Terror falls from the sky in X-Men #3, but with the High Evolutionary involved, it’s not raining cats and dogs – it’s raining talking gorillas and cyborg elephants.
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Gerry Duggan (writer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
September 22, 2021
In Planet-Size X-Men #1, Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz planted their flag on Mars, claiming ownership of the red planet in the name of mutantkind. In X-Men #3, Duggan and Larraz explore the intergalactic ramifications of this radical act; namely, what does the rest of the universe think about mutants terraforming Mars (now Arakko) and appointing it the new center of the solar system?
One man, at least, is thrilled: the High Evolutionary. Appearing over Vietnam’s Golden Bridge in his spaceship, with the Evolutionary Guard and his genetically engineered daughter Luminous in tow, the High Evolutionary has come to praise the X-Men and their “great leap forward.” He has even brought a world-warming gift: a nihility sphere, which contains a humanity-sterilizing virus. The X-Men hate to look an evolutionary accelerated gift horse in the mouth, but…
“None of us need to hold back,” says Rogue to her teammates after landing a comedically devastating punch on her former torturer, the High Evolutionary. This statement could easily double as a direct message from Duggan to his artistic collaborators — none of us need to hold back! – because what follows is a beautifully orchestrated, bestial battle royale.
The Halloween issue isn’t ‘til next month, but X-Men #3 unfurls with the gleeful mania of a mad scientist unveiling his newest creation. The Evolutionary Guard goes beast mode on our heroes in a stunning splash page featuring giant psychic crabs, cyber sharks, and Teslelephant, a genetically enhanced elephant out to avenge his species – and Nikola Tesla – with his electrified tusks. There’s an absurd edge to the action in this issue that’s quite funny, as are the X-Men’s reactions to the chaos. Cue Cyclops and his defensive cry as he dodges Teslelephant’s robotic claw: “The X-Men love elephants!” (Mammomax could not be reached for comment.)
Pepe Larraz is an artist who will never stop surprising me. His work is kinetic and joyful, explosively vast in its scope and yet surprisingly intimate with its characters. Every page of X-Men #3 has at least one image that deserves to be singled out for praise, whether it’s Lorna’s cartoonishly confused reaction to the nihility sphere, or the High Evolutionary’s flaming skull, still laughing after Synch and Sunfire burn his flesh from his bones.
My favorite scene in this issue is a small one: Scott and Jean, sitting together in Marte Gracia’s rainy twilight, play a psychic game of Rock Paper Scissors. The Omega Level Mutant’s casual use of her power is charming in itself, but it’s sweetened by her banter with Scott. (“Are you sure you’re not peeking when we do this?” “What? How dare you even ask.”) It’s been a long time since Scott and Jean felt like true partners – in the practical sense, as co-leaders of the X-Men, as well as the romantic one. Yes, here is where I confess to having a soft, gooey center in my cold critic’s heart, but I love seeing the Krakoa era creators strengthening the bond between the Silver Age sweethearts instead of taking their foundational relationship for granted or dismissing it outright.
This issue is proof that one of Gerry Duggan’s strengths as a writer is that he knows when to get out of his artist’s way. That is not to say that the comic isn’t a collaboration, quite the opposite – Duggan is always present as a writer, but he digs the coolest action figures out of the toy box for Larraz because they’re fun, and playing with them is a creatively energizing experience. (Think of how many comics you’ve read in recent years that devoted several pages to a superhero’s ponderous, generic monologue and gave the artist nothing to work with besides tight close-ups of the same square-jawed face. That is not this book.) Still, there are a few small cracks in the story’s firmament. The friendly locals inviting the X-Men to dinner is a replay of a scene from issue #2, and Sunfire is still the most underserved member of the team, and the first one the High Evolutionary knocks off the board.
X-Men #3 bursts with action and excitement, hitting the reader like an electric jolt from Teslelephant. The creative synergy between Pepe Larraz and Gerry Duggan shows no sign of slowing down and is, at the risk of offending the giant ape holding Cyclops in a headlock, absolutely bananas.