We’ve reached the penultimate issue of Jonathan Hickman’s Giant-Size X-Men quasi-series this week with Fantomex, shining a spotlight on the other elusive mutant(?) merc with a mouth.
My main problem with the Giant-Size X-Men one-shots thus far is that they’ve been inconsistent as to whether or not they’re truly standalone stories, despite having distinct titles and their own #1 designations. While Nightcrawler and Magneto were mostly unrelated one-offs, Fantomex is ultimately the interlude of an ongoing story that began in Jean Grey & Emma Frost and will conclude in the upcoming Storm. I’m not going to be the person who questions the plotting ability of known master plotter Jonathan Hickman, but I don’t understand the release strategy of his Giant-Size run. If two of the five issues weren’t going to play into an overall story, then why include them? It goes without saying that I could be wrong and the pieces will fall into place with the final issue, but as of this penultimate installment I don’t see how that could happen. It just feels uneven to me.
However, as for the issue on its own, it’s faaabulous. Giant-Size X-Men: Fantomex follows the mercenary over decades as he repeatedly tries to rescue his rejected clone from The World, the constructed reality where he was created to be a mutant-killing weapon. His efforts always fail, but that doesn’t stop him, even if he’s increasingly disillusioned and questioning his reality after each trip back (it also results in a high mortality rate of his companions). The issue ends with setup for the aforementioned Storm issue, which makes for a slightly unsatisfying reading experience, but, overall, the style and tone of Fantomex makes it worthwhile.
Hickman’s script is equal parts dense and sparse (more on that shortly), but he really makes use of his words where they matter. The opening scene, wherein he’s preparing his first invasion of The World with the Howling Commandos, pokes fun at Fantomex’s unclear, French-adjacent accent that derives most of its novelty from the fact that you can’t actually hear it yourself as the reader. (For those who aren’t familiar with him, Fantomex is basically Deadpool minus the fourth wall-breaking humor, white instead of red, and an affected French-ish accent that isn’t natural.) The issue is filled with that sort of humor, but it also touches on the question of what’s “real” and what isn’t, relating to Fantomex’s upbringing in a false world (we’re all living in a false worse these days, amirite??). It’s all classic Hickman that should at least get your foot in the door.
But the real star of Fantomex is the art, done beautifully here by Rod Reis. His painterly, Bill Sienkiewicz-esque style (which makes him the perfect artist for latest New Mutants run, whenever he actually gets to work on it) works tremendously here, dealing with a setting that is increasingly more surreal each time we return to it. The panel layouts are equally as inventive, breaking form from the grid-based look of scenes set outside The World, while the visual palette of colors is varied and eye-popping. Reis shows a lot of thought was put into every aspect of the art here (also, his Fantomex is very handsome).