Last year, Marvel held the first annual X-Men election and revealed the results as part of the Hellfire Gala event. While Polaris won, nine other characters were left in the dust. This week, however, they get their own time in the spotlight courtesy of Secret X-Men #1. The book is written by Tini Howard with art by Francesco Mobili, coloration by Jesus Aburtov, and lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles. In it Sunspot, Cannonball, Boom-Boom, Marrow, Strong Guy, Armor, Banshee, Tempo, and Forge embark on a covert mission involving Shi’ar politics, plans, and off-the-cuff decisions masquerading as plans. It’s a solid premise, but the question remains: is it good?
Writing-wise, this issue accomplishes something that many one-shots struggle to do: it actually introduces, executes, and concludes a one-off story that’s mostly satisfying within just thirty-some pages. The pacing of the action is effective, the resolution doesn’t feel rushed, and Howard even finds time to add a fun game element to one of the Krakoa era’s obligatory prose pages. Perhaps most impressive of all: a feasible reason is found for why this seemingly random group of characters would not only come together in-universe but also function effectively as an X-Men team. The dialogue is also consistently well-written and a lot of the issue’s quality owes to the characters’ banter in particular.
The main driver of the plot here is Sunspot, followed by Cannonball, and the result is twofold. On one hand it allows for an easy introduction of the conflict and the resources needed needed to resolve it. Roberto and Sam are ex-Avengers with Shi’ar connections, after all.
With that said, centering the story around these two also created the catch-22 of making the book feel like more of the same as what we’ve seen in recent years. Part of what made so many of these characters’ inclusions in the X-Men vote intriguing was that they’ve lacked any spotlight in recent years. Roberto and Sam are the biggest exceptions to this. Not only did they star in Avengers as previously noted, but they’ve already had lead roles in the Krakoa era via Jonathan Hickman and Rod Reis’s New Mutants. Thus, rather than spotlighting the characters most in need of it, this one-shot elevates the cast members many readers will already be most familiar with.
Nonetheless, that point could easily be forgiven if the rest of the cast all got great moments to shine…but they don’t. An attempt is definitely made, but the one-shot format’s difficulties with regards to characterization remain evident. Marrow’s depiction is especially one-note, although she at least gets an interesting moment with regards to the use of her powers. Forge contributes to the plot with his high-tech inventions, but that’s it. Strong Guy and Boom-Boom? Effectively not present. Banshee and Tempo at least fare better than most of their squadmates, while Armor stands out primarily because of Mobili’s rendering of her armored form.
Speaking of the art, it’s one of this issue’s strongest aspects. Mobili’s skill for drawing anatomy is especially notable and appreciated. There’s a solid amount of variety in the page compositions and angles of perspective used throughout to help keep the action flowing smoothly and dynamically. There are also plenty of just-plain-cool action shots when the time comes for battle. With that said, there are also some iffy facial expressions and layout choices here and there that hold the book back from looking quite as polished as it would otherwise.
Overall, Secret X-Men #1 is a solid comic that overcomes some obstacles inherent to the one-shot format while being hindered by others. The pacing and quality of dialogue writing are both good, and the art team’s skill further elevates the action. Taken solely on its own, it’s an enjoyable comic. With that said, there’s a certain sense of missed opportunity when you consider the book’s premise. Simply putting a character on panel doesn’t feel like spotlighting them if their page-time remains one-note, and that’s what happens with a good half the cast here. If you’re down for a one-and-done adventure starring everyone’s favorite mutant best bros, then you’ll likely have a good time. If you go in expecting the less popular characters to actually be highlighted, however, then the experience may disappoint you.
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!