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Krakoa’s first mutant elected X-Men team to the forefront with an epic debut

Gerry Dugan & Pepe Laraz brings Krakoa’s first mutant elected X-Men team to the forefront with an epic debut issue of X-Men #1 (2021 relaunch)

Gerry Dugan & Pepe Laraz brings Krakoa’s first mutant elected X-Men team to the forefront with an epic debut issue of X-Men #1 (2021 relaunch)

By Wayne Royale

A monster is unleashed in New York City, and the Marvel Universe’s heroes are only a few minutes too late to stop it. A voice crackles over the radio, “This is Captain America.” “The Avengers are 30 seconds away from Lower Manhattan,” says the narrator.

There’s no need for it. The X-Men arrive with their usual vigor and efficiency—and, somewhat surprisingly, their efforts are lauded. “It’ll take some getting used to being cheered,” new member Synch says.

This is unquestionably a new epoch. The X-Men have been around since the 1960s, but they’ve never had the same level of fanaticism as Captain America or Spider-Man. Unlike other heroes, the X-Men are aware of the weight of their mutant status, and their stories are set in the shadow of the mythical, flawed Mutant Metaphor.

With this first issue, writer Gerry Duggan, a veteran of series such as Uncanny Avengers, Deadpool, and Marauders, and ace artist Pepe Larraz introduce a new squad and establish a new state quo.

The issue is clearly intended to serve as a jumping-on point, a reminder that the X-Men of your childhood are still alive and well. But its significance extends beyond the traditional beats of a New York brawl, because, as long-time readers are aware, the X-Men haven’t appeared in Marvel Comics for the past two years.

In 2019, when Jonathan Hickman rebooted the X-line, he was presenting a narrative “about mutants” and “what their place in the world is.” The Marvel Universe’s mutants are still heroes, but their role is no longer that of Charles Xavier’s figureheads or assimilation agents.

The X-Men series was not actually about the X-Men throughout the first era of Hickman’s relaunch, dubbed as Dawn of X, which Hickman appeared to enjoy when commenting on the state of the X-books late last year. What Hickman pulled off was having X-Men books for several issues and runs and Marvel crossovers such as Empyre without having an actual X-Men team. 

Duggan doesn’t spend any time putting the team together in action. The squad swiftly set up shop in Central Park, with Synch as the glue guy and Cyclops and Jean Grey in charge, and used their talents to combat some gigantic alien. The scenario takes up a little too much page time — which is, if anything, an excuse to let Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia steal the show — but it mercifully ends with a Power Rangers-style power-up.

If it weren’t for a gorgeous double-page spread of the X-treehouse Men’s headquarters in Central Park, that sequence would be the issue’s creative highlight. Larraz and Gracia never fail to ground the X-Men in the Krakoa era aesthetic when creating such a familiar-looking team. Cyclops and Polaris navigate the new facility, which the team has named Seneca Gardens, surrounded by plants and other vegetation.

The location serves as a memorial to slain mutants as well as a homage to Seneca Village, a real-life neighborhood in New York City that was evacuated to make way for Central Park. The Mutant Metaphor has always bothered me when it comes to anti-Black racism in the United States, a problem exacerbated by the reality that the majority of X-Men are white.

Even this new team has only one Black member (Synch) and one other person of color (Sunfire, who is Japanese). Is it reasonable for mutants to take over a location that is important to Black American history and utilize it for their own ends? I’m not certain, however, based on the amount of room Duggan devotes to data pages examining the headquarters’ origins, he appears to be interested in doing so in future issues.

Duggan’s expansion of the story’s breadth while weaving in threads from earlier in the Krakoa era is more successful. A new potential foe is particularly interested in the implications of the Planet-Sized X-Men, and several characters appear to be on the verge of unraveling one of mutantkind’s most closely guarded secrets.

Duggan — who previously worked on Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova — ventures into space at one point for a wild scene with a strange group of aliens. This issue takes place in a new period, yet it retains the classic spirit of Chris Claremont’s X-Men, in which the tale can jump from New York to space and everything in between.

This comic, like earlier stories, is free of unhappiness and the extinction-era dread that plagued the X-Men in the mid-aughts. Mutants have plenty of foes, yet they’re thriving right now. Even the irritable Sunfire is aboard for the adventure — and he hasn’t given up yet! I only wish we had seen more of the personalities of the characters in this first issue, which focuses primarily on Cyclops and Jean.

The joy of this issue comes through in the vibrance of the art, which comics journalists, including myself, have a propensity of emphasizing on too much in our reviews. The X-Men have returned. Duggan recently tweeted, “Hated & Feared No More.” It’s an excellent time to be a fan.

What do you think?

Written by Mr Royale

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