When Brian Wood returned once more to the X-Men fold, it didn’t take much to get me hooked. Now, three issues in, the first arc is over. Is it worth the hype?
See below the break for the run down.
First, the team. Having an all-female team felt like it could be a gimmick, but Wood handles this very effectively; it’s actually just that circumstances conspire to draw this merry band of mutants together, and there’s a strong supporting cast (including males) to prevent it getting old fast. It helps that we’re past the age of sexed-up female heroes, and we’re into a period where Marvel are thinking carefully about treating their female costume designs as character-specific.
Each of the characters brings something to the story, and has a definite purpose for being there. Jubilee is the catalyst, developed as a very human character (and Wood quietly ignores the vampirism, although he clearly hasn’t forgotten it; he’s just more interested in establishing Jubilee as a three-dimensional character than just as your staple ‘vampire’). Her interactions with the baby Shogo are absolutely beautiful, and so absolutely believable.
To say that Wood has a firm grasp of the character is an understatement; outside of Marjorie Liu, his Jubilee is the first one in about a decade who’s felt reminiscent of the spunky teenager who stumbled across the X-Men in the Australian outback.
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The rest of the team are reactive rather than proactive, and so in my view are developed less substantially as characters in this arc. Storm is clearly the de facto leader, and it’s interesting seeing her interact with a team in her current design. Grieving the loss of both marriage and queenhood, Storm has adopted a look that harks back to the classic Mohawk design. There’s something about Storm’s role in the denouement, which I won’t spoil, that just chilled me to the core.
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Rogue is stronger here than in any book since Carey wrote her in his X-Men: Legacy run. Her redesign as part of Marvel NOW was intended to show a sort of character regression, hinting at her old Brotherhood look and with a much more closed-off feel. In Uncanny Avengers, that’s highlighted by her having her hood up all the time. In X-Men, it’s down, and Rogue feels like the bruiser she used to be. Among old friends, she’s much more relaxed. This is the first time I’ve actually felt like I was reading Rogue since AvX.
She’s absorbed Northstar’s powers, and so packs a punch for this arc (although frankly I don’t remember Northstar’s powers ever matching these comics; it’s more of a basic plot mechanic to make Rogue reminiscent of the classic ‘90s iteration). There are some tremendously fun moments, such as in #3:
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Rachel and Kitty are both bound to the school rather than to the adventure, and you really get the authoritative vibe.
Kitty’s moment to shine is really in #2, when she alone can threaten Arkea – and does so with style and finesse.
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And then we have Betsy. There are really two moments that stand out for Betsy; first of all, her psychic arsenal is expanding, true to her now having Omega potential.
And second, in the climax, she contemplates potentially killing a friend – and hesitates. This is a beautiful moment, a single second that shows Betsy move beyond everything she’s seen and done as part of Uncanny X-Force. Wonderfully written.
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In terms of the plot, Wood takes a risk by bringing the insanely complicated Sublime to the forefront; but he spins this complexity aside with ease, and the first issue is a masterpiece. By the third issue, the story has slowed down a little, but it still has a strong ending. You’re left convinced that there are many threads left untied, that the villain Arkea is not dead and gone after all, and that things are going to get very, very interesting.
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So, that brings me to the end of my quick review! How would you rate this first arc?