It would be easy to assume that there isn't much left to be said about Ed Piskor's X-Men Grand Design after four titanic issues collected in two oversized volumes, each of which reads like its own graphic novel; that assumption would be wrong, though. The division of this series into a trilogy is not an incident of publishing schedules, it is a purposeful partition based upon the different eras of X-Men history being explored. "X-Tinction" covers much of the 1980s and easily the most complex and brimming period of stories. While Piskor's style and skill remain the foundation of this comic, the choices being made and story presented are different than everything that has come before it.
Your experience reading this comic will undoubtedly vary based upon your knowledge of X-Men lore and how you first encountered these stories. "X-Tinction" is taking plotlines that were slowly constructed across several years and laying them out across several pages. This clarifies the complexity of what Chris Claremont and his collaborators were constructing, a story that resembles the Winchester House with its never-ending construction in all directions with ample dead ends. Taking these tales in slowly in monthly installments is easier than binging collections of issues, and both of those options are easier than distilling it all into a single issue. It's in "X-Tinction" where Piskor's choice of what to keep, what to cut, and what to merge becomes most obvious. Those choices are consistently made for the sake of building a more coherent story, one that pushes this far beyond the work of synopsis and into the Shakespearean realm of histories. It also allows for flaws from the past to be reconciled as purposeful strokes of tragedy. Piskor's approach to Madelyne Pryor as a deeply sympathetic character driven to destruction by uncaring or manipulative figures as she seeks to protect her family is a drastic improvement over the original presentation of the Goblin Queen.
Almost every individual page functions as a unique scene, with a clear theme and purpose being served. Stitched together they form greater arcs and speak to the big ideas of the X-Men franchise, but it is rare to find a sequence requiring multiple pages to be properly appreciated. This is how Mystique's maternal relationship with Rogue and Storm's reconciliation with Forge are given space to breathe, even in the midst of so much action. That level of craftsmanship allows readers to linger with each moment and take their time with such a dense work. These 40 pages can easily be appreciated across multiple sessions of reading.
It's the density of page layouts that allow for some titanic visual payoffs as well. Any moment that 1/3 or 1/2 of a page is dedicated to a single panel delivers a similar impact to any splash or spread. After setting up Mr. Sinister's involvement at the very start of Grand Design, Piskor pays off all of his foreshadowing with one panel that feels every bit as large as the best cliffhangers in Saga. What's more is that the first issue of "X-Tinction" continues to build shadows for the coming finale. Amid so much streamlining, there are still plenty of fragments of dialogues and small panels that allude to a conclusion capable of summarizing this sprawling saga. There is a promise that the best moments are yet to come, despite the many triumphs found here.
X-Men Grand Design was never just a stylish synopsis; it has always been a grand remembering that weaves a multitude of tales into a monumental tragedy (albeit one with touches of comedy). Each page of this issue is capable of careful analysis—the alterations made to canon, the focus on certain themes and characters, and the brilliant density of comics storytelling. There is so much to be unpacked in this series, and that has never been more true than in "X-Tinction" as the finale draws ever closer.
Published by Marvel Comics
On May 29, 2019
Created by Ed Piskor