Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, another world changed.
Planet-Size X-Men #1
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Gerry Duggan (writer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
June 16, 2021
Planet-Size X-Men #1 is a red book. If you’ve made it this far into Reign of X, you know what that means – a code red, can’t-miss comic signified by little red bars on the “Coming Soon” page at the end of every X-book. Red books signify something big, like a major revelation, character introduction, or some other shock to the status quo. Emma Frost called this “one of those ‘where were you at when’ moments,” and she was right. The big red something in Planet-Size X-Men is nothing less than Mars itself.
The idea of a mutated Mars has been germinating since the earliest pages of House of X #1. We see the X-Men planting Krakoan gateway seeds in such fantastical locations as the Savage Land, the Blue Area of the Moon, and, uh, Washington D.C. Among them is Armor, her mutant power giving her the look of a glowing red astronaut as she plants flowers in a Martian garden.
In Planet-Size X-Men, Magneto finally fulfills the promise of that garden, enlisting Earth’s Omega mutants to terraform Mars and create a new home for the recently transplanted Arakki mutants. Here, writer Gerry Duggan and artist Pepe Larraz create the first comic in the Reign of X era that feels like a direct successor to House of X #1 – an expansive status-quo smasher that raises the stakes for the merry mutants on a cosmic scale.
The plot of Planet-Size X-Men is a straight line, not so much a story per se as it is a showcase for the characters as well as the creators. Duggan is one of the more versatile writers in the X-Office, ably shifting from hedonistic pirate intrigue in Marauders to the Summers family sitcom (with swords) Cable. In this issue he shifts again; it is not a full-on imitation of Jonathan Hickman’s work, but he certainly is vibing with the Architect of X, particularly in his characterization of a charmingly grandiose Magneto. He also employs just enough sci-fi technobabble to make the terraforming seem plausible – at least within the confines of a superhero universe. (A reclining Quentin Quire remarks that he is “Absolutely horny for this flex,” so just let that circle around the drain in your mind for a while.)
Here is where I confess that I struggled to write this review, if only because Pepe Larraz is one of those singular talents whom I can only describe with the most hyperbolic praise possible. The artwork in this comic is stunning. This work that could twist even the most self-assured illustrators into F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus – hell, I’m not even an artist, and I’m in Salieri Mode.
The script gives Larraz a lot of raw, red clay to mold. He has a fun, varied cast to play with, mixing established powerhouses (oops, sorry, Franklin) like Jean Grey, Monarch, Storm, Exodus, and Kid Omega with brand new Arakki mutants Lactuca the Knower, Sobunar of the Depths, and Xilo, First Defender of This Broken Land. Larraz is a master at creating what I like to call (and this is the scholarly term) “new guys,” and significantly, none of these new mutants are beholden to humanoid forms. In one striking sequence, Xeno’s bug-like body breaks apart into wormy appendages that penetrate and transform Martian soil – veins pumping blood into planetary flesh.
Larraz also gives Planet-Size X-Men a slippery playfulness among its earth-shaking events, stimulated by Marte Gracia’s bright, gemlike colors. Just look at her mischievous smile when Jean Grey implants an idea into the reality-warping Monarch’s mind. Or the surreal scene that follows, with Jean and Quentin perched like a cartoon angel and devil atop Monarch’s brain as he becomes literally pregnant with possibility – and a gigantic space station. Sprinkled throughout the issue are superb little details, so small that in a hasty read, you might miss them. Details such as the Arakki talismans hanging from the skeletal tree where Magneto and Isca meet and the shockwave on the beach so powerful it knocks Quentin’s psychic glasses askew.
I review digital advance copies, but this issue leaves me yearning for the upcoming Hellfire Gala hardcover with pages I can physically flip through and study at my leisure. And while I am not a precog – put down your gun, Moira! – I feel confident predicting that Larraz will be an era-defining artist in the league of Frank Quitely and Paul Smith, destined to be name-dropped when the next generation of starry-eyed up-and-comers cite their biggest influences.
Planet-Size X-Men #1 is the jewel at the center of the Hellfire Gala. Gleaming and multi-faceted, it promises great things for Duggan and Larraz on X-Men #1. Compared to other superhero comics on the stands, it is worlds apart.