Sunday, December 13, 2009

Guest Review- “X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain” #1

Marvel Comics, December 2009

Fred Van Lente (writer), Dennis Calero (pencils). Cover by Calero.

"Die Psycho Scum!"

For me, reading and rereading X-Men Noir has been the most fun I have had with a comic series all year. X-Men Noir does more than put the X-Men in the late 1930s with snappy dialogue, low key lighting and general misanthropy, it is a detective story where the clues come from drawing upon knowledge of X-Men history. It is a story metaphorically linked to ordinary X-Men comics, and thus can only really be fully enjoyed by a reader with a fairly good understanding of the first incarnation of the X-Men team. Then there's the various literal interpretations (Iceman is an iceman, get it?) and clever cameos that make X-Men Noir a blast to read. X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain #1 picks up where the original limited series left off, and already it shows the same style of storytelling that made me adore the original series.

The original premise of replacing the mutants with sociopaths may have required a leap of faith from readers, but Van Lente made it believable. In the end, X-Men is not only a story of social outcasts, but also how the irrationality of the public can be used to aim their misguided anger towards something they don't understand, as made apparent by such fixtures of X-Men lore as Senator Kelly and angry misguided mobs. Once again Van Lente shows his cleverness by introducing Eugene Judd to the team, better known to readers as the lovable Canadian Avenger Puck, as a man who can make himself compact and hide in a variety of spaces. One of the better ideas is the linking of the comic to current issues, as with the island detention centre "Genosha Bay". Mark of Cain is however lacking a serialized short backup story like the one in the original series. While the disappearance isn't too disappointing, it certainly detracts from the pulp flair of the first X-Men Noir series.

The atmosphere typical of film noir returns as Dennis Calero turns up the shadows and Fred Van Lente lets loose the snappy dialogue. Van Lente adheres as closely as possible to the film noir genre, and Mark of Cain naturally has a very cinematic feeling to it. However the fact that the dialogue is censored at times really takes away from the experience. After all, you would not want little beeping noises in a film noir movie whenever an actor cusses on screen. There are also two instances where I could not make out for certain what the censored word was. Editorial blundering aside the team of Calero and Van Lente do an excellent job.

Calero infuses his work with a realism that grounds these powerless X-Men with a set of more believable skills. Sometimes it does seem that the shadows may be too much- with the shadowy faces and everyone wearing trench coats instead of costumes, it takes a second to orient yourself with exactly who is talking- an issue that presented itself in the last series as well.

It is hard to not compare Mark of Cain with the original series, because the original did so many things right and really raised the bar for any sequels. So far Mark of Cain seems to be following in the footsteps of the original series and that is a good thing. Though the ultimate verdict on the series will be delivered on the last issue, the first issue certainly shows enough merit to predict that Fred Van Lente and Dennis Calero will cook up another amazing story.

9.1/10 –Binney Sharma

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