In a week where Marvel released no less than five books with “X-Men” in the title, it might hypothetically be tough to pick the best. Yet, “X-Men” #2 by Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel stands head and shoulders above the competition from its siblings.
That’s not to slight any of the other X-books, of course. It’s just that Wood’s X-book is the first in years that’s managed to click with the characters in a way that feels both modern and familiar. Wood’s authorial voice is strong in his creator-owned titles, but while “X-Men” #2 has his typically strong characters and pacing, it doesn’t read like the Brian Wood version of the X-Men — it just reads like the X-Men. It seems impossible that an X-fan wouldn’t love it, if only for the character-drive dialogue flourishes Wood inserts.
After a stellar first issue that introduced the arc’s premise and villain, this issue brings the middle act with the team on the back foot as they try to stop Arkea and figure out whether they can trust Sublime. Coipel spends most of the issue demonstrating precisely why he’s one of the best artists in the industry; every movement has weight, every expression feels genuine. Crucially, for a book with a largely female cast, there’s nothing even close to a dreaded spine-contorting brokeback pose. Anyone who thinks such poses are acceptable needs only to examine this issue to see that aside from being patronizing, the poses are also unnecessary. The X-Men rarely look this good.
Although the premise for Wood’s plot is on dangerous ground by tying so heavily into John Sublime (the sentient bacteria villain who only gets more confusing every time he’s used), it wisely steers clear of the details in favor of broader strokes: he’s an X-Men villain, and he’s turning to the X-Men for help stopping his sister. Confusion gracefully side-stepped. Similarly, his use of Jubilee is rehabilitating the character in rapid strides following her ill-advised vampiric rework that, in at least one reviewer’s opinion, can’t be reversed soon enough (some experiments fail, it’s okay).
The only thing about this issue one can really criticise is its length. Seldom have 20 pages of comic felt so stingy — but then, when a reader doesn’t want a story to ever end, any conclusion is too soon. It’s everything a fan could possibly want out of an X-book: engaging plots, exciting artwork and characters that feel like old friends. Maybe the world wasn’t crying out for another X-Men title, but let’s face it: if every X-Men book was as good as Wood and Coipel’s, they could put out twice and many again without hearing a complaint.