grounded, and better connected to a world of actual corporate conventions. Perhaps the original thinking was to give the book a polished, PR-like look, but if so, it doesn’t come off.

Plot problems abound. Issue #1 has a bit that depends on you understanding that there aren’t any gates in Brazil, but it doesn’t set that up properly in advance. The whole thing about issue #1’s ending being viewed as a corporate launch simply doesn’t make the slightest sense. What actually happens in issue #3’s scene with Monet and Sara – not why, not what lessons should we draw for it, but quite literally what happened that made the hole in the roof? The plot of issues #3 and #4 simply don’t fit together. How can you set up Kol as the owner of his own company and then just declare that there’s a bunch of previously unmentioned shareholders that Monet can buy it from? That’s just gibberish.

Like I say, I can see why this was commissioned. I still think it sounds like a workable concept that could have added something to the line. It’s probably a plus that someone took a punt on it. But it’s not good, and pulling the plug after the first arc was for the best.


Bring on the comments

  1. Mark Coale says:

    I’m sure Paul and Al would love to see a disco-singing barrister.

  2. Taibak says:

    Yeah, Havok and Polaris were pursuing doctorates in geophysics at the start of Claremont’s run.

    Didn’t stop Chuck Austen trying to retcon them into archaeologists….

  3. […] Paul O’Brien reviews the truncated problems of Tini Howard, Alberto Foche, et al’s X-Corp #1-5. […]

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