As Gypsy Rose Lee learned, you gotta have a gimmick. And when Marvel Comics is relaunching an X-Men book it helps to have something to distinguish the title from the rest of the mutant pack.
What’s that, you say? How about stories with a unique tone, tales that don’t depend on crossovers to be ‘worthwhile’, a stonkingly good story and rip-roaringly fine art?
Happily, this new X-Men book already has the latter two requirements, and as for the former pair, hopefully that will prove the case. Meanwhile, there’s the gimmick. Or as writer Brian Wood would likely prefer, the Unique Selling Point.
The USP of this X-title is that it focuses on women only. We’ve never had a men-only mutant book, and the X-Men line has for years balanced male and female members rather well. But someone at Marvel decided that an all-girl gathering is the way to go, so here it is.
And really, one of the main things that makes a good comic book good is character, and the members in this debut issue all have strong voices. It doesn’t matter if they’re all men, all women, or a mixture, so long as we get friendship and fireworks. There are veterans Storm and Kitty Pryde. Bad girl turned stalwart Rogue. Cool and collected Rachel Summers. Tough toff Psylocke. And whatever-you-call-a-Valley-Girl-in-the-21st-century Jubilee. None of these women need their powers to define them, but let there be no doubt, as mutants go, this is a formidable bunch, with weather control, psi abilities, phasing and more at their disposal.
Wood, wisely, doesn’t make a big deal of the spotlight shining on the women. They just happen to be the X-Men around the Jean Grey school this issue. They’re not all there at the beginning, as Jubilee returns from a trip to Europe accompanied by one person she wants to be there, and someone she decidedly does not. She’s picked up an orphan child on her travels, her mothering instinct having kicked in – or perhaps it’s hanging around with waif-wrangler Wolverine for so long. And following her is an old enemy of the X-Men, but here he asks for help. For while he’s a menace, there’s someone even he’s scared of in the picture.
Wood’s script is uniformly excellent, giving us a sharp third person narration that introduces the X-Men and their world for any new readers. It’s professionalism with style, and I wish more comic book writers were so considerate of the readership. He’s equally adept at writing the heroes, as individuals and as members of the school faculty. And his handling of teamwork is a joy, as Rogue, Storm and Kitty stop a runaway train from killing its passengers. Plus, Wood gives us a subplot involving what’s bound to be more than simple teenage rivalry. As he says in the lettercol, this is his highest profile launch to date, and on this showing he’s well up to it.
Artist Olivier Coipel has had many a high-profile Marvel job, and he gets better every time out. He draws the X-Men as individuals, without pandering to the cheesecake market – if anyone has to bend, or squat, there’s a ruddy good reason, and it’s not presented with prurience; heck, I’ve rarely seen a bunch of super-beings so covered up, and it makes a great change.
The big action sequence with the train has the necessary impact without taking over huge spreads, and the tension in Jubilee as she feels hunted is palpable (click on image to enlarge). Were I editing, I’d have given a note that superheroes swooping down to grab a pal off a train might not want to dress up as superheroes, but I don’t care too much – this is a debut issue and it’s good to see the cast in their ‘workwear’. Coipel inks himself, alongside the talented Mark Morales.
Colouring the book, Laura Martin makes a natural palette exciting, while Joe Caramagna’s letters are sharp, and know where the emphasis is needed. Coipel and Martin also provide the cover, which so far as capturing the characters of a group of people via body language and expressions go, is masterful.
Overall, some great work from the core creatives – overseen by editors Jennifer M Smith and Jeanine Schaefer – makes for a thoroughly enjoyable first of a three-parter. There’s a lot respect here: for the characters, and for the readers, and that’s something I can respect.
And as this issue shows, even if you gotta have a gimmick, you don’t gotta run it into the ground.