Saturday, 17 March 2012

X-Men: Season One review

X-Men: Season One is the second of Marvel's first batch of "Season One" Original Graphic Novels, designed to re-tell classic characters' origin stories in an accessible and modernised way. This one is written by Dennis Hopeless, who is a newcomer to the X-Men; with pencils by Jamie McKelvie, who has previously drawn part of X-Men: Divided We Stand and a couple of issues of Generation Hope.

The book distils many of the high points of the early part of the run, and deftly weaves them together to form a larger whole. Given the mandate of writing an in-continuity update of X-Men #1-#20 or so, there's not much that can be done about the early X-Men's lack of diversity (which stands starkly in contrast to the current line-ups), but Season One picks up the device of the new girl arriving (used briefly in issue #1 and then abandoned) and runs with it, making Jean - who remained a cipher in the original comics even as the others obtained their distinct personalities - the narrator.

There are some superheroics in here, almost as a background thing at times, but this is really about the relationships. We meet everyone through Jean's eyes and the Jean/Scott/Warren triangle is explored from her point of view, something sadly neglected in the source material. We see an emotional depth to the Bobby and Hank friendship that is consistent with my growing feeling that there's something going on there (of which more on Tuesday). And Charles and Erik. Oh, poor Charles and Erik.

Jean comes to buy in to the idea of the X-Men, even as the subtext undermines the idealism a little. Part of this is Magneto and what he says - he's not quite Morrison's "mad old terrorist" here, but then there's also the brief mention of carnival mutants, which turns out to be a living, at least. The X-Men mostly have "passing privilege", so can't quite understand how disruptive they could be to these people's lives. Warren could perhaps get it best, but he's privileged in other ways. See Vaughn's X-Men: First Class where the only people naïve enough to side with Xavier are the white guys, without personal experience of how systemic oppression works.

I think this should be accessible enough to newcomers. It flits between issues and incorporates moments from them as a kind of skeleton to hang the real meat of the story off. Tonally it is a decent match for both what is going on with the characters in this part of the original run, and the shorter-arc format that's being used on the main X-books at the moment. And unlike Parker's X-Men: First Class (which I will post about here at some point), it somehow avoids invoking a sense of false nostalgia. As a project on its own then, I dub this a success.

But is that all they are after? After the final page of the story comes Gillen's Uncanny X-Men #1. This is going to be a very hard sell - with the other Season One OGN's, the status quo set up at the end of them bears some relation to a recent status quo. Fantastic Four presumably ends with those same four characters living in the Baxter Building routinely saving the world; Spider-Man is still slinging webs around NYC. But the X-Men? Only two of the characters from this are even in Uncanny, and one of them was the villain, and for unexplained reasons they are suddenly in San Francisco. So, it'll be a big jump. But one worth making.

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