This one wasn’t on my radar per se, and it wasn’t featured in Comixology’s New Releases, so it would have likely passed me by. But it did receive a bit of controversy in the blogosphere and it does hit me right in the nostalgia, and a $1.99 price tag doesn’t hurt either. So why not?
The cast of a 90s’ animated series is having some fun and games and shopping at a mall, when your garden-variety Sentinel attack happens. Except it isn’t your garden-variety Sentinel attack, because this is Battleworld, a world that’s neither ’92 nor nowadays. Cue the exposition. Now… cut. No, I mean cut. Stop the exposition please. Stop. Now? Finally. Thank you.
There’s something about a mutant utopia called the Clear Mountain Institute, where evil mutants go to vacation or whatever, and the X-Men want to check it out and are greeted by Cassandra Nova of all people. Cliffhanger for those who remember X-Men ’01.
There’s several things to like about this title, and the opening scene is pure fun, set in a laser tag arena with the big, bold colors and costumes that we remember from the animated show, and here with giant, impossibly bulky laser “guns.” The first panel’s font choice of the word “EXTREME” strikes the perfect chord for being lovingly satiric. It also takes advantage of the “infinite comic” format to add progressive panels as the countdown to the laser tag begins, ditto the shot-by-shot target-shaped panels. The neon colors are on full display here, so much so that I had to adjust the brightness display.
Unfortunately, that first sequence/page also contains a big flaw for this title, and that’s the overabundance of dialogue. For something that is counted down by seconds, there’s a whole lotta words in them balloons, and it’s clunky. Nearly every one of them, even the narrative boxes, have exclamation marks, lessening the individual voice and muddling everything together in a hyper-tense tone of “!” I can’t tell if it’s intentionally trying to mimic a style of writing during the 90s or if it’s trying to just parody, which I guess is kind of a problem that extends through the whole comic.
Characters don’t seem to have their own voice, really, if the only thing to distinguish each other are over-reliance on stock phrases, like Gambit’s overuse of French or Jubilee’s attempt at some kind of youthful slang. That said, there are a few moments that are genuinely great, particularly Wolverine’s retorts. He says “Yeah, me too” when someone thinks he would have been taller, and when Jean Grey tells him to be careful, he snaps “why start now?”
Overall, the pacing of the infinite comic doesn’t match the pace of the giant dialogue balloons. It becomes a chore to read the giant paragraphs one at a time, when I’m used to looking at the art of the panel and page overall. There’s a flow that’s missing because I the reader cannot control it, and I balk at it. Since most of these giant paragraphs are also necessary exposition to explain the world to itself (characters telling things to each other that they already know) so it’s a lot to process.
Thankfully, the art doesn’t show the excesses of the 90s comics. Rather, it’s quite expressive and varied, with solid figure work and good sense of space. The designs are limited by remaining so tied to their animated series roots, but they are not static nor flat. So far, the “new” character of Cassandra Nova is similarly designed with simple colors and lines, and the soldiers of Clear Mountain are nicely 90s-era generic. I look forward to seeing how this aesthetic continues without being too distracting.
In a way, both the art and the writing seem to be taking their inspiration from the specific time frame of the source material, while at the same time wanting to tell their own story. It’s not necessarily fully a Battleworld story but not necessarily fully the animated series either. It’s a bit too early to tell what the payoff will be, but for now it’s definitely a plus.
There’s a lot of hits here but unfortunately its share of misses, too. It takes advantage of the infinite-style of digital comics, resulting in some pleasing point-by-point panel progression, except for those few moments when it’s confusing and when my rhythm of clicking is disrupted by paragraphs of dialogue. There’s a lot of groundwork here for an X-Men story that’s completely separate to the Secret Wars event, resulting in a new kind of X-Men story told with familiar characters, but there’s a lot of gear-grinding before the vehicle gets moving.