Author(s): Gerry Duggan
Artist(s): Phil Noto, Rod Reis
Colorist(s): Phil Noto, Rod Reis
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Genre: Action, Superhero, Supernatural
Published Date: 12/28/2022
Reunited and it feels so bad! Some reunions – like those with an evil ex who rules a dimension of demons – are not so great. Sometimes even having your AMAZING FRIENDS at your side isn’t enough to save things.
Dark Web: X-Men #2 – written by Gerry Duggan with art and colors by Phil Noto & Rod Reis, and letters by VC’s Cory Petit – continues the mutant team’s capture in Limbo, along with Forge’s attempts to help save New York. The issue kicks off with the reveal of Madelyne Pryor’s plan to steal Jean Grey’s Cerebro backup memories, including those of holding a young Nate Grey. She’s ready to reclaim those thoughts as she uses her magic and telepathy to trick Jean and Magik into unlocking the memory device.
While Madelyne enacts her plan, Cyclops and Havok have a reckoning about the older brother’s role on the team, digging into Forge’s reason for adding Havok. This is intercut with Forge’s attempts to protect the people of Central Park from demonic hotdog carts and more, leading them into the Treehouse (the current X-Men base of operations) while the other mutants try to stop Pryor. The plots connect as Forge helps Cyclops realize that Jean might need help, breaking the telepath from Madelyne’s spell, and returning her to her adult form in the mindscape.
The woven structure of the issue plays well to the artist strengths of both Noto and Reis and gives a strong reason for the similar styles to co-exist in the issue. Duggan’s script is simple in its execution, creating a solid foundation for the artists to experiment and play with. Noto approaches his section with a typical painterly quality, while Reis gets to use some of the techniques refined during his time on New Mutants, incorporating a picture book style during the dreamscape sequence with Jean and Illyana. The difference in approaches is evident even in the panel borders, with Noto employing tight, refined lines while Reis uses scratchy, looser strokes to make up the panels.
Duggan’s writing does an excellent job of unifying these styles through characterization, including a touching moment of growth and self-actualization from Havok, who empathizes and offers a compassionate hand to Madelyne. He understands her feeling of being used as a pawn, and through the power of therapy, is in a place to extend a helping hand. The building of that moment, and the follow-up of Scott and Alex beginning to hash out their issues, gives the script an emotional core that speaks to the story. Just as Madelyne is attempting to reunify herself, so too are the other characters and even the art in the issue.
The art and direction for the sequences help in keeping the story light when weaving around these complex backstories and character motivations. The best element of the issue is a great visual gag, in which Madelyne traps Cyclops by hanging a bunch of puppies around the hero while stealing his visor. If he tries to use his powers to escape, he runs the risk of annihilating the puppies. It’s a diabolic plan, and Noto’s rendering of the puppies in a mobile fashion is an image that’ll forever be seared in my brain.
The gag pays off after Madelyne leaves, and the Summer brothers try to get one of the loose pups to retrieve the discarded visor. For a moment, it looks like it’s about to work, but inches before the dog curls up for a nap. Noto’s composition for this sequence is beautiful, undercutting a moment of pure frustration with adorable movement in just two panels. It’s a testament to the artist’s ability to convey tight, economical storytelling without sacrificing tone or detail in the moment.
Reis exhibits a similar ability in economic storytelling, but where Noto’s comes from humor, Reis thrives with a more action-oriented focus. During the young Jean and Illyana’s exploration of the dreamscape mansion, The two are attacked by Apocalypse, spied on by Mr. Sinister, and help to ‘rescue’ Madelyne from a gang of Bamfs. The moments of the two attacking these foes, along with their hectic running throughout the mansion, are constructed in a manner of kinetic sequences that sell the childlike framing that this dreamscape takes. Reis uses strong linework to convey the notion of the moment in the panel of Illyana using her stick to attack Apocalypse, breaking the hit and then the explosion of beetles in a concise flow of beats. Overlaying the sequences with a harsh red background only heightens that sense of movement, fueling the harsh attack and the resulting chaos of the beetles fleeing.
Dark Web: X-Men #2 is an excellent example of the symbiosis that two artists can achieve working on an issue together, building off a strong script to deliver a cohesive and visually compelling story. Duggan captures the heart of the X-Men, drama and all, with this issue, weaving a complicated backstory and character development into a thematic core that becomes reflected in the artistic sensibilities. Noto and Reis are a perfect combination for this issue, utilizing both the former’s signature organized, painterly style with the more chaotic, expressive storybook approach the latter developed. Like the X-Men tie-in for Devil’s Reign, this series continues to be an excellent place for X-fans to see the team grappling with their place in the Marvel universe, while also sorting out elements of the X-line.
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