Wolverine on roller blades, Gambit speaking in the third person, Maverick and teen Doop are only a few of the sights that greet readers in Chad Bowers, Chris Sims and Alti Firmansyah’s “X-Men ’92” #1, and that’s just by page 5. Bowers and Sims give the issue the lightly nostalgic tone the cartoon never achieved and use their continuity-free artistic license to pack in the most action and fun legally allowed under President Kelly, while Firmansyah and colorist Matt Milla enhance the story with a style that looks like it’s plucked from animation cels.
The dour tone of the X-line made me check out shortly after this fall’s All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch. Here, however, Bowers and Sims invite fans in like circus ringmasters looking to dazzle and — most importantly — entertain. With some nice pacing, the issue starts light and literally throws the plot at the team as Maverick jumps through the window of the mansion. It’s a funny scene at first glance, made even funnier by the fact he could have just knocked on the front door. The writers clearly love the original series and play this like a sequel, expanding their ’92verse to include stuff not covered by the cartoon — like making the school an actual school. Unfortunately, there aren’t any moments where Professor X unhelpfully screams in agony, but this is an ongoing, so I’m sure they’re building to it.
The writers also introduce a villain that is so head-smackingly obvious it’s a wonder no one has done this story before. Enter Alpha Red, the original experiment that eventually bred Omega Red. We’re told a lot about this guy — particularly that he’s a maniac who craves blood — but don’t really see what he can do. The Strucker twins drop in and buy this asset, making it seem as though Bowers and Sims intend to introduce one of the most convoluted, unresolved plots of the post-Claremont X-era into the ’92verse. If this is leading to a new and probably better version of “The Upstarts Saga,” then I definitely laughed out loud for the right reasons while reading this comic.
Firmansyah gets in on the fun too, filling the scenes in Westchester with movie posters of ’90s films. Most of the issue takes place at the mansion, so the clothing styles are pretty era appropriate so far. I enjoyed the creative team’s portrayal of Omega Red as a Russian sleaze ball, happy to lie to whomever if he gets a chance to kill someone. The panel-to-panel sequence during his request to extradite Maverick is hilarious, moving from an Alfred E. Newman shrug of “hey, we’re all pals, yeah?” to a murderous close-up in one flick of a reader’s eye. Firmansyah draws the action big and bold, packing the front half of the issue with double-page spreads before smartly pacing her layouts, providing space for dialogue and character action; she knows when to pull in tight for a shot or reshape a panel to frame it on the page. She led my sightlines smoothly across every one. She provided some good work in last year’s “Star Lord and Kitty Pryde” miniseries and has since evolved her style to be a little more cartoony.
Milla’s colors really give the book its animated feel. The bright, vibrant tone doesn’t feel out of place even in the sinister interlude involving the Strucker twins. Somehow, he’s able to flatten the page like an animation cel while simultaneously giving it believable depth. Together, the art team gives the book a great look that is a marked improvement over the original cartoon.
A lot of the X-Men line balances on the convoluted minutiae of a continuity spanning decades, which means every 20-page comic is far heavier than the few ounces it weighs in your hands. That can be a turnoff and lead curious but nervous readers to flee. Bowers and Sims compress the characters down into their most commercially recognizable parts while still providing sharp focus and decent characterization. I’m hopeful this series will become successful enough to allow the group to grow past the nostalgia haze and into stranger and wilder territory. “X-Men ’92” #1 is a hoot.