Although Grand Design has been marketed as a condensed streamlining of the (extremely convoluted) X-Men mythology, it’s actually considerably more than that. Piskor has created his own self-contained parallel universe: a complete story, told from beginning to end (and back again) which shows us the entire life-span of the characters. The fact that this series was indistinguishable from a condensation until the second issue of Second Genesis, when Mystique (partially) succeeded in her attempted assassination of Senator Kelly, is part of its genius.
Each issue has covered an almost ridiculous amount of continuity, and this book is no exception. In these pages you will see everything from the battle with the Reavers (including a nice reference to that action figure of a guy with the body of a tank), the formation of X-Factor, X-Force, and Excalibur, the Outback adventure, a tangled trip through the Siege Perilous, all the way to the massacre of Genosha — and that’s where events take a genocidal turn.
This is not the story that you think you know. People die, and their deaths will surprise you. Unexpected people live. The narrative careens at a break-neck speed but the panels are laden with enough glittering shards of characterisation to make you care about the things that you are reading — even if you are not particularly familiar with the characters.
Some characters are changed in a way that might possibly annoy some people. For one thing, Psylocke has always had an Asian body, in this version of the story. Personally, I think that this is a much better solution than her canonical (slightly racist) body swap. Her sudden switch to sexy femme fatale comes after being sent through the Siege Perilous and not because she’s a white woman who is fetishising an Asian host-body. Some characters are not explained. Cable is there, for instance, teaching the New Mutants, but although there is a visual nod to his birth in the previous issue, and Cyclops mentions the fact that he comes from the future, his history is not made explicit. Luckily, I doubt that anyone reading this would be unfamiliar with the story of his past.
The art is, frankly, brilliant. The pages pulse with love for the story and for the form. Piskor utilizes über-grim punk-pop graphic styling and exceedingly (deliciously) geeky visual references to build a world which is instantly identifiable and absolutely individual. The layout of the pages, the blocking of the action, is reminiscent of the classic Cockrum-era stories, but the character designs are entirely modern, and all done in Piskor’s wonderful, energetic style.
Without giving away the ending, I will say that it is entirely satisfying. Long-time fans will be absolutely delighted. I certainly was.
This series is one for the history books. I anticipate it being regarded as a seminal alternate-reality story by future readers, and authors. It is absolutely beautiful.