Four issues in, and the big question about X-Men Forever has changed from “Will this work?” to “Why is this working?”. In abstract, the concept still looks like a complete trainwreck, with Chris Claremont retuning to the early nineties X-Men setting he left behind when first evicted from the pages of Uncanny. The writer’s relish for the characters has gone a long way, hoverer, and his making the most of the non-canon setting has allowed for some extremely memorable moments, but what really makes the book work is its extremely good timing when compared to the rest of the franchise.
With Storm apparently turned traitor, the remainder of the X-Men are forced to divide their forces in the hope of regaining the momentum, but the changes in two of their number continue to throw them off balance. On its own terms, there’s not too much to be said for the issue. The characterisation still rings effortlessly true, and, as usual, Claremont’s expositionary style has started to grate after several consecutive issues. The plot is internally coherent, and Tom Grummett’s art is never less than serviceable. In fact, the penciller seems to considerably raise his game during the latter pages of the book, adopting an approach reminiscent of Adam Kubert and finding room for a nicely-judge John Byrne homage during the team’s fight with Storm. As usual, it’s the moments of lunacy that make the book, with Sabretooth’s reasons for going along with Cyclops’ orders a particular classic.
While there’s much to congratulate the creative team for, some praise must also be given to Marvels’ editorial and marketing staff. Launching the book with a run of fortnightly issues was a masterstroke, providing an extremely effective way of immersing readers into the new/old setting. Also important is the release of the series just over a year after the X-Men’s San Francisco setting was introduced, ensuring that there is genuine novelty in the Westchester location. There’s certain cynicism in targeting the one period of X-history that hasn’t been strip-mined in recent years, but it does go a long way to make the book distinctive, with only the admittedly small cost of making James and myself realise that we now constitute a nostalgia marketing category.
While Astonishing X-Men and X-Force aren’t going to be loosing any sleep, Forever is starting to put many of the X-Franchise’s second-string titles to shame.