Gerry Alanguilan (inker), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), Leinil Francis Yu (artist)
October 16, 2019
Where so many superhero comics have nodded off into a complacent, lethargic sleep, X-Men #1 blasts into the room, wide awake.
In my review of House of X #6, I wrote that there was “a completeness to it, like the closing of a circle.” The final celebratory scenes of a mutant rave raging on into the night made an appropriate end for the series, as the sun set on what we thought we knew about the X-Men, Krakoa, and Xavier’s dream. House of X and Powers of X combined to make an exhilarating event, but what’s even more nail-biting is the realization that it was only a prologue, and now the real story is beginning.
Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Leinil Francis Yu have crafted a strong first issue that propels us forward into that shiny new horizon. We land with a bang at the last earthly stronghold of Orchis, those self-appointed defenders of humanity last seen trying to activate a giant genocidal robot head on the surface of the sun. The X-Men, who previously fought Orchis at a great cost to themselves, win the day thanks to teamwork and Magneto’s delicious theatricality, and earn a moment of rest. But the fight is never over, and if Orchis has its way, they may be fighting for an eternity…
Howard Hawks once said that a good movie has three great scenes, and no bad ones. That line danced through my head while reading X-Men #1 because it’s just so, so good, like sinking your teeth into a piece of filet mignon after a steady diet of McDonald’s. There are three great scenes in this comic, starting with that opening confrontation with Orchis. The members of Orchis, including Dr. Gregor and the just-introduced director, Killian Devo (a character name so good I had to toss my head back and laugh at the ceiling when I read it), are dark mirrors to the X-Men. They view themselves as protecting the world from the mutants whom they hate and fear, with all the red-eyed fanaticism of a true believer.
In particular, Devo (“Are we not men? We are Devo!”), a Keel Lorenz lookalike with half his face obscured by technological headgear, is a distorted version of Professor X. He even echoes that line of disgust in the face of death and devastation, “Just look at what they have done.” But lest you be lured to thinking that this is some kind of mealy-mouthed “both sides” rhetoric, the story reminds you of what the stakes are as the X-Men (Cyclops, Storm, Magneto, and Polaris) save a group of mutant children captured by Orchis. Heavy stuff, yes, but it also must be mentioned how funny Hickman’s script frequently is. When Orchis soldiers undergo an...interesting transformation to fight the X-Men, Cyclops has a line right up there with Hellboy’s “Is that a monkey?” “He’s got a gun!” in the pantheon of absurdly beautiful comic book dialogue.
Krakoa is home to the book’s second great scene, one that feels almost ripped from a storybook in its purity. Returning hero Magneto is swarmed by children eager to hear of his heroic exploits; when one mutant child says he won’t run if humans attack Krakoa, Magneto answers, “You won’t have to. For I am Magneto. Let man run from me.” It’s a shiveringly perfect Magneto line, one that would be terrifying if directed at his enemies, but is strangely touching when said to reassure frightened children. It’s a powerful scene because Hickman understands the hearts of these characters, and what they would say in these precise moments. We’ve all read X-Men comics that seemed written in the author’s sleep, with only a “Goddess!” or “Unglaublich!” to differentiate the dialogue balloons. X-Men #1 feels actively, excitedly written. We hear Storm’s compassion, Cyclops’s dry wit, and Vulcan’s…dumbassery.
Oh yes, about Vulcan. Deliciously, the best part of X-Men #1 isn’t a fight scene or a gravity-upending plot twist, but a family dinner. We find Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and the rest of their extended (and frequently time-displaced) family in Summer House, located on the Blue Area of the Moon. The Saga of Scott Summers, which has long overflowed with deaths, resurrections, clones, and long-lost siblings, tends to be treated like an operatic tragedy, and the real delight here is seeing it instead as a kind of sci-fi sitcom. That’s how we end up with Vulcan, the once-dead third Summers Brother and intergalactic despot, delivering Dr. Doom monologues while grilling a steak for the dear old dad he killed that one time (they both got better). The creative team knows that the very things that make these characters absurd are also what make them great.
Oh! Has any comic book floor plan been as disseminated as the one for Summer House, that home shaped like a lotus? Tom Muller’s layouts remain an exceptionally juicy part of the HoXPoXDoX experience, with the conveniently interconnecting rooms for Logan, Jean, and Scott well deserving of all the eyes emojis on Twitter. What is a great X-Men comic without these deeply entwined, ever-evolving relationships? There is something deeply touching about Jean and Scott going to the Blue Area of the Moon—once the site of the greatest tragedy of their lives—and building a home for their loved ones there. From those ashes on the moon, a new flower grows.
If there is an aspect of X-Men #1 that isn’t blooming yet, that is, unfortunately, the art. Now, it must be said that any artist following Pepe Larraz’s and R.B. Silva’s star-making turns in House of X and Powers of X would have an unenviable task ahead of them. Leinil Francis Yu, hot off a Captain America run with Ta-Nehisi Coates, has a damn good resume, but there is something flat and lifeless here, with some smiles too vacant and some faces too dead-eyed. It is not a bad-looking book, but it’s not as animate as it needs to be, particularly in revelatory or humorous scenes. I hope future issues will be stronger. The artwork hovers over the ground, but it doesn’t soar.
Almost a year ago I reviewed a very different X-Men first issue, one that left me disappointed by its lack of vision, its overplayed beats, and the way it seemed to bore its own characters. What a difference a year makes! X-Men #1, the inaugural issue of the “Dawn of X” relaunch, is exciting stuff, the kind of comic that says it’s a “Bold New Beginning!” in the press releases, and actually means it.