Apparently, the first X-Men movie reminded Marvel that Xavier was supposed to be running a school for gifted youngsters, not merely sheltering a team of superheroes trapped in an infinite loop of melodramatic soap operas. Granted, the soap opera approach served the X-Men extraordinarily well at times, resulting in some of the greatest superhero comics ever printed.
But by 2001, yeah, it was time for something different. So along came writer Grant Morrison with a fresh tone and fresh energy. X-Men became New X-Men, and it earned that adjective, by gosh and by golly.
Issue #117 is early in the run, though not too early for a major status-quo shift to already have taken place. The world now knows Xavier and his students are mutants, and if you know anything about the X-Men, you know how positively thrilled folks are upon hearing the news.
It’s a great development, though. The X-Men have been a metaphor for persecuted minorities since day one, but being able to easily pretend they’re not mutants doesn’t do the metaphor justice.
Also welcome is the fact that the school is actually a school for more than five people. Xavier’s mansion has extras in the background. The X-Men have expanded from a family into a community, and the main characters have actual jobs—teaching these kids.
Those main characters are also changing. The Beast gets the most focus in this issue. His mutation has evolved, or perhaps devolved. Instead of being a blue, furry man-ape, he’s now a blue, furry man-feline. It’s quite an adjustment, and there’s a lot of pain behind his jolly demeanor.
Meanwhile, Jean Grey is feeling increasingly detached from her husband Cyclops, who seems to be drawing the attention of Emma Frost, the formerly villainous White Queen, so Jean starts flirting with Wolverine, who we all know has been in love with her since the good old days. Yeah, you can’t totally extract the soap opera element from the X-Men. It’s infused in its DNA.
But there’s more going on, and none of it feels like a rehash of your favorite childhood X-stories. It’s exactly what the X-Men needed at the time. (Well, they didn’t need to trade their colorful superhero costumes for lots of black…or maybe Hollywood said they did need to.)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciler: Ethan Van Sciver
Inker: Prentiss Rollins
Cover: Frank Quitely
Publisher: Marvel Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in New X-Men by Grant Morrison vol. 1 (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 13 and up