State of the Union: X-Men Comics

As the world turns its eyes on the X-Men, thanks to the upcoming movie, X-Men: First Class, I thought it would be a good time to take a step back and  look at the state of the X-Men comics.  As many long time comics enthusiasts know, the X-Men have been one of Marvel's most popular lines of comic books which has beget numerous titles and series, almost to the detriment (and humor to critics) of the entire line.  At any given point in my comic collecting history, I've collected at least four X-Men series, if not more, so it's become second nature to evaluate each title and decide against it's merits.  I've been saying for the past few months that this is looking to be a great time for X-Men fans as the quality of the books is at an all time high.

That said, today I'm going to take a look at each series Marvel is publishing and give you an honest evaluation.  I'll only be examining ongoing series, not mini-series or one-shots, as well as just the core books that affect continuity, so nothing that it is out of continuity or a re-imagining of the characters (this excludes Astonishing X-Men, because I honestly don't understand how/why that book is still being published, much less where it fits).  Also, sales numbers are as of the April 2011 Top 300 Actual Sales chart from ICv2.

Now that the rules are set, let's get to it

TEAM BOOKS

 
Uncanny X-Men
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Terry Dodson & Greg Land
Average Sales – 56,000

The flagship book of the X-Men line and, thankfully, still the highest selling X-title, Uncanny X-Men has been most recently noted for a creative change on the writing side with Kieron Gillen taking over from Matt Fraction as the ongoing writer.  Early returns on Gillen's run have been ultra positive, punctuated by a clear understanding and handling of the characters.  Unfortunately, as strong as the writing is, the artwork has been holding this book back.  Terry Dodson and Greg Land have been trading off on story arcs for years now and while I really enjoy Dodson's work, and say what you will about Land's work, it's time for a change.  It's been nearly 4 years of the same art and when I think about what it will take to make the Uncanny X-Men a major force again, I think the last piece of the puzzle is the art.  (Stay tuned for more of this topic tomorrow.)

Gillen's first story arc has been revisiting Whedon's run, settling some of the business left off with the Breakworld people, as well as what seems to be laying the way to restoring Kitty Pryde to where she should be.  Not a bad way to start.

Current Grade:  B

Gillen is off to a good start, but a change in artists is sorely needed.
 
 
Uncanny X-Force 
Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic, Billy Tan, & Mark Books
Average Sales – 54,000

The surprise hit of 2010, writer Rick Remender and a rotating cast of artists has taken the book that was a punchline of 1990s and Rob Liefeld jokes and made it a hit book that matters, both in terms of story and in creative endeavor.  Remender has picked up classic X-Men characters and storylines (some from deep in the 1990s) and weaved them into a current story that has the potential for a large impact in the X-Men canon.  Add in the unbelievable consistency of artwork, even with rotating artists, and you have a must read book.  Opena and Ribic delivered amazing story arcs, and while I was a little worried about the likes of Tan and Brooks coming on-board, it appears as if everyone has stepped up their game, bolstered by the unique color palette of Dean White and you have a book that ships not just on time, but recently twice a month, and kicks butt every issue (well nearly every issue *cough* #9 *cough*).  I eagerly await the return of Opena as he's schedule to return to the book in a few issues.

The upcoming story arc revisits more 1990s fun with the Age of Apocalypse, and I have to admit, the way that Remender figured out how to work that into the story is the kind of mad genius I want out of an X-Men writer.

Current Grade: A+

Currently the best X-Men related book being sold right now.

 
X-Men: Legacy 
Writer: Mike Carey
Artists: Khoi Pham & Steve Kurth
Average Sales – 54,000
 
The case of X-Men: Legacy is a curious one.  The numbering originates from the original adjective-less X-Men (launched in 1991 by Chris Claremont and JimLee) with the title changing a few years ago and Mike Carey has been quietly plugging along since 2006 writing this book year in and year out.  The book has danced with being crucial to the X-Men fan, sometimes participating with the major story lines (i.e. "Messiah Complex" and "Second Coming") and sometimes existing outside the main storylines as a place for Carey to tell his X-Men stories.  It seems as if the book has mainly focused on Professor Xavier and Rogue, and while I really do enjoy Mike Carey's work, most of the issues of this title have been forgettable.  I'm not quite sure I get Carey's fixation on Rogue and Professor Xavier, or if that's an editorial mandate.  But with the recent announcements it looks like we're going to continue the Rogue/Professor Xavier show, with the addition of Magneto and, of course, Gambit.

I do have to mention that I am excited for the upcoming issues of X-Men: Legacy purely for the fact that they'll be addressing the whereabouts of Havok, Polaris and Marvel Girl, a question that has plagued me for over a year.

Current Grade: C

This book just continues to struggle to "matter" in the grand scheme of the X-Books, despite the upcoming Havok/Polaris story.  If your'e a Carey fan, you might enjoy it, but if you're looking for a book to skip, this is the one.

 
X-Men 
Writers: Victor Gischler & Chris Yost
Artist: Paco Medina
Average Sales – 50,000

After several years of no adjectiveless X-Men title being published, last year Marvel decided to return the title to publication.  X-Men Volume 3 #1 launched with story by Victor Gischler and art by Paco Medina got a bit of a bum wrap because it launched with the X-Men/Vampire "Curse of the Mutants" story arc.  Now what anti-vampire fans missed was some damn good comics.  Gischler is an established and very good writer and that initial vampire story was really quite good.  More recently we got a story arc that teamed the X-Men up with Spider-Man, set in New York City featuring Chris Bachalo art, which was fantastic. 

Chris Yost recently took over the writing reigns on the title, as Medina has returned on art to tell the "X-Men: First to Last" story, which started off on a great foot this month.  Gischler returns with issue #15.

Current Grade: B

The writing is top notch, Medina is a great artist, but I struggle to see how/where this book "fits" in the grand scheme of things.

 
New Mutants
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artist: Leandro Fernandez
Average Sales – 38,000

The fact that the New Mutants series is up to issue #25 seems like a miracle to me. I swear for the past 2 years, I thought this was a mini-series, so that probably explains my thoughts as to the book.  It's been okay, and if you're fan of the original New Mutants (Cannonball, Moonstar etc.), then of course you're enjoying this, but for the rest of us?  It's been passable.  With the recent addition of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, I have to say I'm very excited for New Mutants and its new direction that finds this team being dispatched to clean up the X-Men's loose ends, somewhat similar to what's going on in Uncanny X-Force.  This book has become a clever must read for an X-Men fan, as in the story, "loose ends" equals "lingering plots/storylines that were never resolved," which is like giving an X-Men fan crack.

Artistically, Abnett and Lanning are joined by the excellent Leandro Fernandez and all of a sudden this book that hasn't really mattered has become a book to keep an eye on.

Current Grade: B-

The biggest potential of improvement, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not raving about this book by the fall.

 
X-Factor
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Emanuela Lupacchino
Average Sales – 24,000

Oh, X-Factor, what a fickle title you have been.  When Peter David began his run on this book, way back in 2005, it was a breath of fresh air.  Spinning out of his noir-ish Madrox mini-series, we had the promise of a fresh take on some favorite X-Men characters as they worked the noir angle as mutant private investigators.  Over the past 5+ years the book has wavered from fantastic, to a challenge to read, back to something that's worth reading again.  Peter David definitely gets respect for writing the title for the past 5 years, and while the art on the book has suffered, these characters (Madrox, Strong Guy, Longshot etc), are some of my favorites and I like that there's a book out there featuring them.

Somehow, David has been able to carve out a corner of the X-Universe that isn't connected to the greater goings on of the X-Men, which may explain the lower sales. It's clear this book is for the fans of these characters and as long as Marvel is okay with that, then so am I.

Current Grade: B-

It's been a long time with these characters, but I love reading them. I just wish we had a higher level of art on it.
 
 
SINGLE CHARACTER BOOKS
 
Wolverine
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Daniel Acuna & Renato Guedes
Average Sales – 47,000

You may have read my recent Pick of the Week selection of Wolverine #9, where I praised Jason Aaron and Daniel Acuna for making a perfect comic book.  Jason Aaron has been a delight writing Wolverine, starting from way back in 2008 when he did his first Wolverine stories, to Wolverine: Weapon X with Ron Garney, to the most recently incarnation of the Wolverine on-going series.  It's clear that Aaron has a larger plan for Wolverine and he's taking the most popular mutant to dark, dark places in the only way that Aaron can.

If I had any sort of criticism of Wolverine, it would be the artists that Aaron's been paired with.  I can't say that I've loved any of the art since Garney left after Wolverine: Weapon X.  The first story arc featured Renato Guedes, who I didn't love.  And then we had Daniel Acuna on the second arc, who I really disliked until the last issue (#9), and now we're back to Guedes.  I can't say exactly why I don't like either Guedes or Acuna, just that their styles aren't for me, personally.  But as long as Aaron is writing Logan, I'm there. Plus, the Jae Lee covers make me long for Jae Lee illustrated interiors.

Current Grade: A-

Great stories that could be made better by a knockout artist. 

 
X-23 
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artists: Sana Takeda, Ryan Stegman
Average Sales – 28,000

And now things get tricky.  Full disclosure, I don't usually read X-23.  Why? I don't care about the character.  It's just as simple as that.  The genetic "offspring" of Wolverine, X-23, is a young female Wolverine who, after having read some stories with her, I've come to just outright dismiss.  That said, I've heard nothing but good things about this current series written by Marjorie Liu.  Sometimes it takes a character like X-23 and a small, loyal audience to give a creator an opportunity to do something special.  I'm not quite sure that Liu is at that point with X-23 yet, but the potential is definitely there.

I have checked out X-23 issues recently due to the art, mainly by Ryan Stegman.  One of the up and comers at Marvel, Stegman has the makings to be a next big thing.  With a strong Art Adams influence, Stegman comics are just fun to read.  Now he's off X-23 and Sana Takeda is back on the book for upcoming issues, so if you like that anime-esque style, you'll be pleased.  But if they kept Stegman, or a hot artist like that on this book, then this could be a dark horse X-book.

Current Grade: C+

Ultimately, the book isn't a must read for an X-Men fan, but provides a nice alternative if you're looking for something different. 

 
Daken: Dark Wolverine 
Writer: Daniel Way & Marjorie Liu, Rob Williams
Artist: Marco Checchetto, Matteo Buffagni
Average Sales – 26,000

To continue the disclaimer, I don't read Daken: Dark Wolverine either, but for the purpose of this post, I checked out a few of the most recent issues.  For similar reasons to X-23, not only do I not care about the character, but his sole existence offends me.  Positioned as the male offspring of Wolverine, Daken rose to prominence during Dark Reign in Dark Avengers and I'm just sad they didn't kill him off during that story.  Instead we've been subject to some awful comics written by Daniel Way along with Marjorie Liu, as they continued to give more Daken stories that seemingly no one wants. Now, I understand that there may be fans of Daken, but lord knows I can't imagine why there are. Talk about a character that doesn't' need to exist in any sense of the word.

Now, that said, there is some reason to take notice of this series.  First off, Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu have been joined previously by the super talented artist Marco Checchetto, who will be teaming up with Greg Rucka on the new Punisher book this summer.  Further, Way & Liu are off the book as writers with up and coming writer Rob Williams taking over for a story arc.  Will he be able to make lemonade out of Daken's lemons? I'm not so sure, but it might be worth a try.

Current Grade: D

The only reason this doesn't get an F is for the promise of a new writer with Williams.
 


And so, there you have it, the current state of the X-Men comics franchise from Marvel Comics, according to me at least.  After reviewing and evaluating the books, I continue to believe that we're on the verge of a great time for X-Men fans.  With X-Men: Schism lining up to the be the line defining event, and the combination of Jason Aaron, Rick Remender and Kieron Gillen driving the main stories, it's a good time for X-Men fans. 

If anything, some well deserved credit goes to X-Men line editor Nick Lowe and his editorial team for working and cultivating the line to bring it back up to near the level that I would expect and hope for the X-Men line of books.  Now, with a few creative changes, mainly around artists, and trimming some fat here and there (like Daken), the X-Men line has the potential to be one of the strongest lines of comics around both in creative quality output and sales.

Comments

  1. I just picked up the first hardcover of “Uncanny X-Force” and I loved it. I’ve never read X-Force before I don’t think you need to in order to enjoy the story that Remender laid out. I enjoyed it so much that I think I’m switching to issues going forward.

    And Fantomex may be my hero.

  2. Besides Astonishing X-Men, I always suggest Carey’s X-Men run whenever someone asks about reading the current-ish X-titles. The pre-Legacy issues are all gold, and the entire Xavier mega-arc that started off Legacy was not only a great story, but an interesting way to do a retrospective on X-history. After that, the series was a bit uneven. A few great issues and arcs here and there, but nothing truly consistent. However, it’s seeming that Age Of X is the shot in the arm that Legacy needs. Reading the 2 issue aftermath, it looks like this series has a strong focus again, and we’re going to see some more great X stories from Carey.

  3. I’d agree with the assessment on Uncanny, it’s a solid B book. I would definitely like to see a more unique art style there and Greg Land needs to go, but i do wish Gillen hadn’t strated things off with a followup to breakworld. I’d really like to get back to some of the more classic x-men villians. I’m getting a bit sick of Utopia now too, i’d like to see a back to basics approach to the x-men. maybe tell some more long form stories like the Claremont era, have some big bad pulling the strings in the background for a year or so, culminating with a big battle.
    I still don’t think the x-books are back and I’ve been saying for a while that the best solution to getting them back on thier feet would be to combine many of the tertiary books into one big weekly x-book with a brain trust creative team like Spider-man had for so long.

  4. Ron you need to get out of the board room and write more. Great piece!

  5. Uncanny X Force is one of my favorite books out right now. Its the first X related book that i’m reading in issues on a regular basis since the 90s and it really does stand alone as its own thing. Definitely worth reading. 

  6. One other thing, I definitely can’t agree with a B- on the New Mutants book. While I’ll admit it opened with a weak first arc, reintroducing Legion, everything after has been pure gold for the devoted X-fan. It’s major problem has been the fact that it keeps getting dragged into X-crossover after X-crossover, but Zeb Wells was consistently writing the strongest issues of each of these  events. Just look at his reinvention of Doug Ramsay in the Necrosha storyline. He took a character who intentionally had a useless and laughable mutant power and legitimately reimagined him into a complete badass. I LOVE his power now, it’s extremely clever. The Fall of the New Mutants storyline, which was basically a sequel to the Inferno storyline, was another amazing arc. Not only did he tell some action packed mutant stories, but he had a great grasp on the characters, adding in the necessary melodrama and interpersonal relationships that are fundamental to any successful x-book. You can hand those two arc to any x-fan and be confident that you’re giving them some of the best x-books released in the past 5 years.
    I’m telling you, re-read those arcs and you’ll agree with me.

  7. The last few issues of Dakan sort of lost me, but overall I have enjoyed the series.  Especially the way the character is written (He is very selfish).  This book needs to exist because Dakan represents a side of Wolverine that needs to be explored.  He is an avatar for all the people Wolverine has killed, crossed and burnt over the years.    His connection to the FF is also interesting.  I would say though that the story device of having Dakan blown to bits or charged down to bone in order to con people into thinking its safe … is overused of late.

  8. Great post on the X-men. I have to agree Uncanny X-force is best X book out right now.  A must read.

  9. I noticed that Astonishing X-men was omitted. I haven’t read the book since the Ghost Boxes arc, which was just terrible. Just curious why it wasn’t mentioned. It is so bad that it’s better to assume it doesn’t exist?

    I’m currently reading Wolverine, Uncanny X-Force, and Uncanny X-men. They are all excellent, and Aaron has been pretty spot on with Wolverine dating back to his Weapon X run. I’ve really enjoyed Gillen’s run so far on Uncanny, and I don’t hate the artwork. X-Force is one of the best books going, no question.

    I also picked up the first trade of X-Men:Curse of the Mutants because I heard such good things. I jumped on New Mutants with DnA, and after one issue, I’m pleased.

  10. Also, what about Generation Hope? I’ve been trade waiting on that.

  11. Legacy is my favorite book in the line. It tends to flounder when everything going on around it constantly shifts its purpose. “Rogue, teach the kids. Rogue, don’t teach the kids. Rogue, there’s this Necrosha thing.” Carey writes character driven arcs that examine the inner workings of Utopia. As a book that explores X-Men’s LEGACY through Magneto, Rogue and Xavier, it’s great fanservice. Definitely a book for people who dig the early 90s Lobdell issues, or want to buy a Rogue ongoing series.

    Also, why no State of the Union entry for Generation Hope? Mr. I heart Jamie McKelvie? 

  12. @RocketRacoon   “…nothing that it is out of continuity or a re-imagining of the characters (this excludes Astonishing X-Men, because I honestly don’t understand how/why that book is still being published, much less where it fits).” -Ron’s introduction

    The rest of Ellis’ Astonishing was darn good. Especially Kaare Andrews’ art on Xenogenesis. Thoughif you can’t get past the art, it definitley won’t be your cup of tea. 

  13. @RocketRacoon  Dodson is fine, but Land at this point needs to go. It’s just a fugly book when he does the interiors and it’s impossible to tell who characters are because he uses different people for the photo references in each panel. It’s mega shoddy for Marvel’s flagship X-Title where they should be launching new superstar artists.

  14. Uncanny:  C+, needs new writers not artists, Land and Dodson are superstar artists in my book.

    X-Force:  A-, should have Domino on the team instead of Deadpool I think.

    Legacy:  B, Carey is on and off, when Clay Mann is on it’s on.

    X-Men:  C+, “Curse of the Mutants” gave us Vampire Jubilee, other than that, the writing was retarded, Medina’s art was good though.

    New Mutants:  I don’t read.

    X-Factor:  A-, David’s writing is consistently good, and the brand of artists they use I like.

    Wolverine:  A+, current series with superstar artist Acuna is fantastic, good ‘ole Wolvie stuff.

    X-23:  I don’t read, yet fascinated with the idea of a female clone of Wolvie, the character just isn’t as relevant to me yet as is…

    Daken:  A-, intriguing to me the idea of Wolvie’s son and how he follows in his father’s footsteps for better or for worse.  The artists in this have been much better then in X-23.

  15. @Ron – Can we please refrain from references to “Daken’s lemons” in the future? It’s just that it sounds way dirtier than I’m sure you meant it.

  16. @spiderphilman  “…the way the character is written (He is very selfish.)”

    With that sentence I think you just summed up Daniel Way’s writing. Here’s another example I made up:

    “The way Deadpool is written (He knows he is in a comic book).”

    Hey this is easy! I could write comics too!

  17. @c0axmf  @RocketRacoon  ack! I forgot Generation Hope – I totally knew I’d forget a title…my bad.

  18. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Uncanny X-Force is in my top three ongoing books. That’s crazy. 

  19. I’m so glad I started reading x-men titles again.

  20. Uncanny X-Men: Totally agree, loving Kieron but we need new artists and fast.

    Uncanny X-Force: LOVING IT. Of course I think it’s the best X-book.

    X-Men: Legacy: Ehhhh, I read random arcs but I can’t get into it. One of the lwoer tier books as far as I’m concerned.

    X-Men: I’m actually thinking of hoping onto the book with the Yost storyline and see where it goes from there.

    New Mutants: I loved it at the beginning but after Second Coming I felt the book lost it’s magick, but with Abnett & Lanning I’m given great hope. Also Lafluente will be doing art after this arc! YES!

    X-Factor: Been on and off of this book, I agree it has it’s up and downs but I’m current;y came back with the Vegas storyline and it’s pretty fun thus far.

    Don’t read Gen. Hope, X-23 or Daken so no thoughts really. Gen. Hpe lost my interest after the second issue.

  21. Hey Ron , great article especially for us x-fanatics.  Almost agree with your scores , i feel that uncanny should be a ,little bit higher in the grade.  And X-23 has been really really good, i am loving Liu’s work on this, and the X-23 and Daken crossover was top notch.  I too was not a big fan of Daken, but after reading the last few issues , he is starting to tweak my interest.

  22. Good article.  Especially helpful since X-Factor is now the only X-book I read.

    I do have to say though that I finally had a chance to read X-Force and I really don’t get the hype around it.  The plusses: the art is great, and the concepts – revisiting the 90s with a 21st century twist – are interesting.  Remender is serviceable but doesn’t wow me.  The negatives: it seems like a one-trick pony.  X-Force kills someone after debating about the morality of killing.  Then they whine/question whether they are losing their moral compass.  Repeat.  Second negative – the characters just aren’t interesting to me.  Archangel and Psylocke especially are emo-ing me to into an early grave.  

    When I think about the all-time greatest X-runs I think Claremont’s Uncanny, Morrison’s New, and Whedon’s Astonishing.  Those were A-level books.  X-Force is not in their class.  It’s a B-level book.  Good and happy to have it but when we’re talking about the top comics 10 years from now it won’t be on the list.   

  23. Love carreys xmen and daken and x23 so I’m that guy ron but the x universe is just good

  24. I know it’s already been addressed in this thread, but Gen Hope deserves to be added to this list. Gillen is kicking ass on that title, and it’s the only X-book featuring (actual) new mutants! And it totally “matters” as it’s dealing with the biggest X-continuity event since M-Day.

  25. Other than that omission, though, awesome article! As a fellow x-fan I tend to agree with all the grades, but as a Carey fan I have to say Legacy is cruelly underrated here.

    And maybe X-Force is just slightly overrated. Slightly!

  26. I second the idea of consolidating a few titles and creating a weekly or biweekly “Brand New Day”-esque flagship book with some sort of X-Men braintrust

  27. Emanuela Lupacchino is putting down some great art for X-Factor. They are lucky to have her on the book.

  28. The Astonishing arc with Kaare Andrews was fantastic.

  29. Soooooew, the best X-men comic doesn’t even have X-men in its name? Might have to go back to the drawing board, then.

  30. @VichusSmith  That’s a very minor thing in a family of books. The best Batman book doesn’t have Batman in the name.

  31. @conor  It’s also somewhat surprising to me because X-force is tops,b ut it doesn’t have the classic line-up of X-men characters. I guess no book does. The old Xavier Academy students are pretty much spread amongst the titles.

  32. @VichusSmith  Remember though it has team members from multiple X-Men generations: Angel from the Original Team, Wolverine from the Giant-Size & Claremont eras, Archangel & Psylocke from the late 80s early 90s X-Factor/Jim Lee X-Men, Fantomex from the often left out Morrison run, and now Deathlock from the current Wolverine run by Aaron, also Deadpool is there for some reason 

  33. I’d say axe X-23 and Daken, give me a Magento ongoing by Carey.

  34. O.K.,  I just saw First Class and want some more Prof. X.  Is Legacy my only option here?  Will I get enough Chuck X in this title?