X-Men is a title that continues to fail to impress The Revolution. It isn’t a bad read, but it certainly hasn’t been anything particularly good either. And when you are the supposed flagship title for Marvel Comics, then pedestrian reads is simply not good enough. Of course, it has been a long time since I thought X-Men was a quality read. This title continues to sell merely because of its name and pedigree, not because of the quality of the comic book. Will X-Men #196 get me to change my mind? Let’s find out.
Writer: Mike Carey
Penciler: Humberto Ramos
Inkers: Carlos Cuevas
Art Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 4.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Rogue half naked and shackled up in some type of torture/dissection machine. Pandemic tells his assistant, Turlow, that he will handle the procedure with Rogue and for Turlow to check on the other X-Men.
We see Turlow leave the lab and walk down the hall. Mystique appears behind Turlow.
We cut back to Pandemic telling Rogue that she was his inspiration back when he was human. That he didn’t go far enough when he copied her powers. He didn’t get the part that he needed the most. Pandemic then tells Rogue to say her prayers because the cavalry isn’t coming for her.
We then conveniently shift to Sabertooth smashing through the roof of the laboratory. Sabertooth is immediately attacked by Pandemic’s Plague Dogs. We then cut to the Conquistador where Pandemic is using his telekinesis to push it out of Earth’s atmosphere and into space. Cable teleports off the ship and Cannonball blasts off from the ship.
We cut to Turlow entering the lab where the other X-Men have been prepared for dissection. Turlow then grabs a scalpel and slices and dices the doctors. Turlow then transforms into Mystique and frees Lady Mastermind and Sentinel.
We shift back to Pandemic telling Rogue that the only way to live forever is to live other people’s lives stolen through skin contact. Pandemic wanted to be Rogue and through her to be everyone else. But, all he got was the super powers. However, this new procedure will allow Pandemic to absorb the entirety of another person’s mind and experience which will unfortunately erase the original in the process. But, to be sure this works, Pandemic needed a guinea pig and that is what Rogue is for.
We cut to Cable and Cannonball in the lab brawling with the guards. They meet up with Sabertooth who is taking out guards left and right. We shift to Mystique, Lady Mastermind and Sentinel walking into the lab where Pandemic and Rogue are. Pandemic begins brawling with Sentinel and Lady Mastermind. Cable and Cannonball arrive in the lab. Cannonball starts brawling with Pandemic while Cable tries to free Rogue from the machine. Rogue tells Cable to not touch her. That Pandemic infected her with a virus.
Pandemic takes down all the X-Men and then Sabertooth enters the lab. Pandemic grabs Sabertooth and says it is hardly worth absorbing Sabertooth’s strength and agility, but that he will do it anyway for the sake of dramatic irony. Sabertooth laughs at Pandemic and tells him that along with the strength and agility, he also absorbed Sabertooth’s healing factor. And that Pandemic got a virus that lets’ him borrow other people’s powers. Now the healing factor is taking out the virus. Pandemic then transforms into a normal human.
Rogue then tells Sabertooth that vengeance is hers. Rogue tells Pandemic that he viewed her as his guinea pig. Now it is time to see if it worked. Cable pulls Rogue away before she can tough Pandemic. Cable says that Pandemic is no longer a threat and Rogue is not empowered to be judge and jury. Rogue then passes out.
Lady Mastermind then grabs a gun, points it to Pandemic’s head and says “Bang.” We see Pandemic trapped inside a massive labyrinth in his mind. Lady Mastermind says that Pandemic will come out of it in a month or two.
Sabertooth then tells Lady Mastermind that she doesn’t smell right. (Whoa, there. Sound like somebody is a dirty girl.) Sabertooth says there is nothing inside of her than stinks like its dead. (Ewww, gross. I’m not even going to touch that one.) Lady Mastermind tells Sabertooth to back off or he’ll be dead. (Everybody now: Talk tough!)
Mystique tends to Rogue and says that Rogue is burning up. Lady Mastermind says that they should leave Rogue here or else they will all catch what Rogue has. Cable calls the Conquistador to their location. Cable says that he is reading Pandemic’s diagnostic information and that Rogue’s immune system is collapsing. That Rogue is dying. End of issue.
The Good: Well, X-Men #196 was exactly what I expected. A pedestrian read with artwork that is certainly an acquired taste. Carey certainly turns in a fast paced issue with tons of brawling. If you are an action freak and like mindless fights then there is no doubt that this issue will appeal to you. The quick pacing makes this issue a fast read which will also appeal to many readers.
X-Men #196 was popcorn for the brain. Some quick and easy to digest entertainment. Carey did provide for a solid ending. Carey whipped up a clever way to defeat Pandemic by having him absorb Sabertooth’s healing factor which then “cured” Pandemic of the virus that allowed him to absorb super powers. We also got a decent little hook ending with Rogue dying from some unknown virus. We all know that Rogue isn’t going to die, but it serves as a little teaser to get the reader interested enough to come back for the next issue.
The Bad: X-Men #196 was another pedestrian read. Carey is a journeyman writer. He is pretty much the Trent Dilfer of comic book writers. You can win a championship with him, but not because of him. Carey won’t crank a real stinker of an issue. Give Carey a flagship title like the X-Men and he can do enough to manage the stories and keep title moving in an acceptable fashion.
Of course, Carey won’t turn out anything impressive, either. At no point would I confuse Carey with a writer the caliber of Brubaker, Johns, Bendis, Morrison, Waid, Millar, JMS or even new comer Fraction. But, Carey does a professional enough job that he would never be lumped in the same category as total hacks like Daniel Way.
The difference is a talented writer can get a reader to like almost any character. For example, I have never liked Ravager and wasn’t all that impressed with Kid Devil when I first saw him appear on Teen Titans. However, Johns, through incredible character development, managed to get me to really enjoy both characters. Carey hasn’t done anything like that to get me to like uninteresting characters such as Sentinel, Lady Mastermind, Cable and Cannonball.
Carey does a great job managing to deliver enough fast paced and high energy action to hide the fact that at no point are we given much of an actual storyline. We get some nebulous and cursory explained goal of Pandemic’s to gain immortality by absorbing other people’s experiences. It just didn’t work for me. Pandemic’s motivation and goal for all that he is doing was poorly explained and thinly developed.
There has been a stunning lack of anything that would be confused with character development. X-Men is certainly not a title that you would get because you are interested in reading excellent character studies. All the various X-Men pretty much have the same identical personality. They are all over the top aggressive ass-kickers. It is like we have an entire team of Wolverines.
Part of the problem is that Carey serves up some of the most average dialogue you will read. Each X-Man has the exact same external voice. There is no difference. If someone read this issue out loud to me I would never be able to guess who was talking. Everyone engages is plenty of “tough talk.”
Plus, Carey’s dialogue and story is rather generic. All of it smacks of reading like a re-tread story. It is as if I have seen this story and read this story a thousand times before. The half naked super heroine attached to some torture machine. The obligatory “when I get free I’m going to kick your ass” “Is that a threat” “No. Just a fact.” style of dialogue that we got between Rogue and Turlow. The typical dialogue of the rescued hero telling the others to back off because vengeance on the villain is theirs alone.
Just all of it we have seen so many times before. It gives this issue a real paint by numbers feel to it. I could predict exactly the dialogue and actions for each and every scene.
At no point has Carey gotten me to identify with, relate to or care about the various characters in any shape of fashion. At no point has Carey gotten me excited and enthralled about his story. Quality reads usually suck the reader into their world and keep them there until the end of the issue. X-Men certainly doesn’t do that for me.
And then there is the issue with Humberto Ramos’s artwork. Plenty of people have bashed Ramos like crazy. It is as simple as this: either you dig his style or you hate it. There really is no in between.
Personally, I find Ramos’s art in this issue to be horribly rushed and sloppy. Ramos usually struggles to draw proper anatomy. He seems to follow the Rob Liefeld school of art. But, X-Men #196 seemed even worse than usual. Honestly, Ramos is simply on the wrong type of title. Ramos should be drawing on a title that is more cartoon-ish in style. I think Ramos would be the perfect artist for a shonen manga title.
Overall: X-Men #196 is an ordinary read in every way possible. Carey provides a journeyman effort with the story while Ramos struggles to provide the level of artwork that is required on one of Marvel’s flagship titles. If you enjoy quick easy reads packed full of brawling then you will certainly enjoy X-Men. If you prefer well crafter dialogue, excellent character development and intricate and complex storylines then you probably won’t dig X-Men.