RETRO REVIEW: X-Statix #26 (October 2003)

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Or – “To All Things, An Ending…”

As with any year, 2011 has it’s detractors and it’s proponents, but for me, it was kind of a wash.  Not as venomous as 2006, nor as wonderful as 2004, the year before the Mayan end-times but after we make contact is like a 70′s George Carlin guest-host episode of the ‘Tonight Show.’  Sure, it’s two things you like, but neither is quite at its best.  Still, the end of ’11 has gotten me thinking how most comics don’t actually GET one, and how a really well-crafted ending is an ever rarer beast indeed.  Thus, I give you X-Statix swan song.

X-STATIX #26
Writer: Peter Milligan
Penciler: Michael Allred
Inker: Nick Craine
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Blambot’s Nate Piekos
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously, in X-Statix: From their very first days at Marvel, Joe Quesada & Bill Jemas aimed to get our attention.  By combining X-Force (best known for Rob Liefeld, Cable and belt-pouches) and Pete Milligan & Mike Allred (best known for experimental, wild flights of fancy), they hoped to find two great tastes that tasted great together.  The result polarized fandom, and the title was eventually relaunched as X-Statix, while Shatterstar and his pals reclaimed their group moniker.  Under Milligan’s pen, X-Statix became a study on fame, the nascent reality television boom, celebutards in general, and also a scathing attack on the tropes of comics themselves.  This issue’s cover identifies it as a “Downbeat Yet Strangely Moving Final Issue,” serving as both truth in advertising and another bit of genre-savvy sarcasm.  We open in the middle of X-Statix latest battle against eeeevil…

The Anarchist pulls open the drapes of the opulent mansion the team seems to be trapped in to reveal a couple hundred tons of military-grade hardware all aimed in their direction.  Their teleporter can’t teleport, their dead girl is dead, and Mr. Sensitive/The Orphan isn’t sure how to react to their impending Bolivian Army ending.  “A little late to start being heroes, isn’t it?” asks Vivisector snarkily, seconds before Mr. Sensitive takes a blast to the chest.  This being X-Statix, the blast triggers a flashback.  “It’ll be a walk in the park, Mr. Sensitive,” says the memory of a voice in his head…

The party in that first panel is a dual celebration, for the end of the X-Statix/Avengers war and to mark the team’s last mission before their disbanding.  Milligan plays with the story’s dual time-frame in interesting ways, as our hero deals with being gutshot in the present, paralleled with stomach cramps in the recent past, while Venus Dee Milo (Greatest. Superhero. Name. EVER.) has an even more chilling dichotomy:  Soothing his stomach yesterday, lying seemingly dead in the rubble today.  The conversation of the flashback is particularly awesome, as well…

The “pop star who looked like Princess Diana” is a reference to the controversy surrounding the proposed story wherein Diana would rise from the dead in the Marvel U. to join X-Statix, a storyline that went so far as to be solicited before cooler heads prevailed at Marvel.  The members of X-Statix all get little vignettes that examine how they are dealing with the team’s impending retirement, intertwined with their disastrous mission.  The Anarchist even goes so far as reminding the team that the last time he heard a team was a milk-run, he was one of two heroes left standing in the end.  There’s a thin shred of hope as Venus is revealed to be alive, but her reprieve ends up being a short one, as the helicopters circle ’round for the kill.

Venus scoffs as The Orphan tries to stop her, sniping that, “At least this way, you won’t have to see me go topless,” a reference to her announcement earlier in the issue that Hugh Hefner had made an offer for her to appear in Playboy.  (The irony here is that she’s a Wildfire-style nebulous energy field in a containment suit, which makes it unclear if she even has breasts…)  Venus takes out the heavy artillery with a suicidal blast that dissipates her, leaving Mr. Sensitive and the Anarchist to survey the wreckage…  and the corpses of their teammates.

Yes, Mike Allred, we see what you did there.  There’s some valuable lessons in that panel, ones which many comic book publishers could learn from, seein’ as how the last two or three dozen crossovers have started with high-concept psychological intrigue, but all boil down to “AND THEN THEY FIGHT!”  The Anarchist growls that growing old gracefully was never X-Statix’ style (and given the body count of these issues, he’s talking sense) and he and The Orphan decide to face their attackers, Butch & Sundance style…

“For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble…”  The last survivor of the original X-Force and the first member of the new squad go out together in a blaze of squishy red glory, providing closure on this chapter of mutant history. Given that the issue started in the middle and had a middle which was the end, it’s fascinating to see it end at the beginning.  That is to say that the last panels of the issue show X-Statix finally coming to terms with their impending breakup, and setting off in jolly fashion for their “last payday.”  The final page is a silent shot of their dark ready room/theater, with the sign reading “EXIT” prominently placed.  It’s an effective and haunting ending for a series that prided itself on it’s satirical and ironic-laced-with-arsenic nature.  Given how rare ANY sort of ending is in monthly serialized American comics, it’s kind of fascinating to see one done this well (if this bleakly.)  X-Statix #26 is a fascinating last issue, and one of the most successful single issues of any X-title in the last dozen years, earning a completely non-ironic 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Would you rather a favorite series go out with a bang or wimp out and leave hope of revival?