Thursday, June 18, 2009

Exiles #2-3

"Long Live the King!"
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Salva Espin
Colourist: Anthony Washington
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Editor: Mark Paniccia

The assignment of breathing life back into Exiles isn't a particularly enviable one. The format always suffered from an obvious problem that it tended become repetitive in the long run: team arrive on alternate Earth, team are arbitrarily assigned mission, team achieve it, team move on. Yes, the same basic idea worked for Quantum Leap, but that show only ran for five years. In the real world, concepts like this run their course. Nothing wrong with that, mind you - superhero comics are anomalous in clinging to the idea that a good format it one that will survive indefinitely, even interminably.

Still, Jeff Parker and Salva Espin face a difficult task in shaking up the series without turning it into something else altogether. But so far things are going well. Parker's solution is rather clever: he goes back to the original format with a team of new characters, but throws in Blink (playing the innocent) and Morph, both of whom clearly know more than they're letting on. If you're an existing reader, the mystery of what they're doing is a subplot. And if by some happy chance you're a complete newcomer, the story still works on the same level that it did the first time around.

Of course, this subplot needs time to build, so in the meantime we have a two-part story which introduces our new cast against a fairly straightforward backdrop. It also gives Espin a chance to flex his muscles as a superhero artist; he seems to be increasingly comfortable as the story goes on, which is nice to see.

On this world, all the mutants are living on Genosha under Magneto, and the Exiles are supposed to help Wolverine overthrow him. Unfortunately, Wolverine's already dead before they show up. And Magneto's mutant paradise seems pleasant enough, really - even the local X-Men are on side. But the Exiles set about their business and, of course, it turns out that Magneto isn't being entirely honest with everyone.

All of this could have been rather predictable, but Parker sets it up well by focussing partly on the question of why exactly the Exiles are here in the first place, and taking a roundabout route to his pay-off. It works by playing off the mystery subplot of what the Exiles' format is: the story explicitly draws our attention to the fact that this is a basically arbitrary mission, and likewise makes plays up the seemingly arbitrary resolution at the end. Really, the big idea is to do the classic Exiles formula, but with a vague sense that something's not quite right here, and there are loose ends where the story cuts off.

It's a smart way of riffing on the formula, while still playing to its strengths. Which isn't to say that it won't have a shelflife - at some point everything has to be explained, after all. But I like their approach. There's life in this one yet.

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