There’s typically not a lot of trouble when it comes to checking out a new manga series. You just pick up the first volume, read it, and if you like it, you get more volumes. Everything’s laid out in a numerical order, and once you finish, it’s on to the next series. But it’s rarely that simple when it comes to the traditional mainstream American comic book. The fact that some of these characters have been around for decades, with the backstory to match, can make starting out in American comics daunting. But as someone who enjoys sequential art from both sides of the Pacific, I can tell you that sometimes, you just have to dive in and pick things up as you go. The major comic publishers make it much easier by collecting entire creators’ runs in one single volume, similar to manga box sets. And a perfect example of that would be Marvel’s X-Men by Jonathan Hickman Omnibus.
The X-Men have one of the more intimidating comic histories out there. Ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s The X-Men #1 was released in 1963, this franchise has evolved and forked off into different media. Perhaps you grew up reading Chris Claremont’s definitive run on the comics in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Or maybe you remember the Fox cartoon that used that run as a jumping-off point. Your first taste of the mutant superheroes could’ve come from Fox’s long-running movie franchise, which also includes the Wolverine and Deadpool movies. And that’s not even mentioning the different alternate universes, such as those recounted in Days of Future Past, Age of Apocalypse and House of M. But even if you’re familiar with Professor Charles Xavier and his gifted students, you’re not ready for the wild reality of the Hickman Omnibus.
In the story collected in the House of X/Powers of X graphic novel, a new normal is established for mutantkind, totally shifting their role in the Marvel universe. Xavier has built a new home for his people on the living island Krakoa, and in return Krakoa has given them access to wild gifts, including miracle cures for diseases, dimensional gateways, and most importantly, practical immortality. A mutant’s mind can be backed up, so that if they fall in battle, they can be reborn and their memories restored. Under the banner of a nation-state, led by the Quiet Council, many mutants have allied with Krakoa, including former X-Men villains Magneto and Apocalypse.
Jonathan Hickman is no stranger to Marvel books, with popular runs writing Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the ambitious 2015 crossover Secret Wars. But he’s also known for creating wild sci-fi worlds in self-created series like The Manhattan Projects and East of West. And here, he gets to completely redefine the rules of what it means to be a mutant. One of my favorite chapters involves Cyclops and Nightcrawler observing and debating the morality of the Crucible, a rite of passage that young mutant Aero undergoes, where Apocalypse attempts to destroy her, mentally and physically, before she is rebuilt.
Hickman doesn’t give the mutants an easy life, though. Threats are constantly present, from traditional sources like anti-mutant think tank Orchis and Ronan the Accuser to unexpected ones like Hordeculture, a crew of elder biologists looking to wipe out humanity and let plants flourish (think the Golden Girls with a genocidal streak). The action is vivid and exciting, but it does take a back seat to the philosophical talk at times. I have no issue with that – I almost prefer it, honestly – but the story takes its time and relishes in its ideas, so people looking for nonstop action may want to look elsewhere.
As is common with compilations like this, and American comics in general, the art is a collaborative effort, and guest artists rotate in pretty regularly. Leinil Francis Yu does the lion’s share of the penciling, and he does knockout work bringing Hickman’s wild ideas to the page. At the same time, he shows off masterful use of shading, which inker Alan Guilan and color artist Sunny Gho back him up on with aplomb. There are also a great range of guest artists represented in this book, from modern stars like Mahmud Asrar and Phil Noto to legends like Alan Davis. In particular, Russell Dauterman has a standout stint in a two-part story, where he builds surreal visuals to portray Storm’s battle with a technological virus that will kill her in 30 days.
Put simply, while there’s a lot of differences between the Japanese and American comic industries, it still comes down to telling great stories through clever words and beautiful art. To avoid American comic books would mean passing up a lot of amazing tales, which I think is a big mistake. And while there is a lot more baggage when it comes to series like X-Men, it’s so worth it to just dive into the deep end, get a feel for things, and then decide whether you want to keep going. This omnibus is a phenomenal place to start. Hickman and the art team work together to build a deep, beautiful new paradigm for mutantkind, then have a blast seeing where the story takes them.
As the X-Men create a new mutant culture and face threats like Hordeculture, Nimrod and the Vault, cosmic chaos descends in the form of the Brood, Starjammers and Shi’ar Imperial Guard! And can Storm beat a deadly threat from within before the clock runs out? Jonathan Hickman brings the X-Men to the world stage!Add to CartLearn More