X-Men: Season One
by Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie
2012 • 136 pages • Marvel Comics
Why aren’t you listening to Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men right now?
I haven’t been this excited for a podcast… well, ever. Being led gently through the saga of the X-Men by a pair of awesome, feminist-minded comic professionals who know their stuff and have great banter is one of the highlights of my week. After those forty-five minutes are up, I’m brimming with recommendations, a greater appreciation for Chris Claremont, and my love for Dazzler.
(Well, my love for Dazzler is eternal, but you get the idea. Lupita Nyong’o for Dazzler 2016!)
First up: X-Men: Season One. Marvel’s first crack at updating the origin story of the original X-Men, X-Men: First Class, was not my favorite. That awkward period where DC and Marvel tried not-so-subtly to get in on the lava hot manga boom of the aughts does not particularly date well. Their second crack came in the last few years with the Season One line, original graphic novels (as opposed to trade paperbacks reprinting collected single issues) intended to streamline origin stories as an entry point for new fans.
Among superhero teams, the X-Men are unique in that they technically have two origins—the original team (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Ice Man, Angel, and Beast) and the newer team from the seventies (Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Thunderbird, Banshee, Sunfire and Wolverine). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a similar origin update for the latter team, but their origin is so integrally tied up with rescuing the original team that you always have to start there.
And so the astonishingly named Dennis Hopeless does, setting it in the modern day and, most importantly, telling it from Jean Grey’s perspective.
Jean Grey and Scott Summers are the two characters in the traditional X-Men line-up that I never quite got. Of course, my only exposure to them was through X-Men: The Animated Series, Les Daniel’s Marvel, and the fact that everybody in the world loves Wolverine for some reason. (I mean, I like Wolverine, too, I just wish he hadn’t been invited to X-Men: Days of Future Past.) But even as I’ve been easing back into the X-Men, my interests lie mostly with Storm, Dazzler, and, of course, Professor Xavier and Magneto (THEY COULD HAVE HAD IT ALL). But seeing it all through Jean’s eyes is a brilliant idea, giving her more agency and banishing the boys’ club feel of that original first issue and X-Men: First Class.
And what a Jean she is. Outfitted with a knit hat and an iPhone, she’s angry that her parents have pulled her out of high school to attend the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters. She’s also not terribly amused that Professor Xavier’s idea of educating young mutants is to dress them up like superheroes and have them fight anything from Magneto to dinosaurs. She’s snarky, tender, and real.
She, Scott, and Warren explore a very awkward but well-written love triangle, but her friendship with Hank is the most interesting. Jean takes an immediate shine to his peculiar slang and kindness, and it’s through Hank that Jean encounters the ideological struggle at the heart of the X-Men: do you assimilate with humanity in the hopes that they will, someday, see you as a person? Or do you revolt completely?
What makes X-Men: Season One a great introduction to the X-Men (and better than X-Men: First Class), despite not technically being in continuity with the comics, is that it highlights those major themes. Anti-mutant prejudice is pronounced and complicated—when the X-Men stop an anti-mutant riot at a fair, one of the mutants they’re protecting points out that the team is composed of pretty mutants who can pass for human, unlike them. Later, Hank saves a human, only for him to get soda hurled in his face. Professor Xavier tells them that superheroics is the path towards acceptance, but the novel opens with a fight that just proves to humans that all mutants are dangerous.
Most importantly, Professor Xavier is portrayed as fallible. At one point, Jean tells Hank that she suspects him of reading their minds more than he tells them, a hint towards her own telepathy (she’s merely telekinetic here) and an accurate detail for a man who thinks he knows better than everyone around him. It’s why the students feel betrayed when they learn that Professor Xavier has been sneaking off for chess dates with known terrorist Magneto. Magneto is flattened a little here, but their eternal tension is still here—both refusing to give up on the other, despite believing such different things.
But it’s not all personal politics and me crying to Adele over Charles and Erik again. It’s fun, from a Bieber-esque Iceman who begs Scott to let him into the Danger Room and hits Magneto with a snowball to Jean bellowing at Warren that she’s sorry she can’t telekinetically lift an entire freaking dinosaur off a cliff. And Scott and Jean are, surprisingly, adorable, with Scott’s crippling self-doubt about his leadership skills translating into just being sweetly awkward around Jean. Plus, Jamie McKelvie’s art is as fantastic and sharp as ever. Just fantastic.
I rented this book from the public library.