I’ve been buying adjectiveless X-Men on a regular basis for over ten years, longer than any other title I currently buy aside from Uncanny X-Men (which I started buying at the same time). Quality over the years has varied greatly, ranging from acceptable (mid-to-late-90s) to enjoyable (yes, I enjoyed Chuck Austen) to pretty horrible (good riddance, Peter Milligan). There was even a time where the title was great, but at that point the name had been changed to New X-Men, which I don’t actually consider the same series. Regardless of quality, I continued to buy X-Men, partly out of habit, partly out of my love for the characters. Milligan aside, I was never really disappointed in the series, but I was never really excited about it either.
That is until Mike Carey took over the title last May.
At first, I was didn’t like the change. Surely anyone would be an improvement over the previous writer (guess who?), but what was up with that team? Rogue, Mystique, Iceman, Cannonball, Cable and Sabretooth?! That was not a team I was looking forward to reading. And up to that point, the only thing I had read by Mike Carey was a handful of Ultimate Fantastic Four issues that were decidedly underwhelming. But I had stuck with the title for over a decade, through at least a dozen creative changes, so I had to give it a try.
While Carey’s first arc wasn’t that great, it’s been improving slowly but surely over the last year. Carey took the team away from the X-Mansion for the first time in a long time, which brought a breath of fresh air to the stale book.
The team roster, which was my initial reason for doubt, has become the book’s greatest strength. Rogue can be a very compelling character when she’s not stuck as just Gambit’s girlfriend, especially when she’s thrust into a role she’s never been in, as leader of the team. Iceman provides much needed humor, but the exploration of his extended powers and relationship with Mystique prevent him from becoming just the comic relief. Cannonball is the quintessential hero, who’s a loyal X-Man through and through. On the other hand, Lady Mastermind has no allegiance to anyone and is part of the team only because it benefits her at this point in time. Sabretooth is thankfully kept as a homicidal maniac, used more as weapon than as a member of the team, instead of neutering him in order to make him Wolverine Mark II. Mystique is great as the character that you’re never quite sure about…at times she seems to genuinely care for Rogue, Iceman and the rest of the team, but you know at any moment she could turn things around and betray the team. Omega Sentinel is a hero who was at one time programmed to hunt down and kill the very people she now calls teammates, but has yet to be explored as fully as the rest of the team. Cable provides maturity to a team made up of relatively immature characters.
When I was picking up my new comics last Wednesday, I was excited to see a new issue of X-Men among them. I didn’t realize it for another few days, but I don’t think I’ve ever been excited that a new issue of X-Men had come out. Ever. Yet somehow this team that I had enormous doubts about has managed to work its way into a special place in my heart.