After years on a weird island, the X-Men are finally superheroes again

For the past two years, Marvel Comics has been moving the X-Men franchise further and further away from superhero tradition by positioning mutants as an intergalactic political power. The myriad X-books have focused on mutants working together to defend their island nation of Krakoa, and expand its influence. But in the process, the X-Men have strayed from their initial purpose: protecting a world that fears and hates them. 

There’s more reason than ever for humankind to reject mutants, given their recent displays of planet-altering power, so it’s time for some positive rebranding, courtesy of a new team of X-Men that serves the people outside Krakoa.

[Ed. note: This piece contains mild spoilers for X-Men #1.]

The team behind Planet-Size X-Men #1 reunites for X-Men #1, bringing the same grandiose spectacle that made that book so impressive. Writer Gerry Duggan is one of the main creative voices of the Krakoa era, and his work on Marauders has successfully balanced political intrigue with classic superhero thrills, making him a strong fit for a back-to-basics X-Men #1. Artist Pepe Larraz is a full-on superstar, and Planet-Size X-Men proves he can draw damn near anything after depicting the transformation of Mars from a dead red planet to one bustling with mutant life. Colorist Marte Gracia uses palettes and textures that bring even more life and drama to Larraz’s linework, and letterer Clayton Cowles completes the creative team with crisp lettering that helps guide the eye through some of Larraz’s more complex layouts. 

The majority of X-Men #1 features a basic superhero plot: giant monster attacks Manhattan, new team of X-Men assembles to stop it. Cyclops and Jean Grey lead a team that includes heavy hitters Rogue, Polaris, and Sunfire, plus two characters who recently survived extreme trauma to gain vital information for Krakoa: Synch and Wolverine (Laura, not Logan). Before the big fight, readers get a quick tour of the X-Men’s Manhattan base — the Treehouse and the surrounding Seneca Gardens — which gives mutants a foothold in the most targeted city in the Marvel Universe. 

The issue begins and ends with the introduction of two new villains: Feilong, a scientific genius whose plan to conquer Mars was squashed by Krakoan interference, and Dr. Stasis, another scientist trying to unlock the secret to mutant immortality. That last bit is particularly important, as in spite of Krakoa’s best efforts to hide its resurrection engine, people are noticing all the presumed dead mutants who have miraculously reappeared. 

Sure, it feels early to relaunch the main X-Men book less than two years after the last volume debuted, but it makes sense given the very different focus of each series. Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men series was a cultivating ground for various plotlines of the current era, featuring a rotating team of characters and artists. This new X-Men title has a set core cast that serves a different function, giving Krakoa an external-facing superhero team that operates on the same stage as the Avengers and Fantastic Four. And while there will likely be a fill-in art team at some point, Larraz and Gracia are the only artists currently attached to the series. A fresh X-Men team also provided Marvel’s marketing team the opportunity to tap into the franchise’s popularity by giving fans the opportunity to vote on the final member of the team, which gave the new series some extra social media buzz. 

All of the X-titles are heavily connected right now, but X-Men #1 is an accessible introduction to a new superhero team that doesn’t get bogged down in bigger Krakoa plot points. Last month’s X-Men #21 features the debut of the new X-Men team at the Hellfire Gala, and it’s worth checking out that issue, along with Planet-Size X-Men #1, which establishes the mutant presence on Mars. 

If you want to enter Krakoa from the ground floor, House Of X/Powers Of X is the start of the current X-period. Surprisingly, X-Men #1 builds on plot points from the excellent 2017 Rocket miniseries by Al Ewing, Adam Gorham, and Michael Garland, bringing back one of that story’s key antagonists, while also teasing the return of a certain beloved space attorney who also made a recent appearance in Duggan’s New Mutants. 

It fully delivers on the promise of a back-to-basics superhero X-title, with a central action setpiece that spotlights the creative team’s playful imagination and impeccable craft. The problem with going back to basics is that it can often feel like taking a step back, and X-Men #1 returns to very familiar territory, as it puts a team of mutants in New York City. In fact, the X-Men status quo just before Krakoa had the Xavier Institute located inside Central Park. 

That said, X-Men #1 is a lot of fun, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Larraz and Gracia’s artwork is the book’s biggest selling point, and the sense of scale is particularly remarkable, starting with the introduction of the Treehouse. There’s a striking establishing splash page, and later in the issue, Larraz builds a winding two-page layout around a see-through diagram of the structure. Given how cool the terraforming process is in Planet-Size X-Men #1, it is disappointing that the creation of the Treehouse is relegated to a data page, especially because it would have given more attention to characters like Forge and Tempo, who were both candidates to join the new X-Men team. 

The first full shot of the issue’s giant monster baddie cleverly highlights a tiny speck on the ground and zooms in to reveal Rogue, establishing just how huge this threat is to the surrounding humans and their city. Luckily, the new X-Men have brilliant minds and complimentary power sets, combining their abilities to create a giant mech that they operate together. Larraz and Gracia knock these crowd-pleasing moments out of the park, but they also excel with the smaller character beats, like a panel of Cyclops and Jean Grey sharing a quick smooch, complete with a little heart floating in the air. 

The X-Men’s new base of operations is built on the section of Central Park that used to be Seneca Village, a predominantly Black community whose inhabitants were forced out of their homes during the development of Central Park. The mutants are acknowledging the history of the land they are on, but also reminding humans of their history of persecuting those who are different. Seneca Gardens is an overt attempt to reinforce mutants as a race metaphor, which has become more difficult as mutants shift away from human society. 

It’s hard to draw a line between mutants and real-life oppressed people when mutants have the power to turn an entire planet into their new home, and while reporter Ben Urich paints the naming of Seneca Gardens as an act of kindness, it also comes across as performative. If the X-Men are dedicated to protecting humanity, will they be taking steps to stop social injustices like what happened in Seneca Village? Or will they only be taking on mad scientists and giant monsters from space? Based on the tone of this first issue, it seems like the series will be leaning into superhero fantasy, so referencing this real tragedy comes across as a cheap way to lend gravitas to the X-Men’s current mission of hitting things really hard so humans will like them again. 

There’s poetry in the simplicity of this image, the symbolic X serving as light in the darkness. Manhattan is lucky. The giant monster is not.