In my harsh review for “X-Men: Noir” #1, I wrote, “Maybe it’s Calero’s art that ruins any goodwill I might have toward this comic, but I found the first issue to be utterly disappointing, and I don’t know that I’ll stick around to find out if the series rises above its premise.”
Well, I did stick around, and not only did the series rise above its premise, but the work of Dennis Calero ended up being one of my favorite things about issue #4.
Calero’s moody artwork, which I deemed too “visibly Photoshop based” and “Greg Land territory” in my review of issue #1, looks much more like the something from Jae Lee in this final issue. Calero relies much less heavily on celebrity photo reference here, and because “X-Men: Noir” #4 is largely about movement — as things fall apart and the hands of the desperate lash out at the world — he doesn’t fall into the trap of repeating the same shots again and again. Like the rest of this series, issue #4 is dark, practically monochromatic with bursts of light and color as accents, but Calero’s work here is vibrantly alive. Because it’s all based on movement and action, Calero can show off with his lighting effects and make this bleak noir story into something visually striking.
Even when he does repeat an image — as he does with a female face in the climax — his use of cropping and shading, coupled with the revelatory information expressed through the word balloons and captions, add layers of meaning to a relatively static series of panels. It’s old-fashioned montage in action, where an image gains different meanings through context, and Calero uses it wisely.
Ultimately, this series surprised me, not just because Calero’s art worked better in the conclusion than it did in the opening. But it also surprised me because Fred Van Lente didn’t take this series down the expected path. It didn’t simply become about Xavier’s team of mutants acting like themselves while wearing fedoras. It didn’t just become a “Star Trek” holodeck adventure.
Instead, Van Lente told a thrilling noir tale using some of the familiar elements of the X-Men universe, but changing others drastically. And his use of the Golden Age Angel, Thomas Holloway, as the protagonist worked extremely well thoughout the series. He wasn’t merely a gateway to telling a story about Cyclops and company. Holloway was the story, to a large degree, and the X-Men were secondary players in Holloway’s heroic tragedy.
Van Lente surprised me with some of the twists and turns within this final issue as well, and like any good noir mystery, things were certainly not what they seemed.
“X-Men: Noir” #4 was a strong enough finale to make me appreciate this series as a whole. Between Calero’s strong work on this issue and Van Lente’s always-exceptional writing, “X-Men: Noir” is a series that shouldn’t be overlooked, no matter what I may have said after the first issue.