Under the pen of Rod Reis, Giant-Size X-Men: Fantomex is a beautiful comic. But that’s really…all it is.
Giant-Size X-Men: Fantomex #1
Jonathan Hickman (Story/Words), VC’s Ariana Maher (Letterer), Tom Muller (Design), Rod Reis (Story/Art)
August 5, 2020
I’ve been thinking about this issue for the last couple of days, and I realized what it reminds me of; the X-Men Black series from a couple of years ago. Like that series, the Giant-Size issues are an anthology of sorts; ostensibly self-contained one-shots starring their titular characters while simultaneously telling a linked story. Where they depart is in the structure. For all that the secondary story that linked each issue of Black together was unimpressive, it was still just that: a secondary story. Each issue of that series featured a single standalone tale starring its titular character, and because those were truly standalone stories, they were allowed to have satisfying, memorable resolutions. Now, whether they achieved that is a different subject, but they were allowed.
Giant-Size, on the other hand, folds the overarching narrative into the main story, but still tries to keep the focus on each book’s star (or stars, in the case of Jean and Emma), rather than letting that plot have the attention it deserves. Since the plot in this case is that Storm is dying, to have it treated so offhandedly is both insulting for the character and functionally breaks the tension of the plot, as no one seems more than mildly concerned about it. One could chalk that up to the paradigm of Krakoa, I suppose, but even if that’s the case, this book is an example of how not to set a story’s stakes.
I said at the start that this book is beautiful, and it is. Reis’ work here echoes what he launched New Mutants with, something vaguely Sienkiewicz in nature, though this time he’s a little more subdued, in keeping with both the almost perpetually masked nature of its protagonist and the overall tone of the story, which is far less playful than New Mutants is. Reis uses lurid swashes of color alongside his signature sketchy linework, and adds a fair few ink splatters as well. It makes the entire story feel a little hazy, a little on the edges, like an imperfectly recalled memory. That fits the plot, I think, which centers on Fantomex at various points in Marvel history, recruiting different specialist teams (from the Howling Commandos to New X-Men-era Cyclops and Wolverine) to help him infiltrate the World. All of these visits are to see his twin, another clone identical to him, in an attempt to coax him out of the World, and into…well, the world. These attempts fail, as they must, because that story has already been told, in the New X-Men four-parter “Assault on Weapon Plus.”
That fact of course is why this book feels so unsatisfying; it is an entire issue spent dancing between the raindrops of continuity, adding nothing substantial to what has come before, save “Fantomex tried and failed a lot, and got a bunch of people killed.” In trying to be both the main focus of this issue and a haunting rendition of a man’s personal crusade, it fails at both; the first because of the aforementioned overarching plot involving Storm, and the second because it does nothing to make us care about the lives that Fantomex is throwing away. Contrast this against the Secret Wars: Inferno miniseries, which sees a Colossus doing similar with teams of X-Men. That, at least,was tragic, because it featured Colossus trying each year to save his sister, and getting people he lived alongside, people he loved, killed in the process of helping him. They are functionally the same story, but the added weight of familial relationships gave that miniseries a gravitas that this issue lacks.
There are good points, though; aside from Reis, another highlight of the book is the work of letterer Ariana Maher. I’ve been familiar with Maher’s work for some time now, and attended a couple of convention panels where she’s discussed lettering as a profession, and it’s nice to see her with work at Marvel. Her craft shows through here; each speech balloon is carefully placed, dialogue laid out in a fashion that reads naturally and easily. Two highlights; first her choice of typeface for robotic speech both conveys that nature and remains clear, easy to read, and second, when she uses overlapping speech balloons to convey an interruption or hurried speech, she does so subtly, blocking only the edge of one balloon and none of the text. This keeps that text legible and didn’t take me out of the story in conveying the effect, as some other attempts of this type of thing have done to me in the past.
So, Giant-Size X-Men: Fantomex is a beautiful comic. Is it a good one? I suppose that depends on what you weight it for. I certainly don’t know that it justifies its $4.99 price tag, though.