A new team of mutant superheroes leaves Krakoa for New York City in X-Men #1 from writer Gerry Duggan, artist Pepe Larraz, colorist Marte Gracia, and letterer Clayton Cowles. This move from Krakoa to New York symbolizes the new series' desire to re-establish the X-Men as a superhero team and part of the Marvel Universe's superhero community, providing readers with more traditional stories than the past two years' inclination towards high concept sci-fi adventures. X-Men #1 succeeds in achieving that goal, but it all feels somewhat juvenile when compared to what preceded it.
Early in the story, Cyclops, while in conversation, tells someone else not to "let all of that responsibility get in the way of doing what you love." It's a reflection of this new series attempting to carve out a place for fun and straightforward superhero stories that can exist alongside Krakoa's broader societal narrative. As "X of Swords" revealed, Cyclops and Marvel Girl love being superheroes and see a need for a team of mutant superheroes to exist even in a world with Krakoa. And, in the same way, a flagship superhero X-Men series may still prove to be an essential part of any X-Men line.
That isn't to say Krakoan society is absent from X-Men #1. The new team lives in a plant structure called the Treehouse, the name underscoring the series' embrace of childlike wonder and superhero simplicity. X-Men #1's plot is as simple as they come, with the X-Men springing into action to take down an alien threat that arrives in New York City unannounced. It's a template used in past attempts to pivot the X-Men back into being superheroes, as in the transition from New X-Men to Astonishing X-Men in 2004 or X-Men Gold's launch in 2018. The Krakoan elements provide a unique flavor but are not the focus.
Visuals emphasize this move towards traditional superhero storytelling, as Larraz doesn't miss an opportunity to depict the X-Men behaving in larger-than-life fashion. Rogue soars through the sky, arms outstretched in an iconic superhero pose as an unknown threat burns through the atmosphere above. A couple of pages later, readers receive a half-page panel of the rest of the new team springing into action, Gracia wreathing them in the bright colors of various energy-based powers. Together they take on a giant alien robot that looks like something out of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Eventually, the X-Men achieve victory with a fun bit of teamwork, though it's also a concept that's shown up recently in both Justice League and Avengers comics. The final punctuation mark on the whole outing is members of Marvel's other major superhero teams showing up to welcome the X-Men back into the fold. It's practically Marvel Comics holding up a sign to inform readers: "We're all one big happy family again, please stop asking if the X-Men are villains."
While the issue establishes its big superhero tone well, it doesn't do a great job of introducing its individual heroes. The script spends too much time teasing future threats and not enough time establishing the core cast of characters, leaving readers to wonder, especially, who the heck Sunfire is and why he showed up to fight the alien monster. It's a busy issue, and the brief bits of characterization we get are one-note, while some of Duggan's humorous lines, typically one of his writing strengths, miss their marks.
Similarly, Larraz excels at giving the issue larger-than-life superhero moments. Yet, a couple of pages are overly busy, and smaller panels sometimes suffer from a lack of detail. Gracia rarely misses when it comes to color choices, but the cool green palette he gives this issue seems better suited for a murky haunted swamp than for embracing straight-up superhero action. Most of the team wears similarly colored costumes, making it hard for characters to pop off the pages if they aren't engulfed in flames or haloed by psychic energy.
Despite these flaws, X-Men #1 is a well assembled issue that delivers the fun superhero action and adventure promised in its solicit. Yet, it's hard not to feel like this is also a step backward, returning to familiar territory after spending the last couple of years exploring new ground. There's nothing wrong with a good superhero story, and the X-Men have starred in some of the best, but there's not much here readers haven't seen before. That may be the point, to provide readers who aren't totally on board with "Head of X" Jonathan Hickman's vision for mutants with a flagship title that essentially stands apart from the rest of the line. If that's the goal, then mission accomplished and with, for the most part, stellar craft. Yet, after the X-Men's recent transformations, it can't help but feel retrograde.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Published by Marvel Comics
On July 7, 2021
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Pepe Larraz
Colors by Marte Gracia0comments
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia