Friday, August 1, 2014

Four Color Culture: X-Men: No More Humans

Hello Readers Mine! Welcome to another installment of "Four Color Culture." This week I'm going to be looking at X-Men: No More Humans, a Marvel Original Graphic Novel (OGN) which hit the stands (are there really any stands left anywhere?) in early May of this year. Written by Mike Carey with art by Salvador Larroca, color by Justin Ponsor and letters by Cory Petit, No More Humans turned out to be a really pleasant surprise.

X-Men: No More Humans, cover art by Salvador Larroca. Marvel Worldwide, 2014.

Full disclosure here: despite an early, passionate, and ongoing love of the X-Men, I don't currently have any X-titles on my pull list. Like many comic fans my age, I dropped out of buying comics regularly in the early 1990s when every time you turned around there was a new foil-hologram-cover, factory-bagged #1, 1.5 million copies printed "collectors issue" launching yet another new book from one of the Big Two. These were the days when the proliferation of the X-titles began, and yes, I admit it, I still have all five variant covers of X-Men #1 (Volume 2, 1992). But shortly thereafter I no longer bothered trying to keep up. So it went until the fall of 2012, when I found myself in a city with a really good comic shop (Atomik Comiks in Johnson City, TN - hey guys!), and a budding career studying and writing about pop-culture. So back to comics I went. And boy were there a lot of X-titles! And literally about seventeen years worth of continuity I had missed and which was still playing out with no scorecard in sight. I came in right at the very end of the A vs. X cross-over, just in time to read the last issues of Uncanny X-Men (volume 3,487), and the birth of All-New X-Men and Marvel NOW! (the first one).

Honestly, I wasn't impressed with All-New's first few issues (though people whose taste I generally trust have assured me I should go back and read the series), nor did Wolverine and the X-Men  do it for me, and fuck me if Marvel wasn't launching even more X-books, and who the hell knows what's going on or who's on which team anymore anyway, so the only semi-X-title I kept on my new list was Uncanny Avengers (and yes, I realize the irony in that the one title I still get has relied so much on back-stories and continuity from the years 1995 - 2012 that, despite having collected every issue since #1, there have been entire runs of four or five issues where I had to read Wikipedia for three hours just to kinda know what was going on). Since then, every time I think about catching up on the X-Folks, I look at the sheer amount of reading it would take, and I just go re-read the latest issue of Saga or Astro City.

Girls! Girls! You're both pretty!
 Carey, Larroca, and Ponsor, page 20, panel 1.
Even so, X-Men: No More Humans is the first X-Men OGN since the magnificent God Loves, Man Kills, and it promised to be a stand-alone work, so I ordered it. I'm really glad I did. Basically, all of the various X-People wake up on morning to discover that every non-mutant has disappeared from the face of the Earth. Both Cyclops' and Wolverine's X-teams investigate and wind up joining forces in order to solve the mystery of the humans' disappearance. Personalities and agendas are still present, but you really don't have to know any back-story to jump right in to this. A half-paragraph synopsis of the current state of X-affairs sets things up, and the two teams are working together by page 21. Carey and Larroca tell a really good story here. There's angst, action, betrayals, battles, old loves come back, and at the end of the day, the best that can be hoped for is the status quo ante bellum.

Behold: Magneto! Because... Magneto!
Carey, Larroca, and Ponsor, page 20.
The art is lovely. Larroca's style is largly realistic, he pays attention to details, particularly when it comes to faces, and his figures move well. His weakness is female faces and body-types, which sometimes look so much alike that it is difficult to tell Emma Frost from Jean Grey except for the hair. He's not afraid of blacks, but doesn't over use them, and his sunny day scenes keep the shadows in their proper places. There are a few obligatory and predictable splash pages, but whether it's Magneto, Storm's team, or Scott's the X-Men have always  liked to make an entrance, so I'll give the splashes a pass. Juston Ponsor is invaluable throughout, but particularly in panels where he unerringly uses color-washes and shading to evoke mood or to show various powers reaching right out for you.

Carey flat-out nails the voices of Scott, Storm, Wolverine, Magneto, and the Hanks, but, most of the other X-Men are more seen than heard, and the passive-aggressive dialogue between past Jean Grey and Emma Frost feels forced and tired. Plot-wise, Carey is tight and his pacing is spot-on, slowing down for ye olde X-speeches and statements of integrity when he should and smoothly letting the punches fly fast and relentlessly when all hell breaks loose. No More Humans  is basically a common foe/problem story, but it is well told, and neither X-team is forced to break their established worldviews. Most importantly, this is an X-story that can be read and enjoyed without having read All-New or Uncanny (volume 3,488) or whatever. In fact, it's the first book in a while that has made me want to go back and catch up on my X-reading. Maybe.

So check out X-Men: No More Humans if you get a chance, and check back here at Solomon Mao's every now and again for more of my musings on various comics and other pop-culture productions.

See ya next time!

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