It all started as a joke I made to AiPT!’s resident X-Man X-pert: “What if Age of X-Man was just a recycled Age of Apocalypse without any of the imagination?” Having now read the first issue of X-Tremists (as well as a few other tie-in books for this event)…well…I’m hoping to be proven wrong over time. This book is 28 pages of unlikable characters annoying one another, hunting down people for being in love and taking the event’s central anti-emotion premise to such a preposterous conclusion that I almost felt insulted reading it. In that way it is a fitting successor to the AoA‘s Factor X series: a book with bad art, and filled with unlikable characters shoehorned into a silly premise rooted in the timeline’s underlying theme of bastardized genetic science. Both books even feature Northstar in prominent roles!
So the premise of the book is that Northstar, Iceman, Blob, Psylocke, Jubilee and a new character named Monetta are a fascist strike force tasked with tracking down any and all mutants who break Nate Grey’s vaunted “No Touching” policy like some PG form of Orwellian Thought Police. You can probably tell that I think that central conceit is ridiculous (since when has Nate been anti-emotion?), but even divorcing myself from this feeling, there’s a lot about this book that just doesn’t make sense. Let’s start with characterization, as there are a ton of problems here. First, Iceman is the dirt worst. I know he’s always been the X-Men’s goofball little brother, but he is insufferable in this first issue. He spends the entire book making awful quips and banging on about an in-joke that doesn’t land, only to attempt redemption in the last panel by balking at Monetta’s usage of a slur. He also, for whatever reason, is seemingly depicted as his younger self here, which is probably just a wonky art decision, but is something I can’t un-see. Then there’s Jubilee who has become some sort of stern den mother to Bobby, with no spark of the fun or lively spirit that made the character so popular in the ’90s. Then there’s the new character Monetta whose defining characteristics in this issue appear to be “is racist…or at least classist” and “is a stick in the mud.” Now you could chalk that all up to this being an alternate timeline with its own characterizations, but then what is up with Blob in this issue? In NextGen (an admittedly imperfect book I genuinely enjoyed) Blob is a callous badass, taking Bling down single-handedly and do so with cold efficiency and malice in his eyes. In X-Tremists? He’s a cuddly teddy bear who can’t even catch a were-rat. A pregnant were-rat at that!
So yeah, spoiler alert, one of the “fugitives” that the team apprehends is, in fact, pregnant with another mutant’s baby — the first natural birth in years. Now when I say years, it’s a little unclear, but it’s definitely fewer than 10, as all of our characters remember the time before…well, selectively at least. You see, in the past few years, it’s not just that the world banned fluid transfer ala Demolition Man – somehow, people legitimately forgot how old school procreation works. Monetta and Blob in particular seem flabbergasted by the process and the concept of sex in general. Indeed only Northstar seems to put together that people still possess the plumbing necessary to make babies the old fashioned way. I mean to be fair, Psylocke appears above the whole thing, but the rest of the squad not named Jean Paul are like nattering children who just heard a dirty word. I get that this is a new world where everyone’s memories and the very history of the world has been rewritten, but this was a bridge too far for me.
In a recent interview with the (great) Battle of the Atom podcast, series author Leah Williams laid out her plan for the X-Tremist series as a story about queer people being forced back into the closet. She spoke about important development for underserved characters like Blob, and really did a great job of selling me on the book more than the synopsis or cover could have. Indeed I would love to read that story…It’s just that there is NONE of that in this issue. No character struggles with their identity, the sum total of Blob’s character development seems to be a cheesy catchphrase and a spiffy new haircut, and our central cast’s fascistic embrace of the Grey Regime’s banishment of love and affection in all its forms is so ardent that it’s going to be hard to empathize with them as the book rolls on. A story with a group of people being robbed of a central part of their identity, re-learning what they lost, and growing as individuals is fascinating and such fertile ground for storytelling — so why didn’t we get any of that in this opener?
These problems aren’t helped by the aesthetic, which is a bit of a struggle to work through.
Penciler Georges Jeanty is already working with a handicap with some of these costume designs (Iceman as a suspendered leather daddy is particular issue with me), but he really seems like a poor fit for this book. Jubilee and Northstar have the same face, as do Monetta and Betsy – who appears to be Kwannon in this series despite a return to her British form several months ago, but my real issue is with Blob and Nezumi the Rat girl. I get that Blob’s history and backstory may paint him as a slob, but this is supposed to be “sexy Blob.” Why does it seem like every panel is a photograph he wasn’t ready for? He’s constantly unkempt, mouth agape, and unprepared – something reflected in his character in this issue for whatever reason (again, in NextGen he’s a super competent badass). For Nezumi, my issue is more about consistency. I guess it’s inevitable that the character would give off Master Splinter vibes (A Japanese humanoid rat, you say?), but her size is all over the place – especially in action shots where she’s sometimes larger than Psylocke, sometimes smaller, sometimes about as big as the Blob, other times she’s as big as the hippy van the X-Tremists are jetting around in. I want to like this book, I promise, but the art kind of needs to meet me halfway.
Overall, this opening issue just isn’t doing it guys. Williams’ words on the BotA podcast are sure to get people hyped for this book, but it’s just not what we got in this issue. I’m hoping that the tale that she wants to tell comes out in the coming weeks, I really do, because this issue really doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The art is wonky, the story is flat, and these characters are left so bereft of charm that it’s going to make a lot of people think twice before picking up that second issue. I’m earnestly rooting for this team to do better next month, but I have to be honest, I’m a little worried.