Since this week was a light week for me, I decided to follow Brandon Griffin’s example and move outside of my usual comfort zone. I am not as anti-Marvel as Brandon seems to be pro-Marvel, but I am of the opinion that the House of Ideas has been out of ideas for some time. And I think it’s fair to say that as far as general comic knowledge goes, I’m far more comfortable with JLA history than I am X-Men. Which brings us to X-Men ’92 #1.
While I’m happily ignorant of the vast majority of X-Men characters and continuity, most of what little I do know came from watching the X-Men cartoon that aired on the Fox Network in the 1990s. While the show never had the highest-quality animation and hasn’t aged gracefully, it still tried to adapt many classic stories from the comics, such as The Dark Phoenix Saga. And for all of its faults, the series did address many of the serious topics the original comics were meant to tackle, such as discrimination, judging by appearances and faith in the face of adversity while allowing for honest character growth and development.
I did try reading the X-Men comics at several points, but I found most of them to be insular and unfriendly. Little effort was made to explain who the characters were beyond what super-powers they possessed. And characterization was frequently limited to whatever incomprehensible accent the characters had. Unfortunately, X-Men ’92 seems to have patterned itself after these comics rather than the cartoon, regardless of what continuity it is set in.
I had expected this first issue to be fairly accessible to new readers, but I was painfully wrong. It seems there was an X-Men ’92 #0 which officially started the series some time ago. And quite a bit happened in it that changed the status quo from the TV series.
To make a long story short, an epic battle with various enemies has revealed the X-Men to the world and made them into media darlings. Professor Charles Xavier’s telepathic powers were severally weakened as a result of this battle and he no longer feels capable of command. While he’s still around acting in an advisory capacity, he’s put the weather-controlling Storm in charge of leading the X-Men while placing Henry McCoy (aka The Beast) in charge of managing Xaiver’s School For Gifted Youngsters – the private academy Xavier founded as a front for training young mutants in how to control their powers.
After a one-page mock-up of a letter congratulating a parent on their child’s receiving a full scholarship to Xavier’s School and a two-page splash detailing most of the X-Men’s code-names and powers (Beast, curiously enough, is left out of this sequence), we open on the first day of classes at Xavier’s School. Unfortunately, the first class is disrupted by the arrival of Maverick – a mercenary who Wolverine used to work with at some point in his past. It turns out that Maverick came to deliver the X-Men a warning. However, before he can explain himself, a Russian superhero team led by Omega Red (an enemy of Wolverine’s from some point in his past) shows up wanting to take Maverick away to face trial for stealing from the Russian government.
The script by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers can’t seem to decide whether to play things straight or go for the ironic deconstruction of the original TV series. For instance, the fact that the Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters never had any students apart from Jubilee (and even then, she never seemed to go to class) is addressed by a TV news reporter, who notes that the school is taking new students for the first time in years.
Likewise, the letter to the parents on the title page mentions a variety of waivers that must be signed, stating that the school is not responsible for students being injured or stranded in Limbo as a result of anything that happens on the school property. It also assures them that the “Danger Room” is not as dangerous as the name suggests. Unfortunately, apart from the letter and one scene of Wolverine rollerblading (because it’s The Nineties!), most of the story is played painfully straight.
What’s worse is that we see a variety of students in the background but they’re as much a part of the scenery as the plants and walls. Long-time X-Fans will no doubt be able to identify who these people are. The rest of us will be confused who the snobby Ms. St. LaCroix is, to say nothing of the young man taking Jubilee out on a date, who has an explosion for a face.
(Actually, I DO know who he is – Chamber – but the issue never says anything about him!)
The artwork is much better. Alti Firmansyah has a fine command of the characters and they’re all easily recognizable to fans of the show. The only real flaw to her work is that some of her poses look forced at best and just plain goofy at worst. The colors by Matt Milla are nice and vibrant, giving the finished art the appearance of a Saturday morning cartoon show still.
Unfortunately, the good artwork is not enough to make up for the dull script and inaccessible story. Those X-Fans seeking to satisfy their nostalgic twinges should rewatch the original cartoons. And those readers looking for an X-Men comic they can easily get into without worrying about a complicated backstory should look elsewhere.