One of the downfalls to having characters that have spanned nearly fifty years, accumulating a library of stories within that time, is that their early adventures seem dated. The references become obscured, the lingo old-fashioned; it gets to a point where it’s almost painful for new readers to go back and enjoy the tales that won over the hearts of an older generation. How does a company go about gaining the younger audience? Well, one way is to turn over the entire continuity and start from scratch. But by doing that, essentially the task becomes rebuilding the entire history and hoping for the best that it works out as well. Another avenue to take would be to update the original stories, bringing the characters into the current century and giving them a fresher, younger point of view. This is the method Marvel Comics has taken with their newest line of Season One graphic novels.
X-Men Season One just hit shelves a few days ago and after reading my way through it, it’s clear that Marvel has succeeded in their task. Dennis Hopeless takes the original chapters of the X-Men and puts a modern spin on them. From the arrival of telekinetic Jean Grey to the first battle with Unus the Untouchable, Hopeless provides all of the landmark events Professor Xaiver’s teenage mutants have dealt with, and what molded them into the fighting force they become.
What I like best about the tale is the way Hopeless travels through time. The book opens en media res, with the X-Men already hip deep in their first battle against Magneto. During the fiasco, Hopeless flashes back to a few days prior, to Jean Grey’s arrival at the Mansion, introducing each of the X-Men in turn. He slowly unravels the names and personalities of the team without having to resort to an introductory line-up. It may have worked in the sixties, but modern readers are too sophisticated for info-dumps like that.
One of the best aspects of the story, though, is the way Hopeless works the X-Men’s future into things, especially with his treatment of Cyclops. Even the early stories portrayed Scott Summers as an overachiever, always striving to better his leadership abilities, all the while Xavier tells him he will someday lead mutantkind. Current fans of the X-Men know that this foreshadowing comes to fruition, and Hopeless plays up Scott’s eventual leadership role. He is constantly striving to find perfection, running simulations in the Danger Room, even without the assistance of his teammates. But self-doubt is always on the edge of his mind, preventing him from fulfilling his destiny. It’s a nice little nod, especially when juxtaposed against a full reprinting of the newest Uncanny X-Men #1, allowing new fans unfamiliar with Cyclops’ current role to see the type of man he’s become.
Jamie McKelvie’s art is equally astounding, his talent lighting up each and every page. His redesign of the X-Men uniforms provides the right amount of homage to the original Jack Kirby designs while also bringing them up to date. He varies his panel angles masterfully, making the book flow like a big budget Hollywood movie. It’s easy to follow and fun to read. But the most spectacular part of McKelvie’s art is his character emotion. He draws his figures with such clarity that readers can see the pain, fear, and elation in their eyes. To put it plainly, it’s beautiful to see. But I do need to comment on McKelvie’s apparent fascination with Justin Bieber as he felt compelled to reimagine Bobby Drake, the X-Men’s Iceman, in the guise of the teenage pop-star. It’s almost as if he was flipping through the pages of Tiger Beat during the book’s illustration process.
I was excited when I first heard about the Season One series of books, though as their release date approached, I was cautious about them. After all, the meat-and-potatoes of the series are stories that comic fans like myself have read over and over again. How was Marvel going to bring these tales into the current times without trampling all over the source material? Well, Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie’s take on X-Men proves to me that it’s a task that can be done. Not only do they capture the essence of Stan Lee’s stories, but art also comes off as a fitting tribute to Jack Kirby. I hope that Marvel continues their push with the Season One brand, even beyond the planned second wave, but also move into Season Two territory. Perhaps they can tackle the later stories of these iconic characters, such as Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s Giant Size X-Men or even Chris Claremont’s Phoenix Saga. These are classic stories of comics, the stories that fans know inside and out, but given the loving touch Marvel is placing on these Season One books, there should be no worry from fans about these tales becoming corrupted.