Yesterday, Marvel kicked off the relaunch of it’s entire X-Men line of comics with X-Men Prime, a one-shot meant to reset the status quo of Marvel’s mutants in the wake of Inhumans vs. X-Men.
This issue represents the first time in many years that I can approach the X-Men as anything resembling a “new” reader. That’s because I’ve barely read a single issue of X-Men in Marvel’s All-New, All-Different era following Secret Wars. I usually trade-wait before reading, and in the middle of trade-waiting I was distracted from my Marvel reading by DC Rebirth and my WildStorm read.
What is X-Men Prime? Is it any good? Will it lead to me reviewing X-Men comics every week from now on?
Let’s find out!
X-Men Prime (2017) #1 (buy digital)
Written by Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak, and Cullen Bunn with line art from Ken Lashley, Ibraim Roberson, Leonard Kirk, and Guillermo Ortego and color art by Morry Hollowell, Frank D’Armata, and Michael Garland.
Bottom Line: This “Kitty Pryde: This Is Your Life” issue is an easily skippable recap, more about her as a character than about the last two years of x-comics. It would be a fine free comic, but offers little entertainment for a steep $4.99 cover price.
X-Men Prime is an insubstantial read that still manages to make a major change in the X-Men’s status quo. That comes along with a choice that may or may not work out in the end.
The choice is to make Kitty Pryde the leader of the X-Men, which explains why this issue could just have easily been called “Kitty Pryde: The Return #0.”
Now, let me be clear – Kitty Pryde is never disappointing to me. She is one of my favorite characters in all of comics!
That’s in part because Kitty Pryde is the eternal point-of-view character. That’s been true from her beginnings as the X-Men’s teen sidekick through her years in Excalibur and her return as an outsider first to Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men and then to Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny X-Men.
Even when Kitty is the heart of a given team, she’s also the rational, grounded character who speaks with the voice of the reader. That’s why it’s fascinating to see her step in to lead dozens of characters we’ve grown to love over the past half century. Can she remain our POV-character when she’s the one in charge of all of the X-Men’s comings and goings? Can she even credibly take charge of characters like Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Magik, and more?
This issue does little to explore that reality. It’s more of a “Kitty Pryde, this is your life” walkthrough that focuses more on her relationships than her (or the reader) catching up on the X-Men’s recent history. It also includes minor scenes of the original X-Men and Lady Deathstrike (more on those below).
The strategy of the main story, scripted by incoming X-Men Gold writer Marc Guggenheim, seems to be that Kitty’s emotional ties to the team are more important than detailing anything that’s happened in the past five or ten years, or giving any hint of what’s to come. Aside from the sparest of recaps of Inhumans vs. X-Men by Storm and an explanation of the unlikely location of the X-mansion, there’s honestly very substance little to this main story.
Despite the lack of content, the story still managed to be an emotional moment for me because it features Ken Lashley as the primary artist on a core X-Men title drawing Kitty Pryde. Lashley was one of my favorite 90s artists on Warren Ellis’s run of Excalibur, my favorite comics title of all time. He still makes for appointment reading whenever he shows up on a current comic. So far he’s not announced for any of the upcoming X-titles,
but I have my fingers crossed that he will be the alternating arc artist on the bi-monthly Gold title. and he will be one of the alternating artists on Gold.
More than the dialog, it’s Lashey’s art that reminds us that Kitty is still the heart and rational brain of the X-Men through scenes with Storm, Colossus, Magik, and the teen versions of the original X-Men. It certainly seems she might work as their leader when the issue ends with her saying, “We’re also going to show that world what we are. No mutants. Not freaks. Not homo superior. But heroes.”
Kitty’s words mirror the complaint of many major fans of the X-Men who have been disappointed with their recent status quo. We just want the X-Men to be heroes. Still mutants first, but heroes second before they are an endangered species.
Mutants will always be comics’ best metaphor for a minority, but Kitty is right to point out that it often overshadows their identities as heroes. While mutants will always be hated and feared by some just as minorities are in the real world, to center their entire story on that narrative robs them of their own identity. That’s like saying being a woman, black, immigrant, gay, asian, or trans is an experience entirely defined by hate and fear.
While the hatred of other is certainly an unfortunate defining aspect and a constantly-running undercurrent of many of those real identities as well as the fictional identity of being a mutant, no person is fully described by the discrimination they face. That’s might be your view of them from the perspective of an outsider, but each person is the protagonist of their own story. They are never not their identity, but the discrimination they face is an external factor generated by an environment that can be changed, and one that must eventually be eroded by time and social progress.
It’s not who they are, but it’s been almost exclusively who the X-Men have been since 2006, when Scarlet Witch famously uttered the words “No More Mutants,” decimating Marvel’s mutant population down to 198 characters for no reason other than scarcity is good for demand.
As narrative developments go, centering the X-Men narrative on their endangerment paid off for several years, yielding an electric string of developments starting in Messiah Complex. However, the reason it worked was the very reason it often doesn’t – because placing the X-Men in their own protected narrative let them all be their own, never outsiders but part of a community, each wholly formed people without playing every interaction for its elements of hatred and fear.
It was only after Marvel forced X-Men back into the fuller fold with 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men that their status quo began to decay. Now the insular X-Men were an example of identity politics and they had to play the role of the discriminated-against in every story. A few books managed to find their own status quo of mutants as heroes or mercenaries, but the main thrust of the line found them as revolutionaries and once again as an endangered species, thanks to the Inhumans.
X-Men Prime marks the end of a decade of that status quo and signals quite clearly that we’re back to the era of X-Men as heroes – still mutants, but not exclusively defined by that. It’s Kitty who is making the correction is bringing the X-Men back into the heart of the Marvel Universe, and not just because they are endangered.
That’s a wonderful development that’s going to finally get us out of back-up-against-the-wall stories and let us have the kind of adventures we saw from the X-Men in their golden years of 1975-1995, when their books were brimming with exciting new concepts and villains.
It’s something I’m willing to give a change next month with X-Men Gold.
What I have a little more trepidation about is Kitty’s role as leader. both Jason Aaron and Brian Bendis played at this in Marvel Now, but both rendered Kitty as a screechy goody-two-shoes who too-often wound up playing the straight-man to their team’s zany hijinks.
How will Kitty as a real leader be different? Can she be the heart and the brain and a good leader, as well as our point-of-view into the spandex world of the X-Men. I fear she will spiral into being a scapegoat for bad decisions, as Storm did in the last era. And, will we she have to cede that POV role to a younger character in order for Kitty to undergo this critical growth as a character.
We’ll see in X-Men Gold. What’s about the other new X-Men titles – X-Men Blue starring the teens, Weapon X, Generation X, Jean Grey, Iceman, and Cable? X-Men Prime only teases the first two, and sets up Generation X with its final page.
I’m not a fan of the All-New X-Men, the team of original X-teens brought forward to our time. The scene we get with them here could easily directly follow Secret Wars, as the only thing it really references from the All-New, All-Different period is Scott’s participation in The Champions. The scene looks great (Leonard Kirk is always awesome), but the team speaking cryptically of a mission that requires their attention and retreading a dull romantic triangle falls a bit flat for me.
What could they possibly achieve that other X-Men can’t? And, if the school is no longer for them, why can’t they just move on to living normal lives? I doubt anyone at Marvel has an answer for that question. They exist because people keep buying their title (in dwindling quantities) and because someone somewhere at Marvel thinks having an 05 X-Men title makes things accessible for fans. It’s not because of any kind of narrative mandate that they ought to exist.
As for Weapon X, it’s represented by a mysterious interlude with Lady Deathstrike, seeing her captured by force by a mysterious woman in white. The more exciting part is who she’s targeting next – a cast that includes erstwhile X-Force members Domino and Warpath!
Want a longer recap of the issue? Keep reading!
The book opens with Kitty Pryde alone in a dance studio in her home town of Chicago, Illinois.
Many fans forget that Kitty had what approached being a normal life after leaving X-Men in the wake of Colossus’s death. When Chris Claremont revisited her in X-Treme X-Men spin-off Mekanix she was enrolled in college and doing her best to be anything but a superhero.
Afterwards, she got dragged back in by X-Treme, became the start of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, and has spend an inordinate amount of time drifting through space for one reason or another. She spent some of Marvel Now and all of All-New, All-Different Marvel hanging out with Guardians of the Galaxy and engaged to Star-Lord!
That makes Kitty as much of an outsider to the X-Men current status quo as I am, so she’s as surprised as me to find Storm hovering just outside her window.
Storm and Kitty head to a café to catch up, with Storm offering the briefest of recaps of Inhumans vs. X-Men, allowing Kitty to get in a great zinger about her eternal mistrust of Emma Frost.
We cut away to a ship in the seas just a few miles away from the crime-ridden island nation of Madripoor.
We find Lady Deathstrike incognito in the hold of the ship amongst a group of migrant workers. She tries to lay low, but can’t help but do some slaying when the workers are threatened by the ship’s crew – even if it means she has to swim the final mile to shore on her own.
She’s met on the beach by a a mysterious woman in white, offering her employment in her “dream job” – killing all the mutants she’d like! Deathstrike demurs (if you can call impaling a person “demurring”), but a direct hit from a missile renders her unable to say no to the offer. Apparently, a similar offer is being made to Sabretooth, Warpath, Domino, and Old-Man Logan!
We return to Kitty and Storm, with Storm introducing Kitty to the X-Haven. It’s a rebuilt X-Mansion in the hellish dimension of Limbo (whaaat?!), typically accessed via Magik’s mutant teleportation powers (though she is nowhere to be seen). Storm is attempting to bring Kitty back into the fold because professes to be leaving the team so that it can move on from recent events.
Kitty needs a walk around the mansion to think about it. The walk turns into “Kitty Pryde, this is your life” as runs into Colossus (who is staying in the recreation of her old room), Jubilee (raising Shigo, the baby she adopted in X-Men (2013)), and some of her former students (including Surge(!) and Nezhno), before deciding she could stand to let off some steam in the Danger Room.
Already in the room are the time-displaced original X-Man, sans their typical pals like X-23 and being lead by the young Jean Grey. They’re working out their aggressions, but also mulling over their next steps in our current time since they seem unable to return to their own.
(Apparently, the past of the current timeline still includes a set of original X-Men, meaning they were pulled from an alternate past (which might not even exist anymore in the wake of Secret Wars).)
Or, at least, it appears to Kitty that they’re already in the room. In reality, it’s a pre-recorded message of goodbye. The teens took off with a blackbird to blaze their own trail.
Kitty didn’t need to see a message from the defected originals to realize the X-Men are without a direction in the post-IvX world. “Rudderless” is what she calls it. So, she gathers what X-Men remain in limbo to deliver a rousing speech about being heroes instead of just being mutants, hated and feared. And the X-Men can’t be heroes from Limbo, she insists.
No, she’d have them operate out in the open – from smack in the middle of Central Park in New York! Kitty is taking on the mantle of leading the X-Men from there, with Storm at her side.