Syzygy. The alignment of three heavenly bodies. That’s what this is for me. Comic books, Noir Murder Mysteries, Secularization. In my review of Double Indemnity I hinted at an upcoming Noir event that I would be following with interest. And here it is. Marvel is doing for Noir what they lately did for zombies, recasting their iconic characters in a new world for a new audience. And if the first offering is any indication, this is going to be a smash hit.
The first comic to get the Noir makeover is X-Men. There are only two decent scenes for the start of any Noir tale: a dimly-lit office or a crime scene lit by the moon. Issue 01 starts at the latter, where a rookie cop is tormented by his superiors and the mystery of a dead girl, three deep gouges in her back, and most of her face missing. His collegues inform him of the ‘X Men‘, a group of misfit youths turned into hardened criminals by one Professor Xavier, outcast psychologist now spending his time in Riker’s with the more adult of the criminal population.
The cops tell the rookie to forget it. No sense wasting time over a dead con girl who grifted decent people with a knack that verged on mind control. But this doesn’t sit well with Tom Halloway of the Daily Bugle. What kind of society doesn’t look into the murder of one of their young? His quest for answers leads him on a hunt for these X-Men, starting with a nice chat in Riker’s with the mysterious professor ‘X’.
A young woman was gutted and left washed up on Welfare Island. No friends, no family. And the cops treat her like something they have to scrape off their shoe. I don’t care who she was or what she’s done… I can’t live in a world that just lets that happen.
Ah. A crusader. Watch yourself if you find my X Men, then. They eat people like you for breakfast.
I can’t tell you how eagerly I have anticipated the addition of Noir grit to my favorite comics. As much as I love the art of telling stories with beautiful art, engaging layouts, and the right amount of lettering, I have turned more and more away from the ‘capes’ of my youth. As I mentioned in my Joker review, I now crave a more realistic tale of intrigue and adventure. I want a more cerebral comic. I’ve gone from Superman to Ex Machina, from Green Lantern to 100 Bullets, from JSA to Y: The Last Man. And here is where the secularization fits into the syzygy: so far, it looks like the Noir universe is going to keep the mystique of the powers, but replace them with regular people. Is Cyclops going to be a gun-totting sharpshooter? Wolverine a blade-weilding outcast? Was Jean Grey just an adept mentalist? I’m popping out of my skin to know, and to see what the series does with Spiderman in January.
There are precious few hints in this first issue, but a conversation between Halloway and Xavier is illuminating. Halloway is reading from a psychology paper that the professor wrote, one that got him kicked out of the American Psychological Association:
After tens of thousands of years, this man-made ecosystem has produced a more perfect predator, with skills expertly adapted to thrive within that system. Indistinguishable form the dominat species, unencumbered by the constraints of sociability, uniquely endowed to manipulate members of society by preying upon their outmoded empathy… THIS is the sociopath. That we have characterized sociopathy as ‘mental illness’ until now is hardly surprising. No doubt the Neanderthal saw the prominent chin and sharply rising forehead of Cro-Magnon man as some kind of physical deformity as well. My aim here is to demonstrate that, far from suffering from any ‘personality disorder’, the sociopath, on the contrary… represents the next step in human behavioral evolution.
Is the mutation in this universe not one of superpowers, but one of a failed humanity? Is Xavier’s work at his famous school one of helping sociopaths find a constructive outlet for their harmful bent? Could Xavier be the same as Dexter’s father, assisting those afflicted with a darkness by giving them a code with which to control it, bend it to the force of good? If so, the genius of this book is compounded; the creators have found a way to take all the social strife from the original X-Men and ground it in a rational, believable world. The thesis of Xavier’s paper makes sense to me. I can buy it. I think you should too.
Comics are easy to dismiss as we grow older. Most of you don’t even know where your local comic shop is located. I implore you to change that today. Look them up and seek them out. Go pick up a copy of this comic and fall in love with an artistic medium that has so many joys in store for you. I’m doing my best Jean Grey here… I hope that it is working.