The first arc of Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz’s X-Men has unfolded like an arcade game. Defeat one big bad and an even gnarlier, more devious villain steps up to take his place. Rinse and repeat.
That might not be the most satisfying template for an X-book, a line that draws its strength more from character work and allegory than video game-style violence, but Duggan’s approach serves a more useful, temporal goal: clearing the way for Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia to rock out.
Some, slight SPOILERS AHEAD for X-Men #3!
Even after a rollicking first two issues, Larraz and Gracia manage to outdo themselves here with a series of fresh character designs that rival the high fantasy feel of X of Swords. Perhaps the best full-page sequence features, of all things, an elephant — leading to the issue’s best line: “The X-Men love elephants!”
Action scenes in mainstream superhero comics can feel visually redundant after a while, but Larraz’s monsters and aliens always keep the eye engaged across the page. His treatment of the High Evolutionary and his “daughter” Luminous are two especially ingenious designs that merge technical mastery and alien sorcery in a way only Larraz can.
Duggan’s storytelling choices serve to enhance the visual buffet. He saves two crucial plot developments for after the central fight’s conclusion, which preserves its momentum and keeps the reader’s focus in one place. He also amps up the humor. More than anyone not named Zeb Wells, Duggan has known when to lean into the natural humor of these characters. As he did in Cable, Duggan thankfully revives Cyclops’ role as Marvel’s premier Dad Joke teller.
Rogue, who crossed paths with the High Evolutionary in Uncanny Avengers, receives the lion’s share of the spotlight here, but Duggan reserves a special moment for Synch that artfully nods to his recent history with Laura Kinney. For a book rarely lacking in dialogue or sound effects, that sequence is conveyed as entirely silent, only enhancing its underlying emotion.
Three issues in, Duggan has successfully featured every team member with some degree of extended spotlight, though I still think Sunfire’s portrayal leaves something to be desired. I don’t think it’s worth reaching grand conclusions about a writer’s plan three issues into an ongoing comic — that’s for the fine folks at AIPT who review trade collections — but Shiro’s role thus far is a bit underwhelming.
More promising is Duggar’s fondness for weird space stuff. Who would have thought Cordyceps Jones, a minor one-off villain from Al Ewing and Adam Gorham’s Rocket Raccoon comic, would be a villain in the first arc of X-Men?
It’s an inspired casting choice, but also relevant to the general interests of the X-books in the Krakoa era. Jones is a sentient, predatory fungi, a perversion of the plants and greenery that provide sanctuary for mutants. (I imagine it’s no coincidence that similarly hostile fungi have played a crucial role in X-Force.) Then there’s Gameworld, the casino planet overseen by Jones that functions like a different spin on Mojoworld. (The High Evolutionary even calls Gameworld a “natural progression” of Mojoworld in a conversation with Jean.)
These characters are aggressively cartoonish in appearance, but also useful reminders about adaptation being a two-way street. As the mutants change and perfect themselves, so do their villains. The High Evolutionary may be a knockoff Mister Sinister, but he has a sample of Synch’s blood and a means to challenge the X-Men. And on Earth, Orchis has made a useful ally and put in motion a plan to reveal mutantkind’s most closely-held secret. Uh oh.
Some other, scattered thoughts on X-Men #3:
- Even as X-Men carries on, several other X-books are due to end in December. Marvel has already announced that the delightful Hellions will end with issue #18 and, based on the December solicitations, it seems that Excalibur, Marauders, and S.W.O.R.D. might be headed toward an ending too. With the line headed toward a reboot next year, spearheaded by Benjamin Percy’s weekly Wolverine series, I’m especially curious what role the X-Men flagship book plays in all of this and whether the last pages of this issue will play any role in setting up this next age of Krakoa.
- The High Evolutionary was, of course, crucial to the retconned origin of Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, who Marvel belatedly determined were not actually mutants. Could his presence in the story — and Duggan’s ample references to Uncanny Avengers, where Wanda played a key role — be a sign that they could be re-designated as mutants sometime soon? Given what’s been happening in X-Men: The Trial of Magneto, it certainly seems like we’re building toward an important Wanda and Pietro story of some kind.
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