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Oct 11

The X-Cellent

Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

“New Blood, New World”
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Michael Allred
Colourist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Editor: Darren Shan

If I’m being honest, I’d forgotten about this one until the collected edition showed up on the list for this week. I mean, I’ve got a review backlog, but it doesn’t stretch back to July. Except for this one. And part of it is that it didn’t really register with me that the thing had finished. It’s a five issue miniseries that ends with an issue that in no way feels like it was meant to come last. It’s really quite strange.

Not that X-Statix wasn’t always strange, of course. Does it even really count as an X-book? It’s always been semi-detached from the rest of the Marvel Universe. Technically it’s canon, and it has guest stars from the wider Marvel Universe. But of its own characters, only Doop appears anywhere else. For the rest – a couple of cameos in Thunderbolts and Brotherhood, I believe, and that’s about it. The Marvel Universe can handle the co-existence of Howard the Duck and the Punisher, it can handle Doop, but when it comes to the rest of X-Statix, there’s something that the Marvel Universe finds… indigestible. Even though there’s nothing really stopping you from writing the characters straight.

But… what would be the point of that? A weird, satirical, self-parodic book from twenty years ago, with Allred’s art giving it a classic superhero feel and a slight off-kilter-ness at the same time, X-Statix is defined by the style more than the characters. The original run leans heavily on the idea that X-Statix are more of a media and celebrity project than a superhero team. Marvel seemed to miss the point when they repeated the trick with other books, but having them debut as a replacement X-Force, with no connection to the original team, worked precisely because they were a bunch of undeserving usurpers. That was the whole point. And over time, the cast – or some of them – do get more sympathetic. Guy Smith is a basically decent person who has stumbled into this role, after all.

X-Statix is a product of the age of reality television. It ended in 2004, the year Facebook was founded. We’re a generation down the line and notions of cynical marketeering have changed. That seems to be part of the point here, with X-Statix up against the titular rival team of attention-grabbing antiheroes in what winds up being a battle for popularity. Milligan is keen to hammer the idea that we’re in the next generation, with Anarchist, Phat and U-Go Girl both replaced by their adult children. Don’t ask how that works. That way lies madness.

The original team relied mainly on getting Doop to film actual stuff that they did as supposed heroes, but under the leadership of Zeitgeist, the X-Cellent are just doing random stunts to build a following, with vague blather about fighting for the freedom of the internet; X-Statix are struggling to keep up in the modern media landscape. I’m not sure how well that really comes across, since three of them are next generation characters and Orphan and Vivisector never were the ones who really mastered the media stuff. They used to have manipulative supporting characters for that. Still, the basic point seems to be: a generation later, X-Statix are being shouldered aside by something even more vacant than them. Orphan’s solution to this is to enlist the aid of Girl Joe, “a respected social and political vlogger and influencer” with “a broad following in the queer/pan, non-normative and cisgender communities”. This character feels more like Milligan’s admission that the world is passing him by than anything else, though they’re also probably the most sensible person in the book. Unfortunately, they’re also too sensible to pretend that X-Statix are all that great either.

There’s more to the plot than just chasing followers, mind you. Anarchist and U-Go Girl’s heirs – the A and Gone Gal – have a subplot about proving themselves and being in the shadow of the originals. The X-Cellent have team members who, if not exactly heroic, at least signed up with the hazy idea that they were doing something productive; Mirror Girl keeps deluding herself that this must be heading somewhere, while the ridiculous and irritating Fluff turns out to be a vaguely proper hero who’s wound up in the wrong place (and the wrong decade). Zeitgeist is permanently on the lookout for new teleporters to bounce his team around more impressively, and winds up with someone dangerously inept. The A plot turns out to be that Zeitgeist wants to use his followers as “worshippers” to turn himself into a god using a spell copied from the Book of Vishanit, which is… surprisingly conventional, actually.

The fifth issue is strange, though. It spends a lot of time introducing a completely new teleporter, upper class English celebrity gossip blogger Toodle Pip. The high concept is that she’s in denial about her own identity and deflecting everything towards a focus on the lives of others – nothing about her own personality really comes through in her writing because she prefers to believe it’s no longer relevant. But… in no way does her introduction issue read like it was meant to come at the end of a series. This reads like it’s been cut short, despite finishing with a trailer page promising “the X-Cellent Season 2” “later this year”.

Of course, the December solicitations are out now, and it won’t be out later this year. Heaven only knows what’s happening with this, but it sure reads like something that got guillotined. Still, so did Knights of X, and the promised Captain Britain replacement book is coming out next year. So you never know.  It has the potential to coalesce into something – it doesn’t really seem on course to match X-Statix at its strongest, but there’s certainly plenty in here that works, and Allred’s art still strikes the right balance. But at this stage, and in the absence of any indication of the second volume actually existing, this is more of an unresolved oddity than anything else.

Bring on the comments

  1. Luis Dantas says:

    I have no true information on the matter, but I suspect that issues #6 and later are being held until Doctor Strange status quo realigns with those issues (or, perhaps, they are rewritten to align with the current status quo).

    After all, it would be tricky to have Doc guest-star at the current time – and perhaps harder to explain how come a team that includes Dead Girl will not attempt to deal with the storylines of the current Strange ongoing.

  2. Jerry Ray says:

    I was never a fan of X-Statix on a good day, and this is not a good day. I found this annoying and borderline unreadable. I won’t be sad if it’s quietly forgotten, but I’m sure Marvel will eventually get around to making more of it.

  3. YLu says:

    The delay could be down to something as simple as Allred taking on other projects in-between. He has a Superman miniseries coming out now, though I have no idea when it was completed.

  4. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    I’ve always been sad Mr. Sensitive joined Doop in the main books.

    He’s the only one that would really fit in as a straight X-Man.

  5. Josie says:

    “I was never a fan of X-Statix on a good day”

    And yet . . . you bought and read the new series anyway.

    “The delay could be down to something as simple as Allred taking on other projects in-between.”

    I think Allred has always scheduled his work like this? Although maybe not while the original X-Force/X-Statix run was coming out. He seems to bounce between ongoings, fill-ins, short stories, and his creator-owned work from month to month and I have no idea how he does it.

  6. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I don’t know about Jerry, but once something is on Unlimited, which I subscribe to anyway, the only additional cost is my time. And Allred’s art is always worth it.

    As for the story, I agree with Paul – it read to me as Milligan admitting that he’s somewhat behind the times.

    I wonder, has there been a superhero comic that actually did something interesting with Web 2.0 / livestream commentary? We’ve had villains doing stuff ‘for the likes’ (way back in Spider-Man’s Brand New Day era and probably earlier than that as well), the youtube-isation of Mojoverse in recent X-Factor, but it never coalesces into something… I don’t know, interesting?

  7. ASV says:

    I’ve always found the meta-media commentary stuff pretty tiresome. I read X-Statix for the first time a couple years ago and was extremely underwhelmed. I could see what would’ve been compelling about it at the time, but I don’t think it’s aged well, and a big reason is that the point it’s making is so on the nose and also made in a million other places over the last 30 years.

  8. Aro-tron says:

    The recent run of X-Factor spent a few issues revamping the mojo-verse into a live-streaming ecosystem, and it worked pretty well.

  9. K says:

    @ASV: Another reason it hasn’t aged well is that the point it’s making has made about a gazillion dollars over the last 30 years.

    Satire never actually makes a gimmick less profitable.

  10. Thom H. says:

    I completely forgot about this and may not have read the final issue. I’ll have to look that up.

    I thought it was light fun. The X-Cellent are great characters — really unpleasant and with weird powers. I kind of wish X-Statix wasn’t in it at all, but I get that that’s part of the point. They’ve been left behind in a world where increasingly disturbing ideas are readily accepted by the general public.

  11. Jerry Ray says:

    I’m still an X-book completist. It’s a sickness, like justifying how I spend my money to abrasive strangers on the internet.

  12. Rich Larson says:

    Jerry Ray,

    That made me both laugh at the comment and sigh heavily about my many long boxes.

  13. SanityOrMadness says:

    Apparently, X-Cellent S2 is happening, just s bit later than promised – another five-issue series starting in March.

  14. […] Milligan & Michael Allred: X-Cellent: New Blood, New World […]

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