I imagine that people will discuss X-Men: Grand Design in regards to how much people know about the X-Men. That makes sense. It’s an ambitious project summarizing 30 years of X-Men comics in an entertaining and comprehensive fashion in the comics form. Cartoonist Ed Piskor is combining an incredible amount of information into something that is part history, part encyclopedia, and part superhero comic. So it makes sense that some prior knowledge or enjoyment of the X-Men might be required, but it isn’t. In a fashion similar to his work on Hip Hop Family Tree, Piskor has found the heart of a subject he loves and distilled information into thrilling, compact sequences. X-Men: Grand Design simply works with or without any musings about context or interest. It’s a damn fine comic book entirely on its own merit.
Piskor’s greatest talent might be his uncanny ability to balance summary and variety. The epic tale he begins in this issue feels almost too large even for the 48 pages allotted. Each character requires an introduction, and dozens of subplots, many of which will simmer until the end, are all prepared. The resulting compression could easily become an information dump. Piskor avoids this fate by utilizing a wide array of tools to consistently shift pacing, style, and tone. This sort of alteration is necessary in any form of story to avoid monotony, but its evocation is much more difficult in this style of summary. Text taken entirely on its own would likely read more like a Wikipedia entry than anything close to entertainment, yet on the comics page these recaps run the gamut from hilarious to thrilling.
There is a base form to this comic that readers of Piskor’s prior work will recognize. Not only is the form of his characters and layouts familiar, but so are the yellowed pages and muted colors. They provide the waft of nostalgia that makes the mood of a comics history even more potent. He varies his style in order to emphasize iconic elements, like a pencil-drawn photograph of the earliest Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Important rivalries and pairings are allowed to linger in static panels that offer more information in their layout than an entire page of captions might. When the story emphasis is on action or plot though, Piskor is equally capable of making thrilling pages. Captain America’s shield bounces off of a dozen Nazis and the Beast completes an entire heist in just one panel. Relationships are expressed more than once in divided three-panel sets with opposing face on each end and action in the middle. X-Men: Grand Design displays the astonishing flexibility and utility of a standard page of superhero comic as well as anything else.
The comic itself acknowledges the giant-size scope of its task and the interest it might provoke in readers. Piskor’s multiple covers offer something very real, whether it’s the combining tapestry of eras when future issues are set side-by-side or the nostalgia capturing combination of recreated versions of the team in Marvel Corner Boxes. There is a glossary in the back that provides a thorough rundown of sources for almost every page. It’s a backup piece, unnecessary for an enjoyable read, but so satisfying for someone interested in research or exploring more of what has made Piskor so obviously passionate about this superhero saga.
It cannot be overstated that X-Men: Grand Design is not just ambitious or intriguing, it is a unique story told well. While the hook of an X-Men encyclopedia or Piskor’s take on classic superheroes may be enough for some, that shouldn’t overshadow how much fun it is to read this first issue without any other considerations. Each page functions as a unique discovery, providing new details and presenting them with panache. Grand Design is more than a great X-Men comic, it’s a great comic. Full stop.
Created by Ed Piskor