Images & Words – Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Bodacious babes and brutal bros.

This is one phrase that comes to mind when I think of Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis. Three issues in and the miniseries is maintaining its appeal, which is rooted in the balancing of a grim storyline with vibrant illustrations. Some might suggest that such lighthearted art isn’t appropriate for what is essentially a parable about genocide. But to these detractors, I offer the analogy of chasing Jim Beam with Coca-Cola; the mouth may find reprieve, but the throat will still burn and the head will still reel.

Okay, I can’t necessarily refute the claims that Kaare Andrews’ female figures have been pushed into mind-numbingly sexualized arenas. Storm, Emma Frost, and virtually every other babe appearing in Xenogenesis has been granted a rack that would guarantee scoliosis and a butt that even Apple Bottoms would have a hard time covering. At the end of the day, the visuals are perpetuating the misrepresentation of women in the comics medium.

With that being said, I can’t help but enjoy Andrews’ work. Misogynistic or not, it’s fuggin’ beautiful. Maybe it’s some subconscious kink that I can’t work out, but I find myself being wowed time and again by his figures. Each character is rendered with supreme detail while retaining a playfulness that evokes memories of Frank Quitely. Moreover, I think that Andrews must have really spent some time trying to figure out what he liked about each character, as their personal attributes really come through in their appearances. Whereas Ororo’s air of distinction takes the form of her mohawk, Logan’s quiet individuality appears as the beard and lowered cap which obscure his face.

Additionally, Frank D’Armata should be praised for his work as the book’s colorist. If nothing else, the new uniforms are gahdamn gorgeous to look at   – the bright yellow shirts are contrasted with black trim. Fortunately, the other tones also impress. From Beast’s blue fur to the golden glow of an interdimensional Ghost Box, D’Armata makes jaws drop.

I love the artwork in Xenogenesis. Again, I can see why some might find Kaare Andrews’ portrayal of women as a bit off-putting. Truthfully, I think that the covers and promotions are far more sensationalized than the interiors, perhaps leading to a bit of inflated scrutiny. Or maybe I’m just making excuses. I don’t know. What I do know is that I like to look at his drawings.

As an acolyte of the Warren Ellis, I’d be remiss to not mention his role in this party. Long story short, Ellis has the X-Men running about a small African village to investigate a surge in mutant births. Unfortunately, these births are caused by exposure to a certain kind of radiation from a parallel dimension. Since these new other-mutant babies sometimes cause problems (such as…well, *ahem* exploding), a local dictator by the name of Doctor Crocodile has taken it upon himself to eradicate them.

Of course, the X-Men aren’t going to stand aside and let that shit go down.

And of course, Ellis isn’t going to paint it as a simple tale of black-and-white, good vs. evil. Consider the following dialogue in which Beast tries to assure Dr. Crocodile that the babies can be rescued instead of killed:

BEAST: Sir, we’re under the auspices of Mutantes Sans Frontieres. We can care for these children.

DR. CROCODILE: All of them? With more being born all the time? And what happens when you good people inevitably get bored of aiding an African country? Or when some distracting event happens on American soil, and you all have to run and punch someone, and M.S.F. medical aid is required? What happens when you give my people hope and you fail, and they learn of their child’s slow, agonized death via an email from San Francisco?

Hrm. Pretty interesting stuff. With the damn X-Men, Ellis helps us ask some hard questions about foreign aid. What is it that motivates organizations to help other nations? Once involved, when do the responsibilities end? Is there something to be said for letting others suffering quickly?

At the end of the day, I’m still siding with the X-Men. And I’ll also side with Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews. Astonishing X-Men: Xenogensis gives me everything I want in a superhero book – action, gorgeous panels, and something to think about other than dudes and their capes.

It gives me bodacious babes and brutal bros.