X-Men 1

How does Marvel keep convincing me to buy more X-Men titles? And how does this new addition to the family compare with its older brothers? Read on to find out.

Right from the beginning, you’ll know that something is different about X-Men #1. It doesn’t have the same, ‘the rules you thought you knew are false’ vibe that Grant Morrison’s New X-Men opened with, but it definitely reeks of authorial intent (in the best sense of the words). It announces proudly, this is not just an X-Men so we can sell you X-Men, this is Brian Wood’s X-Men and it will strive to live up to the pedigree that name carries. And then it starts buttering you up.

I can’t help but think that Brian Wood might be intentionally writing to me of three years ago, or at least those like me. We open on Jubilee, still snarky and still rocking the yellow jacket and ridiculous shades – still Jubilee, but changed. No mention is made of the loss of her mutant powers, nor of her rather embarrassing tie-ins to the vampire craze. Instead Wood focuses on the essential Jubilee, the little girl, lost in the mall, when the X-Men saved her. He defines mutants: “synonymous with fear and hatred…with prejudice and bigotry…violence and decimation…war and schism…alienation, shame, and seclusion.” But, to Jubilee, he tells us, the X-Men are “Home.” And isn’t that what we really mean when we say we want a comic to be friendly to new readers? We don’t want it pickled and unchanging, but we want to come home to these characters. Whether you’ve been following for years, lapsed long ago, or have just picked up your first comic, this book doesn’t judge. Continuity is not a trap but an opportunity here and X-Men #1 is happy to welcome you home.

From there the book takes us to JFK International Airport to a trip on the Metro North to the Jean Grey School to some old timey civilian-savin’ to the very beginnings of life on earth and, in doing so, Wood makes the ballsy choice to eschew shock-value for fine storytelling. Especially if you’ve been reading the X-titles for a while (or spend too much time on Wikipedia, like me), you’ll see where this issue is going fairly quickly (that is when it doesn’t just flat out tell you), however, this script just doesn’t care. Without giving anything away, I suppose the best way to put it is that this issue focuses on laying the foundations of the series; setting the scene, introducing us to our cast, and then digging as deeply into the possibilities as it can get in one issue.

It’s not just the plot, either. Wood shows a real affinity for writing the characters he’s chosen to work with. Jubilee, in particular, comes across as a character of rare depth and consideration. While entirely true to her character, Jubilee has grown up, as her fans have. And she’s hardly alone. Storm reads like a woman who commanded the X-Men, without losing the essential humanity that Cyclops has never had. Kitty Pryde is still the X-Man you feel you could be in the right circumstances, and the person you wish you were under the worst. That element really is crucial. These characters feel real because Jubilee isn’t declaring a Sentinel to be ‘gnarly’ in the midst of battle. When things get serious, so do they. Rogue’s charm and humor are great grounding for her character, but what makes her come alive as a distinct creation is the ways those characteristics do and don’t change under pressure. My Southern readers will likely be pleased to know that our bruiser belle is just as badass and lovable as ever.

Admittedly there are some things that worry me. Psylocke and Rachel, the ‘team’s’ two psychics, are admittedly fairly similar at this stage and I would love it if Kitty would refrain from using any more WTFs or OMGs. There’s also a cry of ‘we have trouble’ that falls flat as a call to arms (also, spoken to a different character than I would have expected). As you can see, the problems are easily remedied, but there’s no guarantee they will be.

I’m also curious if any of my readers were bothered by Rogue’s voice. While it was hardly a distraction from the book, I did find it hard to impose her trademark drawl over it. Did it bother you or are you grateful that Wood was merciful and spared those poor apostrophes?

Oliver Coipel provides the book with two essential elements in his pencils, respect and personality. While it’s sad, it’s definitely the case that comic book women tend to look a little…similar. In another world, it would be great luck that each of our X-Men has different colored hair, but that’s below Copiel. Not only are each of our heroes recognizable and distinct, they’re also mercifully free from unfortunate cheesecake (another great band name…). Having actually paused at a panel of Starfire’s wedgie earlier today, I feel that I can safely say that this book is a solid leap forward for all-female teams in comics (and as I said, for those of you who are angry about this, there’s always Red Hood and the Outlaws, which, no matter how hard it tries, cannot avoid how horrible Starfire’s costume is.)

Speaking of costumes, I want to take a moment to say how much I love these ones. Kris Anka’s Storm and Psylocke costumes may be some of my favorite redesigns of recent memory, and have been since I saw them, but I was surprised by how good Coipel makes Jubilee look without her jacket (I haven’t been following her story, so I admit that I’m not sure if she’s been wearing this look before now). Regardless, good show, Marvel.

Though Storm’s cleavage window seems a little…how to put this…long – she shares that affliction of many a comic book heroine, the super low, yet super perky breasts – the anatomy in this issue tends to be on the realer side of superhero books. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get some very pretty ladies, but it does mean that at least half the team probably has a b-cup or less. Storm definitely feels like the busty lady on this team, and honestly, with that figure, she should be a rarity. It’s nice to see a woman’s body be considered as part of their character, the same way that Wolverine is often drawn hairy and short, rather than as a foregone sacrifice to perceived marketability.

Coipel also does a great job at distinguishing each character from themselves at any other moment. Every expression in this book is unique and telling. Kitty Pryde and Jubilee, especially, get a chance to show off a wide range of emotions, without having to rely on a single written word.

And less you think that Coipel is just particularly skilled at drawing women, a certain male guest-star pulls off that same trifecta of gorgeous, intimidating, and expressive.

The only weak links are Rouge and Psylocke. Betsy looks a little alien in some panels, all the worse that she probably has the least face time this issue, and Rogue, while she looks fine, doesn’t emote the same way her colleges do, unfortunate given her strong personality. Still, the book as a whole has a sense of life that is not easy to come by. I’m happy to see how he does next month.

This book got a lot of attention for featuring an all-female team in a book whose title is 75% men. I truly applaud Brian Wood for his decision to stand behind the worthiness of these characters (after all, I think it’s a little late to try to convince us that it’s X-People). Since the name is sticking, there’s nothing to do but hunker down and remind the world just how impressive the X-Men’s cast of female characters is. I will admit that it felt a little weird to see the Jean Grey staff breaking up what appears to be, for lack of better word, a catfight. I’m honestly all for the introduction of more themes that appeal to that delightfully ‘fictional’ demographic of teenage girls, but it feels…off after hearing Wood insist that this was a book that would show how you don’t need to write a ‘girl book’ to write a book about girls. I will also mention that I am a complete sucker for that scene and want to know what drama is going down right now.

Some people, despite the resistance of Brian Wood and co., will insist on coming to this book as a kind of X-Women, but for the most part, Wood is 100% honest when he says this is X-Men. And it’s not just one X-Men, it’s a little bit of all of X-Men. There’s good old superhero goodness, family drama, questions of identity and fitting in. There’s X-Men showing why they’re the best there is at what they do, and institute students showing us how interesting it can be to be one of the world’s strangest teens. Through it all, I was constantly impressed by Wood’s love for the material and ability to breathe life into it. After all, after he completely reintroduces Jubilee, Wood gives us a number of great moments that feel connected (but never subservient) to the past, and even makes me care about one of my least favorite X-Men villains of the past fifteen years.

Honestly, this book is great and it’s humble about it. You might not even notice how great it is at first, but it does everything I need an X-Men book to do and never feels like a checklist of fan-pleasing. It’s a different sort of book than Scott Snyder’s Batman, but I urge you to give the first issue or the first trade a shot, when you get the chance.

They got me buying another one. MARVEL!