Jonathan Hickman has an interesting relationship with comedy in his comics. He likes comics with a sense of humor, certainly. No one would accuse him of being a man without a love of laughter. (Or, presumably so, at least. I have not met Jonathan Hickman. Maybe he’s very mean in real life. But I hope not.) But the problem is that, well, to put it bluntly … he’s not very good at it. Sure, occasionally there’s a laugh-out-loud moment – I’m thinking of the Sam and Bobby stuff in Avengers – but more often then not, you maybe chuckle, and turn the page.
Which is really the core problem in Empyre: X-Men #2. It’s ostensibly a comedic book, but it’s not actually very funny. The previous issue, with that big splash data page emblazoned with “Alien Plants vs. Mutant Zombies” had the same issue, but was at least slightly more entertaining, mostly because Hordeculture was in the background, and Magik, Angel, and M was more in the fore. But in issue #2, as Hordeculture – the group of elderly evil botanists – becomes more important, the book just gets worse.
They’re not entertaining. The gimmick of “evil old women” might have been transgressive in, say, 1970, but it’s not in 2020, and the speech tic of ‘b-word’ and ‘s-word’ and such is just annoying. We get it. They’re old, and don’t like to curse. Very funny.
And issue #2, moreover, while following up on Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard’s first issue, and Hickman’s overall plot, is written by Gerry Duggan, Leah Williams, and Ben Percy. And the former two, at least, are genuinely good humor writers! Duggan’s Marauders, and his Guardians of the Galaxy, are all really funny, as is Williams’ Gwenpool Strikes Back. They should be good, especially when backed up by Lukas Werneck’s genuinely good art.
Werneck is great, that’s undeniable. His art has a Dodsonesque smoothness, and the hair of the characters – especially under the Nolan Woodard – have this flowing beauty. There’s some equal-opportunity cheesecake going on here: both Magik and Angel are very, very good looking under Werneck’s and Woodard’s pens.
And the monsters, too, are really fun. Both the zombies and the plants are really good looking, in a grotesque yet enjoyable way. There’s this bit towards the end, where one of the Genoshan zombies literally pulls himself back together, that was actually funny – the sort of visual joke that the writing has been failing to make.
Which is the ultimate verdict on this book, I think. Wonderful art that is failed by the writing. If I could go to the shop, and buy a version of this comic that just . . . didn’t have any word balloons, I would. Which is disappointing, too, as I love all three of these writers – I consider Williams’ What If: Magik to be the best comic book. Ever.
In an X-Men relaunch that has had so few failures so far, this has to join Fallen Angels as a low point in the post-HoX/PoX X-Men.