After last month’s prototype, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction deliver the finished article. With a more focussed plot and a unified art style, the writers’ injection of some CSI-style gloss into the X-Men’s world clicks into place, although it’s still too early to be sure whether they are willing to grasp the full potential of their ideas.
After an arc which felt as if Brubaker was just marking time, there’s a noticeably more secure grasp of these iconic characters. The writer makes Cyclops in particular his own, showing a more rational reason for his steely “protect mutants” policy than those offered by Warren Ellis. The light-hearted team banter manages to underline just how long the core cast have known each other, a vast improvement on the somewhat stale characterisation seen in the book post-Messiah Complex. Adding to this, we have the arrival of the poster girl for Brubaker & Fraction’s younger, hipper Uncanny. Pixie’s promotion to the X-Men’s a-list has been trailed for so long that the novelty factor has long since worn off, with a Brubaker interview giving the game away last year. New X-Men’s comedy character is considerably more interesting than the transparent Kitty Pryde-replacement making up the numbers in Astonishing, with a power-set that boarders on genius, but it’s hard not to have some reservations. Under Joe Quesada, Marvel has acquired a habit of prematurely seizing and flogging to death the neat little ideas its writers come up with, such as Marvel Zombies, instead of allowing them to grow organically. Hopefully Megan will avoid becoming the next Doop.
The X-titles have been addicted to banner tags lately, but while Endangered Species, Messiah Complex and the less-successful Divided We Stand all sprang from identifiable events and then explored their themes, Manifest Destiny is still at an embryonic stage. I’m confident that a coherent story will emerge across the X-titles over the next few months, but for now, the tagline feels like an imposition, constraining a reconceptualised book that is buzzing with energy. There are still some glitches in the storytelling, such as a seriously-injured Pixie walking several miles to Graymalkin Industries instead of heading to the nearest hospital, and the “shock” revelation of a mysterious redhead leading the Hellfire Cult only two issues after Mystique was seen plotting the X-Men’s downfall. More seriously, the usually brazen narration falls noticeably silent on the subject of whether the partying teens on the first page have been drinking. It’s a curious little piece of censorship, and raises some doubts about the ability of the book to do justice to the lifestyle its heroes have adopted.
The writing team is throwing new ideas out at a tremendous pace. In only two issues, we’ve seen classic series events used as the basis of modern art, a new political liaison methodology for the team, the injection of flashiness into the X-Men’s M.O., a bondage cult on villain duties and the possibility of an unofficial mutant breading programme. The pace of change is putting the series’ flagship book to shame, but parallels with the title exactly one hundred issues ago raise a question mark. Joe Casey’s Uncanny run added new concepts to the X-Men’s vocabulary, but the writer was unable to truly get to grips with the elements he referenced, using them as mere window-dressing for his plots. If Brubaker & Fraction can keep up this innovation while fully riding-out the shockwaves of what they’ve brought to the book, then this will be a title-defining run. But for now, it’s merely very, very, promising.