REVIEW: “X-Men” #1 (2013)

(Marvel Comics, 2013)

Review by Cory Thrall

WRITTEN BY:  Brian Wood
PENCILS BY:  Olivier Coipel
INKS BY:  Mark Morales & Olivier Coipel
COLOR ARTWORK BY:  Laura Martin
LETTERING BY:  VC’s Joe Caramagna

This opening issue to Marvel’s newest X title – just “X-Men” this time around – is an interesting one, to say the least.  What you might normally expect from a first issue, and especially an X title, is a huge opener with a ton of weight and characters to toss around, with huge villains and even larger problems.  That’s perfectly fine and for the most part that has worked.  What Brian Wood and crew have brought to us with this “X-Men” #1 is a beast of its own breath, however, and though it’s a bit leaky, this first voyage is a strong and exciting one.

For this version of the team we have Storm, Rogue, Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, and Rachel Grey.  Now that *has* to be one of the greatest teams put together in some time, if you want the team to seamlessly co-exist, and the chemistry between the whole cast is very good evidence of this.  These are now classic characters that have known each other, been close friends, and usually team mates for a long time.  Decades, even.  That gives this team a bit of a different feel than most team books go as, even with their very individual character make ups and power levels, it still reads like you’re hanging out with your super-powered friends while they’re having a fun time through a simple but detailed adventure.  Add in an increasingly mysterious infant being backpacked around by Jubilee, and this title really gets the spunk going right away.

The issue opens on a bit of catch up in regards to John Sublime (AKA…um…”Sublime”), the man who is really a sentient “bacterial lifeform” and has a history of stirring up a ton of trouble in the X universe.  We’re told of his abandoned sister Arkea, who came crashing to Earth during it’s very beginning stages alongside her brother.  As the two came crashing down, they war against each other with Sublime coming out the victor, thus claiming Earth and casting Arkea out on her own to find a way to flourish in the growing cosmos.

We find Jubilee – an infant slung with her as she moves about – in an airport in Bulgaria, and as she boards her flight she gets emotional, telling us in monologue that her only real home is with the X-Men.  For a character that is famously disliked, this is a great piece of character building that was almost nonexistent in the years since her debut.  I admit, I was one of the “haters”, but that was more out of confusion and no real character to grab a hold of.  Like a lot still say, she just felt like a more modern Dazzler, and a bit of pandering to the slightly older audience they had begun to gather at the time of her first appearance.  I’m sure her lack of costume updates have been adding to that problem.  But this Jubilee is a different story altogether.  It may only be a few pages and a handful of lines, but what is here really gets you into what Jubilee is – a confused and scared young adult who is always in over her head, but always stronger for it.  That was a big surprise for me, and a welcome one.

As the issue moves on, Jubilee becomes convinced she is being followed, and alerts the Jean Grey School that there might be a problem.  Taking her refusal to explain what is going on as a bad sign, Storm, Rogue, and Kitty head to where Jubilee is currently (on a train heading for the school) to intervene.  What really shows you the attitude of this title is the moment Kitty phases into the train, finds Jubilee, and the first thing out of Kitty’s mouth is about the baby, and why Jubilee has one with her.  This is the level of friendship I spoke of before.  Were this just one of the more standard first issues of a team book this scene might have been used as business-as-usual – getting in and seeing what needs to be done, and quickly.  Instead, it’s more like a reunion of close pals, marveling over the changes that have occurred during their time apart.  It’s a very refreshing opening and while it does get down to the business at hand it’s a great scene and sets the tone for the whole issue.

Meanwhile, Sublime arrives via helicopter at the Jean Grey campus, and in an odd twist instantly turns himself in.  He explains that he needs to speak with them, and fast.  Back on the train, the rest of the crew are assembled and are questioning Jubilee about who might be following her and why, as well as inquiring about the origin of the infant.  Quickly explaining that she rescued him from an orphanage during a whole mess of danger, she tells them how she wants him to grow up around the X crew, like she did.  It’s a split second, but the moment is very touching and again digs a bit deeper into Jubilee’s mind and how she views her X family.  It really is an extension of herself, the only life she feels can really live.  Her wanting the infant to have that same experience shows her big heart, shining even for a baby she has no real ties to.  No one really pays too much attention, however, as the baby puts his fingers to a speaker on the train wall, and a light spark of electricity spits into it.  As the scene progresses, we see the electric surge run its course all the way through the cars, eventually making its way to the controls and slamming the breaks – tossing everyone around in a violent lunge forward as the train stops.  All this by the light touch of the small infant, giving us a sure sign as to what the attention of the team will be focusing on very soon.

The group scrambles to fix the situation and, when they do they move on to the school, where Sublime is being interrogated by Rachel Grey and Psylocke.  I’ve always loved Psylocke, and this scene is one of the reasons why.  She’s just such a badass you don’t even need to see her in action.  Sublime tells them of his sister Arkea, and warns them that she has come to Earth, seeking to infect and dominate the planet.  In another room, Jubilee is just getting settled in when her mysterious infant takes her cell and has his way with it.  This causes some things to go haywire and, when Sublime is told of the baby he reacts very strongly.  Before he can fully warn the X team, however, the true nature of what has been transpiring is revealed in a spooky and awesome final page.  Off to issue #2!

One of the things here that really stood out for me is Brain Wood’s writing.  I’ve been a huge fan of the Star Wars title he has been doing with Dark Horse, but I found all of his non-dialogue work in those to be more like script notes than an actual script.  Most of them are cold, robotic, and leave a lot to be desired in the storytelling department.  His work here, however, has much more of a ‘human’ touch to it, though it can still be a bit stiff in some parts.  I think it helps when he has characters to use in these situations, telling the story through their eyes and in their voice, as opposed to the ‘narration’ text in Star Wars.  It’s a huge benefit to his writing, and overall this issue reads very smoothly.  I’m excited by the way he took what could have been a set-up situation for a fill-in issue of some X book and made it such a strong and imaginative launch for the title.  While the set-up obviously put the story in motion, as it should, this particular adventure could have been a straight bomb if it were to be told by a less talented writer.  Woods takes the basics of such a scene, blows expectations apart and runs with it, which makes me very curious to see where he takes this story next.

Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales work here is beyond excellent and if that cover piques your interest I can assure you it’s just as awesome and energetic inside, as well.  The scenes are well set with strong backgrounds, believable surroundings, and perfect little details.  The action scenes are spot-on and flow with ease, even featuring some very creative poses, which is a rare thing in these books.  The look of the issue is a complete whole, with nothing seeming out of place or forced, and no lines wasted.  The artwork is a perfect fit to the mood, and handles the kinetic energy this title exudes with a zeal that sparks right off from the page.  It’s incredibly solid work, and is at times downright beautiful.  Definitely panels you want to look over again and again, picking up on the extra nuances and expressions.

So, the star of this title, or at least this issue?  Jubilee takes it, and in a landslide.  It’s not because she gets the most ‘screen time’ here, or that she is more or less the main focus, but because of the major growth given to her character in just a handful of pages.  I was curious to see how this title would round out and now that I’ve read it I am completely satisfied.  Naysayers be damned – Jubilee is my hero now!  No joke.  Get in on this title now, as it’s obvious this is going to be a blast!

___________________________

Follow Cory Thrall on Twitter:  @FeralFang27

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