Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Edward Haynes, who chose number 404 for the roulette – so it’s time to talk about Banshee’s X-Corps!

Neither Joe Casey nor Sean Phillips are considered to be iconic X-Men creators, with both having found better homes for their particular talents elsewhere in comics. And yet right at one of the most interesting crossroads in the franchise’s history, here they both are, taking on a particularly random group of characters and seeking to find something interesting to do with them. In this, they fail.

At this moment in time, Banshee has moved off from Generation X, taking the surviving students from his school and enlisting them into – what else – a black ops-style “movement” over in Europe called X-Corps. Monet, Husk and Jubilee have apparently formed a strike squad who Sean refers to as “his angels”; while Chamber wanders round ever-more-grumpily, as is his northern wont. As ever, the X-Men franchise has found need for a black ops “police” team who proactively go after human aggressors, and this time round it’s former Interpol agent Banshee who is leading the way.

It does make some form of sense, generally speaking: Banshee is a senior member of the X-Men both through his experience and longevity within the comics, and as one of the elder characters in the franchise. He can act as though characters like Xavier and Moira are his contemporaries, which is where the whole idea of Generation X came from to start with. Perhaps lacking some of the ground-level characterisation which the other classic X-Men have enjoyed over the years, why not make him a black ops leader? 

At the same time, there’s something to be said for the ease with which any innocent mutant student can be enlisted into covert ops, isn’t it? Monet, Jubilee and Husk are three characters who should surely never be inducted into the world of espionage – two of them will never shut up during the mission whilst the other one will fret away her time hoping that she’s got her disguise right. And yet time and again, the X-Men books have found a way to take the most unexpected students and involve them in underworld killing sprees. It is WEIRD.

In issue #404, a team of X-Men including Angel and Nightcrawler have headed across to check out how Banshee’s approach is working out, prompting the usual round of “mein gott, what are you doing Sean?” and “don’t question my methods, you don’t know how dangerous it is out there”. It’s all very Jack Bauer, really. But while it’s understandable to be worried by Sean’s tactics – especially as he does appear to torture a suspect to death towards the end of the issue, although the page doesn’t do a great job of coherently explaining what it’s trying to show us – it’s not particularly fair for the X-Men to be the ones doing the questioning. This is just an extension of the same old tactics, after all.

Right now we have, what? Quentin Quire in the X-Men’s black-ops team. Previously we’ve had Elixir and Hope Summers get involved. Wolfsbane ate a bunch of people this one time? There seems to be a canny ability for X-Men writers to take the most unlikely characters and thrust them into this sort of story, regardless of what kind of sense it makes. Sure, the idea is “an innocent” trying to survive with the rest of the wolves, but were people really fascinated to see what Husk would do next? Given the deaths of several members of Generation X, you’d be forgiven for thinking maybe Banshee should be going in a different direction here – Emma certainly did.

Although, I guess, all her students died in Genosha. Hm.

Back to this issue, which exists in a constant state of dull, muddied tones thanks to Hi-Fi’s washed-out colours and Phillip’s workmanlike sequencing. Chamber’s part of the story in particular struggles to find anywhere to go, as he discovers someone in X-Corps’ basement – Martinique Wyngarde, the illusionist. They talk back and forth through the issue, stuck in the most dismal rendition of the astral plane you’ll ever see. Phillips struggles massively with trying to make circular conversations seem interesting in some way. He’s not got the sense of the fantastic which would go on to make comics like Fatale so dynamic, so the psychic back-and-forth between Chamber and Martinique is represented only by having the right hand side of the page tilt at a slight angle. Where invention is required, Phillips can only offer function. 

Then again, that’s what this issue is as a whole: functional. It depicts the adventures of some mutants in a 20-page format, so people can read a comic that month about some X-Men characters. The whole thing is simply going over the same ground the X-Men have always trodden over, and planting nothing new. With years of similar storytelling in the back pocket, the X-Men can’t rely on the shocking “these mutants are fighting back!” concept to keep readers interested. By now we know that this is the core of what the characters are and that there’ll always be one book which circles back to this same concept.

With that shock aspect lost, what remains is a formulaic and boring “black ops superheroes story”. You can’t deconstruct something that was already taken apart decades ago.

 

Uncanny X-Men 404: Army Ants
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Saida Temofonte

 

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