Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s X-Men #1. Written by Brian Wood (Conan The Barbarian, Star Wars) and drawn by Olivier Coipel (Thor, House Of M), it’s the debut issue of the first wave of Marvel Now! titles and another success for the remarkable publishing initiative.
When it comes to female characters, no superhero franchise can touch the X-Men. Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Polaris, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Psylocke, Dazzler, Jubilee, Rachel Summers, Dani Moonstar, Karma, and Magik are just some of the X-heroines created more than 20 years ago that are still regular presences on comic-book stands, and that’s not including any of the villains or more recent additions to the mutant ensemble. There are so many X-titles because that’s the only way to give all the characters ample panel time in 20-page installments, and Marvel is giving the X-women their own place to shine in the re-launched X-Men #1. It’s the latest high-profile launch for Marvel Now! and a fitting end to the first wave of titles from the extremely successful publishing initiative, putting two creators on a title they are perfectly suited for and delivering electric results.
Brian Wood has been writing strong female characters for years now by simply not treating them any differently than male characters. With his creator-owned work, Wood is creating multi-dimensional females from scratch, but he’s shown the same level of care when writing established characters like Bêlit in Conan The Barbarian, Princess Leia in Star Wars, and the X-women in Ultimate Comics X-Men. Their femininity neither defines nor weakens them, and they’re more than capable of standing up to whatever man would question their abilities. It’s notable that this book isn’t titled X-Women, and the script doesn’t try to make any sort of justification for why there would be a team of only female X-Men. Wood isn’t trying to put these women in a corner where they only get to play with each other; they’re all X-Men at all times, and it just so happens that there are a lot of women on the Jean Grey Institute campus.
Wood builds a story that deals with being a mother and a sister, centering on Jubilee, as she becomes an accidental mom to an orphaned baby. That baby is carrying an alien bacteria that is the sister of X-foe Sublime (Grant Morrison came up with some weird shit), and Jubilee’s teammates come to her aid while Sublime tries to warn the Institute of impending doom. X-Men #1 is a great example of how Marvel approaches continuity, tapping into X-history without becoming trapped in the weight of the past. There’s no mention that Jubilee no longer has her mutant powers and is now a vampire, which is valuable information to have for the future but is also one of those WTF X-Men developments that could be confusing to new readers.
What’s important to Wood’s story is that Jubilee was an orphan that found a home and a family with the X-Men. Jubilee is scared and confused, and exploring the emotions felt by a new parent is what gives the script added depth and resonance. On the flight from Bulgaria to New York, Jubilee’s new baby starts to cry, and she tears up herself when the flight attendant speaks to her. Jubilee is still very much a child herself, and she’s going to need the help of her X-sisters if she’s going to be able to raise a baby.
Olivier Coipel is one of the best superhero artists working in comics, with an ability to create sprawling vistas and spectacular action sequences populated by heroes who have real weight and power. His characters designs combine Silver Age bombast with high-fashion glamour, resulting in female heroes that are sexy without being provocative. It helps that the women of the Jean Grey Institute are having a costume renaissance right now, moving away from the standard skimpy superheroine wear toward high-impact looks that cover their entire bodies. (The same can’t be said for Emma Frost and Magik over at Cyclops’ Xavier School, who have both decided that exposed chests and short shorts are the best course of action.)
Coipel’s talent is on full display on the cover, capturing each character’s personality in that single image. Jubilee flashes a peace sign while squatting on top of a Sentinel head; a spritely Kitty Pryde stands triumphantly above her more imposing teammates; Rachel Summers leans back comfortably, content to relax while the other women pose; Rogue puts her hand on her cocked hip and offers a come-hither stare; Psylocke’s unamused bitch-face and the sword between her open legs hint at her aggression. Standing front and center looking like the love child of Iman and Grace Jones, Storm demands attention with her giant white Mohawk and considerable cleavage. She’s back in her rebellious phase after ending her marriage with Black Panther, which means a crazy new hairstyle and letting the girls out to play.
Coipel’s character work is phenomenal, showing an understanding of body language, facial bone structure, and hair styling that captures the mentality of the heroes through their physical appearance. Storm and Psylocke’s pronounced cheekbones and rigid posture give off a much different vibe than the youthful round faces and loose bodies of Jubilee and Kitty. And while Jubilee might be the lead, Rogue is the star of the issue as she stops a speeding train with her foot, her mane of brown and white hair blowing in the wind. Rogue is having the most fun of the group, and it’s nice to see her back to her vibrant old self after being so dour in Uncanny Avengers. Except for Kitty’s overuse of “O.M.G.,” Wood has a great handle on the voices of these women, and the combination of Wood’s dialogue with Coipel’s art makes X-Men #1 the type of debut fitting for the best female ensemble in superhero comics.
Wave One of Marvel Now! began in October of last year with Uncanny Avengers, and seven months later, the titles continue to be going strong. The publishing initiative debuted 28 new ongoing series, and none of those titles have been canceled or received dramatic overhauls. Thunderbolts, Nova, and Savage Wolverine will be receiving new creative teams this summer, but Thunderbolts and Savage Wolverine have been two of the underwhelming Marvel Now! titles, and it’s a good idea to give Nova to another writer before Jeph Loeb’s bad habits return. The publisher has taken its time with releasing new titles but has also put certain books on an accelerated shipping schedule, allowing readers to quickly decide which books they want to keep or cut.
Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers debuted in December and has already had 12 issues, building an epic superhero narrative that touches all corners of the Marvel Universe in the time most books take to finish their first arc. Bendis’ X-Men books have given the mutants a new sense of direction, Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four and FF are exploring the theme of superhuman family in bold new ways, and Young Avengers and Avengers Arena are taking drastically different but equally intriguing looks at young superheroes. Thor: God Of Thunder, Captain America, Iron Man, and Indestructible Hulk are all telling stories that tap into the core ideas of each character but are still accessible to fans of the movies, while lesser-known characters like David Haller and Morbius have been given the opportunity to show their narrative potential in X-Men: Legacy and Morbius: The Living Vampire.
There might actually be too many high-quality books coming out too quickly, as it’s becoming quite expensive to be a diehard Marvel Comics reader right now. That’s a good problem to have, though, and now that most of the books are done with their introductory story lines, the creators are beginning to do more exploration and experimentation within their titles. Wave Two of Marvel Now! titles begins with Avengers A.I. in July, a title dealing directly with the fallout of the Age Of Ultron event, but Marvel has wisely held off on announcing any new titles until they have a better idea of the long-term profitability of Marvel Now! Sales won’t be taking a dip any time soon if Marvel keeps publishing material that is as strong as X-Men #1, so expect a lot of announcements in the next few months.