Sunday Slugfest - X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Ariel Carmona Jr., Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill, Shaun Manning, Jason Sacks
“Dead a Long Time, Part 1”

Ariel Carmona Jr.

Though X-Statix will be primarily a mutant book, this initial outing is the story of what happens when Dr. Strange discovers a bunch of dead Marvel characters like Alicar, Mysterio and Kraven the Hunter are crossing over into the world of the living. “There’s only one thing worse than being dead, and that’s being forgotten,” utters one of them.

The star of the book is Dr. Strange and instead of being played as the straight and somber master of mysticism and Marvel’s resident problem solver of the paranormal, he’s being played for laughs mixed in with a bit of pathos by writer Peter Milligan. Strangely (no pun intended) enough, this treatment of the character works.

While chuckling at such revelations made by Strange’s assistant Wong, such as the fact Stephen suffers from hemorrhoids, we also get a rare glimpse at Strange’s outlook on life in a scene where he talks about how a region of hell would look beautiful to us, until we found out what it was, “Just like life,” he muses. His erratic behavior leads Wong to schedule an appointment with a shrink. Milligan milks the concept of one of Marvel’s most powerful characters needing psychiatric help with comic results, extending an idea previously explored in other superhero comics recently. (After finding out he might be terminally ill, Spider-Man visits with a doctor specializing in superheroes, for example.)

The comic’s opening scene takes us back in time to the Vietnam Era where a couple of African-American kids find a piece of spandex in an alley and then proceed to discover one of the dead villains inside a garbage dumpster. Milligan’s dialogue here is quite funny and serves to establish how regular people view heroes and villains in the Marvel universe.

“The Pitiful One,” one of the diseased villains employs a mysterious green clay to resurrect the dead while in our dimension, more wackiness ensues as Dr. Strange’s shrink turns out to be one of his peers from medical school, but after revealing to him how he’s depressed because all he has in life is his mastery of the arcane magic, Strange ends up helping the shrink. This scene allows us a greater glimpse into the mental state of Dr. Strange. It’s fascination to think that he could be depressed while wielding such power, and Milligan pulls it off with wit and humorous banter. Meanwhile, The dead villains attack the United Nations building and it is up to Strange to “negotiate” with them into surrender.

The “Pitiful One’s” conversation with Strange is hilarious, at once mocking comic book conventions while advancing the plot. All the villains want to live again. When the military intervenes, their unwanted arrival has predictable results. The comic book’s final page is priceless and the artwork by Nick Dragotta, while not flashy, serves to give the book a whimsical, light-hearted tone. Overall, this is a funny take on one of Marvel’s venerable magic wielding icons, and it shows the company is not afraid to take risks for the sake of some imaginative narratives.

Kelvin Green

Wait, I don’t get it. The cretins at Marvel are responsible for House of M, consistently failing to assign Robert Kirkman to Not Avengers, and slowly killing Spider-Man off over the course of nine issues, only to resurrect him as the Day-Glo Power Ranger. So how can the same people be responsible for the return of X-Statix?

To be honest, I don’t think an ongoing series was the best format for X-Force/X-Statix; it had a tendency to slump and rely on goodwill and residual lunacy from earlier, better, issues to carry it through. But here, things seem refreshed and vibrant, and with the characters being dead, they’re also freed from the celebrity superhero angle, which became somewhat restrictive in the end.

Oddly enough, death doesn’t appear to be as much of a restriction, as even with a deceased cast, Milligan turns out a fun and interesting story in which a mysterious villain, the “Pitiful One,” resurrects a number of dead super-people to aid him in a campaign of terror on the living world, with only a depressed and self-conscious Doctor Strange and a so-far-unresurrected Dead Girl to stop them. That’s actually a fairly conventional sequence of events by X-Statix standards, but the fun is in the details; one of the deceased terrorists is Dead Girl’s boyfriend from her X-Statix days, Strange is depressed at his lot in life and as such is unsympathetic to the terrorists' demands for resurrection, and the terrorists themselves find it grotesquely unfair that Colossus and Psylocke get to live again when they don’t. What’s great about this comic is that these situations aren’t just played for obvious laughs; they’re also full of potential for dramatic conflict and development. Perhaps the lessons learned and points made won’t be the most deep and insightful ones, but it’s good to see that Milligan isn’t necessarily content to just put out a humour book.

Dragotta’s art evokes the style of the original X-Statix title, no doubt due in part to the presence of Mike and Laura Allred on inks and colours respectively, but his own style is apparent too, particularly in the figure work, which is generally more fluid and dynamic than that of Allred. It’s the familiar X-Statix look, and it, of course, perfectly suits the tone of the story, but it’s a bit more refined than before.

My only complaint about this comic is that it’s somehow not particularly compelling. I’m pleased to see the characters back in action, and I’m interested in finding out more about the “Pitiful One,” as I’ve always loved the concept of hiding a character’s identity from the reader (is it Paste Pot Pete?), but I’m not sure that without those aspects, I’d be coming back to this title. Perhaps Marvel are content to rely on the X-Statix fan base for sales, or perhaps I’m being too picky, but this comic doesn’t grab the attention as much as I’d like. All that said, it’s a minor complaint if anything, and I remain pleasantly surprised that Marvel published this slice of fun.

Shawn Hill

Plot: A super-villain who died without much note in the sixties wants his life back, and he’s willing to use the shades of Miss America, Mysterio, the Anarchist and Kraven to get it. Dr. Strange seeks an ally to prevent this transgression.

Comments: The real writing’s back, kids! Sloughing off the X-chains of nominal conformity that have kept his X-Men off-center but unimpressive, Milligan assembles an assortment of inspired concepts under the artistic visions of those far more simpatico to his irony than Larroca. It’s not that only Allred gets his vision … but come to think of it, why don’t they switch Larroca with Bachalo, giving Claremont back a partner he excelled with and giving Milligan someone who might get his jokes?

Anyway, no such worries here, as that team of destructive misfits is deeply inspired. Not everyone is on board with the mysterious villain’s plans, but that hellish clay he uses to revive them seems to enthrall them as well, as they go on a rampage that only makes sense in a Marvel universe in full humorous, off-kilter mode. There’s a slight similarity here to the recent Defenders comic, but I think Strange works better with the retro psychedelia that Milligan channels with the right pictures to blow our minds.

This Strange is a bit off and unsettled, too, but he hasn’t lost his sense of wonder and mystery despite having entered a depression that worries Wong. There’s also an odd subplot involving two New York kids (who seem inspired by the ever-popular strip Boondocks), which I’m sure will lead somewhere. If there’s a flaw with this issue, it’s that so far the connections are tenuous, and the title character barely makes an appearance. But that would be giving away a glorious splash page finale, and when Doc is this amusing, well, sign me up for the whole show. It’s not X-Statix, but then, they’re all dead.

Shaun Manning

Confession time: I am the reason X-Statix got cancelled. Not me personally, I don’t kid myself that I have that kind of power. But because I did not read this title that so many (but apparently not enough) fans adored, I must count myself part of the problem.

I can’t say, though, that I was willfully ignorant of the title’s purported greatness; no one can accuse me of not giving it a chance. Before the title change, when Peter Milligan and Mike Allred took over X-Force, I gave the book a good six-issue trial. There was some interesting stuff going on, but the concept just didn’t grab me. Sorry.

This concept, though, this is a good one. And when Peter Milligan hits on a good concept, he can’t do wrong.

In X-Statix: Dead Girl, the dead are returning to life thanks to a mysterious (and very dead) super-villain. The bandaged baddie has discovered a powerful green ooze in the deepest bowels of hell that will return a spirit to the land of the living for a limited time only. Now going by the name The Pitiful One, this evil mastermind has assembled a team of disgruntled shades to invade Earth. The Pitiful One wants more than to simply take revenge on the heroes that killed him... he wants revenge for being left behind when everyone else gets to return from the dead! Perhaps Dr. Strange can talk him out of it...

Dr. Strange played for humor is a lot of fun. The Master of Mysticism’s existential dilemma feels like something out of Giffen and DeMatteis’s Defenders, and Dr. Strange’s preoccupation with his own speech is also wonderfully quirky. The Pitiful One (great name, by the way) is a fascinating character, as well, and I love that the mystery of his identity is almost beside the point. He’s fought the Fantastic Four and the Avengers; so he could be anybody. Any dead villain who lacked the fan favor to make a shocking comeback. The anointing of his cadre with the resurrection goo also has a few interesting elements, notably its resemblance to the rite of Holy Communion and several characters treating it as a drug experience.

The art by Nick Dragotta and Mike Allred is much in keeping with Allred’s distinctive style: simple and efficient. There are as many visual gags as verbal, and not one falls flat. Laura Allred's coloring provides that classic newsprint feel.

Fans of X-Statix, you are vindicated. This is some amazing stuff.

Jason Sacks

I really miss X-Statix. It was such a wonderfully clever take on superheroes. The characters were as much commentaries on the power of clichés in the comics medium as they were three-dimensional characters, and the series did a wonderful job of balancing humorous satire with clever characterization. Under writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred, the series was a clever and insightful view of heroes as they might appear in the real world. The mix of humor and horror, teen angst and post-modern satire was a giddy thrill.

Now X-Statix is back in the form of this new mini-series. X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #1 is a wonderful return of the series that I missed so much. It's funny and clever and features wonderful art by Allred. The issue presents some dead characters - Mysterio and Kraven from Spider-Man, the '40s heroine Miss America, the Living Mummy and Tike from the X-Statix as they return to life for 24 hours. Filled with hatred for the living world, the group attacks the United Nations. The issue also presents Milligan's take on Doctor Strange, who seems to be having some major psychological problems, as well as some complicated dietary issues.

The whole thing is a major kick in the pants. I loved seeing Allred and Milligan working together again, and - on the last page - there was Allred's take on Gwen Stacy.

No deep insights in this review, I'm afraid. I loved it, and it made me smile alit.

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