When Peter Milligan and Mike Allred took over X-Force back in 2001 by debuting an entirely new team, the reception from fans was decidedly mixed. Not only did the usual team just suddenly disappear, but Milligan and Allred’s new X-Force was a completely new beast: a razor-sharp satire of the obsession with ‘reality’ TV and pre-social media, vacuous celebrities who were famous for being famous.
When nearly the entirety of the team were massacred by the end of the first issue, I was hooked immediately. Milligan’s writing had a real, unpredictable edge and as the series evolved – soon being re-launched as X-Statix – it continually felt as if there was nowhere it couldn’t go. Allred’s brilliant, pop art-esque visuals suited the fame-obsessed, self-centred characters and surreal action beautifully; it was a creative, if not commercial, triumph.
Milligan eventually went too far though; a planned storyline involving a resurrected Princess Diana was axed after it caused controversy in the British press – even causing the Royal Family themselves to comment – and the negative publicity didn’t do the series any favours. X-Statix ended with issue 26 in 2004; Milligan and Allred went out with a bang, killing off the entire team.
Since then, they’ve made the odd appearance but have mostly been consigned to comic book history; 2019’s Giant Sized X-Statix saw the debut of a new version of the cult team, but that was it.
Until now. The X-Cellent #1 brings back not only that new X-Statix team, but also their antagonists from Giant Sized X-Statix: The X-Cellent, in a story which sees the teams pitted against each other in an increasingly desperate battle for media fame. Though the media landscape has changed beyond recognition since X-Force #116 in 2001, the mocking of personalities who are ‘famous-for-being-famous’ – even in the original comics – has become even more biting thanks to the dominance of 24/7 social media and a meme-obsessed culture.
Which is to say that, sadly, Milligan and Allred have once again hit the proverbial nail right on the head. Despite the bubblegum pop art, it’s a fairly dense and layered read as you’d expect from Milligan, who’s made a career of off-kilter, meta superhero shenanigans in a similar way to fellow Brit Grant Morrison, yet for whatever reason has never quite hit the mainstream heights of Morrison’s comics. There’s an anarchic streak a mile wide with Milligan that means you never quite know what you’re going to get – nor what’s going to happen. That’s a lot more unusual than you may think in the comics world, especially in the fairly predictable worlds of Marvel Comics.
It’s great to see the team back: both in terms of X-Statix and Milligan/Allred. Despite more than two decades passing since their initial satirical superhero saga kicked off, they’ve not only lost none of their edge or appeal, but it’s never felt more necessary to skew the excesses of vacuous, pointless celebrities and their sometimes desperate, though unfortunately effective, methods of holding onto their fleeting fame.
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