After a long delay, the weirdest (and most viral) mutants of the Marvel Universe are back in this week’s The X-Cellent #1.
The X-Cellent, of course, are not the heroes of this book; that would be X-Statix, the team originally known as X-Force who were forced (x-forced?) to change their name after a dispute with their predecessors. As introduced in 2019’s Giant-Size X-Statix, the X-Cellent are the new villainous counterparts of X-Statix, led by their former leader Zeitgeist—back from the dead with an ax to grind against his old allies. Living up to his name, the revived Zeitgeist created his own team of “Dada shock troops” to fight in the imminent culture war through viral engagement and random acts of social disruption. X-Statix, themselves newly rebooted with an updated roster and back in the public eye, are at odds with the X-Cellent for this reason.
As much as I’m invested in the Krakoa age, The X-Cellent is a wonderfully retro refusal of everything Jonathan Hickman & Co. have created since Dawn of X. The X-Cellent resides in a pre-Krakoa bubble that proceeds as though the original X-Statix run never ended and picks up straight from where the aforementioned one-shot left off. I’m sure part of this has to do with the long gestation period of the series—originally announced mere weeks before the launch of House of X in July 2019—but for all the time they could have tinkered with the script to reference outside events, writer Peter Milligan doesn’t. Krakoa is not mentioned once in this issue, nor do we see any marquee X-Men aside from two brief cameos; it’s all the better for it.
Part of what makes The X-Cellent work so well is how perfectly it fits into our current age of viral media and ~culture wars~ despite the original run of these characters premiering 20 years ago. Zeitgeist’s whole M.O. is garnering as much attention to himself and his new team as possible and, most importantly, stealing it away from X-Statix. He doesn’t have any sort of megalomaniacal, world-ending aspirations; he’s basically just Ben Shapiro in Spandex. But even with the topical nature of Milligan’s story, it still functions as a satisfactory continuation of Giant-Size X-Statix, with the late U-Go-Girl’s sister/daughter Katie starting to come into her own as a superhero and inheriting her late sister/mother’s powers. All of her fellow new additions to the team are just as fun, including a rocky German mutant who was born the exact moment the Berlin Wall fell, while veterans Orphan and Vivisector bring the legacy aspect. I’m very excited to see how this story proceeds, even if it does eventually get sucked up into the current status quo. Doop has been seen on Krakoa, so it’s possible!
But you can’t talk about X-Statix—or The X-Cellent—without mentioning the great Michael Allred, whose art looks just as good (and exactly the same) as it did back in 2001. I’m glad Marvel didn’t feel the need to update the look of this book with new art, because Allred’s Lichtenstein-esque visuals just work for the vibe of these characters and this premise. The smoothness and vibrancy of Allred’s art contrast the ironic, acerbic, and often violent nature of Milligan’s writing in a way that I can’t imagine seeing any other artist tackle it. (This technically has already happened in other X-Statix titles, but the point is that I’m glad he returns to his original creation with this series.) And you also can’t talk about Michael Allred without his wife Laura, who once again colors his work with a candy-coated palette that counters the tartness of Milligan’s script with sweetness.