With a title like “Catching the Wave,” X-Men #2 can only be one thing: a beach issue! Get ready for lots of sand, sun, and surf for our merry mutants. Cyclops in a Speedo! Jean’s mask giving her weird tan lines! Rogue ruining the volleyball game and spiking the ball straight to Bugtussle, Tennessee! Wolverine hanging ten and catching the wav—
*touches earpiece* Hmm? Catching what? The Annihilation Wave?
…Oh. Oh shit.
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Gerry Duggan (writer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
August 4, 2021
Psychic meditation, sentient fungus, an alien gulping down Eldritch horror like fine wine – X-Men #2 deploys hallucinogenic imagery to dizzying effect, creating another electric, eye-popping issue. With the X-Men poised to save a small Kansas town from nothing less than pure annihilation, Duggan, Larraz, and Gracia position the team to take their rightful place as Marvel’s ultimate superhero team.
We begin with a moment of domestic disharmony as Rogue crashes Gambit’s clandestine card game at the Treehouse. (Think Dogs Playing Poker, but swap in Rhino, Black Cat, and The Thing.) But that’s child’s play compared to what Cordyceps Jones has up his spacesuit sleeve on Gameworld. Still placing bets on who will exterminate life on Earth first, one high-roller sends his friend to “uncork a rare vintage” on the planet: the cosmic-level threat called the Annihilation Wave.
The alien ship crash lands in (where else?) Kansas, where one swig from a bottle unleashes mindless horrors upon the unsuspecting locals. Sensing the sudden surge of mass death, Marvel Girl and Synch summon the rest of the team to stop the Annihilation Wave before it consumes all life in its path, ala The Blob. (And if you don’t get that reference, Marvel Girl is your psychic streaming service.)
X-Men #2 pushes stylized superhero action to the outer limits. Pepe Larraz is a star, there’s no use mincing words here. Every page is a sugar spike of delight, rich in detail and personality. Gameworld is as colorful and chaotic as a pinball machine, complete with three-legged can-can girls. As for the fungus-among-us, Cordyceps Jones remains of the best new character designs of the year. Larraz does excellent work making his natural, fleshy features recognizably human and sinister without anthropomorphizing him.
And, not to start any “Who is the Best X-Artist of All Time?” flame-outs on Twitter, but Larraz captures the essence of every character in a way that feels new — like we’re seeing them for the first time. Marvel Girl floating into the fray, her hair swirling around her like extensions of her psychic power. Polaris’s lip-curling look of disgust as she lights the way into the squirming, buggy heart of the Annihilation Wave. Panels warping and curling into licks of flame as Sunfire recounts his life story. There’s almost too much to absorb in one-read through; thankfully, this is the kind of book that insists you pick it up and look at it, again and again.
The story, however, is a bit light, as if it wants to get out of the way of the action. Duggan establishes a close rapport with the characters, developing new and old relationships. Marvel Girl and Polaris, who have been friends since they were the only women in the X-Men in the 1960s, shine together, synchronizing their powers to form an MRI machine for the alien dead. Synch is quickly becoming the emotional core of the team, meditating alongside Jean and still unsure how to move forward with Wolverine, who has no memories of their life together in the Vault. And Sunfire has certainly evolved since his abrupt exit from the team in Uncanny X-Men #94.
X-Men #2 is in some ways a simple, straightforward issue, but it is a complicated simplicity, still veined with eco-futurist themes. In the green, growing days of Krakoa, it’s a clever little wink making the next villain a literal fungus, a symbol of decay and decomposition. The adventure in Kansas ends with the X-Men treated to a barbecue by grateful townspeople, human and mutant united (for now) under the canopy of an enormous tree. Subtle? No. But a standout issue of X-Men.