It takes a lot to be considered the Worst X-Man Ever. There’s Gambit to contend with with his stupid long hair, his stupid jawline, his stupid mysterious eyes, and his stupid, stupid abdominal muscles… And then there’s Maggot and all of those other gross mutants that apparently did not have the staying power with readers to receive their own spin-off series. When Cyclops and Gambit get solo books and you don’t, it might be time to pack it in and call it quits. But, still, Max Bemis and Michael Walsh deserve commendation and maybe even a little condemnation for creating what might genuinely be the worst X-Man ever with teenager Bailey Hoskins.
The character that Bemis writes in Worst X-Man Ever is a kid defined by his lack of distinguishing features. He’s stunningly average, the kind of kid that the book describes as well-liked but not exactly popular while also showing him as not particular good at or even interested in art, music, sports, or anything that would classify as a hobby outside of first-person shooters. The book describes Bailey as mostly alright while showing him to be a complete and utter asshole. A reader would be hard-pressed not to hate this kid after an opening two-page scene depicts him searching for a prom date and dismissing a girl as “only pretty in a totally anonymous way.”
Bailey’s search for character reaches a conclusion when his parents explain to him that he might be a mutant and he lights up with joy that he therefore might be able to add himself to the ranks of an oppressed minority. Here we have it, before we even know what his power is, we are confronted with someone that is definitely the worst X-Man ever. An X-Men story about how an average, uninteresting straight cishet white kid is eager to adopt the minority status of a group that is hated and feared is actually a novel concept that explores the X-Men from another, humorous angle (one that Morrison touched on a bit in his still ahead of its time run on New X-Men). The problem comes from the possibility that the writer isn’t aware of what he’s writing. The problem comes from the possibility that what makes Bailey the Worst X-Man Ever in his eyes is his power to explode once and then die.
Readers who have a history with Max Bemis’ musical career as the frontman of Say Anything may recall Bemis’ lyrical fascination with tales of hypocrisy, extreme earnestness, and indulgence to the point of despair as well as a real tendency towards what could be described as “slutshaming” (the song “Vexed” off of the double-lengthed break-up album epic In Defense of the Genre features a verse with the lyrics: “Everybody knows beneath your clothes, Staring at your toes is just a pose, Everybody good knows how hard you blow, Everybody knows”). For someone with a history with Bemis’s work, it can be difficult to distinguish where irony, skewering self-awareness, or genuinely problematic beliefs/behaviors begin and end.
Making things somewhat more difficult is the script’s approach to character. There’s a gay character who fills the role of unnamed best friend that appears on two pages before disappearing from the issue. We know he’s gay because Bailey calls him his “condescending gay best friend.” Ignoring the fact that placing “gay” as a descriptor next to the negatively connotative “condescending” is bad writing because it sort of has the effect of making “gay” appear as if it’s meant to be a bad thing. It screams of checking a box, trying to get a gay character in the book without doing something like letting your original character protagonist be gay. There was a time when getting another character to confirm that another, non-main character was gay was a huge deal in superhero comics but we’re past that point. This isn’t progressive, it’s elementary. It may even be regressive. A writer wanting to include gay characters in their work is still a positive thing in this case, something much better than a writer simply ignoring reality and not acknowledging the existence of the LGBTQ community, but it’s not especially inspiring when this is how they choose to do it.
Another reason to doubt that the writer is unaware of the inherent unlikability of the character he’s written is the way the narrative breaks its back towards the end to place readers on Bailey’s side with a tragicomic series of events. First he learns that his mutant power, the only thing that makes him special in the whole world, will kill him if he ever uses it and then his parents are stepped on by a Sentinel. Both moments are funny in the darkly comic way they’re meant to be. The writing of Beast’s explanation of Bailey’s power is actually quite funny once he switches to explaining it in the most simple of terms, but they don’t really do much to put readers on Bailey’s side after they’ve been giving nothing to like about this obnoxious kid. The moments fail to build sympathy with the readers because A) finding out that Bailey is ready to skip out on joining the mutant cause because his powers suck really drives home what a tourist he is and B) the moment of his parents’ death is too big and there isn’t very much time spent on how he reacts to it afterward.
Really, by the end of this issue there might be readers who just want to see this kid say “fuck it” and explode himself already because there’s no real point to all of this. With the way it’s written, this book brings nothing new to the formula. It’s just the story of an entitled white kid who just really wants to be made special through discrimination with no apparent judgment from the writer that would indicate an awareness of just how ugly this reads. If that is supposed to be the joke then it’s not a very funny one.
Saving the art in a book, the main feature of most any comic book, for one paragraph at the end is generally in bad taste. But there’s not a whole lot here to say other than it’s a mess. Michael Walsh’s pencils and inks as seen in books like Zero or Secret Avengers are some of the best in mainstream comics, but here they are overpowered by the blotchy colors of Ruth Redmond. Redmond’s colors absolutely fight for dominion over the panel from Walsh’s work and in the case that they win, the reader loses by having to read a smoothed over panel that appears like a series of pastels that neutralize the pencils and inks.
This comic, even with a couple of genuinely funny moments, is the sort of ugly and empty-headed work that barely attempts what passes for commentary on the state of the X-Men. It’s a supreme disappointment to see a talent like Walsh put on this book and to have his work sabotaged by a weak script as well as a colorist that combats him at every turn. This comic is a tire fire. It’s poorly conceived and poorly crafted, a failure on almost every level.