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Apr 1

Secret X-Men #1

Posted on Friday, April 1, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

SECRET X-MEN #1
“The Secret X-Men”
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: Francesco Mobili
Colourist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Jordan White

So, um. This. It came out back in February and I said at the time that I was going to review it and then I completely forgot about it. And then somebody mentioned it in the comments and I remembered I hadn’t done it.

Look, I’d have remembered when it showed up on Marvel Unlimited.But it’s fair to say the impact that this thing made on me was, shall we say, transitory. It vanished from memory awfully quickly. I can’t say the thought of re-reading it for this review filled me with enthusiasm.

The high concept is that this is a one-shot about the characters who were in the public vote for the new X-Men team, back when Marvel were promoting the Hellfire Gala, but who didn’t get in.

The plot, then. Sunspot is swanning around in the Shi’ar Empire, claiming to be the leader of the X-Men in order to impress girls. So Deathbird enlists him to help defend Empress Xandra against yet another assassination attempt, and asks him to bring the X-Men to a secret location. Of course, Sunspot doesn’t have an X-Men team to bring, so he sets about calling the guys who wanted to be on a team. It kind of makes sense for the characters who were particularly keen to be on the team, or who feel aggrieved that they’re overlooked. You can see it for Sunspot. Maybe Marrow, who would insist she doesn’t want to be on the team, but is also Professionally Aggrieved. Tempo, though? A character who had to be needled repeatedly just to join the Marauders? Forge, who’s rushed off his feet in other books? Hmm.

Yeah, I think I part company with this book at a pretty early stage, where it thinks the gimmick is cute and I think it’s irritating. But okay. That’s just the opening. What’s the story?

Before Sunspot’s team can actually head off to meet with Deathbird, Gladiator shows up to announce that Deathbird has abducted Xandra. So he wants the “X-Men” to go after her too. That’s not actually a problem, since Sunspot was going to meet up with her anyway, so he just plays along. Sunspot thinks this is a great chance for them all to look good and make everyone happy, and talks the rest of the group into sticking with him.

They fight off some Sidrian hunters, and follow Deathbird’s trail to a planet which isn’t the one Sunspot was expecting. There’s a secret vault, and a meta gimmick where you help them find the password by doing an acrostic (which feels really out of place in a book that’s otherwise played fairly straight).

And at this point we reach the bit in the story where I don’t really follow what’s going on and kind of lose the will to figure it out. In the vault is a pre-existing Krakoan gate for some reason. The Sidri attack again and get defeated. And then … suddenly we’re all on Deathbird’s ship, so apparently the Sidri just lost and Sunspot just found Deathbird. By tracking her? By following the original instructions? I don’t know. It’s an absolutely haywire jump in the action and reads unbelievably badly.

The upshot of all this seems to be that Deathbird and Xandra are testing people to see who they can trust. They don’t trust Gladiator, but since the team came as X-Men, they’re apparently allies for the future. Oh, and the Sidri, who were the only threat in the whole story? Deathbird hired them, to provide a bit of challenge. Then, out of nowhere, a Sidri attacks and teleports Deathbird away. Xandra erases everyone’s memory of that bit so that the X-Men go home thinking they won. I guess? Because what did they win, really?

It’s quite pretty, I guess. Nice enough colouring. Sunspot generally comes across as quite charming, though he feels a touch off model a lot of the time. The one-off team uniforms are quite cool.

But it’s an issue so irritating I had to force myself to pay attention just to re-read it. Just an absolute joyless chore. I kind of get what this is trying to do, I guess – it’s supposed to be a kind of empty calories romp with a bit of foreshadowing for future plots about the Shi’ar Empire – but it’s simply no fun at all.

No wonder I erased it from memory.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    Oh that’s a shame. Some of my favourite characters are in this book.

    It’s also a bit strange that Xandra’s grip on the Shi’ar is so tenuous. I liked the accidental concept of the Shi’ar having a kind of mandate of heaven, where whoever sat on the throne was of course the supreme leader and not to be questioned, even if that person had only been there a week.

  2. Person of Con says:

    I enjoyed this more than any other Tini Howard X-Comic I’ve read, while still gritting my teeth as all of her major tics showed up as well. (Plotting that doesn’t quite work unless you squint a lot, info dump telling over showing, characters who have cool “moments” but don’t actually fit with their personalities, etc.)
    I guess you can handwave away any ill-fitting characterization or actions as Xandra’s telepathic interference, but that’s also fairly unsatisfying.

  3. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Finally!

    This was terrible!

    I can’t make heads or tails of the plot and some of the characters are very off.

    Marrow is especially wildly out of character.

    And the way her powers are used is just bizarre.

    How is she making a black visor to see through, out of bone?

    How is she making oxygen to breath, out of bone?

    How is she propelling herself through the vacuum of space, with fucking bones!!!!???

    I try not to bag on her too hard because it sounds like I’m being a misogynistic cellar goblin, but Howard is a dreadful writer.

    Lovely art though.

  4. Mike Loughlin says:

    I felt like I was being mean to Howard, not liking X-Corp and thinking Excalibur (which I liked in the beginning) had gone off the rails. I don’t want to be in the same category as the He-Man’s Women Haters Club mouth-breathers. I gave this issue a try. I didn’t hate it, but it convinced me not to spend my money on Knights of X. Why is Tini Howard still working for the X-office but Leah Williams isn’t? I’d have liked to see Williams, who made me like Daken, write an eclectic group of characters like the ones in this comic.

  5. Suzene says:

    @Mike Loughlin – The latest X-Men Monday over at AIPT! seems to confirm that Williams has a book in the pipeline, so that’s good news. Though, really, I don’t think gimmick-based, overcrowded one-shots like this show any writer’s talents to best advantage.

  6. Allan M says:

    I was mostly just indifferent to this though basically everything related to its handling of Marrow felt seriously off-base. At least Banshee got to do something besides be someone’s hoodie, though.

    Also, keeping track of this Shi’ar subplot is a weirdly spread-out affair. It’s Mr and Mrs X —> HOXPOX —> New Mutants —> X-Men —> SWORD —> Secret X-Men —> TBD, though Sunspot being in X-Men Red suggests it’d be there, probably. If you’re not a completionist, I imagine it would be a struggle to follow this storyline.

  7. MWayne says:

    I saw this review and thought “oh, I missed an x-book this week,” only to find that it had come out two months ago and I had totally forgotten it existed.

  8. Ceries says:

    I think that Howard still getting comics is a good sign, honestly. It shows that a bisexual white woman can be just as mediocre as a straight white male writer and still be employed-a win for equality.

  9. wwk5d says:

    “Writer: Tini Howard”

    That pretty much says it all…

  10. Devin says:

    Can someone give me the answers to the word scramble puzzle? I got Gladiator and Shi’ar and then realized that if the others are alien names I probably don’t know them.

  11. ASV says:

    Frustrating, because the underlying premise of the losers secretly operating as another X-Men squad has some potential. You could dig into the Krakoan identity aspect of this crew being rejected and realizing that they’re always going to be second to the “important” mutants, and/or that they aren’t as important as they thought. There’s also some Krakoan society stuff available, in getting at what “the X-Men” means in this context. Eventually the QC or the official X-Men find out what’s going on and there’s a climactic confrontation.

  12. tele says:

    FYI, the Krakoan gateway took them directly to Deathbird. Sunspot explains it earlier, but basically Deathbird asked for the X-men and then planted a gateway that only mutants/X-Men could use.

    I am baffled that Tini Howard got a sequel to Excalibur, but I do think her writing is better than Percy’s, and X of Swords was a much better crossover than the Wolverine crossover. Maybe she still has a lot of leftover goodwill from X of Swords.

  13. Voord 99 says:

    I personally don’t disagree with the generally jaundiced House to Astonish comment thread take on Tini Howard (not that I’ve read much of her work). But I don’t know that it’s widely shared. For instance, Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men tend to be very enthusiastic about her X-work. I don’t think that the sales of her books have been especially bad, although I’m happy to be corrected.

    It may be that she does give *an* audience what they want, just not this audience. In particular, the most prominent criticism in our host’s discussion of Howard’s Excalibur, that she wrote about British identity without knowing much about actual Britain — and to be clear I am very sympathetic to Mr. O’Brien’s on this point, personally — , is not necessarily going to bother the sort of American reader for whom imagined Celtic-fantasy Mists-of-Avalon-esque versions of Britain are more important than the real modern place that, you know, has Hull in it.

  14. Mike Loughlin says:

    Suzene: thanks for the good news!

    ASV: I looked at the characters in this comic and thought, “why can’t this be the X-Men?” Take Sunspot & Cannonball out because they are X-Characters in Space right now. You’re left with a potential leader in Banshee, Forge the tech guy, Strong Guy the bruiser/comic relief, Marrow the maverick, Armor the young character, and Tempo the newcomer/ wild card. Add Rachel Summers, Psylocke, or another telepath, and you have an interesting, viable team.
    Maybe they’re the Gold Team and the stars of the current X-Men are the Blue Team. I’d read it.

  15. Evilgus says:

    Commenting just to say, Uncanny X-Ben being a “misogynistic cellar goblin” made me laugh out loud. And @Voord, actually setting at least one issue of X-Men in Hull would be incredibly memorable. The heroes mystified as to what exactly they are doing there.

  16. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Evilgus- <3

    Voord- yeah I think you're absolutely right. There is an audience for this. While her work is certainly not universally loved over there, X-Men Reddit is generally pretty positive to it. Of course they'd be pretty positive to a rotten pumpkin if you slapped a Krakoan era X symbol on it.

    More broadly, this kind of stuff is popular today in entertainment.

    I think of it as "Moment Writing."

    Stuff like the new Star Wars and Star Trek and some of the Marvel live action works. Also in a lot of "hot modern" books I read.

    The characterization doesn't have to be properly built, the plot doesn't have to make sense, but as long as you end up with a memorable exciting or heartfelt moment it doesn't matter if it was earned or sensible.

    But maybe that's always been popular, and I'm just now noticing it as an old man.

  17. Ruben says:

    Drove me mad that Sunspot was referred to as Beto and not Berto throughout! Little thing but have you read anything he’s been in??

  18. Paul says:

    @Devin: The answers to the world puzzle are GLADIATOR, SHI’AR, XANDRA, DEATHBIRD, ORACLE and CHANDILAR. The letters for the solution are L, S, A, I, E and L, so presumably the password is ALLIES (since it’s the only word which those letters form).

  19. The Other Michael says:

    My mind immediately leaped to “Elias” which might be Elias Bogan from X-Treme X-Men who was some sort of psychic mutant IIRC. But that might be too much of a long shot.

  20. Si says:

    Sunspot’s been called Beto a lot lately. I can’t point out an example off the top of my head, but he hasn’t been in a lot of comics, so it would be easy to find if you really wanted. I don’t know, is it a more authentic Brazilian/Portuguese name? Either’s better than Bobby, mind you.

  21. Chris V says:

    Yes, “Beto” is more authentic for Portuguese speaking people. Howard made the right decision, although it might not have been at her initiative.

    Elias is only spelled with one “l”, so that would leave an extra L from the word puzzle answer.

  22. Miyamoris says:

    Re: the Berto/Beto thing: “Beto” is a more authentically Brazilian nickname, I’d say. Frankly, from my experience I can’t think of any case where someone called Roberto was nicknamed Berto.

    In fact, back in the 80s publishing company Abril did use “Beto” in their New Mutants translations. I’m not sure I still have the books here at home to confirm but I’m pretty sure of that.

  23. Moo says:

    Cool, now maybe someone will come along and have characters begin addressing Elizabeth Braddock as, if not Elizabeth, then Beth rather than (shudders) “Betsy”.

  24. Scott B says:

    I think Liz is probably the most common shortening of Elizabeth in the UK.

  25. Moo says:

    Ok, well I like Beth better but I’d take Liz over Betsy any day. Betsy is a name for a domesticated cow or goat. Or a nickname for someone with a gambling problem.

  26. wwk5d says:

    Google says common ones are Bess, Bessie, Bet, Beth, Betty, Lisa, Liz, Liza, Lizzie and Lizzy.

  27. wwk5d says:

    Granted, as per wiki, Betsy is also a legitimate name as well.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy

  28. Thom H. says:

    Can you imagine if you called her “Bessie”? She would so wield the focused totality of her psychic powers on you.

  29. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    I can’t believe a person known as Moo would be so judgemental about calling a woman by a cow name.

    Do you want to be the only one!?

  30. Paul says:

    “Betsy” isn’t exactly wrong but it’s extremely dated in the U.K. When Betsy was created in 1976, it was fine. In 2022 it makes her sound like an elderly maiden aunt, but it’s the sort of thing it’s quite hard to change now.

  31. Voord 99 says:

    As an actual first name (none of this messing around with “Elizabeth,” just get on with it and call the baby “Betsy”), Betsy may have made a modest comeback. Although it’s still no Emma.

    https://www.ukbabynames.com/girls/betsy.

    Good news for our host. The voters of that site are right now choosing “Paul” as the top-rated name across genders for British babies.

  32. neutrino says:

    Judging be Comichron’s projections, Excalibur has been selling in the mid to lower 30 thousand in the las quarter of 2021. That’s probably the reason it was rebooted as Knights of X.

    “Berto” was mostly the nickname his teammates gave him, although his father did call him that once.

    Elizabeth was called Bess in Claremont’s DOFP prequel.

  33. Josie says:

    “In 2022 it makes her sound like an elderly maiden aunt, but it’s the sort of thing it’s quite hard to change now.”

    I mean, Kitty became Kate after 40 years. It’s possible. Plus this is still a relatively new character, given that she was an Asian ninja for like 25 years previously.

  34. Bengt says:

    @Uncanny X-Ben
    “How is she propelling herself through the vacuum of space, with fucking bones!!!!???”

    That one would work. If you throw something in one direction you will start to drift in the opposite direction. Just throwing something with a fraction of your mass would be highly ineffective though, but could get you to a close by airlock or whatever (I haven’t read the issue). If her powers including shooting bones (I’m only vaguely familiar with Marrow) it would be more viable.

  35. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Evolution’s Spike shot bones, Marrow can only take them out and throw at people. Or slash at people. She’s usually more of a slasher type.

  36. Another legitimate nickname for Elizabeth is “Buffy”, which aside from the obvious pop-culture connection, is also what the Queen’s mother called her.

  37. Devin says:

    Thank you Paul!

  38. Omar Karindu says:

    Uncanny X-Ben said: More broadly, this kind of stuff is popular today in entertainment.

    I think of it as “Moment Writing.”

    [….]

    The characterization doesn’t have to be properly built, the plot doesn’t have to make sense, but as long as you end up with a memorable exciting or heartfelt moment it doesn’t matter if it was earned or sensible.

    But maybe that’s always been popular, and I’m just now noticing it as an old man.

    It’s always been there to some extent. I remember really noticing it with late 1990s and early 2000s comics that aimed for “widescreen” action.

    Those comics tended to be better constructed as stories, though, unless they were by Mark Millar.

    And sometimes Garth Ennis was feeling especially puerile or axe-grindy for a page or two, so the actual story would grind to a halt for a bit of business or a quick, and quickly dated bit of snark about politics and culture.

    However, I think it’s been accelerated, to some extent, by Web 2.0 culture.

    Decontextualized awesome moments are fit to purpose for sharing on social media, either as meme fodder or as quick little one- or two-panel clips with equally brief comments after them. And it lends itself to the supercut/compilation format, too.

    Moo said: Ok, well I like Beth better but I’d take Liz over Betsy any day. Betsy is a name for a domesticated cow or goat. Or a nickname for someone with a gambling problem.

    As long as they don’t crib from Moffat-era Doctor Who and call her “Liz X.”

    Perhaps they could turn the nickname into an initial and call her “B.B.”

    On second thought, no. Please, no.

  39. MasterMahan says:

    The one comic forum I frequent ranges from “Krakoa is a terrifying sex cult” to “Krakoa is the model to which all minorities should strive”, but it tends to be pretty lukewarm on Tini Howard. Though it also has a fair number of UK dwellers, so Paul’s not the only person I see being annoyed by the inaccuracies.

  40. Miyamoris says:

    @MasterMahan

    Lemme guess: scans daily?

  41. […] O’Brien reviews the irritating gimmick of Tini Howard, Francesco Mobili, et al’s Secret X-Men #1; the solid likeability of Fabian Nicieza, Matt Horak, et al’s X-Men Unlimited #13-20; and the […]

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