Marvel’s latest X-Men trade paperback–New X-Men Companion–seems designed to confuse fans of Grant Morrison’s groundbreaking run. The collection’s spine features mohawk Storm, the back cover shows off Psylocke and mentions characters like Rogue, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat. All wonderful, but absolutely no connection to New X-Men (these characters all starred in X-Treme X-Men at the time). So the blurb on the back about “the mutants of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men” really isn’t all that accurate.
Despite those misleading elements, this oversized collection is worth X-Fans’ hard-earned $39.99, in my opinion. For most of my comics-reading career, I’ve tended to read “main” titles vs. stories I viewed as non-essential to continuity. As a result, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the anthology series that was X-Men Unlimited while Morrison was rocking the X-Men’s world. I’d pick up an issue here and there depending on the cover, but on the whole, the later issues of this series were a mystery to me. New X-Men Companion provides the perfect opportunity to discover X-gems I never knew existed.
For instance, did you know cat Beast once fell for a mutant feline he mistook for a female mutant with cat features? If you’re going to do an X-Men anthology series, that’s the kind of crazy stuff I want to see–not more Wolverine bar brawls or trips to Japan (both are in here, unfortunately). You really feel for Hank in “Stray,” which is written by Jeff Jensen and illustrated by John Totleben, and really, that’s where this collection truly shines. Those intimate stories that showcase what wonderful characters the X-Men are.
Greg Rucka and Darick Robertson bring us a moving story about Kitty Pryde coping with the loss of Colossus and Nightcrawler’s efforts to help her process the pain. Meanwhile, “It’s The Thought That Counts” by J. Torres and Takeshi Miyazawa is lighter in tone, revealing the origin of Jean Grey’s green mini dress costume. The collection ends on a sad note with a tale that shows how freeing Halloween can be for young mutants who can’t pass for everyday humans.
But screw sadness–one of the most fun stories I never knew existed is “X-Men The Untold Story!” by Gail Simone and Kevin Maguire. It’s got Maguire on art, so you know it’s going to be funny, and Simone’s script doesn’t disappoint, revealing what went on behind the scenes of the Marvel Universe’s troubled X-Men movie. We may have had to put up with The Last Stand, but at least we didn’t get this clunker.
Then, there are the duds. Quite a few, to be honest. I’m talking Cyclops getting kidnapped by an organ harvester while shopping for pickles and Juggernaut trying his hand at slam poetry to woo his new crush. The inclusion of these stories frustrates me.
Let me explain.
While this collection pretty much features material from X-Men Unlimited #35-50, it doesn’t contain all of it. The odds of us getting an X-Men Unlimited omnibus are pretty slim, so this was a great opportunity for Marvel to collect every short story and pin-up in these comics. We don’t get that. We don’t even get X-Men Unlimited #44, which I do own in comic form, and featured New X-Men characters like Beast, Cyclops and Jean Grey. How that story didn’t make the cut but a comedic Juggernaut tale did just perplexes me.
I mean, if this was a true New X-Men Companion, it’d include the X-Men Icon mini-series from this era, such as those starring Cyclops and Chamber. Still waiting for those to be collected.
Also frustrating: continuity inaccuracies. Juggernaut is not a mutant. Toad should know that (along with the creators working on his story). The Scott Summers on the hunt for pickles is definitely not the troubled mutant in Morrison’s run. Little nitpicks but something fans of New X-Men would surely notice if they’re purchasing this book for more of that Morrison magic.
Still, there’s a different kind of magic to be found in these pages. Old-school X-Fans will like hearing that Chris Claremont and Paul Smith contribute stories, while modern comic fans’ ears may perk up when they hear Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Gail Simone, Bill Willingham and David Finch all have work in this collection. Also, Kaare Andrews writes and partially draws a lengthy story that celebrates many X-Men characters’ various incarnations. X-Fans should get a kick out of that one.
At just over 400 pages, believe me, this a big trade. But it’s also a very breezy read due to the fact it’s comprised of short stories. Whether you power through it in an afternoon or in pieces over several nights, just be prepared for the quality to fluctuate. But again, it’s a collection of stories from an anthology series–you know exactly what you’re getting into. But a big part of the fun is seeing how much X-Books not written by Morrison were struggling at the time to grapple with the changes he was making to Marvel’s mutants. Some creators try to play within this brave new world, mentioning concepts like X-Corps, and others… uh, turn Juggernaut into a slam poet.
Let’s hope Jonathan Hickman missed that one.