‘Worst X-Man Ever’ Offers a Tragicomic Take on the X-Men [Review]
X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever #1 is the first part of a five-issue miniseries, written by Max Bemis with art by Michael Walsh, which tells the story of young Bailey Hoskins as he learns that he’s a mutant and joins Xavier’s School. When I saw the preview for this book, I took it for purely comedic; the idea of focusing on the “worst X-Men” is already pretty absurd, and Walsh’s art gives everything a fun, breezy feeling.
And it’s true, this first issue is fun and absurd, but its tone is more complex than that. Even in this opening chapter, there’s a real sense of tragedy to Bailey’s story, which darkens the humor considerably.
I don’t want to give away the nature of Bailey’s mutant power, but it’s simultaneously disturbing to contemplate and more than a little silly. Bailey himself is angry and unsettled to discover what he can do, but even he also recognizes, and is embarrassed by, just how ridiculous his power is.
Bailey is a second-generation mutant, the son of low-powered mutants who’ve kept their powers hidden all their lives. In a world where the X-Men exist, how would it feel to learn that your dad can generate heat from his torso and you mom has X-Ray vision, and they just never thought using those powers (or telling you about them) was worth the trouble? Bailey’s too excited about his own mutant status to think too much about his parents, at least until he learns what his powers are. And after that, something even worse happens.
There would be no way to tell this story in context of the current X-Men status quo, and wisely no effort is made to reconcile it. It takes place in a kind of “Classic X-Men” Neverland of continuity, in which Xavier’s School for the Gifted is still open and still housed in a normal-looking New England mansion. Hank McCoy is a faculty member, but Kitty Pryde is still a teenage student. Cyclops is there, but he doesn’t do much except fight a sentinel and establish that in this world he’s still alive and still a hero.
Of the established X-Men, Beast has the most prominent role in this issue, and it might be my favorite portrayal of Hank McCoy in years. Hank has always had a strong, self-conscious sense of the tragicomic, and it enables him to offer perspective on Bailey’s experiences. The page on which he and Bailey discuss Bailey’s mutant power is darkly, delightfully funny, but quoting it here would ruin it for the reader. There’s another prominent X-Man who befriends Bailey by the end of the issue, but I won’t spoil who that is either.
Michael Walsh’s art is perfect for the tone of the book. Even when something truly awful happens, the book feels set in a colorful superhero world. His take on the existing X-Men is fresh and vibrant, while making them feel like the classic versions. I’d be curious to know if he got to choose which costume each X-Man is wearing, since they’re pulled from a variety of times. His Beast is particularly masterful. Much like the line-up of the X-Men, Hank’s look is hard to pin down to a specific version of the character, but he looks quintessentially like himself.
This first issue is a lot of fun, and I’m interested to see where it goes. It’s hard not to think that the nature of Bailey’s power is a Chekhov’s gun pointing to the obvious climax of his heroic journey and this series, but even if it gets there without a twist, it looks to be an entertaining ride.
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