X-Club #1–5 by Si Spurrier and Paul Davidson
My first experience of reading something by Spurrier (his novel, Contract – see my thoughts here) didn’t go well so it meant that I didn’t hunt out his work in comic books; however, I try not to let my experiences blinker me (with the exception of Jeph Loeb), so I thought I would give Spurrier another chance with this collection of a mini-series from 2011, about Dr Nemesis, Kavita Rao, Madison Jeffries and Danger, collectively known as X-Club.
I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised, although that could have been a reaction to my expectations coming in, mostly due to the wry sense of humour that permeates the book. The story is called ‘We Do Science!’ and the character descriptions on the third page set the tone (‘Magneto. Old. Powerful. Probably not evil. Doctor Nemesis. Science bastard.’), which is continued throughout with the constant ‘science snark’ from Dr Nemesis.
The story starts with the X-Men teaming up with Stratocorp to create the ‘first viable space elevator’ in the Atlantic Ocean. Things go awry (of course they do – this is an X-book, after all) when a protesting Atlantean goes beserk (Dr Nemesis: There is science to conduct … in the laboratory of violence.) and Danger returns to Utopia in a crazy freakout. In addition, the presence of Terrigen-242 in the area is causing mutations in sea creatures – this leads to the largest element of humour when ‘an echinodermic specimen’ chemically bonds to Nemesis’ head, acting as an ‘empathic starfish’ revealing his ‘inner monologue to the unworthy universe’. For example, to Rao he reveals, ‘I have often admired your shapely behind’; to Cyclops, ‘I wish my costume was as cool as yours’; to Jeffries, ‘I crave your friendship. Please comfort me’. Meanwhile, after escaping the depths of the ocean (where Stratocorp is, of course, revealed to be villainous because it’s a corporation), Jeffries can be seen riding a mutated hammerhead shark, shouting ‘Fly, my pretty! Fly me to explode justice on the crackling wings of science!’, while the starfish is singing Wagner (‘Kill the Wa-bit’). If you laugh at these, you’ll enjoy this book – I know I did.
The villain of the piece is a former Nazi eugenicist (always a good choice for a go-to bad guy in comic books) who tried to trap an extra-dimensional entity but failed, putting him a stasis field so that his consciousness vibrates across realities while the entity was trapped and impregnated Danger to save itself; now the deranged super-Nazi is trying to collapse dimensions to reshape history (it sounds even more ludicrous when I write it down). Therefore, Nemesis has Rao inject him with Terrigen-242 (‘I am become Experimentallo, Wierdking of Science!’) so he can fight the super-Nazi while Jeffries delivers Danger’s baby. Who says comic books aren’t as crazy as they were in the 1960s?
This type of story is what I expect from superhero comic books – crazy, violent, silly, funny, tongue firmly in cheek but staying true to itself. Spurrier seems to have a writing style similar to Warren Ellis (Nemesis is essentially a Ellisian character taken to the extreme), and that’s a good thing; he’s not as good as Ellis but I don’t think there are many people like Ellis so Spurrier shouldn’t feel too bad about it. I haven’t seen much of Davidson’s art before this but his style matches Spurrier’s story – it’s a little off-kilter and unpolished for my particular tastes, and a tonal shift from the Nick Bradshaw cover that adorns the collection, but he’s a competent storyteller, able to handle the uber-weirdness without too much difficulty and keep up with the facial expressions and timing necessary to sell the character humour. It helps that he’s got the same British sensibility as Spurrier, which infuses his work, and this is early in his career, so it’s not as tight as the work he’s producing now.
In summary: I haven’t forgiven Spurrier for Contract but I enjoyed this diverting tale of X-scientists in action.