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Dark X-Men #4

Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2010
By: Dave Wallace

Paul Cornell
Leonard Kirk (p & i), Brian Reber (colours)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Dark X-Men #4 arrives in stores tomorrow, February 10.

"Journey to the Center of the Goblin: Part Four"

When I first heard about the concept for the Dark X-Men miniseries, I wasn't impressed. The combination of a team of second-tier mutant characters with yet another miniseries that revolved around Norman Osborn's "Dark Reign" didn't excite me, and I almost wrote it off as another cheap crossover title that could be easily ignored. However, my Comics Bulletin colleagues and I have often discussed the notion that a concept is only as strong as its execution: that just as a good idea can be ruined with the wrong execution, it's also possible to find a satisfying way to execute even those concepts that don't initially sound promising. With this in mind--and encouraged by the fact that the Captain Britain & MI-13 creative team of Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk were going to be working on the series--I gave the book a try. I'm now glad that I did, as Dark X-Men has been one of the most enjoyable new titles to come out of the "Dark Reign" storyline.

This issue revolves around the revelation provided by the previous issue's cliffhanger: that Norman Osborn's body has now been possessed by the powerful mutant X-Man (a.k.a. Nate Grey), who faked his own death in order to escape capture by Osborn's team. Much of this issue is devoted to a psychological battle between Grey and Osborn for dominance of Osbornís mind: a battle in which the Dark X-Men, having discovered the truth, set out to intervene.

Again, that description might not sound like anything hugely special, but the way in which Cornell and Kirk tell their story makes it very enjoyable.

The power struggle between Osborn and X-Man is well played, leading readers to believe that one side is gaining the upper hand before turning the tables towards the end of the issue. The manner in which the Dark X-Men attempt to gain entry into Osborn's mind is also fun, reusing the hive-mind concept that we saw in issue #2 and playing into one of Cornell's favourite themes: that of physical manifestations of the subconscious mind. Characterisation is also very strong, with Cornell often using one character's reaction to another to reinforce the personalities of both, such as the cowardly impulses of Dark Beast to run from the all-powerful X-Man, or the egotistical simplicity of Norman Osborn's own mindset leading him to assume that Nate Grey's plans are more straightforward than they seem. And there's plenty of quirky humour throughout the issue that adds an extra layer of enjoyment to proceedings.

When I talk about quirky humour, I don't mean self-consciously "wacky" ideas or obvious jokes. Instead, Cornell's humour is more subtle and gentle. For example, this issue continues the running gag of providing character descriptions that are themed around the songs of a specific artist (here, it's the turn of David Bowie). There are also some well-judged pieces of dialogue that fit the characters so well that they can't help but raise a smile (I enjoyed Osborn's, "You know I like being an inner demon. Makes a change"). It might not draw attention to itself quite as much as the bad jokes or endless banter or some other writers, but it's just as much fun.

Leonard Kirk's artwork is as effective as ever. His depiction of Osborn and Grey's battle of wills sets the pair against a stark white background, drawing all attention to the two characters and making it clear that the only things that are important in this conflict are their two powerful personalities. The scenes in which the rest of the Dark X-Men begin to embark on their psychic journey are also nicely handled, adding a little colour and flair to a story that is otherwise fairly internalised and static. And the final two pages, in which the various pieces of Cornell's plot fall into place, capture the atmosphere that the writer seems to be aiming for perfectly, creating a creeping sense of unease and dread before letting loose with a vibrant splashpage that provides the issue's cliffhanger.

For some reason, I had it in my head that Dark X-Men #4 was going to be the final issue of the series. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that it's only the penultimate issue, and that there's one final chapter of the miniseries to come after this one. That indicates that I'm having a good time with this series, and would be very happy to see it continue as an ongoing title. However, the fact that the book's status quo is so closely tied to the "Dark Reign" of Norman Osborn (which looks likely to be coming to an end soon) makes this seem unlikely. Nevertheless, I'd be very happy if Marvel could find some way to reunite this creative team with this group of characters, as it's a great mixture that has produced a title that plays like a slightly lighter and more comedic version of Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts--and which has proved that there's really no such thing as a bad concept so long as the execution is strong.






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