Sunday, April 12, 2009

Exiles #1

"Deja Vu"
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Salva Espin
Colourist: Anthony Washington
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Editor: Mark Paniccia

Another relaunch of Exiles? It seems like only last year that we had the last one. And, in fact, it was. But Chris Claremont's New Exiles didn't set the world alight, so here we are again.

Despite the multiple relaunches, Exiles has been running more or less continuously since 2001. In reality, this is issue #119. That's a very long run for a book launched in the current century. It may not be a top seller, but it's sold consistently in the past, and you can see why Marvel don't want to give up on it just yet.

The premise is simple: it's What If? meets Quantum Leap. A bunch of superheroes from parallel worlds are yanked out of time and forced to go bouncing from world to world, sorting out the local problems. It's basically a string of variants on established Marvel Universe concepts. The book doesn't generally bother explaining this stuff; it's taken as read that the readers are broadly familiar with the originals, and will get the references. In another title, that might lead me to complain about accessibility for new readers. But Exiles exists to riff on pre-established concepts; it's the nature of the beast.

The problem with the original series, in fact, was that the formula ended up being rather limiting. There's only so much you can do with "arrive on world X, solve problem, move on." Eventually the book gave them control of their travels and an extra-dimensional headquarters; and from there, it ended up drifting into a more conventional team book that didn't seem to click as well. But the original format has been given a rest, so apparently we're going back to it.

Jeff Parker's debut issue is a standard "gathering the team" story. We get short scenes of the team members (or rather, most of the team members) in their home worlds, we get a pep talk by Morph (as the new Timebroker), and we get the start of their first mission. So far, so standard. And in fact, that seems to be the point. Although billed as a first issue, the story clearly assumes that we all know the Exiles, and we all know something's not right here. It loosely copies the original Exiles #1, but this time round, we know that Morph's lying about nature of the Timebroker; we know that there's something suspicious about Blink (presumably the character from the previous series feigning ignorance); and we know that there must be a better explanation for what's going on.

But very little of that is there on the page. There are some oblique hints about Blink, but otherwise, the book relies on a knowledge of earlier stories to provide that subtext.

Is that fair? Maybe it is. After all, Exiles had a solid audience until relatively recently, when sales went into decline. If the aim here is simply to recapture disaffected Exiles readers, then they'll know the context and they'll get the point. And if you don't know the history, then you're still left with a story that can be taken at face value, like the original Exiles #1.

Parker and Espin take us back to an X-Men-related roster: Blink, Wanda, Polaris, Forge and the Beast, with only the Black Panther rounding out the numbers (and even there, the story strongly hints that it's another character wearing the costume). Much of the first issue is given over to setting up their back stories, which might be overkill unless we're going to see more of their homeworlds in future. But by returning to the old format with mostly new characters, Parker sidesteps the risk of the relaunch seeming entirely backward-looking.

Nonetheless, on the surface, we're back in standard Exiles territory: arrive on world, get mission, save world. This wore thin after a while the first time around, so hopefully Parker has something up his sleeve to stop it getting stale. Since he's hinting pretty strongly that All Is Not As It Seems, I'm prepared to assume he does.

It's a book for readers with a reasonably broad knowledge of the Marvel Universe - not necessarily obsessive fans, but at least those who know the general layout of things. But it has some clever plays on the usual routines, with twists on familiar characters rather than just randomly changes to prove that it's an alternate universe. Good fun; not really a first issue, but an enjoyable start to Parker and Espin's run on the title.

Labels: , ,