“X-Men” #23 begins a new arc, “The Burning World,” with writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Roland Boschi’s title debut. Wilson’s take on the X-Men has been eagerly awaited following her success with “Ms. Marvel” — but can she steer a team of long-established characters?
Wilson’s characteristic humor shows through from the start. She grabs the reader’s attention with the surprise appearance of Gambit. His rakish and goofy presence is a breath of fresh air, but Wilson’s true focus is on Storm. Just like the character, Storm’s regal, formal and poetic narrative textboxes strike the right notes. When Storm’s easy brute force fix fails, Wilson uses a dream sequence to open her up in this moment of weakness.
Just like with Jean and Jubilee and Kamala and many others, Storm opens up with Logan and he has some wisdom to impart. The strongest, truest dialogue in “X-Men” #23 is Logan’s observation to Storm: “You always want to fix things your way, on your turf.”
Since this is the where the script makes landfall, it might be worth the price of the unexplained talking-to-the-dead technique, but it may also be too facile a path into Storm’s heart. Wilson can write Wolverine very well and his cameo on “Ms. Marvel” was well-integrated into the storyline, but there are bigger problems with interjecting him into “X-Men” at this point. None of the team members feel particularly close to each other, so Storm’s confiding in Logan reinforces that distance. The opportunity to have Storm interact with the other team members is wasted. Likewise, the arc of the team as a whole is still neglected even though Storm successfully takes the stage. Both Gambit and Wolverine’s successful cameos just show that the team lacks humor and warmth in its present configuration. What a shame that the jokester and mentor roles can’t be taken up by any of the permanent members of the team! There’s something wrong with the X-Men. They don’t feel like a family, even a dysfunctional one, and this missing X-factor is near-essential to a successful team comic.
Boschi’s art is uneven. His eye for composition is fine, and the Storm scenes have great energy and drama. He draws good facial expressions, like when Jubilee is playing with Shogo or when Rachel smiles at the sight of Storm working her weather powers. His aesthetic sense is keen, since he is able to make Rachel’s costume look elegantly steampunk instead of cluttered.
However, Boschi is still developing as an artist and it shows. He doesn’t pace himself across an issue well. Faces aren’t consistent from panel to panel. In the middle of “X-Men” #23, Psylocke and Storm end up looking like they have three- or four-fingered claws instead of hands. Boschi’s ambition is admirable, but he can’t pull off all the camera angles he attempts just yet. Psylocke’s head is distorted and too small when Monet launches her into the air, and her body is distorted in all the other subsequent panels on the page. Ironically, the women that Gambit hits on in the opening scene are much better-drawn. Loughridge’s colors also lack nuance. Entire panels are drowned in cyan, magenta and yellow. While Loughridge preserves Boschi’s fine lines, he doesn’t take advantage of Boschi’s background details.
So far, Wilson’s “X-Men” is promising but it doesn’t hit the mark. Wilson has successfully made the story more personal by tuning in on Storm’s grief and her longtime phobia, and Boschi’s strengths are notable enough that I hope he evens out in the future issues so that his strengths can shine more.