“Remind me again why I said we needed to be in New York?”
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Gerry Duggan (writer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
July 7, 2021
It’s a good question. For a moment, as Cyclops passes through the blue light of the Krakoan gateway and strides into the X-Men’s new base of operations, he echoes a concerned fanbase. X-Men #1, the inaugural issue of the hotly-anticipated series by Gerry Duggan, Pepe Larraz, and Marte Gracia, follows the newly-elected X-Men as they leave the safe shores of Krakoa to protect the world that, as the saying goes, hates and fears them.
The scene continues with Marvel Girl, co-leader of the X-Men, standing cool and cover-ready as her husband joins her. They discuss Cyke’s impromptu interrogation by Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich (“Is…he going to be a problem?” “I hope not.”) and then, in a small, perfect moment, they kiss, a white heart blossoming between them. Why move to New York and risk the mobs, the monsters, the wrath of the Manhattan zoning board? Cyclops says, “I believe in us, Jean,” and that’s the answer to everything.
Busy as they are with running a nation, the X-Men haven’t functioned as a superhero team since House of X/Powers of X. The previous X-Men run written by Jonathan Hickman prioritized worldbuilding and individual character studies – small islands leading to the greater one. That series culminated in Marvel Girl and Cyclops’s realization that the mutants of Krakoa need someone to fight for them. Of all the candidates, the people chose Rogue, Synch, Sunfire, Polaris, and Wolverine (Laura Kinney). And so, the X-Men are reborn.
But what does an X-Men superhero book look like in the Reign of X era? First, mutants conquered death, and now they’ve conquered Mars – after that, doesn’t the X-Men relocating to a treehouse in New York City feel a little regressive? Terrestrial? I have no doubt that the words “back to basics” are going to show up in a lot of X-Men #1 reviews, and I sympathize with anyone who saw the X-Men living in a park in Manhattan and, remembering the stifling banality of X-Men: Gold, broke into a cold sweat.
Fortunately, Duggan and Larraz – the team who gave new meaning to “galaxy brain” in Planet-Size X-Men #1 – still have their eyes on the stars. X-Men #1 isn’t a retreat, but a rejuvenation. Krakoa was never intended to hide mutants from the world, but rather, to give them their rightful place in it. Hell, thanks to Krakoa, mutants have taken their rightful place in the solar system.
Enter our new villain: Feilong, a billionaire scientist (and descendent of Nikola Tesla) whose plans for colonizing Mars were scuttled by the mutants who terraformed the red planet. Considering that updates on a buffoonish billionaire space race are currently pummeling my news feed into submission, a rich, entitled antagonist who sees Mars as his stolen property couldn’t be more suited to our current hellscape. But keep watching the skies, X-Men! The high rollers at Gameworld (“Where the worst people in the universe come to have the best time”) are an even bigger embodiment of the dystopian theme of space as a playground for the wealthy, and they prove it by placing bets on the deadly kaiju that just fell to Earth.
X-Men #1 is a work of synthesized spectacle, emphasizing striking visuals over the cerebral, character-based storytelling of the previous series. Of course, the script could be a crumpled CVS receipt at the bottom of my purse and Pepe Larraz would turn it into a masterpiece. But Duggan provides an intriguing central premise. Character introductions are brisk and effective; each team member has at least one shining moment to show why they were elected. (If you’re wondering how the X-Men are handling that other big thing that happened at the Hellfire Gala, there’s one perfunctory line as Cyclops welcomes Polaris: “If you killed Wanda, please don’t [confess].”)
One of the issue’s most engaging features is its sense of momentum; X-Men #1 is a tree that could only grow from Krakoan soil. That idea is literally realized in the Treehouse, a stunning piece of eco-futurist architecture. As Larraz – and Cyclops – gives us a tour of the X-Men’s new base, he arranges panels like chic apartments, showing off the interior rooms while the exterior of the Treehouse stands tall as the centerpiece of the two-page spread. Now shifting abruptly to eco-horror, this comic also introduces another foe who I am preemptively declaring Best New Guy of the Year: Cordyceps Jones, an alien fungus possessing the skeletal remains of a dead, martini-swigging astronaut. Cordyceps Jones may be my favorite thing Pepe Larraz has ever drawn. Kitschy, horrific, and very funny, the sheer originality of this character design is hard to top, and it further cements Larraz as a modern master.
Another visual treat is the X-Mech, a stout little fireplug hastily assembled by our team to fight the attacking kaiju. A more ordinary superhero comic would simply use the X-Mech as a vehicle for action; X-Men #1 shows how it works and how the team puts it together – Synch conceptualizing it, Polaris assembling it, Sunfire powering it, etc. It’s a dazzling sequence that culminates in a giant mech kicking Wolverine at a writhing, squirming kaiju – and trust me, it looks better on the page than I could ever describe. The other half of this artistic fastball special is Marte Gracia, whose smooth, bright, almost hallucinatory colors amplify every page – it is almost impossible to imagine Larraz’s linework colored by anybody else.
Picking up the torch from Planet-Size X-Men, the comic is another dramatic illustration of mutant “synergies” and circuits and how they can defend the world. The bonds between mutants – as friends, lovers, teammates – reimagined as superpowers. “I believe in us, Jean.” And that’s why the X-Men will win.
Uncanny, astonishing, extraordinary, new – use any adjective you like, because X-Men #1 speaks for itself.