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X-Men: First Class #4

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2006
By: Kevin Powers



Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Roger Cruz

Publisher: Marvel Comics


Every now and then there comes a series that doesn’t rewrite history as we know it but sort of fills in the blanks and puts a modern spin on classic characters or time periods. X-Men: First Class is one of those series. With all the different storylines going on in all of the X-books, it becomes a bit difficult to find one good central X-Men story outside of Astonishing. When Grant Morrison shocked the world by having Magneto/Xorn go totally evil and killing off Jean Grey once again (for now), it seemed to completely change the X-Universe as we know it. Since Morrison’s final arc, only Joss Whedon has provided a consistent and entertaining run featuring the X-Men (excluded in that statement are Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s New X-Men). Through everything that has happened over the past two years, from "Disassembled" to House of M to Civil War so much has been happening in the Marvel U, especially to Mutants. I love different mutants from Cyclops to Wolverine to Havok to Madrox, but one of my favorite X-teams has always been the original five.

One of the greatest elements of comic books is its ability to bend time, to always set stories in the modern world and X-Men: First Class has taken the original team and put them in the modern world but very tactfully keeps them entwined into their long and storied continuity. Jeff Parker recounts events during the teens’ lives where they encounter certain characters in the Marvel U for the first time, such as the Lizard or as this issue deals with, Dr. Strange.

Each issue features a self-contained plot that is fast-paced, entertaining and captures the right personality elements of each respective member. It also does a wonderful job showing the relationship between Cyclops and Jean, and how it really came to be. Professor X is also portrayed as less cynical and more of a friend, and for this title that has worked very well. The mini-series already has a sequel planned, and I still hope that it will become a monthly regular because it is easily one of the best X-books since Astonishing.

As mentioned, this issue features the X-Men’s first encounter and appropriately their first team-up with Doctor Strange. During a battle with reconstructed Sentinels, Cyclops begins seeing a demon through his visor. While the others battle the Sentinels and Beast and Angel locate the source controlling the Sentinels, Cyclops begins wildly using his optic blast at what appears to be thin air. The best part about the whole sequence is that artist Roger Cruz shows readers “the real world” but also shows the world seen through Cyclops’ eyes, which in turn shows us the demon. Very cool. Rarely do we get to see the “red world” of Slim Summers. After interrogating the man responsible for the Sentinel attack, Professor X concludes that they must visit Doctor Strange and figure out why Scott is seeing demons.

Upon visiting Dr. Strange, the X-Men learn that when Cyclops and Jean were sent into the realm of the Cytorrak to imprison Juggernaut (a nice nod to X-Men continuity and to the original and classic X-Men), a demon must have escaped with them. Because the demon can only be seen through Cyclops’ visor, each member of the team is outfitted with a visor and led into the netherworld where they must combat the demon. From there the story becomes fun and entertaining, an epic battle with the demon and a glimpse into just how powerful Scott and Jean both are, even in another dimension.

This is hands down one of the best X-books on the market and one of the best series in recent memory. It far surpasses its predecessors X-Men Classic and X-Men: The Early Years because it does not try to weave itself into continuity, rather it recognizes the history behind these characters and tells stories around past events and does so making the title feel as though it could have taken place two hours ago. What I love most about it is that I don’t feel like I’m reading about the X-Men “back in the day”; rather I’m reading about stories featuring the original teen X-Men that didn’t take place in 1960.

The art is also perfect for this book. The costumes have been tweaked from the classic yellow and blue, although there is a panel where Cyclops and Jean are wearing the original uniforms. Cruz’s artwork, for lack of a better word, feels youthful. By youthful, I mean that it fits a title about teenagers. It's hard to explain, but some artists seem to convey a certain tone just as much as the writer. Take Invincible artist Ryan Ottley for example. His art just fits a book starring a teenager much like Cruz’s art fits this X-book.

I really hope that Marvel decides to pick up a full run of this title. There’s a lot of untapped potential in what Jeff Parker has started. That does NOT mean I would want to see Chris Claremont explore this territory nor does it mean I would want to see new members. Rather, I would like to see someone like Craig Kyle take on the original team, because kept in the same self-contained format, each issue of a full run of X-Men: First Class has the potential to be daring and imaginative.

Bottom line is that this title is one of the best X-books you can buy, and I would highly recommend you pick up the back issues before they are hard to find.



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