#2 X-MEN #30-37
By Brian Wood and David Lopez & Roland Boschi
X-MEN was not only the greatest X-book of 2012, it was the greatest X-book in years. Brian Wood, indie Maestro and self-professed non-mutie obsessive, hit the ground running on an eight issue run that packed more characterization, plot, mythology and artistry into a mainstream superhero book than we should even be allowed to see. Paired with destined-to-be-superstar David Lopez, a fantastic penciller who treats characters with an immense amount of dignity and respect, representing emotions in an intensely impressionistic manner, representing characters going through natural, organic evolutions in a few graceful lines, Wood/Lopez is an instant dream-team pairing. X-MEN is about what it is to be a mutant and what it is to be a family. Wood casts his X-men as Psylocke, Pixie, Colossus and Domino, all led by an increasingly irate Storm. Piotr and Ororo play the parental authority figures, with Dom as the wandering twenty-something, Pyslocke as the emotional teen and Pixie, the heart of the series, as an enthusiastic, wide-eyed young mutant ready to understand the world on a deeper level. Amid a complicated, ominous plot about an ancient proto-mutant gene and cult-worshippers, the humanity and distinct voices of the team drive one of Marvel’s most incredible series in years.
The story begins as a deranged scientist David Michael Gray discovers remains of 700 year old mutant DNA and clones it to create Lovecraftian monsters he uses to terrorize Canada. The X-men are on the case, and soon find themselves involved in a conflict far more complex than punching Avengers. Storm decides the information that mutants have been around much longer than we previously imagined is something the team should keep to themselves, resulting in tense, awkward conversations with Cyclops that reveal her desire to overtake the X-men from Scott and her resentment towards his handling of Utopia still run deep. When Colossus discovers she’s withholding information, the tension between the second gen X-men becomes thicker and thicker. The others aren’t sure how to feel. As Pixie looks for guidance in Domino and Pyslocke, she seems dissatisfied with their explanations as to the complexity of the Proto-Mutant revelation. “This is so huge. It changes our very identity. Who we are. What if there’s more to us than a few handfuls fighting over who lives where and why? Other species of mutants? Different branches of our family tree? Maybe even alien? It gives me chills! Others should feel it too.” In this one piece of dialogue, Wood seems make a claim to what his run on the X-men will be – a step away from continuity porn, navel-gazing Claremontian monologue, and constant melodramatic in-fighting, while still being true to the franchise’s soapy character-driven roots.
But what’s done with the characters is at such a higher level than we’re used to. After the team discovers the existence of Gabriel Shepherd, a proto-mutant born at the same time as the DNA Grey used to create killer monsters. Storm’s desire to lead has clouded her judgements, and her semi-violent methods involved in ‘recruiting’ Shepherd hint at her progression into leader as the X-force. We learn that Gabriel has lived an undramatic life, preferring to live comfortably and out of the spotlight, barely keeping up with stories of vigilante mutants saving the world. Storm tries to learn more information about Gray, and as he offers no knowledge of the man, she refuses to follow up on who he is. As Pixie has a one-on-one with the proto-mutant, hoping to learn more about herself and her place in mutant culture, she welcomes him to the unique world of powered outcasts. “You look so…normal. Sorry, I hate that word. I try not to use it.”
Shepherd uses telepathic powers to discover that this supposed team of heroes decided to withhold the information that his friends and family had been turned into creatures from horror movies by a mad scientist. He throws Colossus off of a plane and he and Pixie are teleported to a nearby island. And here, in the final issue of a far-too-short run, in a conversation between a magical teleporting fairy and an immortal mutant businessman, Wood sticks a landing in a way I haven’t seen since Ennis/Dillon’s PREACHER, in an issue that is painfully intelligent, that makes you wish all comics could be this good, that gives you complete faith in this wacky medium. Pixie and Shepherd begin a conversation as to, not only, what it means to be a mutant, but what responsibilities we have in even being alive. “Call me a coward, but I preferred the quiet hole of a life I built for myself…I attracted zero attention and liked it.” In this Auesteresque exploration of the moral implications in self-implemented isolation, Gabriel attempts to explain away his reasons for not using his incredible powers to better the world. Pixie, in her beautifully simplistic way, reminds Shepherd that a shared history is what makes a culture prosper, specifically an abused sub-culture like the mutants. But Shepherd isn’t sold- a world that hates and fears him, that would turn his former friends, family and lovers into colossal monsters…its reasons like this he’s run away from the world. “You get used to it.” Pixie slyly replies. “You find people who accept you no matter what…and you make them your best friends.”
Amidst this wonderful exploration of a mutant legacy, of how we have responsibility to fight for our beliefs and hold on to the romantic ideal that we can change the world, Storm and Colossus have a brutal confrontation over her handling of working under Cyclops. It’s not something I’ll even attempt to put into words, but Wood creates a bizarre twist on domestic violence that will chill you to the bone, and Lopez puts his heart and soul into a painfully real, and increasingly violent, tussle that reveals far more about its characters than hero on hero fistmatchs ever do. As the dust settles, the team is hopeless. Domino is handing in her superhero tights, Storm is done with Utopia forever, and Colossus is lost, forever loyal to Scott Summers yet conflicted by his increasingly extreme tactics to ensure the future of mutant kind.
X-MEN is X-men, in a way they’re so rarely portrayed, yet I’m always longing to see. In a furry of eight double-shipped issues, Wood cemented himself as one of the all-time great X-writers, with moment after moment of wonderful character development and intricate plotting. Small touches like Gabriel Shepherd’s calm reaction to his first meeting with the X-men (refusing to bow to the superhero standard of ‘punch first, ask later’), Domino reading a book and ignoring an awkward situation after the loud WHAMMM! of Colossus pushing Storm into a wall, Pixie falling asleep while munching on a sandwich, and on and on and on and on. Please read this in trade, please write letters to Marvel, please demand more Pixie in your books. Let it be known that smart, character-focused, intelligent X-books are a sought after commodity. X-MEN is the stuff of legend.