X-Men: The Heroic Age #1

Now that the so-called "Heroic Age" is well under way, there can be no doubt that the time has come for the X-Men to do their traditional "fashionably late" routine. In this one-shot (which also functions as an epilogue to "Second Coming"), various members of the team are allowed out of the X-ghetto and given a chance to rub shoulders with some of the Marvel Universe's more well-known characters. And Molly Hayes, of the Runaways.

Although the X-Office has recently been big on doing anthology tie-ins to crossovers, this one takes a different tack. The three artists are divided up by plot thread, but the presence of a single writer allows the stories to be intertwined in a way that gives the book a more engaging structure than the simple anthology format, with each thread interleaved in such a way that they complement, rather than simply succeed, one another.

Whether because the format agrees with him, or the artists simply click better, Fraction's writing seems far stronger than usual in this issue; Not that he's a slouch normally, but there's a sharpness to this. The verbal push-pull between Molly and Beast and the reassuring tone of Steve Rogers make great reading, while elsewhere, Hope finally gets a little time to herself. The message of each thread is strong and clear, but not overwrought.

Although given strong competition from Sanders, whose whimsy-saturated version of Beast gets another outing following the premature cancellation of "S.W.O.R.D.," the artistic highlight of the book is clearly Jamie McKelvie, who combines action and emotion with original layouts and near-perfect figure work. His strand of the story focuses on Hope and her check-up with Dr. Richards, and his subtle, studied artwork is a massive contributing factor in Hope finally gaining some of the character depth she has previously lacked. Frankly, it's starting to become baffling that McKelvie hasn't been given an ongoing yet, because his all-too-sporadic appearances at Marvel are routinely the highlight of any issue.

Meanwhile, Whilce Portacio offers a preview of his forthcoming tenure as lead artist on "Uncanny," drawing a part of the story that sees Cyclops and Steve Rogers fight dinosaurs in the Savage Land. Although Portacio's style only really succeeds if viewed as a throwback to the X-Men's 90s heyday, at least this short shows us that Fraction is willing to play to his future collaborator's strengths, instilling some level of confidence in the X-Men flagship's future.

Overall, it's hard to complain about this book. A few years ago, it would have made for a perfect between-arcs palate-cleanser, and long-time X-Men fans will remember that such books often become the most memorable. This is the spiritual successor to such issues, and as such, worth a look for any X-Men fan, not just the completists.

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