Monday, December 26, 2016

Mekanix (Marvel) (Ltd. 2002)

Mekanix was a six-issue limited series centered around long-time X-Men member Kitty Pryde (aka, Shadowcat) trying to start a new life for herself by going back to school at the University of Chicago.  One of the strengths of the series is that it does a solid job of giving Kitty an interesting setting and enough supporting characters to build a limited (or even an on-going) series on.  The comic is written by famed X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, so you can also trust that the dialogue and characterization are true to form.

But before going into more detail, the elephant in the room must be mocked: those covers are absolutely *terrible*!  If you didn't already know you were supposed to be looking at Kitty Pryde in each one, you'd think the comic was about an elf-like alien with a pointed chin, alien eyes, and a distorted, impossibly-thin, vaguely human torso.  Talk about how super hero comics give girls body image issues!  In the cover to # 4, Kitty's hair is somehow transparent, while the cover to # 5 has a completely gratuitous shower shot that doesn't even appear in the comic.  Fortunately, the interior artwork, while not great, is much, much better.

Issue # 1 gives us the premise: Kitty is a new student in the astrophysics department of the University of Chicago, where she assists in experiments using a new reactor.  Along with a part-time job as a bartender, Kitty is kept busy with University-mandated sessions with a therapist because she's on probation.  Kitty's old friend and X-Men teammate, Shan Coy Manh (Karma) attends the the same school.  But there's a growing problem: a student-led anti-mutant hate group named Purity has become active and has tried to name and shame Kitty on a website.  Worse, during an experiment with the reactor, Purity convinces one of its members to hack into the laboratory equipment and cause the reactor to start to meltdown!  There's a very brief shift to what will become the major menace of the series, as a strange ship approaches Lake Huron and destroys a Canadian coast guard ship sent to intercept it.  Overall, it's likable, interesting, and a good new direction for Kitty.

Issue # 2 picks up as the reactor continues to build closer and closer to an explosion.  Kitty goes intangible to shut down the overloading machines and succeeds, but is badly hurt.  She's helped by Shan, a paramedic named Tom Moore (who is secretly a reluctant member of Purity), and a refugee mutant (with telekinetic powers) from now-destroyed Genosha named Shola Inkosi.  The police interrogate Kitty after the barely-averted disaster, and cast suspicion on mutants.  In scenes depicting a therapy session, we get to learn more about Kitty's father issues.

In Issue # 3, an exhausted Kitty returns to her apartment to find the Feds executing a search warrant and going through all of her stuff.  Needless to say, she's not happy.  Shan and her siblings get evicted from their place, and move in with Kitty.  Kitty, Shan, Tom Moore, and Shola become friends by fighting off some Purity-inspired frat boys.  All the while, the mysterious ship gets closer and closer . . .  There's not a lot of action in this one, but the story and dialogue are good.  The threat of anti-mutant hysteria is a quite common one in X-Men related comics, but at least it's given a slightly new spin by being channeled through a student group.

There's a really good scene in Issue # 4 where a combative Kitty gets her therapist to open up about her life as a nurse in Vietnam but still refuses to talk about herself.  Later, when she's with Shan, a Sentinel scout-drone attacks.  The fight scene here is done well, and scary.  It turns out that the approaching boat is full of Sentinels!

I shudder to see the cover to Issue # 5 again. But anyway, the Sentinel scout keeps rebuilding itself and chases Kitty and Shan to a nearby rooftop where they have to make a desperate final stand.  They collapse an entire building on it, and it keeps coming!  Then Shola (and Tom) appears, and Shola uses his telekinetic powers to destroy it (mostly).  Later, there's a big meeting at the University student union to debate whether Purity should be banned as a hate group, and Kitty debates Purity's leader, Alice Tremayne.  But before anything is resolved, the rest of the Sentinels arrive!

Issue # 6 has the big conclusion, as the Sentinels responsible for the destruction of Genosha attack.  It's not really clear to me why they came all the way to the University of Chicago.  Anyway, there's a huge battle, but nothing we haven't seen many, many times before.  The heroes lure the Sentinels to a confined space and, working together, manage to help Shola crush them in a telekinetic sphere.  There's an ominous epilogue as Alice Tremayne finds a small piece of a destroyed Sentinel, still barely functioning, and promises to nurse it back to health . . .

As far as I can tell, Mekanix hasn't been collected in trade paperback form so you'd have to track down the individual issues.  If your gag reflex allow you to get pass the covers, and you're a fan of Kitty Pryde, I think they do a pretty good job showing her potential as a solo character.

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