Let’s face it, the X-Men have seen better days. Once the cash cow of Marvel Comics, the monthly series became the stress doll of creative team after creative team determined to reshape and remold the comic into what they wanted it to be rather than what it actually was. This practice came to an end after the arrival of current writer Matt Fraction. Sure, the first few issues are decidedly rocky but the subsequent installments have proven that he has what it takes to make this monthly mutant comic the flagship title it once was.
From as far back as I could sneak into my brother’s room and quietly study his collection I’ve been an X-Men fan. From the hey day of Byrne and Claremont to the return of Dave Cockrum, the series really held my attention. At the time, the hated and despised angle wasn’t played up quite as much as the wild adventures that ranged from the Savage Land in Antarctica to the depths of space. The costumes, varied characters and varied adventures really appealed to me as a kid. There was no boring alter ego job each issue, no awkward girlfriend or contrived ‘hero wanders the city until something happens’ like I had seen in other comics. The X-Men were always getting attacked, mind-controlled, thrown into a volcano or turned into babies. They had it rough and I loved watching them bounce back each time.
Many readers may have noticed that lately Marvel Comics has become decidedly Avengers-centric and it’s about time in a way. However, this has taken the attention away from Xavier’s school for mutants. Just looking at the recent mega even crossovers (Civil War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion) shows that the X-Men were barely even present for them. But that’s all about to change. One of the major problems in recent years has been the division of characters to each of the many monthly X-Men titles. That’s no longer an issue as Fraction promises to utilize all of the merry mutants he wants to during his run.
A one time comics journalist-turned comic scribe, Fraction made a name for himself with his Five Fists of Science series. He quickly gained the attention of Marvel Comics and after several Thor specials and a successful run on The Immortal Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker, he has now graduated to the really big leagues. But don’t think that it’s gone to his head. In a recent interview with comicbookresources.com he admitted that the title was in need of new direction and he happened along at just the right time.
The last few months have shown how lucky a turn thus has been for Marvel as Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men has gone from strength to strength. A reshuffling of the cards has seen the entire mutant population drawn to a safe haven in San Francisco. An ideal target for their enemies, the X-Men have seen the wraith of a reborn Hellfire Club and the return of the dreaded Goblin Queen Madeline Pryor. The book also looks far better than it has in decades thanks to Terry and Rachel Dodson who’s unique style adds a sense of class and character to the series.
There is also the added danger that the mutant race is nearing extinction. After M-Day, when the Scarlet Witch made the mutation gene just stop with a few words, the mutant population has been in a steadily declining spiral. With former team mentor Charles Xavier no longer a driving force behind the team, Cyclops has decided that the high moral ground is no longer a privelege he can enjoy.
He has formed X-Force as a black-ops team to do the dirty work when needed and no one knows about them, not even Scott’s telepath girlfriend Emma Frost, the White Queen. It also turns out that the former villainess has entered into an uneasy partnership with Norman Osborn to ensure the safety of the mutant population in SF. Both of these dark secrets are about to cause lots of trouble in future issues.
All of the old favorites are back as well. No longer do X-fans flip through the latest issue and shrug in confusion as to who the heck the guy all in white with the guns is. Nightcrawler, Colossus, Wolverine, Beast and Cyclops are all here and in peak form. With a new direction and renewed energy, the series seems to finally be back on track to regaining its cult following again.
In the words of the writer himself, “if you’re going to read it, now’s the time to do it.”