Last night in my dreams, The Orphan from X-Statix was asked to do an interview. In the way of dreams, I don’t remember what it was about. But I do remember that he didn’t say what he was asked to say, and while Spike Freeman wasn’t happy about it, the team loved it. I woke up gagging to get back to reading my giant comic book.
This is what happens when you pick up the massive tome (there is no other word for it) that is the X-Statix Omnibus. 1200 pages and about 8lbs (I know because I weighed myself with it today when I was trying to read it in the bathroom but it was too heavy, so I put it down on the scales, which promptly told me it weighs nearly 8lbs. Insane.) So yes, too big to read in the bath, too big to read lying down, much too big to carry around to read in cafes…. This book requires an unusual level of commitment, more so than any omnibus I’ve ever bought. HOWEVER, this commitment level is only on a physical level. Luckily this is a comic book which is insanely engaging, so that even when the weight of it balanced on my lap made me get pins and needles, I just switched position and kept reading.
Like a lot of people in creative jobs, I’m happy to sacrifice some holidays to doing work I actually enjoy, but on this Memorial Day I actually got to enjoy the same 3 day weekend off that most other people did! Since I had no plans to go away, I took this unprecedented time off at home to finally start reading my X-Statix Omnibus, which up until now had been a bit intimidating. When I began on Saturday morning I had some social plans as well as a prose novel to read, but I thought that the weekend would give me a good start and the omnibus might be something that I would be reading over the next few months. How wrong I was. I had no idea how engaging the book would actually be, or how ardently I would be squeezing in reading time with it.
I remember when X-Force and then X-Statix was coming out and now I’m kicking myself for ignoring it on the shelves. Two great creators, bringing to life a unique and intense portrait of a media-savvy superhero team. This is a wet dream for me, I love Milligan and Allred’s work (and the other people who worked on the book too; Darwyn Cooke, Paul Pope, Philip Bond, et al.) This is the book that should have got me back into reading superhero comic books but I was too resentful to separate the wheat from the chaff, and despite the wildly inventive covers, I let my resentment blind me to it and nearly missed something incredible. Luckily, with the recent publication of the X-Statix Omnibus I got a second chance to read the entire collection.
Missing X-Statix is a perfect example of how my stubborn attitude hurts only myself. After the Dark Phoenix saga in my beloved Uncanny X-Men, I kept reading for a few years, peripherally noticing all of the offshoot X-comic books popping up, but doing my best to ignore them. At first I leapt on New Mutants, but with the departure of Bill Sienkiewicz’ ground-breaking art, I really began to see just how many X-books there were and even as a child, I began to feel like I was being ripped off. I was a cynical kid and I didn’t like being marketed to (which is probably why I still really like the schlocky-but-wonderful 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie, which made so much fun of marketing attitudes.) Anyway, my jaded attitude forced me to put my foot down and I missed out on a decade of all sorts of incredibly subversive X-action. Little did I know that X-Statix was embracing exactly this kind of media-savvy bollocks, and would have been perfect for me.
From their first appearance, the X-Force team are miserably self-aware, not only of their job as superheroes, but of their image. Breaking the unspoken rules of every big superhero comic book at the time, the ever-changing roster of the X-Force (and later X-Statix) team are painfully involved in their fame. To further break from the norm, they’re distressingly laissez-faire about death, constantly acknowledging that their popularity and power come directly at the expense of their safety. And unlike in other comic books, even the key members of the team can die. Even more interesting; once they die, they stay dead. While the book might look and talk like a wild parody of the superhero world, like the fool in any great play, the jokes they make are the bitter truth. No single character is entirely good or bad, bad guys frequently become good guys (sort of) and change is par for the course for their looks and their choices, just like real people. While this pop art extravaganza might have used the wild language of the ridiculous, these stories are anything but.
Even when the book changes name from X-Force to X-Statix, it is presented in a fantastically meta way. Instead of simply being a title change ignored by the interior, it is a full name change for the team, giving them an opportunity to show once again that they are simply part of the media machine. The cynical “owner” of the team (Spike Freeman) decides that he doesn’t want to pay anyone royalties on the old hame, making space for all sorts of arguments between the team, the owner, the press, and the fans to all fight it out. It speaks volumes about the process Milligan and Allred must have had to deal with as they worked on this monthly comic book. There are clear moments where the pressure of the world is clearly impacting the story, which is a very different thing to be reading in one go, rather than as a monthly book. In some ways, we as readers can have a purer, deeper experience of the book as an omnibus, since this we can enjoy the X-Statix purely for what they are, and not for the furore they must have made at the time. After reading it, reading about it has been a very different story, and I’m grateful that I was able to experience the book in this way, and fall in love with these characters for their own sake.