X-Men #1 (Marvel)

X-Men1

Rating: 3/5 – Great art, not accessible to new readers

When I picked X-Men as my Comic of the Week for May 29th I said:

I’ve had a mixed relationship with the X-Men for many years now.  I keep on trying to jump on board & then fall off the X-train sooner or later due to an over-abundance of intricate X-continuity being thrown at me issue after issue.
I’m willing to give it a try again.  I’m hoping writer Brian Wood will be able to bring me in & keep me going with a story that is not bogged down with lots of stuff that makes me feel like I walked into the middle of a movie.

Unfortunately, I got that “walking into the middle feeling” with this issue.  I think this issue will play a lot better with people who are already fans of Marvel X-Men franchise (in the comics).  The problem for me is this.  We live in a world where the best selling comic sells about half of what would have gotten a book cancelled for low sales 15 years ago.  We also have comics movies that regularly pull in 10x the # of people (or more) as the best selling comic book on opening weekend alone.  Given the size difference between movie & comics audiences it seems that the comics folks would take some efforts to tailor a series relaunched at a new #1 to be something that is going to welcome in new readers, not just play to the existing fan base.

The art by Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales is great.  No complaints there, but I had issues with Brian Wood’s story.  I apologize in advance for giving a much more “story summary” review than I normally approve of.  In this case, I feel it’s necessary to show why I felt the way I did, I will avoid explicit spoilers.

We start out with a 2-page set up setting up the backstory for the “big bad” of the story arc, kind of cryptic, but I was willing to go with it.  Next we see Jubilee with a baby.  Where did the baby come from?  Am I supposed to know or is this new?  At the end of the issue I’m still a bit unsure, other characters seem to not be aware, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t covered in some story somewhere.  A footnote or thought balloon (though both are out of fashion in most modern comics) would have been great to let us in on the status quo.

Next we get a quick cut to Xavier’s school for some tension between students that I’ve never seen before & have no idea who they are or why there is an issue between them.  On page 11, Rachel (Summers) recognizes the mysterious male character we’ve been seeing since page 1.  She names this guy but that did me no good at all, since I didn’t read the story he presumably appeared in before.  At least we get the idea from the dialogue that he’s really bad news.

I’ll stop my summary here.  I’m 11 pages into a 21 page comic (that costs $3.99).  There has been zero action, I’ve recognized about half the characters.  Someone familiar with X-Men from the movies has recognized even fewer.  Since I’ve been reading X-Men for a long time (but not a lot in the past 10 years) I was able to get the general gist of what was going on.  There were some very interesting plot elements set up, particularly with the baby.  However, I thought the pacing/clarity were not good for a #1 issue that had any intention of drawing in new readers.  I’d consider it an average comic that will likely pick up as the story arc progresses.  Stephen (who also reviews for ComicSpectrum, and knows X-Men from the movies) gave this a 2/5, compared to my 3/5.  This is an indication that the enjoyment factor seems to be related to your familiarity with the X-Men franchise.   If you are a big X-fan, I’m guessing you’ll love this.  Those x-fans have undoubtedly already bought this issue.  New readers?  Caveat Emptor.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall – bob@comicspectrum.com
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6 Responses to X-Men #1 (Marvel)

  1. xmenxpert says:

    The baby is new. The villain, John Sublime, was a major villain in Grant Morrison’s fantastic New X-Men a few years back. Sublime is a sentient bacteria, able to control people, but he can’t control mutants, so he wants to kill them all. John Sublime is his main host body that he uses to interact with the world. The two students were Bling! (the exclamation mark is actually part of her name) and Mercury, who debuted in New Mutants around the time Morrison was doing New X-Men. Mercury’s a minor character, Bling! is even more minor.

    Here’s the thing: Some #1s are designed to appeal to movie audiences. Right around the time The Avengers movie came out, they launched Avengers Assemble, a comic starring the same team from the movies. It was meant to be accessible to movie audiences, something they could pick up, and follow along easily. It sold poorly. And still does. For all the talk of movies bringing new readers, I’m sceptical that they really do.

    Marvel is obviously wanting to attract new readers. They try. And honestly, for the most part, I think the only thing that keeps potential new readers from trying is the attitude of “I don’t know what’s going on.” Which is the wrong attitude to take. You bring up that you don’t know who half the characters are. Well, they’re named in the story, some of them have their powers shown, some of their personalities are laid out. You’ve never read a story with Rachel in it? No big deal; I’m sure Wood will explain whatever needs to be known about her for the sake of the story he’s telling. If the fact that she’s an alternate-future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey isn’t important to the story, you don’t need to know it.

    The only thing you need to know is what’s on the page. It doesn’t matter whether or not the baby appeared previously. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen the two students. Nothing matters except what you see. Think of it like any other work of fiction that draws on history that the audience doesn’t get to see immediately. Think of Star Wars: When you first watch it, you have no clue who Darth Vader is, you don’t know what Jedi are, you don’t know what the Force is. The whole movie is based on history that we don’t get to see. But we don’t need that history to understand what’s going on: Darth Vader’s the bad guy, the Jedi are good guys, the Force is some mystical thing.

    People are willing to accept not knowing stuff when it’s any other form of fiction. But comic books, somehow, have this reputation for being impossible to get into if you haven’t already been following them for years. And I don’t see the difference. If you like the writing, if you like the art, then just read the damned thing. If you want more background on anything, the Internet’s full of people just waiting for a chance to talk about it until you tell them to shut up. Hell, the 6 sentences I started with actually answer pretty much all the questions you had. That’s all it took.

    I really think comic book fans need to do a better job at encouraging people to try comic books out. And the best way to do that is to tell them not to sweat the details. And the best way we as fans can enjoy comics is to likewise not sweat the details.

  2. I can appreciate your opinion, and frankly was expecting exactly this kind of response from hard-core X-Men fans. I’ve had a hard time getting into X-books for years & was really on the fence about even writing this review, given I was not going to praise the book (although a 3/5 is not exactly panning it).

    I agree with you that comics fans need to encourage people to try comic books. Where our opinions differ is that I don’t necessarily think that means I need to encourage them to read X-Men (or even super-hero) comics. There are lots of kinds of comics out there.

    The thing to keep in mind is that when the “person on the street” tries a comic, they’re going to come to it with a very different perspective from the person who is a comics expert.
    Similarly, I’m not an “xmenxpert”, while you are. Take this into account & accept that we might have different views of the same comic, both valid.

    Was everything I needed on the page? To some extent, yes. I wrote:
    I was able to get the general gist of what was going on. There were some very interesting plot elements set up, particularly with the baby.
    I followed the story, for the most part, but not to the level of depth that you did. We were not on an equal playing field in that respect, given the difference in our X-Men X-pertise.
    Another thing that plays into my enjoyment of a story is expectation vs. what is delivered. I was expecting (rightly or wrongly) a bit more action in this #1 to get me hooked. Personally, I look at super-hero comics as summer action movies. If I want lengthy conversations & character development, I go to other genres. Is this right for everyone? Certainly not. Some people want to get every type of story within the super-hero books. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    I’m enjoying Brian Wood’s “The Massive” from Dark Horse a lot. Slower pace, more character development, and it just feels right in that book. Also, I didn’t know the characters there when I read #1 and it didn’t bother me. Maybe it’s a case of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” because going into something cold, like The Massive, or the Star Wars movie you use in your example, you kind of figure you’re on a level playing field with all the other people experiencing the story. Not so with X-Men, I’ve read enough stories in my day that I expect to know more and when I don’t it kind of bugs me. I’ve read really accessible X-Men stories in my day, this was unfortunately not one of them.

    That said, I’ve been actively looking for reviewers who are much more hardcore Marvel/DC fans so that they can bring that perspective to reviews on the site. I’d like to give the supers a fairer shake.
    – Bob

  3. Was I fair in my review? I don’t know. I did a little poking around the internet & found the following:

    http://www.stashmycomics.com/blog/comics-for-noobs-may-30th/
    X-Men #1 given a 10/10 on art & 9/10 on story:
    “For new readers, use caution. There are going to be multiple characters that you’ve never heard of, with little to no explanation for them. That is what happens when you read X-Men comics. ”

    http://modernagecomics.tumblr.com/post/51770864952/x-men-1-review
    X-Men #1 given a 9/10:
    “X-Men isn’t the perfect start for new readers, but for anyone who has been an X-fan, this is easily the book for you. It’s a solid plot with a fresh take on some of the most famous X-Men. A newer reader may not understand who is who and what their powers are, but with Coipel’s art, it doesn’t really matter much because it all looks really pretty.”

    These both acknowledge my point that the book could be more “new reader friendly” and go on to give it really high ratings. I think this goes to show that even if you acknowledge this, if you’re not the new reader being affected by the story, then you can still give it high marks, which is fine.

    http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2013/05/29/is-it-good-x-men-1-review/
    X-Men #1 given 8.5/10:
    So is the story decompressed? Yes, which is the unfortunate truth of comics today. We’re going to have to deal with it or become trade waiting readers. That said, there’s just enough character in this issue to soak up the lack of plot and story progression.

    This speaks to my point about possible pacing issues in the #1 issue, but then says “Oh, well, what are you going to do, it’s just how comics are nowadays”. Well, not ALL comics are. I still tend to downgrade a book for this, but that’s my own personal taste and when I review, my rating reflects my personal taste.

  4. Andrew says:

    I would have probably bounced it up to a 3.5 out of 5. Not to repeat myself too much from my review on the Marvel Noise podcast but I was actually a little disappointed in the artwork. After the Mighty Thor, I had higher hopes for the art team. It wasn’t bad art, but I felt they were not as good as on that title. It might be unfair, but if you are going to put their names on the cover of the book, you create expectations.

    The story just wasn’t enough to hook me either. I did not recognize all the mutants but I did not expect to. I sometimes read some X books now and again but am far from a regular reader. I think it did not progress enough for my tastes and the characterization of Kitty seems a little more immature than some of her more recent appearances but I am not X continuity expert. The “twist” did not have much of an impact upon me but it may be due to lack of familiarity with these particular bad guys. In lieu of that and the general lack of action, it failed to grab me but I recognize the craft inherent in the book so 3.5.

  5. I could see giving this a 3.5. In & of itself, the story displays craft, particularly for those “in the know”. I was more disappointed because I was hoping for the Holy Grail from Wood, an accessible to new readers X-Men book.

  6. Pingback: X-Men #2 (Marvel) | ComicSpectrum Comic Reviews

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