Book of the Month
What did the
Art by Jamie McKelvie with Mike Norton
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco
Size: 136 pages
SCENE: San Diego, 5th Street – July 19th, 2011
We open as the iFanboy crew is walking down the street in San Diego after just arriving from all over the country. We zoom in on one of our main characters: RON (Mid-thirties [but looks younger], handsome, sideburns) as his cell phone rings. He pulls it from his pocket and answers and listens to the voice on the other line:
RON: “What’s that? Marvel is doing a modern origin retelling for the X-Men? Jamie McKelvie is drawing it?”
And I think you can have an idea of what came after that. A blur of jumping in the air, tweeting and generally getting psyched for the idea of a self contained graphic novel telling the origin of my favorite characters by one of my favorite artists. This Book of the Month review of X-Men: Season One has been in the making for over 8 months and here we are today to sing the praises of Jamie McKelvie, along with writer Dennis Hopeless as they tackle a book that seemed to have as many opponents as it did supporters upon being announced.
You see, these “modern retelling of origin” books always get a bit of backlast from numerous areas. Some die hard fans don’t want the classic origins of the characters they love to be tampered with, much less updated. Other people have a problem with the idea of going back to the 1960s classic origins of Marvel characters and doing a modern retelling because the classic characters don’t map directly to the characters in the comics of today (i.e. in X-Men: Season One, it’s the original 5 X-Men as teenagers, who in current continuity are adults). Right out of the gate Hopeless and McKelvie had people gunning against them, with the challenge of putting together a graphic novel that tells a story that both entertains old, dedicated fans AND is new reader friendly, as that’s really the whole point of this Season One initiative from Marvel Comics.
After sitting down and taking in X-Men: Season One, it became very clear and apparently early on that Hopeless and McKelvie had nailed, on both levels. As a long time fan of the X-Men, it delighted me to see an updated version of my favorite characters’ beginnings. As a media type person who’s constantly making recommendations to readers, new and old, I’ve struggled for years with the question, “I want to get into the X-Men, what should I read?” Finally Marvel as given me a book that I can answer with. X-Men: Season One gives a new reader everything they need to know about the X-Men, mutants, and the world they exist in. Now, could a new reader go from X-Men: Season One straight into the current continuity of X-Men comics? Probably not (although I’ve always been a proponent of “diving right in” but regardless), but they sure have more familiarity with the world of the X-Men than they would otherwise. Could they go right to Dark Phoenix Saga from here? You know what, with a bit of added info from a friend in the know, I think so.
The story itself begins with the arrival of a young Jean Grey to the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters as she joins the other 4 students, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel and Beast. It’s the classic lineup and Hopeless did not miss a beat with tackling each of these iconic characters. Each student is unique with their own set of personality traits, strengths, weaknesses and issues. Cyclops is younger, so he’s in the process of becoming the great leader we know he will be. Angel is rich and vain, but longs to connect with someone. Iceman is young and inexperienced. Beast is the most advanced of them all, in brains and emotions. And Jean Grey is cautious and unsure of these new abilities she has. Add in Xavier, in his most headmaster-y mode and Magneto, the ying to Xavier’s yang, forcing the young students into conflict on behalf of the mutant race.
There were many subtle touches that I just delighted in reading as the graphic novel developed. Quick little flashbacks to characters to understand their personal origins (I wish there were more!) worked great to quickly give characters context. The over-arching main plot of these young X-Men coming together and the introduction of the threat of Magneto is handled with ease through a series of smaller stories that each have importance and help propel the main plot. As an X-Men fan, I loved seeing little nods and hints to classic X-Men comics of the 1960s, most notably the clash with Magneto at Cape Citadel, but other smaller touches like the boys vying for Jean’s attention leading to the budding romance between Jean and Cyclops, fighting Unus the Untouchable and Iceman facing off alone against Magneto were exactly the type of nods to the past that a classic X-Men fan could appreciate, without getting in the way of the story. While at the same time, Hopeless is able to add to the X-Men mythos by fleshing out more of the complex relationships that were handled pretty clumsily in the early 1960s in the original comics.
Artistically, what else can I say about Jamie McKelvie other than, “I TOLD YOU HE WAS GREAT!” I’ve been singing McKelvie’s praises for years now and with each project he continues to prove me right. With X-Men: Season One, McKelvie teams up with Mike Norton on background and Matt Wilson on colors, putting together a art team that may just be one of my favorites of all time. The range of art on this book from character acting in conversations to the action sequences, McKelvie shows how much progress he’s making as a sequential artist. A single characters facial expression can get the point across and the kinetic energy in every panel helps the story immeasurably. I knew McKelvie was good, but as I read this, I couldn’t help but think about how well rounded he’s become handling the subtle quiet moments along with the bombastic explosions all with the same level of consistency. What’s even better is that these kids look like kids. Sure they have power and are fighting older, more experienced mutants, but you really get the feeling that they’re teenagers and that’s no easy feat, both McKelvie in representation and Hopeless in characterization should be praised for this important touch.
I really defy any of the early detractors to these Season One books to complain about this book. In one volume, we get introduced the core characters, the world they leave in and if after reading, you’re immediately moved to want to read more, then there’s something wrong with you. X-Men: Season One lays the groundwork for what could be a whole new generation of X-Men fans, and if you ask me, that makes this book a complete success.
Kind of a slam dunk for me, personally