Marc Alan Fishman’s Snarky Synopsis: Amazing X-Men Annual #1
It’s fitting to me that this week Mike Gold pontificated on how mainstream comics are either targeting either the kiddies or the adulties. OK, technically, he was ranting – rightfully so – that the industry at large is seemingly devoid of wonder. Well, Mr. Gold, Monty Nero got at least half right. Amazing X-Men Annual #1 could only be targeting that sect of fans that exist between youngsters and the snarky old. Here’s a book that sets out to cover the smallest ground possible, tell a quick and potent adventure, and wrap up on a deep character moment.
Of course, what we get is a by the book, seen-it-before plot-by-numbers that leaves one wondering what purpose the book serves in the greater scheme of things. Then again, that may just be my inner-old-guy being a d-bag. So, I’m going to make every attempt now to smile my way through what might have once been an angry review. Chins up kiddos!
Nero’s script revolves around Ororo Monroe, also known as Storm (and several dozen other names, as we learn mid-battle cry!). We find out that during her adolescence, a great sandstorm was ravaging a village. Ororo made way to save T’Challa – the Black Panther – but could do nothing else. Flash forward to the present, where a world-weary survivor of that devastation has recently gained mutant (or mystic?) powers. Meruda, now an angry god of the sand, lays waste to his homeland, whilst stealing away a distant cousin of Storm. Cue the opening titles!
Soon thereafter, the X-men arrive on scene, and what follows is a ton of fighting. For what it’s worth, the battle here is at least meaningful, in so much that our villain has just cause to want to hurt the mohawked veteran of Charles Xavier’s school. And while she faces Meruda, Wolverine, Firestorm, Iceman, and the Beast battle an ancient god – resurrected, and holding the soul of Storm’s brethren in check. All in all, if it were a cartoon, there’s be plenty of punching to enjoy.
Artistically speaking, Salvador Larocca lends his formidable pencils to the cause. As I’d enjoyed much of his run previously on Iron Man, many of the same strengths continue on the page. His meaty figures are always placed dutifully in kinetic panels that keep the eye moving through his pages. Emotions are clear, and easily read. Backgrounds, whether they be ransacked deserts of Africa or high tech cabin shots of the latest X-Jet, are beautifully rendered. Inks and colors only add to the final product. I’m always apt to point out the Photoshoppery in today’s modern comics, but here Larocca and company are doing it right. Special effects like the knockouts on Nightcrawler’s ‘BAMFs’, or the almost painterly treatments on Meruda’s sand-constructs just look cool. Where others are quick to use filters and such to mask issues, Salvador does it right – using the tools of the digital art bin to elevate his work to the quasi-future sci-fi space to add to visual excitement of the comic.
If you’re looking to be sated with pleasantry, well, stop here. Amazing X-Men Annual #1 is good clean honest fun. It’s a one-and-done adventure that is worth a gander perhaps for the pretty art alone. And for fans of Storm, well, you’re getting her in rare form here. So, consider this issue a sunny day, clear of rain by a country mile!
Still with me? Good. I can’t take it any longer. Nero commits a sin of the industry that nearly pushed me out as a fan not that long ago. His script and plot are so duh-duh simple that I can’t look past it. Annuals in the modern era are usually used for one of very few purposes: to re-establish a baseline for the book, to give a young and upcoming creator a spotlight that doesn’t require a multi-issue arc, or to set the tone for the next arc to come. Here, we get the second. And with it, nails on a chalkboard to me. Nero to his credit, has had several great successes professionally. Here he dips his toe into the X-waters, but does so tepidly. I can’t help but lay a finger of blame less on him than Mike Marts, the editor.
When given essentially a blank slate and a simple goal (pick an X-Man and write an issue that celebrates them as a character), the possibilities are near endless. Nero picks Storm, one of the most powerful, nuanced, and meaty characters on the team – whomever is on the team this week, I suppose. His choice to use a bit of her past to create conflict is even better; it gives credence to the battle as I’d said. But his choice to deliver the story as a literal straight shot is what grinds my gears. When a plot is as simple as this, it’s a veritable invitation to a debutant ball for a writer! Nero could have played with time, with flashback, with sequencing, or even with the psuedo-science of Meruda and Storm’s comparable power sets.
But he delivers none of it. We literally go from the standard cold-open to the X-men reading about the cold-open to them traveling to Africa to fighting to resolution. I’m even apt to note when a book chooses to do things simply with the beats, it can be made up for with style. Nero though, learns the hard way the Achilles heel of all X-books: more members mean less opportunities.
Ultimately, Amazing X-Men Annual #1 is a book only a tweener could enjoy: simple in plot, heavy in action. But as Mike Gold would note: it’s devoid of wonder. Too engrained in familial angst, monologuing, and excuses for quips or violence. Normally I’d take the opportunity to lay waste to the book with a grand trail of snark behind me, perhaps declaring that this book represents all that’s wrong with modern comics (or some such line). But there’s no need: This book is simply a missed opportunity to be great. And that alone is enough shame for one week.