Scheme Team Review: The Adjectiveless X-Men
Andy: So, let’s get it out of the way: this is Brian Wood’s all female line up of X-Men. That’s how Marvel has been marketing it, it’s what’s generating headlines and even a little controversy. Of course, once you get past the supposed “novelty” of the idea, (which is actually just decades of overt and institutional sexism) it becomes clear that this is pretty natural. The ladies are the heart and soul of the X-Men, and really, if they hadn’t pointed it out, it would not have occurred to me that this story was any thing unusual. All of the main characters are A-listers and fan favorites who have been around for a long time. (In fact all 6 main characters were created by Chris Claremont, showing what a long shadow he casts over this franchise.)
The art is excellent throughout, and I have some specific thoughts on the writing and the story. But first, Eric, since you are not the X-Men fanboy that I am, how familiar were you with the characters and the set up for this story? There was a little hand-holding, but for the most part you need to know who everyone is prior to reading.
Eric: Outside of the movies and a bitchin’ arcade game, I have zero prior experience with the X-folk. However, I didn’t find myself helplessly lost here, since there’s not much that seems to be pulled from the past with the exception of a certain male character, and we’re given a helpful one-line callback to help understand who he is. I have no idea who the ladies are (except for Rogue and one whom I’m assuming is Storm), but this isn’t exactly an issue that calls a lot on their personality traits or capabilities in enough detail to require knowing anything other than “they can do super things.”
And that’s sort of the theme for this issue, which is apparently part of a three-issue story bearing the telling name of “Primer.” It’s scaffolding and setup by the bucketload, and as a result the only characters I walked away understanding in the slightest were Jean and Psylocke, who make a pretty fierce first impression. The characters are definitely here to serve the plot in this issue, which explains why I didn’t find a lot compelling dialogue between them. They’re assisted in their story delivery duty by a good four pages of “story by caption” leading up to the title splash, and I don’t know how much of that information is “new” for this story and how much of it is referencing existing X-Men lore, so maybe you could shed some light on that.
Andy: You definitely touched on some of my concerns with the writing here. The only character with any particular voice is Kitty Pryde, and even that voice is kind of generic millenial txt speech. (She says “OMG!”) The treatment gets way too close to 21st century valley girl, considering that Kitty is the headmistress of the Jean Grey School. (By the way, that’s not good ol’ Jean Grey featured here, its her daughter Rachel, a time traveler from an alternate future. Jean Grey is dead for, like, the 7th time and… well, let’s not go too far down the rabbit hole.) You’re right that Wood leans heavy on action set pieces and skimps on character. I didn’t much care for the early exposition captions, but they disappeared by the second half of the issue, so hopefully that won’t be a problem in the future.
Considering all the hype, as well as Brian Wood’s strong feminist credentials (on titles like Conan, Star Wars, and Mara), I am a little disappointed that they are choosing to make this into a fairly conventional action story. Hopefully, there are plans for something deeper; we have a baby, of course, which will likely be used to examine motherhood (Which is kind of what Brian Azzarello did in WW. (I think everyone in comics is named Brian.)) And they are setting up a sister-brother fight among the villains. I dunno. Did the final reveal hook you in for coming issues?
Eric: I didn’t recognize the person at the end (at least the one we’re looking at), so I didn’t find it especially hooking. I’m not sold on this series yet, but I think it’s worth giving it a probationary second issue to see if it can do something a little more interesting with these characters, though I’d have no qualms putting it down for good if it doesn’t. The worst case scenario is that the writing doesn’t pick up and you’re stuck looking at the absolutely gorgeous artwork on display here. I especially like the work on Kitty and Jubilee, who get some excellent face, hair, and costuming linework.
You mentioned Wonder Woman, and I definitely saw some thematic parallels as well, but I think that Wonder Woman compares favorably in just about every regard. It certainly did a better job of getting some interesting characters into the mix quickly and organically. I also think that Wonder Woman did a much better job of framing its action, as there are a few places in X-Men where the panel flow is a bit ambiguous. I’d probably enjoy X-Men a bit more had I not read Wonder Woman because it makes it very clear where the bar should be for this kind of thing. It would probably also help if I had some sort of vested interest in the X-Men universe, as I’m starting to get the impression that this book is tapping into the existing lore a bit more than I first imagined.
Andy: I think you nailed it. This issue could wind up looking very nice if it kicks off a good run, or it could portent a mediocre product. Wood’s other book right now is Mara, and it’s taken about 3 issues to really click into place. I will keep reading, but I am a sucker for anything with an X on it.
So that you can feel a little more in place come next issue here’s Muffin’s quick guide to the important x-characters:
Kitty Pryde: Bookish and naive, she was the viewpoint character for much of the 80’s. She came of age when Wolverine trained her as a ninja, and she was briefly presumed dead after she phased a giant bullet through the entire Earth.
Jubilee: Also joining as a teen, she was the sassy, streetwise counterpoint to Kitty. She used to shoot fireworks out of her hands, and now she’s a vampire or something. She’s half Chinese/half American, which makes her a personal favorite.
Storm: Former African goddess, she controls weather. She’s back in the mohawk, which was originally a joke. She’s recently divorced from King of Wakanda/superhero Black Panther.
Rogue: Former villain, now long reformed, she absorbs your power by touching you. Recently, she has been able to control those powers at will. Of note: She does not call anyone “Shugah” in this comic.
Psylocke: British telepath who was mind switched with a Japanese ninja. Primarily known for wearing a 1 piece bathing suit to fight in, she has recently obtained full leg and arm coverage.
Rachel Grey: Another telepath, from the future as I mentioned above. She used to be a slave which has the dual effect of causing her great psychological damage and making it difficult to write anything snarky about her.
Sublime: The first villain, he’s a super-powered ancient bacteria. No I am not making that up.
Arkea: The second villain, apparently Sublime’s sister. (I didn’t know bacteria were gendered.) This is her first appearance, so I am as in the dark as you on this one.