Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

22 February 2013

NYX: Wannabe

Collects: Nyx #1-7 (2003-4)

Released: June 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 208 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785112433

What is this?: Teenage mutant runaways band together on the dangerous streets of New York.

The culprits: Writer Joe Quesada and artists Josh Middleton and Robert Teranishi


So, in 2003, the X-Men: Evolution cartoon introduced X-23, a character who was obviously a distaff Wolverine. She was mysterious, she was popular, and it was only a matter of time before she was introduced in the comics.75 But it was the end Bill Jemas / Joe Quesada era at Marvel, so in retrospect it seems inevitable that X-23’s first comics appearance would be in something like NYX: Wannabe.

NYX was published a decade ago, but it already feels like an artifact from a strange time, as off-kilter for a Marvel / DC comic as something from the Silver Age. NYX features all new characters, without a cameo from an X-Man, Avenger, or Spider-Man. Four of the new characters are mutants, and New York’s District X — the mutant neighborhood featured in several X-books at the time and the “NYX” of the title76 — is mentioned; ironic, since District X and new mutant characters were so forcefully jettisoned from Marvel during Quesada’s editorial reign that there’s still an X-shaped depression in the sidewalk outside the publisher’s office. X-23, NYX’s best known character, is recast as a near-mute child prostitute who isn’t even named in the story.

Nyx: Wannabe coverWhat Quesada wants to write is a response to or an updating of the Silver and Bronze Age tales of mutants discovering their powers. Kiden, a teenage club-rat, lives on the streets after her use of her new mutant powers leaves a teacher critically wounded. The teacher, Mrs. Palmer, joins Kiden after the shooting causes life-altering depression and PTSD. One of X-23’s johns commits hari-kari in front of her. Tatiana is hounded by a mob after her powers manifest — a “lynch mob chasing the new mutant” scene, a hallmark of the old days that we haven’t seen in a while — and she angsts about what her powers cause her to do. Together, they come together to bicker at each other and be hunted by X-23’s pimp, Zebra Daddy.

Quesada establishes these kids are on their own. Charles Xavier is not going to roll through that door offering them a new home and support group, so together, they form a community to protect one another. Unlike X-Men such as Beast, Angel, and Iceman, they aren’t exchanging a happy or stable family life for the Xavier School; for them, it’s a rough mutant life or no life. The runaways all seem to understand that only someone who has dealt with similar traumas can understand what they’ve been through.

Good so far. And Marvel does get points for giving new female characters a starring role in a miniseries and assigning a high-profile creator to the story. But that praise has to be tempered severely. The high-profile creator is Quesada, who is a great artist but not well known as a writer. More importantly, Quesada and artists Joshua Middleton and Robert Teranishi have looked at the line between “frank” and “exploitative” and said, “Hell, that doesn’t apply to us.” Kiden wears a bikini top and sucks on a pacifier on the cover of #1; inside the book, she’s shown sitting on the toilet with her shorts around her ankles and a pill in her hand. Middleton makes the brave choice to show her in a t-shirt and panties in the following pages. X-23 is dressed in lingerie and fishnets the entire series, occasionally donning a jacket to cover her nearly bare torso — inconspicuous clothes for a girl hiding on the street. There are prostitutes flaunting their wares everywhere. Tatiana, another teen, is the subject of a (non-revealing) upskirt illustration in another scene.

Perhaps I’m not qualified to judge. I am a (near) middle-aged man from a rural area. I know little about the subjects the book addresses: teenage runaways, prostitution (teenage and otherwise), the New York club scene, gangs, pimps. But NYX never convinces me Quesada and Marvel are treating these subjects with the respect they deserve.

Quesada is not an experienced writer at this point, and it shows in the plotting and the details. By an extreme coincidence, Kiden is given a chance to confront the man who killed her father, a police officer. Other than inertia, we’re never sure what motivates X-23 (again, she’s never given any name; her pimp doesn’t even know what to call her). Quesada mixes up names. None of the characters are compelling or likeable, although Kiden’s struggle from immature brat to responsible leader eventually makes her sympathetic. Tatiana is introduced halfway through the story, too late to feel like anything but an afterthought.

I’m not a fan of the art. Middleton tends toward the titillating, although not as much as he could, as shown in the cover ideas displayed in the back of NYX. His fine inked line and the washed-out colors give NYX an irresolute and depressing feel. Teranishi’s work has a stronger line but suffers from the same washed out colors while also looking less polished than Middleton.

NYX is both a daring idea and a spectacularly misguided one. The cast, except for X-23, does not seem to have been used again (except in the post-Decimation sequel, NYX: No Way Home), mitigating the goodwill from using new characters. Decimation also removed the ability for young mutants to create their own communities since there just aren’t enough of them any more. After removing all that, what remains is a weird, uncomfortable series that isn’t very good.

Rating: X-Men symbol Half X-Men symbol (1.5 of 5)

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