As promised here’s my review of issue one of Marvel’s Fantomex. It’s been getting some horrible reviews, but although there’s points which I may agree with, the reviews like this one at IGN are grossly unfair, especially when the reviewer complains about the violence in Fantomex, a title meant by Marvel to be read by adults but seems to revel in the violence in certain DC Comics meant for a different audience.
All the panels here come from the Comixology download I had to make this morning when I realised I wanted to show some panels and didn’t have a working scanner. It’s a superb service and I’ll be using that site an awful lot in future…
Also, I’m going to make it clear I’ve know the writer Andrew Hope for years, but I’m going to be doing this review as if I didn’t. Also, Andy would think I’m being a creepy wanker if I didn’t and he’d be right, so lets crack on….
First is the cover. The cover is excellent.
It’s got a nice touch of Milo Manara about it. It’s gaudy and eye-catching while not looking exactly like all the other superhero fayre out there at the moment. It’s a lovely work of art. The interiors are by Shawn Crystal, an artist I wasn’t familiar with but there’s nice touches that remind me of Paul Grist via Berni Wrightson & Mike Ploog in places. His use of letratone is also incredibly welcome when many superhero artists only fire up the laptop, slap some computer effects on and then go back to bed, so to see some genuinely hand-crafted touches like this is welcome. Crystal has serious potential.
As for the story the first page launches us right into the action without telling us what’s going on. We also get a hint of the tone from this panel.
It’s a nicely composed panel with Fleming on one side, the ship on the other, and the eye is drawn to the body in the centre of the frame so we’re told that Fleming is the character we should be rooting for thanks to the jokey line about looking ‘great in skintight black kevlar’ and the fact she’s running into danger so she’s the hero we should be following.
What’s instantly jarring is that as soon as Fleming is introduced we’re thrown into a battle between the title character Fantomex, and a man in some hi-tech battle suit in the next few pages. In fact the man is the night watchmen of whatever secret base Fantomex has broken into, and we assume, Fleming is breaking into.
There’s a nice light tone in all this bantering but the reason this is all jarring is I’m not being told as a casual reader why I should care about Fantomex, what he is (there is a caption saying he’s an international super criminal in a previous panel) or anything that makes anyone who hasn’t read an X Men comic care about this character. It’s a good thing especially in a four issue series to throw your audience in at the deep end, but this assumes you’re familiar with Fantomex, not to mention it shifts your focus from Fleming to Fantomex too quickly. Who’s our entry character?
To show an example of what I mean, look at the first episode of Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who, revamp Rose. The first ten minutes or so is all about the Rose character, her life, and we start to empathise with her so that when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor arrives the madness and insanity which follows is something that we’re seeing through Rose’s eyes. She’s our focus even though the programme isn’t really about her, but it is. I use this as an example because it’s a brilliant example of easing a casual audience into things and then hitting them with everything but the kitchen sink once they’ve been lured in.
With Fantomex who is our focus? Who’s the reader to empathise with from the off? The rush into an action scene means the tone isn’t set up properly which leaves things for the rest of the issue feeling a bit jarring as Hope tries to cram a lot into these opening pages. A slower pace might not cram in lots of action, but it helps introduce a casual reader without being bombarded with so much BOOM!
After a few pages our two main characters meet..
As said, I think the artist is a serious prospect, but his attempt to render Fantomex as a more traditional superhero doesn’t work here, especially when you’ve got a well rendered Fleming to compare it with. I do think it’s these first few pages which cause the problem with the tone of the issue. It’s a bit too scattergun.
After all this the issue settles down and we start to get into the plot as Fleming’s boss in the agency (we’re not told what agency) she works for brings in a group of people very clearly based upon the old ITC series, The Champions.Those mornings during school holidays plumped in front of the telly were not wasted…
From here on, the tone settles into a pulpy tone as we’re introduced to the idea that Fantomex is trying to help Fleming for some reason, though as we’ve barely been introduced to either character it’s debatable at this point whether a casual reader cares.
The next few pages show the Champions, or whatever they are in the Marvel Universe are not the good guys we assume, which brings me to where I think the proposed idea that this comic is homophobic comes from.
Fleming rebuts MacReady’s advances in the same way one assumes she’d rebut a bloke doing the same thing, plus she’s probably not a lesbian. This isn’t Hope going ‘I FUCKING HATE TEH GAYZZZZZ’, but showing that there’s something not honest about these characters. We’re finally let into the fact that it’s Fleming who’s our entry character and the one we’re rooting for, though there’s problems with this panel.
I’ve an issue with rape being flung around casually in superhero comics, even ones meant for adults and as I’ve written before about the subject of misogyny and sexism in superhero comics, it’d be remiss of me to not pick up on this. The tone is distinctly rapey. It straddles the line where it’d be cheap but part of the story or just cheap. It does however stay, just, on the side of being part of the story. Of course the fact there’s a massive amount of violence before this panel where innocent agents are murdered by The Champions also shows how much of a bunch of bastards these three are. Still, it’s part of the story. It’s an easy way to introduce a threat from the three directly towards Fleming from these three without going into the Hulk threatening to rape Betty Ross territory.
The rest of the issue slips easily into a fun little read, with a lovely reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing, a fantastically executed dream sequence written entirely in French and the set-up for issue 2.
So what exactly did I think?
It’s hard to give a fair judgement of the first part of a four issue series eventually meant to be released in a trade paperback. The first issues of things like this tend to be reams and reams of crammed exposition setting up the next issues so they don’t muck around trying to explain what’s going on and who everyone is, but the sketchy start of the issue doesn’t help it fight it’s corner. However I do think that you’ve got a writer trying to find a voice for Fantomex but we don’t know what it is yet.
Also, it seems that X Men fans were expecting another Deadpool which this isn’t. It’s clearly heading towards a Diabolik (I wouldn’t expect a lot of current Marvel readers to spot this) style of European anti-hero as opposed to the slightly too self-referential character that Deadpool has become. It is what it is which is a big camp romp, but I think this may pass reviewers over, hence the hate as they want something else and this isn’t it.
Fantomex #1 is a fun read once you get past the first few pages of the book which is I think the flaw with the comic. It’s not a work of high art, or the best comic you’ll read but it’s a refreshingly pulpy read which is a change from the pompous superhero titles that clog up the market. I wouldn’t this trite as our friend from IGN did, nor do I think Crystal’s style is ‘silly’, especially when most superhero artists are variations of each other and originality is a hard thing to come by these days in the mainstream. I do however agree the swearing and violence feels forced at times, rather than part of the story or who these characters are. That’s always been the problem with the Max line though rather than the creators as I know editors in the past have asked for a bit more gore here, a fuck there and bingo! They have an ‘adult’ comic.
What I’m saying is come to this expecting a pulpy read. It’s a flawed comic from a writer who’s been out the industry for 20 years and an artist finding his feet in the industry. I’m not convinced yet that Fantomex is perhaps the character for these two to find their voices and style but they deserve as much of a chance as anyone else. It’s not a comic that ‘couldn’t have gone worse’ but it’s a comic which could be better, which is true of everything, even things like Maus which are as near to perfect as you get. Don’t believe those saying it’s a disaster, it’s not. I’ll be picking up the next three issues to see if things do shape up, and we get the fun read I’m expecting then I’ll give my informed opinion of the full series.