X-Maschina (#1) – Steve Urena, Misty Graves

1 out of 5

It’s really not fun ragging on a piece of creative work. Looking at some of my older reviews, I know I started out more willing to be snide – this is a habit I think can be seen in a lot of reviewers, where cast-off opinions are easier before one develops a style for their reviews, or the capacity for better criticism – and there are occasions where something will trigger a more visceral response, but on the whole: I’m just an unknown chap writing into the ether, picking apart art that someone has put energies into producing. Also, this was a Kickstarter which I’d backed, and it’s weird when our pre-judging criteria for such projects doesn’t match our response to the final product: I liked how the campaign blurbs were written, and the various artwork shots – admittedly without dialogue – made me think this would be a fun, silly, bit of horror / sci-fi holiday camp.

The premise is there, with the mundane Christmases of 2045 being saved by new naughty / nice judging app, Sleigh, which inevitably goes rogue and requires Kris Kringle to get back in action and save the day, but the execution goes towards a more amateurish breed of camp – substituting crassness for comedy – and the final pages are a cluttered misfire of colors and letters and sequencing.

Humor is subjective, of course, and casual drug use and swearing can all be funny, but they can also be crutches. X-Maschina strikes me as the latter, unfortunately: I’m not sure why Santa does cocaine in the book, for example, except that “Santa does cocaine” is apparently a funny concept in isolation, and it allows for punning on the word “snow.” Similarly, the occasional lapses into f-bomb dialogue doesn’t enhance the purposefully trashy vibe, it just makes everyone sound fairly similar, and clutters up already dialogue / narration heavy pages.

The plot is not related very well, pitching the Sleigh concept clearly enough on page one, and then weaving through “assumed” plot points thereafter that are more lip-service than relevant: the mechanical elves replacing the real elves; the money-hungry businessman behind Sleigh. Given a bit more focus and smoother pacing, these aspects could build up to Sleigh’s misfunction and Santa’s heroism, but we’re in a rush to get to specific scenes – robo-elves plucking out eyeballs – or forced one-liners, making the page flow / narrative feel very cut and paste. (Also, forgive me if I’m missing something, but Santa is alternatively called Kris and Chris, and also “Big C,” which I guess is in reference to either that latter name, or maybe Father Christmas? But these are the kind of inconsistencies which suggest storytelling was secondary.)

Panel by panel, the art has a fun, goofy energy to it, although I do think the intended complexity of the gore / action sequences were a bit beyond the artist; the choreography can be a bit off. However, the stylization of the look is a plus, and I think this could’ve been smoothed out from a script-to-page perspective, crafting the story so that it syncs better with the artist’s style. The lettering and coloring, unfortunately, additionally don’t really complement the art, though it’s all handled by one person – Lane Lloyd. The style is something I see in a lot of Boom books: pastel-hued colors, without a proper sense of juxtaposition; and borderless, shape-shifting word bubbles. As to the former, this means that the pages end up having a washed out look, without eye direction guided by any grounding colors, Lloyd often carrying over a tone from the background to the foreground such that things end up looking flat. And the lettering then has no chance of sticking out, since the lack of border (bubbles are all white) blends right into that washed-out palette. Add in the excessively squiggly tails, and the words just absolutely get lost, adding to page clutter.

I like the concept. I like the energy that backs the book. Perhaps there’s a more polished version of X-Maschina to be seen in the future.