“X-Men Noir” is a comic book (or a graphic novel, as all the cool kids call them these days) with an intriguing concept: what if everyone’s favorite X-Men lived in the gritty noir world of the 1920s? And what if they didn’t have superpowers?

The book’s creators (writer Fred Van Lente and artist Dennis Calero) made a good effort at exploring the concept, but the end result isn’t as user-friendly as it might have been. The art in the book is digital and not hand-drawn (think “Ex Machina” comics) and, while that’s not a big issue in and of itself, it’s difficult to tell apart the book’s many characters who talk, dress and look very much alike. The overabundance of dark colors in the book doesn’t help differentiate the characters and makes for some very confusing action scenes on several occasions.

As for the writing… Van Lente put together an interesting world where goodie-two-shoes X-Men are sociopaths, not mutants. Professor Xavier is a rogue psychiatrist who thought sociopaths were the next stage of human evolution. Thus, instead of the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters we have the Xavier’s School for Exceptionally Wayward Youth, where he helped his feral teenagers become better criminals. A lot of characters from the X-Men universe are featured in the book as main characters as well as cameos, but mostly under their regular, non-superhero names, which might confuse some casual comics readers. 

Personally, I know more about X-Men than most people, and even I had to turn to the almighty Google to look up just who the main character was supposed to be. (For some bizarre reason, he’s not even from the X-Men but from a comic book released some 30 years before the franchise was even created.) The book’s narrative seems too rushed and compressed – it may have worked better if it were stretched across 6-8 issues, instead of just 4. As it is, the ending, which combines just about every noir element out there, will probably leave you confused…

However, there are some good parts as well. X-Men are occasionally made fun of: Iceman insists on being called by his moniker and makes puns about “icing” his victims with an icepick; Professor X’s file on Beast notes that he likes to use big words he doesn’t always understand. There’s this gem of a quote: “They stole everything that wasn’t nailed down! And the they took the nails out of the rest of it and stole it, too!” After each of the book’s 4 chapters, there’s an installment of a short pulp story written by none other than Bolivar Trask, in which he talks about Sentinels and sewers-dwelling mutants. That makes for some interesting reading, especially if you like meta narratives.

Overall, the book left me confused and a little disappointed. Although it’s clear that a lot of people put a lot of work into it, no book should ever leave its readers scratching their heads and going online to figure out what on earth actually happened in the final scene.

Score: 2 out of 5 stars

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