Catching up on comics-related reviews—
MARVEL MASTERWORKS: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (cover by Kirby, all rights to current holder) collects the first ten issues of Marvel’s moderately successful Silver Age second-stringer (it wasn’t until the seventies that the book broke into the front ranks). This introduces the original X-Men and the book’s biggest strength is that it does catch the feel of a bunch of kids hanging out and having fun together, in contrast to the more formal Avengers. The stories pitting them against Magneto and other evil mutants are fun and full of energy (with the usual caveat that Silver Age stories don’t work for everyone), though the quality varies—Ka-Zar, in the final story in this issue, is the most blatant clone of Tarzan, though he’d gain some distinctiveness in later appearances.
Whatever the flaws of those early issues, they look like Rembrandt next to X-MEN: Phoenix — Warsong by Greg Pak and Tyler Kirkham. The story concerns the secret origin of the Stepford Cuckoos (Xavier students introduced during Grant Morrison’s run) as specially grown nannite-bearers designed to absorb part of the Phoenix Force and use it as a weapon against mutantkind. Kirkham’s art didn’t work for me at all and while I’ve liked Pak’s work elsewhere (I loved his Incredible Herc), the story is an overwrought mess.
Normally I hate TPBs that tie into past Big Events but because Avengers vs. Xmen: Legacy by Christos Gage and Rafa Sandoval focused on Rogue’s character arc, they overcame that. As the battle between the two teams heats up, Rogue finds herself thinking about her transition from villain to hero, and worrying that some of her team-mates tapping into the Phoenix Force might have Bad Consequences (short answer: yes). That makes most of this readable despite all the key events happening off-stage—but there’s also three issues of padding where Rogue gets pulled into another dimension for a cliched sword-and-planet adventure. End result, this isn’t first string but it’s readable.
AVENGERS ACADEMY: Permanent Record is a better story by Gage and Mike McCone, again taking place in the shadow of a Big Event (Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign arc). A handful of super-teens Osborn experimented on are assigned to train under the Avengers, not because they’re that amazing but because (as they secretly discover) they’re considered potential super-villains. What follows is fairly familiar super-teen team interactions, but they’re done well enough I enjoyed this; however I can’t say the students really come off as potentially the Worst of the Worst (as a couple of people point out, Pietro Maximoff did worse in his day)