Comic Picks By The Glick

X-Men by Brian Wood vol. 1: Primer

December 25, 2013

While I like the idea of an X-Men team made up of the most prominent members of their female cast, and written by Wood as well, there’s still the matter of what distinguishes it from the other titles.  “Uncanny” is about Cyclops’ rogue team, “Wolverine and the” focuses on the school, and “All New” is the story of the time-displaced team.  Not having any team members with a Y-chromosome doesn’t do a whole lot to suggest potential stories, but it is at least more distinctive than “Uncanny X-Force” which appears to be made up of characters that Sam Humphries felt like writing.  As for whether or not Wood tells a compelling story with these characters; well, it’s not quite there yet.

John Sublime was a creation of Grant Morrison and had the unique hook of being the leader of the U-Men -- humans who wanted to become mutants.  He was later revealed to be a sentient bacteria, propagating in a drug during the writer’s run and featuring quite prominently in his final storyline.  Though the U-Men popped up a couple times during Matt Fraction’s run, Sublime himself has been missing in action until now.  As a sentient bacteria, he’s been on Earth for over a billion years with one of his first sentient acts being a fight for dominance with his “sister” Arkea.  Sublime managed to force her off of the planet in its “primordial soup” phase, but now she’s back and looking to settle a score.

Enter Jubilee.  Headed back to the Jean Grey school after some time abroad, she’s now an adoptive mother to a baby boy she encountered in Budapest after a meteor strike.  What she doesn’t know is that Arkea hitched a ride to Earth on that meteor and is now inside the baby.  How much of a threat is she?  Enough that Sublime shows up in total surrender to ask for the X-Men’s help in fighting her off.  Though they have the combined might of Storm, Rachel Summers, Rogue, Psylocke and Kitty Pryde on their hands, they’re up against a foe who can possess any kind of technology, including their former comrade Karima Sharpandar -- the Omega Sentinel.

Trappings aside, this story is basically a riff on the “heroes team up with their enemy in order to take on a bigger threat” trope.  Working with this as a template it becomes a question of how well Wood can dress things up to make it interesting.  The writer showed in his previous “X-Men” stories that he’s more interested, and quite frankly better, at managing the inter-team interactions than plotting and that trend continues here.  Arkea is a pretty one-dimensional villain as she’s presented right now and the conflict between her and the X-Men doesn’t amount to much here.  She may yet develop into a compelling antagonist given time, but the fact remains that the single-issue plane rescue story that follows this does generate more tension than the main story.  

At least we’ve got a cast who is presented as one big extended family who squabble and bicker as only families can, but ultimately come together in the end.  That’s really seen in the latter half of the issues collected here as Storm and Rachel figuratively butt heads over the former’s presumed leadership and actions in the field.  Wood’s also good at managing his cast so that everyone plays a significant part in the story and things feel like a real team book.  Another plus is that he gets most of their personalities right, though reading Kitty use internet slang like “OMG” is annoying and you’ll have to imagine Rogue’s distinctive accent as he doesn’t write it into her dialogue.  Though, I can understand how some might find that appealing.

I do know at least one person who has written off this book because Wood uses Jubilee prominently in this story.  He’s never liked the former mallrat, but she gets to show some maturity as a character as a result of her new role as a parent.  It’s clear that she cares for little Shogo and the next phase in her life is going to revolve around making sure that things turn out all right for him.  Getting in the way of fully appreciating this are the nebulous circumstances in which she acquired him as the writer was clearly more interested in putting Jubilee in the role of mother than explaining how she was able to get a kid out of Budapest in the wake of a metor strike.  Also, in case you didn’t know, Jubilee is a vampire now.  This is a result of the “X-Men vs. Vampires” storyline from a few years back.   You can tell that Wood has no interest in writing about this aspect of the character as the side effects of her condition are handwaved away with a mention of her “lightbenders” in passing.  One hopes that he’ll either get around to addressing this or find a way to restore the character to her “classic” state since Jubilee comes off as a regular “human” as she’s being written right now.

Art on the main story is provided by Oliver Coipel, and it’s a little rough in the opening issue.  Given that the title’s debut was pushed back a couple months, you have to wonder what the reason for this is.  He does get better as things go on, and he’s really good with the characters and their emoting.  Better is David Lopez, who may not be as flashy but is more consistent and a cleaner storyteller as well.

Rounding out the volume, because Marvel isn’t about to charge $18 for a four-issue paperback, is a reprint of “Uncanny X-Men #244” by Chris Claremont with art by Marc Silvestri from way back in 1989.  Why is this being reprinted here?  That’s because it’s Jubliee’s first appearance with her mallrat roots on full display here.  Though the story itself focuses on some of the X-Women’s efforts to relax at the mall where Jubilee is being chased by security, it takes a turn for the goofy when the M-Squad shows up.  Imagine the mutant equivalent of the Ghostbusters, only with a large helping of incompetence mixed in, and you have the villains of the month.  It’s not one of Claremont’s better efforts, though Silvestri’s art is nice and marveling at how badly 80’s fashion (as portrayed in comics at least) has aged is always a source of amusement.

To be frank, if you’re not a dedicated fan of “X-Men” or Wood like I am then this volume is skippable.  It has its moments, but they can’t overcome the sense of “been there, done that” which pervades the story here.  One would hope that things will pick up now that the introductory arc is over with.  All I can say is that I’m not so put out by what I read here that I’m against seeing what the next volume has to offer.  Not that I’m above damning this one with faint praise either.

Jason Glick

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