Ever since the 1990s, when the huge success of X-Force #1 and X-Men #1 turned Marvel's head, the X-Men line has perpetually been extended beyond all reason. As a result, any title that doesn't have a strong core concept immediately stands out as a money-grab, a bid by the publisher to milk the franchise for all that it's worth.
The marketing push for the launch of the latest X-Men #1 focused on the fact that the series features an all-female team, which in comics is a perfectly reasonable (and fairly progressive) unique selling point. However, writer Brian Wood has played down that aspect in interviews, instead stressing his desire to produce something in the vein of Chris Claremont's first stint on the title: a mix of soap opera, action, and characterization. In other words, a back-to-basics approach.
In essence, the creative team are delivering a title that, while not entirely free from continuity, isn't overly beholden to the baggage many of these characters have accumulated over the years. Storm is presented as someone who shoulders the burden of leadership because she’s the most qualified to do so. A relatively grounded, recognizably sane version of Psylocke is welcome given how most writers who opt to use her leave her damaged. And Rogue is a little more fun, a little more carefree than she has been in many years, with this take feeling truer to the original than the hardline mutant rights advocate currently starring in Uncanny Avengers.
Still, this issue manages to address a couple of continuity-related criticisms that have been leveled at the series. Artist David Lopez makes sure that the collar keeping Jubilee's vampire powers in check is prominently displayed throughout the issue, while the action sequence confirms that Wood is under no illusions that Rogue still has her old super strength and flight power set. Deliberate or not, both raise a smile.
Taken as a traditional team book, X-Men #4 is undoubtedly impressive. Don’t let the action sequence fool you: this is a downtime issue, a chance to take stock of the events of the first arc and establish character dynamics and relationships. It’s also a showcase for Jubilee, who through conversations with Wolverine gives the reader a feel for where she’s at given the trials and tribulations she’s suffered through since M-Day. Wood has made no secret of his love for Jubilation Lee; he’s working hard to make her relevant again, and is succeeding in his efforts.
On art, Perez does a good job following Olivier Coipel. He handles the conversation scenes with aplomb, and while his action scenes aren’t the most kinetic they are clear and easy to follow. His Wolverine is perhaps a touch too handsome, but his Jubilee is excellent, striking the right balance between her natural exuberance and the burden of her recent history. Both Wood and Perez emphasize character, making them a natural fit for one another.
Unfortunately, there’s a big problem with the discussion between Storm and Rachel Grey that occupies much of the issue, with the latter furious that Ororo was willing to sacrifice Karima Shapandar to stop Arkea during the first arc. The ideas underpinning the debate are sound, yet Rachel’s indignation seems misplaced given that the story implies she and John Sublime (a man who used to sacrifice mutants for profit) have become close, which completely undermines her stance. Tackling Rachel Grey - rarely the most engaging of characters - is a bold move, but unless it’s a deliberate plot point, making her look like such a hypocrite is hardly the best way to rehabilitate her.
Yet the biggest problem may be just on the horizon. For a book still trying to establish its place in the line, the Battle of the Atom crossover couldn't have come at a worse time. It seems unlikely the “Big Event” nature of said story (not to mention the sprawling cast) will allow Wood and Lopez much time to develop their characters, which threatens to stall the momentum X-Men has built thus far, and rob it of its greatest strength.