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X-Men has always been Marvel's bread and butter. It has been one of, in not the, most popular Marvel title for decades. For good reason too. Xavier's students were defending a world that hated and feared them. You could mine years of rich stories from that ironic setup alone. However, the genius decision that sent the X-Men titles beyond that, was having them centered around the theme of outcasts struggling to find a place in the world
In the 60s it was taken as a metaphor for the civil rights movement, and today it's widely considered a metaphor for gay rights. I would say that the X-Men were/are a metaphor for both, but more than that, they remain a metaphor for anyone who feels like The Outsider. Discriminated minorities, gay people, nerds, people who feel they're too fat or too skinny, people who just feel different, they all take the X-men mythos to heart. It becomes more than a comic to them, it becomes hopeful depiction of their struggle. Because as outcast and as hated and feared as the X-Men were they still defended the world. They kicked ass and saved lives, but most of all, at the end of the day, they became a family. They found their place in the world amongst themselves.
When it was announced that the Marvel NOOOOOOOW!!! relaunch of X-Men (technically volume 4) would feature a core cast of all female characters, I feared that there would be a loud public outcry against it. Despite there being somewhere in the neighborhood of four million X-Men books, I still wouldn't put it past some comic book fans to decry such a change to a classic title. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find the community more than welcome to the change, even if some people called it nothing more than a cheap gimmick.
So how does it stack up? Does this issue fulfill its legacy or does it wallow in cheap gimmickry?
So last issue, semi-classic X-Men villain John Sublime (the a sentient bacterium, for those unfamiliar, who possesses people) followed Jubilee and her new mystery baby back to the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning where he begged them for help. Billions of years ago, he tells it, he had a sister, Areka. They had whatever the bacteria equivalent of a war is and he banished her to space. But now she's back with the ability to possess technology instead of people, and she's looking to enact some good old fashioned genocide.
This issue: Areka, possessing the body of former Omega-Prime Sentinel Karima Shapandar, throws down with the X-Men in a fight that, once again, destroys most of their school (it must be hell to insure that place).
First off, whoa man. The art here. The art! It's amazing, it's gorgeous, it's some of the best art coming out of Marvel right now. Maybe some of the best art coming out of The Big Two. Oliver Coipel's pencils, the inking, the coloring, it all works together in a way that just pops. It's also the kind of art that can tell a story without the help of dialogue. You'd miss some details, but you would be able tell what is going on if there wasn't a single speech balloon in it.
Also, as quick side note, Oliver does a great job of drawing each of the women X-Men (X-Women?) with different body types and builds. In a book like this, where everyone is looking at how they'll handle their female characters, it's important to not turn this into Supermodel Parade 2013.
X-Men also contains some of the most expressive art in comic books today. The poses are amazing, make no mistake: they feel very natural (also avoiding the ol' trap of butts 'n' boobs in the same shot), but my favorite part are the faces. Take a look at these:
The way Rogue's cheeks puff with effort when lifting up Beast
You get so much in this without a single word!
BAM! You get everyone's feelings, everyone's attitude, from this panel alone.
Story is hard to judge only two issues in, but I have high hopes. Brian Wood makes the correct decision and avoids pointing out that it's female core characters, instead opting to write like any other X-Men story where the X-men just all happen to be women. There were a lot of ways this could have ended up like a pandering, gimmick comic, but Wood expertly walks between those rain drops.
The plot, as mentioned above, is hard to judge based on two issues. It moves right along and doesn't stop to meander even on its most non-punching bits. What's happening here is a laying of the ground work. Things are moving into place. You can tell something's brewing between Rachel Grey and Sublime, but it's hard to tell what. Tensions between Storm and Jubilee are rising, as well as a sub sub subplot centered around What's Eating Bling?
It's only real knock is that it doesn't mix action and exposition. Both are handled well, but you get a lot of exposition and then a lot of action. Exposition starts here and stops there so that we can get on with a chunk of action and then back to exposition.
This is a good book. I think it'll only get better as it goes along, but for right now I'd put it at "good". Not earth shattering or exceptional, but it has the potential.
Is it a recommend? Yes, completely. The art is worth your time and the story is strong enough to keep you more than entertained throughout.