|"Insert 90s X-Men Animated series theme here"|
Vol 1 of this Ultimate collection compiles the first three storylines of Grant Morrison's run, and if you're familiar with Morrison's work in mainstream comics, you'll immediately know that this is not going to be like anything else that preceeded it. Morrison shakes up the status-quo in a very dramatic fashion and begins re-defining several popular characters such as Emma Frost, giving them way more depth and complexity than past writers have, as well as exploring ideas such as Jean and Scott's failing marriage, the concept of secondary mutations thus secondary powers for a lot of the characters (Emma Frost's diamond form, and Beast's new more feline appearance and abilities), and the exposure of The Xavier's Institute's true nature as a mutant academy to the world and the resulting fall-out.
|Well...that escalated quickly.|
Naturally Morrison is incapable of telling a straight-forward story in any of his books, instead relying on using any sort of possible strangeness in his stories, and in a story about mutants he finds himself quite at home. We get hive-minded telepathic quintuplets, a teenage brain-in-a-jar, and a cult of humans desiring mutation led by a sentient mass of cells posing as a human...and that's all without spoiling anything; and while it may be a bit daunting for new readers, for those of us familiar with comic book lunacy IT'S AWESOME; truly one of the best high concept takes on a mainstream superhero book, second to only Morrison's JLA series from the late 90s. When you get a Grant Morrison story, the question isn't going to be "is it fresh and original", it's "is it readable", and when Morrison is bad he's absolutely unreadable (Final Crisis, Batman RIP) but when he's good, you get a truly uniqe, and thought-provoking experience that is almost alway incredibly fun (All-Star Superman, JLA, and this).
What makes this book work so well character-wise, is that Morrison keeps the team down to a managable number, as opposed to the almost literal ARMY they'd become, to where he can write almost each character well, without anyone getting left out...except for one. If I may indulge my pettiness for a bit, one of my favorite things about this book is that Wolverine is practically a non-entity for large portions of it. I absolutely hate Wolverine, I consider him to be one of the most unlikable, hypocritical, pointlessly confrontational characters ever created, and it's almost like Morrison realized that and knew there wasn't much even he could do with him. He instead focuses primarily on the other main team members that have interesting stories to tell, with a lot of emphasis placed on Professor X, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, and Beast, much to my delight since I'm a fan of those four, especially Jean, who perhaps gets her most badass moment EVER in the U-Men arc.
If I have any complaints about the book they are incredibly few and far between, but I will say that I do not like the X-Men uniforms in this incarnation. The plot explanation Morrison gives does make sense, but I've never been a fan of matching costumes for superhero teams, they should be dynamic, colorful, and give each member a sense of identity; here they're just black jackets with a yellow X on them, which I find to be immensely boring (with the exception of Emma Frost, who is apparently allergic to any non fetish-wear clothing). My only other significant complaint is the annual issue, not because it's bad or anything, but because of the "wonderful decision" they made to have the book read top-to-bottom instead of left-to-right, which may have not been a problem back when it was an individual comic issue, but is very annoying here in the trade paperback.
One of these things is not like the other!
Here's where things go downhill a bit, art criticism is not my strongest suit, and I ultimately value writing over art, but I will say that I'm not wild about it overall. This book had a veritable revolving door of artists, and most of them I am not a fan of. Ethan Van Sciver and Frank Quietly's work are the better examples, even though they have their hiccups as well, but practically everyone else's was just...bad. Once again, my tastes in art are very bland, but just the way the characters look is just off to me, and with this book's tendency to swap artists from issue to issue, it's hard to associate it with a particular artist/art style,
Though it has it's art hiccups, and some of my least favorite X-Men uniforms, Vol 1 of this run is easily one of my favorie X-Men books, and possibly one of my favorite Morrison works. It really uses the mythos and world of the X-Men well to tell new stories and create new interesting characters, as well as build interesting new developments for the existing characters. I strongly recommend this book even if you haven't read many or any previous X-books, it'll make you into a fan. :)