Several of the Marvel NOW! titles have already released second issues in as many weeks. This doesn't surprise, considering DC's New 52 line-wide relaunch has helped them lead the industry in sales for much of 2012. As the year ends, the House of Ideas no doubt wants to catch up, and if that means I get new Stuart Immonen (who's drawn, and can draw, everything) comics this frequently, I've little to complain about.
Immonen illustrates All-New X-Men, a deceptive title for a comic featuring teen heroes from decades ago. While there are new mutants popping up across the world, they're in the background. Instead, writer Brian Bendis tickles (or is that tortures?) us with the presence of the original five X-Men assembled by Charles Xavier in the 60s: Marvel Girl, Cyclops, Beast, Angel and Ice Man. Genius/blue furball Hank McCoy is responsible, hoping to bring young, idealistic Scott Summers face-to-face with his militant older self and avert Mutant Armageddon.
But in a premise such as this, learned fans will focus on Wolverine seeing Marvel Girl again. Also known as Jean Grey, original host for the destructive Phoenix force, she's dead in current continuity. Married to upright Summers most of her life, she could never return Wolverine's love.
The emotional weight of the meeting is heady stuff, and Immonen, today's most versatile comic artist, is the perfect person to deliver it. His style, more than any other, is a balanced mix of the super-heroic and soap-operatic. He lets characters speak through the penciling in sharply calibrated poses, facial expressions, and power displays.
When the flower children arrive in the present, Wolverine is teaching a class (at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning) on fighting ninjas. Then he smells them. His first instinct is to attack, assuming they're imposters. Young Jean uses her telekinesis to pause him in mid-air. Cyclops and Ice Man settle him down with kid gloves. Later, Wolvie takes the insanity in stride and plays the dutiful warder (which he does endlessly in Wolverine and the X-Men). When the X-Brats escape with a stolen Blackbird jet, we get what the entire issue's been counting down to. "It was her," he says, "It was really her. Jeannie..."
Writer Simon Spurrier (Silver Surfer: In They Name) and artist Tan Eng Huat have the somewhat unenviable task of floating an entire story on an infinitely powerful mutant with multiple personalities (sounds like a Vertigo comic, actually). Not that it can't be (or hasn't been) done, but for this concept to last it needs a muscular hook. Luckily, they've got one, in the form of a mental prison full of weirdos called the Qortex. Legion himself is the jailor, keeping each personality (possessed of its own mutant power) under control.
Huat's an impeccable choice to illustrate this anything-can-happen comic. Recently, his art has suffered a bit by being colored minus an inker. The result, in titles like The Punisher and Ghost Rider, is subtly blurry. He's memorable otherwise for his solid panels and directly iconic style that reminds me of Carlos Pacheco (Avengers Forever) and early Scott McDaniel (Nightwing). Here, with inker Craig Yeung, he gives Spurrier's zaniness brilliant life; on the run from Chinese authorities, Legion sees a mountain goat shot to pieces. A disembodied character then inhabits the animal's corpse, quickly refashioning the bones, organs and fur into something more... bipedal. "Horrific," he says, as the gristle settles. Indeed.
Sadly, one of these titles is too clever to last. The other will probably lead to Marvel's next epic throw-down within a year or two. Worse, I'm fairly jaded by both outcomes. I read comics, loving the characters and stories, for the few moments they're alive in my head. Real continuity, that says Spider-Man can't physically have adventures with four different teams and still hold a job, is long dead. Alive, however, is the thrill of the aggressively New. If and when it burns itself out, there will really be something to cry about.