Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing X-Men 1, originally released May 29th, 2013.
Drew: Anticipation is often the enemy of objectivity. Not that I can ever claim to be all that objective, but it can be difficult to evaluate a work on its own merits when expectations have been allowed to brew for as long as they have for X-Men 1. Since the announcement of this title, the all-female cast has been cited for everything from pandering to its female audience to serving as a rare bastion of female role models in comicdom. But, are any of those things what writer Brian Wood and penciller Olivier Coipel actually set out to do? Does that matter? Art shouldn’t have to answer for what people turn it into sight-unseen, but its difficult to talk about this series without some reaction to the expectations it was released into. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tie it back to the series itself.
The issue begins with the details of a family feud between bacteria some billion years ago. One stayed on Earth and thrived, the other was cast out into space…and has maybe just returned. We find Jubilee a few weeks later in Bulgaria with a baby in tow. She’s headed back to the Jean Grey school, but is worried that she’s being followed by a mysterious stranger. He pursues her all the way to the Metro North line, but is foiled by their impeccable security (just kidding, he opts for a private helicopter once he realizes where Jubilee is going). Kitty Pryde, Storm, and Rogue decide to do some good ol’ train extraction, just in case this stranger has followed Jubilee onto the train. It’s a happy little reunion on the train…until the baby somehow switches the train over to the southbound tracks, making a collision imminent. Rogue manages to avert disaster, and the team heads back to the school to help Jubilee settle in. While they were out, the mysterious stranger arrived at the school, revealed himself to be John Sublime, one of the bacteria the issue opened with. He’s worried that his sister, Arkea — who apparently takes over machines the same way he takes over bodies — has returned. Also, maybe Jubilee’s baby has something to do with this. Sure enough, the baby’s presence allows Arkea to take over an omega sentinel’s body.
It’s an issue with plenty of event, but very little explanation — actually, a pretty ideal first issue. I’m more intrigued than anything, but there was still a good dose of action to leaven all the mystery. That said, there were a few points where events unfolded just a little too conveniently. For example: everything the baby touches instantly malfunctions, and while it happens twice this issue it apparently had never come up before. I guess it’s lucky that Jubilee didn’t let him come near a single electronic anything on the plane, even though she had absolutely no qualms about it on the train. Also, Sublime figures out where Jubilee is headed by hitting redial on a pay phone. Never mind that Jubilee is using a pay phone in 2013 (she just flew in from Europe, so I guess it’s possible she didn’t have her phone with her) — do pay phones even have redial buttons? A quick search suggests no — at least, not the ones at Grand Central Station. I’m also not entirely clear how Rogue stops the train. Sure, she detaches the engine, but the rest of the train should have enough momentum to carry it the half-mile further to collision. Further, it doesn’t explain how the other train managed to stop so quickly.
Okay, if it seems like I’m nitpicking, it’s because I’m trying to avoid the elephant in the room — the all female cast. Wait, let’s back up: why is a cast of six female characters considered the elephant in the room? Honestly, you shake up a bag of all of the possible X-Men characters and pull out six, you’re bound to get an all-female cast eventually, and it’s not like this cast is by any means made up of random second-stringers — these are A-list X-Men. All that is to say, I’m not convinced the choice of cast was meant as the transgressive feminist statement fans have turned it into. In fact, I think the issue suffers if we emphasize gender to that degree.
There are certain X-Men characters that fans just can’t get enough of. I get that the core cast of this title can only be so big — which will always come at the cost of someone’s favorite character — but, like, I don’t think there’s a title out there that people don’t think would be improved by a Wolverine cameo. If this cast is about gender, suddenly thinking it can be “improved” with the presence of a male character becomes icky — even though fans just want to see Wolverine in fucking everything. Also, you know, he’s an important character in the X-Men universe, so his name is going to come up. Again, though, it becomes icky if we emphasize his gender.
Not only is Wood more-or-less admitting that we also want to see Wolverine write that check, but a gendered read Wolverine into this weird paternal problem-solver, which effectively robs the rest of the cast of their agency. (And this says nothing of the infantilization of the entire cast, which is also problematic. When Kitty discovers Jubilee on the train, she exclaims “OMG.” Never mind whether we’re meant to read that as “Oh my god” or if she actually said “OMG,” but that sure as fuck doesn’t sound like something a grown ass woman would say. She’s the headmistress of a prestigious boarding school, not a 13-year-old Belieber.)
Ultimately, I think this issue fails as a feminist comic, but I maintain that it was never meant to be one in the first place. Under it’s own merits, it’s mostly too early to get a solid read on it. I’m intrigued by this first arc, and it seems clear that Wood is as interested in the schoolyard as he is in the battlefield, so I’m definitely on board for more. How about you, Spencer? Has this title earned a return visit for you? Also, do you think you can explain Rachel Grey to me? I have no idea what her deal is.
Spencer: Ouch, Drew. Trying to describe the past of any X-Man—but particularly one of the Summers/Grey clan—could take years, so Cliff’s Notes version: Rachel Grey is the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from an alternate timeline. She’s an extraordinarily powerful telepath and telekinetic, which begs the question of why Psylocke is the one reading Sublime’s mind and why Rachel isn’t included in the crew of Omega Level Telepaths ready to take Sublime down. It almost implies that she might be weakened or depowered, but if she is, Wikipedia sure doesn’t mention it.
Also, she and Naruto were apparently separated at birth:
Anyway Drew, I find it funny that you brought up anticipation, because I had the same problem. How long has it been since this book was first announced, anyway? I’m not sure just what I was expecting from this book, but after all that time, it’s a little hard to live up to expectations no matter what they are. After pushing those aside and reading the issue through a few times, though, I’ve decided that I really like the book. It has its issues, of course: X-Men continuity can be impenetrable no matter how new reader-friendly the issue is, and occasionally dialogue or events are a little unclear. Drew, you actually already highlighted my three main problems with the issue: Kitty’s “OMG”s, Rogue’s mystery train rescue, and the fact that the baby didn’t short out the plane. So, instead of continuing to harp on its problems, I’m going to focus on what I liked about the issue: the camaraderie.
As Jubilee and her unnamed baby (henceforth known as Jubibaby) head for the X-Men, the omniscient narrator tells us of how the X-Men took Jubilee in when she was an orphan, gave her a home, and became her family. Its funny, because when I think of the X-Men, family isn’t the first word that comes to mind. They’re teachers, soldiers, occasionally even revolutionaries, but I guess when you live together and fight together, you become a family whether you want to or not.
When Jubilee meets with the other X-Men on the train, it feels like a million real-life family occasions I’ve lived through personally. They haven’t seen each other in a while, but they pick up right where they left off; Rogue and Kitty coo over Jubibaby while Storm plays the stern parent, and they marvel over the fact that little Jubilee is all grown up with a baby of her own. There’s affection and a familiarity between these characters that’s heartwarming and often missing in team books. It also helps show us how the X-Men operate as a family, instead of just telling us that they do and leaving it at that. Jubilee is the prodigal daughter, returning home with a baby in tow but being welcomed with open arms; remove the superpowers and I’m pretty sure this could be a Hallmark Movie of the Week.
It also helps establish Jubilee as a more adult character. I’m not sure everything that’s been done with her in recent years (last I heard she had become a vampire?), but I’m sure most of us mainly remember Jubilee as the bratty little mallrat from the 90’s X-Men animated series. Now she’s come full circle, returning home with a baby of her own and new adult responsibilities and worries. It’s a feeling that’s probably familiar to a lot of readers.
I’m also a fan of Oliver Coipel’s artwork. First of all, Jubibaby is adorable. The characters’ faces are expressive, and I love what he does with their hair, be it Jubilee’s scruffy locks, Rogue’s hair blowing dynamically in the wind, or Storm’s sweet, sweet Mohawk.
I was also impressed by the action sequences. While I still don’t know how derailing three of the train’s cars prevented a head-on collision, Coipel’s rendition of the scene is dynamic and easy-to-follow, and it was fun to see Rogue topple the train by combining strength with leverage, instead of going with a straight-up Superman-level feat of strength.
If there is one weakness to Coipel’s work, though, it’s definitely his interpretation of Storm’s costume:
Seriously, how does that stay up?
As for the all-female X-Men roster, I don’t necessarily think that Wood has a message beyond “Hey look how awesome the ladies of the X-Men are!” In fact, I love that the fact that the entire roster is comprised of women is never mentioned within the story itself. X-Men has always been a title that connected with female readers and featured a greater than average number of female characters—many of them powerful, iconic ones at that—and the specific ladies featured in this issue all have positions at the Jean Grey School and are all friends of Jubilee, so there’s nothing strange at all about them being together on this specific mission (and I bet if you mentioned it to any of these X-Men you’d end up with Rogue’s boot upside your head).
I haven’t heard anybody else mention it, but despite the (sadly) still rare emphasis on female characters, I’m actually much more impressed by this roster’s diversity. Out of six lead X-Men, three of them (Storm, Psylocke and Jubilee) are women of color; 50% of the team isn’t white, and in the world of comics, that’s truly impressive.
Anyway, despite whatever flaws this book has, I’m definitely coming back next month. I love the camaraderie between the cast, I’m intrigued by Jubibaby and Arkea, and honestly, I really want to find out why Mercury attacked Bling. Yes, a one-page, nearly throw-away altercation between two students I’ve never seen before interested me enough that I want to come back to see if it’s ever addressed again, and I’m taking that as a sign that Brian Wood is a writer worth sticking around for. So I’m going to do just that.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?