COMIC REVIEW: Amazing X-Men #1

AMAZING X-MEN #1/ Written by JASON AARON/ Art by ED McGUINNESS/ Inks by DEXTER VINES/ Colors by MARTE GRACIA/ Letters VC’s JOE CARAMAGNA/ Published by MARVEL COMICS

detailAmazing is a word that gets tossed around a lot lately, as in “Have you tried that new gyro place? It’s amazing.” Call it a reflection of the times that the adjective long famous in the comic book world as a prefix for Spider-Man now finds itself on the masthead of Marvel’s newest mutant title, Amazing X-Men. The first issue, written by Wolverine and the X-Men scribe Jason Aaron with sumptuous art by Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines, delivers a fun and worthwhile read that falls just short of earning its “amazing” moniker.

The first issue’s fresh, direct story is unencumbered by continuity and Aaron’s dialogue zips by with the energy of a TV show sprinting toward commercial break. However, for the debut of what is outwardly a team book there’s not a lot of traditional group activity to be found. The focus here is solidly on Nightcrawler, the X-Men’s somewhat deceased teleporting German elf. A stalwart member of the group for decades, Aaron and McGuinness don’t waste time whipping the character back into classic form. Swashbuckling exploits and BAMFS aplenty appear quickly and are sustained throughout the opening pages. Ed McGuinness, best known for his beefy renditions of the Hulk and Superman, does a great job with the lithe Nightcrawler, running him through his acrobatic paces with beautiful fluidity. The deep inks of Dexter Vines embed the proceedings with a boldness that achieves the perfect level of dark undertones for Nightcrawler’s unique look, balancing mirth with a dash of devil.

The opening half of Amazing X-Men #1 is an exciting romp that leaves the reader wanting more, but the issue’s quality is mostly front-heavy. The spotlight shifts from Nightcrawler’s action beats to following Firestar (of Saturday morning cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends fame) as she embarks on her first day of teaching at the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters. The transition abruptly bisects the issue and the plot slows down to the point of causing whiplash. Amazing X-Men #1’s latter pages are filled with enjoyable X-Mansion banter that harkens back to the Claremont soap opera days, but the move from teleporting demon-mutant swordfight on the astral plane to what is essentially Degrassi in Westchester underwhelms. It’s all pleasant enough but the energy from the beginning of the issue is distinctly missed. There’s a strand missing. The action and conflict of the previous chapter lingers and hangs over the routine X-Men intro that follows, tongue-in-check as it may be. Firestar stumbling around the halls of the school for six pages (her cluelessness is a bit odd, considering she’s been hired as a teacher) and discovery that mutants are “weird” seems secondary knowing what’s going on elsewhere, to the point of feeling almost unimportant.

We do eventually get to a proper role call of Amazing’s assemblage of mutants in the issue’s tail end, with newcomer Firestar joining Beast, Warbird, Angel, Storm, Rachael Grey, Wolverine, and Northstar. The eclectic cast comprises a tantalizing blend of powers and personalities, but there’s no real reason to be found for their coming together. Forget Gold and Blue teams– this permutation of mutants is swept into cahoots by happening to simply be in the same room together. It’s a pretty nonchalant approach to launching an X-team, and a far cry from the “To me, my X-Men!” urgency of old. What’s the Amazing squad’s existential threat? Readers get a solid hint of what the group will be up against, but there’s no Starro moment forcing the team into action, at least not at a catalyzing level, until the final page of the issue (spoiler alert – it’s not Starro). Still, the banter between characters makes for an amusing read and the lightness is a welcome break from the bleak seriousness many superhero stories wallow in. Aaron is clearly setting the table. The result after one issue may be a couple spoons shy of a full dinner placement, but readers can certainly pick up scents of a tasty main entrée cooking.

Amazing X-Men #1 gets a READ, but a more accurate score might be READ QUICKLY. The top quality here is fun, and like most fun things if you stop to think about Amazing too much it loses its momentum. Jason Aaron’s story serves as a refreshing counterbalance to the dark and brooding territory Marvel’s mutants often gravitate to and Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines completely nail the art. This is a great looking book. There are some problems with pacing and the group’s raison d’être, but between the impressive creative team and funky blend of characters, Amazing X-Men bubbles with potential for some good old fashioned mutant superhero adventure. In an era of widescreen realism, a comic constructed around a furry blue elf with a pirate sword and his team of mutant pals may not quite be amazing, but it’s pretty damn close.

EASTER EGG: Check out the difference between panel one of the first page in Amazing X-Men #1’s digital and print formats. The print edition depicts a classic Cockrum/Byrne style Nightcrawler, while the digital edition shows a more modern version.

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