Comics & Graphic Novels Marvel School of Hard NOCs

School of Hard NOCs: X-Men #1-3

x-men-1-001 Vitals: X-Men #1-3 are the first three issues of the re-launched X-Men title, and serve as a natural jumping on point for anyone who hasn’t been reading. It made national news earlier this year for featuring the first ever all-female X-Men line-up.

Plot: We rejoin the X-Men to find that most of them are now teachers at the Jean Grey Institute for Gifted Children. Jubilation Lee, code-named Jubilee, has resurfaced as the caretaker of an adorable little baby boy and is seeking refuge in the home of her old teammates. Little does she know that she has unintentionally led one of the X-Men’s foremost foes — the sentient bacteria John Sublime who is capable of taking control of any organic being — right to the X-Men’s doorstep. It turns out that Sublime is also seeking help from the X-Men, this time to confront a long-lost evil twin, the sentient technoorganic bacteria Arkea who is capable of controlling all things technological. How does a bacteria do that? It’s a sentient bacterial cell, people. Let’s just go with it, okay?

Pros: This three-part arc is basically your textbook definition of a comic book jumping point, and scores high in virtually all categories you might care to consider when it comes to judging a comic book.

As far as writing is concerned, Brian Wood’s dialogue is snappy, and the story is straight-forward and fast-paced — a villain appears, the X-Men find her, the X-Men defeat her — although a little too cramped for my tastes. I think this story could easily have spread into an additional issue or even two to give the plot a little room to breathe.

Where the book truly shines is its artwork, penciled by my new favourite artist, Olivier Coipel. In addition to producing some just stunning-looking pages, Coipel successfully manages to develop unique and ethnically-appropriate facial features for each of our main protagonists. Both Jubilee and Psylocke look Asian American (and different from one another), Storm looks African American, and even Kitty Pryde has a uniquely upturned nose. Whereas most artists might fall into cheesecake, Coipel even opts to minimize the skin-tastic dangers of an all-female comic book superhero team: the women move about the page like superheroes, not pin-up dolls. Further, all the women are wearing full body suits: Storm’s cleavage is really the only skin shown by the entire team. But, by far Coipel’s most incredible feat is his depiction of “Baby of Jubilee,” a truly kawaii and instantly identifiably Asian American child. While most artists have trouble with racial and ethnic diversity, Coiple embraces the multi-racial make-up of this X-Men team with open arms.

Another strength of this book is how it plants the seed for compelling inter-team tension within the limited space it has for interpersonal dynamics (as opposed to, say, showing things blow up). In three short issues, we already see how this team is going to interact with each other. Storm is the undisputed leader, and this has everything to do with gravitas and experience; Rogue, however, is going to be Storm’s biggest challenge to keep in line, as she is portrayed as brash, aggressive, and wanting to fix most problems with her fists. Kitty Pryde makes a compelling B-team leader, quickly taking charge of a handful of students in the ruins of the Jean Gray Institute. Jubilee, once again, is our anchor character — a powerless mutant who is easier to relate to because she can’t blow things up, but who pulls her weight by doing computer research. But, by far, my favourite dynamic established by the first three issues is that of Rachel Summers and Psylocke, who seem to have formed their very own all-psi mini-clique within the larger X-Men team. This just makes intuitive sense, yet has the delightful potential to become a little Mean Girls down the road.

Cons: Not many. As I mentioned above, at three issues, the story is the right length for a jumping on point but isn’t much space for complex story-telling. What does make it into the pages does feel a little claustrophobic. Another con of this title was that two of the three issues shipped really late, and it took forever to get my hands on all three issues — not great for an arc meant to attract new readers to the X-Men title.

Overall: In general, this is a good title to introduce your young son or daughter to comic books, and with the added bonus of featuring an all-female, racially diverse cast of superhero characters. It’s also a cheap investment for parents who are wary of adding a new comic book title to their kids’ repertoire. Either way, I’m interested in continuing the title, to find out what happens next to this new X-Men team.

Age-appropriateness: I’d say 8-10 and up. There are no really mature themes in the book, no hypersexuality, nothing might raise an eyebrow for the parent of a young reader. I’d say the limit is your child’s reading level — this book is written for young adult readers.

To buy: You can purchase the first four issues in a collected trade from Amazon.com. Or visit your local comic shop to purchase continuing issues from the ongoing series.

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