It’s often been a complaint of the X-Men family of books that when times are good (as they have been since Jonathan Hickman introduced the Krakoan era) it is hard to keep up with all the various stories happening concurrently. At the moment, there are eight separate titles to keep track of in the X-universe, and that’s without taking into account all of the one-shots and tie-ins to the enormous company-wide crossover currently running. Through this lens, a trade paperback that collects a number of issues of separate titles that fall into a similar time frame makes some sense. If your goal is to keep up with the whole line, but you would rather shell out for one trade instead of eight separate books, then more power to you. The issue that is all too clear upon completing Trials of X Vol. 1, however, is that collecting books based on time rather than theme or storyline robs readers of context.
Trials of X Vol. 1collects six issues from four books, each taking place shortly after the Hellfire Gala but being otherwise almost entirely distinct from one another. It must be said that, on their own, each of these books succeeds and can be celebrated – The Trial of Magneto has excellent artwork and provides the brilliant Leah Williams’ X-Factor lineup with a bit of a swansong, S.W.O.R.D. has maybe my favorite Storm scene ever, New Mutants gives some good shine to James Proudstar and Magik’s special class of youngsters, and Marauders offers a fun Banshee story. I might have issues with each section, but I feel like a lot of those problems stem from only seeing a portion of the story.
Divorced from context, for example, the characterization of Magneto in Trials of Magneto makes little sense. In the remainder of the X-books, Magneto is an incredibly composed individual, dressing in his benevolent white costume, and imparting wisdom as the elder statesman of mutantkind, so seeing him slide back into his Nazi hunting (yet still fascist leaning) black uniform, attacking his fellow mutants at the slightest provocation, and refusing to simply explain the process he’s going through to any of his admirers or followers just feels very sudden if you’ve been following along – which by its very nature, this book assumes you have been.
Now, I don’t want to imply the two issues we get from that limited series are not entertaining. The art from Lucas Werneck is great, and Leah Williams gets to write some of her favorite mutants which is always a delight. It’s just that the sudden change in characterization of its central character (and actually, the often faded color schemes) prevents this book from being something that sticks with you long after you finish reading. The Wanda sequences are exceptional, though.
The issue of S.W.O.R.D. in here is bit more successful, as both the A story and B stories are pretty strong. Yet while the A story following emperor Hulkling trapped in endless battle with the mindless ones looking for help from the S.W.O.R.D. team is cool, and adds more intrigue to the ongoing story with Abigail Brand, it pales in comparison to the B story following Storm as she dines with Dr. Doom. That’s not a knock on the A story either, it’s just that the scene between Ororo and Doom is a superlative example of writing a regal character like Storm at the top of her game. She’s elegant and courteous but takes absolutely no sh*t from Victor, and it is glorious. Honestly, if anyone wants to better understand the character or doesn’t believe that she has a place in modern continuity, this sequence shows how a goddess deals with discourtesy.
It’s also a great representation of Doom, as he is arrogant but affable. He demures only the slightest bit, but you know that one day he will repay Storm in kind. It’s just an all around excellent sequence from Al Ewing and Stefano Caselli, and may be reason enough to own this whole trade.
We also get two issues of Edgar Delgado’s New Mutants, and though I do enjoy the artwork of Fer-Sifuentes-Sujo for all of its painterly, almost Sienkiewicz-esque sensibilities, these issues also suffer from some missed character beats. In context, we know what happened to Scout that make her friends so protective and upset about her death, but without it? No-Girl’s hijacking of Gabbie’s corpse to tell off Akihiro’s attempt feels…I dunno, wrong? Even having read the issues that lead up to it, it doesn’t feel like how Scout would respond with the same verve and venom – particularly in the context of her (at the time) evolving family unit with Daken, Laura, and Logan.
Then there’s the treatment of Anole, which has been super inconsistent over the years, but at this point in his publication history he really should be old enough to know better than to go along with these kids. Ditto Rahne. Honestly, these issues are most fun in their respective B stories following James Proudstar’s adventures in babysitting.
The issue of Marauders that closes out this trade is a bit lighter than its counterparts in the rest of the trade, as it’s mostly a self-contained story about Banshee fighting bad guys. It’s intercut with a more interesting B-story (another that you would have to be following the books to understand) surrounding the dissolution of Homines Verendi, but the book itself is quite breezy and resolves itself quick enough to be fairly forgettable. Rain Beredo’s art is good, providing a fun callback to more cartoony X-Men pencilers like Joe Madureira and Roger Cruz. Matt Mills’ dialogue is fun, and the pacing of the issue is brisk, but once again, it’s just not a story that can stand on its own. It, like most of the things in this book, suffers from a lack of context that could make readers care about what’s happening in front of them.
That’s the story of this book in a nutshell. There’s nothing bad here, and even a few moments of abject brilliance. It’s just that these kinds of trades – ones defined by time period rather than theme or story arc – leave less diligent readers with more questions than answers. It’s through no fault of any of the creative teams, as within the stories being told, these are all good to great starts or middle chapters. Speaking purely from a reader’s point of view, this would be a disappointing book to pick up because it leaves you wanting more through omission, rather than creative storytelling. It’s like getting a pack of disparate free samples from the food court at a mall. Will it fill you up? Sure, but it’s not a satisfying meal.
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