After having some success with their recent “Fairy Tale” books, Marvel have invented another alternate universe that allows them to tell different kinds of stories with their more popular properties. In this case, it’s the “Noir” universe which, in its introductory miniseries, recasts the X-Men as humans united not by their incredible abilities, but by discredited psychiatrist Charles Xavier’s teachings. Xavier believes that the next step in “behavioural evolution” is to become sociopathic criminals, and so that’s what his “X Men” are.
Van Lente has, in the past, turned in some enjoyable reads, but it’s hard to credit X-Men Noir as one of his better moments. Perhaps it’s my general disinterest in the premise, or my bias that what as initially promoted as an interesting X-event turned out to be a gimmick spin-off, but I couldn’t get into this issue at all. It’s rare I stop halfway through a comic, but had I not been reviewing it, I would’ve. It’s not that I don’t like crime comics, because I think Brubaker’s Criminal is an amazing series, but this… it’s just boring.
Plodding dialogue. Uninteresting characters. The issue heavily relies on the recognisability of the X-Men elements, and the hope that you’ll smirk in amusement when you discover that “Gambit” runs a casino, or that Jean Grey is dead. Ultimately, such references overpower anything else the book might be trying to say. Shocking as though it may sound, I might actually have enjoyed this more without the X-Men attachment.
Calero’s artwork has always had a noir-ish feel to it, most notably in his work on the Madrox limited series and subsequent issues of X-Factor. Calero certainly throws himself into the mood of the book, although it’s not quite as impressive a match as it should be. Calero’s obviously willingness to utilise photo-referenced art is bad enough, as yet again we find Patrick Stewart sitting in for Xavier. More upsettingly, though, Calero relentlessly repeats the same panels and images over and over, most notably in a conversation between Xavier and an investigator where neither appears to be aware the conversation is actually taking place. Whether it’s a time-cutting measure or a genuine artistic choice that’s backfired, there’s no denying that it’s distracting in a negative way.
I had high hopes for X-Men Noir, but they were quickly dashed. Van Lente’s work on Marvel Zombies 3 is far superior. I don’t doubt that X-Men Noir will please some people, but to me, it’s nothing more than another “What If”, and I’ve seen enough of those before.