Today’s Super Comic — New X-Men #117 (2001)

Apparently, the first X-Men movie reminded Marvel that Xavier was supposed to be running a school for gifted youngsters, not merely sheltering a team of superheroes trapped in an infinite loop of melodramatic soap operas. Granted, the soap opera approach served the X-Men extraordinarily well at times, resulting in some of the greatest superhero comics ever printed.

But by 2001, yeah, it was time for something different. So along came writer Grant Morrison with a fresh tone and fresh energy. X-Men became ­New X-Men, and it earned that adjective, by gosh and by golly.

Issue #117 is early in the run, though not too early for a major status-quo shift to already have taken place. The world now knows Xavier and his students are mutants, and if you know anything about the X-Men, you know how positively thrilled folks are upon hearing the news.

It’s a great development, though. The X-Men have been a metaphor for persecuted minorities since day one, but being able to easily pretend they’re not mutants doesn’t do the metaphor justice.

Also welcome is the fact that the school is actually a school for more than five people. Xavier’s mansion has extras in the background. The X-Men have expanded from a family into a community, and the main characters have actual jobs—teaching these kids.

Those main characters are also changing. The Beast gets the most focus in this issue. His mutation has evolved, or perhaps devolved. Instead of being a blue, furry man-ape, he’s now a blue, furry man-feline. It’s quite an adjustment, and there’s a lot of pain behind his jolly demeanor.

Meanwhile, Jean Grey is feeling increasingly detached from her husband Cyclops, who seems to be drawing the attention of Emma Frost, the formerly villainous White Queen, so Jean starts flirting with Wolverine, who we all know has been in love with her since the good old days. Yeah, you can’t totally extract the soap opera element from the X-Men. It’s infused in its DNA.

But there’s more going on, and none of it feels like a rehash of your favorite childhood X-stories. It’s exactly what the X-Men needed at the time. (Well, they didn’t need to trade their colorful superhero costumes for lots of black…or maybe Hollywood said they did need to.)

Writer: Grant Morrison

Penciler: Ethan Van Sciver

Inker: Prentiss Rollins

Cover: Frank Quitely

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in New X-Men by Grant Morrison vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Generation X #18 (1996)

generation_x_vol_1_18I probably could’ve pulled off this yearlong series of positive comic reviews with X-Men books alone.

The X-Men had about a million spinoffs in the ‘90s, and one of the better ones of that era was Generation X. It brought us back to the X-Men’s roots as a series about teenage mutants learning to control their powers in a highly specialized educational environment. But Professor X wasn’t teaching this latest generation—stalwart X-Man Banshee (Sean Cassidy) and former villain the White Queen (Emma Frost) had that job.

Though the book is ostensibly about the teens, the dynamic between these two very different teachers is one of the best parts…as #18 demonstrates, when Emma telepathically compels Sean to walk off a plane at 30,000 feet in the air (it’s okay; he can fly). Her well-intentioned drive to keep her students safe, combined with her less rigid morality, make her a compelling character and one who plays well off of Banshee’s more traditional superhero type. Instead of spy vs. spy, we’ve got teacher vs. teacher (and teacher vs. students).

And artist Chris Bachalo is in top form here, with creative layouts and memorable images. A scene of Banshee breaking out of Emma’s spell is especially well done, though there isn’t a weak page in the book.

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Penciler: Chris Bachalo

Inker: Mark Buckingham

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up