Amazing X-Men Annual #1

Many of Marvel's recent annuals have made an effort to be more relevant to fans of their associated monthly series, by either tying into the events of those comics or featuring some of the same creators. "Amazing X-Men Annual" #1 does neither, and the result is a mostly unnecessary filler issue. The issue is comprised of two stories, leading off with Monty Nero and Salvador Larroca's mediocre "Goddess" and then following up with Marguerite Bennett and Juan Doe's shorter but superior backup tale, "Art History."

As Larroca's attractive cover plainly shows, or as readers might guess by the story title, "Goddess" centers around Storm, who along with the X-Men, travels back to her homeland of Kenya after getting word that her cousin has been taken captive by a freshly-emerged Inhuman. The newly-invented cousin for Ororo is an indication of the contrived nature of the story, one where Nero opens the door to Ororo's past and inexplicably feels the need to reveal a possible skeleton in her closet, before slamming that door shut almost as quickly.

An enticing-enough two page leadoff sequence introduces cousin Ayuba and new nemesis Meruda, but gives way to a very crowded third page where the X-Men learn of the kidnapping, identify this new villain, deduce his motives and origins, convince Ororo to let them help, and decide who goes and who stays. It's a page rife with bad, cliched dialogue that provides a pretty clear signal of the kind of story to come. Wolverine's statement "(Meruda's) everything (The X-Men) stand against. Murder. Mutilation," is so pointless, passe and even hypocritical that you're unsure whether to laugh or groan. The lines don't get any better, either; when Storm and Meruda face off, both characters' dialogue is so horribly over the top, it reads like a spoken word performance by William Shatner on an off-night.

The story is made bearable by Larroca's always pleasingly clean lines and layouts, which are adeptly inked by Juan Vlasco. Their Meruda is plenty monstrous, and the character's ability to shape sand is well-rendered, with help from colorist Sonia Oback. Still, the final splash page with what could have been an iconic illustration for Storm instead looks awkward, and the enchanted machetes Wolverine uses to battle a conjured-up demon look more like magical steak knives.

In a rare case of a backup story outshining the main one, "Art History" offers an offbeat and eclectic look at Firestar, as told by various individuals in her life, as well as the hero herself. Bennett's unusual but clever, almost-poignant ten-page tale consists of five double-page spreads drawn and colored by Doe, each in a vividly different style. The first is a child's tale of rescue by Firestar, drawn in the typical manner of a child's scribblings. Another is an ode to the character and her allies told in the form of a graffiti mural accompanied by a short free-verse style poem. It's a story that's hard not to like, by virtue of Bennett's gutsy experiment and Doe's diverse illustrations.

Bennett and Doe's mini-story, and Larroca's art in the main, are enough to give "Amazing X-Men Annual" #1 a barely-passing grade. It's by no means essential reading for anyone following this title, or even the X-Men in general, but anyone with five bucks to burn and a half hour to kill could find enough here to entertain.

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