Friday, January 2, 2004

X-Treme X-Men #38 - A Review

Written by: Chris Claremont
Penciled by: Igor Kordey
Inked by: Scott Hanna
Colored by: Transparency Digital
Lettered by: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Marvel Comics

“Storm: The Arena”, as the buzz holds, was meant to be a Storm mini-series that got canceled at the last moment. Chris Claremont, being Chris Claremont, was able to get the story into the regular run of X-Treme X-Men and we are now being treated to one issue of this book a week, so that we may read the story without throwing off the regular flow of the book.

So what is “The Arena” about? To sum up simply; Chris Claremont is doing his own take on the superhero gladiatorial arena concept that was most recently done in the relaunch of the “New Thunderbolts” in issue #76 of that series. Sadly, I think that the New Thunderbolts was done much better than this… and I HATED the New Thunderbolts with the intensity of a thousand white hot blazing suns about to go supernova.

In the wake of having gotten the United States government to sponsor a new mutant-terrorism taskforce, Storm has to “do a favor” for some high-placed government hoo-hah and investigate reports of an underground club where mutant gladiatorial fights are taking place. Storm does this by calling up an old friend in Tokyo, dressing up in some fetish-ware that covers more than her usual costume and going clubbing. After one night of drinking, dancing and actually enjoying herself, the usually staid and self-control obsessed storm finds herself loosening up and then… losing control.

Which might mean something if this didn’t happen in every single story EVER about Storm trying to loosen up a little bit…

Faster than you can say “How Storm Got Her Groove Back”, Storm winds up jumping into something without thinking and beating the champ of the arena after entering a fight on a whim. Winner of the “Worst Codename Ever” contest, Strong Guy shows up and spells out the rules of the arena; win and you become rich and respected and taken care of… lose, and you become slave to the one who beat you. Still, this doesn’t strike Storm as a problem until she is challenged by the champion from another foreign arena.

In this case, the other champion is a physically altered Callisto, bearing a) more tentacles than your average Hentai b) a grudge against Storm for beating her once and c) a mutant power that makes her a master tactician. One butt-whipping later, Storm finds herself at the mercy of another former Morlock leader with a grudge; Masque. Not to be confused with Madame Masque, as I WAS confused until about the third time I reread this book. After running Storm through a variety of demonic forms for no readily apparent reason other than to “bring out your inner demons”, Masque puts Storm under the control of her underlings Pleasure (three guesses what her power is?) and Purge, who has the ability to inflict pain with a whip. Well, more pain than you would usually feel with a whip…

Storm is written with no apparent motivation other than driving the plot along. The same woman who was, for many years, the portrait of discipline… she who possessed enough independence to tell Charles Xavier that he is full of it and go on to form her own team is reduced to jumping into situations gung-ho and not thinking about the consequences of her actions further ahead than two minutes in the future. This is especially shocking and disappointing coming from the same man who did so much to shape Storm into one of the most positive female role-models in comics.

Kordey’s art isn’t much better, being far too posed and too full of gratuitous cheesecake shots. A no-reason shot of Storm’s Japanese gal-pal’s butt in a pair of short shorts and the BDSM-inspired costumes of Callisto, Pleasure and Purge come to mind immediately as examples of this. Kordey is also a poor visual storyteller, with basic things like the passage of time are not marked in either the art or the text. At one point, the shot of Storm being beaten by Pleasure surges into Storm preparing for another fight in the arena with no transition or note of it being “Later that night” or “The Next Day.” This is somewhat disorienting as the only note to the change is Storm’s costume.

Folks, you’d be harder pressed to find someone more disappointed and critical about the state of the X-Men franchise than myself… but even I can’t stand to see such great potential going to waste. While I won’t go as far as some of my colleagues in saying that Chris Claremont can’t write a good story anymore, I will say that he has written much better in the past and is capable of a helluvalot better than this! Hopefully the possibilities opened up by the new mutant police force will improve this book and the forthcoming Uncanny… but that may be wishful thinking.

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