Sunday, February 01, 2009

X-Men: Worlds Apart

X-Men: Worlds Apart
Writer: Christopher Yost
Penciller: Diogenes Neves
Inker: Ed Tadeo
Colourist: Raul Trevino
Letterer: Cory Petit
Editor: Daniel Ketchum

In keeping with recent tradition, X-Men: Worlds Apart isn't an X-Men story at all. It's a Storm miniseries, and its inclusion on Marvel's publishing schedule seems to result mainly from a desire to bridge the gap between two volumes of Black Panther, the book where she now appears as a supporting character.

Christopher Yost is the lucky writer asked to fill these un-needed pages, and what he's come up with is a Shadow King story which, at least in theory, is about Storm being faced with a choice between the X-Men and the Black Panther. No previous story has ever seemed to treat this as a dilemma, but Yost has a miniseries to fill, so you can't entirely blame him for inventing a problem to solve.

The upshot is a story where the Shadow King menaces both sets of characters, and Storm saves everyone. And that's about it, really. It reads pleasantly enough - the first chapter actually sets up a reasonably decent mystery before unveiling the Shadow King at the end, and Yost knows how to pace a story. Diogenes Neves' artwork is a bit school-of-1994, but it's generally clear and pleasing enough.

But there's two main problems here. First up, we've got the Shadow King, one of the least interesting villains the X-books have ever produced. He's a psychic being who embodies evil. Ho hum. In this story, that means characters act on their suppressed negative feelings when he's around. That doesn't much improve matters.

The thing with the Shadow King is that he's effectively a non-character. He does evil things because he's evil, and when he's around, other characters also do evil things, because he's influencing them, and he's evil. And that's pretty much it. He's entirely one-dimensional, and he results in stories where "evil" is some sort of external force, a bit like a virus.

In fact, he's a secular Satan created by people who've missed the point of Satan. The devil is traditionally depicted as a tempter, and with good reason: it means that, dramatically at least, he serves as an anthropomorphic personification of temptation. He's the voice in your head that goes "Why don't you just...?" But the decision to give in always rests with the individual; there's a choice, there's moral responsibility, and so there's drama. With the Shadow King, you've just got a bunch of people acting out of character because there's standing next to a radiating source of evil. Storm even points out to people that they have no responsibility for their actions - and in the logic of the story, they don't. But on that basis, what's interesting about any of this?

If all he's going to do is bring out suppressed feelings, then that's not a story in itself. You could, I suppose, get him out of the way in act one, and then do the "Now that I know you have doubts, where does that leave our marriage?" schtick. But the story doesn't even do that; everyone hugs and makes up at the end, apparently taking everything in their stride now that the baddie is out of the way.

So: that's problem one.

Problem two is that the story never really asks Storm to choose between the X-Men and the Panther, even though that's supposed to be the point (and the pay-off is meant to be "Aha, I can save both"). It's half-heartedly set up in issue #2, where the Shadow King challenges her to choose which one she'll try to save - but since he insists that she can't actually save either of them, it's a bit of a false dilemma.

Surely the way to go here was to have the Shadow King set up the classic Hobson's Choice dilemma, so that she could save one of them, but not both - and then say "you're bound to betray at least one side, and then your soul will belong to me," or something along those lines. If you're going to do this story, make the choice the focal point of the plot, and make sure something hinges on the choice. Hell, at least tease the possibility that she might make the choice. We don't even really get that.

A mediocre mini, really. There's the skeleton of a story in there, but it hasn't been properly fleshed out.

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