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Apr 4

X-Men #1-9

Posted on Saturday, April 4, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

So, then. We find the X-books at a strange time, in an involuntary hiatus brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown, which has interrupted distribution of new comics. Presumably publication will resume in due course; in the meantime, I suppose we’re spared a series of issues that would read like missives from a parallel universe.

In the meantime, let’s take stock of where the books have reached, starting with X-Men itself – written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn, for the most part, by Leinil Francis Yu.

It’s an odd book, and one that only seems to make sense if Hickman has a very long game in mind – the sort of storyline where you don’t want a major historical event to come along in the middle, but so it goes. X-Men #1 is not, of course, Hickman’s debut. It follows on twelve issues of House of X and Powers of X, which established the immediate set-up of Krakoa, together with the grand themes and cosmic framework that seems to drive Hickman’s run. Those series take place on the grand scale, with individual characters getting less space to shine – and Hickman’s X-Men does indeed shift the focus more towards individual characters.

But you might also expect that with the set-up complete, X-Men would be the lynchpin book where the grand story of the Hickman-era X-books plays out. Instead, it turns out to be an episodic book which hints at that bigger story rather than explicitly telling it. Every issue seems to play in some way into the bigger themes, but there’s no particularly clear through-line in X-Men itself from issue to issue. There isn’t even an X-Men team; the cast of X-Men is pretty much whoever’s passing, though Cyclops seems to be at the core.

Let’s look at what we’ve had. Issue #1 puts the Children of the Vault into play, and establishes the Summers family’s living arrangements. Issue #2 is the one where Scott, Rachel and Nate fight giant monsters on the new neighbouring atoll. Issue #3 is Hordeculture. Issue #4 is the Davos issue. Issue #5 is the second Children of the Vault issue. Issue #6 is Mystique. Issue #7 is the Crucible. And issues #8-9 are the Brood two-parter – the only multi-part story in the series so far, and one which serves mainly to establish a new status quo for the Brood.

These are, for the most part, small stories that gesture in the direction of a larger storyline that remains in the background. Even after twelve issues of lead-in, Hickman’s first nine issues are principally concerned with still more set-up, bringing even more new elements into play – the Children of the Vault, the island of monsters, the Crucible, Hordeculture, the Brood. HoXPoX already seemed to be carefully arranging a number of guns on the mantelpiece; by this point, Hickman seems to be trying to balance a small arsenal on it.

But even though the main storyline is making slow progress at best, X-Men depends on that main storyline to make these issues work. A couple, like the Mystique issue or the second Children issue, are so entwined with the bigger picture that they can’t really stand alone. Others can technically be read in isolation, but they’re quite slight – like Hordeculture, or the Brood issues (which suffer from the fact that the Brood are treated as a faceless horde, so that the X-Men might as well be fighting a swarm of space locusts). The more comedy-driven issues are patchy too – issue #2 is a total misfire, where all the characters seem detached from reality, while Hordeculture’s “foul-mouthed old ladies” schtick wears thin rather quickly.

It’s not all one way, though. The Davos issue is very strong, and continues to play with the tension between our natural inclination to side with the X-Men (particularly when people are trying to kill them), and the fact that they’re behaving in a deeply arrogant way even towards the people who are trying to engage with them sensibly. The X-Men under Hickman are Krakoa First, with a very dubious tendency to keep asserting mutant superiority, and an ideology that attracts the sympathy of not just Magneto, but Apocalypse. The warning signs that all is not well are all over the place, and Hickman may well be engaging in an experiment in how far you can push the readers’ instinct to side with the X-Men, and back the underdog. The whole point of the Krakoa set-up, of course, is that they’re not the underdogs any more – it inverts that central part of the X-Men mythos – and we’re going to see if the world really would be any better with them in charge.

The Crucible issue pushes that further than anything else so far, with the X-Men tacitly endorsing (despite half-hearted reservations) ritual suicide. We’re given all sorts of reasons why this cultural institution has to be put in place for pragmatic reasons – it gives depowered mutants a route to reincarnation while discouraging them from committing suicide in droves. But it’s glaringly horrible and deeply disturbing, and surely a large part of the point is to have the X-Men acting as if it presents a difficult moral dilemma when in reality it does nothing of the sort – the answer is perfectly obvious.

The art is… hit and miss. Visually, my favourite issue of this bunch is issue #5, which is a fill-in by R B Silva. The splash pages with the Vault sequences and the weird purple lighting effects are beautiful, even if you do need a working knowledge of Hickman’s Ultimates run to understand the significance of it all. Matteo Buffagni’s Mystique issue is nicely underplayed too. Leinil Francis Yu’s art isn’t quite so well suited to the material; there’s something rather brittle about his art that doesn’t exactly say “island paradise.” He’s not a great artist for selling comedy, either. On the other hand, his work seems more at home on the Davos and Brood issues, where a certain distance feels appropriate – and in the Davos issue, he does pull off an extended conversation scene with decent subtlety.

As with HoXPoX, indeed perhaps even more so, everything depends in your confidence in where it’s all heading – and also your willingness to see that play out. These are single issues, but they depend on that bigger context in order to work. For me, Hickman is still managing to sell the idea of a grand plan, and a sense that all this is heading somewhere – the unusually coherent approach of all the other X-books helps to reinforce that sense. It’s that bigger picture that helps to make it seem intentional when the X-Men appear to be acting out of character, and that keeps my attention through the weaker individual issues.

If you don’t buy into that, of course, then you’re likely to be losing patience by now. And counting the lead-ins, we’re over twenty issues into the Hickman run by now (plus all the spin-off titles) – we could probably use a bit more momentum on the bigger picture by now.

X-Men is often deeply flawed on the micro level, but continues to hold up on the grand scale. And on that level, it’s such an inventively radical take on the X-Men that it can get away with a lot. If you buy into it, at any rate.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    I’ve given up my hope that this is actually building to something.
    I’ve started to doubt there is some deeper mystery.
    More and more, the books seem to be settling in to this status quo, without the hints that there truly is more going on beneath the surface.
    It seems like X-Men is simply building up the threats and bad guys for the mutants to face going forward.
    I’ve pretty well lost interest in the books.

  2. Ben says:

    I would say that’s a very evenhanded and accurate review.

    Beyond all my problems with character behavior and where it’s all leading, it’s just too damn slow.

    And due to the unfortunate current circumstances, it’s going to be forever before we get any story momentum.

  3. Col_Fury says:

    This strongly reminds me of Hickman’s Avengers run, which of course led into Secret Wars.

    Introduce the Builders, introduce the Starbrand, play around with those for a bit. Hint at a universe-wide crisis, play around with that for a bit. After a while pull everything together for the big finish.

    He’s setting up his pieces in a similar way here. Introduce the Krakoa status quo, play around with that for a bit. Introduce post-humanity as a problem, reset the Brood, etc. It’s all heading to a big finish, the question is how long until we get there. With Avengers it took about three years.

    Overall I’m liking it. The characters are a little stiff, but that was also the case with Hickman’s Avengers. I am surprised we haven’t seen Moira since HOX/POX, though.

  4. Chris V says:

    Hickman did say that Moira was more of a plot device rather than a major character.
    That was after Hickman was accused of plagiarism with his reveal about Moira’s mutant power.
    There is an upcoming Moira series.
    I’m wondering if Hickman is that interested in using Moira though.
    Maybe she really was just brought back to be used as a plot device, and she doesn’t serve much greater of a purpose in “Dawn of X”.

    I’ve come to feel like Moira is like Princess Zelda in a video game. She’s just standing there in a room, waiting for another character to find her again.

  5. Si says:

    I think the truth is inescapable at this point. It’s all about the promise of big things being about to happen, not big things happening. This is what serial stories are now.

    After the inevitable Marvel-wide event, the promise of anything changing will turn out to be fairy gold. But there will be at least one miniseries written by Al Ewing that will make it all seem kind of worth it.

  6. Josie says:

    The thing is, beyond Secret Wars itself, is there actually anything about Hickman’s bloated Avengers run that stands out? What was Infinity even about? How was that distinct from the rest of the run?

  7. Mikey says:

    Secret Wars was pretty dope, though.

  8. Si says:

    Secret Wars was really good, yeah. Could have maybe introduced it with six issues of Fantastic Four though.

  9. JCG says:

    I actually stopped reading the Avengers for a good while since I just did not care about what happened there.

    New Avengers was more intimate and managed to keep my interest, and I did resume with Avengers at end I think, once the Time Runs Out part started.

  10. Thom H. says:

    Same here re: Avengers. When Hickman started showcasing Star Brand and friends, I got frustrated and only started buying again right before Secret Wars. Luckily, his plotting moves in big chunks, so the story was easily explained in a few sentences and I felt caught up.

    Same goes for this X-Men run so far, I think. No one’s getting any characterization, so it’s just a matter of knowing where all the pieces are on the board at the moment. Oh, Broo’s the Brood King now? Okay. What’s next?

  11. CJ says:

    The problem for me is that HOXPOX did its job too well. In 12 issues, it introduced multiple timelines, some of them lasting hundreds if not thousands of years into the future.

    After that build-up, what do we have? Well, we have one particular timeline over the course of a few months or so. If you introduce all of this grand narrative architecture and then focus on a tiny piece of it, it feels so small.

  12. Bloodredcookie says:

    Secret Wars was the poor man’s age of X.

  13. Chris V says:

    I didn’t mind Hickman’s Avengers, because Avengers being written as the greatest superheroes going up against cosmic threats too powerful for any other heroes is a direction I like to see with the Avengers.
    You can see characterization of most of the Avengers in their solo books.
    With X-Men it is different. I wouldn’t mind the poor characterization in X-Men if it were leading towards something, but I don’t really feel it is now.

    The characterization is completely uneven too. Doug Ramsey was written in a creepy manner at first. Then, he was written in his normal manner in New Mutants. Now, he was written in a different manner in the Nightcrawler story.

    House/Powers has begun to feel like it was a self-contained series now.
    Unfortunately, it didn’t feature an actual ending.
    Hickman introduces a lot of threads to follow up on with “Dawn of X”, but it feels like he had no interest in following up on most of that now.
    Instead, House and Powers just existed to introduce the idea of Krakoa.

  14. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Secret Wars was decent fun but I remember feeling a bit miffed when the big finale turned out to be the epic ending to Hickman’s FF run instead of the Avengers run I just spent three years reading.

  15. Mark Coale says:

    I liked Secret Wars but liked some of the minis more.

    Im pro Hickman but ive lost interest in most of the ancilliary titles,

  16. Dave says:

    I liked the build-up to Secret Wars more than the event.

    “What was Infinity even about? How was that distinct from the rest of the run?”

    It was about war with the Builders, and introducing Thanos to set up the Cabal, and kickstarting the Inhumans push.

    I feel like Moira has to still have a part to play. We still don’t know what ‘breaking all the rules’ meant, do we? What’s her actual end goal with Krakoa?

    I don’t have any problem with all the books taking a year to establish a new status quo, otherwise it wouldn’t feel properly established, to me.

  17. Chris V says:

    I think the end goal is simply supposed to be that mutants are now the dominant species.
    I don’t see how that’s already the case, but Hickman explicitly wrote it in one of his scripts, so I guess this is how the plot is going to work.

    I’m sure we will see Moira again, but I’m guessing it will revolve around the Mystique plot now.

  18. Andrew says:

    For whatever reason, while I agree that it’s a much slower book than expected, I’m totally ok with it.

    I like that we’re getting this world-building and issues looking at different characters.

    Based on his previous work, I’ve got faith that Hickman is going somewhere with this, and the line as a whole so I’m ok with it take its time to get there.

    There are plenty of books in the line which are more fast-paced so right now I’m happy to sit back and enjoy the ride.

  19. Brendan says:

    I was able to read Hickman’s FF/Fantastic Four run and then Secret Wars without missing a beat. I was planning on cracking into Avengers, but it doesn’t seem/feel essential.

    HoXPoX felt like a strong, if very Hickman, start. But HoXPoX feels like the FF run while these monthlies feels very Hickman’s Avengers to me.

  20. K says:

    As a standalone, Hickman’s Avengers was always a rise-and-fall story. It started with the rise of the most OP Avengers team in history and ended with Cap and Iron Man pointlessly trying to beat each other to death as the world collapsed around them.

    And in the end it wasn’t even the most memorable Cap and Iron Man fistfight of the decade, since the movies took care of that.

    To be fully realized, the whole thing really needed a more tragic ending than just full-speed-ahead setting up Secret Wars in the last third. But the tragedy ended up plateauing with killing the alternate Justice League in New Avengers and the conclusion was just really confused by everything happening at once, up to and including old FF subplots wrapping up.

  21. Xercies says:

    Yeah i kind of gave up on the book after feeling frustrated that they still haven’t really picked up on any of the threads in thr mini series. Like you said, you expect Hickman to do something with the guns he has introduced but instead he has just added more guns. This is really frustrating.

    Which is a shame because i thought the guns Hickman introduced were actually interesting. At the moment i might just wait until the grand finale or an indication that it’s actually doing something with the plot, and just Wikipedia the stuff i missed.

  22. Evilgus says:

    I could stand the stilted characterisation of I enjoyed the art – but Yu’s sketchy style is so badly matched to this series. It really needs someone more weird, more facially expressive, and also who does backgrounds. The panels are surprisingly empty and rob of us of a greater sense of place.

    I’ve also come to dread Hickman’s dialogue style. He needs a humour wrangler, or if he does plots and someone else scripts. That is said: I’m still intrigued by the big ideas, and I like the overarching unity between books again. Now that I know this series is episodic, I can take the rough with the smooth. It reminds me how pre-streaming tv shows used to be… Certain episodes might be completely unrelated but could be enjoyed on their own merits as wider world building.

    The common thread in this series is definitely Cyclops. I’m concerned that Hickman has acknowledged Moira as plot device over character – I’m looking forward to that eventual big reveal (years down the line?).

  23. Thom H. says:

    Hopefully, Moira gets some more characterization when her series comes out, although I’m not holding my breath.

    It’s still weird to me how almost all of her long-term planning and activity was narrated and shown in HoXPoX, but rarely ever came directly from her mouth. In her longest lives, she had less panel time than Wolverine.

    Even though this whole series presumably hinges on her, I still have very little sense of who Moira is. I suppose some of that has to do with the big reveal of her *real* plan down the line. But would it be so difficult to write her some more dialogue? Give her a joke or two, maybe?

  24. Voord 99 says:

    Speaking of “missives from a parallel universe,” as an Unlimited person who is six months behind and there for on HoXPoX at the moment — the whole “Krakoa creates miracle medicines and leverages them for power on the international stage” aspect to Hickman’s vision reads a bit differently in the current context…

  25. Chris says:

    Voord 99 so does the LEGACY VIRUS.

    In hindsight the body count would have been lower had Dazzler and Cyclops told every mutant to “Stay Home and Stay Safe”

  26. Chris V says:

    Luckily, only minor characters that no one cared about (and Illyana) died, so Cyclops and Dazzler didn’t have to make that decision.

    The Legacy Virus was a pretty obvious metaphor for AIDS though.

  27. Voord 99 says:

    With the Legacy Virus, the thing that gets me is the following. On the one hand, we are supposed to take medical-thrilleresque scenes of Xavier, Moira, and Hank McCoy discussing it seriously. On the other hand, everyone in the story pays damn all attention to how it’s transmitted and how one might protect against it, which are the first things they would want to know.

    It already annoyed me, but it annoys me more now, for obvious reasons.

  28. Chris says:

    Pyro isn’t a minor character.

    He appeared in both cartoons

  29. YLu says:


    Everyone appeared in those cartoons.

    Granted, he also had a huge rule in the second film and I think that’s a better claim to fame.

  30. fabiobeta says:

    Does anyone have an opinion on the weird characterizations of Vulcan and Cable in these books? Are they utter idiots because they have been brainwashed? Or are they badly written?

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