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Apr 3

X-Men Prime

Posted on Monday, April 3, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

It’s the dawn of a new era again! No, not the last new era.  The next new era.  The colour coded one.  You know, like in 1991.

Not that a relaunch is a bad idea.  The last couple of years have once again sent us down the rabbit hole of mutants facing the threat of extinction, which has been done to death.  Whether you look at it commercially or creatively, that direction was well worth abandoning.  X-Men Prime is essentially a lead-in issue for the relaunch titles X-Men Gold, X-Men Blue and Weapon X.  But first and foremost, it exists to send a clear message that this is going to be a back-to-basics affair.  For readers exasperated by weird and unpromising deviations like relocating the school to Limbo, this issue aims to reassure with a selection of familiar tropes.

Though it’s credited to Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak and Cullen Bunn – the writers of GoldBlue and Weapon X respectively – this seems to be mainly an issue #0 of Gold, with set-up material for Blue and Weapon X inserted as subplots.  The main story and framing sequence, presumably written mainly by Guggenheim, and drawn by Ken Lashley, picks up with Kitty Pryde back living in Chicago and taking up dancing again, partly so that the book can kick off with something appropriately familiar, but also because Kitty is a character usefully untouched by the recent direction.  True, that’s because she was packed off into space for an equally unlikely run in the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy, but for the purposes of this story it lets her serve as the spirit of a bygone era that the X-Men would like to recapture.

Storm shows up to say that she’s quitting as leader after leading the X-Men into a pointless crossover, and she wants Kitty to come back and take up the reins…

…at which point we cut the Weapon X bit, which has nothing much to do with the rest of the issue.  It’s just a freestanding scene that’s been shoved into the book on the basis that if you cut to it boldly enough, it’ll look like a subplot.  And on a first reading, that’s precisely how it reads, so fair enough, I guess.  This bit is (presumably) by Greg Pak and Ibraim Roberson, and it’s a sequence in which the new Weapon X spokesman, Carla, recruits Lady Deathstrike very much against her will.  Carla is nicely done, as a vaguely creepy, condescending manager type in weirdly formal clothes; in plot terms she’s a stock one-step-ahead villain, so credit to Roberson for giving her an edge beyond that.

As a writer, Pak has earned the benefit of the doubt, but this isn’t immediately compelling.  We seem to be back to characters kidnapped and pressed into service of evil government types, which I’ve never found especially interesting in the past.  Lady Deathstrike is treated as a character who might be motivated by just getting the chance to kill mutants, but is that really her deal?  And the idea that “no one will miss” a group of targets that includes Logan… well, I don’t get it.  Pak deserves the chance to make it work over the length of an issue rather than a cut scene, but I’m not sold yet.

So much for that.  What follows is Kitty wandering around the Mansion – which is still in Limbo – to check in on the X-Men and students who are still living here.  In terms of the timeline, this doesn’t fit very neatly with the final issue of Extraordinary X-Men, where the X-Men seemed to have already taken a clear decision to pack up and go home.  That’s a little bit aggravating.  But other than having her swing by the time travelling X-Men, which is necessary to set up X-Men Blue, this is mainly a chance for Kitty to renew her neglected relationships with Colossus and Magik and reflect on how the X-Men may have become a bit directionless but they still feel like home.  (Describing the inherited status quo as “unsettled” and “rudderless”, even in the specific context of the X-Men wondering what to do with themselves now that the Terrigen problem is over, feels like another tacit acknowledgement that the previous direction didn’t work.)

Oh yes, X-Men Blue.  The junior team’s scene is somewhat shoehorned in – Kitty does have a previous connection with the group from Brian Bendis’s run on All-New X-Men, but it’s pretty clear that left to his own devices Cullen Bunn would prefer not to be doing this scene, because he has a big reveal that he wants to save for issue #1.  So what we get is a sequence which establishes that Jean is back with the team, that she is now the leader, and that they’re leading the X-Men for some vague and unspecified purpose which Jean is championing and everyone else is sceptically playing along with.  Beyond that, everyone has to talk around the plot, and there’s some stuff trying to re-establish a romantic triangle with Scott and Warren, which is old territory.

It’s an extended teaser and there’s not much point trying to read too much into it.  The scene is awkwardly integrated into the main story, because the idea is that the younger X-Men have actually left and what seems to be them doing a Danger Room exercise – and come to think of it, when did we last do a scene with the Danger Room? – is actually a message on loop.  Except that a few pages earlier there were thought balloons.  You can rationalise this as an unsignalled flashback which is then integrated into the main timeframe but it reads a bit strangely.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that Kitty accepts the offer to lead the X-Men, persuades Storm to stick around, and relocates the mansion from Limbo to… Central Park?

Lashley’s Kitty is rather severe, but the idea of putting her in charge is potentially quite a smart move.  Guggenheim is trying to send the signal here that this is going to be a back to basics X-Men title, but without being a slavish retread of what went before.  Kitty hasn’t been in this role before, and showing her as the student who graduated to leader allows the story to present itself as more of a faithful progression of the traditional X-Men era.  As for moving the school to the middle of New York, well, that’s new – and probably to be welcomed if it gives the team more of a chance to interact with the real world.

There are a range of reasons for Marvel to be pursuing this direction.  They’re coming off a hugely misconceived storyline that gives rise to a need to reassure the audience; they’ve also seen a similar approach doing well for DC.  And frankly, after years of misery, we could use a more optimistic take on the X-Men that lays off the extinction and gloom, and plays up the idea that the mutants could also be the future – a side of the concept that’s lain dormant pretty much since Grant Morrison left.

A straightforward retread of the classic X-Men set-up wouldn’t work, and not just because it would be repetition or pale imitation.  The Claremont era largely saw the X-Men hiding out in their mansion, with a cast the size of an extended family.  They had a dream of a world where mutants and humans lived together but no real positive plan of action to bring it about.  They tried to improve the public profile of mutants by doing some good deeds and dealing with mutant terrorists, but for the most part, the X-Men’s plan to deliver Xavier’s dream in the 70s and 80s was to carve out a safe haven and wait for better days to come.

But that’s not how people do it in 2017.  In the modern age, the mutants should be demanding the right to take their place in the world, not hiding away from it.  This is simply a matter of keeping the metaphor up to date and fit for purpose.  There are decent stories to be done with that approach, and they’re better done by placing the X-Men and their school more firmly in the real world.  Whether any of the upcoming stories are actually going in that direction, or whether the X-Men are simply going to be plugged into the Avengers’ role of being superheroes with a nice house in Manhattan, is another question.   Plonking a bloody great mansion in the middle of Central Park does seem pretty confrontational, though.  Time will tell whether we’re going to run with that or just pretend it isn’t a problem.

On its own terms this is an okay story, but then it’s got to integrate two largely unrelated set-ups for other books, one of which seems like it doesn’t want to be there either.  In terms of what it signals for a direction of the books… well, even if it’s just trad X-Men, that’s still got to be a step in the right direction compared with the Terrigen fiasco, hasn’t it?

Bring on the comments

  1. wwk5d says:

    “It’s the dawn of a new era again! No, not the last new era. The next new era. The colour coded one. You know, like in 1991.”

    Any bets on how long this era will last?

  2. Jefferson Eng says:

    “Any bets on how long this era will last?”

    Probably until the next line-wide crossover which is most likely three months away.

  3. Jer says:

    “Any bets on how long this era will last?”

    Until the sales figures indicate that they need a change of direction.

    I’m curious to see how it goes. The marketing of Blue/Gold X-men teams is a 90s nostalgia marketing move, but the actual content doesn’t seem to be 90s nostalgia. So will it work, or will it be perceived as bait-and-switch for folks who really just want the X-men from their personal Golden Age of 1992? This is one of those relaunches where “will it work” really is up in the air – they aren’t hobbled with a stupid premise and the creative teams have a track record, so it could work.

  4. jpw says:

    We’ll have a new relaunch no later than this time next year.

    So is this sold as X-Men: Prime #2, then? X-Men: Prime was the return to 616 after AOA. X-Men: Prime vol. 2, #1? X-Men Prime (without the “:”)?

    Argh! I hate the completely arbitrary numbering system.

  5. Keith from NH says:

    The color coding harkens back to another time, sure.
    At the same time, this is the first time I’ve been interested in reading X-Men comics since Grant Morrison left.
    I’ve had a few “golden ages” through the years, including a fair bit of pre-1991 gold/blue stuff.
    I follow the line by the X-Axis. Because I still care about the characters.
    I’m hopeful X-Men Gold is a title I can connect with. If not, there’s always Paul to keep me posted.
    Even if it all goes horribly wrong with the next linewide crossover.
    I’m hopeful. That’s enough for now

  6. Chris V says:

    It’s definitely X-Men: Prime #1, so it would technically be X-Men: Prime (vol. 2) #1, but Marvel doesn’t bother with volumns anymore, considering that they relaunch all their books so often anymore.
    It would probably be volumn 12 for Captain America at this point.

    I would expect another relaunch next Spring. Marvel won’t relaunch books after Secret Empire, since the new books are only on issue #6 (or thereabouts).
    Even Marvel isn’t that blind.

    I really enjoyed the parts of the story using Kitty.
    The writing took me back to a better time in X-Men’s history, when I actually looked forward to each new issue.
    I like the idea for the new direction so far.
    Of course, this was just a preview book, that cost a lot of money….

    The “mansion in Central Park” idea doesn’t seem like a very good idea though, so I’m worried about that aspect.
    Hopefully it won’t turn in to “mutants are more feared and hated than ever because their mansion is in Central Park now!”…

  7. Anya42 says:

    The ‘bait and switch’ did irritate me, I’ll admit. Look blue team! Gold team! GenerationX! And then the reveal of the books that was no blue team, no gold team, no generation X, nothing but vampire jublibee, that doesn’t really count…

  8. Chris says:

    Where will the homeless people sleep if these freeloading mutants just manifest destinyed the park?

    Did the Mansion displace them or squash them?

    Do the poor people get to sleep in the mansion now?

  9. Chris says:

    Also when the Marauders, Brotherhood, Sentinels, and…. ah…. MLF attack Mutant HQ and wreck the park won’t that look bad?

  10. Brian says:

    @Chris: I demand at least one annual-backup story of homeless folks faking mutant powers (whether with inexplicable high-tech equipment or just simply painting themselves blue) in order to trick their way into the mansion in the park during the winter…

  11. Mo Walker says:

    @wwk5d X-Men Gold will probably become part of Secret Empire by issue 6. Hydra Cap and his cronies will occupy Central Park. Following Secret Empire the book will be relaunched as Uncanny X-Men complete with its legacy numbering and a $10 cover price. After all Marvel believes folks love their $10 comics! 🙂

    All kidding aside, I believe X-Men Gold will become Uncanny X-Men again once Marvel figures out the title’s legacy numbering.

  12. Voord 99 says:

    Describing the inherited status quo as “unsettled” and “rudderless”, even in the specific context of the X-Men wondering what to do with themselves now that the Terrigen problem is over, feels like another tacit acknowledgement that the previous direction didn’t work.

    Wow. That really is the subtext rapidly becoming text.

    But putting the mansion in the center of Manhattan might be taken as a metaphor for putting the X-Men at the center of the Marvel Universe.

  13. Si says:

    There’s a lot of regression going on that I don’t like.

    The youngest member of the real life Generation X would be nearly 40. Like it or not, Generation X now means middle-aged. You can’t name a comic about a bunch of kids that. The name was dated before the original series ended. Why not call it X-Millennials or something?

    From everything I’ve seen, the only difference between Old Man Logan and the original Wolverine is visual. Logan has white hair and doesn’t wear a costume. Still has the trademark claws of course, so even the visual is not so far off. Looks like he’s even getting his old hair horns back. He’s on all the superhero teams, doing superhero stuff, slaughtering people while the supposedly moral superheroes shrug and say “that’s our Logan”.

    And now I hear there’s a love triangle in the original X-Men. Because Jean Grey is nothing but a prize. You want an interesting love triangle? Make Iceman’s boyfriend Romeo bi, and have Jean be into him. Not the Scott and Jean thing that’s already been done, what, three times now not counting Madeline Prior?

  14. NS says:

    It was good-ish and fit the characters. It’s sadly surprising now when Storm acts like Storm and Kitty acts like Kitty. Prime displayed a greater understanding of the classic versions of these characters than we’ve seen since before Schism and probably since Messiah Complex. So, I’m along for the ride with all the books actually.

    I wonder where Astonishing will fit in, since its description sounded like Uncanny X-Force/X-Men Legacy with its dark and deep dive into X-continuity (maybe they’ll remember some recent x-oddities like Magneto leaving Evil Joseph and Astra with the Avengers somewhere or Madelyn and Selene were resurrected together by Sublime’s weirder sister), while Weapon X is clearly meant to be X-Force.

    And as a total aside, what the hell is the name of the school now? Jean is alive-ish and Charles is dead, so is it still the Jean Grey School?

  15. NS says:

    And is it just me or would it be a more interesting story for X-Men Blue if instead of Magneto working with the original x-men, it was Sage? Magneto is going to be the same manipulative, ends justify the means, i’m really the hero of this story, Magneto. But Sage getting to be apart of the team she resented being excluded from and working with the originals (who still admire Xavier) under the weight of those resentments seems far more ripe for dramatic potential.

  16. Joseph says:

    @NS that’s a nice idea, but Sage was never the most appealing character, certainly wouldn’t move books the way Magneto can in that role. And I doubt Bunn would have taken the job sans Mags. I have enough faith in him to see where the stories goes. Maybe Magneto, Uncanny, and Blue will all amount to something?

    Guggenheim I have much less confidence in. He did a take on the X-men in space with S.W.O.R.D back on adjectiveless in 2014, if I’m not mistaken, (which I read but didn’t buy) and it really left me cold. If these are the kinds of stories we have lined up, then I’ll pass. The book can certainly use some back to basics, but by-the-numbers is a little bland for the X-Men. Jason Aaron’s run on Wolverine & the X-Men might be the most memorable of the last decade, alongside Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. That said, the X-Men line has had some many excellent writers over the last decade who just do mediocre to fair work with them. Their best work is elsewhere.

  17. Suzene says:

    There’s nothing wrong with “safe” per se, but given what’s on offer, I’m just not very excited. Between Liu’s Astonishing and Yost’s Amazing, I kind of liked the X-Men’s last low-key period (minus some misfires like the Hellfire brats). I didn’t even mind Guggenheim’s stint on Adjectiveless, though I bought that one used in trade. But this just feels so regressive for the main team, and Guggenheim isn’t a name that even makes me think we’re going to get good character work. I think this will be another trade-wait.

  18. Luis Dantas says:

    I understand that we are now expected to assume that new directions will last between a year and a couple of years, when all books will be relaunched again. It has been a solid pattern for about, what, fifteen years now?

    The books’ names are if anything even less consequential now. We are at a time when one of the most visible outlets for Marvel characters is a TV project named “Defenders” that goes out of its way to have about as little connection to the traditional Defenders as it could be humanly achieved.

  19. Chris V says:

    It’s a way to renew the trademark, most likely.

    Marvel seems to expect readers to understand that their books are now like “seasons”, where the title lasts for about a year or a little more, and then gets a relaunch.
    They seem to have forgotten that they’re telling sequential stories.

    Maybe they’ll soon wake up to the fact that relaunches and new #1s every year aren’t the way to increase sales, as they’ve been bleeding readers.
    Hopefully, they’ll realize that charging so much money for what is a limited, niche market will only cut in to sales also.

    I’m not that excited by Guggenheim being on the main title either. His work has never impressed me all that much.
    It doesn’t seem like Marvel has put a great deal of effort in to this relaunch, considering that James Robinson was the biggest name creator to get announced for one of the titles, and calling Robinson a “big name” in 2017 is being generous.

    I guess it doesn’t matter though, since Jeff Lemire is one of the best writers in comics at this time, and his run was underwhelming (at best).

    Marvel seems to have lost most of their top writers at this point.
    A few years back, every top creative writer in comics seemed to be working for Marvel, but they slowly lost them one by one.
    They still have a few names that I would consider some of the best writers currently working in comics, but only a small handful now.

    I don’t want to denigrate the writers that are at Marvel, like Cullen Bunn. Bunn is doing magnificent work with Harrow County, and I really enjoyed his Magneto.
    I just haven’t been as impressed with his other comic work, so far.

  20. Paul says:

    @NS: The name of the school, per X-Men Gold #1, is “The Xavier Institute for Mutant Education and Outreach”.

  21. Ben says:

    XIMEO! Nice acronym.

  22. Omar Karindu says:

    Marvel seems to expect readers to understand that their books are now like “seasons”, where the title lasts for about a year or a little more, and then gets a relaunch.

    In the early 2000s, the idea at Marvel was “treat comics like movies and people will like them. No thought balloons, lots of repeated images and ‘cinematic’ sequences, and screw continuity.”

    Now it seems to be “treat comics like TV shows and people will buy them. Plenty of continuity easter eggs, general ‘reboots’ every year, and call everything a ‘season.'”

    At some point, they should try playing to the strengths of their own medium instead of trying to position it as a second-rate version of another medium.

  23. ASV says:

    No thought balloons, but copious amounts of shallow first-person narration.

  24. Brian says:

    @Si “The youngest member of the real life Generation X would be nearly 40. Like it or not, Generation X now means middle-aged. You can’t name a comic about a bunch of kids that. The name was dated before the original series ended. Why not call it X-Millennials or something?”

    The worst thing for connecting the themes of mutantcy with a new generation to happen in the books was the “No More Mutants” eradication of Morrison’s burgeoning Mutant Culture. A Generation-X book worked great with the latchkey-kid motif of our generation, but a proper Millennium-X book would require the sort of interplay of individual-culture-media-technology that we’ve seen develop over the past decade or so, growing out of the same urbanization/celebritization complexes that Morrison was exploring.

  25. Nu-D says:

    I’m mildly excited about this, which is saying a lot since I haven’t been excited for an X-book in decades. But the voice felt good, and the characters seemed in character.

  26. Nu-D says:

    Also, while blue/gold may seem like nostalgia for 1991, the actual lineups are from 1985. The gold team is the CC/JRJR lineup from around #200 (minus Rogue), and the blue team is the original X-Factor.

  27. Crow's Foot says:

    I would be mildly excited about a 1985-ish lineup even without Rogue (though I’d prefer a 1983-ish team from around #167), except for one thing: I miss Wolverine. As in, Logan. As Wolverine. Not Old Man Logan, not X-23 as the All-New Wolverine, and not good or bad Sabretooth. Just Wolverine. Yellow suit, brown suit, black leather coat, whatever. Which I suppose for many is the same as saying Your Father’s Wolverine, but so be it. It wasn’t broken.

    Replacement characters, be they older or younger versions of existing characters, do nothing for me. It feels like a lazy way of doing something different with an established character. I’m not a serialized story writer, but I refuse to believe that it is THAT hard to insert characters with rich backstories into new scenarios.

  28. ASV says:

    Based on the first issue of Gold, Marc Guggenheim is not going to capture those characters and their dynamics like Claremont did 30+ years ago. The meta dialogue beats (“To me, my X-Men!”) are particularly irritating.

  29. Nu-D says:

    I read my first book focussing on Old Man Logan yesterday (Weapon X #1), and I have to disagree with you Crow’s Foot. I really like seeing Logan as he would be if he had actually aged 37 years in real time from 1985. I thought Pak really nailed the voice of aged zen practitioner.

    I’m all-in on the 1985 line-up, even without Rogue. Yes, some of the “meta dialogue” is distracting, but I can put up with it. I also expect the explicit old-school X-dialogue references will tone down by next issue.

    I like Kitty as the POV character, finally being promoted to the top. It seems like a good character beat for her, evolving from where CC left her (and Whedon too). I’m a little unsure about Storm stepping back. Her character has been so inconsistent since CC left, it’s hard to really know where she is right now. But Kitty having her whole team behind her–Rachel, Logan, Ororo, Kurt and Peter–just feels right. These are the people who raised her into adulthood, and now she’s leading them. I love it (in theory; execution remains to be seen).

  30. SanityOrMadness says:

    Switching gears to Blue for a moment… Since when is Juggernaut 12+ feet tall? He was big before, but not “everyone else only comes up to his waist” big!

  31. ASV says:

    I believe that was a throwback to the consistency with which he was drawn in the first X-Force arc back in 1991.

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