It’s easy to forget how complicated superhero backstory can be, especially with over 60 years of writers contributing to a single title. Then there are books like X-Men: Grand Design, that not only reveal how beautifully complicated these stories are but revel in it (and even reform it ever so slightly). Ed Piskor, (who is a super swell guy), starts his new X-Men title this week and it comes at a good time because it’s a fine way to spend your holiday money.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
From Eisner award-winning creator Ed Piskor (Hip-Hop Family Tree) comes a thrilling new series chronicling all of X-Men history! X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN stitches together the most important moments in mutant history, creating a comprehensive narrative celebrating the X-Men’s past, present, and future. The first in a trilogy, GRAND DESIGN returns to Charles Xavier’s assembly of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel, and Beast! A must for fans looking to brush up on their X-Men lore or as jumping-on point for Marvel’s merry mutants.
Why does this matter?
Piskor has won an Eisner (which is no small feat) and has an indie sensibility conventional superhero comics just don’t get. This book is at once beautiful to look at, aged as if a tome of history, and incredibly packed with content. If you want a good deal of content for six bucks you have come to the right place.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The weight of this story feels huge.
Piskor makes the X-Men feel very important. The characters may already be important to you, but Piskor makes them incredibly interesting and understandable to everyone. Opening with The Watcher, this book categorizes his findings of the X-Men throughout the years. Choosing The Watcher for this opening gives the book more weight as the mutant race is a very important thing to jot down for a cosmic character who has lived for eons. Soon you’ll find Piskor is incredibly thorough with interesting back stories and origins wrapped together with impeccable skill. When reading this I was reminded of jazz music, or a symphony. The way this book ties together so many characters, events, and moments in the Marvel universe is astounding. Characters like Captain America show up and events like Namor’s attack on New York are chronicled, which only add to the detailed web woven here. Page after page recounts key moments, but also tiny ones you may not have known or forgotten about. I’d be surprised if readers who hate the mutants don’t come away loving them after reading this.
This book may be told via Watcher’s captions, but the story is visually stunning and efficient in its telling of the mutant story. Piskor chooses the perfect panel to tell so much. Do you know the saying a picture is worth a thousand words? Piskor proves it here. The nostalgic look of the old paper stock and print style of many smaller dots is a great move to give the story additional weight too. There are also some genius layouts, like one pitting Magneto and Xavier against each other as they play chess and a first-person view of a villain taking out a Nazi. Essays could be written about the visual style of this book. Expect it to win a lot of awards.
The story here is also slightly updated at least according to my memory of the characters. There isn’t anything so different to enrage superfans, but there are minor changes that are interesting. Xavier, for instance, served in World War II helping to take out snipers with his powers. In another, we learn Cyclops accidentally cut a schoolmate in half. There’s a grittiness to this story that makes it feel more adult and real. That’s complemented by the art style, which isn’t the glossy sexploitation style of many superhero comics.
The mutants didn’t start of great with humans.
The journey of the heroes on display here is quite impressive too. It all starts with the dawn of mutants (or at least the dawn of humankind knowing mutants exists), then follows Xavier from the time he’s a small boy all the way up to his formation the X-Men. Along the way, Xavier is a main character as is Magneto and as characters are introduced Piskor gives them the attention required to make them a focus and fleshed out.
It can’t be perfect can it?
I really have nothing bad to say about this book. The action scenes are a bit stilted, but that’s not Piskor’s style. This is more of a greatest hits of the X-Men than a well choreographed 28-panel fight book. Deal with it.
Is It Good?
I don’t know how many reviews will say this, but I have to: this is a love letter to the X-Men and to comics itself. This is a work of genius — amazingly paced and jampacked with story. For years I’ve thought the story of mutants and the X-Men was convoluted, but Ed Piskor has shown me it’s a delicate web that, when told correctly, is incredibly beautiful and captivating.