X-Statix: The Complete Collection Volume 1
Reprints X-Force #116 – 129, Brotherhood #9, X-Statix #1-5
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Mike Allred, Darwyn Cooke, and Paul Pope
This is the most of Peter Milligan’s work that I have ever read. Before this is was a handful of Justice League Dark issues and a mini-series he did for DC’s Flashpoint crossover. I can’t say I was ever a fan of what I read, it is all so strange & off. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, more that your brain sort of has to adjust to the wavelengths Milligan is broadcasting on. It’s evident he has his own style and is writing first for himself. I prefer writers who practice that approach, write a story you would want to read, and the audience will come to you. This is one of those forgotten runs in Marvel’s X-Men niche, running alongside Grant Morrison’s brilliant reboot of the main title. Milligan’s take on X-Force got a lot of attention when it kicked off, but I don’t remember it lasting too long, the series kept going but the buzz faded.
Starting out as X-Force, transitioning into X-Statix later, this is a team of mutants who aligned with the explosion of reality tv fame culture in the early 2000s. This group is highly manufactured and marketed, focused-grouped, so that the roster appeals to all demographics. The team members regularly argue with each other about facetime on camera and have agents pushing them to get ahead of the pack. Members’ deaths are a flash in the pan, an opportunity to play up the drama and grow your audience. There’s an obvious reason why it is hard to like any of these characters or become invested in their stories. Milligan has a lot to say about superhero comics and the fame culture of the time, and it is deeply cynical.
The series mainly revolves around three team members: The Orphan, U-Go Girl, and The Anarchist. The Orphan, aka Guy Smith, is a purple-skinned man with antennae who is so hyper-sensitive he’s on the same level as Wolverine or Daredevil in terms of perception. His parents died in a mysterious fire leading to his moniker, and he has developed clinical depression. Each evening, The Orphan puts a loaded revolver to his head and pulls the trigger, tempting fate and testing the universe to see if he has a higher purpose.
U-Go Girl, aka Edie Sawyer, has a limitless form of teleportation and can pull any number of people along with her. She grew up in a small Midwestern town. Edie becomes one of the most popular members of the team and develops a complex as The Orphan and The Anarchist fight for the position of team leader. While they are newbies, Edie has survived a few iterations of the team. She believes that leadership position is her right. Edie’s relationship with The Orphan becomes hugely complicated, and we eventually get a lot of her backstory, which explains much of where the character’s cynical mindset stems from.
The Anarchist is Tike Alicar, an African-American man raised by white parents. This has led to him developing a complex about how he is perceived in public. Because the media marginalizes black heroic figures and contextualizes them within the boundaries of their race, Tike feels the need to play up his “blackness” for the cameras. Behind the scenes, he has deep-seated doubts about his identity in relation to Black American culture. Later in the series, he encounters Spike, another black male mutant who plays into the media stereotypes of urban black men as aggressive and violent. Tike also worries that he is doomed to die because mainstream media rarely allows multiple black voices to be present at the same time.
X-Statix holds the distinction of being the comic that broke Marvel away from the Comics Code Authority. The CCA was much like the film industry’s MPAA, a board of people whom you could voluntarily submit material to for a rating. If the CCA gave a comic the stamp of approval, then it was assumed the book was appropriate for all ages. Years prior, DC Comics has begun its Vertigo line, and the CCA stamp on the cover was absent. Only once before had Marvel published without the seal, a two-part Spider-Man story featuring a supporting character’s drug abuse in the 1970s. The violence in the first issue of Milligan’s series was deemed too much, and instead of editing the book, then-editor in chief Joe Quesada went to print without the CCA’s approval. It didn’t take long, and soon after that, the comic’s industry stopped seeking approval from that independent board.
I wouldn’t say X-Statix is gratuitous, but it definitely wouldn’t be a book a kid would particularly enjoy reading. The battles are phony and merely set up to be publicity stunts. Most of the book is characters talking, often arguing about their identities concerning media coverage. Quesada was pushing the X-titles at the time to be daring & risky, trying out stories they wouldn’t regularly present. This is a drastic departure from the model Chris Claremont put into place in the 1970s, almost a pastiche or parody of soap-operatic & melodramatic comic fare.
One of the bonuses of this run is that you need little background knowledge on X-Men comics that have come before to jump right in. Every character is brand-new, so you’d be learning everything the readers of the time knew about them as you go. As I said before, you likely won’t come to like any of them, but that is sort of the point. The art by Mike Allred adds to the distinction, his work primarily being in indie comics. It’s a refreshing change from the Jim Lee-inspired work of the 1990s. Allred revels in the surreal, often placing his characters against abstracted backgrounds. Add to that some guest spots by the legendary late Darwyn Cooke and phenomenal Paul Pope, and this is at the least an exceptionally visually pleasing collection of comics.