There’s definitely an attempt at a wacky over-the-top tone — almost an anti-James Bond on crack — in Andrew Hope and Shawn Crystal’s “Fantomex Max” #1, but none of it quite gels together. The jokes are not funny enough, the art is not consistent enough, and the overall idea is just not strong enough for the parts to equal an enjoyable sum.
The plot revolves around Fantomex stealing something that looks like an organ and appears to be alive. Meanwhile an agent named Flemyng, tasked with capturing him, has failed and her assignment has been handed over to a group called Grover Lane. Grover Lane don’t appear to play by any rules, happily killing their own, and letting Flemyng know it will be more of the same for her when they have their man. None of it makes much sense, or bothers with any kind of internal logic that the reader can hold onto. As a result, it falls apart as both a story and character piece.
There are a lot of characters well-suited to the MAX treatment, and Fantomex with his unconventional power set, “sidekick” and moral compass, is a great fit for an MAX book, but in the debut issue, Hope and Crystal use that “adult” freedom to do little more than make crude unfunny jokes, hype up the disturbing sexual relationship between Fantomex and his ship E.V.A., get excessive with some violence, and draw a lot of porn star looking ladies in clothes they’re pointlessly falling out of. There’s nothing particularly wrong with those things, but I expect a lot more from a good comic book.
It’s true that I did expect something much smarter and sharper from this book, and if not that, then at least something cohesive and well-thought out — but “Fantomex MAX” is none of the above. It’s conventional in its approach, wallowing in all the cliches one might expect from a book with “MAX” slapped on the cover while ignoring all the potential freedoms it can bestow.
Crystal’s art has a highly stylized look that is not unappealing, but it feels ill-chosen for this book — especially with Francesco Francavilla doing the covers, which is incredibly misleading for what kind of story might be inside. Crystal uses a lot of colored zipitone backgrounds that are poppy and fun, but don’t feel right for the story and are overused. He also uses a lot of zipitone in his shading within his panels, which sometimes overwhelms the work, coming off as distracting rather than effective. He does some good work with character acting, the use of the zipitone and creative panels layouts really sing in select pages, and for the most part the storytelling is clear and the action works — but in the end, it feels like “Fantomex MAX” #1 goes for style over substance and still falls shy of bringing style to the table.
Going in, I hoped that “Fantomex MAX” would feel like “Hawkeye”: creative, unconventional, smart and sharply funny. That was perhaps too much to hope for given that “Hawkeye” is one of the best comics currently on shelves, but this feels so far from “Hawkeye” it’s not even playing the same sport, let alone fighting in the same weight class. I wanted to like this for all the right reasons, but it’s a misfire from page one with a tonal disconnect and forgettable premise and characters.