Comic Review – X-Men (Brian Wood): More Human than Mutant

by Nicole Keating

Art by Skottie Young

Like any kid alive in the 90s, I loved the X-Men from a very early age. Even as I’m typing this, that catchy, electric guitar-laden-theme is running through my head. Yeah, you, too? So you probably were as excited as I was when I found out that Marvel’s newest X-Men title would center on a team of entirely women. This announcement was made awhile ago, but I couldn’t stop reading them long enough to write anything about them! The story is a true page-turner. X-Men explores the age old battle of good versus evil with an ensemble of complex, diverse, and mostly female characters to great success. The result is a high-stakes tale of new beginnings and not-quite endings.

The actual beginning of this story is an action sequence that appears to reveal who is good and who is evil. Jubilee is rescuing a baby; she’s clearly one of the Good Guys. But things aren’t always what they seem. This child is carrying Arkea. Sounds sinister. Well, Arkea most definitely is. She was one of the first forms of life on Earth. Born alongside her brother, familiar thorn-in-the-X-Men’s-side John Sublime, she is a sentient bacteria with powers similar to a computer virus, inhabiting and controlling life forms at will. This prompts Sublime to join forces with the X-Men in an attempt to stop his sister, further blurring the lines between good and evil.

Despite blurred lines and imperfect decisions, our central crew of mutants remains reliably capital-G-Good. And what a crew it is! Many readers were drawn in by the headline-making decision to forge a team of X-Men that includes no men.
This gives the opportunity for women to fill many roles, all of them badass.

We meet our next member of the badass lineup when Jubilee’s baby returns to the Jean Grey School. Arkea infects the comatose body of cop/Omega Sentinel/Malice Karima Shapandar. (Poor Karima! She attracts possessions and infections and modifications like ladies to Tony Stark.) With help from Shadowcat, Rogue, and Psylocke, Karima is able to purge the Arkea virus from her system. In a stroke of good fortune, this renders her Sentinel tech dormant, and Beast–after thorough testing, of course–declares her human once more.

In addition to Karima, our core group of heroes consists of Storm, Psylocke, Rachel Grey, Jubilee, and Monet. Of course, we get a man or two every so often filling whatever roles the story demands. Beast experiments on Sublime’s blood in an attempt to create an antiviral; Rockslide traps bits of possibly-Arkea-tainted meteor in amber and throws them into the sun; Gabriel Shepherd cleans up after a huge battle in Dubai. Scientists, helpers, clean up crews, love interests…all the plot devices that would normally fall to the women! How refreshing!

This title gives women the opportunity to be villains as well as heroes. Arkea recruits mob daughter-turned-boss Ana Cortes and her tech-savvy business partner Reiko, Typhoid Mary, Enchantress, and a few surprise guests. They even call themselves The Sisterhood! Everyone in this evil sisterhood is seeking for external solutions to their problems. They feel incomplete. Typhoid Mary has split personalities, unable to make herself whole. Enchantress’ powers have been taken away, and she feels broken without them. Ana Cortes seeks total perfection, using her vast wealth to artificially modify her body. Like plastic surgery, she is never happy with the outcome for long, so she seeks more and more until she seeks out Arkea. In Arkea, all these women find a leader and a saviour. They do not see that she is also their destruction.
With so much focus and storytelling power, every character, whether hero or villain, is complex, three-dimensional, relatable. They have unique voices, perfectly rendered by VC’s Joe Caramangna’s lettering, which is character-specific and subtle. Their dialogue is similarly individualized. Jubilee uses a ton of contemporary vernacular and is not afraid to throw in an “OMG” or two. Or seven. This is in sharp contrast to the no-nonsense tone of Rachel Grey, the epic speech of Enchantress, and the tough quips from Monet.

They’re diverse. As Roxy herself says, “I thought the X-Men were supposed to be all about inclusion and acceptance and appreciating people who are different.” And they indeed deliver. In a Marvel Universe whose most public face is rich, white, and male–Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, SHIELD–how wonderful it is to see characters from all different countries, races, creeds, sexualities, classes. That’s as good as unheard of, especially in major comic properties, and X-Men packs in as much diversity as possible, and yet never seems like it’s trying to deliver a message, never seems like it’s preaching. It’s just good, honest characterization.

And these characters have doubts, expressed in desperate acts or ill-thought conversations. For the girly-girls like me, they have really good outfits. They have intricate webs of relationships. Jubilee and Monet have a popular girl-unpopular girl relationship extending back to their days as Jean Grey School students; Rachel Grey and John Sublime have a romantic entanglement; Roxy asks a girl out in front of everyone. The intelligent plot structure demands that not only do these strong women have to save the world, they have to do it amid best friends, mortal enemies, and all the people who fall in the grey areas in between.

In that, we see their beautiful, fallible humanity. They may be mutants, but I sense their victory over Arkea will not come from their powers. Instead, they will defeat her with what makes us so uniquely human: ingenuity, resilience, and love.

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