The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
mixes heroics
with spy games

June 5, 2003
By Franklin Harris

I imagine the pitch going something like this:

"I have this great idea for a comic book."

"A comic book, you say?"

"Yeah. It's 'X-Men' meets 'La Femme Nikita.' "

" 'La Femme Nikita' ?"

"Yeah. It's a French spy movie directed by Luc Besson. Great stuff."

"It's French, you say?"

"Yeah. French."

"Lose the French."

"Lose the French?"

"Lose the French. French is bad."

"French is bad?"

"French is worse than bad."

"OK. No French. Anyway, this idea of mine is for a comic book that is like 'X-Men' meets 'Alias.' "

" 'Alias'?"

"Yeah. I mean the TV show 'Alias,' not the comic book 'Alias.' What do you think?"

"You're still here, aren't you?"

Marvel's ''X-Men'' villainess Mystique gets her own series.
© Copyright Marvel Entertainment
Marvel's ''X-Men'' villainess Mystique gets her own series.
Because that pretty much sums up Marvel Comics' new monthly series "Mystique," by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Jorge Lucas.

The series features on-again, off-again "X-Men" villainess Mystique, memorably portrayed by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in both films, and now popular enough (so Marvel hopes) to support her own title.

Here is the set-up:

Professor Xavier, leader of the X-Men, has always been secretive. Unknown to his students, he maintains a network of covert operatives who carry out tasks requiring deniability. Unfortunately, one of his operatives died in action, and with potentially thousands of lives at stake, Xavier must recruit the one person who can complete the mission. If, of course, he can find her, which won't be easy as she can assume the appearance of anyone on Earth.

Too bad that person is Mystique, who has a long history working for the wrong side.

Mystique has her own troubles. Every intelligence agency in the world is out to get her for one reason or another.

"Mystique" is part of Marvel's new Tsunami line of comics. The Tsunami books have little in common except their shared marketing strategy. All are designed to appeal to a readership that increasingly is uninterested in traditional superheroics but is interested in Japanese comics. The Tsunami titles downplay spandex and mix their heroics with other genres.

For example, Marvel's latest "Namor" series blends superheroes and romance. "Runaways" combines superheroes with teenagers coming of age. "Venom" is superheroes meets horror.

And "Mystique" is superheroes plus espionage. You can explain the premise in a single sentence. In Hollywood parlance, that makes it "high concept."

Good thing that Vaughan has proven himself adept as a high-concept writer. His "Y: The Last Man" (a disease wipes out all males on Earth except for one man and a trained monkey) has received more praise than any other mainstream comic in years.

In the first issue of "Mystique," he sets up a clever guessing game. We know Mystique can impersonate anyone, and Vaughan exploits our knowledge. Seemingly incidental characters come and go, but they all hold our interest because we know that any one of them could be the title character in disguise.

The second issue has Mystique on the run from the most frightening adversary imaginable: the Department of Homeland Security.

I know what you're thinking, but America's budding secret police force is an easy target.

Longtime readers will notice that Vaughan's take on Mystique owes much to her movie incarnation. When surrounded by armed Homeland Security agents, she wisecracks, "Is this all about those Miles Davis songs I downloaded off Kazaa?" It's a line that could easily have come from Romijn-Stamos' character. And while it isn't exactly in keeping with Mystique's past portrayals in the comics, it is a smart move. The old Mystique wouldn't be as much fun.

Lucas' layouts ably capture the cinematic pacing of Vaughan's script, although his tendency to substitute pencil scratches for detail is sometimes annoying.

The overall result is fun, fast paced and a welcome development in Marvel's continuing evolution away from old-school superheroics.

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