From the longbox: the comic book noir of "Madrox"

The X-Men universe is widely derided for overflowing with characters, teams, and titles. Constantly raising the stakes and looking for new angles littered the narrative world with forgotten and underutilized concepts. For most of the character’s run, Jamie Madrox – the Multiple Man – was emblematic of the problem: a two-dimensional, C-list character with an interesting power and not much else.

Multiple Man, as his name suggests, can create duplicates (or “dupes”) of himself with any kinetic force. The dupes are autonomous and fully-functioning, and were typically used to overwhelm an opponent. Think the clones of Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded’s melee battle (and now stop thinking about The Matrix Reloaded).

That all changed in 2004, with a five-part miniseries entitled Madrox, written by twenty year veteran Peter David. Starting with his run on X-Factor in the mid-90s, David fleshed out the ramifications of Multiple Man’s powers, especially his ability to absorb his dupes’ knowledge and experiences.

The Madrox mini-series takes place after M-Day, the reality-changing crossover event that de-powered most mutants in the X-Universe. Jamie has set himself up in the ghettoized Mutant Town, operating a detective agency called “XXX Investigations” (the easy porn jokes eventually result in a name change to X-Factor Investigations, a reference to his crew’s old team).

A bit of exposition explains that Jamie has been sending dupes around the world, gaining their knowledge. When a multiple man can’t decide which way he wants his life to go, he can select all of the above. This accumulation of life experience, and a desire to help people leads to a new career as a detective. Jamie breaks down the formula as e=mc2: “Existence equals myriad catastrophes, squared.”

The strength of the series is its self-referential adoration of film noir. And while Jamie is not self-aware that he’s in a comic book, he’s definitely aware that his life is starting to resemble The Maltese Falcon. He’s been watching “too many old movies” and seems obsessed with playing a Bogart character in real life. He narrates in the wisecracking, self-deprecating prose of Raymond Chandler. The dilapidated offices and dimly lit bars, the femme fatales and menacing thugs – it’s all here.

When one of Madrox’s dupes shows up, dying from a knife wound, his final memories provide the only clues: Chicago’s L train, a beautiful woman and a bloody knife. Like any good noir, a dead body provides more questions than answers. For Jamie, investigating his dupe’s murder is the ultimate (and literal) example of This Time, It’s Personal.

Jamie leaves a dupe behind to mind the store and heads off to Chicago. He hooks up with an old reporter friend named Stringer (who looks suspiciously like Steve Buscemi in Pablo Raimondi’s pencils) and finds out that the woman in his absorbed memories is none other than the girlfriend of a mobbed-up businessman named Sheila Desoto. Jamie starts to piece together his dupe’s relationship with Sheila, and he stumbles upon a larger mystery: who is killing crime bosses throughout Chicago? For fans of film noir, the plot is familiar but enjoyable, if a bit predictable.

The B-story follows the rest of the X-Factor team as they investigate a straying husband. But in true X-fashion, his affair isn’t being consummated in cheap hotels, but on the astral plane utilized by psychics. It’s a brief look into what a team of Strong Guy, Wolfsbane and Siryn can do when playing gumshoe.

The success of Madrox resulted in the re-launch of X-Factor, a series that continues today as Madrox and company solve superpowered and supernatural mysteries. It continues to deal with issues of self-knowledge, identity, and fate, all in the form of hardboiled fiction. For fans of comics and film noir, it’s a no-brainer.

2 responses to “From the longbox: the comic book noir of "Madrox"

  1. Great post! You beat me to the punch, as I had Madrox on my Adventures West Coast blog post list for a while, but I suck at keeping a regular schedule. I’m jealous, as I couldn’t have said it nearly as well as you did. I started reading X-Factor, and then went back to read this story last summer. It’s a great “getting the band back together” story for those of us who were really into Peter David’s original 90s run on the series. Keep the comic stuff coming!

  2. Thanks, Will! There will be more posts about comics in the future – and I’ll try not to steal from your brain again.

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