Uncharted and Off-Track

"X-men #16"

by Jack Fisher

21 July 2014

Having a clear destination isn't the same as being on the right path towards it.
 
cover art

X-men #16

(Marvel)
US: Sep 2014

Even in the era of GPS and Google Maps, it’s easy to get lost. Even if the destination is clear and there have been successful trips before, there’s always a chance of getting off-track and those chances are worse than anyone cares to admit. It usually isn’t the first wrong turn that gets things going in the wrong direction. It’s the fifth, sixth, and tenth turns that changes the situation from merely being off-course to being in another time zone. For the situation surrounding the all-female X-men, it’s hard to know what time zone they’re in, but their watches are clearly not synchronized.

When this new, female-centric X-men series began, the destination for the story was fairly clear. And for the most part, it reached that destination safely on numerous occasions. This series wasn’t just about an all-female team of X-men. It created a unique team dynamic that gave the story a unique context. However, that dynamic has faltered in recent issues and X-men #16 is a culmination of one too many wrong turns and a few too many missed turns. If this story were on a road trip, it would be in the wrong state by now.

Initially, this story was built around one fairly simple conflict. The biological father of Shogo, Jubilee’s adopted son, has returned to claim him. It was a conflict that fit nicely into the overall narrative of the series because it began with Jubilee rescuing Shogo. That conflict might provide a simple foundation, but everything built on top of it lacks structure and refinement, like a gingerbread house that doesn’t have enough frosting. There’s a clear attempt to turn this conflict into something that explores other side-plots going on throughout the all-female team, such as the presence of Storm’s future daughter, Kymera, and the training of younger mutants like Hellion into a more capable team of X-men. While these are plots worth exploring, they end up detracting from the main conflict. At times, it feels like they’re in the wrong X-men comics.

Some of these plots, like Kymera, are appropriate to explore in some respect. There’s just only so much that can be explored while the main focus is supposed to be on rescuing Jubilee and protecting Shogo. Kymera’s foresight into the future should give her and Storm so many things to discuss. Who is her father? Who lives and who dies? Do Cyclops and Wolverine ever mend the Schism? Will Deadpool ever shut up? None of this comes up. Everything is centered around the conflict with Shogo and Jubilee. While this keeps the story focused, it essentially hijacks this unresolved story. It would be like someone having the power to see into the future, but the only thing they use it for is to check the weather for the next football game.

It also doesn’t help that Shogo’s father, who calls himself The Future, doesn’t come off as a character worth hijacking these other plots. He operates under the principle of shoot-random-people-and-wing-it-from-there. He’s supposed to be this extremely dangerous crime lord with access to weapons and personnel that would impress even the Kingpin, but he decides to go about retrieving his son in the most inefficient and messy way possible. There doesn’t appear to be any underlying motivation to his actions or his desire to get Shogo. He gives the impression that he just doesn’t like anyone taking things that belong to him, be it his Sunday newspaper or infant son that he did nothing to protect. He doesn’t even show the slightest affection for his son. He just wants him back because Shogo is his, not because he wants to know the joys of fatherhood.

This further limits the emotional impact of the conflict. The Future is painfully generic as a character and a threat. In addition, the all-female X-men don’t even go about attacking him in a very efficient way. They think they’ve done enough preparation, but when they encounter an exotic defense system that involves turning the vegetation against them. It’s nowhere near as epic as the walking trees in Lord of the Rings and only serves to slow the narrative down even further.

But it isn’t just the slow pace of the story that makes it feel lost and disorganized. Many conversations and actions are just too predictable. Jubilee’s argument with The Future could have been cut and pasted from an old Superfriends cartoon. The Future plays into every villainous stereotype, making no effort whatsoever to create any sense of depth. All Jubilee can do is give a typical Braveheart style speech, minus the painted face and mooning. It doesn’t create any strong emotions. It doesn’t create any tension either. It’s might as well be an excuse to get the X-men out of the Jean Grey Institute and fight something besides killer robots and resurrected enemies.

That’s not to say the conflict is without merit. While the plot might be slow and the dialog might be forgettable, the story never loses sight of the main theme of the story. The focus is still on the X-men fighting to retain custody of Shogo. It’s a conflict that offered plenty of reasons for excitement in the beginning. But as this story drags, the excitement wanes. That doesn’t make the conflict any less meaningful. Jubilee has undergone numerous conflicts in adopting Shogo as her son. Many of those conflicts have made for some of the most compelling stories in this series, but this one is just poorly developed and poorly organized.

The details might be lacking, but nobody gets mischaracterized and nobody does anything that completely undermines their established personality. X-men #16 certainly feels like an X-men comic, albeit a very disorganized and underwhelming X-men comics, but it doesn’t feel like the same X-men comic that had been built around this powerful, all-female cast. Like hippie protesters, it tries to do too much and only ends up next to nothing.

X-men #16

Rating:

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