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    Review: X-Men: Season One

    By | March 15th, 2012
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Written by Dennis Hopeless
    Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie

    Welcome to the X-Men’s first year – hope you survive the experience! Professor Charles Xavier has recruited five of the most powerful mutants he’s ever seen to save a world that hates and fears them. But there’s only one problem: They’re teenagers who have to survive hormones and uncontrollable super-powers, all while fighting for their very lives. So right now’s the perfect time for Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – along with the Sentinels, Unus the Untouchable and more – to make their bids for control of the world, right? The first class of X-Men are forged in the fires of combat in ways you’ve never seen before. You only think you know the story! Also features UNCANNY X-MEN (2012) #1 by Kieron Gillen and Carlos Pacheco!

    Marvel’s Season One line of graphic novels is truly an interesting endeavor, and one well worth watching. Us older fans hate the repeated call to arms, but there is no such thing as a bad reason to get new readers into shops. With that in mind, Season One is (in so many words) what DC wanted from their Earth One line in the form of updated origin stories delivered in a more relatable fashion (as we saw with “Fantastic Four: Season One’s” use of Mad Men references).

    Today sees the release of the second book in that series, this time featuring the completely logical pairing of Dennis Hopeless (“Lovestruck”) and Jamie McKelvie (“Phonogram”). Take a look behind the cut as I put two creators I quite enjoy to the X-Test.

    In “Fantastic Four: Season One”, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and David Marquez teamed up to bring the Fantastic Four from their 1961 origin into the modern age. Given Aguirre-Sacasa’s penchant for comics history and previous experience at adaptations, it was everything you’d generally expect it to be: strongly crafted, but fairly unexciting. The book sought so hard to recapture the characters that it was ultimately left with no character of it’s own; a port of classic stories through the lens of someone who loved them but couldn’t quite get that excitement across.

    “X-Men: Season One” is different, though. Hopeless and McKelvie, to all their deserved credit, aren’t the logical fits to the book. Aguirre-Sacasa spent a few years writing the Fantastic Four (2004-2006), and Marquez has the traditional super-heroic pinache down to a T; Hopeless is known for his work with Kevin Mellon via “Gearhead” and “Lovestruck”, the latter of which dealt heavily with a musical influence, and McKelvie is (assumedly) known to most as the intrepid artist and co-creator of indie comic darling “Phonogram,” a comic with a heavy musical influence (let alone “Suburban Glamour” or the album art for Brilliant! Tragic! by Art Brut). Sure, it makes perfect sense to pair the two together on a project, but the big relaunch/revamp of one of Marvel’s premiere properties? No offense intended, but it’s a curious choice.*
    Yet, almost 100 pages later, it becomes clear why Hopeless and McKelvie are in fact the single most obvious choice for the latest X-Men revamp/relaunch. The X-Men, when they were but youngsters, were an entirely different beast than they are today. While these days the X-Men seem more like a militia than a band of brothers, their beginnings were meager and quite humble. As youngsters with bourgeoning powers, the original stories focused specifically on the increasingly heightened adventures, never really addressing the mixed up hormones (and when it did, it was rather light); comics were (are) an escapist medium, and there was never too much demand for that sort of youthful drama. Yet, today’s market calls for it from all angles, and the popularity of various young adult novels alone essentially qualifies a teen drama laden reboot. So who better to tell the story of collected youth in revolt than two creators who have shown their proficiency in telling exactly that kind of story?
    Unlike the previous Season One offering, “X-Men” takes liberally from several early X-Men stories, including #1 (the first battle against Magneto at a military base), #3 (the introduction of the Blob at a carnival), #4 (the introduction of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, sans Mastermind), #8 (“The Uncanny Threat of ‘Unus, the Untouchable!'”) and #10 (introduction of the Savage Land). It’s an interesting treatment of a handful of history, but it’s handled in a respectful and interesting way that truly breaks the book down into specific chunks that, collectively, could really be viewed as a “season.” Each story runs for roughly 20 pages or so, and when it all culminates in the end you are given a quite satisfying look at the formation of a team of youngsters with a specific arc as if this were a 4 issue mini-series of sorts.
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    Of course, this is ultimately a double-edged sword. The more that is thrown in, the more that the line of space and time becomes blurred. The book begins with very specific annotations of time, yet as it moves forward it jumps liberally around; where the Blob and his involvement with the Brotherhood is for all intents and purposes explained, the others simply appear and are immediately acknowledged as if we had met them before. There’s a whole excursion into the Savage Land that is fairly pivotal to the emotional subplot, and yet it is referenced as having happened in the past while we are somehow placed in the distant future. It’s a bit awkward for the narrative to somewhat ostensibly forget to mention that we’ve jumped ahead two weeks or so in the future, and while comics are certainly no stranger to the quick transitions of time in the time it takes to move from panel to panel, the shifts are certainly felt.
    That aside, Dennis Hopeless certainly has proven himself as a competent visionary for our super-powered youths. There are obvious changes in characterization between these characters and their original machinations, but Hopeless very much makes himself at home in their shoes quickly. The update definitely has a glaze of pop-culture over it at all times, but it is subtle as much as it is overt; that is to say, Hopeless never waves it in your face that these kids enjoy a good TV show or concert in the way that other books do (like “Kick-Ass”). Hopeless’ use of dialogue shows off the character’s ages in a way that effectively infuses youth upon characters who are almost 50 years old. While the ending is a tad bit stunted, seemingly building up to a tremendous emotional apex before cutting away (which was assuredly the point), the book still reads like the Breakfast Club version of the X-Men origin story, with Molly Ringwald as Jean Grey at the center, in all the best ways possible.
    If you’re going to make a John Hughes version of the X-Men, though, a better artistic collaborator than Jamie McKelvie you will not find. McKelvie has often had a youthful vibe to his work, with dark lines and eye-popping colors (the book sees McKelvie working with long-time collaborator Matt Wilson) that bring a very visceral handling of the X-Men in their younger days to the pages. McKelvie’s work is musical and always has been with a strong design sense, yellow spandex and all, and “X-Men: Season One” is actually one of the strongest showings for McKelvie’s work in it’s attention to acute details. It’s essentially proof positive of the dynamic use of a digital medium for illustration.
    Then again, just as Hopeless has his own double-edged sword in the writing, so does McKelvie. McKelvie’s figures often rely on poses similar to those you might see in craftily designed advertisements, and at times the characters of the book look more like they belong in McKelvie’s other and less mainstream work. More than once, a character meant to have one expression ends up with another, most noticeably nine pages in when Jean is meant to be yelling at Scott yet looks somewhat embarrassed, or four pages later when Angel looks very unimpressed by Magneto tossing planes around. Yet, from a thematic stance, it actually somewhat feels appropriate given that the book stars moody teenagers battling hormones at the same time as they clash against other super powered characters; one simply wonders if this particular undertaking could have perhaps been a tad more subtle.
    That aside, this is a great looking book in every sense of the words, and I would literally be shocked to hear that this doesn’t match well with a younger demographic looking for an ample way to learn about the history of the X-Men. Yes, this is a re-hash of material we all know by heart. Yes, this is basically the X-Men getting a “hipster” treatment. Yes, Bobby Drake does look like Justin Bieber (assuredly on purpose). There’s something ultimately charming about it all, though. If “Fantastic Four: Season One’s” biggest error was trying too hard to tackle historic issues and expand elaborately on the minutia of it all, then “X-Men: Season One’s” greatest strength is giving both X-Historians a tongue-in-cheek look back at the past while giving X-Neophytes a somewhat relatable entry point. 
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    This is the rebirth of yesterday’s heroes today, and a better fashion sense and love of pop-culture is certainly understandable.
    Final Verdict: 8.0 – Buy (I still think the reprints of new issues in the back that are delivered with little to no real context are pretty silly, but c’est la vie)
    *I should note, however, that neither are strangers to superheroes or the Marvel Universe — Hopeless wrote a four-issue “Legion of Monsters” mini, while McKelvie has had artistic stints on “Generation Hope”, “Secret Avengers” and “Cable”, with more assuredly to come — and I of course knew this before reading “X-Men: Season One.”

    Matthew Meylikhov

    Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."