Brian Wood’s Week of X-Men

Brian Wood’s spent most of this year trying to position himself as American’s most prominent political comic-book writer. Have you noticed that? On top of his announcement that he’d be creating a new comic for Image with Ming Doyle, which had a female lead (and focusing almost entirely on that in the promotion for it) came The Massive, a book about eco-warriors which everybody apart from me loved. But he’s even managed to extend his political ideas across to the mainstream, finding two titles to work on which not only can be used as vehicles for political comment – but are crying out for somebody to use them as such.
Those books are adjectiveless X-Men, the former team-up book which floundered directionless under editorial decree and uninspired writing from Victor Gischler; and the impossible-to-keep-consistent Ultimate X-Men, which has been all over the place over the past few years. In both, Wood has found a place where his intellectualised style of writing can flourish. Ultimate X-Men in particularl has needed a strong direction for a while now, and in the wake of mass cullings of all the popular cast members in that universe (the Ultimatum event killed off Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Angel, Magneto, Xavier, Wolverine, Dazzler and several others) we’re down to a cast of four. Rogue, Kitty, Iceman and Wolverine’s son are the only four members of the X-Men still standing, and Wood has decided to call this their breaking point and have them fight back against the mass hatred they experience.

Ultimate X-Men has become a book about mutants-as-revolutionaries, with Kitty Pryde the new main character and the rest of the team her flunkies. Wood absolutely nails this idea, with Kitty’s decision to revolt against everything being supremely well handled. The Ultimate Universe has always been far crueller towards mutants than the regular Marvel universe, which makes it supremely rewarding to see the X-Men actually cut loose and return the favour. They put down riots and wear bandanas, and form a cause. It’s incredibly satisfying to read, and Wood’s momentum already seems set to steer this book into an interesting, dynamic area.
Writing X-Men at the same time means that Wood has one foot in each universe, although none of the cast are shared at this point. This book sees Storm establishing herself as a character once more, following on from ideas Kieron Gillen introduced in Uncanny. It’s such a relief to see Storm being independent from the grasp that the Fantastic Four office (who handle Black Panther) had on her that’s it’s almost a shock to read her dialogue. You forget what it’s like to read about her as a three-dimensional personality after so many years of her being the attractive decoration on T’Challa’s arm. The rest of the cast play off her for the most part, although it is strange to see the roles they play. Colossus is far more practical than he’s ever been, and Wood pays no attention at all to the ‘Juggernaut’ storyline which had come to define the character recently.

Pixie is great as always, however, which is wonderful news. She’s taken the role Kitty used to, and she comes across as a more fun and vibrant reflection of youth in the team than Jubilee ever did. Both books have a lot of politics creeping into them, but handles it all very nicely, and manages to give us two rewarding, interesting titles which give a little more depth to the X-Men.
He couldn’t have better assistance in the form of David Lopez, one of the very best artists around. Lopez’s sharp detailing makes sure to differenciate and properly account for each member of the X-Men. It’s easy to draw a white face and then have the colourist turn it African-American – Lopez doesn’t do that. He accentuates the African-American features in Storm’s face to give her a sense of dignity and damned authenticity you don’t see often enough. It must be something to do with being called David, because the other artist who is most known for this attention is David Yardin, who should be on a Storm ongoing series already. Lopez’s action sequences are fluid and smooth, leading seamlessly between one another in long, sweeping movements which move across in horizontal panels. And he draws a really good Pixie.
Both books are really good fun, you guys. They’re political – but the X-Men have desperately needed a political writer on them for years now. It’s good to have writers who understand the themes and characters, but it’s another to have a writer who seems set to push those themes and characters forward into complex and difficult places. Brian Wood is that man.

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