Most fans of the sixty-year Marvel Comics multi-title property X-Men have been reading X-Men books for years. Hundreds of characters have been woven into more than 8,000 pages and dozens of monthly titles, and very few can really count themselves experts on the entirety of the history of the mutant heroes. To catch up, new readers can pick up omnibus editions from any of the past six decades going back to 1963. But a new mini-series beginning with only two hefty 40-page, no advertisement issues aims to get you caught up on the series first 30 years in the time it takes Quicksilver to zip around the world and back.
X-Men: Grand Design is exactly that, an epic story pulling together every major story and many minor ones in what is in essence new, classic style comic strips assembled into a comic book anthology. Cartoonist Ed Piskor, known for his Eisner winning series Hip Hop Family Tree, came up with the idea, pitched it to Marvel, and took off on his own as the sole creator, writer, artist, letterer, and colorist. Both the first and second issues, the “First Genesis,” are available at comic book stores now, and like a musician’s “fake book,” anyone can read these two issues with no prior knowledge of the X-Men, jump into the movies or grab a recent spin-off series, and walk away with a firm grasp of the characters.
You’ll meet The Watcher as he hones in on Earth primarily to witness the impact of the Phoenix Force on Jean Grey–the best character that surfaces in the first issue. Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner decimates New York, followed by the birth of Charles Xavier, then we witness Magneto’s backstory, Xavier’s relationships with step-brother Cain Marko aka the Juggernaut, Moira MacTaggert, and Gabrielle Haller, and Xavier’s collection of mutants Jean Grey, Scott Summers, Angel, Hank, Red Raven, Iceman, Pyro, Rogue, and Marvel Girl. Magneto recruits Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. And villains abound, including the Mutant Master, Shi-ar, Mister Sinister, Bolivar Trask, The Conquistador, Morlocks, the Blob, Unus the Untouchable, Mesmero, Mastermind, Count Nefaria, the Mimic, Banshee, and Sauron. We even learn of Xavier’s son David (the focus of the current FXX series Legion) and Magneto’s daughter Lorna (but we see no apparent connection yet between Magneto and Quicksilver).
A mix of the style, both text and artwork, that you might find in a 24-hour comics competition and the kind of simple panel artwork (without the modern full-page splash pages) from the Golden Age of comics, X-Men: Grand Design provides the minimal information and imagery to get you through the entire X-Men history in one sitting. So don’t expect the gorgeous, elaborate artwork you’ll find in most modern monthlies–this book instead packs in content volume over detail, without shirking quality. Each book includes a tribute to the creators of the first 30 years of X-Men, and an index of basically footnoted sources for each page pointing to the original books Piskor drew the scene from.
If you have ever dabbled in the comic book and comic strip stylings of the early years of comics–think 1930s Flash Gordon through 1950s Crime Does Not Pay stories–you’ll have an idea of the layouts and imagery. As a bonus, Marvel provides the finish for Piskor’s story by printing the issues on a yellow-tinted newsprint. Yep, the comic books even smell like books from long ago. It’s definitely a nostalgia fix, even if most of the history is being told in primarily classic panel/strip style for the first time. And it’s a surefire candidate for the Eisner Awards and perhaps the Ringo Awards, too.
Definitely a book for anyone–comic book fans, fans of the X-Men who only know them from their 17 years of movies, or those who know little about the X-Men–check your local comic book store for copies. But don’t worry if you find the first two issues are sold out–A Marvel Treasury Edition of X-Men: Grand Design will include the first two issues of the series and a re-colored version of X-Men Issue #1 from 1963. You can pre-order that edition now here at Amazon. The next two of four more expected issues in the series–the “Second Genesis”–is expected this summer.