After six issues’ worth of vampire “event,” the new, vanilla “X-Men” title approaches its second arc with only the barest suggestion of why it exists. But that’s still a better situation than we were in after the last issue.
The common theme between this arc and the book’s opening one is the idea of the X-Men engaging with the wider Marvel universe, outside the usual concerns of species survival and internal squabbling. To that end, Cyclops dispatches a team to New York so that they can get out there, remind the public that mutants are superheroes too, and generally engage in some good PR. Whether including such ambiguous figures as Wolverine, Gambit, and Frost on that kind of expedition accomplishes that aim isn’t really addressed.
Nonetheless, the book feels far more like an X-Men comic that the previous six did and, if nothing else, it serves as a decent excuse for Chris Bachalo to draw the X-Men. With his style firmly back on the rails after a few years in experimental wilderness, Bachalo’s return is a welcome one. His layouts are unusual, his panel choices unique and his character designs unmistakable, all of which leaves you with artwork that looks like no-one else’s, and all the more brilliant for it.
It is a shame that the story isn’t something a little more engaging. There’s nothing wrong with the plot, which is straightforward enough, but Gischler’s take on certain characters is way off the mark. Gambit is a barely-coherent maverick in most recent X-books, but here he’s the same old suave joker he used to be. Admittedly, readers might prefer it that way, but in terms of Gambit’s own arc, it doesn’t feel earned yet. By comparison, the chat between Wolverine and Cyclops is a nice moment, well-executed and notable precisely because the two characters shouldn’t really agree. If only Cyclops realized that.
For all the story’s apparent lack of ambition, it’s actually quite nice to see the X-Men in a more traditional role for a change. The team has shied away from the usual notions of supervillains and superheroes for some time now, and the flagship series has a sprawling cast too big for this sort of story. As a result, the idea of seeing the X-Men getting to beat up a villain is, one must admit, quite an appealing one.
Of course, before that happens they have to go through Spider-Man, who makes a guest appearance on the final page. It’s a well-executed surprise, especially given how isolated the X-Men have been from the regular Marvel Universe for a while. It’s not going to win any awards, but “X-Men” #7 is a substantial leap in quality. Come for the art, but stay because it is, finally, offering you X-Men stories you won’t see in any of the other X-Men books.