Review – Liberty & Justice For All (X-Men Prose Novel)

Prose novel Liberty & Justice For All plucks two of the more obscure X-students (Tempus and Triage) from a very specific point in time and runs them through their first (albeit unintended) missions away from the nest. Tempus (Eva Bell) and Triage (Christopher Muse) were introduced by super-creator Brian Michael Bendis as part of a group of teens recruited by Cyclops (and his Emma Frost/Magik/Magneto team), when (after a series of mega-crossover events) Cyclops was playing mutant revolutionary out of an old Weapon X base in the Canadian wilderness. This was a fairly unconventional setting and modus operandi for the X-Men, with the more traditional school setting being occupied at the time by Wolverine and a much larger group of X-characters (although the team in hiding teleporting around the world as needed harkens back to the time the X-Men spent in the Australian Outback in the 1980s).

Most of the characters present in Bendis’s Uncanny X-Men book at the time are present, but this is not a team story, just the duo of Tempus and Triage. From the perspective of Liberty & Justice For All, there’s really only been one major outing so far for these two, which was a trip to the demonic dimension of Limbo. So we’re talking some very fresh faces here. The book opens with stage-setting and an emphasis on how tenuous things are with Cyclops’s team. Neither Tempus (power: creating time bubbles) nor Triage (power: healing) is entirely comfortable; Tempus suffering from hero worship and dealing with the presence of the time-displaced original X-Men, and Triage wondering if his power is really heroic. (For those of who following along at home, that means Liberty & Justice For All has to take place in a narrow time frame of a handful of issues starting with Uncanny X-men (vol. 3) #14.)

After some training hijinks, Tempus and Triage head out on a proving run to show that they know how to use the X-Copter. While out, they hear a distress call from Sabretooth, which pulls them in to the heart of the story of this book. Unfortunately, while the setup is solid, and had me interested to see what our protagonists were going to get up to, things went downhill from here. Let’s set aside the question of why Tempus and Triage didn’t simply call back to base and have Magik teleport the rest of the X-Men in to help out. The central issue is that the characters then spend most of the rest of the book walking back and forth across the park areas near “Gracie Museum” in downtown Chicago. Police show up, then vanish. Sentinels (but not, apparently, mutant-hunting Sentinels) come and go. No one’s motivations for what they’re doing are ever particularly clear. Further, the company Tempus and Triage are keeping consists of well-known psychopath Sabretooth and mutant-hating politician Graydon Creed. Maybe I’m just a pessimist, but the interactions between our intrepid X-men and these two villains are way too buddy-buddy. Graydon’s bigotry is quickly forgotten. Triage starts seeing the murderous Sabretooth as a substitute father figure after knowing him for about an hour. In a world of giant robots, a teleporting age-shifted mutant sorcerer, and a team of X-Men ripped from decades in the past, these interpersonal interactions just aren’t believable.

Even if you go into Liberty & Justice For All with no knowledge, these issues pull the book down. The early writing is good enough that the problematic nature of the villains is clear – it’s not like I only know about Graydon’s bigotry and Sabretooth’s murderousness because I’m a long-time X-Men fan. And the sluggish, meandering nature of the plot is entirely independent of genre knowledge.

But there are more problems if you go into the book with a decent knowledge of the X-men. There’s a reference to millions of mutants being killed on M-Day, instead of just depowered. And even if I’m getting that bit wrong, I know that someone wandering through a science museum exhibit on mutants shouldn’t be running into a display on the Juggernaut, because – while he’s a long-time X-Men villain – he’s not a mutant. These sort of readily apparent flubs then made me wonder a bit more about the details. Like, was there ever a time when this exact configuration of characters was together at the Weapon X base? How is it that Sabretooth has no idea who these kids are, when at this point in time he’s working closely with Mystique, who has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and is part of their efforts against Cyclops’s team? Finally, although it’s not a continuity error, there’s a dramatic problem when the big ‘reveal’ comes about why mutant Sabretooth has a friendly interest in the mutant-hunting Graydon. I’m not going to say what that is, because I suppose it’s a spoiler in the context of this book, but most long-time X-Men fans are already going to know what it is. Don’t get me wrong – books like this shouldn’t be, and can’t be, written only for people who are well-versed in the comic/game/whatever. But people who are well-versed are a real part of the target audience, and building up to a ‘reveal’ that won’t be anything of the sort for that part of the audience seems like a sub-optimal choice.

As you can tell, Liberty & Justice For All ultimately left me cold. I liked that it focused on some lesser-known characters. I liked how it initially presented and developed those characters. But it lost its way once the ‘action’ started. I don’t think it has a lot to offer someone who’s new to the X-Men, and it manages to lose luster when seen through the eyes of a fankid.

Strange Assembly was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Strange Assembly may earn commissions from affiliate links on this page. 

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