Review: X-Men Vol. 1: Primer trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

Remember when I used to review Marvel trades? Let’s get back to that for a bit.

One of the Marvel NOW! initiative’s main concepts was “try everything," especially when it came to relaunching nearly the entire X-Men line. Of course, it didn’t always work out; the two X-Force titles have been combined into one and X-Men: Legacy is coming to an end, both because its story is over and because Marvel likely wants to reuse that title. But the wide range of X-titles has provided quite a few interesting reading options, with the stand-out for me being Brian Wood’s X-Men. It was the last of the original NOW! titles to launch since Olivier Coipel needed more time; as with John Cassaday, Marvel really needs to remember to not put Coipel on too many projects at once.

Even with the delay, the issues collected in X-Men Vol. 1: Primer kept up the readers’ anticipation for one huge reason: the entire cast is female. All-female or majority-female teams were another theme of Marvel NOW!, with Avengers Assemble revolving around Spider-Woman, Fearless Defenders being comprised entirely of women, and Uncanny X-Force having Puck as the only male teammate. These books are all unfortunately no longer being published for a variety of reasons, and hopefully Marvel won’t take that as a sign that female-heavy comics are unprofitable.

What separates X-Men from many of those books is that its cast doesn’t feel like a gimmick. All of its members have been part of the X-Men for at least twenty years (in real-time anyway) and nearly all of them were operating out of the Jean Grey School already. The school is the host of a number of X-titles, including Astonishing X-Men, and in a nice bit of continuity, Rogue mentions borrowing the speed of that team’s Northstar. I’ll give Wood a lot of credit for not using “Wolverine Publicity," instead having Logan not appear in the book until issue four, and only then after the main arc has ended.

There’s a lot of heavy X-continuity going on in Primer, although much like Joss Whedon run on Astonishing, a smart decision was made to use Grant Morrison’s New X-Men as the source. That book had a combination of wide popularity and an array of underused concepts which make it a well for newer titles to dip into. Wood brings back the villainous, mutant-hating John Sublime, a sentient spore in the shape of a man (just in case you doubted that Morrison created him). He was the ultimate villain of New X-Men -- let's not get started about how Magneto and Xorn fit into it or we’ll be here for weeks -- and he starts the book off by ... surrendering to Storm and her X-Men. As it turns out, he isn’t the real threat this time around. It’s his sister, Arkea, who can possess and control technology much in the same way that he can manipulate humans. Her existence works thematically with New X-Men, which also introduced Professor Xavier’s evil sister in its first story.

Arkea ends up taking over the mind of Karima Shapandar, a half-Sentinel woman who was a major character in the early 2000s before falling comatose a few years back. The possibility that they may have to kill one of their friends is a driving theme in X-Men, generating conflict between the more militant Storm and the ex-mutant hunter Rachel Grey. During this time, Storm also led Uncanny X-Force along with Psylocke, and her violent tendencies seem a little out of character. It’s clear that Marvel is trying to reclaim some of her '80s glory by giving her a Mohawk once more and making her angrier. Of course, she had just been through a nasty divorce with Black Panther -- who dissolved their marriage while they fought to the death in Avengers vs. X-Men -- so perhaps she does have some issues to work out.

Psylocke was given an excellent redesign for Marvel NOW! and a bit of an upgrade to her powers, now having the ability to form other weapons apart from just a psychic blade. She does take a bit of a backseat, along with Rachel, to some of the more exciting characters, especially Jubilee. After having little to do in the X-universe and becoming a vampire, Jubilee was given some great character development by Marjorie Liu as a mentor to X-23 and has continued her maturity by adopting an adorable baby, Shogo. Unfortunately, Shogo is actually the carrier for Arkea, who eventually takes over the cybernetic-implant hospital he was living at, but he gives the team a sense of hope for the future -- something the X-Men need after all the horror in their lives.

Rogue acts as the powerhouse of the team, and it’s a shame that they had to remove her from the book after the “Battle of the Atom” crossover to tie into her supposed death in Uncanny Avengers. Thanks to years of headlining X-Men: Legacy, she’s now a tactician as well, with an excellent use of Psylocke’s powers in the fourth issue, which serves as a "cooldown" issue with art by David Lopez. The final member of the team is Shadowcat, who has added massive shoulderpads to her uniform once more and is the team’s resident genius. She’s also one of the few people who poses a true threat to Arkea due to her ability to disrupt electronics. Coipel consciously draws Shadowcat and Jubilee younger than the rest of the team, making them all look distinct.

The X-Men: Primer trade is admittedly a bit of a ripoff at only four issues plus a reprint of Jubilee’s first appearance. However, that appearance is referenced heavily by issue four, and the next trade will have six issues to balance things out at the price point. If you’re an X-Men fan, you’re likely to have at least three favorite characters as cast members, so it’s worth a look.
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  1. The Jubilee 1st appearance was reprinted it not that long ago in the Jubilee mini series that came out after Curse of the Mutants, so it fills like twice the ripoff. Still the 4 X-Men issues were solid!

  2. I usually really hate when they do that to pad the trades out. For instance, in Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, they really needed to put in excerpts from "The New Fantastic Four" instead of including an unrelated (though still pretty good) early 80s Bill Mantlo team-up... especially when that same crossover was released in the "Spidey/F4 Classic" trade right around that time!

    In this book's case, I don't mind as much because Wood references specific details from that Uncanny issue and they actually go back to that mall... but I agree, if you're a Jubilee fan, you're getting screwed over in the trades.