At their most basic, superhero comics involve extraordinary characters saving the day against extraordinary threats. Whether it’s battling invading aliens, fighting giant robots, or thwarting evil scientists, a simple superhero comic makes the most of this dynamic. To become something better, though, it has to do much more than the basics.
X-Men comics have never relied heavily on the basics. While they’ve fought their share of aliens, killer robots, and mad scientists, that has only ever been a small part of their story. From the early days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to the heyday of Chris Claremont, the X-Men are at their best when they’re more than just superheroes. They’re a family.
They may not be a family in the traditional sense. Then again, part of the X-Men’s defining trait is that they’re not traditional. They’re mutants. They’re outsiders. They’re different, but uncannily so. That’s the spirit that Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu capture in “X-Men #1.”
They still fight bad guys. They still save the day, living and fighting in a world that can’t resist the urge to slaughter them with killer robots. They also live, love, and cherish one another, as any other family. Theirs just happens to be more uncanny than most.
Building on the foundation that both “House of X” and “Powers of X” so masterfully built, “X-Men #1” establishes how the X-Men operate in a world where they have a homeland in Krakoa and unprecedented unity among their kind. There are still battles to be fought, some of which began during the events of “House of X.” Fittingly enough, Cyclops is at the front line of those battles.
For a character who has been denigrated, killed off, brought back to life, and endlessly criticized for how he’s handled his personal life, it’s nothing short of refreshing. Say what you will about Cyclops and the questionable choices he’s made, he’s still the X-Men’s consummate leader. He always has been and always will be. It’s one of the most defining aspects of his character.
Hickman affirms that at every turn in “X-Men #1.” Cyclops is the one who leads the charge against Orchis, the big human-led conspiracy to counter mutant evolution, who proved themselves quite capable in “House of X.” They may have lost a big chunk of their operation, but they’re still a threat and Cyclops leads the charge against them.
On paper, it’s simple. The way it plays out offers plenty of complexities. The exchanges between Cyclops, Storm, and Magneto highlight the strength of their personalities. They aren’t just costumed heroes saving the day. They have personal stakes in this battle and it only gets more personal at the story unfolds.
The battle they fight is only a small part of a more intimate story. Just saving the day and further crippling Orchis isn’t enough. The most endearing moments of “X-Men #1” are the ones that show Cyclops living his life outside his heroic persona. They show that, when he’s not in battle, he has a home to go back to.
That home doesn’t just include his friends and fellow teammates. They include his father, his brothers, and his kids, including ones from dystopian timelines. Given the many complexities and complications surrounding the Summers family, it’s refreshing to see this family come together again. If anything, it’s downright refreshing.
It shows that the X-Men aren’t just about going from battle to battle, saving the day and stopping the next great extinction event. They have lives they wish to build. They have close personal connections they wish to foster. Beyond making them better superheroes, it helps show that they’re still very human at their core.
However, this personal touch doesn’t just apply to the X-Men, Cyclops’ family, or superheroes in general. Even their enemies have a personal stake in this new post-Krakoan world. Just as he did in “House of X,” Hickman makes it clear that Orchis aren’t just another generic threat to mutants that rely heavily on killer robots. It’s personal for them too.
Many of the individuals involved in Orchis are still unknowns, but their motivations become much clearer in “X-Men #1.” It’s also clear that they still have the resources and the will to become a much bigger threat. They may not be a family on the same level as Cyclops and his fellow X-Men, but they’re every bit as driven to protect it. That makes them more dangerous than any killer robot.
Overall, “X-Men #1” has both the basics and the more advanced features that make for a quality superhero comic. Hickman sticks closely to the classic X-Men formula that has been subject to so many tweaks, overhauls, and upheavals in recent years. Yu’s dazzling artwork brings vibrant, colorful aesthetics to that formula. It’s as complete an X-Men comic as you’ll get without a Patrick Stewart voice-over.
It’s a bold new era for the X-Men. Hickman deconstructed and rebuilt the X-Men through “House of X” and “Powers of X.” However, the core components remain the same and as strong as ever. There’s heroics, killer robots, and sweet family moments. It’s a big part of what makes the X-Men so uncanny.