“House Arrest: Part 3 of 3: Togetherness”
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artists: Salvador Larroca, Various Inkers
Publisher: Marvel Comics
When I reviewed the first issue of Milligan’s run on this title, I found myself unimpressed and more than a little confused; the comic read strangely, with odd over-the-top dialogue, eccentric plotting, and a peculiar sense of melodrama. It had all the outward appearance of quite a bad comic, but there was a niggling suspicion at the back of my mind that this was all in some way deliberate, that it was actually supposed to read strangely.
And now, about a year later, Milligan’s X-Men still reads like that. The same strange plot developments crop up (why should we care that Havok’s leaving the X-Men?), needlessly melodramatic characterisation abounds (Lorna storming out of the mansion in a strop), and bizarre bits of dialogue are strewn around the book (notably a baffling bit about Gambit’s cultural origins). Since I know Milligan to be a good writer, it’s difficult for me to see these aspects of the writing as flaws, as I would with someone like Chuck Austen, and yet if Milligan is doing all this deliberately, it seems a strange creative decision, and I’m not sure it works. He wrote X-Statix in much the same way, but there it fit the tone and philosophy of the book; I’m not sure it does here, although I’ll be one of the first to admit that the main X-Men titles have very often been rather too po-faced and overly serious, so perhaps a dash of absurdity is healthy.
The art is something of a mixed bag; while Larroca’s figure work is strong, the lack of backgrounds in some panels is rather too obvious, and there are some strange location/setting errors here and there. The storytelling is also rather unclear in places, making it difficult to know exactly what’s going on; for example, Iceman’s reaction to the not-yet-materialising stealth Sentinel comes across almost like precognition. It seems that his ice blasts are being blocked by the invisible machine, but it’s really not entirely clear.
So again, this title has made me fail in my job as a reviewer, as I’m really not sure if it’s any good or not. I think the odd stylistic quirks may be deliberate, but even if so, I’m not sure they work as intended, and the surreal and detached feel they give the comic as a whole does not, for me, make for a generally enjoyable read.
Plot: Lotsa plots, lotsa subplots. So let’s deal with those first. Something is up in the Middle East. Mystique is cat burgling. The Leper Queen was burned by ice. Everybody’s onto Lorna. Lorna saw something in space.
Comments: The smartest part of this issue is how everyone saw that Lorna had lost her powers, despite her protests. The dumbest part of this issue is how long it takes the X-men to figure out that these Sentinels are manned with a sapien crew. The prettiest part of the issue is Larroca’s art. The ugliest part is the Leper Queen, who has a nice Jason Vorhees vibe if she’d ever get around to some carnage.
The saddest part is how old hat it is. Bobby re-ices up, because, as Emma exposits, he didn’t really lose his powers; he just wanted to real bad. Then he gets mad at Havoc hanging out with Lorna. These exact same events have been going on since 1968. Can there really have been no progression at all for these three?
Havoc and Lorna assure us they’re leaving the team on the last page. Right. Because, really, that’s all Havoc and Lorna have ever existed to do. She’s a second Jean, and he’s second-banana to Scott, and they never get to be the plot, only the subplot, even when they’re the stars of the book. They never had that much personality in the first place (just great looks thanks to Steranko and Adams). Claremont had to graft on a possession story to keep Lorna interesting, and Peter David tried his best with making them the mom and pop of X-factor, but all Alex ever was in his parallel timeline was Scott with an even faker Jean, Maddy.
It’s time to get a grip on these two. C’mon, Milligan, wow me. You’ve got an X-book. Time to do something with it.
It’s the Sentinels versus the Sapien League, with the X-Men pushed to the sidelines. As the new government-regulated robots fight to “protect” mutants from human terrorists, the heroes stir over their internment. Meanwhile, Pulse and Mystique steal some art, Iceman undergoes a horrifying transformation, and Polaris comes clean.
So ninety-some percent of mutants lose their powers. Lorna Dane, a.k.a. Polaris, refuses to use her abilities to protect herself or her teammates. Why is there even any question what is going on with her? Granted, when Lorna confesses that she no longer has her mastery of magnetism, the other X-Men good-humoredly admit they suspected as much, but the repeated questioning along the lines of “Gee, Lorna, why didn't you crumple that tank into a ball of tinfoil instead of just running away?” stretches credibility to its limit.
On to a similar anticlimax: Iceman has his powers back. Already. He has much less control this time around, and has lost his sleek appearance, but on a basic level Bobby Drake can once again turn his body into ice and hurl frozen projectiles at the bad guys. Don’t worry, though, M-Day still happened and is still relevant—Bobby lost his powers on purpose, so Emma Frost was able to go into his mind and restore his mutanthood. Cop out? Just a little. Can the White Queen also restore Wolverine’s mysterious past?
The plus side: there are some great character moments, and some really nice dialogue. Iceman's agony in frozen form is terrifically expressed by artist Salvador Larroca, and Cyclops’s blend of pragmatism and wit is fun to watch. Also, who can dislike an issue that includes Outlaw and Peepers? Peepers is a fantastically ridiculous creature, and his association with a beautiful leather-clad cowgirl makes the pair all the more enigmatic. And reminiscent of high school drama club.
Also nice: the political undercurrent of the Sentinels’ presence. Valerie Cooper, who runs Sentinel Squad O*N*E, in explaining that the robots surround the mansion in the depleted X-Men’s best interest, tells Cyclops, “It’s security, Scott. Maybe that costs a little freedom.” Heavy-handed? Sure. And inelegant, to boot. But these are not terms unfamiliar to our real-world headlines, and it appears to be language that real people respond to, one way or the other. It would have been nice to see Mr. Summers express a little bit more outrage, but that could just be one reader projecting.
With the “Decimation” story arcs following up on House of M, the necessary shake up in status quo is bound to provoke some unexpected developments. Such is the case with X-Men, and this title is a must for followers of the mutant crusade. But X-Men is still underperforming—it is outpaced by the several Decimation miniseries and also by the surprisingly clever New X-Men. In a Marvel Universe turned on its ear, there is no excuse for a comic that is merely good. X-Men should be Astonishing. It should be Uncanny. But it seems without the hyperbole of its sister titles, the adjectiveless X-Men aspires only to mediocrity.
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