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Aug 4

X-Men #1-3 – “Primer”

Posted on Sunday, August 4, 2013 by Paul in x-axis

You know what?  Let’s stick with this format for the moment.  Because (a) I suspect it’s pretty soon going to be very ill-advised if not outright impossible to try and hold this blog to any specific schedule, and (b) while it would be going too far to suggest that there is nothing to be said about middle chapters of Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted, neither are they exactly the most inspiring things I could be writing about.

So.  Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel’s X-Men relaunch completes its opening arc this week.  Let’s talk about that.

The story in a nutshell goes like this.  Jubilee returns to America with a baby in tow, who she says is an orphan she picked up in Budapest.  She’s being followed by a guy who turns out to be the current host body for Sublime, the evil viral consciousness from Grant Morrison’s run.  But Sublime’s main concern is the return of his long-banished sister Arkea, another virus who can also control machines, and who’s infecting the baby.

Once safely in the X-Men’s headquarters, Arkea jumps ship into the body of Karima Shapandar, who’s apparently been in the fridge since we last saw her, and causes all manner of havoc until she finally makes a break for it rather than face Kitty Pryde (since Kitty’s phasing power disrupts electronics, which would be bad).  Arkea returns to Budapest with the X-Men in tow, apparently with a view to taking over the patients in a neuroprosthetics ward, which is apparently where the baby actually came from too.  The X-Men give chase and eventually Psylocke confronts Arkea with her psychic blade, which could apparently do some real damage to Arkea.  Psylocke doesn’t seem willing to use it, but Karima sacrifices herself by throwing herself on the sword, apparently getting rid of Arkea at the cost of (possibly) wiping her own mind too.

While that’s a complete story, there are more than a few loose ends here too.  A subplot about Bling and Mercury is kicked off, the final status of Arkea and Karima is more than a touch ambiguous, and most notable of all, there are some real questions around that baby.  Jubilee initially claimed that it had been orphaned in the meteor strike that brought Arkea back to earth, but she seems terribly vague about the details, and by issue #3 is seems more like she nicked him from a hospital.  Exactly why she did that, and what the kid was doing with neuroprosthetic implants, is barely touched on.  When I reviewed the first issue, the story with the kid didn’t seem to make an enormous amount of sense, but at this stage I’m coming round to the view that that’s mostly deliberate.

Presumably we’ll be coming to these questions in due course, and this is certainly another story that is stronger when viewed, not as a three-parter, but as the opening three issues of an ongoing series.   We had something similar with Wolverine, which actually opened with a six-issue story, but split into a four-parter and a two-parter for no discernible reason, other than perhaps the convenience of being able to say that Alan Davis had drawn the whole first arc.  And indeed, Olivier Coipel is only drawing these first three issues; Terry Dodson is lined up for next month.  (After that, it’s the “Battle of the Atom” crossover.)

Though Arkea is notionally the centre of this story, she seems a pretty one-dimensional character – she’s an evil virus who wants to conquer the world.  In fact, she’s so one-dimensional that I initially assumed it must be a feint, but it doesn’t seem to be.  She’s just a baddy, and her interest lies somewhere other than her personality.  Specifically, she gives Wood an excuse to do the old “their headquarters turned against them” riff, which is always fun, and she makes for an interesting contrast with Sublime, who ends up seeming positively rounded by comparison.  I wonder if that’s the real objective here; to play up the idea of how human he actually is, despite notionally being a sentient virus.

The promotion for this series pushed as its central gimmick the fact that the team featured here is entirely female.  The actual stories downplay that to the point of invisibility, and Brian Wood has made clear that as far as he’s concerned, the thing that marks out this book is that it’s the one providing a more traditional team book than anything else in the line.  Even so, it’s hard to believe that the all-female angle was purely coincidental, since it does result in a team nobody (either in the real world or in story) would have been likely to choose for any other reason.  There are two telepaths, which is duplication; and the world surely doesn’t need two separate team books both starring Storm and Psylocke – the other one being Uncanny X-Force, which also shipped this week.  Perhaps wisely, then, the story doesn’t try to suggest that anyone did take a conscious decision to put these characters together, opting instead for the idea that they just happened to be the X-Men to hand when everything blew up.  Still, the hint of gimmickiness might be difficult to duck forever.

And given what the rest of the line is doing right now, it is enough for this book to position itself as the traditional one.  It certainly does that side of things well, with a straightforward action story as its spine.  Olivier Coipel’s art is very well suited for this kind of material; even though he’s got his own distinct style, he’s very much an artist suited to big bold characters and traditional superheroics.  Besides which, he’s very good at it – this is good clear stuff, but also does its part to give a bit of added depth to the characters, and there are the occasional neat little flourishes such as Karima pulling loose of her connecting cables as she starts walking forward.

There are some odd decisions here about introducing the characters.  Fair enough, it’s probably safe to assume that everyone’s familiar with the X-Men themselves, but the book opts to dive straight into the story instead of giving any of the established characters much in the way of introduction (beyond Sublime himself, presumably because his back story necessarily comes up when introducing Arkea).  For the most part that’s not a problem, but it means that the story entirely glosses over the fact that the last time we saw Jubilee, she was a vampire.  Nothing here actually contradicts that, and it sounds as though Wood is getting to it in the next issue, but it does come across as though he’s simply ignoring the whole thing.

Perhaps more importantly, there’s no real recap of who Karima is, or why we should care about her beyond the generic sympathy that any possessed character is going to attract.  And when the big finale is her heroic sacrifice, that is a problem.  It’s not as if Karima is the sort of character that you can safely assume everyone’s heard of; by X-Men standards, she’s downright obscure.  If the pay-off is going to be something she does, I think you need to do a bit more to set that up – particularly since Karima’s whole thing is that she’s basically OMAC, so that fighting for autonomy is meant to be core to her.

There’s also some rather loose plotting in the action sequences here.  That train stunt in the first issue still doesn’t make sense no matter how often I re-read it, and why is Karima suddenly able to act of her own accord in the final issue (other than because it’s time for her to end the story)?

But judged as the start of an ongoing series, which buys it a lot of leeway for its loose ends, this is a pretty good start.  The book has a good sense of its identity and its voice, and manages to make itself distinctive in an overcrowded line. It embraces a traditional superhero style that places it in opposition to most of the line, and it does it well.

Bring on the comments

  1. Wire says:

    I need to read the whole thing again, as I’m having a hard time accepting that the story basically was “This is a grave threat, we have no idea what we’re dealing with, this is an ancient entity with unimaginable power that threatens the world, oh, wait, one stab from Psylocke’s psychic knife will take care of the whole thing? Cool.”

    I have to believe that there was more to the story than that. Hopefully a second reading of the whole arc will reveal something I missed the first time.

  2. Paul says:

    Yes, the ending IS rather abrupt, and I’m kind of giving Wood the benefit of the doubt that he’s planning to come back to a lot of this in more detail. As I say, you do have to be willing to treat it as the opening three issues of a series rather than as a self-contained story. But given the way it treats things like the baby (and Wood’s track record on the previous volume of this series), I think it probably is going somewhere.

  3. Rhuw Morgan says:

    This book is everything I wanted Uncanny X-Force to be, with Dodson on art now too it means I can take X-Force off my pull list and just read this.

  4. Will says:

    I’m really hoping there’ll be some flashbacks in later issues which clarify all this. At the moment it reads like it’s being deliberately mysterious with a lot of details (either that, or I’m really bad at reading between the lines), and that’ll only work if they pick up the dangling threads.

  5. Si says:

    I quite like this format actually. It feels more personal, more invested in the subject.

    Glad to see you preparing for your current lifestyle to evaporate like the morning dew. But don’t worry too much, for the first few months it’s mostly just sleeplessness and not being able to go out as much. You’ll still have plenty of time at home because they sleep about 20 hours a day and just lie there most of the rest. It’s a gentle transition. A more cynical mind might call it insidious.

  6. Tim O'Neil says:

    This last issue was a mess – the climactic confrontation was so poorly staged it was difficult to figure out what was actually happening – surely a rush-job if ever there was one. The thing that got to me the most was the characters saying “Rachel is going to be pissed about this” – Rachel was not actually drawn into the final scene, and we have no idea why she was so unhappy, so it reads really unforgivably amateurish.

  7. errant says:

    I’m not sure why Wood rushed through this opening arc so quickly when there is still an issue (or 2?) before the big crossover starts.

    Or perhaps it’s Coipel’s limitations as a storyteller, some miscommunication between the two of them, or a combination.

    I like it. It just feels like there are big chunks of the story missing on the page.

  8. The original Matt says:

    I much prefer the story arc posts compared to single issue posts, so the format change is welcome. As an aside, it’s not till they start walking that you’re in deep shit. Congrats, by the way. It really is the most awesome time.

  9. Jon Dubya says:

    By the way did this issue ever explain WHY the X-gals brought Jubilee (AND her baby!) along with them on the mission? That part from issue 2 just seemed so odd, given the whole premise of the school and all.

  10. kingderella says:

    i like how wood writes the characters, i like the slowly building subplots, i like the old-school vibe, i like the team, i like the art.

    but the plot is really not working at all so far. it just makes no sense, or is terribly simplistic, or both.

    i dont think its a big deal that there are two telepaths on the same team. emma and jean were on the same team during morrisons run. one could even argue that with professor x, there were three telepaths on the same team.

  11. Steve says:

    I sort of got what the ending was doing. It appeared that Arkea was making something of a tactical retreat and letting Karima regain her consciousness. I’m basically just coming to this conclusion because it’s an ongoing, Arkea sure as hell doesn’t feel like she’s beaten, and the abruptness of the whole resolution. I do like Wood doing a series like this, but it didn’t feel like the strongest way to start off the series and I generally like Copiel but he does have a tendency to get sloppy in his storytelling when he’s pushed for time (which seems to be the case here).

  12. orangewaxlion says:

    I don’t have that purpose-doubling problem either. I mean if the recent X-Forces have all been “stealth stabby types” then it also doesn’t seem too problematic that there are two people on the team who can talk to each other telepathically. (Granted I still don’t quite get Rachel in general since she’s never been a big player in anything I’ve encountered. I thought she was also telekinetic and had fire/slight Phoenix powers?)

    It’s slightly a bigger problem continuity-wise that Storm and Psylocke double over in Uncanny X-Force, a series I don’t read yet (is Adrian Alphona sticking around? That’d be a big selling point actually), but it seems like development in one or the other might be compromised or less important. On the other hand there are tons of male characters turning up in multiple titles, however people deal with that.

  13. Taibak says:

    orangewaxlion: Rachel is telepathic and telekinetic, just like her mother, and, not coincidentally, her telekinesis tends to manifest in ways resembling the Phoenix. She was also a former host of the Phoenix back in the 80’s and 90’s, although that left her during her time with Excalibur, if I remember right.

    She also has a ‘chronoskimming’ power. Basically, she can astral project through time. She did physically time travel once, but that involved a power boost from the Phoenix Force.

  14. Matt C. says:

    I’m tenatively going to stick with this title, because I’m interested in seeing where it’s going, but was very put off by the abrupt end to the arc. In #1 we get the “something terrible is coming!”, in #2 we finally see Arkea unleashed, and then #3 consists of the X-Men tracking her down and taking her out in 22 pages. Huh?? Obviously it’s laying the groundwork for additional stories (such as Sublime, the baby, etc.) but still felt far too abrupt. Karima felt oddly used too, since, as Paul points out, she’s a D-list character.

    There’s also some potential problems in that not only does the team have two psychics, but they’re two of the worst-defined characters among the X-Men. Uncanny X-Force is doing some decent stuff with Psylocke, but Rachel still feels completely like a cipher to me, so hopefully she gets some solid characterization. Woods also seems to not be up-to-date on Rogue’s power set judging from issue #1.

    Coipel’s art is generally good and bold, but there’s also enough Escher Girls-style poses that make me think he shouldn’t be the guy on a “all female” X-Men team book.

  15. Best Ecig says:

    Can I just say what a comfort to uncover someone that really understands what they are discussing on the web. You actually know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people need to look at this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you’re not more popular because you certainly have the gift.|

  16. Javier says:

    I don’t think the plot has any logic. The end of the arc is very confusing. You have to guess who is talking.

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