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Sins of Sinister #1: A Send-Up of What Came Before

Rhiannon Olivaw hasn’t read an X-Men comic since HOXPOX. Here’s her review of Sins of Sinister #1

I’m very fond of the Sartre quote from No Exit. The famous one – the one about hell being other people.

This is probably why the opening page of Sins of Sinister #1 (written by Keiron Gillen, with art from a whole host of talented people, colored by Bryan Valenza) made me double over laughing, because it makes the extremely bold claim that actually, Sartre was Mister Sinister.

This is especially funny because it does it in a patented HOXPOX-on infographic page, setting the tone for the whole issue. This is a silly, silly book, and it is having a lot of fun.

The first ‘real’ pages – you know, comic-book pages, with art and panels and speech bubbles – effortlessly ribs the now-legendary opening of the first issue of House of X, with a camp and swaggering Nathaniel Essex cracking open some mutant resurrection pods and saying “to me, my me’s”, before an intermission laying out what I, personally, didn’t know anything about at all.

Yeah, see, to my chagrin, the Pandemic and the seismic shifts in how ComiXology worked, plus a tightening budget, meant I was not able to keep up with the post-HOXPOX comics for more than six months, so I am clueless as to what’s been going on beyond knowing some broad strokes (there was a Tournament Arc, Storm is Empress of Mars, Jesus was a mutant). So this little info page was extremely helpful and enlightening. Big fan especially of the idea that Sinister’s most recent characterisation as a flamboyant queeny gadabout was down to him having made a ‘Moira Machine’ abusing the crucial powerset of Moira MacTaggart, giving him an endless supply of spatiotemporal ‘do-overs’.

I started to get a little… Peeved? Let’s say peeved. I was peeved by the art by the sixth page. I can’t tell if that’s a matter of taste or a matter of quality, but as the pages themselves aren’t given ‘proper’ credits I can’t say who I’m peeved with. It’s effective, but it’s a little crude, and really makes me think about my personal assessment that most 21st Century comic-book illustrations are held up largely by decent inking and digital coloring. 

So where were we? Ol’ Sinnyboy has taken control of a number of Quiet Council members, which he’s done by fiddling with the genome database he gave over to Krakoa (the nation, not the island on which it sits). It didn’t work out because Hope Summers, possessed of the mutant power of being a MacGuffin, was inadvertently scrubbing it from those mutants who died and were subsequently brought back by the Resurrection Protocols.

Whoops, we’ve skipped a year (as a moderate send-up of the HOXPOX style, the book does some spontaneous timeskips) and now Ben Urich is trying to screen J. Jonah Jameson for the Sinister Gene. This is all pre-emptive setup, laying out how Sinisters Krakoa is offering the immortality stuff to everyone, provided they get a dose of diddled X-Genes. It’s also an insight into how Essex is too smart to be anything but stupid. He’s planned for things like dissenting Homo Sapiens, but he’s not planned for much else. When you’re convinced you’re more brilliant than everyone else ever, you get sloppy – and it goes double when you’ve got a cosmic reset button.

Moira MacTaggert works for Orchis, the ultimate anti-mutant org? This is not gone into – which is the bane of soap operas, I suppose! I’ll get by. Again, the pages concerning the fight against Orchis (framed by an untraceable orbital laser for killing Krakoa-the-island) are kludgy. No momentum in the framing, no useful eyelines, and Iron Man in particular looks like he’s made of traffic signs.

And so, with Sinister out of The Pit (the abyssal Krakoan prison), he saunters off to his lair beneath Moira’s old stomping grounds. His cat and turtle have died, so he whips up a new pair. Then we get a suitably Essexy HOXPOX infographic page, which lays out what his deal is. He’s gonna conquer Earth by lacing everyone with dodgy X-Genes, which – crucially – do not subordinate the hosts, but transition them to a Sinister state. And as we saw all the way back in HOXPOX, Sinisters do not always play nice with themselves (kinky).

A delightful page details how Juggernaut got shrunk and thrown through Thanos’ brain. Nobody likes Juggernaut (in-universe) so nobody retrieved him, and that’s that. Namor got the Sinister gene from knocking boots with Emma Frost, and he murders/replaces Doom. Mention of a rogue Doombot, which is always fun. Then there’s some stuff I truly do not understand, from a context perspective. Uranos? Eternals? Something called ‘the Machines’?

Anyway, the Eternals are all dead. Insert Marvel’s The Transformers #5 gag here.

Some weird stuff about Sinisterised Ben Grimm wanting the Fantastic Four to die ‘as he lived’, which is, uh. Well, it’s not how I think Aunt Petunia’s best boy would behave, even if he was biohacked by Sinister. But it’s allowed because it’s useful – it’s demonstrating quickly how personalised the Sinisters are becoming.

Captain America overthrows the government (again!), X-Men put him down… Storm clocks after half a decade that something’s awry and there’s some talk about how the Sinister Gene makes Nightcrawler into a hellhound, which is the most anyone has referred to the Chuck Austen arc The Draco in a goddamn age.

Storm has defenses. Shocker. Also, she’s stopped using Res Protocols. An alliance to destroy Nathaniel Essex is forming. Seb Shaw takes control of a Hell, which means he’s on the Infernal Parliament…

All of this is very dark. It’s very mean. It’s a pointed, barbed parody of every Age of Apocalypse onwards ‘History’s All Different’ story, your Secret Empires and your Age of Ultrons. It knows that it’s showing a rancid, unpleasant series of events, and it’s doing this to enable the punchline (and also little grace notes like “Scarlet Witch got vaporized by the orbital laser just in case”, which, I will admit, got a big laugh out of me).

And then – at last – we get to what I was hoping would happen from around page 10…

The Sinister Council has started to think outside the box.

In a brutally funny page, the original four victims of the Sinister Gene all lay out their motivations, which sound exactly like every major criticism of each character since about 1990. Charles talking about assimilation, Frost talking about protecting the children, etc. Hilarious. Hilarious. Gillen knows what he’s doing here. It’s very much apiece with his last major work, The Wicked + The Divine, where characters often became self-aware of their gross limitations and took the mick.

Essex the First wants to push the reboot button…

And someone’s stolen his lab. Which means – to his abject, hilarious horror – he’s stuck.

So…

This is a deeply silly book.

And if you get to the punchline and still don’t ‘get it’, I can’t help you! This is a parodic, anarchic little thing. An event that hates events (it certainly hates the kind of event it’s operating under the style of) is always fun – that’s how you get Final Crisis or Multiversity – and this one’s not doing it to make a point about the Comics Industry and how Stories are Magic and all that Grant Morrison stuff I love, it’s doing it to poke fun at how even the most careful plan can be taken off track by one dickhead editor supervillain with a god complex.

But.

It looks bad.

The layouts are pedestrian, or else they’re too ambitious for the lead artist, Lucas Werneck, to pull off. What should feel huge and impactful – even here, in this fundamentally-a-gag comic – feels cramped and clunky. There’s nowhere near enough inking on some panels and too much in others. And it just ends up feeling… Trite. Visually, it feels trite. It feels throwaway. Which, you know. Isn’t a good feeling, even in a jokey silly event like this. Do I want an artistic team to be busting their balls to make what is ultimately a 45-page Aristocrats joke look ‘right’? I don’t know! But I don’t like what it looks like. So.

Anyway, I look forward to coming back to X-Men after another four-year hiatus. Surely nothing absolutely bonkers will have happened to them in that span!

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