WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Major X #1 by Rob Liefeld, Adelso Corona, Dan Fraga, Romulo Fajardo Jr. and VC's Joe Sabino, on sale now.
Rob Liefeld is one of the most divisive creators in comics. Plenty of fans adore his work based solely on its merits, while others view it through the lens of nostalgia. (who didn’t love that sideways X-Force #4 cover as a kid?) This adoration is arguably with good cause; while entire listicles and blogs have been dedicated to unfavorably dissecting the minutia of Liefeld’s artistic prowess, his work remains instantly recognizable, which, for better or worse, makes him an auteur.
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Sadly, a visionary artist doesn’t always produce art considered “good” by mass audiences. The first issue of Liefeld’s most recent series, Marvel's Major X, certainly falls into that category. Regardless, the comic seems to be selling well and has a huge push behind it, and the resulting fervor over Liefeld and the miniseries is oddly reminiscent of the rise of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult film The Room, specifically in regards to how the film is loved by its fans, and how these creators embrace their own work.
It’s important to note: I am not trying to throw shade at either Rob Liefeld or Tommy Wiseau, nor are we looking to compare their works alongside one another in terms of tone or style. The two men couldn’t be any farther apart in either regard. However, the manner in which these men tackle their projects is similar. The structure of their stories and the visual aesthetic used to tell them defy norms (and sometimes logic) and are forced into insistence by their creator's hand, whether it makes sense or not. The narrative mantra of “because I want it to happen” is extremely powerful in the hands of deft creators, but when it becomes a battle cry from someone who cares not what critics think of them, the result is as sublime as it is surreal.
In The Room, when Lisa betrays Johnny by having an affair with his best friend Mark, she does so not out of her own character's agency. She does so because the man behind the script wanted her to. And while there is an argument to be made that all events in fiction occur due to the writer's whims, there is no internal reasoning behind the action within the narrative. Characters in The Room just DO things. They serve only to move the story along and ultimately make the lead (also played by writer, director, producer, executive producer Wiseau) look like the victim in the whole ordeal. It's self-congratulatory, to be sure, but it's also a headstrong path to realizing an artists vision... no matter how bleary-eyed that vision may be.
Major X #1 throws caution to the wind in both its narrative and atheistic as much as The Room does. When another time-traveling Cable clone appears in the issue, it makes sense to anyone who is familiar with Liefeld's work. The same can be said for the rather sudden appearance of Wolverine (oh, hi, Logan!), whose inclusion can be justified in the story if you squint hard enough, but he might be there simply because Liefeld wanted to draw him. And why should we chastise him wanting to do so?
Much like The Room, the events playing out in the pages of Major X #1 don't adhere to the concept of a larger reality. We are given the characters Liefeld loves whether they need to be there or not. It feels like he's putting them in situations because he wants to see them unfold, not because it makes sense to the story. It's a choose your own adventure story where the path has already been carved out.
Major X is flabbergasting and entertaining in equal measures because of these narrative choices, but what really sets it apart is how heavy it leans into the tropes Liefeld has created. As an artist, he has embraced his own bombastic style, which has been "honed" over the last few decades, evolving from what could be described as a dime store Jim Lee knockoff into a wholly originally presence. Every single strange visual choice Liefeld has ever made is on display here (well, that might be a bit hyperbolic, but it's not far from the truth). Lipless mouths are contoured into grotesque sneers. Pouches and gun stocks and unnecessary fashion choices are flaunted on every page. And the anatomy... oh, God, the anatomy. Liefeld's portrayal of the human form is as removed from reality as Wiseau’s portrayal of human speech patterns.
Now, it would be presumptuous to assume what Liefeld's intentions were during Major X's developmental stage. There isn't the wealth of history behind this single issue like there is for The Room. Notably, some of the more idiosyncratic elements to Liefeld’s work (giant pouches, disappearing feet, unnatural human geometry, etc.) have crept into the realm of self-parody. Even Liefeld seems to be in on the joke these days, so it's hard to say if Major X #1 is the logical creative step forward, or a self-aware reaction. Perhaps it's a bit of both; a lot of the dialogue in Major X certainly suggests that. Surely, no one would ever write dialogue like. "The scent is off. And you're bigger, thicker," in earnest. At least, we hope not.
None this is to say Thomas Wiseau or Rob Liefeld are the greatest creators in their respective fields. There are comic writer/artists who are arguably more in tune than Liefeld with using the rules and structure of graphic story telling to help elevate their work, just as there are plenty of filmmakers who do the same, by having a stronger grasp than Wiseau on the basics of shooting a film. At the end of the day, though, quality is a state of mind, but entertainment value is an experience. And for those who haven't consumed either, The Room and Major X #1 are both about the experiences.