October 9, 2013

Marvel Comics Review: Fantomex MAX #1

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Written by: Jeff Lake
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imageFantomex MAX #1
Writer: Andrew Hope
Artist: Shawn Crystal
Publisher: Marvel

First off, let me preface this review with an admission – I love Fantomex. Of all the characters created and used in the pages of Uncanny X-Force, the three-brained Frenchman was my favorite, his quick wit and rascally nature easy to enjoy. That said, I was intrigued and excited to see the misdirecting mutant in a mini-series of his own, more so given that it was a Marvel MAX title. Does Fantomex’s R-rated adventure take flight? Read on, true believers.

Fantomex MAX #1, or FantoMAX as I’ve taken to calling it, is a bit confusing. The issue introduces Fantomex mid caper as he tries to secure his loot whilst avoiding the crazy robot guy defending it. Also involved is Special Agent Rhona Flemyng, a character we’re told has a pre-existing relationship with our master thief. I’m not too familiar with Fantomex’s current incarnation (anything after UXF is pretty much a wash), and as such was unfamiliar with Agent Flemyng. Those more up to speed may appreciate Flemyng’s involvement, but I personally was left confused by F’s vested interest in her. Flemyng ends up playing a pretty essential role here, as she’s effectively sandwiched between Fantomex and the crazies trying to track him down.

Writer Andrew Hope moves the story along at a brisk clip, stopping now and then to give emphasis to the many swirling parties searching for our sorta hero. His take on Fantomex is solid, maintaining many of the qualities that initially drew me to the character in the first place. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare quite as well, falling hard into stereotypes. I get that the MAX title allows creators more creative freedom to push the envelope, but much of Fantomex reads like a what-not-to-do when the training wheels come off. Whereas Fantomex is his usual swashbuckling self, the women (including Agent Flemyng) are flat and ridiculously over sexualized. I love me some babes, but when nearly every page is a reason to show more T and A, it might be good to ease off a bit. The worst offender, surprisingly, is Fantomex’s sentient central nervous system/spaceship, EVA. Hope’s EVA is almost cartoonishly catty, serving as more of a CPU sexpot than the high functioning hardware we know her to be. Given the freedom allowed to MAX titles, I was hoping for more aggressive storytelling, not extra cheese. Alas, that’s not Fantomex.

On art, Shawn Crystal does well with what he’s given, his over exaggerated style fun and entertaining, thought not especially memorable. His Fantomex is well realized, athletic and agile, while also effusing a certain joie de vivre. There’s an unfortunate amount of dead space throughout, however. Given some of the more exotic locales Fantomex frequents, I was hoping for a bit more scenery. His action scenes fair a bit better, though some definitely skirt a bit over the top. Overblown violence has its place, but with the rest of the book already feeling bloated it just never hits the mark.

In fact, that’s the best way to view Fantomex; a solid book that can’t get out of its own way. MAX imprints are supposed to be edgy, over the top, and “to the max,” but such limits should be exceeded because the story dictates it, not because it’s a requirement of the brand. Much of Fantomex feels gratuitous simply because it can be, and as such the issue never fully finds its stride. Hope and Crystal prove two competent creators, and with the stage now set and the characters in play I can only hope that the next installment focuses on story over spectacle.

Jeff Lake



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