Sunday, March 15, 2009

X-Men: Manifest Destiny - Nightcrawler

"Quitting Time"
Writer: James Asmus
Pencillers: Jorge Molina and Ardian Syaf
Inkers: Victor Olazaba and Vicente Cifuentes
Colourist: John Rauch
Letterer: Jeff Eckleberry
Editor: Nick Lowe

Spotting the untruths in Marvel's solicitations has become something of a spectator sport lately. This one is a particularly good example.

Originally solicited as X-Men: Quitting Time, the book was described like this:

"Since the move to San Francisco and after the events of X-Infernus, Nightcrawler realises a hard truth - he has to quit the X-Men. Kurt has realised that the X-Men just don't need him any more. He hasn't been operating at his highest levels and even the biggest strength he has - teleportation - has been made redundant by Pixie who can do it better and more efficiently. Don't miss the departure of one of the most important characters in X-Men history."

The title was officially changed to X-Men: Manifest Destiny - Nightcrawler a while back, but the solicitation copy on Marvel's website remains the same, specifically promising an important issue in which Nightcrawler is written out.

Well, it's not.

This is an inconsequential fill-in story which happens to use the age-old "I need to take a break" / "I'm feeling recharged and ready to go" framing device for Kurt to go off on his own for 30 pages. It does show some signs of last-minute tinkering - there's a scene near the end with a different artist which looks suspiciously as though it's been spliced in to keep Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's "demon war" subplot alive - so in fairness to the publicity department, it's possible that the solicitation was accurate at the time it was written. But it's not accurate now, and like I say, it's still on the website.

I am sorely tempted to declare that the book merits no further comment, and leave it at that.

But then that wouldn't be entirely fair to the creative team. Take the book for what it is - a random Nightcrawler one-shot - and it's actually not bad. Nightcrawler revisits the town of Winzeldorf (the village from Giant-Size X-Men #1) where the locals have opened a museum in honour of the only remotely famous person ever to pass through, and have found another passing monster to lynch.

It's a perfectly sound idea for a Nightcrawler story, and there are some interesting ideas here: the villagers' ambiguous feelings about Kurt as a vaguely local celebrity who they still don't entirely trust, Kurt's delight at being commemorated, his misreading of the other monster despite setting out to give him the benefit of the doubt. And the art's pretty good as well - after an overdramatic opening, Jorge Molina settles down to a decent job. (Even the fill-in pages near the end are decent, though their last-minute nature is clearly signalled by the fact that Kurt's clothing suddenly changes - the sort of elementary blunder that rarely makes it through these days.)

On the downside, it's another of those stories which still thinks that central Europe is full of villagers in lynch mobs. For god's sake, people, Dracula and Frankenstein were set in the nineteenth century. This is supposed to be west Germany. What the hell are they doing with torches? For that matter, why does it still have traditionally dressed gypsies in horse-drawn wagons? There are plenty of travellers in Europe, but they're in motor homes these days. This is about as inane as writing a story set in upstate New York in 2009 where everyone wears a stetson and the saloons have swing doors and the only non-white characters live just outside town in a wigwam. Seriously, it is. It's lazy and condescending, and frankly slightly racist - was it really essential that the only entirely reasonable character in the village should be a visiting American?

The irony is, of course, that if only the Americans could be arsed doing the research, they'd discover that there are tons of stories they could be doing about the treatment of the Roma in eastern Europe, which would be far more interesting than the umpteenth retread of an old B-movie. But whatever.

On the whole, what we've got here is an above-average issue of X-Men Unlimited. Nothing more, nothing less. Don't believe the hype.

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