After a six-month hiatus, The X-Cellent is back with a new #1, baby! This issue kicks off where X-Cellent #5 left things: with acid-vomiting mutant superstar Zeitgeist leading his titular team in wrecking X-Statix Headquarters. But his goal isn’t to kill the rival team that he used to lead but to cause a scene that will bring him more and more social media followers. It’s all a part of Zeitgeist’s sinister plan to gain enough “acolytes” to carry out a spell from the Book of Vishanti that will allow him to ascend to godhood. It’s the typical wackiness that writer Peter Milligan, artist Michael Allred, and colorist Laura Allred have previously brought to their X-Force and X-Statix runs, only Zeitgeist is a more interesting and memorable villain than the likes of “Bad Guy”, “Mister Code”, and whoever the antagonist of X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl was supposed to be. A large part of this is that the story is more interested in Zeitgeist, and he has a history that spans all the way back to the beginning of Milligan and the Allreds’ satirical take on celebrities and superheroes.
As much as Zeitgeist is making progress with his plan, his casual cruelty towards his team is causing them to turn on him. His new teleporter, Toodle Pip, is threatening to leave if Zeitgeist continues to emotionally abuse fellow team-member Mirror Girl. Because Toodle Pip is immune to Zeitgeist’s “animal magnetism”, he reluctantly has to behave himself. The “animal magnetism” is depicted as an actual hypnotic ability rather than an exaggeration of Zeitgeist’s charm, and I found myself revisiting the previous issues to see if I’d missed an explanation as to why the acid-vomiting mutant can control minds now. It just seems to be something he can somehow do now, though, in a previous issue, he did use it to stop Toodle Pip, so I can’t really say I get how the whole thing works. Still, it ultimately doesn’t matter, because it’s just so satisfying to see this powerful man being reduced to a tantrum-throwing toddler as he finally starts to see the consequences of his actions.
Meanwhile, there are a few developments with X-Statix. Mr. Sensitive is finally starting to catch on to how popularity works in the present, and he figures that the only way to defeat the X-Cellent is to steal the limelight from them. The A and Gone Girl finally figure out that they’re not romantically compatible just as Mr. Sensitive asks them to be together for publicity reasons. My only real complaint about The X-Cellent is that in focusing on two different teams, there are quite a few members of both sides who don’t really have much to do. Characters like Phatty, Rosa Lemper, Hurt John, and Stripe are just sort of around to occasionally comment on what their teammates are doing, but not in any way that gives us solid insight into who they are. That said, Uno (the giant floating eyeball) was previously one of the peripheral characters, but this issue provided a lot more insight into his experience as someone who can only observe the joys that others take for granted.
It’s interesting watching Mr. Sensitive learn more about how the nature of fame has changed since his heyday twenty years ago (or whatever the equivalent is with Marvel’s sliding timescale) because you get the sense that Milligan is figuring out how to write about these sorts of things with him. Milligan masterfully lampooned celebrity culture in the early 2000s, but it’s easy to imagine someone trying to recreate that success years later and just looking hopelessly confused by the post-social media world. Thankfully, Milligan doesn’t fall into that trap, and the X-Cellent’s random, almost Dadaist plots being extremely popular shows a surprising amount of understanding of what young people are into. This is an age where irony and sincerity are indistinguishable, thoughts are ground down into their most primal expressions as memes, and the bleakness of the future is so overwhelming that all we can do is anxiously laugh at it. I don’t know if that’s what Milligan was intentionally going for, but it works.
I think that no matter how much praise I dump onto the Allreds’ art, it won’t be enough to communicate how much I love it. The husband/wife creative duo are comic art royalty and there’s not much to say about them that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll try. There’s a sort of simplistic, vaguely nostalgic look to the way Michael draws, and Laura makes it pop with colors that simultaneously feels retro and modern. Together, their art style is like something from a missing decade in the late 20th Century, and it makes you feel comfortable in a way that makes it extra disturbing when something disgusting or graphic occurs (which happens a lot in X-Force/X-Statix/The X-Cellent). Also, Michael does a surprisingly good job at making Zeitgeist look hot, in a grizzled sort of way. If you had never seen him, you’d have a hard time picturing a raging misogynist whose superpower is “throwing up” as a sex symbol, but Michael’s art allows the narrative to make sense.
The X-Cellent may not have as much satirical bite as its predecessors, but the book looks amazing and it has enough new tricks up its sleeve to feel fresh. I’d definitely recommend that anyone who enjoyed X-Force/X-Statix check it out. New readers should at least read 2019’s Giant-Size X-Statix and the five-issue “Volume One” of The X-Cellent to get the most out of this issue.