X-Men Black: Mystique #1
Written by Seanan McGuire
Art by Marco Failla and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
With novelist Seanan McGuire set to take over the adventures of Spider-Gwen, X-Men Black: Mystique feels like a striking audition tape for her ongoing Marvel adventures. In many ways, McGuire’s one-shot with artist Marco Failla feels like a day in the life of Raven Darkholme, the X-Men’s resident shape-shifting frenemy - there’s a surprising amount of complexity, philosophy and characterization to Mystique’s daily routine, that proves that intelligence is more than just skin deep.
It’s to McGuire’s credit that Mystique’s natural blue form doesn’t even appear for the first 10 pages of her story, but we learn so much about the character even as she changes from face to face, from strategy to brutal strategy. McGuire understands that a power like Raven’s - to literally be anyone - is something that would absolutely and irrevocably alter her mindset, and having Mystique describe her exploits with an artistic metaphor feels particularly apt. “Some people think I have an easy power,” Mystique tells us. “Those people have no imagination.”
By shifting seamlessly between identities, McGuire is also able to pace her storyline nicely, and almost feels like she’s sharing a secret with her readers - we know the voice behind the ever-changing face, and we know the real score. In some cases, like Mystique setting up a teenage mutant for murder, feels particularly diabolical - other times, however, the ploys feel a little more convenient, like Raven walking scot-free through security while the woman she’s impersonating gets detained right behind her. Still, the structure of the story feels meaty and ambitious, and it shows that McGuire clearly has a future at the House of Ideas.
The art by Marco Failla is also strong, given the amount of legwork that McGuire is having him pay off. Failla’s called upon to draw crowd scenes, to deliver multiple character designs (and have many of them show off a variety of expressions), and usually pulls off five- to seven-panel pages without breaking a sweat. There are some particularly cool beats here as Mystique switches roles in between two panels - it’s a great use of layouts, allowing the reader’s mind to fill in the gap seamlessly. Occasionally, though, Failla’s pushed past the limit - the more action-heavy back half of the book sometimes forces him to cut some corners with character positioning, which is completely understandable given how challenging the script must have been.
Given that this is only her third credit in comics, it’s particularly heartening to see a new talent like Seanan McGuire make such a confident leap from novels to sequential art. While X-Men Black: Mystique won’t redefine the character or change much to her status quo, this is an excellent done-in-one character piece that is a strong showcase for an up-and-coming creative team. Like Mystique herself, it’s clear that this team is willing to put in the work to succeed, and if this issue is any indication, those efforts are definitely going to pay off.