A five-issue line of one-shots, X-Men: Black has been an interesting experiment. Yes, we've seen one-off stories and back-up features used to further a larger narrative in the past, but X-Men: Black feels like a completely different beast. These issues are focused not on the X-Men themselves, but on select characters who are traditionally (yes, we know some of them have been X-Men) villains.
Importantly, these single issues focus on the internal motivations and struggles behind what drives these characters. They range from some deep philosophical ideology, to petty personal gain. Now, the series turns its focus on one of the oldest and biggest (at the very least in physical terms) villains the X-Men have ever faced, and the rage behind his plight in X-Men: Black – Juggernaut #1.
Cain Marko is a remarkably unremarkable person. Or, at least he used to be until he gains the ability to become virtually unstoppable from the powers granted by the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak. While his relationship with his step-brother Charles Xavier is nothing short of complicated (jealousy and an abusive father can have the effect, to say the least), Cain went from being a young man who walled up his emotional scars with being a bully to becoming something amazingly even more complex.
Other comics have explored the inner workings of Juggernaut's mental state, which is not pretty, but X-Men: Black examines the character through the lens of where Marko's thirst for power comes from and how the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak plays into it.
X-Men: Black- Juggernaut #1 begins with Juggernaut on the front lawn of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, questioning why he's there. From the moment he enters the school, Marko begins to see that things are a bit off. The original five X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel and Beast) are wearing the costumes they sported in the '60s and speaking in dialogue that is very reminiscent of the era, both of which make Juggernaut realize something is off. He even remarks on this, commenting on the fact that some of them might actually be dead. Without getting into spoiler territory, let's just say things begin to fall away quickly, revealing what is really going on, which leads to a fascinating revelation at the end of the issue that speaks to the broken child still hiding in the darker recess of Marko's mind.
Writer Robbie Thompson (Spider-Man/Deadpool) does solid job of conveying Juggernaut's mental quest in uncovering the truth behind the reality he's stuck in. Thompson handles the balance between the absurdity of the situation and the horrors of what is behind the veil with keen sense of humanity, which creates a reliability factor to a character who often portrayed to be devoid of it to some degree. There is more to Juggernaut than just being a blunt instrument, and the narration conveys this fact wonderfully. However, when things come into focus, it might be a bit jarring for some readers. This issue takes a hard left turn and doesn't really look back with the exception of one particular through line (again, no spoilers).
As far as the artwork goes, it does what the story demands it. Shawn Crystal (Arkham Manor) has a very unconventional style, his work hanging in the balance between classic hard-lined comic pencil work that is reminiscent of Ed Piskor, and more abstract and exaggerated styles like that of Rob Schrab or Jim Mahfood. Crystal's style works compliments the story well enough, as it does have a fever dream-like quality. His character design is somehow both sharply angular and elastic when needed. The high contrast pop color saturation by colorist Rachelle Rosenberg also adds to the frantic vibe of this book.
While this may not be the best of the one-shots released in this series so far, X-Men: Black - Juggernaut #1 gives readers a fresh perspective of an extremely familiar villain. Shawn Crystal's art is a standout, and the frantic pacing and cerebral story beats by Thompson also bring a certain gravitas to the issue. If you've been following along with the series thus far, this is another solid addition to add to your stack.