X-Terminators #1 Review: A Glamorous, Grindhouse Good Time
X-Terminators #1 is a mind-set. Actually, it’s several moods. There’s the girls’ night out vibe that comes from getting mutant party girls Dazzler, Celebration, and Blast together at a bar. Then there’s the grindhouse vibe that comes from having said mutant party girls get horrendous battling vampires and other monstrous creatures. The two pair together pleasantly, each one cutting into the expectations and excesses of the other to create an even comic book concoction that proves wonderful to read and that stands apart from the significantly more straight-faced attitude of the rest of the ongoing X-Men line.
This introduction issue couldn’t be more upfront about what readers are getting themselves into with X-Terminators. The first page is a “Mature Audiences Only” graphic warning (promising?) that the issue contains unrefined humor, partial nakedness, brutality, and popular mutants acting like “absolute dumbasses.” The issue then offers up two pages to demonstrate its case, starting with a close-up of the word “praxis” in pink letters on the back of Dazzler’s shorts before zooming out to show her in a version of her disco-era costume popping bubblegum and rollerskating through pools of blood as she battles a horde of vampire-like monsters.
In comics, going grindhouse typically means visuals that lean into dark and dirty territory with heavy shadows and muffled colors. Artist Carlos Gomez and colorist Bryan Valenza avoid that pattern. The X-Terminators cast consists of three mutants with light and/or explosion-based powers. The art team uses both the characters’ powers and their splendidly colored styles to subvert expectations about how the book should look, puncturing the expected darkness with light in a manner reminiscent of neo-noir’s use of neon.
Using the expectations set by the opening pages, the creative team is allowed to present these characters in a fresh light that you won’t see in more typical superhero stories, which often lean towards a PG rating. You don’t expect to see Celebration drawn wearing garter stockings, or Blast in an outfit that Jubes describes as “assuming Barbie was a sex addict,” yet they are right here and it feels natural to both the characters and the atmosphere. Grindhouse in the wrong hands can be an excuse to indulge an artist’s most startling, cheesecake impulses, yet Gomez doesn’t fall into that trap. That’s not to say his work is unsexy, but rather it isn’t transparently playing to the male gaze.
Similarly, essayist Leah Williams gets away with some dialog that, even censored with “bleeped” lettering as it is here, possible wouldn’t fly in a typical Marvel Comics superhero story. Writers will often use the “Parental Advisory” rating as an excuse to drop in a curse word or two, yet Williams turns profanity into personality. Celebration’s rapid-fire use is particularly fun without coming at the character’s expense.
The issue does suffer from a couple storytelling problems. There’s at least one sound impact that simply seems misplaced, and some stuff involving Celebration and a monster truck that doesn’t completely track. Most perplexing is the introduction of a purple, eyeless creature. Dazzler finds the creature and treats it with all of the awe and surprise of someone finding a little cat. A story shouldn’t have to explain itself or offer up all of its secrets immediately, however this is an instance where it’s unclear in the event that readers should already be familiar with the creature or assuming there’s more to it. Be that as it may, the issue has its high points as well, from an iridescent dance scene to an impeccably laid out sequence of Blast feeding a time bomb to a sewer monster.
X-Terminators #1 is a joy. Williams is playing to her strengths by pairing a, thus far, simple plot with strong characterizations, humor, and a palpable sense of atmosphere, with Gomez and Valenza bringing the visual goods to back everything up. On the off chance that you’re looking for some mutants to show you the wrong way to have a good time (and who isn’t?), X-Terminators is where it’s at.