Tuesday, July 24, 2007

X-Men: First Class #2

Jeff Parker, Roger Cruz and Marvel Comics present X-Men: First Class #2 this week, in a story dubbed Island X. Telling the forgotten stories of Charles Xavier’s first cluster of mutant pupils, First Class serves as a sort of Year One for the X-Continuity. Before the Beast was blue, before Warren Worthington had gone to the dark side (and back again), there were these tales.

Cruz is no stranger to the X-Men, as he’s jumped around the various books beneath that umbrella for several years, and shows a lot of promise as a regular artist here. His style is an interesting mesh of detail and simplicity, never overcomplicating his characters’ bodies, but also never pulling any punches on their surroundings. Truthfully, his greatest strength is his work on backdrops and environments. I was twice as taken by the ocean liner surrounded by cloudy skies that carried the team early in this issue than I was by the mutants themselves, and a jungle setting provides him plenty of space to play throughout the story.

When he does get a chance to go detail-heavy in the foreground, as is the case with a few of the monsters in this issue, Cruz really hits the ball out of the park. I’m a big admirer of the work of Geof Darrow, and Roger channels his work nicely in that respect. His understanding of the peaks and valleys of action storytelling is dead on, too. When the fur starts to fly, your eyes rush frantically to the next panel, but when the drama hits a lull he doesn’t lose your attention.

Jeff Parker’s story is kind of bargain-basement, unfortunately, and reminded me more of the freebies Marvel gives away on certain occasions than a real meat-and-potatoes book featuring some of their most marketable characters. The narrative is stilted and often unnecessary, and the story has some serious issues with pacing. He brings plenty of fresh ideas to the table, but the conflicts are presented and resolved so quickly, it hardly feels like there was much of a threat to begin with.

I had a hard time specifying a timeframe for this story. As a flashback title in premise, I found a lot of the dialog to be way too modernized for its own good. Iceman and Angel play the more freewheeling members of the team, and throw around words that I can’t imagine anyone using conversationally in the ‘60s or ‘70s, which is when one would presume this is meant to be set. Then again, I guess that would mean these original teamers are pushing fifty / sixty years old in today’s books, and we all know that’s not the case. Such is an inherent problem when dealing with a “lost stories” title – it forces readers to confront the inaccuracies in the main cast’s aging processes.

All things considered, it’s not an awful tale - it’s just very light reading. Jeff Parker has an excellent grasp of the team’s interactions with one another, and delivers good comedy in the story’s frequent lighthearted moments. Just don’t go in expecting God Loves, Man Kills. Roger Cruz still has a few wrinkles with his style, and may be best suited as a dedicated background artist, but he’s got a great grasp of the fundamentals, which is refreshing. This isn’t something I’d jump to add to my pull file, but it’s worthy of a flip through.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5

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