“Wild Kingdom 1 of 4” (Crossover with Black Panther)
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artists: Salvador Larroca (p), Danny Miki (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: A live news broadcast from war-torn Africa shows a reporter apparently being eaten by something monstrous, and strange mutant signatures popping up on Cerebra suggest this is a job for the X-Men. Havok’s team goes to investigate, accompanied by Storm. Each squad member injects a tiny morsel of action to the story by showing off their respective power blasts a time or two. Dialogue that is apparently intended to be funny bluntly reminds readers that previous arcs by this creative team have established unease among the team members due to a tangle of love triangles. A nefarious African warlord works his wickedness on the innocent. The team stumbles across a mutant shop of horrors, and someone wearing a Black Panther costume shows up on the last page to entice readers to buy Black Panter #8, the second chapter in this crossover.
Grumblings: There is precisely one reason why I continue to spend my money on the Milligan/Larroca run in Adjectiveless X-Men. It is because I own every issue of every X-title published since about 1982, with only about a dozen exceptions. Something in the addictive quality of my comic buying habits makes it unseemly for me to dump this title now, even though, issue after issue, Milligan and Larroca are boring me to tears.
My review of this issue, while it is the first I have written for this title, is impossible to dissociate from my general weariness of the previous issues in the current run.
Weariness, starting with the art. Almost every face Larroca draws has a stubby nose and a swollen upper lip, and frankly, I’m sick of looking at them. Though, to be fair, a close scrutiny of this issue shows that maybe, he’s finally starting to get outside that particular box with his pencils. The unnamed Liquid! colorist, however, as usual completely puts me to sleep with a criminally bland color palette more suited to the waiting room of a hospital. This is a comic book. I have little interest in being soothed. Yet Larroca’s art has been accompanied by this oatmeal for over a year now, so I can only assume it’s a style he prefers.
Milligan’s blunt character work gives his cast of beloved X-Men all the depth and human resonance of corrugated cardboard. Everyone in this book is grumpy, snide and sounding like they’d rather be somewhere else (of course, that could just be me projecting). Bobby Drake, under Milligan’s custodianship the past ten months, has devolved to a jack-in-the-box of ill-timed, artless jokes. Since Iceman was saddled with the life-altering tragedy of being permanently transformed to ice by Chuck Austen, no one has really bothered to get inside his head and show him dealing with what must surely be a personal horror (other than that little treasure of a story in X-Men Unlimited #9 a couple months ago). And that’s a real shame.
The present issue suffers from a number of individual moments that take me out of the story. The attack on the reporter on the first two pages is confusing. Is the monstrous attacker a teleporter? None of the subsequent mutant-beasts seen later seem to be. A setpiece fight between X-people and mutated beasts seems to involve the squad killing them all, but the team hasn’t bothered to find out if perhaps these horrific creatures are sentient (which seemed to be the whole point of Havok’s team going to Africa to investigate in the first place). Wolverine later lunges at a baddie with claws bared, but the claws seem to only puncture a little hole in the guy’s glasses while the meat of his fist knocks the guy flat. Yet there’s a streamer of blood trailing the swipe of his claw. I suppose I can assume that, over the years, Wolvie’s developed his slashing accuracy down to the thousandth of an inch to avoid tearing off people’s faces, but … well, why am I even having to think through this conundrum as I read? Just turn the page and slog on.
And, as is frequent in comics these days, Milligan flavors his story with an unhelpful bit of throwaway dialogue that reads like a page from your basic Marxist revolutionary boy scout handbook: “Seems M’Butu was just the tip of the iceberg. The real problems lie with the Western banks and multinationals who bankroll people like him.” As if the sad history of African tribal strife and slaughter (c.f. Rwanda, 1994) is merely a moral outrage of secondary order.
Given that this is intended to be a setup for a sales-boosting crossover, I have absolutely zero interest in finding out what happens in Black Panther #8.
The issue gets one bullet because, well, I know I’ve read worse.
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