The latest iteration of an adjectiveless-X-Men comic gets a new, temporary, creative team with “X-Men” #18, and the arrival of Marc Guggenheim, Harvey Tolibao, Ed Tadeo and Craig Yeung. And right off the bat, you’ll probably think two things: first, Guggenheim’s doing a good job of taking some past story seeds and spinning something new out of them. And second, it’s really a shame they’re only on board for four issues.
Guggenheim’s story takes several past “X-Men” moments for its genesis; the Shi’ar massacring Rachel Grey’s family, and Deathbird’s marriage to the lost Summers brother Vulcan. They’re two slightly-forgotten plot points these days, but Guggenheim makes it work between a mixture of flashbacks and well-timed exposition. It never feels like we’re being spoon-fed, but rather information that’s brought up is for a reason and doesn’t go over the deep end. These threads also give Rachel Grey something to do other than to scowl at Storm; the character’s been present for all of the current “X-Men” series but up until now has seemed like she was there out of expectation rather than because Brian Wood had a big story for her. It’s nice to see a writer using a character because they seem genuinely interested.
But then again, that punctuates “X-Men” #18 as a whole. Things happen not just for the heck of it, but rather because Guggenheim seems to find these ideas interesting and wants to delve deeper into them. The Shi’ar’s return here have a genuinely greater purpose than just a random villain, and these are good moments both from a big banging-plot perspective as well as the quieter character pieces, and Guggenheim balances them with both humor and drama. So many little bits of past continuity are integrated in here without feeling clumsy or shoehorned, and the end result is a fun first issue.
Tolibao’s art is interesting for the book, with thin grainy ink lines that brings to mind the old “Legion Lost” mini-series when Olivier Coipel made a huge artistic splash. On the whole, I like what he and inkers Tadeo and Yeung deliver. It’s anything but generic, and there are some great facial expressions like Jubilee’s confusion as she notes that she’s missed a lot, or Cecilia Reyes looking over her glasses as she assesses injuries. And when Psylocke, Monet, and Rachel peer into Deathbird’s mind? Well, the art nouveau explosion of images does a great job of showing how Deathbird’s mental state is “a proper mess” so to speak. There are some moments where things look a little odd, though. When Storm is zapping the rogue bioweapon, she looks drunk or constipated (perhaps both?), for example. The poses on the final page of the comic also look amazingly stiff and fake, something that isn’t a problem early on. Still, you turn the page every time there’s something odd and you get something great, like the sea of Sidrian Hunters, and all is ultimately forgiven.
“X-Men” #18 feels like the series is back on track, which is a real shame since Guggenheim’s only signed on for four issues. Still, if he and Tolibao were enlisted to stay on board full time, that sure would be nice. Until then, just sit back and enjoy the ride.