Given the glut of X-books released this week, it’s perhaps tempting to ignore this apparently disposable once-shot. The annual format, however, has freed Matt Fraction from some of the constraints of the team book structure, allowing him to fully utilise his gift of building a coherent and gripping plot around political character interactions. Behind a disappointingly generic cover from Terry Dodson lies a comic with all the wit and ingenuity of Fraction’s Casanova.
Building on the rather forced character interactions in Brian Bendis’s Dark Reign special, here Fraction sets up an intriguing dynamic between Emma Frost and Namor, as the former skilfully negotiates to improve her power base within the cabal. Building on the conceptualisation in the most recent issue of Uncanny, with Emma participating within the Reign as her equivalent of Cyclops’ X-Force “side project”, we here see the character subtly working to improve the lot of mutantkind, while settling a few old scores into the bargain. There’s a gentle jibe at Bendis here, as Fraction takes his handling of the Atlantean ruler as a one-dimensional pervert and puts it in its proper setting: the Marvel Universe of twenty years ago. That’s not to say that the writer is afraid of undercutting his own work, here presenting a parody of Tony Stark’s previous self while foreshadowing the politics of the Marvel Universe’s present status quo.
Given the split narrative, it’s unsurprising to find that art duties have been split between two pencillers, but real thought has gone into the selection of the creatives involved. The styles deliver a very deliberate contrast, with Daniel Acura’s psuedo-painted flashbacks capitalising on the melodrama inherent in Fraction’s recreation of simpler times for Marvel. Mitch Breitweiser’s present day sequences are more of a mixed bag. His deliberately scratchy linework appears a bit overwrought when used for backgrounds and texture, but his capturing of expressions and body language is superb. This latter quality makes him perfectly suited to the conspiratorial negotiations which Fraction’s script charts. By permitting the writer to play to his strengths, Marvel has coaxed Fraction into dwarfing his previous superhero work in this superb character piece.