The X-men are an odd bunch. When their comics are good they are good, when they are bad they stink. But no matter if it’s Chris Claremont (good) or Chuck Austen (bad…so very, very bad) they always seem to be at the top of the sales chart.
There is no denying their popularity as characters, and as two films (I am reluctant to say three) prove, people have a taste for the merry mutants.
Which brings me to this milestone 200th issue of Marvel’s mutant cash-cow, which in today’s fickle marketplace is an amazing feat itself, no matter how popular the characters. If, like me, you have all 200 issues (yup, I am that sad) and can remember back to the early 1990s and the first issue of the series (replete with multiple Jim Lee covers, many splash pages, Chris Claremont’s verbose scripts, Magneto, Asteroid M, Acolytes and garish yellow and blue costumes with more pockets than you could ever use), you’ll appreciate the team has come a long long way. Through the Legacy Virus, Onslaught, team changes, deaths, returns, and re-deaths, the characters have moved on … but at times have stayed very similar.
And it is this fact that makes this 200th issue so interesting. It’s all new, and yet so similar…just the ways fans like it.
It’s written by Mike Carey who is one of the top talents in comics at the moment (check out his Ultimate Fantastic 4 – fantastic!), and is seen by many as one of the best X-scribes of the last ten years. It plays on all the things that is good with the X-books at the moment, namely characters, plotting and a sense that things (if you excuse the pun) are evolving.
With a scenario from the lame House Of M still lingering on and the fact that there are now only 198 mutants in the world, it seems as though the pieces of the mutant chessboard have moved, with bad guys now goodies and vice versa. Carey, who also wrote the excellent Endangered Species one shot, knows exactly where he is going, slowly unravelling the plot bit by bit. And for once it all makes sense and, most importantly, reads well.
So with issue 200 we are treated to all the action and pay off from all these manoeuvrings, and while the entire thing isn’t resolved, we have former good guys Gambit, Sunfire, Sentinel and Mastermind switching sides, and the X-men being decimated by the Marauders and their new found allies.
Some defections are easy to spot, but while reading the comic you’re reminded of the classic Eric Morecambe quote about playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. There are curves, twists and betrayals all happening, and a nice little cliffhanger to set things up for number 201.
My only complaint was that the X-men were taken out to easily, but I am sure there is a reason for that and that all the ‘Sinister’ turn of events will resolve themselves at the end of the story arc.
A quick word on the art here, which is pretty damn impressive. Instead of pulling double duty on the book and having fill-ins-galore for the next few issues, Marvel has wisely split the arty chores between the two artists who currently deliver the book on a monthly basis. And while I personally prefer Chris Bachalo art over Humberto Ramos, both artists’ work fits together perfectly, giving the book a very comic feel without going over the top.
Detail wise all the characters look perfect and while a little more attention could have been given to backgrounds and the look and feel of the book, it fits Carey’s script well, with a vibrant, fast-paced feel.
To complete the issue 200 celebrations, there’s some great pin up art at the back, too. I’m not usually of a fan of this, personally (it tends to feel like a filler to me), the Mark Brookes and Brian Hitch pieces here are fantastic. To top it all off, fans had a choice of three covers. There’s one with the X-men, one with the villains on by Ramos, and finally the jaw dropping cover by David Finch which has both a 1990s and ultra modern feel and is filled with such detail and spot on character designs that you could feasibly spend as much time looking at it drooling as you will actually reading the book itself.
While some comic celebrations either so muted they disappear without a trace or so over the top that it’s just silly, it seems that Marvel has steadied its hand, adding a bit of 90s flamboyance to proceedings with the three covers, but really and thankfully letting the book speak for itself, with the quality of both the art and the writing the main reason to pick it up.