X-Men: First Class is the Best X-Book Being Published

I really want to like the X-Men.

Believe it or not, I’ve been reading the X-Men books off and on in some form or another for practically my entire comic book reading life. Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Factor, New X-Men, X-Force, New Mutants, Astonishing X-Men, Cable, New X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, Wolverine, X-Statix – these are just some of the many X-Books that I have sampled over the years.

My peak X-Men reading time was, along with practically everyone else, the early 1990s when Uncanny X-Men and X-Men were selling in the millions and Jim Lee was putting a monthly book. But as I got older, I found it harder and harder to connect with the books and the X-Men themselves. I detailed some of the reasons why in an article earlier this year.

Despite reading a bunch of X-books and enjoying some and loving one, no matter how good the book, I was always left vaguely unsatisfied. Something was missing. I was finding no emotional connection. Then in the “Totebag” episode of iFanboy the clouds parted and the angels sang and I had found my X-Men book.

X-Men: First Class

Written by Jeff Parker and drawn (mostly) by Roger Cruz, X-Men: First Class tells the tale of the original X-Men – Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel and Iceman – as they learn to work as a team and become heroes.

This comic book is many things. It is one part action adventure, one part awkward teen romance, and one part laugh-out-loud comedy.

If I could use one word to describe this book it would be charming. I am not kidding when I say that I have a huge smile on my face the entire time I read X-Men: First Class. Everything about it is fantastic. The X-Men themselves are great fun and a joy to read. Having just started out in the hero game, none of them have any idea whatsoever about what to do in battle. The primary facial expression that Roger Cruz (very smartly and very hilariously) draws on their faces is abject terror. Bobby, in particular, seems to exist in a constant state of open-mouthed shock which never fails to make me laugh.

The fun of this book comes from following these familiar characters in that early period in their lives when they are all college-aged and they are not weighed down with the baggage that comes with years and years of the pain and defeat and betrayal that will come later in their lives. Right now it is mostly fun and games for the X-Men, and for us too. It’s very much like looking back on the memories from earlier in your own life, when you remember life as being much simpler and more fun than it is now.

It’s not all fun and games. There are some very real and intense explorations into the loneliness of being a teenage mutant superhero. There is an absolutely fantastic issue where, in order to beat back some demons (with the help of Dr. Strange) the X-Men must all wear Cyclops’ spare visors and for the first time they see the world as Scott does — red, always red. It’s a sad moment when they realize that Scott never gets to see the world as it really is, his perception is always filtered through the ruby lenses. Scott, as he does, keeps his chin up about it but you can tell that it’s something that affects him. It’s these little serious and emotional touches in the midst of the wacky fun that hit like a ton of bricks. It’s a tonal balance that I haven’t seen pulled off this well since the Giffen/DeMatteis days on Justice League.

One of the things that I really don’t like about the modern X-Books is that they seem completely unconnected from the rest of the Marvel Universe. They sat out Civil War.  Ditto for Secret Invasion. They basically only showed up in both events in their own lame mini-series. I miss the days when the X-Men would team-up with The Avengers – that’s when you knew the event was a big deal, when everyone came together. Now, with the never-ending X-Men events segmenting themselves off from the never-ending Avengers events, it’s almost like all of these books take place in separate worlds. And that’s one of my favorite things about X-Men: First Class. It is totally connected to the Marvel Universe. In the first two volumes, there are team-ups and guest appearances by Dr. Strange, Thor, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The Lizard, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Jarvis. The X-Men really feel like a part of a larger world in this book, and that’s great.

Very close in tone to Ultimate Spider-Man, X-Men: First Class is the book that really should have been the Ultimate X-Men. I said it on the “Follow-Up” episode of iFanboy and it’s something I feel even stronger now having read the second trade paperback and having dropped Ultimate X-Men since then. Whereas the Ultimate X-Men book that we did get was all posing and “hip” clothes and hairstyle and rehashed storylines, X-Men: First Class actually offers up a retelling of the beginning days of the X-Men in a modern world. It is almost exactly like Ultimate Spider-Man, so much so that now that I think about the comparisons, I am totally shocked that they don’t exist in the same world.

 

This is a book all about being young and finding your way in the world and it is more than ably handled by the team of Jeff Parker and Roger Cruz. Parker does a great job of exploring the group dynamics of a bunch of 19-20 year olds. Everything is exciting and new; they are just really entering into the world on their own for the first time and learning how to survive and learning that life is complicated. One issue focuses on a brief romance between Angel and Scarlet Witch where they learn that physical attraction might just not be enough to sustain a relationship. Man, I remember when I first learned that lesson, it’s a rough one. 

Scott and Jean are in the beginnings of a flirtation that everyone else sees will very soon become “a thing.” Bobby is the young, wide-eyed motormouth of the group and (gloriously un-blue furry) Hank is the resident genius and super jock who does everything well, except have fun which he learns to do more of through his unlikely kinship with Bobby. Warren is the super rich kid who only really feels happy in the sky and that’s one aspect that Parker handles really well: despite being a part of this team of friends, every one of the X-Men feels isolated in one way or another. Warren always wants to fly, Scott hides behind his visor, Jean is the only girl among a bunch of rowdy guys, Bobby is the youngest and feels like everyone’s little brother, and Hank feels more comfortable buried in his books than hanging out with his friends. Jeff Parker has a really strong handle on these familiar characters in an unfamiliar time of their lives. He does a great job of taking these people that we have known for decades and making them feel fresh.

Roger Cruz’s art is a fantastic compliment to Parker’s writing. He doesn’t draw all of the stories, but the vast majority of them through the first two trades. Cruz’s style exists in the space on the vin diagram where cartoony meets realistic. He is tremendous at drawing overblown facial expressions, which totally works in this kind of series where every emotion and every reaction is heightened and amplified by these kids who are in these fantastical situations. Eyes bulge, mouths gape and smiles are wide. Cruz does a really good job of giving everyone on the team their own look and body language. And in a book that spends as much time on the quiet(ish) moments back at school as it does on crazy, frenetic action, Roger Cruz is asked to do a lot and he rises to the challenge.

So who is X-Men: First Class for? It’s for anyone interested in the X-Men without the baggage of the current books. It’s for fans of Ultimate Spider-Man. It’s for people looking for a higher does of humor and fun in their superheroing. It’s for anyone who wants to read about familiar characters in great stories that don’t require you to read fifteen other books.

Who is X-Men: First Class not for? It’s not for people who don’t want a more comedic take on these classic characters (even Professor X gets a few laughs). It’s not for people who prefer long decompressed storytelling to one-and-done issues. It’s not for anyone obsessed with where all the books fit together in-continuity. 

Where does X-Men: First Class fit in with everything else? I don’t know nor do I really care (unless they put it in the Ultimate continuity, then I’d care). It’s a book out of time, these are adventures that originally took place in the 1960s being retold in a modern setting with cell phones and e-mail. There are sly jokes to the past, though. Their uniforms are constantly referred to as their 2.0 uniforms, with their “other” uniforms (i.e. the original 60s versions) constantly being “unavailable” because they are being washed or repaired. Jean misses her pointy mask.

There are two trades available and I cannot recommend them enough. Not enough people are reading this book, as is evidenced by Marvel recently announcing that they were ending he on-going series and restarting X-Men: First Class as a series of mini-series. I am okay with that as long as it doesn’t impact the content of the book and the stories that Parker and Cruz have to tell.

I love X-Men: First Class so much that it might just be one of my favorite titles that Marvel publishes right now.

Comments

  1. Re: Conor’s got a fever, and the only prescription… is X-Men: First Class!

     

    I would like to offer a second opinion and prescribe more cow bells. 

  2. I really, really enjoyed the original 7 or so issues, but with tightened money and a passing interest in the X-men, I dropped it.  In the future, I’ll definitely be picking up the trades (or at least the first one with the issues I read).

  3. Wolverine might need to have a little talk with you in the back Conor. Cause I believe Wolverine with the ‘Old Man Logan’ arc is waaay better then what First Class has been turning out.

    It’s the 2nd best in my eyes with Wolverine as first. The other X-Titles can go drown in a river for all I care, the rest are god awful. 

  4. Damn you, Kilpatrick, now I have to pick up these two trades.  That is the danger of iFanboy, for any chekcing out this site, they write an article like this, then, you have to go out and read it.

  5. I agree Conor, but I still dropped it, because, well it is still an X-book. I have never connected with any of the X-titles and while this one held my attention for a bit, it still ended up getting dropped.

  6. Thaaannnnk you!!!!!

    I mean, I like most — well probably at least close to more than half — of the Xmen books currently coming out.  But this one is just great, month-in, month-out, and it never seems to get as much love and attention. 

  7. First Class is the ONLY X-Book.

  8. I keep telling myself I’m going to buy this, but we’re two trades in now. It is typical of my ass-backward approach to life that I would choose to wait for the trades on the most single-issue-grab-baggy book on the shelf. Next month!

  9. I’m loving First Class too. I read the original X-Men comics in their British black and white reprints back in the seventies when I started with comic books and liked them then, so I’ve loved reading about these early characters again. Shame it’s not going to continue as an ongoing monthly though.

  10. I just picked up the first HC at mid-ohio can last weekend and I’m going to read it. I just heard on Wordballoon with Jef Parker, that the book is going through some changes…I wonder what that means. Could they be introducing the "international" team already? I’d like to think they’re going to take some time before that. 

  11. That first arc was some of the funnest and most enjoyable reads I ever had!!  Its great to have self-contained X-stories, and then have the rest of the Marvel U stop by and watch some good old fashioned team-ups.  And its in continuity!!! (for those of you that care about it)  I also recommend this to anybody that is disappoiinted in their X-titles.

  12. Yes. This book is fantastic. Parker’s version of Bobby Drake is one of my favorite Marvel characters right now.

  13. I think Bobby is my favorite character in this book.

  14. I’ve never been a huge fan of the original team, personally, but I keep hearing that this book is excellent. Maybe I’ll put it on my Amazon list…

     

  15. @Diabhol  — First Class will make you think about the original team in a new way.  I never cared much about Angel before I read this series, and now he’s one of my favorites. 

  16. Oh oh yes! This is the only X-book I am regularly reading. Partly because it is self-contained but really it is pretty fantastic. I love the new spin on characterization. 

  17. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I agree, this should have been Ultimate X-Men.  It sucks that an X-Men arc has to go off into limbo to become accessible for a lot of readers, myself included.  

  18. I truthfully don’t think there’s anything inaccessible or convoluted about the current Uncanny or Astonishing titles.  There are justifiable criticisms of them (particularly the art), but the idea that they’re intertwined with other titles, or overly dependent on past canon, seems to be something they’re particularly trying to avoid.

    Now whether that’s going to change in two months is another question ;).

  19. @ohcaroline – I think it might be hard to judge when that canon is such second nature.

  20. just added it to my wish list.  i spend way too much money cuz of this site.

  21. @conor  — I think that’s a compliment, sort of — but I’d argue those books are deliberately being written so that everything you need is on the page.  Granted, the fact that I had to single out 2 books out of 11 or however many are being published is its own kind of accessibility problem. 

  22. I wish I had Jeff Parker’s e-mail address so I could send this to him.

  23. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I also tend to think the mutant concept is an excuse for lazy writing.  Especially in regards to creating an excessive amount of characters, defined solely by their bizarre "innate abilities."  Too many characters with wafer thin personalities in addition to soap opera convolution across multiple titles results in something of a mess.  

  24. @Jimski  I was going to link here to his blog at Parkerspace but it seems to be having a technical problem, or else just doesn’t want to talk to my computer.

    @PaulMontgomery  No real argument there; that’s why the good titles (like First Class, and Astonishing and God Loves, Man Kills) keep the focus on a core group.  But the 90s do have a lot to answer for.

  25. I’m not, by the way, trying to convert anybody on this thread into reading current X-men books.  I just wanted to try and fairly characterize those titles as someone who is reading them.

  26. I love the panel in vol.1 #2 where they are on the beach and Scott’s drink is getting cold and Bobby says "Not on my watch!" haha, priceless.  And that issue had by far some of the sexiest Jean Grey art ever.  Nevermind that she is technically 16 or so in that timeline.  BTW, Hank is my favorite in that series

  27. I’ve got to agree – X-Men First Class has consistently been one of my favorite books. And I have to add how much I love the backup stories as well. Just because Jean and Wanda are awesome.

    And this book is pure *fun* which is something that is missing from a lot of the other books. There are a lot of serious issues covered, but it always still is an enjoyable read. One of my favorites, sad it isn’t ongoing anymore.

  28. I love this book. I have been reading it since issue #1. I am sad to hear that it will no longer be on-going.

  29. I picked up issue #6 after some glowing reviews in a podcast, and though I really liked parts of it, the weird side-story in the middle really threw me off.  It was WAY too juvenile, and the original story picked backed up in a weird spot.  I was totally confused.

    Are these little kiddie interludes in every issue?  Am I the only one to have this experience?

  30. @BigE  Issue 6 of the second series?  That as a printing error of order, so the ‘marvel witch’ story should have been a backup, not in the middle, and the main pages of the story were out of order.  So DEFINITELY give it another try.  That said, the Colleen Coover-drawn backups are my FAVORITE thing about the series!  I don’t find them juvenile at all — I love her work, and I think the Jean & Wanda charactersizations are priceless.  Different strokes, I guess.  

     

  31. @BigE – it was a printing error, many copies came out with pages out of order, the jean/wanda backups were always in the end.

  32. Yeah, I’m a big fan of the Colleen Coover back-ups.  Great fun.

  33. I still enjoy Ultimate X-Men

  34. Sometimes I feel like Xmen should be apart of their own universe a Mutant only verse.

  35. Senator Kelly, is that you?

  36. Conor speaks the truth, this is a great book!  I never expected to enjoy this book as much as I do, but now that I think about it, the is my favorite current x-book.

  37. Finally just checked the rest of the thread.  I thought only DC could blow a ‘jumping-on’ issue.  I’ll definitely give the title another shot.  I’m glad I’m not just an idiot.  Well, not for this reason.  Thanks @ohcaroline & @Fantomas.