I won’t bury the lede: “Exiles” is exactly the comic it should be. It’s immensely appealing to all sorts of readers. It features deep cuts that will thrill and delight comic book nerds everywhere, but it’s also an entirely self-contained story. It wastes no time concerning itself with the larger Marvel universe, and yet it uses that universe (well, multiverse really) as an infinite sandbox. This is a story with a set of guiding rules, but then again, this is an issue that breaks those rules, looks the reader right in the eye, shrugs and says, “wha-huh?”
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Illustrated by Javier Rodriguez
Inked by Alvaro Lopez
Colored by Muntsa Vincente
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramanga
ARABIAN NIGHTS! Javier Rodriguez returns on art duties with the start of a brand-new arc! On the run from rogue Watchers, the Exiles find themselves scattered in a dusty Arabian town — and with a bad case of mistaken identity! Who is the ne’er-do-well son of a tailor everyone calls “Aladdin”? What are the 40 thieves after? And most importantly…what classic Marvel villain plays the role of despotic Caliph? Saladin Ahmed brings One Thousand and One Nights to life in the pages of Marvel Comics!
Were you a fan of the original run on “Exiles?” I was. Enormously so. It had a zany sensibility that let the book careen wildly across tones. One arc could have the team stranded for years in a reality full of techno-organic mutants where Mary Jane Watson was the world’s greatest spider-powered hero only for the next arc to be all about chasing down a cheese danish. The Exiles visited familiar realities, like the future home of “Spider-Man 2099” or amazing one-offs, like Earth-3752 where the Lizard, Hank Pym, Tony Stark, and Bolivar Trask operate a huge Kaiju-stomping mecha.
You know who else was a fan of the original run of “Exiles?” New series writer Saladin Ahmed. There’s the way he brings in characters from the original series (Blink, Mr. Creed, Morph, and Nocturne) but there’s also situations the team finds itself in that sort of call back to the original loony adventures of the Exiles. Case in point- this new issue.
We begin with a lady calling Blink “Aladdin” and telling her to wake up. We quickly realize that Blink is not in another Marvel reality, but an iteration of the 1001 Nights in which she’s cast as Aladdin. Some of the Exiles, such as Iron Lad who is now the Genie of the Lamp, are familiar even with the story. But that’s not how “Exiles” works, and the team knows it. They can hop to parallel versions of the Marvel world, but they shouldn’t be able to dive into folklore.
That mystery isn’t solved in this issue, but it’s clear something is amiss. Getting to the bottom of it is the thrust of the arc. For now, it’s a pure and wonderful “Exiles” adventure. Valkyrie finds herself cast as Ali Baba, and she’s teamed up with her new love interest Becky Barnes and Captain Peggy Carter. Vibranium Cowboy T’Challa wakes up as Captain Sinbad, with the plucky Wolvie the cartoon Wolverine by his side. Just look at that previous sentence and you will know whether or not you want to read this book. If you have half a heart, you obviously do.
Wolvie is actually a perfect example of everything this book gets right. Under a lesser pen, he’d be a one-off gag, or really annoying, but in the capable hands of Ahmed and Javier Rodriguez he’s a fascinating foil. Sure he’s from a childish picture book, but he’s a powerful addition to the team and his visual style impresses on every page. “I owe you my life my friend,” T’Challa tells Wolvie after a close call with drowning. “How can you owe someone a life?” Wolvie asks. “That’s silly. But you can owe me an ICE CREAM if you want!” He’s wearing T’Challa’s cowboy hat, which is a completely different art style. It will make you smile.
Rodriguez is clearly having as much fun as Ahmed, and it shows. This Arabian Nights world has the same unrestrained lunacy we saw in ‘Secret Wars,’ and that means Felicia Hardy and her 40 Thieves, Dr. Strange taking the place of Jafar, and an island full of enormous cyclops monsters that shoot optic blasts out of their blue and yellow visors. Every panel is just so… lush! The colors, the panels, the background characters, the environments, the gleefully incongruous art styles are a wonderful feast of insanity. You feel like you’re in Disney World, overwhelmed by so many bright and impossible things. It’s the most magical comic on Earth.Continued below
Is “Exiles” telling an important story that’s pushing the comics medium to the next level? Nah. It’s doing something even better. It’s a gloriously fun comic, executed by absolute geniuses, filling their silly adventure story with importantly underplayed things. Is it significant that Saladin Ahmed, a man who’s been called “the Arab Tolkien” and writer of Throne of the Crescent Moon is doing a Marvel take on Arabian Nights? Probably. Is it important that a character drawn to be Tessa Thompson’s badass MCU Valkyrie is making out with a female version of Captain America’s sidekick? Probably! But there’s no press tour, no articles in USA Today, nothing to distract from the simple fact that this is just a regular Marvel comic and it’s filled with awesome, unique, unbelievable… everything.
The mystery introduced here has me begging for more “Exiles” and unfortunately the cliffhanger hits just as things are getting good. But the joy of “Exiles” is that even when it’s just spinning its wheels, those wheels are drawn in sparkly psychedelic colors, or they’re monster truck wheels, or there are no wheels at all because the comic is lumbering along robo-legs like some kind of Metal Gear. That’s the point of “Exiles” right? It can be anything the creative team wants it to be. Good thing this creative team never holds back. They’re weirdos and they should be celebrated for it.
Final Verdict: 8.3 – A new arc of Exiles has cartoons saving cowboys, lady killers who kiss, and Dr. Strange as a Disney villain. It’s got everything!