Written by Brahm Revel
Pencils by Brahm Revel
Colors by Christiane Peter
Cover by Brahm Revel
Published by Marvel
A mutant boy runs through the forest at night, like a victim in a slasher movie. His death sends a psychic shock all the way to Rachel Grey, bringing Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Rogue into Appalachia to investigate. From the raw pencils and dark palette, to the scope of the plot, this book feels vintage in a great way. The titular heroes touch the core of what makes the X-Men so appealing. Marvel Knights: X-Men is a welcome nostalgic comic, but that cuts both ways.
The story and the art capture the prescient humanity inherent in the X-Men. They exist to fight discrimination. No other team is so well defined by its goals. There’s a direct thematic connection to American Civil Rights and LGBT rights movements. The murdered teen resonates with both, connecting this story with the X-Men’s roots. Peter’s colors lend a haunted quality to the swampy darkness in the panels. All three characters are rendered with little exaggeration: Revel’s pencils give the reader decidedly human heroes with realistic proportions. Especially refreshing, Logan looks like the small Canadian ape-man he was meant to be. He’s even acting like his old self: short in stature and temper. As two characters introduced during the Eighties, Rogue and Kitty are the perfect accompaniment for this throwback story.
The appeal of the Marvel Knights titles is supposed to be that they take place outside of continuity, allowing up-and-coming creators the opportunity to get back to characters’ roots and explore them in a new way. Revel’s dialogue largely ignores this advantage. With a team this steeped in both continuity and social issues, it’s distracting to bring both up so directly. The casual reader, or someone who’s only seen the movies, already knows what the X-Men are about at their core. The well-known premise should allow the dialogue to do character and plot work, not remind the reader that Rachel Summers began life as a hunter for Ahab in an alternate future, or point out the Cyclops is also recruiting young mutants. It’s especially disheartening as the art does such a good job of crafting atmosphere. All three lead characters comment on how reclusive and backwards the town is, ignoring the opportunity to show rather than tell. The art is eloquent enough.
In spite of its dialogue, Marvel Knights: X-Men engages the reader, getting at the dark heart of what makes the X-Men tick. Knowing that the events in this story won’t spiral into the next event makes it feel organic. While Marvel and DC build bigger and bigger events with stakes constantly at galactic levels, focusing on murders in a small town tinges everything with an authentic sense of danger. As this is only the first issue, the exposition could pay off before the mini-series is over. While that seems unlikely, this book still gets most things very right. Marvel Knights: X-Men reads like a classic story even if it doesn’t turn out to be one.