X-Statix #13-18 – Back From the Dead (2003/04)
by Peter Milligan, Mike Allred, & J. Bone

More than anything, the thing that draws me into comics is reinvention. I love to see what happens when a given writer or artist takes on the burden of a given title and boldly tries to bring some new vision to it.

Frequently, this results in complete disaster (like, the "Electric" Superman of the mid-90s), other times it ends up totally inspired. Either way, I'm in, just as long as things don't stay static.

Probably my favorite reinvention tale concerns a legendarily bad Marvel series called X-Force. It was, in every way, the reason most people give up reading comics … shit stories, dumb characters, no real movement or drama, bad art, bad writing – just one of many lame spinoffs created simply to milk the cash-cow of X-Men.

In 2001, though, a (very) funny thing happened to X-Force, when it was taken over by writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred. Milligan had made his name on some "edgy" titles put out under the DC Vertigo umbrella, while Allred had established himself in the indie world with a deeply satirical superhero parody called The Atomics.

Regular readers of X-Force were shocked when, suddenly, from one issue to another, all sense of continuity was thrown out, all old characters jettisoned, and an entirely new comic set up in its place. Even though few people actually liked X-Force, Milligan and Allred's coup d'etat trounced any possible sense of control the fanboys had over their little worlds.

Furthermore, the revamped X-Force was not only totally different, but it was suddenly a comedy. The mutant crimefighting team known as X-Force was now a champagne-swilling band of celebrity superheroes, in it not for any sense of justice, but rather for the money, fame, and parties.

It was hilarious.

Beyond that, though, it was smart, satirizing pop culture (and even the comics world itself) in real time, making other superhero books look even more clueless and behind the times. And, in total defiance of conventional franchise-building logic, Milligan and Allred immediately demonstrated a nihilistic approach to their character base … if you found a character growing on you, you could count on that character being killed within a handful of issues.

Superhero comics do not generally keep you on your toes. They don't challenge you to keep up. They usually let you sit in your carefully-constructed world (Gotham, Metropolis, whatever) and maintain what you think of as control. Not anymore.

After a dozen or so issues, X-Force was finally retired (probably due to a royalty issue over the original name), and the series was re-launched as X-Statix.

Initially I resisted X-Statix because I felt the glory days must be over … Milligan and Allred had their fun subverting the man, and now that the book was a success, it would certainly get super-lame like all other successful comics. But at some point I began picking it up, and haven't turned back. X-Statix is still the smartest, savviest, and funniest mainstream comic out there. It's the kind of comic you don't have to feel embarrassed to read.

The six-issue Back From the Dead story arc is a marvelous one, a tightly sustained apex for the series so far. The main story concerns beloved European popstar Henrietta (a thinly-veiled Princess Di character) being murdered, but subsequently resurrected. X-Statix take her in as a member of the team, only to find that her fame immediately starts to eclipse all of theirs.

Meanwhile, X-Statix's duplicitous manager conspires with Henrietta's evil foes to unleash a bastion of mutant supervillains to take down the team … villains carefully created in egregious ethnic stereotypes to fuel the public's innate xenophobia and get better ratings. Spider-Man shows up for a cameo to help disperse the mutant villains (the interplay between X-Statix and Spider-Man is a great illustration of how geeky most other comics characters are in comparison).

The team then turns its attention to a terrorist villain with a barcode for a face, nicely sending up America's blind embrace of the Evil Du Jour. Through much infighting, they try to track this guy down and meanwhile figure out a way to rub out Henrietta … for good.

Around this time, the team deaths start coming fast and furious, including a couple real shockers, even for this title. The final issue of the storyline parodies The Ring with tongue completely in cheek, and with even more shocking deaths.

The plotlines, of course, don't recommend X-Statix as much as its sense of humor, which frequently makes me laugh, its extremely hip artwork, and its continual reinvention. Where it will go from here, I have no clue, and that's exactly the way it should be. That's why I plunk down $2.99 a month for funnybooks, man … not to see Catwoman and Batman almost kiss for the forty-millionth time.

Review by La Fée