Monday, July 09, 2007

Review - X-Men: First Class No. 1 (of 8)

X-Men: First Class No. 1 (of 8); $2.99; June 2007
Writer: Jeff Parker
Pencils: Roger Cruz
Inker: Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Val Staples
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

This is that "safe" issue you have been waiting to buy for yourdaughter/niece/wife/girlfriend. X-Men First Class No. 1 has what I like to think of as "The Big Three" of stereotypically non-fangirl, superhero-focused comics: 1) there is no outrageous violence, 2) it contains only a few gratuitous depictions of the female physique (none at all, really, compared with your standard X-Men issue) and 3) it has a "girl-power" focused plot.

Not that I need gratuitous violence (though I do appreciate it on occasion, if it's accompanied by the proper wit; Check back later for my upcoming review of "The Boys"), but if you are going to have a comic book plot that is primarily focused on superheroes' relationships, the writer has really got to whip up some sterling private moments to keep those pages turning. X-Men FC No. 1 is all about Marvel Girl and the trials and tribulations of being the only female on the newly formed X-Men team, alongside Cyclops, Beast, Angel and Iceman. It's a worthy premise that's short-changed by being crammed into a one-issue arc.

Professor X sums up this plot for the reader in an interjection that's about as subtle as a Tony Stark pick-up line. Faster than you can say "Xavier," Sue Richards, a.k.a. The Invisible Girl, flies in to mentorJean, and immediately gets called back to save Manhattan from the Mad Thinker and an Awesome Android. Now I ask you: What teenage girl, upon hearing that her assigned role model is cutting out early on the job, is going to blurt, "I wish you didn't have to leave. I'd like to hear more of your insights"?? So, maybe it's not the most awkward statement, but it's just not something Jean would say.

Herein lays the snafu of introducing yet another re-telling of the X-Men’s origin: Because we fans know our beloved characters so well, and because they are so well-established, Parker’s writing is held to a higher-than-normal standard. Even otherwise forgivably bland or dull writing can seem offensive, such as my example illustrated. Jean’s witty. She’s a sullen teenager. And it’s the Invisible Girl, which is just begging for some corny “What, you’re going to disappear on me already?” pun.

On the other hand, when the writing is true to character, the author can tackle present-day issues, such as what it's like to be the only female on a superhero team, and give the reader a new level on which to identify with the characters.

There are some nice moments. In one particularly touching instance, Jean and Sue are quietly picking through some debris to sniff out theThinker's lair and Sue lets slip some worthwhile advice in casual conversation. This scene is capped off wonderfully by an excellent display of the Invisible Girl's power, in which she turns an entire sprawling, rocky valley transparent to reveal the underground hideout. I think Parker captures Jean's reaction juuuust right: "Sue…you're a little bit on the AWESOME side."

The art is what I'd call "equal-opportunity" exploitative. Everybody's lithe, sinewy and bulgy in all the right places. Some panels look a bit cartoon-y for my taste (low-detail faces; stars encircling heads, that sort of thing), but Cruz does hand over some memorable panels.

The page of original artwork to buy from this issue has got to be No. 13: Cyclops' expression after watching the Human Torch hit on Jean in front of the press on TV is priceless. It's his wrinkled little chin, beneath that gaping, wounded-puppy-dog shock that really does it for me. Nice chin-job, Cruz!

If I could ask Cruz one question about his art for this book, I would definitely want to know where his preoccupation with abdomens comes from. I would brush off the "womb-power" placement of the X insignia merely as the artist trying something new - different for the sake of difference - with the X-costume, but there's too much love of the lower intestine in the figures throughout the issue to claim it's coincidental.

All in all, the female-affirming theme of X-Men FC No.1 can be chalked up to the first step in team-building-themed miniseries about the formation of the original X team. I’d wrap up this issue and give it to a friend who didn’t grow up reading the X-Men.

1 comment:

Matthew Jent said...

Womb-power placement is going to be all the rage in the near future -- I'm on my way out the door right now to get some iron-ons for my crotch.

I guess they're kind of in the belt area, yeah?