Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Original Cast With Renewed Energy: X-men Blue #1

The following is my review of X-men Blue #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Some concepts work well in any era, no matter the context. Those concepts are few and far between, but their universal appeal is what helps make them iconic. When it comes to the original five X-men, as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby over 50 years ago, they check all the right boxes with respect to those concepts.

They're young, idealistic, vulnerable, determined, anxious, eager, and even a little arrogant at times. They believe in following a dream. They also haven't experienced the harshest realities of the real world, which tend to crush dreams like Juggernaut in a china shop. Since arriving in a future where they find out their future selves are dead, disfigured, or had lost their minds, they fight desperately to cling to those dreams. Despite the knowledge that those dreams shattered under the weight of cosmic forces, psychic manipulation, and evil clones, they still fight for that dream. It says a lot about both their youthful spirit, as well as their youthful arrogance.

They may not need that arrogance quite as much these days. After the events of Inhumans vs. X-men, the dream the original five X-men fight for isn't quite as shattered as before. Mutants are no longer being gassed to death by a giant green cloud and the Scarlet Witch hasn't had a mental breakdown lately. That means mutants have a future again and, despite being the product of an out-of-control time travel plot, they seek to forge part of that future in X-men Blue.

Cullen Bunn and Jorge Molina bring the original five X-men back together in X-men Blue #1, attempting to capture as much of those classic concepts as possible while fitting them into a new status quo. That includes everything from teenagers complaining about random things and fighting the Juggernaut. By all those lofty standards of the Kirby/Lee tradition, it still checks the right boxes boxes.


From the outset, the story is fairly basic. The Original Five X-men go up against an old enemy in Black Tom, but from their time-displaced perspective, he's a fresh face with a sinister mustache. There's not much to Black Tom's plot. He's just holding a lot of rich people hostage, twirling his sinister mustache, and generally doing all the things Lex Luthor used to do before he got into politics.

There may not be much complexity to that plot at first, but it still leads to some entertaining theatrics that allow the time-displaced X-men to stop lamenting about their future selves and just be heroes. Given that they're still teenagers, there is some lamenting, but Bunn makes sure it's doesn't devolve into the kind of teen angst that often plagued the characters after Secret Wars. That makes the effect of X-men Blue #1 all the more profound because it shifts the tone back to a sense of youthful idealism. After surviving a poison gas cloud, it's a shift that needed to happen.

As the story unfolds, new complexities emerge. The narrative doesn't just rely on a group of teenage mutants flying in and saving the day. The battle also illustrates some new dynamics within the team. Most notably, Jean Grey is now the leader. It may not be akin to making Doop the leader, but the change is notable in the way the X-men conduct themselves.

It's different in that Cyclops doesn't go barking out orders while everyone else jokes about how uptight he is. Jean Grey's style of leadership is different in that she'll spearhead the charge, but trusts her teammates to handle themselves, even against someone like Juggernaut. This style isn't without its faults though. They quickly get overwhelmed and end up having to wing it in order to save the day, so much that they end up having to cheat with magic.

This is where X-men Blue #1 ties itself into the larger narrative that has been unfolding with the time-displaced X-men since they arrived in the future back in All-New X-men. Bunn doesn't ignore the nuances have emerged with certain characters. In this case, Beast's newfound appreciation of magic proves pivotal, both in terms of resolving a conflict and establishing new levels of tension. It makes for different tactics, but it also leads to arguments and uncertainties about how the team operates. In a team made up of entirely of teenagers, that's always fertile ground for conflict.


It also establishes that while X-men Blue is relying on more traditional X-men dynamics, the team is still very much a work-in-progress. Jean Grey is still learning how to lead. Beast is still learning how to manage his new mystical abilities. All the while, Cyclops has to resist the urge to start barking out orders again. As a team, they're not a finished product. They're still rookies who have the potential to be all stars, but are a long way from that level.

That sense of growth is one of the greatest strengths in X-men Blue #1. Even though it uses a team line-up that was introduced during the Kennedy Administration, it still comes off as novel. It's very much a product of an evolving narrative, one that has taken many twists and come dangerously close to being derailed. Magic and tactics aside, Bunn seems to have the original five X-men back on track and Molina's artwork makes them look good while they do it.

That track even has some interesting turns towards the end. While the story starts off as fairly basic, it gains greater intrigue towards the end. There are hints and teases about the Original Five X-men's larger goals and how they intend to go about it. Coming on the heels of a classic clash that brings new energy to a team that underwent so much upheaval, X-men Blue #1 creates a new foundation for an old cast of characters. For characters are teenagers, time-displaced, and dabbling in magic, that's quite an accomplishment.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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