Book Review: X-Men: Evolution #5-9

[This is the second part of my two-part review of the X-Men: Evolution comic book series. To read my review of issues #1-4, click here.]

WRITERS: Devin Grayson with Faerber

ART & COLORS: UDON with Long Vo, Charles Park & Saka of Studio XD; Art, Issue #9: J.J. Kirby; Colors, Issue #9: Chris Walker

LETTERS: Randy Gentile

COVER ART: Kia Asamiya

EDITORS: Brian Smith, C.B. Cebulski, Ralph Macchio, Jeff Youngquist, Cory Sedlmeier, Jennifer Grünwald

BOOK DESIGNER: Jeof Vita

“You have certified teachers here? I mean, besides yourself?”

“Technically, you’ll be my first. However—I have roped my more senior residents into various tutoring positions.”

(Hank McCoy/Beast and Professor Charles Xavier, X-Men: Evolution #7)[1]

Issue #5 “Untouchable” focuses on Rogue and her considering leaving the X-Men to join the Brotherhood. Rogue is one of my favorite characters, but I don’t think this story did her justice. This story arc is one that required more time and space to develop properly; one would expect it to take up several issues, but the creators tried to fit it all into twenty-one pages. Because of that, everything happens very suddenly. Rogue leaves the X-Men very suddenly, as the result of a rather contrived plot on the part of Mystique and the Brotherhood; conversations between Mystique (disguised as the other X-Men) and Rogue, in addition to some actual arguments Rogue already had with her friends, lead to Rogue running away. One gets the feeling a conversation between Rogue and the other X-Men could have prevented the whole situation, as they wouldn’t have remembered having the conversations in which Mystique was impersonating them. Indeed, Rogue even suspects in the beginning that her friends are acting oddly, not as they usually do. (As a side note, the frustration Rogue feels when Logan is teaching the teen X-Men how to do CPR felt forced; the explanation given is that Rogue is frustrated that she can’t learn it due to her powers, but it’s not actually necessary to touch someone’s skin to perform CPR. Contrary to popular media depictions, mouth-to-mouth is not the only way to provide air to the unconscious person.) Rogue’s return to the X-Men is also very sudden, happening mere moments after setting foot in the Brotherhood headquarters, due to a rather amateurish slip-up on Mystique’s part. The saving grace of this issue is the friendship: the interactions between Rogue and Kurt and the panel of Rogue looking at a picture of her friends. If the creators wanted to continue their theme of having each of these beginning issues focus on a particular character, they could have either told this story in a different way or focused on a different part of Rogue’s story that could be better-told in a single issue.

Issue #6 “Just Like You” shows us Evan Daniels/Spyke (Ororo’s nephew), who has a new friend named Calvin Rankin/Mimic. As Cal’s pseudonym would indicate, he is able to mimic the powers of those around him. During the course of the issue, we find out that Cal is not actually a mutant, but got his powers due to scientific experiments his father was conducting. This felt a bit like a “villain of the month” issue.[2] There’s an interesting scenario in which the X-Men have to work together when faced with someone who has all their powers but can’t control them. There’s also a moment when Scott is distracted during the fight due to his concern for Jean and gets told off by Logan. I get the impression this was meant to set up some drama in which Scott and Jean break up for a rather contrived reason and then get back together. Cal ends up leaving the Xavier Institute, without waiting to see if the X-Men will accept him as a new member, despite him not being a mutant. We get a nice moment at the end when Evan realizes who his real friends are, because they accept him as he is (not only if he is just like them). It would have been nice to get to know Evan a little better here. This issue and previous one seem to be the point when the series started moving away from just the origin stories and character introductions, bringing in rivals who the X-Men have to fight against.

Issue #7 “Beat of Burden” is when Hank McCoy, previously a teacher at Bayville High School (a job he cannot continue to his mutant transformation), joins the X-Men. We see him take over the gym class, where Logan is being really tough on the students. McCoy instead has them play baseball, and they have much more fun. It works very well to show the kind of teacher McCoy is, and even Logan starts to have a good time. Jean, who plays sports at school, gets to demonstrate her athletic skills. During the game, we also get to see some of the younger students who have just joined the X-Men. There are passages that are meant to set up Scott becoming the new field leader of the X-Men, which will be relevant in the next issue, and this point is why the baseball game is so drawn out (so Scott can demonstrate his skills as a team leader). I found this bit rather confusing and unnecessary, as I thought he was already the field leader. (He was the first student and had shown his leadership skills previously.) At the end of the issue, McCoy receives a mysterious email that was probably intended to set up a future story that was never published.

Issue #8 “Angel Underground” begins with Jean seeing a vision of an angel, who turns out to be Warren Worthington III/Angel, who has been kidnapped and is being held captive. The X-Men must go into the sewers to rescue Warren from the Morlocks (a group of mutants who live underground, separate from the society that despises them). Storm’s claustrophobia make it difficult for her to tolerate being underground, but she is able to overcome it and fight anyway. We see the various members of the team working together, with the teens making responsible decisions even when the adult who’s with them is having a difficult time. The X-Men invite the Morlocks to join them, but the Morlocks refuse. Of course, they end up rescuing Warren and bring him back to the Xavier Institute. He decides not to join the X-Men at this time, though he does seem interested in seeing Jean again.

Issue #9 “House Party” shows our teenage X-Men throwing a party while Professor Xavier and the other adults are away. The immediately jarring thing in this issue was the artwork, which was drawn by a different artist. After reading eight issues (and watching fifty-two episodes) in which the characters are drawn a certain way, reading this single issue was odd. The difference wasn’t slight either, not a case of a different hand drawing the characters in a similar style, but completely changed. I spent some time trying to figure out who some of the characters were. The concept had the potential to be a fun family-and-friendship story and a nice send-off to the series, but the plot was rather generic without much character development or moments that would leave an impact on the reader.

Overall, for what it is, the X-Men: Evolution comic series has some decent portions and had some potential to go somewhere interesting, if it’d had the chance. I don’t know when the writers and artists knew that their run was over; at some point, they must have been told. The earlier issues are meant to introduce or provide some backstory for some of the characters, and they had some good moments. Starting with issue #5, the series tries to condense too many story arcs and plots into single issues and ended up not doing them justice. The series may have benefited from focusing on one story arc developed over several issues with more interactions between the X-Men to develop their friendships, which were easily some of the better parts of the stories.

The X-Men: Evolution comic book series is probably only going to be of interest to either a die-had completionist or someone like me who remembers the television series. There isn’t much of a story outside of the introductions to the characters, and there are some problems with the writing and plot. It’s not a necessary read, but there are enough funny moments that the nostalgia factor made it a nice trip down memory lane on a quiet afternoon (Issue #2 even managed to inspire a short fan fiction that I wrote recently.)[3] If you’re a fan of the show and happen to come across a used copy somewhere, maybe pick it up for a look through, but it’s not something to seek out.

[Originally Written: 10 July 2014]

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References

[1] Grayson, Devin; Udon Studios; et al. #7: “Beast of Burden”. 2002. X-Men: Evolution. Marvel, 2003.

[2] “Monster of the Week”. TV Tropes entry. Retrieved on 10 July 2014 from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MonsterOfTheWeek.

[3] Geek Squared 1307. “Certified Do-Gooder”. Posted on 5 June 2014 at FanFiction.Net. Retrieved on 10 July 2014 from https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10417052/1/Certified-Do-Gooder.

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Book Review: X-Men: Evolution #1-4

WRITER: Devin Grayson

ARTWORK & COLORS: UDON with Long Vo, Charles Park & Saka of Studio XD

LETTERS: Randy Gentile

EDITORS: Ralph Macchio, Brian Smith, Joe Quesada, Jeff Youngquist, Jennifer Grünwald

PUBLISHER: Dan Buckley

BOOK DESIGN: Patrick McGrath

“You have no idea what it means to me to be a part of something like this.”

“Maybe I do, kid … maybe I do.”

(Scott Summers/Cyclops and Logan/Wolverine, X-Men: Evolution #2)[1]

“At first when I got to the Institute, I liked being at school better, because that’s where I felt smart and competent … and at the Institute, I’m always kind of intimidated by how amazing and cool everyone is. But I’ve decided I like having people around me to look up to. I think it makes me a better person, and there’s so much to learn.”

(Kitty Pride/Shadowcat, X-Men Evolution #4)[2]

I grew up watching X-Men: Evolution; it’s to that show and to the X-Men films that I owe my love of this superhero team. The series aired from 4 November 2000 to 25 October 2003 and lasted for four seasons (consisting of a total of fifty-two episodes), and it was a regular part of my Saturday mornings. Less well known is the comic book series based on the show, which was released in 2002; there were only ever nine issues released. I read the first four issues (which are collected into one book) years ago and decided to find and read the last five recently out of nostalgia. This review contains my thoughts on issues #1-4. The next will contain my thoughts on issues #5-9 and overall impression.

Issue #1 “Lines in the Sand” introduces us to the characters Professor Charles Xavier, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Logan/Wolverine, Magneto, and Mystique. Ororo is Professor Xavier’s first recruit, after he sees her using her powers to help someone. Logan is approached by both Professor X and Magneto and decides to go with Xavier and Ororo. Professor X, Ororo, and Logan build the school and look for their first student. It’s a nice introduction, and we immediately see some of the disagreements between Professor X and Magneto that have become a staple of the X-Men stories. We get some sweet moments from Ororo and Logan that make us immediately like them. Everything happened a little too quickly, perhaps because the creators were in a rush to get the school open and start adding students.

Issue #2 “Seeing Clearly” is when we meet Scott Summers, the first teenage student at the Xavier Institute. He’s at a hospital in Alaska, after accidentally blowing the roof off the orphanage where he lives. Professor Xavier shows up, pays the cost of the damage, gives Scott his signature ruby quartz visor that helps him control his powers, and takes him to the Institute to become one of the X-Men. This issue is really sweet, as we see the ever-optimistic Scott having hope for a better future despite being targeted for suspicion and fear, as well as being grateful for the chance to live at the Institute and have a future. There’s a nice moment when Logan, who had previously been skeptical about Scott’s ability to be an X-Men (calling him “that ridiculously polite pollyanna who won’t last a week”), realizes he was wrong after the two of them stop a crime together. These two characters, often depicted as rivals and reluctant allies with very different personalities and values, are shown to have something in common, as being part of the X-Men means a lot to both of them.

Issues #3 “Hearing Things” introduces us to Jean Grey, who is having trouble controlling her telepathic and telekinetic powers. The X-Men welcome her to join them and Professor Xavier starts tutoring her on how to control her abilities. There’s an odd moment when Logan think that Jean is beautiful (perhaps a reference to him liking her in other X-Men stories) but it’s thankfully not brought up again. We see Jean go to her first day at Bayville High School, where Scott (who clearly has a crush on her) is showing her around. She starts reading everyone’s thoughts unintentionally and runs home. There’s a nice conversation between Jean and Ororo, with them talking about their experiences with their powers, and then a funny scene with Jean and Scott flirting while the professor is in the same room. Later, Jean and Scott go on a field trip and have to save everyone when Todd causes the school bus to crash. In the processes, Jean has to try to control her powers to figure out what’s going on. The field trip was a bit of an odd choice, I thought; the same effect (Jean having an experience in which she had to control her powers) could have been done in a different way, in a different scenario. Overall, it was an alright introduction to Jean, showing her getting used to her powers and making new friends who understand her.

Issue #4 “Am I Blue” starts with the six teenage main characters (Scott, Jean, Rogue, Kitty, Kurt, and Evan) already living at the Institute and focuses on Kurt’s acceptance of his mutation. It was nice to see the characters together. There’s a training session in the Danger Room that was attempting to incorporate some serious and funny elements, but it came across as trying a little too hard. Later conversations between Kurt and Kitty were sweet and got the same points across much better. The ending shows Kurt handing in a school assignment and is rather amusing. Accepting oneself as a mutant is one of the staples of the X-Men stories, and Kurt is an appropriate choice for that plot. There is also a random but hilarious yoga session (taught by Ororo and Logan) towards the end of the issue.

Overall, in the first four issues, we mostly meet some of the characters for the first time with fun moments. There are moments of unintentional hilarity in some of the passages that are trying too hard, but also some genuinely sweet moments that make the characters interesting.

[To read the second part of my two-part review of the X-Men: Evolution comic book series, click here.]

[Originally Written: 10 July 2014]

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References

[1] Grayson, Devin; Udon Studios; et al. #2: “Seeing Clearly”. 2002. In: X-Men: Evolution, Vol. 1. Marvel, 2003.

[2] Grayson, Devin; Udon Studios; et al. #4: “Am I Blue”. 2002. In: X-Men: Evolution, Vol. 2. Marvel, 2003.