In this series, I’ll be revisiting classic alternate reality adventures — starting with the various Marvel Noir stories.
It was an appropriately dark and stormy night, when I picked up this series. The rain was falling, hard as bullets, beating the oily yellow mist that rises off the river down into the moist crevices of the buildings that form the alleyways. I’d been working late (on the case for a hard-shelled dame with breasts like melons, and the glazed eyes of a week-dead cat) when the whisky wasn’t enough to hold the melancholy back any more. So I did what any self respecting gumshoe would — I shut the door to my office, leaned back in my creaky chair, and busted out a funny book.
And all of that was obviously bullshit, but at least it sets the mood. I really was playing the insomniac when I decided to open my handy-dandy Marvel Unlimited App and browse for something to put a new flavor in my mouth. I’d read this series a while ago, but I needed an excuse to revisit it, and I’m glad I did. This series was absolutely fascinating — a reimagining of the Children of the Atom in a *very* different context: that of a 1940’s pulp noir novel.
Things are a little bit different, in this world. First of all, there are no superpowers. Not really. Charles Xavier was a psychiatrist who was supposed to be rehabilitating a collection of psychopaths. Instead, he was training them to become a crime syndicate, since he believed that predatory psychopathy was the next stage of human evolution. It was his goal to forge these teenage hoodlums, the X-Men, into the greatest criminals the world had ever seen.
Unfortunately, before he could really get going, one of his students was murdered, sending dominoes falling all across the corrupted city — all the way to the sinful, seductive lair of The Hellfire Club, where the real bosses sit, sipping champagne and pulling all the strings.
This series is filled with familiar faces who are all warped just out of true. Magneto and his ‘brotherhood’ make appearances as corrupted cops. Fred Dukes is a hard-bitten veteran. Pete Maximoff was almost an Olympic runner, and his twin sister is deep in debt to a dangerous casino owner and Bayou Mafioso named Remy Lebeau, while their father (an immigrant, determined to make good) is the brutal chief of police who is secretly deep in the pocket of Sebastian Shaw.
As for the X-Men, Beast is a blunderer who tries to pass himself off as an intellectual and a vocabulary he can’t quite wrap his head around (seriously, one of the best reoccurring bits in the series involved Hank repeatedly misusing his patented five-dollar words) and Bobby is a jittery, shivery kid with a knife who tries to be tough but who can’t quite ever get it together. Angel is dead. He was dead, to begin with. And as for Jean…well…there’s no coming back from a fall like that. And these are just the main players. Every page is filled with something good for fans to dig their teeth into. And, in any case, stories like this shed light on the characters we know by showing the readers what they could have been, if everything had gone wrong — or right.
The art deserves more than a passing mention. Dennis Calero delivers a cinematic aesthetic, drawn (but not limited) from the noir genre. Fittingly, he specializes in cityscapes and close-ups, in terror and joy. He paints emotions with a broad brush, but honestly that’s for the best. This isn’t the place for subtlety.
This series is absolutely mad — a dark, vicious story, one that will bury its teeth in your bones— but there’s a surprising amount of heart hidden in the weft of the fibers. Tommy’s story is particularly poignant. It could very easily have sunk into melodrama, or buried its head so far up its own thematic ass that it drowned on its own bullshit. But somehow, it works. It’s an incredibly fun story. The series continues in X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain and I’m going to take a deep dive into that story next month. For now, I’ll just suggest that if you’re in the mood for something just a little bit different, I suggest you pick this one up.
By Fred Van Lenten & Dennis Calero
Otherworlds, Revisited: X-Men: Noir, Series #1
User Review( votes)