Marvelous X-Men #3
Is Hell really made of other people? The Marvelous X-Men are about to find out. Let's hope that they survive the experience.
Let’s talk about Nate.
No. Wait. Let’s talk about Sartre.
No. No. Let’s talk about existentialism.
But maybe it would be better to talk about the ways in which immature people (the kind of asshole student, usually male, who snorts out ‘well, actually’, while the professor is still speaking) often misinterpret the messages of existentialism.
So…maybe we should start with Nate.
Ok. Crash course time. The quote at the end of this book is taken from ‘No Exit’, Sartre’s most famous play. It’s a quick little wham-bam-thank-you-mister introduction to a specific kind of hell. In it, three strangers find out that they’re locked in a featureless room. Very quickly, they discover that this room is Hell and that there will be no punishment beyond the fact that their personalities are perfectly calibrated to torture each other. Yes. That’s right. That’s the initial premise of The Good Place, without the frozen yogurt stores. Cool, right?
Anyway, at the end of the audience’s sojourn in this Hell, one of the tortured makes the declaration that, ‘Hell is other people.’ Because this is an existentialist play, and shallow existentialism is a really easy way to trick other people into thinking that you’re deep — the reality is less flashy, more true, and a LOT harder to live with — it’s a favorite of philosophy freshman (often of the rebellious, leather-jacket wearing stripe. Oh look, ma, I’ve called myself out) who misinterpret it to mean that life is better when it’s lived without emotional attachments to other people.
And oh, look. Here we are, back with Nate.
The master-stroke of this series is that Nate’s motivation for creating this world, in which everyone is both constantly isolated and constantly watched (like, oh, three characters trapped forever on a blank set) is not that he really wants to build a ‘perfect world. It’s not that he’s giving mutant-kind the history he thinks they deserve. It’s because he’s gotten older, he’s grown a sick beard. But deep underneath he’s still that college freshman-aged punk giving a sixth-hand James Dean impersonation and he can’t stand it that, when other people look at him, they see the twerp that he still (secretly) is.
Yes. That’s right. He’s so embarrassed about a bad haircut and a fishnet shirt, he’s so humiliated by mementos of his Goth phase, that he literally remade the universe to stop other people from reminding him about it.
Oh, hum. If only there were a way to get past the choices that we make in youth. Oh wait. There is. It’s called a sense of humor and the ability to reflect on yourself with a modicum of self awareness. Most people manage it.
I’ve seen pictures of my mom, in her pre-me modeling days, dressed as 1980’s Madonna. She got over it.
He hasn’t realized that the reason those characters in No Exit were such perfect Hells for each other is because they were incapable of forging healthy connections. It wasn’t their physical proximity that was the problem. Their Hell sprang from the fact that they had walled themselves off so much from any kind of compassion, from any real self-knowledge or any kind of love, that they could only experience misery.
When Mephistopheles, in Marlowe’s Faust, is questioned about why he can leave hell and walk the earth, he says, ‘Why, this is hell. Nor am I out of it.’ That’s basically where Nate is, right now, without the slightest scrap of self-awareness.
This is a hell of an interesting foundation on which to build a superhero book.
And that’s only a fraction of the fascinating concepts which are playing out in this series.
We’ve also got the fact that the walls of this reality are, literally, crumbling (where, exactly, is Legion in all of this? Read my previous review for my ideas) mixed in with interpersonal struggles (Storm and Magneto only save their sanity by bonding in a way which certainly treads all over The Rules) and a good wallop of ideological conflict over the problems generated by Apocalypse’s Love Cult. Nature Girl cites the evolutionary basis for ‘inappropriate’ love, Nightcrawler will not betray his own new principals (read his own series for more) but he has to be politic about it so he blames the studio for his inaction in the X-Men’s counterprotest.
I could dissect this for hours, and I will do, privately. Right now, I have to go give a lecture on the freaking Imagist Poets (H.D. can stay. W.C.W. can go choke on a plum) and all of you are probably sick of reading this far, so I’ll call a halt. But not before I talk a little bit about the art. This is an incredibly layered book, visually. There’s so much more going on than the creepy-calm surface. The longer you look at these panels, the more there is to see, and so much of it is disturbing. If you haven’t read the series yet (what’s wrong with you?) or if you only gave it a skim, now’s the time to revisit.
All of this beauty is bolstered by the fine lettering and coloring of Matt Milla and Joe Caramagna. Letters and colorists (and inkers, but Mark Fallia did his own work, here, so I don’t mention it) are great contributors to this form. This book would be much less satisfying without their efforts.
Review by Bethany W Pope
In terms of both the story and panel-after-panel of beautiful art, this is an issue to read at once, in a breathless, admiring rush, before revisiting again and again to chew on all the meaty bits. This is an astonishing piece of work.
Marvelous X-Men #3: Just Another Punk in a Black Leather Jacket
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10
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