We’re far enough away from the ‘90s now that we can appreciate the decade for what it was. Much like the ‘80s before it, the ‘90s -- at least when it comes to comics -- has a certain aesthetic that’s hard to ignore. What once was reviled is going through something of a renaissance, thanks mostly to the fans from that era growing up and gaining influence and talent in the current industry.
Creators like Rick Remender, Scott Snyder, Kyle Starks and Ed Piskor all take their cues from that late-’80s early-’90s aesthetic, and fans of a certain age grew up with impossibly muscly, chrome-plated superheroes with an implausible amount of knives and pouches on their costumes. Few people embody the ‘90s as thoroughly as creator Rob Liefeld, so it's appropriate that in this, the 80th anniversary year of Marvel Comics, the man who redefined the look and feel of the X-Men for a generation of fans would return to his career roots.
Unfortunately, whether you loved the decade or hated it, the ‘90s are not alive and well in Major X #1. Liefeld has not only returned to Marvel Comics, he’s tried to pick up exactly where he left off, with a story that seemingly takes place between his classic issues X-Force #98 and X-Force #1. But with over 25 years between then and now, this story's quality falls short.
If you loved Liefeld's work back then, you’re not alone. His art represents an era that still resonates with millions of fans across the globe. Major X #1, however, feels like the worst kind of throwback. Liefeld’s script is stiff and unrealistic. Phrases like, “Prepare yourself for a painful severance,” and, “I’m the grim and gritty type,” litter the dialogue, making the whole experience feel like a bad Google translation of a foreign comic. The characters all have the same voice, and while certain lines are referenced as a joke or as humor, the tonal delivery and angry faces don’t translate that intent to the reader.
Major X #1 feels both dizzyingly high-concept and painfully insular. On the one hand, Liefeld spends numerous pages showing Major X riding through a wasteland so he can unload clunky exposition onto us. On the other hand, most of the action takes place in a grey box of a room with a small cast of characters that makes the whole effort feel inconsequential -- despite the fate of a whole dimension of mutants apparently being at stake.
Liefeld hasn’t lost the ability to bring his style of dynamism to an action scene, his characters popping and exploding across the page with as much drama as they ever have. Similarly, his page structure captures that exaggerated ‘90s style perfectly, and it’s this energy that carries you through this issue. When you have a comic that seemingly takes place during stories you told when you were at your peak, however, it will inevitably draw a comparison, and in Major X #1’s case, it's not at all favorable. Sure, there’s an energy here, but when it’s read side-by-side with peak-’90s Liefeld, it’s sorely lacking a certain urgency. Characters feel a little lackluster and uninspired, and the dialogue is almost unreadable waffle by the time you get to the mid-point.
The character designs are also lacking. We’re talking about the guy who created (or co-created) Deadpool, Domino, Stryfe, Shatterstar and the entirety of Youngblood. That’s an excellent pedigree, no matter your own personal preferences. It’s pretty doubtful, however, that Dreadpool (an alternate reality Deadpool that wears shoulder pads) will join that pantheon of fan-favorite designs when we look back at Liefeld’s career. Major X looks like a weird cross between Juggernaut and Judge Dredd, a little too on-the-nose to be iconic (he’s defined by two red X’s on his costume), and too derivative to be inspired.
Accurate anatomy is not what you look for in a Liefeld comic. Even when he was at his best, you bought his books for the exaggerated forms and over-the-top figures battling in what must be a world built upon impossible physics. That’s part of the joy of not only Liefeld’s work, but ‘90s comics in general. Here, though, it feels just poorly drawn. Cable literally loses his shoulders as the issue progresses, Major X’s arms get longer and shorter between panels, and background characters like Cannonball and Shatterstar lose almost all detailing in their outfits.
A lot of modern comic fans would see Rob Liefeld’s name on the cover of a comic and instinctively turn away, dismissing it as a product of an era best forgotten. That’s not what’s wrong with Major X though. Deadpool: Bad Blood, the last major work that Liefeld did for Marvel back in 2017, was pretty great, and captured everything that was to love about the ‘90s. Major X #1, however, falls back on the sort of tired tropes haters of that era will find validating. Badly designed muscle-men shout poorly written phrases at one another while fighting for or against the fate of the entire world. Not only has it all been done before, it’s also been done better. Even if you have a desire to revisit the glory days of ‘90s X-Men (and you should, it’s way better than you remember), Major X is not what you’re looking for.