As many of you know, I am a big X-Men fan, as evidenced by the first entry in this blog and my contribution to the May To Terra MMF titled From Blackbirds to Battleships, and while Shojo manga hasn’t always been my cup of tea, the idea of taking a primarily masculine action comic and boiling it down to its core emotional human values was incredibly appealing to me. That’s what makes X-Men so great, is the emotional and romantic struggles that the mutants have amongst all this action; they are real relatable people. I’ve always been able to connect with these characters because I know how it feels to be different & shunned for it and I’ve always felt that the comics need a deeper exploration of these character elements and what better way to do it with a genre of manga that’s been known for doing just that?
So did it live up to my expectations? Did X-Men Misfits bring our merry mutants into a new thoughtful light?
Not exactly, X-Men Misfits is a bit of a weird mess. Written by husband and wife writing team, Dave Roman (Astronaut Elementary) and Raina Telgemeier (Baby Sitters Club, SMILE ) weave the tale (or in this case tail) of 15-year-old Kitty Pryde, as she discovers her intangibility or phasing, is sought out by Magneto (looking rather dapper) and is enrolled in the Xavier’s School for Gift Youngsters. The only problem: she’s the only girl at the school, surrounded by a bunch of winged, blue skinned, multiple and “accurate” (I hope someone gets this reference) boys all out to get in with her.
I have mixed feelings about this premise. I mean, is she really the only other female mutant aside from Storm and Jean (who isn’t in this volume mind you) that Xavier and Magneto have found? What I like about it is that it centralizes the readers focus onto the character and her struggles, rather than the school and its issues. It’s nice to have a concise approach to a lead character instead of the focus shifting in the book. What I don’t like about it is the objectification of Kitty. Immediately right when she walks in, Her being the only girl in the school makes her a prize to all the other boys. She gets involved with the overly possessive Pyro and his hellfire club, the manga’s Bishounen group, who treat her more like an exotic pet than anything else.
The worst part of it is that after she realizes this and all the issues that she has with Pyro, she doesn’t stand up for herself, her abilities or her womanhood. She instead runs and finds comfort & protection in the arms of other male mutants (Xavier, Iceman, Cyclops). That was one of my biggest problems with this book, is that Kitty Pryde, a character so synonymous with being a strong, independent female character is reduced a weak lovelorn teenage fool. There isn’t a sense of personal growth within the book. There isn’t a strong sense of female empowerment throughout the book on a whole. After Kitty shares her unique trait with the Hellfire Club, they refer to it as a “pretty girly power”. Another example is when Nightcrawler or Kurt Wagner & Kitty are paired to train together, Kurt refers to his teleportation as wimpy. This book emphasizes that violent & powerful element of X-Men that I’ve always disliked, the idea that mutant abilities (human evolution) are only to be praised useful if they are destructive, masculine and strong.
In addition to this glaring issue, I found that the story was in need of that old media rule “Show, Don’t Tell”. There are a number of instances: where Kitty talks about Pyro being a good boyfriend to her and helping her come to terms with her special abilities, Magneto mentions what sounds like a really cool use of his abilities etc but we never get to see these played out. It creates this weird pacing issue with the story, where the reader has a fabricate a lot of this world in their head and fill in, what I think, is too many gaps.
I’d also like to bring up is the artwork, which unfortunately, is incredibly inconsistent. There are some magnificent scenes in this manga (when Angel descends down the stairs for the first time, when Pyro and Kitty first kiss) but most of the normal panel artwork isn’t very good. Characters faces change shape constantly, most everyone looks the same and there is a whole lot of super deformity happening. Anzu has a lot of talent, that is not without question. I just wish she could pick a style choice and stick with it; I’d love to see her really buckle down and focus on those minute details that bring her art to life.
Ultimately, I would only recommend this book to series Manga fans (and by that, I mean people who are in or care about the development of the industry and trying things like this again) but not to X-Men fans. I don’t think it really does anything for the franchise. The characters in this don’t complement or work from the original source material; they are only represented in image & namesake alone. Heck, some of them aren’t even named! Did anyone catch the Gambit reference? I still don’t understand why he was in the story, considering he got one line and it was more or less your welcome. Want to know what I would do? Take this concept but use the First Class cast. It’s all already there: great tension between Warren and Scott for Jean’s affection, Bobby’s insecurity, Hank’s beastly changes. This book bite off way more than it could chew and it is too bad because this could’ve been great.