Something really strange is happening. Really, really strange. Because X-Men Forever is about as good a series as Claremont has written since… well, since he left the book the first time. Sure, the book’s adherence to its own premise is shaky, and yes, his usual tics are (sort of) there – but all that pales into insignificance when you get an issue like this, where Rogue and Nightcrawler buddy up and we get the “As Claremont Intended” version of their familial relationship story.
Intertwined with this are advancing sub-plots about the traitors in SHIELD, and the mutant “burn-out” phenomenon, both of which also tie into Mystique’s appearance. Between the book’s pacey schedule and its old-school issue-oriented structure, this actually does feel like the X-Men in the same tradition that made them popular.
Alongside that, Claremont reallys gets these characters. The exchange between Beast, Moira and Xavier is as memorable a scene as Claremont has ever written. A flashback to Nightcrawler and Sefton’s parting is understated and atmospheric. Rogue’s past is explored in a way that first seems like mere character-building then unexpectedly becomes relevant to the plot. The initial twist is believable, but the final page cliffhanger recalls the kind of status quo shift that used to be possible when Claremont was the only man steering the X-Men ship. In almost any other comic, it’d be an obviously temporary state of affairs – but in X-Men Forever, the stakes feel real.
Graham Nolan deserves his own kudos, too, in part for the way he translates the raw emotions of the script onto the page. Due to its frequency, the title has gone through a fair few artists in an effort to keep on schedule, but Nolan is towards the top end of its spectrum – though while we’re talking about art, it’d be nice if the art kept Mystique’s eyes the correct colour, given that it is referenced as a characteristic she shares with Nightcrawler…
Although there are plenty of things about the issue that can be called a mistake – not least the logic of how Mystique’s longetivity, apparently a function of her shape-shifting, would be “inherited” by Nightcrawler – but we can let that slide for now, because the rest of it is actually, against the odds, becoming more and more interesting as time goes on.