A monster is loose in New York City and the heroes of the Marvel Universe are just a few minutes too late. “This is Captain America,” a voice crackles over the radio. “The Avengers are 30 seconds out from lower Manhattan.”
There is no need. With familiar verve and relative efficiency, the X-Men are on the scene—and somewhat surprisingly, their effort is appreciated. “Being cheered is gonna take some getting used to,” new member Synch says.
This is certainly a new era. The X-Men have been around since the 1960s, but have only rarely operated with the unbounded enthusiasm of someone like Captain America or Spider-Man. Unlike other heroes, the X-Men feel the weight of their mutant identity — and in a more meta sense, their stories exist in the shadow of the fabled, imperfect Mutant Metaphor.
With this #1 issue, writer Gerry Duggan, a veteran of series like Uncanny Avengers, Deadpool, and Marauders, and superstar artist Pepe Larraz inaugurate a new team and status quo.
The issue is certainly meant as a launching-on point, a reminder that the X-Men of your childhood are here, that they never left. But its importance resonates beyond the familiar rhythms of a New York fight scene because, as ongoing readers know, the X-Men as an actual team have not existed in Marvel Comics for the past two years.
When Jonathan Hickman relaunched the X-line in 2019, he was telling a story “about mutants” and “what their place is in the world.” As he told AIPT’s Chris Hassan that year, “I intentionally didn’t start this as an X-Men story. It’s broader than that.”
The mutants of the Marvel Universe are still heroes, but their purpose is not to be Charles Xavier’s figureheads or agents of assimilation.
For the first era of Hickman’s relaunch, known as Dawn of X, the X-Men series was not actually about the X-Men, a fact Hickman seemed to relish when reflecting on the state of the X-books late last year. “Hands down, my favorite shenanigans from House of X and Powers of X until now is that for over 100 issues of X-Men comics, I got away with there not being an actual superhero team called the X-Men,” he told Hassan.
Then the crossover X of Swords revived the idea of an X-Men team as not just Krakoa’s defenders, but superheroes who serve no ideology. “We will save those who need saving. Whatever the cost,” Cyclops says in X-Men #15, giving the team its mission statement. Then came an election to pick the team, which Marvel used as an opportunity to let fans vote online for the “final” member. Polaris, the daughter of Magneto and star of X-Factor, won and the new X-Men were set.
Duggan wastes no time showing the team in action together. With Synch as the glue guy and Cyclops and Jean Grey leading, the team quickly set up shop in Central Park and combine their powers to fight some monstrous alien. The sequence takes up a bit too much page time — which, if anything, is an excuse to watch Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia steal the show — but thankfully concludes with a power-up straight out of Power Rangers.
That sequence would be the artistic highlight of the issue, if not for a beautiful double-page spread of the X-Men’s treehouse headquarters in Central Park. For such a familiar-looking team of X-Men, Larraz and Gracia never forget to moor them in the particular aesthetic of the Krakoa era. Plants and other greenery bound as Cyclops and Polaris navigate the new space, which the team has christened Seneca Gardens.
The space doubles as a tribute to fallen mutants and a nod to Seneca Village, the real-world neighborhood of mostly Black New Yorkers who were displaced to build Central Park. I have always found the Mutant Metaphor most troublesome when applied to anti-Black racism in the United States, a problem exacerbated by the fact that most X-Men are white.
Even this new team consists of just one Black person (Synch) and an additional person of color (Sunfire, who is Japanese). Does it make sense for mutants to appropriate a site relevant to Black American history and use it for their own purposes? I’m not so sure, though based on how much space Duggan gives to data pages exploring the origin of the headquarters, he seems interested in exploring it in further issues.
More successful is the way Duggan expands the scope of the story while weaving in threads from earlier in the Krakoa era. A new, possible adversary is especially fixated on the consequences of Planet-Sized X-Men and different characters seem close to figuring out one of mutantkind’s closely-guarded secrets.
At one point, Duggan — formerly the writer of Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova — jaunts off to space for a wild scene with a mysterious set of aliens. This issue is set in a brand new era but has the classic feel of Chris Claremont’s X-Men, where the story can move from New York to space and anywhere in between.
Like those stories, this comic is not trailed by misery or the extinction-era anxiety of mid-aughts X-Men. Mutants do not lack for enemies, but they are thriving right now. Even short-tempered Sunfire is along for the ride — and somehow he hasn’t quit yet! I only wish we could have seen more of the characters’ personalities in this first issue, which is heavy on Cyclops and Jean.
Larraz, whose delight in drawing weird creatures is exceeded only by my delight in viewing them, elevates the whole package. His career-defining work on House of X made him the signature artist for Hickman’s X-Men and there are moments in this issue where I can almost see Duggan turning over the keys to the car and letting Larraz floor it.
Comics critics, myself included, have a habit of focusing too much on the script in our reviews, but the thrill of this issue comes through in the vibrance of the art. The X-Men are back. (“Hated & feared no more,” as Duggan tweeted recently.) It’s a good time to be a fan.
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