Thursday, July 8, 2010

X-Men #1

Review by Paul Steven Brown

“Curse of the Mutants - Part One”

Writer: Victor Gischler
Penciler: Paco Medina
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics

Way back in the ‘60s, Stan Lee needed a new concept on which to hang a team of teenage superheroes he had created. At the time radiation was a nice, modern excuse to empower characters with unique gifts that allowed them to fight crime. Usually this was employed though the bite of an eradiated spider, gamma bomb explosion, or cosmic rays. He took the easy way out and decided that this new team, the X-Men, were mutants and they were born with their powers that would lay dormant until adolescences. Thus, in late 1963 X-Men #1 hit the stands. The book is still around, having been renamed Uncanny X-Men at some point in the ‘80s.

First issue launches (and relaunches) have always been built around a big event or status quo change. In 1975, Giant Size X-Men #1 saw the birth of an “All-New, All-Different” team of mutants from around the globe, which would revitalize the series. A second ongoing series called simply X-Men was commissioned in 1991. This brought back the original X-Men to the mansion as full-time members of the team with legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont and the then-hottest artist in comics, Jim Lee, guiding the book. X-Treme X-Men was created in 2001 so that fans of Chris Claremont could continue to enjoy his unique treatment of the characters that he had written for so long. And in 2004, beloved genre television writer/producer Joss Whedon and popular comic book artist John Cassaday started the highly publicized Astonishing X-Men.

It’s 2010, and a brand new X-Men #1 has hit the stands. This original, adjectiveless X-Men was renamed X-Men: Legacy a few years ago, so there isn’t a redundancy in the naming. This time, writer Victor Gischler and artist Paco Medina are behind the wheel. While both have been fairly successful in recent years, they are by no means household names in the comic book industry.

Let me make sure that this one point is very clear: I like the new X-Men #1. It’s fun and entertaining and the art is very clean and lively. However, with the possible exception of X-Treme X-Men #1, this book feels noticeably lightweight when compared to the launches of the first issues listed above. This is intensified by the fact that X-Men #1 premieres on the same day as X-Force #28, which is not only the penultimate chapter of the “Second Coming” crossover, but also that series’ final issue. Also, X-Force #28 contains a breathtaking sequence of payoffs that the event has been building towards for the last three months. X-Men #1 really feels anemic in comparison.

In addition to just having a capable, yet unearthshattering creative team, the initial storyline feels corporately manufactured and weak. “Curse of the Mutants” is not only a new event, but it appears to be the first of a series of “Vampires versus the Marvel Superheroes” affairs. Unlike those other first issues of the X-Men, this is not the launch of a bold new direction. Sure, “Second Coming” is over, but you’d almost not know it. The X-Men are still based on Utopia, their island base off the coast of San Francisco. There is no newly defined team. The cover sports the most recognizable faces of that are currently featured in Uncanny X-Men, X-Men: Legacy, and Astonishing X-Men. It’s the X-Men fighting vampires; a very odd and gimmicky excuse for a new series simply called X-Men.

Let me reiterate: I liked this issue. It’s a pretty good jumping on point for readers that are only slightly familiar with the X-Men. It’s not too bogged down in past continuity and lives very much in the present. It has characters that people will recognize like Cyclops, Wolverine, and Angel. One of the stars of the ‘90s X-Men cartoon, Jubilee, plays a big role in this story, too. New fan favorites, Pixie and Dr. Nemesis, are spotlighted as well. The art is animated and crisp (though Medina needs to dial down the breast sizes, especially on the teenage girls).

What I’m really curious about is where X-Men will go after this limp concept is finished. Will there be a solidified cast? How will it establish a significant identity separate from the other X-Men related titles, especially Uncanny X-Men? Will this be the new reader-friendly X-Men book, now that the future of Astonishing X-Men is a bit vague? How will events in X-Men impact the other titles, if at all? Yes, these are a lot of questions, but as a reader of X-Men comics for a quarter century, I can’t help but ask them.

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