I’m going to boldly state that “Young X-Men” is the best of the recent X-Men comics. While Mike Carey spins his wheels with the nostalgic “X-Men: Legacy,” and Ed Brubaker stumbles toward Matt Fraction for help with “Uncanny X-Men,” this series presents intriguing characters who are trying to make sense of the new, Post-Messiah Complex scenario. It’s more streamlined than the two main X-Titles and more graceful than either the new “X-Force” or the new “Cable” series. Plenty of problems still exist with “Young X-Men” — problems I’ll articulate in a bit — but it’s been a solid launch with some really nice art by Yanick Paquette. Part of the reason why I’d rank this book slightly higher than the other X-Titles is that Yanick’s work reminds me of Paul Smith and Kevin Nowlan — his pencils are nothing if not a combination of the Smith/Nowlan aesthetic — and that combination works well for a series such as this. A series where a young team heads toward an uncertain future. A series where Cyclops acts as a father figure and a taskmaster. A series where the old New Mutants (oxymoron?) have become the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Or have they? Things are not what they seem, and while that makes for some intrigue, it also makes for a bit of confusion in this first story arc.
Based on the revelations at the end of issue #4, the Young X-Men have been misled by more than one person they’ve chosen to trust. The supposed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants protests that they aren’t anything of the sort, and Cyclops seems not to be himself after all. Or maybe he is, and the misdirection will prove to be part of the ruse. Therein lies one of the problems: too many characters are double-dealing or pretending to be that which they are not to provide this series with a strong start. I’m all for deception and hidden revelations and betrayal, but “Young X-Men” hasn’t established a baseline for who these characters are and how they’re supposed to interact. It’s been a nonstop Tilt-a-Whirl since the first issue, and if Marc Guggenheim assumes that we’ve come to know these characters well enough in their previous appearances, he’s wrong. I’ve read a few “New X-Men” comics, which is where most of these characters come from, and my share of classic “New Mutants” issues, which is where the supposed “villains” first appeared, and I still don’t know how the dynamic between these characters is supposed to be. I can’t tell who’s acting strange and who seems to be under villainous control and who’s possibly an imposter, because I don’t have a sense of who’s who yet. Perhaps those with a better knowledge of X-Continuity will be able to make better sense out of the plot twists than I can, but I find myself disoriented by the constant reversals. They almost become meaningless because they happen so frequently in so few issues.
Yet, I’m engaged. This is a good series. I’m curious to find out where this unusual series is heading. And, by the looks of things, Guggenheim is building toward an explanation. He and Paquette seem prepared to make sense out of the confusion, which is a fascinating way to launch a new title, I’ll admit. Instead of starting with a clear mission and clear stakes before twisting everything up, they’re challenging the reader to stick through the uncertainty in the first few issues in the hopes that the end result will clarify everything. As a single issue, this is an average superhero comic book. It has clean, dynamic artwork and a few clever scenes, but a lot of “huh, what’s that supposed to mean?” moments. As part of the larger story arc, it may end up as a satisfying piece of a much more delicious puzzle.
But after four issues, it’s still difficult to tell exactly what status quo will develop. Guggenheim is putting a lot of faith in the readers to care about what happens next, and without clearly-defined characters to ground the series, I’m not sure that they will.