Welcome back, friends. I hope you’re all having a good week and are ready for another classic comic review here at Stew’s Reviews!
I was doing some research for today’s article when I found out that Brian K Vaughan is about four years older than I am. And given how old some of his more famous works are… that is legitimately depressing. He has accomplished so much more than I ever will. And at such a younger age that I ever would.
Whoof, this introduction is bound for Self-Pity Avenue, so let’s… let’s just get straight into the book this week!
Writer and Artist: Brian K Vaughan, Jorge Lucas, Michael Ryan, and Manuel Garcia.
Protagonists: Mystique, Forge, Professor Xavier, Shortstack
Antagonists: The Quiet Man (kinda?), The Host, terrorists
I honestly had never heard of this book before I saw it on sale at my comic shop one day. A Mystique solo title written by Vaughan? Intriguing! It’s not exactly a new title, either, having initially been published in 2003.
The premise of the book is that Professor Xavier is running secret espionage missions overseas that he doesn’t want to risk the X-Men getting involved in for fear of causing international incidents or getting their hands dirtier than he would like. After his primary operative, a mutant named Prudence, is killed in the line of duty, Xavier needs a new master of subterfuge to work for him; someone he can burn and disavow all knowledge of if she is caught. Coincidentally, Mystique is captured by government agents at about that same time and is about to be executed for her terrorist crimes. Xavier and Force rescue the shape-shifting villain and offer to keep her off the law’s radar in exchange for working for them. Everything comes together!
The order of the day here is globe-trotting, and Mystique takes turns in Cuba, North Korea, South Africa, and Brazil over Vaughan’s run, so don’t expect to see Mystique tangling with any of the regular Marvel Universe roster of villainy. She is, instead, introduced to many new characters like Shortstack, her liaison and “handler” who feeds her intel, the disease-based villain The Host, and the mysterious Shepherd and The Quiet Man, who try to turn her into their own double agent.
Mystique’s characterization here is fine, if not entirely consistent with how she has been portrayed over the years. But that is acceptable. Tom King’s Vision and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye didn’t wonderfully mesh with those characters’ historical portrayals, but they still made great comics. But Vaughan here relies far too much on showing Mystique having a heart and being a decent person while INCESSANTLY telling everyone “I’m not a good person”. It’s like in the movie Suicide Squad where every five minutes the screen writer insisted on having someone say “Remember, we’re the bad guys, folks!”. Mystique saved people and performed heroic feats between bouts of telling the reader what an altruistic person she isn’t. I’m sure it’s supposed to be a bit of cognitive dissonance, but it ends up just getting repetitive and feeling like an out-of-nowhere take on her morality.
The stories are interesting enough, though acting like these weren’t missions the X-Men couldn’t have done for Professor X is a bit silly; they’ve absolutely gone overseas in their history. The whole “agent of Xavier” thing seems like a tacked on way to get the character into a sympathetic light and put her together with Forge. Raven’s relationship with him is a fun aspect of the book, though I will admit to not having read much of the original run of their time together (I want to say it was in X-Factor in the 90’s?). They are antagonistic, violent, playful, and respectful with each other, and I absolutely buy into Vaughan’s interpretation of their romantic history. It’s the best part of the series, as far as I am concerned. Mystique never seems to grow tired of harassing him, and while he often seems weary of her routine, there is a sorrow to him because he really does want to believe she can be a better person, but deep down, knows it won’t ever be.
Moving on to the art here, the three artists brought on board all have very distinct styles, but given that they each handle a completely different story arc of the series, it doesn’t get too distracting. What’s more, they are all high quality in their own regard. I think Michael Ryan may be my preferred choice of the three, but it was killing me for a while to figure out who his style was reminiscent of to me. But I finally got it! It’s a grittier Todd Nauck! It’s got thick, dark lines, but everyone is very expressive, and the panels are full of action and power. Not to take anything from Lucas and Garcia who both do fine work on their issues, I just tended to prefer the issues done by Ryan. Lucas’ pages seem very Liefeld-inspired; everyone has broad shoulders and grimaces, and there are so many lines on everyone’s faces. His arc has giant robots, though, and they look menacing and crisp. Garcia handles just two issues of the run, and his style is a very basic comic style. It’s fine and bright and has action, but it’s not something I need a lot more of in my life. It’s nice having the change up between their three styles, though. Variety being the spice of life and all.
Talking Point: Villains getting their own runs or mini-series isn’t exactly anything new in comics; it was huge in the 1990’s. But there have obviously been several who have never seen the light of their own book. Who would you give a title to if you were put in charge, and how would you make them a believable protagonist?
The art is fun, the play between Raven and Forge is a lot of emotion and heft behind it. The overall plot just doesn’t carry its weight. Xavier’s reason for wanting Mystique in his fold is flimsy, and her ceaseless need to remind us how bad she is grows tiresome. But it’s not a bad book by any stretch. Vaughan is just capable of better.