All-New X-Men #1

The most well-read post I ever put on this blog was one that went up Feb. 23, 2012, in which I talked about breaking my 26-year weekly superhero comic-book habit.

More than a year later, I find myself drawn back to superhero comics, though not as much as I have been. I’ll start by saying I’m just not into DC’s The New 52. I’m sure there are some good books in the line, but nothing I’ve seen inspires me to invest the time and money required.

Pretty much the only thing that can get me to plunk down my coins and invest my time are my two favorite Marvel franchises: X-Men and Avengers. For me, X-Men was always the best idea Marvel had. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: X-Men is at heart a science-fiction concept dressed up with superhero conventions. As such, it has a depth to it that straighter takes on the superhero genre generally lack. It certainly has helped it maintain a hold on my imagination and has the ability to suck me back in, repeatedly, throughout my life.

I stopped reading X-Men comics twice before. The first was in 1995, when the Age of Apocalypse came along at a time when my discontent with the X-Men titles in those post-Chris Claremont years was at a high. Like The New 52, it made a great jumping off point. It lasted a little more than a year before I was sucked back in around The Uncanny X-Men #332. And it didn’t last long — I was gone again by the time the Onslaught crossover arrived only a few issues later. This second absence lasted, again, about a year or so before I came back on board. The second return was aided by my move to California in 1996 and the discovery of numerous cheap back-issue sources that made it easy and fun to fill in the gaps in all the various series.

So it was again that, after the horrid event called Schism and the inevitable re-launch of The Uncanny X-Men after 544 issues, that it was again time to say good-bye. And, again, it held for a little more than a year before access to cheap back issues overcame my resistance and pulled me right back in.

The break has, overall, been good for me and I come back to the X-Men family of books with fresh eyes and a new appreciation for how much they’ve managed to improve in my absence. While they are in no way great works of art or classics of the genre or medium, the X-Men books have become a rather enjoyable line of comics. More than at any time in recent memory, the various books have — for the most part — a reason to exist, some kind of point to them, and are nicely executed in both script and, especially, art.

I have to give kudos to Marvel for double shipping series like All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. At first, I thought that would just be too much, but it turns out to make those series even more engaging because there’s a decent new episode coming out pretty much every week. I have heard some store owners complain how difficult it can be for them to handle orders on those titles, but overall they seem to sell well enough that no one’s nose is too far out of place.

Having recently read through pretty much all the Marvel Now! issues of nine different X-Men series, I’ll run though them all very quickly. This will take more than one post and spoiler warnings are in full effect for those who haven’t read these books.

All-New X-Men #11

All-New X-Men is the book I was fearing the most. Why? One word: Bendis. As Marvel’s go-to writer, Brian Michael Bendis has had a pretty amazing run overall at Marvel, though I found his work on the various Avengers titles became too, well, cutesy, for lack of a better word. I’m not a big fan of the kind of rambling, pop-culture filled dialog that Bendis likes to fill entire issues with when he can. I thought that stuff worked great when Bendis did his own comics, like Goldfish, Jinx or Fortune and Glory. But he’s surprised me here with more action-oriented stories and a good focus on character.

The premise of the book is, however, pretty silly. It starts with Beast thinking he’s dying (he really just evolving again) and picking up on something Iceman says about how the young Scott Summers would never become the monster that the current Cyclops is. So he goes back in time and brings the original, teen-age X-Men into the present. What’s amazing is that this is nowhere as bad as it sounds, and is actually pretty good. The jokes about anachronisms are kept to a minimum, and the younger versions all come off as very interesting takes on the characters, especially Jean Grey. That last part is even more astounding given how long it’s been since the ever-morphing Jean has been interesting.

What really helps this book is the art, most of it by Bendis’ former Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator Stuart Immonen with inks from Wade von Grawbadger. The other artist in the rotation, David Marquez, is up to the task of keeping the book moving along at a quick pace and maintaining the slick look Immonen and von Grawbadger have established.

So far, the original team has met its older versions (the ones that are still alive — sorry, Jean!), the Avengers, as well as enemies like Mystique, who don’t always appear as bad at first to the young, time-displaced mutants. After 11 issues, I’m not sure exactly where this title is going or what its long-term prospects are because it seems clear the teenage X-Men have to return to the past at some point or else completely change the timeline and invalidate years of X-Men stories (not a good idea; see the Spider-Clone saga for reference).

Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 3) #1

The flip side comes in the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, known as Vol. 3. This book follows Cyclops’ team and features some interesting character dynamics, especially with Magneto. The art by Chris Bachalo, with help from Frazier Irving, is worth the price of admission all by itself. The stories are moving along slowly, but there is a nice counter point to this comic — it complements All-New X-Men without making either series redundant.

X-Men: Legacy (Vol. 2) #1

X-Men: Legacy is the one book I decidedly did not like after reading the first four issues. This series is about David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, the son of Charles Xavier whose mind is full of split personalities, each with its own power. While I like the craziness the cover designs promise, this is just not a character I’ve ever found interesting and an entire series about him battling with his inner demons — and is largely disconnected from other X-Men series — just doesn’t cut it for me.

X-Men (Vol. 4) #1

The simply titled X-Men (is this Vol. 3 or Vol. 4? I can’t remember!) from writer Brian Wood and artists Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales got a solid launch from the apparent novelty of it being a team of all-female mutants. Of course, Wood has his own fans and they bring some high expectations to this title, most of which he easily meets. The debut issue focuses on Jubilee, apparently no longer a vampire. She’s on the run with a little baby and turns to the X-Men for help. She gets it from Storm, Kitty, Psylocke, Rogue and Rachel Grey. That’s a good lineup for an X-Men book, no matter the gender politics, but that’s been the focus of a lot of the publicity surrounding this book’s launch. I happen to like all those characters (Jubilee can be a bit annoying, but she’s better by far than, say, Marrow), and it’s a solid book. I think Storm benefits the most from this title, being a character who really dominated the series back in Claremont’s days and has since struggled to maintain her popularity. I love the return to the old 1980s mohawk look, and the overall take on her is quite promising. Rogue, Kitty and Psylocke all have received plenty of attention in recent years, but I have to say I do like the new costume for Psylocke. Rachel has been a confusing character almost from the start, but I’d like to see what Wood can do with her.

Next: We’ll get into the X-Force and Wolverine titles.