Monday, January 05, 2009

Young X-Men #8-9

"The Y-Men"
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Penciller: Rafa Sandoval
Inkers: Roger Bonet, Roger Martinez & Greg Adams
Colourist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Editor: Nick Lowe

Alas, poor Young X-Men - dead at issue #12. And that knowledge makes "The Y-Men" a strange read, because Marc Guggenheim clearly had plans stretching further than that. He thought he had six issues to get the new team into place; he thinks he has time to spend two issues setting up his new character Ink - and introducing yet another new character, Cipher. (Yes, with an I.)

And if this book was continuing, then "Y-Men" would be a much-needed story, clearing up Ink's origin, and establishing why he's with the team in the first place. But it also means that the book will only just have finished its set-up in time to expire. Truly, this title will be seen as a strange and clumsy footnote in years to come.

Previous stories established that Ink only joined the group in a botched attempt to turn on them for personal gain, and that the only reason the X-Men are keeping him around is to keep an eye on him. Not a bad idea; it's a potentially interesting team dynamic, leading to his redemption. Ink's powers are a little more corny: his tattoos give him superpowers. And issue #7 established that he's not even a mutant at all: he's just a bozo with a mutant tattoo artist.

I've seen some complaints that the "super-powered tattoo" gimmick is too silly even for superhero comics. Myself, I don't mind it. I can see the problem: it's so incredibly specific as to strain credibility. But it's no worse than, say, Tarot, whose powers depended entirely on having a convenient tarot deck to hand. It's a little silly, but the junior book can get away with that, and I don't think it's particularly out of tone with the rest of the story.

What we get here is a story where the Young X-Men go after the mutant tattoo artist, Leon, and end up fighting a bunch of gang members he's powered up to pay off a debt. Naturally, Ink gets to save the day, with the help of a mysterious character called Cipher who claims to be an X-Man and doesn't seem to talk to anyone else (which is your usual warning sign that she's a hallucination, but that's next month's story).

The book can't quite seem to make up its mind whether Leon is a villain or a victim of circumstances. He seems to shift role according to what's convenient for the plot. And the pay-off, though inventive, does stretch credibility to breaking point: Leon powers up Ink with a Phoenix tattoo so that he can beat the gang singlehandedly. I can sort of accept this working, especially since Guggenheim emphasises that Ink is only a pale copy of the real Phoenix. But why would he or Leon think of it in the first place?

Still, Guggenheim's starting to interest me in Ink. There's something to the character, though you have to be very charitable with your suspension of disbelief to get there. A lot of readers won't be that charitable, and I can't say I blame them. But he does have some appeal, and I don't much object to Guggenheim making him the focus of the series at this point.

Rafa Sandoval does a generally decent job on the art. His Roberto and Dani are all but unrecognisable, but the tattoo designs are quite smart, and there's some clever staging in issue #9, positioning Ink to obscure his Phoenix tattoo until the crucial moment, without being too obvious about it. And on colours, the always excellent Jose Villarrubia goes for a refreshingly light and upbeat palette (though it's a shame nobody thought to tell him that Roberto isn't white).

This isn't bad, actually. There's plenty here that could justifiably irritate the hell out of you, but if you can live with it, then there's also a fair amount here that works.

All academic now, though.

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