The latest irritation of the X-Men opened with the storyline Primer, a three-part arc that saw the hesitant formation of a new team on the heels of Jubilee’s surprising return to Westchester. This critically acclaimed title, helmed by writer Brian Wood and penciled for the first three issues by Olivier Coipel, features an all-female X-Men squad, led by Storm with Rachel Grey serving as a strong but firm second-in-command. The cast is rounded out by an interesting batch of characters choices in Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Psylocke, and Jubilee, who has recently taken in an infant named Shogo. The book also garnered a lot of attention when Wood made it very clear that this is a book about female X-Men and not X-Women. This sparked a debate about the industry’s expectations of female-only team book and the need to divide teams by gender lines.
In a market where many female-only team books have shown the tendency to err on the side of the gimmicky or exploitative, this title is bold and interesting, but a little out of place. Given the traditionally gender role-defying history of the X-Men franchise, the need to reaffirm the reader’s understanding that all X-Men are X-Men, regardless of their sex, race, religion, or any other mitigating factors, is a bit uncertain. The main cast, with the exception of Storm, are the creations of writer Chris Claremount. They are some of the most notable characters in the X-Men’s stable of well-developed women, from a writer that did a great deal to further the presence of women in comics. Perhaps, in that respect, this book serves as the logical progression of the franchise, rather than a red flag to address issues in the franchise’s representation of women.
Still, while there may not be a dire necessity for an all-women X-team, this book is a solid title and a strong addition to superhero genre at large. It takes great strides to avoid the designation of X-Women all together, and undermines any pretense of a “chick book” by focusing on character dynamics over gendered politics. This isn’t about women, as Wood argues. It’s about family.
The premise of this arc is fairly simple: Sentient parasitic bacterium Sublime realizes that his sister Akrea has returned to Earth. Piggybacking on a recently crashed meteorite, his sister is back to continue their ancient rivalry over control of the planet. Adept at hijacking technology through cybernetic implants, Akrea’s first host is an orphaned infant boy, using him to get back to civilization and begin spreading to more useful targets. Jubilee takes the boy in and names him Shogo, unaware of the intense family struggle she’s stumbled into until Sublime begins following her to New York. With no one else to turn to, Jubilee returns to Westchester to seek the help of her only real family, the X-Men.
From there the mystery of Akrea’s plot deepens as she gets loose in Hank McCoy’s lab. She takes control of the comatose Karima Shapandar, using her Omega-Prime nanites to wreak havoc. The hunt for Akrea sends the X-Men all over the globe, a struggle that gravely compromises the security systems of the school and nearly destroys it as Akrea hijacks the computer mainframe. With Akrea using Karima to enact her plans of global domination, the team is deeply troubled by the prospect of their friend’s consciousness still being trapped inside her stolen body, and the realization that killing Akrea would kill Karima as well. Karima emerges from her coma to stop Akrea herself, but Storm’s order for Psylocke to kill Akrea’s then-unconscious host doesn’t sit well with Rachel, which causes tensions between them. Meanwhile, Jubilee comes to terms with the responsibilities of parenthood now on her young shoulders, and draws strength from those around her in her decision to keep Shogo.
The underpinning theme of this arc is family, which Wood handles in several subtle ways. While the entire X-Men family tree has been embroiled in various and ugly internal struggles over the last few years, the unifying idea of team-as-family, despite their differences and misunderstandings, is refreshing to see again. Obviously there is the enduring rivalry between Sublime and Akrea, which facilitates the suspense the plot is framed around. Beyond that, however, Wood makes great use of his cast in exploring their dynamics. Each principal character is strongly defined with organic and well-rounded characterizations, playing to each of their strengths and individual contributions. Their interactions, banter and disagreements come from a place of familiarity, a warmth of tone that the reader understands from the strength of the writing. Many team books show teams interacting, and the writer takes for granted that the readers simply know that these characters know each other. Wood manages to make it appear effortless. Their relationships are complicated, but built on years of trust and respect. Even as tensions rise between Rachel and Storm, which spill over into the recent fourth issue, their conflict reads like a natural extension of that relationship.
One of the best examples of family-oriented character development is Jubilee and Shogo. Her emotional struggle to care for the boy she’s decided to raise is palpable. An orphan herself, her instincts to protect the boy (whom she herself names Shogo) is relatable, even as she remains fraught with uncertainty about her decision. She seeks comfort and counsel from her own adopted family, looking for reassurance that she’s fit to parent her son. While the presence of an infant in a book with an entirely female cast can be read as suspect, the inclusion of Shogo in Jubilee’s life forces her to grow up and develop as a character, and works well here. It sheds an interesting light on her and her emotional processes, and tackles the topics of child-rearing and family in a natural and appropriate way. Jubilee is an orphan, in a family of orphans, now raising an orphan of her own. The theme is cyclical but effective, and poignantly handled. It’s going to be difficult for Jubilee as a single teenaged mutant vampire mother, but she’s going to make it work.
One of the great strengths of this arc is Coipel’s artwork. He achieves great narrative economy with his dynamic page compositions and panel design, and captures each character with well-developed distinction and charm. The well-struck balance of each character’s internal state with the action-adventure elements allows every cast member to feel completely realized on the page, wearing their personalities like their iconic costumes. This precise storytelling makes for organic characterizations that feel effortless and well-rounded, and really makes the most of the emotional subtleties of the scripts.
Overall, this is a strong opening storyline for a book attempting to establish a new status quo. Wood and Coipel successfully set the tone for the development of a new, untested X-Men team, and all the family problems that comes with it. Instead of being weighed down by the complications of family dynamics, the book is strengthened by it, exploring the various permutations of family within the team itself. Just where this book is headed as it hurdles toward the upcoming Battle of the Atom event is unclear, but its future looks bright.